Sunday, May 18, 2014

Migration Series - 1

One can't escape the plight of migrant labour while living at KBK region. Mostly of the semi-skilled workers migrate towards Gujarat. A large chunk of the migrants from Western Odisha are landless labourers and marginal farmers not having access to any kind of irrigation facilities. They are employed in the brick-kilns of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

Nuakhai is the festival of eating newly-harvested paddy, celebrated in September or October. That is the season of mass migration of the seasonal workers. The recruiter and transporter is paid a commision by brick kiln owner.  The recruitment of labour in the brick kilns is done with the help of contractors/local sardars. They offer a token amount of thousand as first time advance to these people and confirmation of going for migrants. A family of three or four usually migrate after receiving the full payment ranging from Rs. 30,000-40,000. It is quite normal for the labourers to use the cash advances to settle their debts at home. Brick Kiln owner, Labour Department, Railway staff and local contractors are linked in a long chain of this distress migration.

Brick manufacturing is back-breaking work, involve children and there are no fixed hours. The work is built on the exploitation of casual labour, and these seasonal workers have no benefits or insurance. Torture, exploitation and denial of wages are common practices at Brick Kilns. Force is used to discipline the worker and silence the grievances. The loss of entitlements at home and loss of recognition of their rights at worksites are major issues faced by the seasonal workers. Child labour is a rampant practice in such places. I will only say when the lives of children are at stake, how even a cold hearted person can be silent witness.

Given that a lot of tough physical work is required amid extreme conditions, the wage rates are usually low such that when the workers return home with small sums of cash after 6-8 months. Their advances are adjusted against a token wage rate, so that they are still in debt to the contractors or kiln owners, whom they have to repay the next season. Deceptive practices such as fraudulent bookkeeping in wage payment is prevalent. The migrants return back in April and May month of each year for next agricultural season.

Along with the drought the problems such as rural unemployment, non-industrialization, growth of population and rapid deforestation are faced by KBK region. Migration prone blocks of Balangir district are namely Belpada, Khaprakhol, Titiligrah, Patanagarh, Muribahal, Bongomunda, Saintala and Tureikela. I started routine discussion with locals and government officials in the district.I personally thank PMRDF fellow Raj Gupta for providing this short documentary on migration in Odisha and Sudhir Mishra, a local journalist for blog inputs.

Why NREGA & NRLM is not suitable substitute for stopping migration? Even a household is involved in 150 days of work in the year, only 22,000 is generated from this work in NREGA. That too is delayed payment unlike one time direct cash settlement by contractor. Even producer companies formed under NRLM can augment income upto Rs. 5000-7000. Even under ideal conditions of convergence, there is loss of income that somehow must be fulfilled to stop such distress migration. There is also provision under Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1976 and under the modified scheme the rehabilitation grants to the extent of Rs. 20,000/- per bonded Labourer is provided.

Brick kiln industry works in a largely unregulated manner in the informal sector. Overall there is inadequate information on the nexus of various actors involved and economics of this modern slavery like practice. We need more documentation as to ensure better grasp of grass-root level situation and stories like Why India's brick kiln workers 'live like slaves' By Humphrey Hawksley are missing in our mainstream media. I have not even mentioned health and gender issues in the article. We need huge advocacy and social movements to make the lives of workers better. Whenever the masses unite with one voice, leaders listen !

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !


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