Monday, March 13, 2017

Missing tribal migrant worker returns home - recounts ordeal

Umi Daniel 

Bala Santa, aged 42 year, father Sanya Santa a kondh  belongs to village Padeikund of Asana Gram Panchayat of Kundra Block of Koraput district.  Santa is a  vulnerable poor and has been enrolled as a Antodaya beneficiary and belongs to PVTG( Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group). Due to poverty and indebtedness, Bala Santa and his minor son Muna Santa were trapped by a local labour contractor named Banamali from Jaba padar village in Kundra who  took the father and son to Palakkad in Kerala with a promise of paying an amount of  Rs. 8000 as monthly wage. Both Father and son along with  some labourers left for  Pallakad, Kerala during June 2016. 

After a month of working in the farm in Palakkad, Kerala, Bala Santa was very upset about his wage which was less than that was promised by the middle man. He told his son to go back home with whatever money they had then. But the son said, -they are here to work for 6 months and only after that they will be allowed to leave. However,  Bala Santa was restless and  said he will be returning  home alone. Then one evening with  Rs. 250 in his pocket,  Bala Santa left for the local railway station to board the train to his village -Kundra. He asked some people about the train that goes to Jeypore and finally boarded a train which took him to Jaipur city in Rajasthan. After working for 6 months in the farm land, Muna finally left for Kundra with a meager earning of Rs. 17000 and found that his father had not  returned home and had gone somewhere else instead.  The family was utterly distressed on not being able to find any information regarding the whereabouts of Bala Santa. He was now a missing person and no one knew where he was. 

After six months of his departure from Kerala, on 19th of February 2017, Narayan Saravor Police in Kutch in Gujrat contacted the Kundra Police in Koraput informing that a man named  Bala Santa  claiming to be from Asana Gram Panchayat of Kundra has been caught by BSF on the India-Pakistan internal border in Kutch and has been  handed over to the police. The police found no criminal antecedence in the case, and repeatedly for 15 days followed up with the Kundra Police IIC to help to take the person back. The local media has also reported the case as well. After getting the news, the family members and the villagers have given a written application to the Sub-collector of Jeypore, Tehsildar, Superintendent of Police but as per the victims’ family, no one came for the rescue of the Bala Santa. Moreover, the collector even didn’t allowed the family to have an audience to listen to their grievances says Manu Santa and son of the victim.

Since no one helped the in the case, the victims family approached PRAGATI, the NGO in Koraput who in turn informed the Migration information & Resource centre (MIRC) Aide et Action, Bhubaneswar to help in locate and repatriation of the victim from Gujrat. MiRC, with the help of Setu-Urban and NGO based at Bhuj in Gujrat established contacted the Gujrat police and came to know that the victim has been sent to the judicial custody and lodged in Palara Jail in Kutch district. One of the staff of MiRC, Aide et Action and the son of Bala Santa traveled to Gujrat. After reaching Bhuj, to their surprise found Bala Santa being admitted in a mental hospital in Bhuj due to some abnormal behavior found when he was produced before the SDJM, Dayapar in Kutch district.  Bala Santa was looked terrified, weak and unable to speak anything. However, he could recognize his son and inconsolably cried and requested to take him away and prayed for his repatriate to his village- said Daya Sagar. The rescue team worked hard and with the help of the Gujrat police moved the bail application and finally been able to release the poor Bala Santa in a very awful situation from the mental hospital.  Now he is back in his villages and recounting and recuperating from the trauma and ordeal which he has encountered since last 6 months.

MGNREGA fail to arrest distress migration:

Why the poor tribal and disadvantage people are today resorting to migration in the hilly region of Koraput. In the case of Bala Santa, as per government statistics, he is an Antodaya beneficiary and privileged to be enrolled on priority to access most of the  the government antipoverty programme. Only the wife of Bala is remained at home and his  elder son and his daughter in-law have also migrated to Andhra Pradesh to work in a brick kiln. His family never accessed employment under flagship National rural employment act, MGNREGA. The scheme doesn’t run well in his own Kundra block.  As per the government data for 2016-17, In Kundra block a total of 17,483 Households have got MGNREGA job cards, however,  only 4015 (22%) provided work and oddly only 63 households have provided with 100 days of employment.  On the other hand, the MGNREGA performance in Koraput district is also quite miserable. As per the 2016-17 government data indicate, out of the total 2,92,549 households who were provided job cards under MGNREGA,  93,519 (31%) people accessed MGNREGA  and  as low as 884 ( 0.94%) households have received 100 days of employment. This tells the sorry state of MGNREGA in the district, and due to non availability of rural employment, the tribal and disadvantaged people find migration as a survival strategy. 

Poor implementation of inter-state migrant workers Act of 1979:

As per the government information, in the year 2011, while 91371 registered as inter-state migrant, it has reached 135000 in 2014 in Odisha as a whole. During 2011, 215 people registered as interstate migrant workers in Koraput district and it went up to 295 during 2014 and 13 labour contractors were officially given license under inter-state migrant workers Act of 1979. The registration of workers and issuance of license to the labour contractor is hugely under reported. Since, the district borders with two states namely, Andhra Pradesh on the south and Chhattisgarh in the north and since the poverty and rural unemployment is significantly higher in Koraput district, tribal in these districts are being recruited as migrant labourers and move to various southern and northern districts as manual wage workers.

Bala Santa’s case is an insight for the government to take enough precaution to arrest distress migration in the district. The illiterate, poor and ill informed tribal are being pushed into distress and migrating for just survival. Rural employment followed by social security, food, livelihood, pension and economic security can very well tackle the vulnerability of people to resort distress migration and suffering. 

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