Monday, February 2, 2009

Migrant workers of Western Orissa-struggle for survival

Umi Daniel

Unorganized sector commands 60.45 % share in the net domestic product of the country but is ‘clearly’ away from the ambit of state regulation and protection.
Migrant Brick kiln workers who are considered as semi skilled workers are one of most exploited, un-organised and un-regulated labour force in India. Some studies after providing the necessary caveat mentions that there are around 150,000 brick kilns operating throughout India employing around 2 million workers (the figures may be much higher then what has been indicated) . The National Commission on Rural Labour (1991) estimates more than 10 million circular migrants in the rural areas.

Every year, the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh employ thousands of circular migrant laborers from western parts of Orissa particularly from Nuapada, Bolangir, Bargarh and Sambalpur districts. As per an estimate, every year more than 200,000 people are recruited by the unscrupulous labour agent and transported to Andhrapradesh to work in brick kilns. All these recruits are illegally trafficked to Hyderabad defying a number of labour and penal laws of the State. These labourer migrate in semi-bonded conditions due to a total lack of sustainable livelihood options in their native soil after the monsoons have yielded their meager fruits. This is further compounded because of exploitative practices of moneylenders who take advantage of this situation and charge high rates of interest. This never ending cycle of debt forces the labourers to accept the meager advances given by the Sardars (middlemen) in conveyance with the brick-kilns owners operate in Hyderabad. As per an estimate more than 40-50 crores of money reach western Orissa through the brick kiln owners as advanced for recruitment of labourers. These advances are given with the condition that the labourers blindly fulfill their obligation with the Sardar by going to the pre-determined destinations located in Andhra Pradesh.

Back in the brick-kilns in AP, these labourers work in harsh living conditions. Being outside the realm of the welfare economics of state, they do not have access to the basic minimum facilities of food, health care, education and minimum wage at the work sites. All members of the family work in the kiln in as part of the labour unit locally called Pathuria. Each labour unit consists of two adult members and one child. The children constitute 20% of the workforce and bulks of the children’s are school dropouts and employed in the brick kiln as non-paid worker.

Throughout six months of their stay, the staple food of the migrant family is Kanki (broken rice normally used in AP as poultry feed). This is because each of the labour unit gets around Rs. 250 as weekly ration for a family of 4-5 members and unable to buy rice. In such situation, expecting mothers, children and the infant's find themselves at the receiving end of a diet that is pathetically low in nutritive quality and quantity. Majority of the children suffers from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency which sometimes leading to the loss of life. Cases of non-payment of wages, sexual abuse of women, labour harassment, child and forced labour are a regular feature in the brick kilns which hardly get noticed and addressed by the host state.

Majority of the brick kilns are located in the suburbs of Hyderabad and adjoining districts of Rangaredy, Medhak, Hyderabad and Nalgonda. Most of it is run illegally and doesn’t confirm to the government laws. One single brick kiln recruits around 60-80 workers and produces around 20-30 lakh bricks per year.. The annual financial gains of all these brick kilns run into crores and a conservative estimate put it at 750 crores. Nevertheless, despite of the boom in the construction sector, there is no any significant increase or change in the prevailing wage and living conditions of the workers. Currently for each of moulded sun dried bricks the worker is paid 10 paise which is further shared between three people at little more than 3 paise per bricks. In six month of time, each of the brick kiln workers unit called Pathuria( three people constitute a unit) make around 2,50,000 bricks and get a meager Rs 25,000 at 10 paise per bricks as wages. The piece work for molded bricks in Andhra Pradesh is scheduled at 1 rupee per bricks, this means the worker should be receiving Rs. 1000 for making of 1000 molded and sun backed bricks. The current market rate of bricks in the real state maket in AP is Rs.3000 for 1000 bricks and the Brick kiln owner gets around Rs.7,50,000 for 2,50,000 kilned bricks. As per an assessment, if the wage rate in AP is slightly raised to 50 paisa from the current 10 paise per bricks, the migrant worker would earn around Rs.125,000 per Pathuria which I think is five fold increase of their wages. While the brick kiln as an industry is growing hastily in the metro cities and generating business of more than 1000 crores, the enhanced income will certainly give an economic advantage for the workers for remitting some money back to their villages when they return. But unfortunately, none of the migrant earns any substantial amount which can be remitted back to their homes.

