Safe and Dignified Migration for the poor in rural Odisha


By Liby Johnson, Benoy Peter

03 June 2020

Gram Vikas Staff visiting the migrant workers from Odisha during the Kerala floods. Photograph by Jobin Chacko

Migration as a viable livelihood option

While discussing migration, it is necessary to distinguish between distress migration, as seen in many parts of Central India today,  and opportunistic migration. What differentiates the two is the level of control that the migrant has over the decision to migrate. A study (Migration and Household Adaptation in Climate-Sensitive Hotspots in South Asia) on migration in climate-sensitive areas distinguishes between migration for coping and migration for adaptation—in other words, migration out of distress or migration for growth.

Many communities that Gram Vikas works with have learned how to make the most of migration. The experiences of the village communities in Thuamul Rampur block in Odisha’s Kalahandi district is a good example. The recently published Block Migration Profile (November 2020), provides good insights. Changes in monsoon patterns, over-exploitation of available land, and limited access to irrigation have resulted in widespread food and nutrition insecurity in the area. Non-agricultural wage labour is hard to come by, except through public employment generation schemes. Farm labour work is available for limited periods and pays very low wages. On the positive side, there is much better access to school education in the villages, opening up new possibilities.

It is estimated that approximately ₹ 30 crore comes into the block annually through remittances made by migrant workers.  Several migrants have bought auto-rickshaws, providing not just employment, but also local transportation to the villages of the block, where public transport facilities are limited. Income from migration has helped households hire farm labour. It has also helped many households build better houses, pay off debts, invest in small businesses, and secure financial resources for marriages. The households with migrants are more likely to get credit from local financiers compared to households without migrants. There are also instances of young people returning to Odisha and using their savings to complete their education.

Development as a result of migration can impact the entire local social and economic situation as pointed out by the Human Development Report 2009. The quality of life improves, private investments in human development through better education and healthcare multiply, productive resources find better use and increased yields, and so on. Moreover, the growth has the potential to be sustainable.

The Costs of Migration

A multi-stakeholder assessment conducted by Gram Vikas and the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), clarified that while there are obvious economic benefits of migration, the social and emotional stress it causes are high too.

Table: Key issues faced by stakeholders

Stakeholder Group Key issues
Migrants Limited information about jobs at the destination

Not knowing where to turn to for information or support

Withholding of payment by the employer

Unexpected termination

Payment of less than agreed upon wages

Poor access to health care facilities

Lack of skills to obtain better jobs/wages

Difficulties in sending money to the family

Difficulties in getting train tickets for travel

Wives of migrants Unable to access health care in the absence of husbands

Fear of extramarital affairs of the husband

Kids do not obey their mothers

Time and effort in getting money from banks

Mothers of migrants Unable to access health care in the absence of sons

Problems  in collecting wood from forest

Shortage of labour for agriculture

Men/ Community leaders Menial jobs that the migrants are having to do

Communication problems

Lavish consumption by migrants when they return

Time and effort in getting money from banks

Aggravation by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown have highlighted the precarious nature of migration-based livelihoods.

The experiences of migrant workers on the face of drying up of income sources and the long period of uncertainty, the sense of alienation and emotional distress from being stranded in locations of work during the lockdown have been documented by many agencies. Many workers who managed to return to their native villages have faced struggles to make ends meet and stare at an uncertain future. In most cases, their wage income was the sole source for the families, most have debts to pay off, and local employment is hard to come by, even in a normal situation. Interactions carried out by Gram Vikas and CMID with migrant workers from Kalahandi during the lockdown have helped understand in greater detail, the impact of the lockdown and what strategies the workers have adopted to cope with such impacts.

The case for ensuring safe and dignified migration

The opportunities for secure and sustainable livelihoods in the villages of Odisha are limited by a variety of resource constraints. The North-Eastern Ghats and Western Undulating Lands agro-climatic zone regions, where the current intervention is focused, are characterised by a mixture of moist peninsular, tropical-moist, dry-deciduous and tropical-deciduous forests and rain-fed agricultural economy. The high dependence on scarce and low-quality land and dwindling forest resources cannot sustain a dignified quality of life. Industrial activity in the region is largely in mining and provides little in terms of employment opportunities, while adversely impacting the natural environment. At the same time, improved access to education and exposure to new technologies are changing the aspirations of the younger generation. Under these circumstances, migration for work needs to be seen as an intermediate livelihood option – aiding the transition from a completely primary sector-based society to a modern one.

