BALANGIR: Lalit Budek, along with his wife and son, took the train to Telangana on Tuesday. The 52-year old, a native of Bhuliabandh village of Belpara block, would return home only around April-May, before the kharif season begins. The family has accepted the work advance from the labour contractor as Rs 1.5 lakh was too decent a sum to be refused.
With economic activities completely open after COVID restrictions and greener pastures beckoning, migration has begun from Balangir and other western Odisha districts. The Budek family availed work under MGNREGS for 70 days and received wages of about Rs 21,000. But that was not enough to hold them back. The earning is unlikely to meet the expenses for the son’s marriage planned next year.
The horror stories of torture and drudgery notwithstanding distress migration remains a ritual in this part of Odisha. Employment opportunities are little to come by and agriculture is never assuring given the rain-shadow nature of the region and absence of irrigation. Despite initiatives at several levels, distress migration from Balangir continues to be an intricate human and development challenge.
A conservative estimate says more than two lakh people migrate to brick kilns in south Indian states from Balangir alone. Among them would be 30,000 children. The movement has begun once again after COVID triggered a reverse migration and left them confined to homes for a year.
Even though the State Government has been pushing work under MGNREGS, people are migrating to repay old debts and to earn more to meet expenses for social events like marriage and constructing houses.
From across Belpara, Bangomunda, Turekela and Muribahal, families are migrating to different geographies – some to other parts of the State but most heading outside. Khirodra Mahanand, a resident of Raikhal village of Belpara block, too will move out soon because the family is getting a huge advance.
"Low and erratic rain has led to drought everywhere in the area. The family worked for more than 90 days under MGNREGA and got the payment. But more is needed," he says. The landless people work as farm labourers or share-croppers and most start leaving after Dussehra-Diwali phase.
After COVID-19 break, migration ritual begins
They put in a good three to four months under MGNREGS work. This category heads to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Those who have land, finish their winter harvest and head towards Tamil Nadu after January. They return around June to pick up farm work again.
Sujit Pruseth, a researcher on migration and joint convener of National Initiative on Migration said more than one lakh people have already migrated this year. More will follow soon. "The huge amount of work advance is the main attraction for migration," he added.
Project Director, DRDA Sushant Singh said the administration has provided employment through MGNREGA to people who have demanded work. "We have generated more than 80 lakh man days to deter people from going to other places. This has prevented close to 15,000 families from migrating. We will continue the efforts," added Singh.
Divisional labour commissioner Suresh Chandra Behera said the administration is persuading the labourers to register themselves at panchayat level as well as under Building and Other Construction Workers Act to provide benefits.