Chamru Paharia, 60, from Tikrapada village in Nuapada district of Odisha was taken to Nagpur, Maharashtra, in July for manual labour on the promise of high wages by two labour agents. He worked at the construction site of Krishna Public School in Nagpur for a month. However, when he asked for his wages, the agents assaulted him brutally. They thrashed him, chopped off his toes and fingers and left him unconscious near the Nagpur railway station. He was rescued by the railway police and admitted in a city hospital for treatment. Afterwards he managed to get some money to buy his ticket to return home.
Initially, he was too scared to file a complaint as the perpetrators belonged to his own village and he feared for his and his family members’ lives. But later, when his case was reported by the media, he managed to file a complaint at the Komna police station in Nuapada district with the help of his relatives. But no action was taken by the police. Currently, he is suffering from infected wounds.
A local activist and Chairperson of Antodaya, Dilip Das, filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), incidentally his 150th complaint with the NHRC against bonded labour from the region. In 2006, Nuapada was declared one of the 250 most backward districts of the country. Until 1993 it was part of Kalahandi, which is well known for its crippling poverty. These districts, along with Bargarh and Bolangir, are the most migration-prone regions of Odisha. They are part of the KBK (Kalahandi, Bolangir, Koraput) districts inhabited by some of the most socio-economically vulnerable communities.
In order to address the high deprivation in the area, the Central and State governments previously had adopted a special area development approach for this region through the implementation of various schemes. The Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF) that was launched by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one such initiative. But once the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance came to power, the BRGF was stopped, said Dilip Das. “The employment crisis in the region is severe. Even the MGNREGA, which was started to curb forced migration, has been curtailed,” he told Frontline . Earlier, when contractors used to manage funds under the scheme, workers received their wages regularly, but now they had to wait for years, he said. Discouraged by this, people were reluctant to go for MGNREGA work and chose to migrate instead, he added.
In July 2018, the Lok Sabha passed the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill that aimed to set up a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau to investigate cases of trafficking. While some felt that it would help address the issue, others believed that it was vague and open to abuse by authorities. Many observers opined that it upheld a failed model of raid-rescue-rehabilitation-criminalisation and did nothing to protect victims of trafficking from criminal prosecution. They felt that the Bill should be reworked or at least be sent to a parliamentary Standing Committee when it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha.