Rural Employment and Migration

Venue: Hotel Suryansh – Kalinga Hospital Road

Among India’s most income poor states, ensuring sustainable livelihood for citizens is a core concern for Odisha. Yet, vacancies in the state are not being filled due to lack of skilled workers even as large numbers remain unemployed or under-employed. The employment challenge for Odisha essentially boils down to a mismatch between the quality of available labour and the minimal standards required for jobs on offer. Consequently, agriculture and allied activities employ 62 % workers even as they contribute only 20 % of the GSDP. This means virtually all available employment in rural areas is informal, e.g. farm labour. These offer low wages and discriminate against women by either not employing them or doing so at lower wages than men. Not surprisingly, Census 2011 shows even as Odisha’s workforce grew to 23% during 2001-11, in the same decade, there were 3 % less cultivators and farm labour with women cultivators and farm labour declining by a massive 19 %.

A combination of no work or exploitative terms for available work, due to persistent poverty that compromises resilience along with increased impact of natural disasters, pushes rural workers to migrate. However, lack of suitable skills for jobs in city based industry and commerce creates a desperate to and fro survival cycle that leaves many, especially women, vulnerable to exploitation. Not all migration is negative. Many Odia workers, pulled by better economic and social prospects, move to other states, improve their living standards, and contribute significant remittances.

However, there is need to address the phenomenon of rural distress-driven migration. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) 2005, with assured 100 days employment for rural poor, is supposed to utilize unskilled labour to create public assets in villages. It is ecpected to act as buffer against compulsion led migration while augmenting rural infrastructure. However, with the new national development agenda, rural job creation has become a lower order priority. Given Odisha’s acute socio-economic backwardness and extreme vulnerability to natural calamities, there is a need for stakeholders to deliberate on strategies to address push migration and facilitate safe migration.

Discussion Points:

  • What can create sustainable rural employment in Odisha? How to revitalize the MNREGA?
  • How can women’s workforce participation in Odisha’s countryside be improved?
  • How to make Odisha’s cities safe for the rural in-migrants? What can the urban local bodies do to help?
  • What can be done to improve Odia rural migrants’ prospects after moving to cities in terms of skills training? How can Skill India and like programmes be made more effective?
  • How can coordination between Odisha and the destination states for its out-migrants be formalized and improved? Specifically, how can Odia out-migrants’ access to IDs, PDS, education, and health be ensured at destination?
  • How can the rights of the migrating Odia women and children be protected, within and outside the State?