It has been little over a fortnight that the first batch of stranded migrants reached Ganjam, traveling by bus from Surat in Gujarat. According to official data, more than 1.5 million Odia migrant workers, stranded in different parts of the country, have registered with the Government of Odisha, seeking its help for their return home. As of May 16, only 1.3 lakh, or less than 10% of those stranded workers wishing to return home, have been brought back. Nearly half of them, or around 55,000, have returned to Ganjam district alone, mostly from Surat, Gujarat.

The Government of Odisha has made Quarantine Centres (QCs)/Temporary Medical Centres (TMCs) in almost all Gram Panchayats (GPs). It has also changed laws to give Sarpanchs certain powers of a District Collector (viz. under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA), 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897) to ensure effective management of the QCs/TMCs, where the returnees are to spend four weeks.

As the number of returnees has surged over the past two weeks, reports of mismanagement at QCs/TMCs have been brought to the fore. Moreover, various incidences of conflicts over physical distancing and resource distribution have also been noticed. While authorities have often described these incidents as acts of “indiscipline” on the part of the returnees and have warned them of penal action, the reality is that in most cases such incidents are triggered by the lack of basic amenities, health care facilities, and mismanagement in provisioning food and other services at the QCs. This is corroborated by a survey that was conducted by the Forum for Odisha Dialogues in collaboration with the Citizens’ Action Group (CAG), Odisha, just ahead of the arrival of the first batch of returnees.

  • Gram Panchayats must be empowered further to handle this unprecedented crisis. It would be imperative on part of the government to clearly delineate the role and function of Gram Panchayat and concerned authorities to arrest any further discrepancies.
  • It requires no further substantiation that migration, especially distress-driven migration, has come-up as one of the major policy issues in this unfolding of pandemic. In Odisha, the distress-driven migration is found to be concentrated in the underdeveloped regions of the state, especially, in KBK. This pandemic has laid bare to the welfare claim of the government in this region. This is high time that the government devised a clear-cut measure to bridge the regional divide. It is also equally important to boost local economy and labour-intensive industries in these regions so that people are not forced out of the state for the livelihood.
  • The government should think about developing a mechanism, like that of Kerala, to monitor and administer inter-state migration so that in situation like this comprehensive decision making could have been made possible.
  • The state government should focus on building public sector institutions, especially health infrastructures, for long-term solution to health crisis in the state.

The survey was conducted between April 25 and 29, 2020. The survey had covered 54 Gram Panchayats (GPs) across 15 districts and 30 Blocks of Odisha, considered to be the most prone to distress migration.

The objectives of the survey were:

  • To assess whether space for Quarantine Centres (QCs)/Temporary Medical Centres (TMCs) are available in GPs and those have been identified.
  • To gauge preparedness in terms of availability of beds, toilets, availability of electricity, connectivity to water source, etc. so that returnees don’t have to face difficulties.
  • To assess the capability of GP leadership to manage the essential tasks assigned.

The main findings of the survey are as follows:

  • Two in every 10 households reported having sent people outside to work; four in every 100 people are migrants.
  • Of all the migrants, 93% were expected to return to their villages.
  • Of all the migrants, 39% of them were female workers. This shows the intensity of family migration in the surveyed areas.
  • The total number beds available at the QCs were less than half (40%) of the number of migrants expected to return. More importantly, the mismatch is highly uneven across districts. For example, in the four GPs surveyed in Bolangir district, there were only 660 beds against an expected return of 4,048 migrants, whereas neighbouring Kalahandi fared much better (10 GPs surveyed there had 1,239 beds against about 1,400 migrants expected to return).
  • 30% of the Quarantine Centres did not have electricity connection.
  • Only 20% of the QCs had overhead tanks to store water.
  • 24% of QCs did not have arrangements for sanitization, e.g. hand sanitizers, etc.
  • Almost all Sarpanchs expressed concern about safety of women and migrants at the QCs.

The survey was conducted through a structured schedule administered by surveyors on GP functionaries like Sarpanch or Naib Sarpanch. So, it was a first-hand account of what was the preparatory status at the ground zero. The survey was executed across 54 GPs of 30 Blocks in 15 of the 30 Districts of Odisha. The survey was conducted a week after the Government of Odisha made the announcement to welcome back migrant workers interested to return to their place of birth / residence. The preparations in QCs were still under progress and guidelines and different working rules were also under development and modification.

