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Away from home, migrant workers of Odisha to miss out on polls

While some workers have been denied leave by their employers, others cannot return midway

Published: 11th February 2022 08:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th February 2022 08:57 AM   |  A+A-

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Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

By Express News Service

It’s a cruel cycle of life for the migrant workers of Odisha. Most will not be able to choose who represents them in the panchayati raj systems while the elected representatives, who miss out on their votes, will have little connect or concern for them.

In Nuapada, where migration is a way of life, thousands of landless peasants have headed out of the State in search of a living after the Covid pandemic curbs were eased last year. Similar is the story in poverty-stricken Balangir which witnesses distress migration in equal measures. Sadly, most of these workers will miss out on their voting rights this panchayat elections.

In Balangir, just about 3,800 migrants are officially registered though unofficially their number would stand close to 2.5 lakh. Bonded to brick kilns, textile units and other sectors in different states, most have been denied leave by their employers to return to their native lands to exercise their franchise while many do not have the money to bear the expenses of traveling back home and again to return to workplace.

Since most migrants are handled by labour agents and paid an advance, there is no hope of them returning mid-way. This has dimmed hopes of poll contestants who had pinned hopes on votes of this important chunk of the population. However, PD DRDA Sushant Singh claims that this year the migration is low and arrangements are being made to bring them for voting in the rural elections. 

The first phase of panchayat polls is scheduled to begin from February 16. For Nuapada, the problem is chronic too as seasonal migration is a regular affair. Assistant District Labour Officer, Nuapada, Dibya Shankar Dharua said only a small percentage of migrants get themselves registered before leaving.

“In November last, only 791 labourers registered themselves with the department. At the time of registration, we inform them that they might have to come back to the district in case of emergency, like during elections. However, so far, no migrant has returned. While the reasons are not known to us, we suppose some of them, working in the brick kilns and in the nearby states might turn up in the later phases,” he added.

Another western district Kalahandi too is faced with the same problem where people from Golamunda, Dharamgarh, Bhawanipatna, Junagarh, Koksara and Narla blocks work in other states. While those working in Raipur, Durg and Bhillai in Chhattisgarh are likely to return to exercise their franchise here, those engaged in brick kilns and construction workers in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan are finding it difficult to take leave and give up on their daily wages to travel for the polls. 

However, the scenario is different in Ganjam district where migrant workers from Surat, Mumbai and Tamil Nadu are coming back for the elections. To woo these returnees, political parties, especially the ruling BJD, have been busy extending welcome to the natives. Migrants have always played an important role in elections in Ganjam as over seven lakh people from Olsara, Beguniapada, Khallikote, Hinjilicut, Aska, Sanakhemundi, Kabisuryanagar, Chikiti and Patrapur blocks work in diamond polishing units and cotton mills in the these states. 

On Wednesday, around 2,100 migrant workers returned to the district and BJD workers were seen at Berhampur, Chhatrapur, Ichhapur, Ganjam and Khallikote stations to personally meet and greet them besides making arrangements to drop them home. Over 3,000 of them alighted at the stations on Thursday.



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