Better late than never: Bringing back Odia migrant workers

Odisha government’s initiative to bring back stranded migrant workers from different locations, in consultation with the host state governments as well as the centre, in a sanitized and safe manner under proper medical supervision indicates a sincere and pro-active concern

Odisha government’s proactive steps in the ongoing nationwide lockdown for the containment of the outbreak of contagious virus Covid-19 has been applauded nationally, like the handling of cyclone Fani last year. The state successfully implemented its own action plan along with central government’s ‘complete lockdown’ guidelines, and has been working proactively round the clock to flatten the Covid curve. Odisha is the first State in the country planning to bring back stranded migrant workers with a proactive scientific road map. Now, the question is from where the migrants from Odisha migrate. Also, the state government needs geographic location specific information about migrants from where migrants could be smoothly brought back into the state.

Traditionally, the state Odisha is a net loser of migrants. According to the census of India 2011, the state Odisha sent 12 lakhs migrants to other state while received 8 lakh in-migrants from other states. Out of total inter-state out-migrants more than 8.7 lakh migrated for ‘other than marriage’ purposes. The analyses of destination states for the Odia migrants, found industrially well developed states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh as the lucrative destinations. For Odisha migrants, Gujarat is the largest attractive destination (1.67 lakh) and more than half of these migrants have moved for work. Gujarat is followed by Andhra Pradesh (1.28 lakh), Chhattisgarh (1.15 lakh), Maharashtra (0.99 lakh), West Bengal (0.87 lakhs) and Karnataka (0.59 lakh) as leading destinations where more than two-thirds out-migrants from Odisha went for other than marriage related reason. It is remarkable to note that as much as three-fourth of the migrants from the state ends up in only six states. Within these destination states there are some select districts that pull most of the migrants from Odisha.

Districts with 10,000 or more migrants from Odisha are shown in table 1. Around 59 percent migrants from Odisha end up in 18 districts – 5 in Chhattisgarh, 3 in Maharashtra, 3 in Andhra Pradesh, 2 in West Bengal; and 1 each in Gujarat and Karnataka. In Gujarat, Surat, the industrial hub, is the most favourable destination district for the migrants from Odisha, and this accounts for more than 86 percent (1.45 lakhs) of the total migrants. In Maharashtra — Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Pune districts reported three-fourth of the total Odia migrants to the state. Raipur district, state headquarters of Chhattisgarh, reported presence of one third (40 thousand) of the state’s total immigrants from Odisha. Raipur is followed by the Durg (18000), Raigarh (11000), Bastar (10000) and Mahasamund (10000), where also a considerable number of migrants reported other than marriage as main reason for their migration. In the neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh, Visakhapatnam district reported 29,000, followed by Srikakulam and Rangareddy districts. The district Bangalore of Karnataka state reported 80 per cent (47000) of the state’s total Odia immigrants. In West Bengal, the most favourable destination districts are Kolkata and North 24 Parganas, which accommodate around one half of the total migrants from Odisha.

Top 18 destination districts for Odia migrants and number of Covid-19 cases (data by districts)

Census of India-2011 covid19india.org (5th  May, 2020)
States Districts Migrants(000) Covid-19 cases Zone
GJ Surat 145.4 706 Red Zone
MH Mumbai Suburban 31.3 9310 Red Zone
Thane 26.4 2018 Red Zone
Pune 15.9 1238 Red Zone
CHH Raipur 40.4 7 Red Zone
Durg 18.8 9 Green Zone
Raigarh 11.3 0 Green Zone
Bastar 10.4 0 Green Zone
Mahasamund 10.2 0 Green Zone
AP Visakhapatnam 29.2 37 Orange Zone
Srikakulam 22.3 5 Orange Zone
Rangareddy 17.2 36 Red Zone
Vizianagaram 12.2 0 Green Zone
KR Bangalore 47.3 153 Red Zone
WB Kolkata 21.8 659 Red Zone
North Twenty Four Parganas 16.6 178 Red Zone

Source: Census of India, 2011 Migration Tables (D3) and https://www.covid19india.org/.

It is worthwhile now to contextualize the return of migrant workers to Odisha in the wake of present crisis of Covid-19. In the first week of May, the official website covid19india.org had already reported a total of 46.6 thousand confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country. Coincidentally, most of the hotspot states are traditionally favoured destinations for the Odia migrants. It is not so much a coincidence as well, for the major urban centres would be hotspots naturally, given that the disease has spread with incoming traffic into the country. Maharashtra is the worst affected state, followed by NCT of Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Within these states, few districts with large cities are highly affected, and have been identified as the hotspots of this virus. Mumbai alone has contributed around one-fifth of the total cases in India. When the districts of Pune and Thane are also included, the share goes up to more than one fourth (27%). As already noted, these districts provide shelter to more than three-fourth of Odia migrant workers. Similar is the situation in Gujarat, where Surat accounts for 16 percent of all cases in the state. With regard to Karnataka, Bengaluru district has reported around one-fourth of the total cases in the state. In West Bengal, Kolkata and North 24 Parganas, account for more than one-third of the total cases. So, it can be concluded from the above that most Odia migrants are currently are in places under the category of ‘Red zone’.

Being worst affected the number of cases is in these big cities increasing exponentially. Needless to mention, these migrant workers and their families, live in congested slums where living conditions in terms of availability of space and other basic amenities – a matter of grave concern. Any expectation of social distancing in such a situation is being too naïve. The recent experiences of chaos during food distribution among these migrants stranded in many cities/places, only lend strengthen to this viewpoint. Better late than never; Odisha government’s initiative to bring back stranded migrant workers from different locations, in consultation with the host state governments as well as the centre, in a sanitized and safe manner under proper medical supervision indicate sincere and pro-active concern. Since this virus has an incubation period of 14 days, the returning migrants will have to follow a mandatory quarantine under the supervision of village sarpanches who have recently been given powers at par with a District Collector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, Odisha government must be lauded for its commitment to the democratic principle of ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’. 


Opinion expressed here are personal of the authors

Dr. Rabiul Ansary and Dr. KC Rath

Dr. Rabiul Ansary and Dr. KC Rath are associated with PG department of Geography, Utkal University, Odisha.

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