Coronavirus lockdown | Social activists call for plan to engage Ganjam’s returned migrant workers

In 40 panchayats, migrant workers constitute over half the population

May 24, 2020 07:48 pm | Updated 07:48 pm IST - BERHAMPUR

Following the easing of COVID-19 lockdown norms, sources of livelihood are going to be a great concern for thousands of returned migrant labourers in districts like Ganjam in Odisha, which had a large workforce serving outside the State.

Also read: Coronavirus | NDMA directs Centre, States to extend lockdown till May 31

Social activists working with migrant workers are of the view that the State’s Labour Department should immediately begin classifying returnees into two groups — those willing to find work outside the State again, and those who no longer wish to leave their home State.

“This information will help chalk out a plan for providing employment and better working conditions, either near their homes or in the States to which they will again migrate to work,” said Lokanath Mishra, convenor of ‘Link Workers’ Scheme’, a project for Odia migrant workers.

40 panchayats

Data from the ‘Link Workers’ Scheme’ suggests there are 40 panchayats in Aska, Hinjli, Khallikote, Kodala, Purushottampur and Polasara blocks of Ganjam district, where migrant workers constitute 50% of the total population of the panchayats. Most of them worked in the textile mills of Gujarat’s Surat. Even if half of the returnees preferred to stay back in their villages, it would increase the burden of an unemployed workforce in these panchayats.

Also read: Will migrant workers benefit from the Centre’s measures?

Mr. Mishra felt that, till 2021, migrant workers would be sceptical about returning to their previous work in places like Surat. He estimates that Ganjam district will have at least 2.5 lakh returned migrant workers in the coming months.

There are still several migrant workers in Surat who would prefer not to return to Odisha despite the COVID-19 threat. “They are workers with slightly better economic conditions and they live in Surat with their family. Some young men will also not return,” said Tutendra Sahu, a former migrant worker turned social activist.

Based on age

“It is expected that returnees who are over 40 years of age may not prefer to go outside Odisha in search of work again. Similarly, those migrating for the first time will not take up the journey this year,” said Soudamini Rath, secretary, ARUNA, an NGO involved in prevention of HIV infections among Odia migrant workers.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Weary migrant workers lug crashed hopes en route their homes

At the end of every kharif season, Ganjam district witnesses short-term outward migration of workers till the start of the next kharif season, which will not happen in 2020, she added. But there are many like Sanjay Sahu of Danapur village in Khallikote block who are willing to return to Surat again as their agricultural land is insufficient to make ends meet.

Long-term projects

Migrant workers returning to their homes after completing their institutional quarantine in Ganjam district are being provided food by the State government. “But long-term projects are needed to provide livelihoods and incomes to these returned workers. Most of them worked in the textile sector and may not be ready take up menial jobs under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act),” said Mr. Mishra.

He felt the establishment of agriculture-based industries may improve opportunities for local employment.

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