Mi­grant Re­source Cen­tres in UP make work­ers savvy about rights, en­ti­tle­ments

Over the years, an elab­o­rate sys­tem has been worked out for not just in­form­ing mi­grant labour about their rights and how to ac­cess them, but to open bank ac­counts for them and en­able their fam­i­lies to with­draw money sent by earn­ing mem­bers.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert - BAHRAICH, UT­TAR PRADESH

Bi­jayanand Pat­naik, bet­ter known as Bi­jubabu, is cer­tainly a tall man as far as his stature and his­tor­i­cal back­ground is con­cerned, apart from his phys­i­cal con­struc­tion. But Odisha is also gifted with many other sons of the soil who had im­mensely con­trib­uted to its for­ma­tion and shap­ing up of the state to the present state.

How­ever, Bi­jubabu has been able to steal all the lime­light posthu­mously, eclips­ing all-time vet­er­ans like Fakir Mo­han Se­na­p­ati, Mad­husu­dan Das and Ma­haraja Krushna Chan­dra Ga­jap­ati Narayan Deo, just to name a few.

Not for no rea­sons. Bi­jubabu was not only a tall man, but also hap­pened to be the fa­ther of in­cum­bent Chief Min­is­ter Naveen Pat­naik, who has been rul­ing over the state for the last 19 years and also eye­ing for a his­toric fifth term in an year’s time. When Pat­naik Jr had set his foot in pol­i­tics some 20 years ago, no­body in his wildest dream had thought that Nav­in­babu would sur­vive thus far. Af­ter the demise of Bi­jubabu, fondly called as “Odia Sandha” or “Odia bull” by his ad­mir­ers, many prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of Odisha came to­gether un­der one um­brella and floated the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). They roped in his younger son Naveen and asked him to ap­pro­pri­ate his legacy. They were of the idea that Naveen be­ing a novice, he would only be the façade gar­ner­ing votes for them and they would be the real rulers from be­hind the scenes. That was not to be. Naveen­babu turned out to be made of tougher metal.

Slowly but steadily, he took over the reins of both the party and the gov­ern­ment. He was not flam­boy­ant, rash or crass in his style of han­dling things. He was calm and cool as cu­cum­ber, never re­acted to sit­u­a­tions the way his fa­ther used to do, main­tained a safe and re­spectable dis­tance from the me­dia, thereby earn­ing a clean but tough im­age for him­self.

He treated ev­ery­one well but never trusted any­one, es­pe­cially the vet­er­ans in his own party. He went on tick­ing them off one by one, who were his pos­si­ble chal­lengers. He not only ruled the state through the bu­reau­cracy but also ran the party through it. Friends started turn­ing into foes as re­al­i­sa­tion dawned on them that their dream of be­com­ing proxy rulers has been shattered and Bi­jubabu’s boy had out­smarted them.

Pat­naik Jr, how­ever, han­dled ev­ery sit­u­a­tion deftly, kick­ing out each one of them and win­ning over new ones. No one was in­dis­pens­able for him. Not a sin­gle year has passed since he took over when he has not got rid of one or other leader in the party or bu­reau­crat in the gov­ern­ment.

Even sev­er­ing of BJD’s al­liance with the Bharatiya Janata Party came as a mas­ter­stroke. It seems he took a cal­cu­la­tive risk and had done metic­u­lous plan­ning in weed­ing out a nag­ging Big Brother. He came out with fly­ing colours, leav­ing the coali­tion part­ners nurs­ing their wounds.

Prom­i­nent lead­ers like Vi­jay Mo­ha­p­a­tra, who had helped him form the party, and Pyari Mo­han Mo­ha­p­a­tra, the bu­reau­crat once la­belled as “Su­per Chief Min­is­ter”, fell like nine pins when they tried to up­stage Pat­naik. Now, it’s the turn of party vet­er­ans Bai­jayant Panda and Damodar Rout to pay the price of daring to dif­fer from the “Supremo”. To be con­tin­ued At Iton­jha vil­lage, Chit­taura block of Ut­tar Pradesh’s Bahraich, Mo­han­lal, a daily wage labourer earn­ing Rs 150 to Rs 175 a day, as­sem­bles his wife and four chil­dren to greet the vis­i­tor from Delhi, nar­rate his story of strug­gle and poverty and plead that his el­dest son, like his 11-year-old daugh­ter Preeti, get ad­mis­sion to the res­i­den­tial school for mi­grant labour. Mo­han­lal and 75 other mi­grant labour of his block have filled forms for reg­is­tra­tion with the Board of Con­struc­tion Work­ers that will en­ti­tle them to 17 gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties, free res­i­den­tial school­ing for chil­dren be­ing one of them.

