Unable to return home because of the lockdown, a large number of Odia migrant workers, who were working as daily wagers in different unorganised sectors, are now stranded in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Most of them are from Ganjam district. According to Pratap Chandra Pradhan, convenor Prabasi Odisha Sharamik Sangathan (Migrant Odisha Workers’ Organisation), over 2,000 of them are now stranded in Chennai, while around 600 are in Ernakulam of Kerala. There are also stranded Odia migrant labourers in different parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
When contacted over phone, Jatia Mahakud of Jugudi-Balabhadrapur village of Samakhemundi block of Ganjam district described the plight faced by him and labourers in Chennai. According to him, around 2,000 migrant labourers from Ganjam district are now stranded in groups at eight places in Guindy area of Chennai.
The building where Mr. Mahakud stays houses 160 labourers in 13 rooms and two halls. Ten or more persons live in a single room. “Most of us were daily wagers, who got employed at construction sites, goods loading-unloading work at markets and other menial work. The rice stock they had brought from home is about to end and most of us have our last savings of a few hundred rupees in pocket”, said Mr. Mahakud.
On Thursday, the group of stranded labourers living with Mr. Mahakud were provided two bags of rice and spices by the Chennai administration.
Chitrasena Bisoi, another menial labourer from Chadheiapalli village of Digapahandi block stranded in Chennai, said that since the past two weeks they are without work. “By the time most of us decided to return to Odisha, the train services had stopped. Most of us waited to get unpaid small payments from our employers,” he said. In most cases, the payments that these menial labourers waited for was 1,000 rupees or less, he added.
Both Mr. Mahakud and Mr. Bisoi said they only wanted to return to Odisha. Most of these stranded labourers are in the 20 to 40 years age group. They are married and have families to look after at their homes in villages of Ganjam district.
Satyaban Nayak, a migrant menial labourer from Surada area of Ganjam district, now stranded in Ernakulam in Kerala, also described a similar plight away from home. According to him, around 600 Odia migrant labourers like him are now staying in groups at different places of Ernakulam. “Our greatest worry is that we have no money with us. As we are not in a position to pay our house rent, our house owners may ask us to vacate,” he said. These daily wagers were searching for work on a daily basis in different sectors in Kerala. Since March 22, due to lockdown, they are unable to get any work or income.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday urged his counterparts in other States to take care of stranded Odia labourers. State secretary of CPI-M Ali Kishor Patnaik contacted the office of Kerala Chief Minister regarding the well-being of migrant labourers stranded there.