Migration as an informed choice

Whether or not to migrate for work is an individual’s decision as it is the right of every citizen of India to do so. Migration has been a path to prosperity for people around the world. However, it has to be ensured that no one in the programme areas is left without a choice resulting in distress migration. Everyone should have access to adequate and appropriate opportunities within his/her native place and the decision to migrate is a conscious and informed decision that is made for the upliftment of the person and her/his family. Besides, at the destination, the person should be able to pursue his job with dignity and social protection.

Components of Safe and Dignified Migration

Where a person chooses to migrate, safe and dignified migration in the context of rural Odisha consists of the four aspects.

  • Occupational Security – means the ability of a person to choose to migrate for work or not, with clear information about the prospects and consequences, and for a person who decides to migrate having clear information about the terms and conditions of employment, to find jobs commensurate with their skills, and freedom from exploitation at the workplace.
  • Emotional Security – denotes the ability of the migrant and the family that stays behind to be in touch with each other and be updated on each other’s well-being on a regular basis and reduced uncertainties during travel.
  • Financial Security – is about the ability of the migrant worker to transfer earnings to her/his family and for them to access the money when needed, without incurring high transaction costs and having access to easy options for making remittances, greater savings, access to credit at fair terms and appropriate insurance schemes.
  • Social Security – denotes the ability of the migrant worker to access social security benefits provided by the government at the destination, and the continuing ability of those who stay behind to access theirs, including leveraging SHG networks and other mechanisms to ensure that distance does not prevent women and the elderly from accessing their entitlements.

Safe and Dignified Migration Programme in the Odisha-Kerala Corridor

The Odisha-Kerala corridor of the Safe and Dignified Migration Programme is being taken jointly by Gram Vikas, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID) Kerala, ESAF Small Finance Bank and Prachodhan Development Society.

Gram Vikas will coordinate and facilitate the source level aspects of the programme; CMID and PDS will coordinate at the destination level and ESAF SFB will support with the financial inclusion related aspects.

Estimates of Migration

Gram Vikas and CMID have conducted detailed field-level studies to prepare Block Migration Profiles of four blocks in Odisha – Thuamul Rampur in Kalahandi, Baliguda in Kandhamal, Rayagada in Gajapati and Jagannath Prasad in Ganjam. The scientifically designed sample study has helped estimate the incidence of migration in these Blocks.

Household Migration Rates of four Blocks (Per 100 households)

Migration Stream Thuamul Rampur Baliguda* Rayagada* Jagannath Prasad*
Inter-District Migration# 19.8 21.0 34.1 38.0
Inter-State Migration 18.6 18.3 31.4 17.6
Migration History in Last 10 Years 33.9 34.0 45.2 57.5

Source: Gram Vikas-CMID Household Migration Surveys conducted during 2019 and 2020 with a scientifically selected sample of above 400 households per block

*Provisional estimates of migration as on the day of announcement of lockdown for Baliguda, Rayagada and Jagannath Prasad

# Inter-District migration also includes Inter-State migration

As can be seen, the incidence of current migration among households in these blocks vary between 19.8% in Thuamul Rampur and 38% in Jagannath Prasad. In absolute terms, the number of Inter-State migrants from these areas is estimated to range between 2799 in Baliguda to 16,245 in Jagannath Prasad. Of these, a substantial proportion of workers move to Kerala. For example, about 68% of the workers from Kalahandi found work in Kerala. Kerala offers the highest wages in the unorganized sector in the entire Indian subcontinent, many times of what they get in Odisha.

SDM Programme – Coverage

In the first phase the Safe Migration Programme will focus on Thuamul Rampur Block in Kalahandi district.

Eventually, there is potential to take up the programme in 22 Blocks with shared demographic, cultural and topographical characteristics in six districts in southern and south-western Odisha. These are Blocks where Gram Vikas has built partnerships with village communities as part of its work in the last 42 years.

