Migrant Laborers

An Open Letter To The Chief Minister On The Distress Of Migrant Workers In The Wake Of The Extension Of The Lockdown In Odisha

Jan Adhikar Manch



Shri Naveen Pattnaik,

Chief Minister, Odisha

Dear Sir,

We, in Jan Adhikar Manch, an alliance of trade unions, people’s organizations and individuals, wish to make you aware of the worsening plight of migrant laborers in Odisha and across the country in the wake of the pandemic COVID-19 and urge you to take some immediate steps.

When the Central Government declared the 21-day nationwide lockdown without making any prior arrangements, lakhs of migrant laborers across the country have got stranded in different places. Just as thousands of Odia laborers who have gone out to earn a living got stranded in other states, laborers from other states too who come to work here are stranded in different parts of Odisha. As per the Odisha government, approximately 70, 000 workers from other states are stuck in Odisha. This estimate does not take into account the hundreds of casual workers who have stayed put in brick kilns and small mills, mines and firms. Their survival and safety is dependent on the good will of their contractors, owners and employers.

Dear Sir, the real picture of the living condition of migrant workers stranded at various places is still hard to get as they figure only here and there in media reportage. Although your government and other state governments claim to provide two meals per day along with some accommodation to all these migrant workers, the ground reality is vastly different. The work being done at this moment by us along with various trade unions, human rights organizations, NGOs, citizens’ forums and concerned individuals across the country provide us with a very bleak and desperate scenario. In many places where nodal officers, Panchayat officials or NGOs have been given responsibility of food and accommodation of the migrant workers, they do not continue with the relief measures after three of four days. As a result, the workers are again facing hunger and starvation conditions while being officially added to the statistics of being “settled”. At some places, when they complain about this, they are being subject to taunt and humiliation from the concerned nodal officers. There’s news coming in of workers desperately selling their last few belongings like even cell phones to be able to buy some food to eat. Clearly, even after 19 days of the lockdown, the basic requirements of food are not being fulfilled in any proper manner.

As you know, it is not relief or charity we ask for Sir, but due recognition of workers’ labour and contribution to society and the economy by standing up for them at this crisis hour. Let us understand the real predicament of those who work for society with their sweat and blood.

It is extremely concerning that workers are succumbing to depression and anxiety in this atmosphere of fear around the pandemic.  They are simply biding time without any work in relief camps and shelters only longing for their families or near and dear ones.  Their family members are also undergoing many hardships and emotional turmoil. We cannot rule out the possibility that something untoward may happen in the days to come given the conditions of relief camps and shelters and workers’ own mental agony and uncertainty. We fear that the events in Surat on April 10 and in Kashmere Gate of Delhi on April 11 are but premonitions of worse to follow in Odisha and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, your government has extended the lockdown period up to April 30 and there’s news of the central government doing the same.  Naturally, workers stranded across the state and outside Odisha have become even more desperate and hopeless.  It is being reported that after the first phase of the lockdown is over on April 14, if the government does not make arrangements for them to reach their homes and families, these migrant workers will attempt to reach there on foot. Will it not again be a replay of those heart rending scenes when the lockdown was declared and thousands of workers walked hundreds and hundreds of kilometers, hungry and thirsty, carrying their small children and carrying their belongings in bundles and bags on their heads and shoulders? Sir, will the government once again stop them using brute force?

Workers have been spending more than two weeks in these relief camps and shelters and there is no sign of Corona infection. To be doubly certain that there is no spread of the virus, your government can undertake measures to conduct tests on them before helping them reach their homes and families.  In fact, helping migrant workers reach their homes will free local administration and district authorities from any responsibility or pressure of looking after them. Therefore Sir, if the Odisha government can take the necessary steps and coordinate with the central government and other state governments  at the earliest, migrant workers stranded in Odisha can reach their families and Odia workers stranded in other states can come back to their families here too. Given any conservative estimate, over one lakh of workers from Odisha are stranded in other states. They are pleading to the Odisha government to help them reach home.

In the current situation, Jan Adhikar Manch appeals to the Odisha government to coordinate efforts and action with other state governments and ensure that the necessary steps are taken to enable migrant workers to reach their homes and families. Until then they need to be given two square meals a day along with safe and healthy living arrangements.  Equally important Sir, please ensure that they are paid all wages that are due to them by making the necessary arrangements. The government may also seriously consider making full payment of the basic salary declared for the entire period of the lockdown. Sir, you are well aware that entire families are dependent on these migrant workers who have forsaken their earnings in the wake of the lockdown. Let us together try to give them their due. Jan Adhikar Manch firmly believes that migrant workers who have contributed hard labour in the interest of the sate and the economy need to be supported in the entire lockdown period with due respect and dignity. And by doing this, the Odisha government will be able to avert a major humanitarian crisis that looms large before us.

With hope and sincere regards,

Convenor, Jan Adhikar Manch: Biswapriya Kanungo


Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha: Tuna Mallick

AIKKS: Shankar Sahu

AIKMS: Bhalachandra Sadangi

All India Krantikari Mahila Sangathan: Radharani Maharana

Banwasi Surakshya Parishad, Kandhamal: Balabhadra Mallick

Basti Surakshya Munch: Hena Barik and Pramila

Campaign against Fabricated Cases: Narendra Mohanty

Chasi Mulya Sangh-Odisha (AIKMKS): Srikanta Mohanty

Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakshya Sangathan: Debarajan

Humanist Rationalist Organization: Raja Suresh

Indian Federation of Trade Unions: Pratap Pradhan

Janbadi Lekhak Sangh: Lenin Kumar

Malkangiri Zilla Adivasi Sangh: Bideshi Upadhyaya and Bidesi Goud

Manab Ahikar Suraksha Manch: Abani Gaya

Trade Union Centre of India: Rajendra Barik and Sivram

Upakulia Jami O Jungle Surakshya Samiti: Batakrushna Swain


Srimanta Mohanty, Md Sukur, Pramodini Pradhan, Pratap Cinara, Prof. Bijay Bahidar, Nigamananda Sadangi, Dhirendra Panda, Prof. Golak Bihari Nath and Ranjana Padhi

Contact Email ID: janadhikarmancha@gmail.com



Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B. Subscribe to our Telegram channel


Comments are closed.