Need to plug development loopholes at grassroots level

By Shaji Wayanad

Absolute chaos prevailed at Satabhaya village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district for several days beginning August 14 this year when rain and floods were wreaking havoc in distant Kerala.

Over 200 people from the village were working in the plywood industry in Kerala’s flood-ravaged Perumbavoor region. Their families were clueless about their whereabouts for many days. Efforts to bring the workers back were futile largely because the families had no reliable information about the establishments they worked for.

According to social activist Sudarsan Rout, who works among Odisha’s migrant labourers, Odisha government had no option other than just forwarding mobile numbers of workers stranded in Kerala to the special relief commissioner of that state. In the absence of a list of migrant workers, it had to solely depend on these mobile numbers.

According to papers presented at a session on Odisha’s migrant workforce in the second edition of Odisha Vikash Conclave held in Bhubaneswar from August 24 to 26, people from 22 districts of the state were working in Kerala alone.

While traditional fishermen from coastal Odisha work on boats that operate from harbours in Kerala, youngsters from Kandhamal, Dhenkanal, Kendrapara and Kalahandi are a major component of the workforce in Kerala’s plywood industry.
Similarly, women and girls from Balangir, Malkangiri, Sundargarh, Kandhamal, Ganjam, Nabarangpur and Rayagada work in the textile and apparel sector of Kerala.

“Though the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, makes it mandatory for registration of migrant workers, it is hardly practised in Odisha. Labour contractors and agents send hundreds of workers illegally to other states that makes it difficult for the source state to identify and track the workers,” said Umi Daniel, director of migration and education of aide at non-government organisation Action International, in his inaugural speech.

One of the key recommendations of the unique conclave, organised by Bhubaneswar-based Centre for Youth and Social Development (CSYD) in association with various non-governmental organisations and civil society movements, was the proper registration of the workforce heading for other states and insurance cover for wage loss in the event of exigencies.

Sudarsan Rout said the conclave demanded setting up of an Odisha Migrant Workers’ Welfare Board with corpus funds for the well being of vulnerable migrant workers. It also proposed strengthening of interstate coordination and facilitation centres at both source and destination locations to ensure workers’ safety, especially during calamities.
Most speakers at the conclave opined that the pace of development has slackened in Odisha owing to social exclusion, malnutrition, and fall in education quality.

Four out of 10 children in the state are undernourished and suffer from mental disorders largely because of unhealthy environment, unhygienic practices, and lack of adequate nutrition and balanced diet.

“In many development conclaves core issues concerning the larger segment of the society are not addressed. This development conclave was an exception in its vision and concept. It was a case of civil society coming together to assert its rights and to list its priorities,’’ said Jagadananda, convener of the conclave and co-founder of CYSD.

“Poverty, social exclusion and high levels of inequality are affecting Odisha. At the conclave, we were trying to evolve an integrated approach that would meet the development challenges,’’ he said.

The conclave saw 2,670 delegates representing civil society organisations, government, academia, intelligentsia and the media deliberating on the future of the state.

Those who took part delineated clear action agendas on 19 critical development issues of the state.

They included tribal empowerment and development, women and violence, forest and non-forest commons, food and nutrition security, rain-fed agriculture, employment and migration, green skill and entrepreneurship development, school education and quality learning, health and wellness, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, river ecology, inclusive governance, fiscal management and social accountability, democratising urban governance, panchayati raj (local self-governance), disaster and climate change action, the role of corporate sector in localising SDGs, university community linkage, social exclusion and inequality and child rights.

Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, who took part in the deliberations, assured the gathering that the proposals from the conclave would be subjected to a process of inter-ministerial consultation.

On its part, representatives of the Odisha government promised to hold periodic dialogues on the conclave recommendations and to highlight key provisions of it as developmental priorities.

The conclave recommended enhanced transparency and accountability in the local self-governance system through proper bottoms-up participatory planning apart from implementing and monitoring welfare schemes and programmes.

Doubling the budget of MGNREGA, reaching out to at least 50 per cent of job card holders and ensuring 100 days’ employment to 25 per cent job card holders were the other major recommendations.

Increase in public spending on health to 2 per cent of the GSDP over the next three years and providing quality and affordable health care in private sector were also suggested.

Among the other proposals were close monitoring of health insurance schemes, enhanced investment in building human capital through higher levels of resource commitment for social sectors, especially education; promotion of rain-fed farming systems including livestock and fishery and development of farmers’ resource centres.

The conclave stressed the need for enhanced focus on conservation of water and promoting decentralised water supply systems rather than mega piped water supply systems. While dealing with nutrition, it recommended a lifecycle approach with a focus on first 1,000 days, promoting lactation management units, crèche services for pre-school children and home visits at critical life stages.

Activating area sabhas and slum improvement/ welfare boards in urban areas; ensuring 100 per cent RTE compliance in schools by the next academic year; and adequate budgetary allocations for proper curricular and co-curricular activities through well-defined school development plans were its recommendations in the educational sector.

Re-activating the Regional Imbalance Commission to address inequality by taking blocks as the lowest possible unit, bringing the State Finance Commission around to prioritising the backward rural and urban local bodies plagued with gross inequality, universalising social security pension and fixing it at a minimum of the half of minimum wages per month are also part of its proposals.

It has also recommended inclusion of the third gender in all facilities, rights and entitlements apart from preparing and empowering communities to undertake local hazard-risk-vulnerability analysis.

The conclave also sought restrictions in the transfer of patta land of tribals to non-tribals and recommended implementation of an inclusive river policy and setting up of a river science institute to promote research for effective management of river basin.

“We are keen on tribal self-governance as tribes people form 22.8 per cent of the state’s population. We are also stressing the need for evolving a state policy for mother tongue-based pre-schooling in tribal areas,’’ said Jagadananda.
Social activist Jagdish Pradhan commended the organisers for bringing into public domain comprehensive fact sheets on all the 19 critical development issues with each carrying latest figures, authentic information from government and NGOs and suggestions based on facts for the way forward.

Jagadananda said the fact sheets could be used in policy making and implementation. Stressing the need for mainstreaming the marginalised, he said Odisha must focus on sustainable livelihood options, water sanitation, tribal development, disaster risk reduction, financial inclusion, increased investment on public health, rain-fed agriculture, food security, social security and fiscal management.

Source: The Telegraph India

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