A full Bench of the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on Monday took suo motu cognizance of distress labour migration from the State and directed the Labour Secretary to file a comprehensive report on the issue by October 28.
The full Bench of the OHRC, comprising chairperson Justice Bimala Prasad Das and members Justice Raghubar Dash and Asim Amitabh Dash, issued the directive as the State Labour and Employees’ State Insurance (LESI) department failed to submit a satisfactory action taken report in the past five years.
In 2014, while adjudicating the case of Sushant Kumbar, the 12-year-old child labourer from Bolangir district who had sustained serious injury after being mercilessly beaten up by his employer in a brick kiln in Karnataka, then OHRC chairperson Justice B. K. Mishra and member B. K. Patnaik asked the State government to inform it about the measures taken to prevent distress labour migration and rehabilitate freed bonded labourers and their children.
“The distress labour migration has assumed critical proportion in the State. Government welfare programmes have failed to prevent them from going to other States for work,” said Biswapriya Kanungo, human rights activist and petitioner in the Kumbar case.
About 3 to 4 lakh people, including women and minor children, go to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala to work in brick kilns for paltry remuneration. It has been widely reported that they are subjected torture to extract maximum work from them.
Thousands of poverty stricken people from Balangir, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bargarh and Subarnapur districts take wage advance from labour middlemen in August and September. Around November and December, they go to brick kilns and other construction sites.
To stop the distress migration, the government had announced rations under National Food Security Act from September. It was also proposed to increase employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme from 100 to 200 days. Moreover, it was under consideration to bring wage payment under MGNREGA at par with minimum wage of the State.
According to a survey conducted by Tata Trusts, a voluntary organisation, last year about 38,000 people from 30 gram panchayats of Bolangir and Nuapada migrated to neighbouring States as they could not be provided jobs.