The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 was passed in the parliament to regulate and enforce laws on the movement of labourers from one state to another. The Act has a number of non negotiable provisions directed to the State governments, principle employee and the middleman to take certain measures to protect and safeguard the basic rights of migrant labourers both at sources and destination. However, majority of the State, principal employee and the labour agents are fervently violating the labour law and defying the implementation and enforcement of the ISMW Act.

It is quite worrying to note that, despite the promise of 100 days employment under NREGA, exodus of people continuing unabated from the western Orissa to the brick kilns. This is primarily because of sheer influence and allurement from the Sardars for a hefty monetary advance contributing to the complex debt cycle which force people to choose the path of migration. Also, the historical failure of the government in implementation of antipoverty, employment and social security measures for the poor is found to be a key factor for encouraging migration. Since last couple of years, the western Orissa regions has been in the limelight for its poverty and hunger and has attracted a number of development projects from both Central Government and State machineries. Some of the populist programmes and projects like KBK central assistance, Western Orissa Development Council, WORLP (Western Orissa Rural Livelihood Project) BRGF (Backward Region Grant Fund) numerous Integrated Watershed Management projects and bountiful of antipoverty schemes have failed to provide meaningful and alternative livelihood support to the most marginalized and substantially ignored addressing migration as a priority, approach and policy under its programme and activities.

Since time memorial, mobility of human civilization from one region to another has been based on two primary factors. First being the “pull” which is primarily a search for improved livelihood prospects, basic services, social and economic wellbeing, and the later being a host of “push” factors such as caste discrimination, displacement due to big projects, natural calamities and conflicts. In such human exodus, it is imperative that migrant’s rights, social security entitlement and social protection policies and schemes should be enforced unambiguously. It is high time that, the central government should review the ISMWA-1979 and bring-in progressive and protective legislation for the migrant workers. The government should streamline and fine-tune various anti-poverty programmes, welfare and employment programme with clear mandate, priority and implementation to stop distress migration. The much waited Social Security Bill for the Unorganized Sector Workers is coming up with an ambiguous social security guarantee under its provision may bring some respite to the exploitative wage system, worsening working condition and declining labour rights.

The writer is a development activist hail from Koraput currently working as Head Migration theme in Aide et Action South Asia. In the recent past he has extensively worked in Bolangir and later initiated some excellent work in the brick kilns of Hyderabad for ensuring state supported education for the brick kiln working children, advocacy with the government of AP for workers rights and rescuing hundreds of distressed and abused bonded laborers from brick kilns.

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  1. Thanks Daniel.

    this is the brutal behaviours of few intests.
    you have brought the things very logically, I may request you to suggest few doeble things so that we can start discussing it . again it needs solid data even last 10 years. we can put many CBOs/NGOs to take it forward.

  2. Thanks Pradeep, yes it is indeed a very destressing situation. However, there are also other side of migration which provide better and alternative livelihood to people. Yes, the data can be generated and meaningful intervention may be planned.

  3. Ok.Migraion is a positive word. Only because of migration innovation on living standards and livelihood opportunities are comming up . this is positive side . am not staying in my village, right now a typical rural areas too. but when peopleare going out side and coming in distress followed by accelerating the burden to kiths and kins, this is very distressing.bring not only immune sensitive diseases but heavily pressing hard others to discard social affinity.
    am requesting what probable things that must be doable and evidence based my be community based approached can be undertaken so that with and without migration few things can not be disdurbed.
    - for women
    or what kind of employment opportunity can be adhere to occupy larger unskilled mass for getting jobs