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Palm chopping’s privy: A primrose path!
People have not yet forgot the horrible incident of palm chopping of two migrant labourers. After that now more than 1200 migrant labours have been rescued from different districts of Odisha. It proved that the State Govt. is not capable to control this serious problem. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and BJD’s top leader Dama Rout’s debate now have showed the privy of bonded or migrant labours. It looks like the privy of palm chopping is a primrose path!

'Now the migrant labors’ palm chopping wounds have become fresh again after the statement of Jairam Ramesh. In his new year’s Odisha visit Mr. Ramesh said, “Migrant Labour issues in Western Odisha is a great tragedy and government of Odisha failed to solve and control this problem. The Centre will work jointly with the State to end the practice of bonded and migrant labour. I look forward to put an end to this horrendous social evil.”

“Admiting that a number of people are still enslaved four decades after India enacted the bounded Labour System Abolition Act,1976. Under the umbrella of National Rural Livelihood Mission Rural Development Ministry would would begin pilot projects in 10 vulnerable districts of Odisha to provide them alternative livelihood and ensure their proper rehabilitation. It's sad to say the State has not taken active steps and did not implement properly the Centre rural welfare projects,” he declared.

Reacting to Ramesh’s remark and letter to Naveen Patnaik on bonded labour controversy BJD’s top leader and health minister Damdor Rout said, “Ramesh said half-truth on bonded or migration labour. Most of the labours from undivided Kalahandi and Bolangir who are leaving for other states were not ‘Dadan’ means migrant labourers but those seeking high paying jobs based on their skills they are going to other states. They are not ordinary labourers seeking earth work etc.”

It is an irony that it is in Odisha that the word ‘Dadan Shramika’, which means migrant labour, crept into legal parlance has been suffering from the malady of migration despite more than three decades of the original enactment. It is the State of Odisha that came out with the first enactment on migrant labors in the form of the Orissa Dadan Labour (Control and Regulation) Act, 1975 (Orissa Act 42 of 1975). Thus Odisha is a pioneer State in this regard to frame a comprehensive State Act for the protection of migrant workmen.

The issue of Dadan was discussed in the twenty-eighth session of the Labour Ministers' Conference (New Delhi, October 26, 1976), which considered the question of protection and welfare of Dadan Labour recommended the setting up of a committee to look into the issue.

As per the recommendations of this committee, the Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and condition of Service) Act, 1979 came into existence as a central legislation using the Odisha template. Later on the Odisha Dadan Labour Act was repealed and the Central migrant labour Act of 1979 was enforced with the Orissa Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and condition of Service) Rules, 1980 framed thereunder.

As per the Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1979, the labour contractors/agents drafting and engaging at least 5 migrant workmen have to obtain the licence from the authority, provide relevant information on the labourers being hired, prospective employers and the benefits. But, this Act could not be enforced effectively as it has a few fundamental flaws.

First of all it has the problem of jurisdiction. If the Odia dadans were engaged in AP the law could not be enforced. However. after the erstwhile Labour Commissioner Dr. Damodar Panda filed a case in the Apex court in this respect, the apex court ordered that the dadans even after returning back to source States like Odisha can make complaint with the labour office and a case can be registered and warrant issued.

One senior Labour Officer on the condition of anonymity said, “Implementation of this Act has at best remained on paper. There is the provision of formation of Migration Cells at different levels starting from the district up to the Gram Panchayat. But Odisha has failed to form these Cells. In the 1980s one migration cell was formed in Balugaon, Khordha. But very soon it was closed.”

“The department, as well as the State government, has not yet been able to form Migrant Labour Welfare Fund. Leave aside the welfare fund, even the provision for the relief fund for the migrant labours has not been provided as yet, even though the Act is more than three decades old. Whenever there is any news of the migrant labours in distress the labour office has no funds to travel there and rescue them. He/she has to depend on the District Collector or Red Cross for some funds for rescue operation. Whether funds will be allocated for the rescue or not depends on the kind of pressure that the incident generates the mercy factor,” he said.

In one incident a labour contractor from Delhi, Jatinder Singh had taken 30/40 labours from Odisha to Delhi, but the labours came to know that he is planning to send them to another country with a tourist visa. They sent message home. But, due to paucity of funds they could not be rescued till the local MP Baijayanta Panda funded the expenses. Later on it was reimbursed by Red Cross. On the other hand Gujarat is the only state in the country where such a fund has been created as a measures for welfare of the migrant labours.

A year back Odisha and Andra Pradesh had entered into an MOU to safeguard the interests of the migrant labours. As per this, Odisha government should have registered the contractors and shared the information with the AP government. But Odisha grossly failed on this and nothing happened.

Advocate Abhaya Bhatua says, “The punishment for the violations like not registering as a contractor is only Rs 1000 and for misleading/ill treating the migrants is only Rs 5000. In case of Jatinder Singh, who had taken 75-100 thousand from each labor to provide them jobs in other country may escape with a fine of only Rs 5000. So the contractors very easily pay the fine and escape. But that is if at all they are charge-sheeted. Most of the cases are not reported let alone expedited. The five arrested in connection with the palm chopping case also were arrested earlier on labor trafficking case and were on bail.”

“With opening up of economy and globalization of labour force, different States in India are also witnessing emigration, where a worker migrates to a foreign country outside India in search of job. The plumbers of Kendrapara Districts are a classic example of this phenomenon. Here again the Emigration Act, 1982 is not perceived to be sufficient enough to ameliorate the plights of the emigrants,” Bhatua said.

Labour Activist Dillip Sahoo says, “Honorable Supreme Court, in the case of a Public Interest Litigation were shocked at the plight of Odia migrants being tortured in Asiad Village in New Delhi, 1982, and had opined that they had been treated like the bonded labors with payment of sub-minimal wages. (People's Union For Democratic Rights Vs. Union Of India & Others 1982 AIR 1473, 1983 SCR (1) 456). The government should be sensitive to it.”

“In Labourers Working on Salal Hydro Project vs State of Jammu & Kashmir And Others on 2 March, 1983 ( 1984 AIR 177, 1983 SCR (2) 473) the Hon’ble Apex Court has came up with an equally laudable and landmark judgment, in which the Hon’ble Court has opined that to prevent exploitation and regulate the employment as well as conditions of service licensing and maintenance of statutory registers is a must for all Contractors, Sub-contractors, Petty Contractors, Agents, etc,” Dillip further added.

On the flip side there are also instances of false and vexatious cases lodged by some busybodies who make false allegations of torture on migrant workmen in order to blackmail the employers and make a safe passage for the migrant workmen to go away with advances paid to them by taking the escape routes through chinks in the existing provisions of the law.

However, the matter of grave concern is, till now Odisha government has neither formed the Anti- Human Trafficking unit nor has been able to implement the Immoral Trafficking Act albeit the Central Govt. has been providing lakhs of rupees financial support to the State Home Department. Despite enactments more than three decades ago, the plight of the migrant labour has not changed a bit, because the Act could not be implemented effectively.
Damdor Raut very easily reacted on Ramesh’s remark but what is the answer for all the above question?

Why Rout’s BJD government has failed to look after the above issues, and when the State will form all these laws and will implement strongly the migrant or bonded labour laws? Now these are the questions from thousands of migrant/bounded labourers and their families to all the Government!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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