The Odisha government should work out an inter-State coordination strategy for the safe return of migrant workers stranded in other States before lockdown restrictions are lifted, said migration experts here.
“Thousands of Odia migrants are either stranded midway or have not stepped out of their workplace. They are waiting for the lockdown to be lifted. Within no time, thousands of workers will rush back to their villages,” said Umi Daniel, head of the Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia, a non-government organisation.
‘May face backlash’
Mr. Daniel warned that the return of migrant labourers had to be made easier, otherwise they might face backlash in their own villages upon their return.
“Migrant workers, who will be completing 14 days of quarantine, should be tested and a certificate also be issued so that there would not be any fear of spreading the coronavirus,” he said.
Lakhs of migrant works leave for other States from Odisha in search of jobs every year. While poor families from western Odisha districts such as Balangir, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bargarh and Subarnapur undertake seasonal migration to find work in brick-kilns outside, skilled plumbers from coastal Kendrapara district work in almost all corners of India.
Thousands of migrant workers from the Ganjam district work in the garment and diamond sectors in Surat. Similarly, youth from the coastal districts go to Kerala and other parts of the country to work in the plywood and hotel sectors.
Following a coordination meeting held recently between government and non-government organisations here, Pradeep Jena, Managing Director of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority, directed all District Collectors to make efforts to track migrant workers returning from outside States or districts, work with them for their registration with gram panchyats, and remove the stigma attached to their return.
The Orissa High Court in a recent judgment directed the State government to stop migrant workers at the border and facilitate their quarantine by providing shelter and food. The Orissa HC had expressed concerns that the workers could aid the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr. Daniel said the State government “must avoid a Delhi-like scenario” in which thousands of migrant workers congregated at some places “with chaos prevailing all-around”.
‘Opportunity to assess’
Jyoti Prakash Brahma, who works in the migration sector, said the ongoing situation provided an opportunity to the State government to assess the population of migrant labourers taken outside the State through legal and illegal means.
Experts emphasised that the government should prepare some mass employment generation programmes for migrant workers and give them access to wages and food.