NEW DELHI: Hemant (name changed) from Madhya Pradesh's Damoh district had little idea what was awaiting him in Gondi Khurd village in Maharashtra's Beed district when he migrated for work on October 15.
"We worked for at least 12 hours every day on the sugarcane fields. We started working at 5 am every day. Some kids who accompanied their parents from our villages would also work with us," said Hemant.
He, along with 55 others, were recently rescued by NGO Jan Sahas and local police from the bonded labour they were subjected to.
Each family was given 1 kg atta to survive on every day, and an advance of around Rs 1,500. "There was nothing else for us to eat after the long hours of work in the field. We were provided with no vegetables and no lentils. We got no payments," said Hemant who is now back in Jamuniya Mal village.
Through a local contact, the workers contacted the NGO helpline. "When we investigated the matter, we realised they were working as bonded labour. Twenty people have release certificates. The workers moved there in compulsion as they lost their source of livelihood during the lockdown.
They have no lands either. While they migrated earlier as well, they have never worked in sugarcane fields and never faced any such instance of bonded labour," said Mukhesh Kumar Navin, rehabilitation officer, Jan Sahas.
The Economic Survey 2016-17 showed that of patterns of flows of migrants showed less affluent states saw more 'out migration' while the affluent states were the largest recipients of migrants.
"Vulnerability multiplies when a significant number of workers return to their villages. Rescue operations are not the only solution.
There is an urgent need to provide social security benefits to migrant workers; the chances of exploitation would reduce. If the existing programmes are effectively implemented at a large scale, the migrant workers would be protected. Very few people would then be working on less money," said Jan Sahas's Ashif Shaikh.
"There is a need for coordination between source and destination states. Migrant workers often face challenges because of the lack of coordination," said Shaikh.
Sudhir Katiyar, secretary, Centre for Labour Research and Action, said that workers were not earning adequately amid the pandemic which led to increased incidence of exploitation. "The incidence would be more among people who do not have any savings and were also not able to earn enough in a season. They would fall into the debt trap."