Over the years, an elaborate system has been worked out for not just informing migrant labour about their rights and how to access them, but to open bank accounts for them and enable their families to withdraw money sent by earning members.

 

At Itonjha village, Chittaura block of Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich, Mohanlal, a daily wage labourer earning Rs 150 to Rs 175 a day, assembles his wife and four children to greet the visitor from Delhi, narrate his story of struggle and poverty and plead that his eldest son, like his 11-year-old daughter Preeti, get admission to the residential school for migrant labour. Mohanlal and 75 other migrant labour of his block have filled forms for registration with the Board of Construction Workers that will entitle them to 17 government facilities, free residential schooling for children being one of them.

Preeti is the first child from the village to go to a residential school, Vihan Balika School run by Mahila Samakhiya. Mohanlal shares four bighas of land with his three brothers, so he has to travel to Punjab or Delhi as agriculture or construction worker to meet the growing demands of his family. With two children in a residential school, my burden will ease, he maintains. The education at the residential school is better than in the government school and the food is also free. It was a chance meeting with Shorya Vikram, who handles the Migrant Support Project of the Aga Khan Foundation at a Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) and the follow up by Jagram Rao, the community volunteer, which enabled Preeti’s admission to the residential school.

Since 2013, AKF has been implementing the Migrant Support Project to address the challenges faced by migrant households in Bahraich and Shravasti districts of UP. With another tranche of support from the Tata Trust last year it hopes to empower more migrants to negotiate fair and remunerative livelihood opportunities in 150 gram panchayats of 750 villages of the two districts. Forty to 50% of the populations of these villages, about 30,000 people, migrate as skilled as well as unskilled workers. In UP, it is the men who migrate, returning home for sowing, harvesting, marriages and festivals.

Over the years, an elaborate system has been worked out for not just informing migrant labour about their rights and how to access them, but to open bank accounts for them and enable their families to withdraw money sent by earning members. The money can be withdrawn as required through the dozen Migrant Resource Centres (MRC) in Bahraich and three in Shravasti. The MRCs, which are full of charts to increase migrant awareness about their rights and the precautions to be taken against duping, are run by an entrepreneur who is normally a business correspondent with a bank. He helps them with insurance, medical assistance, old age and disability pensions and other government provisions migrants are entitled to under the Building and Construction Workers Act of 1996.

Vinod Kumar Sahu, the entrepreneur of the MRC at Begumpur Bazaar, Bahraich is currently handling five complaints of workers who have been duped and not got their dues from the thekhedar (labour contractor). An examination of their Labour Cards showed that the dates they worked and their labour fees have not been entered and this the unlettered workers did not realise. They had been short changed of Rs 11,000, a whopping amount for daily wage workers. After documenting the details and trying to speak to the contractor, a case has been filed for redress with the District Legal Aid Service.

In addition to legal awareness and support, the MRCs provide financial literacy and facilitate linkages with social security schemes of the government. Simultaneously social development support is provided to migrant households.

Vinod Kumar, a business correspondent with the Allahabad UP Gramin Bank, opens the MRC at 8 am and throughout the day there is a steady trickle of clients who come to withdraw or deposit money, seek information and advice. Vinod gets a 4% commission from the Bank on the monetary transactions of eight gram panchayats and in a month makes Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 from the Rs 35 to Rs 40 lakh business handled by the MRC. AKF’s support includes rent for the 15 MRCs, Rs 500 to the entrepreneur for running the Centre, legal support for cases handled and providing three community volunteers selected by the entrepreneur for each MRC. This ensures that villagers are constantly informed about their rights and entitlements and have links from the grassroots to the Centre.

With land holdings shrinking, survival on just agriculture is untenable when three and four families have to share income from three to eight bighas. In 2016, AKF provided entrepreneurship training based on skills to migrant households. With the support of professionals, training of one to three months was provided in house wiring, mobile repair, running a bakery, learning to drive and a basic in computers and their maintenance. About 110 young men received training. The Allahabad Bank Rural Self Employment Training Institute, a professional driving school and computer establishment provided the required skills. House wiring, mobile repair and driving were the most sought after skills.

Munnu Singh and Sunil Kumar opted for driving. After getting a learner’s licence they were taught driving. Both now drive cabs in Saudi Arabia and are earning Rs 42,000 and Rs 35,000 a month respectively. Earlier, Munnu Singh was a migrant labour and supported his brother in vegetable vending work in Okhla Mandi, Delhi. The two together earned barely Rs 15,000 a month, which was inadequate to support two families. With Munnu becoming a cab driver, his brother no longer shares the income from vegetable vending and the family earnings have increased substantially.

Sunil, earlier a migrant worker, now drives a cab in Jeddah.

Sunil Kumar too was a migrant worker, constantly looking for work and accepting whatever employment came his way. After getting his driver’s licence and work in Saudi Arabia, he now sends home most of his salary of Rs 35,000. In a small place like Bahraich, the money is enough to meet the needs of his parents, sister, wife and a daughter.

Amritlal, son of a migrant worker, trained in repair of mobiles has opened a repair shop and business is good. To supplement his income he is selling readymade garments from his shop.

Most migrant workers are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to. These vary from maternity benefits, girl child help scheme of Rs 25,000 in fixed deposit for 18 years for two girls and Rs 50,000 if the girl is born with a disability; marriage support for two daughters of Rs 55,000 for each; construction worker’s accidental death and disability assistance of Rs 500,000 and Rs 300,000. It is AKF, with its connections from grassroots to various government departments that makes them aware of these benefits and tries to get them for migrant labour.

There is excitement in the air because at a recent meeting with the assistant divisional labour commissioner, a group marriage of 1,000 migrant workers or their families is proposed on 29 June. The villages which come under AKF’s work domain are being informed of the government support of Rs 65,000 per couple that they were unaware about. For these families it will be a new dawn!

 

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