The recent rescue of 37 migrant labourers, from the Tiger brick kilns in Balianta block of Khurda district, has brought a new dimension to the fore. It tells tale on the absence of any State policy and Act to save the migrant labourers from torture and exploitation within the State.The rescued are all from Raghupadar village under Loisingha block in the district here. Migrant labourers of Golamunda, Dharmagarh and Koksara also go to Kendrapara area for brick-laying work where exploitation by the contractors is allegedly at its height.
"Even the villagers of Kalahandi district, invariably from all the areas, go to Bargarh district every year for crop-cutting. There they do not get the minimum wages," pointed out Dilip Das of Kalahandi. Pertinent to note that there is the Inter State Migrant (Worksman) Act of 1979 for the labourers migrating outside Odisha.
As per the provisions in the Act, they should be taken by a registered contractor and all the details of the migrants, including destination points should be given to the Labour officials/Panchayat and within 15 days of migration by the principal employer/labour contactor. Ironically, the provisions are more breached than observed.It is common to find reports of hundreds of labourers migrating to outside States like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in search of jobs and facing exploitations and torture.While they are usually rescued under the Inter-State Migrant (Worksman) Act, only a few cases are rescued under the Bonded Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
However, if a migrant faces torture and exploitation in his own State, there is no sufficient law/rules to ensure the rights and entitlements of these labourers in order to provide punishment to the principal employer, sources said."These labourers are partly covered under the Contract Labour Act and Labour Act," pointed out Nandi Kishore Sandh of Link Worker Scheme of Action Aid.He further added that it is the Labour Department which rescues and releases them while their rehabilitation is the duty of the Panchayati Raj Department.However, there is hardly any coordination between these two departments."Either there should be effective coordination between the two departments to deal with the issue or the issue of rehabilitation of the labourers, rescued under the Bonded Labour Act, should be the responsibility of the Labour Department," opined Nandi.
Besides, their Public Distribution System (PDS) need to be ensured. When the poor migrants migrate to outside States, their PDS items are almost lost and it finds way to the black market which is a common phenomenon in the KBK districts and western Odisha region."While the migrant labourers are within the State, why their PDS entitlements should not be given to them," Umi Daniel of Bhubaneswar-based Migration Information and Resource Centre questioned.
As per reports, out of the 10 million migrants, there are seven million inter- district migrants in the State."If such a huge number of people are migrant labourers in the State, the Government should enact a law for them," Daniel opined further. According to him, in the wake of the Right to Education (RTE) having become a fundamental right, the education of the migrant children should also be ensured in the place where the migrants are working within the State. "The tortured, exploited and rescued migrants 'within the State' should also be rehabilitated under the Bonded Labour Act as these labourers are also working almost under the same condition that of the other migrants outside States, besides facing torture and exploitation which fulfils the criteria of coming under the purview of the Bonded Labour Act," argued Saroj Barik.
If there is a report of migrants being tortured within the State, the rural community and civil society organisations should take up the rescue process swiftly, he opined further and rued that it is not happening in reality."A preliminary level dialogue with the Labour, Education, Civil Supplies and other departments to deal with the issue is going to be taken up soon and we would sensitise the Labour officials how to deal with the migrant labour rescue case," informed Umi Daniel.
It is high time the State Government should enact a separate Act for these people and should also take necessary steps to check exploitation, city residents here have demanded.