Preeti is the first child from the vil­lage to go to a res­i­den­tial school, Vi­han Ba­lika School run by Mahila Sa­makhiya. Mo­han­lal shares four bighas of land with his three broth­ers, so he has to travel to Pun­jab or Delhi as agri­cul­ture or con­struc­tion worker to meet the grow­ing de­mands of his fam­ily. With two chil­dren in a res­i­den­tial school, my bur­den will ease, he main­tains. The ed­u­ca­tion at the res­i­den­tial school is bet­ter than in the gov­ern­ment school and the food is also free. It was a chance meet­ing with Sho­rya Vikram, who han­dles the Mi­grant Sup­port Project of the Aga Khan Foun­da­tion at a Mi­grant Re­source Cen­tre ( MRC) and the fol­low up by Ja­gram Rao, the com­mu­nity vol­un­teer, which en­abled Preeti’s ad­mis­sion to the res­i­den­tial school.

Since 2013, AKF has been im­ple­ment­ing the Mi­grant Sup­port Project to ad­dress the chal­lenges faced by mi­grant house­holds in Bahraich and Shravasti dis­tricts of UP. With an­other tranche of sup­port from the Tata Trust last year it hopes to em­power more mi­grants to ne­go­ti­ate fair and re­mu­ner­a­tive liveli­hood op­por­tu­ni­ties in 150 gram pan­chay­ats of 750 vil­lages of the two dis­tricts. Forty to 50% of the pop­u­la­tions of these vil­lages, about 30,000 peo­ple, mi­grate as skilled as well as un­skilled work­ers. In UP, it is the men who mi­grate, re­turn­ing home for sow­ing, har­vest­ing, mar­riages and fes­ti­vals.

Over the years, an elab­o­rate sys­tem has been worked out for not just in­form­ing mi­grant labour about their rights and how to ac­cess them, but to open bank ac­counts for them and en­able their fam­i­lies to with­draw money sent by earn­ing mem­bers. The money can be with­drawn as re­quired through the dozen Mi­grant Re­source Cen­tres (MRC) in Bahraich and three in Shravasti. The MRCs, which are full of charts to in­crease mi­grant aware­ness about their rights and the pre­cau­tions to be taken against dup­ing, are run by an en­tre­pre­neur who is nor­mally a busi­ness cor­re­spon­dent with a bank. He helps them with in­surance, med­i­cal as­sis­tance, old age and dis­abil­ity pen­sions and other gov­ern­ment pro­vi­sions mi­grants are en­ti­tled to un­der the Build­ing and Con­struc­tion Work­ers Act of 1996.

Vinod Ku­mar Sahu, the en­tre­pre­neur of the MRC at Begumpur Bazaar, Bahraich is cur­rently han­dling five com­plaints of work­ers who have been duped and not got their dues from the thekhedar (labour con­trac­tor). An ex­am­i­na­tion of their Labour Cards showed that the dates they worked and their labour fees have not been en­tered and this the un­let­tered work­ers did not re­alise. They had been short changed of Rs 11,000, a whop­ping amount for daily wage work­ers. Af­ter doc­u­ment­ing the de­tails and try­ing to speak to the con­trac­tor, a case has been filed for re­dress with the Dis­trict Le­gal Aid Ser­vice.

In ad­di­tion to le­gal aware­ness and sup­port, the MRCs pro­vide fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy and fa­cil­i­tate link­ages with so­cial se­cu­rity schemes of the gov­ern­ment. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously so­cial devel­op­ment sup­port is pro­vided to mi­grant house­holds.

