By Pradeep Baisakh, Bhubaneswar: As in earlier years, this time around about 1.5 lakh people migrated out from Balangir district of Odisha to work in brick kilns in and around Hyderabad and Chennai and other places.
The data compiled by Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action, a civil society organisation basing on the migration registers maintained in about 66 villages in three blocks (Muribahal, Tureikala and Belpada) in the district suggest that about 1.5 lakh people out of about 13 lakh population in the district migrated out of the state during November-December 2009 and January 2010 as they did not get enough of employment opportunities in the home place. Among the total migrating population, about 30 percent belong to scheduled caste (SCs) and 41 percent are scheduled tribe (STs) population.
People in Balangir district, mostly belonging to the landless category and the small and marginal families, have adopted the option of migrating out as a coping up mechanism to the high degree of food insecurity owing to lack of employment, bad show in agriculture due to continuous droughts, uneven land distribution, loss of forest so on and so forth. This form of migration is therefore mostly due to distressed condition in the villages. The form of migration takes place in a well established system of middlemen (called Sardars or Khatadars) who take advantage of the distress condition of the poor dalit and tribal people in the district and give them some advance money to the tune of 15-25 thousand rupees to work for about seven months in the brick kilns in other states. This advance money comes as a big allurement and also relief to the helpless families who tacitly agree to a semi-bondage condition under their employers. The people go there as brick makers, brick carriers and so on. The brick maker constitutes most part of labour in a brick kiln. The unit of labour as brick maker constitute generally two adult members and a child. Therefore the incidence of child labours in a brick kiln is by sheer design not by default. Both the adult and child labourers have to work about 14-16 hours in a day under very harsh conditions. They are provided with a small weekly allowance of 250-300 rupees which cover their food, clothe and health needs. They rice they eat are basically the chicken fodder. They are provided with the accommodations which are like chicken huts-worse than houses in the slums in a city. due to inadequate food intake, long hours of work, non availability of people medical attention, people and children often fall to various types of diseases. Targets of making 1.5 lakhs to 2 lakhs of brick moulding are set for them which they have to complete in seven months. Since the target is too high, the brick owners use all dirty means to extract maximum output from the labourers. More often than not the poor labourers are treated inhumanly and are harassed to any extent beyond imagination, which include both mental and physical torture. Toward the end of the season (season is from September/October to May/June in Hyderabad and from December/January to June/July in Chennai), if the labourers could not complete the task they are not allowed to go back home and are kept under forced captivity in the brick kilns under the vigilance of the hired goons. The unspoken misery of the people is witnessed in every season forcing some civil society organisations intervene to rescue them from the captivity of the brick owners.
MGNREGA which promises to provide 100 days of guaranteed employment to the rural households has pathetically failed in the district. Out of total of 2.4 lakh Job Card holders in the district only 60,000 households have been covered under MNREGA last financial year (2009-2010) (Data as on 14th April 2010 from www.nrega.nic.in ). This is only 25% coverage of the total. These numbers of families have got an average of 43 days of employment. In comparison to the total capacity of 100 days to 2.4 lakh families, it is only 11 percent utilisation of the full potential. This is as per the official figures. The real figure would be far less which may be exposed through social audits. This shows how abysmally MGNGREA has delivered in the district. Over and above this, the scheme has become meaningless owing to the delayed nature of payment. People in the district complained of receiving payment in two to three months time against the mandated 15 days period.
Apart from the failure of MGNREGA, other social security schemes have also faired very badly in the district as in other parts of the state. The uneven distribution of land has added to the misery of poor.
Rare show of success of MGNREGA:
On very rare occasions, due to the intervention of the civil society organisations, MGNREGA has brought some relief to a miniscule numbers of families. For example, in Tentulimunda village in Belpada block of Bolangir district, about 25 habitually migrant families stayed back as they availed work under the scheme. Similarly about 35 such families opted out to stay back in village and work under MGNREGA in Badbanki village under Tureikala block. Several children who used to migrate with their parents and lose their education also stayed back and continued their study in their respective villages. Some people have also made capital investment from income generated MGNREGA to make capital investment. For example, Ugrasen Gaud in Badbanki village who has completed 100 days of work under MGNREGA in 2009-10 financial year, has got about 15,000 rupees and purchased gold for his daughter's marriage and got bullocks for his agriculture. Similarly, Ms Kumari Nag has got some gold for herself from the income got under MGNREGA. About 17 families in the Badbanki village have completed 100 days of work quota. It has helped reducing migration in this Panchayat. But these are very rare instances. Two civil society organisations namely Adhikar and Sramik Shakti Sangathan have helped the people getting their entitlements under MGNREGA.
Time is ripe for the state and district administration to put all their efforts to make MGNREGA a success for reducing distressed migration and prevent people from facing all out harassment in other states.
[The writer is a social activists and senior editor of www.orissadiary.com, readers can contact him in his email id firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile no Mobile no: +91-9437112061]