Checking migration: Odisha extends MGNREGA-supplementary job guarantee to 10 tribal blocks

Job-seekers to get additional Rs 115 a day over MGNREGA wage; implementation isn't proper, says expert

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Friday 24 November 2023
Labourers engaged in MGNREGA project in Kandhamal district, Odisha. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

Odisha has extended state support to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to 10 blocks in its tribal-majority eastern districts. The initiative was launched in July 2022, when the eastern state started providing additional 200 days work to the job-seekers under the scheme in 20 migration prone-blocks in four western districts Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Nuapada.

According to a notification issued by the Panchayat Raj and Drinking Water Department of Odisha government on November 21, 2023, the state sector scheme will be implemented in two blocks each of Gajapati, Kandhamal, Koraput, Nabarangpur and Rayagada districts. These include: Mohana and Nuagada in Gajapati district, Phiringia and Baliguda in Kandhamal district, Borigumma and Dasamantapur in Koraput district, Jharigaon and Papadahandi in Nabarangapur district, and Kashipur and Kalyansingpur in Rayagada district. 

Odisha is likely the first state in India to have implemented this initiative with an aim to reduce migration of labourers to other states.

The Census of 2011 estimated that 850,000 workers from Odisha had migrated out, with significant numbers moving to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. A 2014 study on seven districts of western and coastal Odisha put the number of migrants from the state at 1.5 million.

At present, as many as 40,088 labourers from Odisha have migrated to other states for jobs through 626 registered labour contractors, Odisha’s labour minister Sarada Prasad Nayak told state Assembly November 23, 2023.

Of this, 26,151 labourers were from Bolangir district, the highest in the state, he added. This was followed by 8,205 from Nuapada and 1,467 from Ganjam district.

“The state government will provide 200 days of additional work over and above the stipulated 100 days work guaranteed under MGNREGA-2005 in the 30 migrant prone blocks of nine districts. The entire cost towards payment of wages @Rs 352, the minimum wage for unskilled workers notified in the state, of 200 additional days of work will be borne by the state government,” the notification read in part. 

The job-seekers in these blocks will be paid an additional wage of Rs 115 per person per day over and above the notified wage rate under MGNREGA @Rs 237 to be commensurate with the minimum wage of the unskilled workers. The additional amount Rs 115 per person per day for 100 MGNREGA work days will also borne by the state government, it said

Before the peak of migration, the state government’s initiative will help job-seekers and also provide support in preventing distress migration from these districts, said Chandra Sekhar Sahu, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP (Berhampur).

When the people of rural areas will get employment with minimum wage guarantee in their own villages, they will not prefer to go to work for their livelihood out of the state, said Sahu, who is also the former Union minister of state for labour and rural development.

It’s a significant step by the Naveen Patnaik government, when the Union government has allocated the lowest amount in 17 years in the Union Budget 2023-24 released on February 1, 2023, said the BJD MP. During the COVID-19 induced lockdown, this labour-intensive scheme had helped the migrants to earn their livelihood, he added.

During the lockdowns, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar witnessed the largest inflow of reverse migrants. The Odisha government had estimated the number of stranded migrants from the state at 750,000 during the lockdowns, while certain independent estimates put the number close to a million. 

Bhala Chandra Sarangi, a social activist, urged the government to extend the initiative in some coastal districts like Ganjam, Puri, Khurda, Balasore and Bhadrak. He feared the people of these districts might migrate to other states to eke out their livelihood as the kharif paddy crop was damaged this year due to inadequate rainfall.

The government initiative, however, may not be significant enough to arrest the problem of labour migration from Odisha, according to Trilochan Punji, general secretary of Shramik Adhikar Manch, a non-profit working on migration issues in the four western Odisha districts.

“The initiative is good. But its implementation is not proper. The workers under the scheme are not getting wages on time. In some places, the real beneficiaries are not getting the work. So they forced to go outside through the dalal (broker) to work as daily wager,” he said 

Around 150 people were rescued from being trafficked by different government agencies from the railway stations and bus stands in Bolangir district in November 2023, Punji added.

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