Vinod Ku­mar, a busi­ness cor­re­spon­dent with the Al­la­habad UP Gramin Bank, opens the MRC at 8 am and through­out the day there is a steady trickle of clients who come to with­draw or de­posit money, seek in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice. Vinod gets a 4% com­mis­sion from the Bank on the mon­e­tary trans­ac­tions of eight gram pan­chay­ats and in a month makes Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 from the Rs 35 to Rs 40 lakh busi­ness han­dled by the MRC. AKF’s sup­port in­cludes rent for the 15 MRCs, Rs 500 to the en­tre­pre­neur for run­ning the Cen­tre, le­gal sup­port for cases han­dled and pro­vid­ing three com­mu­nity vol­un­teers se­lected by the en­tre­pre­neur for each MRC. This en­sures that vil­lagers are con­stantly in­formed about their rights and en­ti­tle­ments and have links from the grass­roots to the Cen­tre.

With l and hold­ings shrink­ing, sur­vival on just agri­cul­ture is un­ten­able when three and four fam­i­lies have to share in­come from three to eight bighas. In 2016, AKF pro­vided en­trepreneur­ship train­ing based on skills to mi­grant house­holds. With the sup­port of pro­fes­sion­als, train­ing of one to three months was pro­vided in house wiring, mo­bile re­pair, run­ning a bak­ery, learn­ing to drive and a ba­sic in com­put­ers and their main­te­nance. About 110 young men re­ceived train­ing. The Al­la­habad Bank Ru­ral Self Em­ploy­ment Train­ing In­sti­tute, a pro­fes­sional driv­ing school and com­puter estab­lish­ment pro­vided the re­quired skills. House wiring, mo­bile re­pair and driv­ing were the most sought af­ter skills.

Munnu Singh and Su­nil Ku­mar opted for driv­ing. Af­ter get­ting a learner’s li­cence they were taught driv­ing. Both now drive cabs in Saudi Ara­bia and are earn­ing Rs 42,000 and Rs 35,000 a month re­spec- tively. Ear­lier, Munnu Singh was a mi­grant labour and sup­ported his brother in veg­etable vend­ing work in Okhla Mandi, Delhi. The two to­gether earned barely Rs 15,000 a month, which was in­ad­e­quate to sup­port two fam­i­lies. With Munnu be­com­ing a cab driver, his brother no longer shares the in­come from veg­etable vend­ing and the f am­ily earn­ings have in­creased sub­stan­tially.

Su­nil Ku­mar too was a mi­grant worker, con­stantly look­ing for work and ac­cept­ing what­ever em­ploy­ment came his way. Af­ter get­ting his driver’s li­cence and work in Saudi Ara­bia, he now sends home most of his salary of Rs 35,000. In a small place like Bahraich, the money is enough to meet the needs of his par­ents, sister, wife and a daugh­ter.

Am­rit­lal, son of a mi­grant worker, trained in re­pair of mo­biles has opened a re­pair shop and busi­ness is good. To sup­ple­ment his in­come he is sell­ing ready­made gar­ments from his shop.

Most mi­grant work­ers are un­aware of the ben­e­fits they are en­ti­tled to. These vary from ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits, girl child help scheme of Rs 25,000 in fixed de­posit for 18 years for two girls and Rs 50,000 if the girl is born with a dis­abil­ity; mar­riage sup­port for two daugh­ters of Rs 55,000 for each; con­struc­tion worker’s ac­ci­den­tal death and dis­abil­ity as­sis­tance of Rs 500,000 and Rs 300,000. It is AKF, with its con­nec­tions from grass­roots to var­i­ous gov­ern­ment de­part­ments that makes them aware of these ben­e­fits and tries to get them for mi­grant labour.

There is ex­cite­ment in the air be­cause at a re­cent meet­ing with the as­sis­tant di­vi­sional labour com­mis­sioner, a group mar­riage of 1,000 mi­grant work­ers or their fam­i­lies is pro­posed on 29 June. The vil­lages which come un­der AKF’s work do­main are be­ing in­formed of the gov­ern­ment sup­port of Rs 65,000 per cou­ple that they were un­aware about. For these fam­i­lies it will be a new dawn!

Most mi­grant work­ers are un­aware of the BEN­E­fiTS THEY ARE en­ti­tled to. These VARY FROM MA­TER­NITY BEN­E­fiTS, GIRL CHILD HELP SCHEME OF RS 25,000 IN fiXED DE­POSIT FOR 18 YEARS FOR TWO GIRLS AND RS 50,000 if the girl is born WITH A DIS­ABIL­ITY.

Mo­han­lal, a daily wage labourer, with his wife and chil­dren.

Su­nil, ear­lier a mi­grant worker, now drives a cab in Jeddah.

Naveen Pat­naik

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