MIGRANT LABOURERS: A NEW POLICY CHALLENGE

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Corona has no doubt shattered the economic back bone of the state, but it has also opened our blind eyes towards our long term policies and short term gains. As there is a silver lining in every dark cloud, for sustainable economy and labour employment, we can revisit our policies to make it robust to meet such type of unprecedented challenges in future.

As they have no voice to raise against their employers for payment of dues, no organization to demand for their just rights, they preferred not to die away from home in hunger but to return to their native land even if the pandemic embraces them with deadly hug. The voiceless herds make  antlinequeue for any means of communication to return to their own village.But when shutdown is every where and no hope of getting any mode of communication, instead of being stranded, they preferred to walk the distance even if without knowing the direction and distance of their destination.

The pictures showing the plight of their journey figured in national and regional media compelled the government and administration to rethink the shutdown policy and relaxed it for transportation of the migrant labourers by buses and Shramik special trains knowing fully well that may spread the pandemic. Making a large scale and thorough preparations for institutional quarantine, the process of return to the native was completed within a definite time frame. Along with the government, many NGOs and philanthropic individuals have also played vital role in it.

As this time, if not all, most of the migrant workers have returned to their home place by registering their name in the government web portal along with their skill and nature of works engaged in, now all state can have a data base skill mapping of work forces engaged in different unorganized sectors.

Roughly more than 12 crore labourers in India have migrated from villages to urban centres and were engaged in sectors like – constructions, industries, spinning mills, ginning mills, cotton mills, bricks manufacturing, mines, ports, transports, agriculture and domestic works etc. They were not only accelerating the economy but also making the urban life comfortable. They have gone there by labour contractors or on their own but the sad predicament is that their names do not figure neitherin the pay roll of the employers nor in the labour department data list of migrant labourers. They work there as identity less citizens without any access to the different welfare schemes of government even outside the ambit of food security schemes. As a hungry belly knows no rules, in a pandemic situation when people preferred to stay inside, they preferred life over the disease and started leaving their place of works.

Once the pandemic is over, some may prefer to return to their places of works; but most of them will be hesitant, because of the trauma of their return journey. Finding no other alternative avenue of engagement in their place of domicile, they may be compelled to leave their home in search of livelihood. It is also seen that some of the industries owners have recalled them to run their industries. It is a fact that all migrant labourers can not be given employment as per their skill in their home state. But this pandemic has created new opportunities for many state governments to revisit their industrial and labour policies.

Our state which is rich in resources hardly utilises its opportunities. Instead of value addition to our resources, we prefer to export raw materials. The value addition will not only augment our revenue but also create platform for employment of many. It is seen that most of our migrant labourers are working in spinning mills and cotton mills of other states where as more than twenty industries in this sector lying closed in our state. Revamping those industries will create direct employment opportunities for many skill labourers and also will boost our agrarian economy by bringing the farmers back to cash crop cultivation. There is a vast patch of black cotton soil in Odisha. If proper steps will be taken, it can feed raw materials to all the industries which are dysfunctional now. Similarly sugar industries are another field which can richly contribute to both labour employment and agriculture. It is time for all of us to thinkhow long we will be happy to brand ourselves and the state as poor and will be content to live on charity. Now government should plan to revamp the close industries and arrange for employment of those skill labourers. The thirty six numbers of corporations of our state can also play a vital role for creating opportunities of employment both in direct and indirect way.

Corona has no doubt shattered the economic back bone of the state, but it has also opened our blind eyes towards our long term policies and short term gains. As there is a silver lining in every dark cloud, for sustainable economy and labour employment, we can revisit our policies to make it robust to meet such type of unprecedented challenges in future.

It is a fact that 80% of the labour force are migrant both from intra and inter state. Out of them 29% labourers works as daily wage earners in different service sectors. If there will be no exchange of labour forces, it will halt the urban life and living. After the pandemic, for day to day urban living requirements like plumbers, electricians, domestic constructions, domestic works, gas, vehicles and many others like this we will be requiring their services. We can not even imagine urban life without them. This is time to recognize the yeoman services put by them for our economy and life and in return we must try to give them a decent living and livelihood.

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