Out of the 54 Sarapanchs interviewed, 28 are female and 26 males. The survey was conducted during April 25-29, 2020. By that date, in a majority of the surveyed Panchayats, i.e. in 42 GPs, the survey of migrant workers was going on. Only six GPs had finished the registration of migrant workers; while six GPs had not even started the registration process.

The total number of households and population in our 54 surveyed GPs are 73,589 and 3,24,834 respectively. These GPs reported to have 17,585 stranded migrant workers; and 13,644 (78%) of them are expected to return to their place over the time. The data shows that male migrant workers constitute 61% (8930) of the stranded migrant workers; whereas female workers constitute around 39%. This shows the intensity of distress family migration in the surveyed area. An overwhelming proportion of the migrant workers (85%) work outside the state for their livelihood. Around 15% of the workers migrate within Odisha.

Out of 54 GPs, 15 GPs have less than 100 stranded migrant workers outside the state, 11 had between 100 -200, 12 had between 200-500, 5 had 500-1000 and another 11 GPs had more than 1000. In every ten households two reported to have a migrant worker and in every 100 people at least four have migrated for their livelihood. Districts like Bolangir, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Nabarangpur, Ganjam and Balasore have high incidence of distress migration, accounting for 80% of total migration in the surveyed regions. It has to be noted that the GPs falling under Bolangir, Nuapada and Balasore have significant migrants to population ratio, standing at 28.2, 14.7 and 16.4 respectively.

Out of the 54 surveyed GPs, according to the Sarpanchs, 50 GPs had set up the QCs; while only in four GPs the QCs were not ready during our survey time. In most of the GPs, the QCs have been set up in the nearest government schools followed by Ashram Schools or Residential Schools, and Rajeev Gandhi Seva Kendras. The capacity of the QCs ranges from less than 50 beds to more than 500 beds. Maximum GPs had QCs with capacity less than 50 beds. Most of the Sarapanchs, however, had opined that they have kept provision to increase the capacity further.

In the 54 surveyed GPs although 13,644 migrants workers are expected to return during our survey only 5842 beds were available. Which means that for every 10 expected migrant workers to return, the GPs had less than five beds available at QCs during our survey. Around 91% of the QCs had separate toilets for male and females and 9% QCs did not have separate toilets. One third of the QCs did not have electricity facility. A majority of the QCs reported to have both tube well and pipe water. Around 20% of the QCs had overhead tank facilities.

Almost all Sarapanchs raised concern over the law and order issues at QCs. Most of them also raised concern regarding the security for the quarantined women and men at night. Transportation of the migrant workers was also an important concern of the Sarapanchs. Many Sarapanchs were also not aware of the sources of funding for managing the QCs.

The decision of the Government of Odisha to bring back migrants deserves all support and appreciation. However, the arrangements made and guidelines provided have not been very clear and, in reality, did not put the Sarpanchs in the drivers’ seat although that was the intention stated by CM Naveen Patnaik in his April 19 address to the state. The Sarpanchs clearly do not have required capacity to manage something of such an unprecedented scale. It needs managerial capability of different kinds to take care of a wide range of needs such as food, cleanliness, dealing with conflict, safety and security, hygiene, essential infrastructure, etc. There is an urgent need to develop holistic measures to address the issue. Moreover, it is an irony that despite being provided with the District Collector’s power they have not been given drawing rights to manage fund. They cannot take decisions without consulting Block Development Officer (BDO). This mismatch needs to be addressed. Leadership at Gram Panchayat level is not as competent as they should be. Proxy management is rampant and people who are the face are not the real power or do not have the authority. Since Gram Panchayat is an important community institution, its leadership can make a whole lot of difference in addressing wide ranging fundamental issues.


Limitations of the Survey : The survey was done during initial stages when migrants started returning in small numbers. Now the numbers have become higher. Hence, the facilities might have been ramped up and deficits may have been made good. The kind of situation that prevailed then was of confusion and curiosity as most of the Gram Panchayats surveyed were yet to receive the migrants. Once, they received the migrants they might have developed confidence as to how to deal with the situation. So things might have become better in some places and the reverse might have been the case elsewhere. The aim is to collect more information of the surveyed Gram Panchayats in order to reassess the situation. It is intended to carry a panel survey of the GPs post lockdown 4.0 to comprehend the socio-politico-economic development following the surge of returnee migrants in their domicile.