Bihar State Migrant Labour Accident Grant Scheme provides Rs 2 lakh compensation for death of a migrant labourer, but the scheme’s publicity is yet to resonate with the intended beneficiaries
Patna, Bihar: Anmol Thakur (30) can never forget that day in July 2014. He was into a house construction work in Kashmir’s Shopian, but things changed drastically when two bullets pierced his body in a terrorist strike. “One bullet hit me in the back, another in the stomach,” Anmol says, showing the injury marks left behind by the bullets.
A resident of Laharnia in Supaul district of Bihar, Anmol’s medical expenses were fully borne by the contractor. “I did not receive any other benefit… I have been sitting without work in my village for the last six months. I do not have land… To sustain my family, including my wife and two children, I have to go to Delhi or Punjab. I will go again after a few days," he says.
"At the time he suffered bullet injuries, the district magistrate and other officials came home and assured us of compensation. But no one visited us after his recovery,” laments Anmol's father Anandi Thakur. “No government gave us any benefit. The contractor provided only for medical expenses. You know how difficult it is for a labourer to stay at home for long," he sighs.
Besides Anmol, Pintu Kumar (20) and Vinod Thakur (27) of Supaul district and Heera Lal Yadav of Kasimpur in Saharsa district suffered bullet injuries on that day. According to Anmol, all three have not received any government benefit. Thankfully, their medical condition is better than before.
The Kosi area is the stronghold of migrant labourers. Pramod Yadav (28) of Ghoghadaria panchayat in Supaul district suffered injuries to the waist in a fall at a construction site in August 2022. He was treated at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital. He has been confined to his village due to the disability since then.
"I was under treatment for almost a year. It cost Rs 3 lakh. The contractor gave only Rs 1 lakh. I had to bear the rest of the expenses. The government did not provide compensation. I do not even know that such compensation is given to labourers," Pramod says.
Pramod has three sons and five daughters. He will be entitled to only three bighas of land from the family property. "Our village has been demarcated as Kosi Dam area. Not even one season of farming happens here. In such a situation, our family..." his father Bharat Yadav chokes.
Pramod's nephew Manish is a school teacher and social worker. "There is a scheme for migrant labourers, but no one here knows about it. In every house, three to four persons have migrated for work. No government official ever organised camps or created awareness about the scheme in any village,” he asserts.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Private Limited, while the national unemployment rate was 7.60% in March 2022, it had reached 14.40% in Bihar. As a result, labourers from Bihar go to every corner of the country in search of work.
"You will find Biharis at all labour squares in the country. They have to travel thousands of km just to get daily wages. In such a situation, the government does not arrange for their safety. Accidents keep happening to them. Whenever the news of such deaths makes headlines, the government immediately provides compensation. If not, the compensation file remains buried," Anupam, founder, Yuva Halla Bol, tells 101Reporters.
"Contractors do not even provide them with insurance. The government is neither able to create employment for educated people nor for unskilled labourers," he laments.
If a study by the International Institute for Population Sciences in 2020 is to be believed, half of Bihar's population has a direct connection with migration. Most of them are labourers, workers and students. Of them, labourers face problems the most.
As per the Labour Resources Department data included in the Economic Survey 2022-23, 76 migrant labourers died in 2021-22 and 110 in 2020-21. Curiously, death of not a single migrant labourer from Saharsa district was recorded in 2021-22. Notably, on March 19, 2021, 11 labourers from Jajouri village of Mahishi block died in an accident when they were being taken to Punjab in a contractor’s pickup van.
No data for 2022-23 is available yet, but scrolling through the newspaper headlines from last September to December is enough to learn about 32 deaths. In September, seven labourers from Bihar died in a lift breakdown in Thane, Maharashtra. Also, four members of a migrant family died in a fire in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. The next month, four labourers suffocated to death while cleaning the septic tank of a factory at Kamleshwar in Surat, Gujarat.
In December, seven died after getting buried under a 100-tonne maize sack at Aliabad industrial area in Karnataka. Around the same time, six workers died in a fire at a gloves factory in Maharashtra. Another four succumbed to cold weather at Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, the same month.
"Bihar government does not have any data of migrant labourers from the state. There are many labourers who die or become disabled at work or due to other reasons, but they are unaware of the government scheme meant for them. So even the government does not have data on migrant deaths," Vidyakar Jha, an RTI activist and social worker, tells 101Reporters.
According to Labour Resources Department, migrant labourers working outdoors are at risk of train or road accidents, electric shock, snake bite, drowning, fire, falling from a tree or building, attack by wild animals and terrorist, and criminal attacks, all of which are covered under the Bihar State Migrant Labour Accident Grant Scheme. The scheme provides Rs 2 lakh in the event of a migrant labourer's death. For total and temporary disabilities, the compensation is Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000, respectively. To be eligible, a labourer should be aged between 18 and 65.
To avail of the scheme, the victim/victim's family must submit the Aadhaar or identity card of the injured/deceased, First Information Report photocopy, postmortem report, dependent's Aadhaar/identity card, photocopy of the dependent's bank passbook, residence certificate, dependent certificate and the certificate issued by the pradhan (village head) at the Right to Public Service counter at the respective block headquarters.
"This scheme is also promoted on social media. Before August 2023, only Rs 1 lakh was given to the dependents. Now it has been raised to Rs 2 lakh," Amit Pandey, media in-charge, Labour Resources Department, tells 101Reporters.
Explaining the history of migration, blogger Ranjan Rituraj recalls that several industries — Bela Industries in Muzaffarpur and Modern Chocolate Company in Patna to name a few — existed in Bihar before the 90s. "Dalmia Nagar in Rohtas district was known for the production of sugar, paper, vegetable oil, cement, chemicals and asbestos. Before 1947, there were 33 sugar mills in Bihar, but only about 10 are functional today. After 1990, Bihar was torn between feudalism and socialism," he says.
"In 1960, the difference in per capita income of Bihar and Maharashtra was double. Now it has increased to almost eight times. People who migrated from Bihar after the 90s are not returning. The only solution to eradicate poverty is to launch micro, small and medium industries. Otherwise, migration in Bihar will only increase," he says.
What government should do
Jitan Mandal of Veena panchayat in Kosi belt is a labour contractor. "The government says it publicises the scheme through newspapers, mobile phone, TV and hoardings. How many labour colonies have such hoardings? Perhaps, not even one," Mandal lashes out. Though labourers use mobile phones for entertainment, they are yet to understand and make use of the full potential.
"The government should first get accurate data of migrant labourers. Subsequently, labourers themselves can be made to spread the word about the scheme through mike announcements or street plays," he proposes.
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