Table: Blocks to be covered in the Safe and Dignified Migration Programme

Ganjam District

1.    Chikiti

2.    Digapahandi

3.    Jagannathprasad

4.    Kukudakhandi

5.    Patrapur

6.    Sorada

Nayagarh District

7.    Daspalla

8.    Nuagaon

Kandhamal District

1.    Baliguda

2.    Daringbadi

3.    K Nuagaon

4.    Tumudibandh

Rayagada District

1.    Padmapur

2.    Gunupur

3.    Kolnara

Kalahandi District

1.    Lanjigarh

2.    Thuamul Rampur

Gajapati District

3.    Gosani

4.    Rayagada

5.    Gumma

6.    Nuagada

7.    Mohana

These 22 Blocks together have 464 Gram Panchayats, with a total population of 21.34 lakh person. 51% of the population belong to SC and ST communities. As per different estimates, there are at least 75,000 persons from these Blocks working in other States of India.

In the first phase, the programme will benefit nearly 18,000 households in Thuamul Rampur block, with direct benefit to about 4500 persons who migrate to Kerala.

Objectives of the Programme

The Safe and Dignified Migration Programme has the following objectives:

  • Create community-level capabilities, institutional systems and processes to enable informed migration decisions by workers and their families; and provide social protection to the staying behind families of migrant workers.
  • Establish a migrant support system to provide information and decision support systems; facilitate access to information about job opportunities and, reduce the stress in travel and financial transactions.
  • Promote skill building of men and women, to enable better employment opportunities, both locally and when migrating.
  • Create an interface mechanism between migrant workers their families and communities with the local, district and higher level of administration for ensuring access to entitlements and social security schemes
  • Build partnerships with specialized agencies and programmes at different migration destinations for information sharing, access to employers and skill building opportunities, ensuring access to entitlements and grievance redressal and, ensuring access to healthcare and safe and good quality living conditions.

Programme Activities

The Safe and Dignified Migration Programme will be implemented through two key components, the Community Champions Network and the network of facilitation and resource centres, known as Shramik Bandhu Seva Kendra (SBSK) in Odisha and Bandhu Shramik Seva Kendra (BSSK) in the destination locations.

  • Community Champions Network (CCN)

The CCN will be formed with individual community migration facilitators at the Gram Panchayat level. The CCN will be act as the community interface for the Programme. They will be individuals, preferably with prior experience of migration, from the Gram Panchayats they are part of.

Role of CCN

  • Interface between current and potential migrant households, migrant workers and Programme
  • Coordinate with Gram Panchayat and Block administration for entitlements and facilities for migrant workers and households
  • Ensure timely availability of communication and information at the habitation and Gram Panchayat levels
  • Carry out village level Information-Communication campaigns
  • Conduct regular follow-up with local administration for social protection schemes
  • Prepare and maintain Gram Panchayat level Migrant Registry for real-time information on migrant workers

The work of CCN will be facilitated using a technology platform, linking them in real-time (network conditions permitting) with the other components of the Programme. The CCN will be identified in consultation with the local communities and Gram Panchayat and provided necessary training and exposure. The time they spent on programme activities will be compensated for.

  • Shramik Bandhu Seva Kendra (SBSK), Odisha

The SBSK are source level facilitation centres, that will serve as a one-stop service centre for different needs of current and potential migrant workers. The SBSK will be set up in strategic locations such as District headquarters or near key transit railway stations in the Programme area.

The SBSK will provide information and services related to:

  • Details of different destinations
  • Likelihood of availability of employment opportunities
  • Contacts for jobs, accommodation etc. at the destination
  • Preparation of worker profiles and curriculum vitae to enable better job search
  • Facilitation for obtaining necessary documents before travel, in coordination with CCN
  • Transit facilities at reasonable cost
  • Support for train tickets or arrangements for local travel

The SBSK will serve as a transit hub for both workers going to the destination and those coming home from the work places. Family members of migrant workers will be able to obtain information about the workers from the SBSK. It will coordinate with the district administration and other statutory agencies on behalf of the workers. The SBSK will be run by a team of three or four volunteers, with a Centre Coordinator being responsible for the overall functioning.

The SBSK will operate a telephone helpline providing round-the-clock services.

The first SBSK will be set up in Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi district, with sub-centres in three locations in Thuamul Rampur block.

  • Bandhu Shramik Seva Kendra (BSSK), Kerala

The BSSK are destination level facilitation centres, set up in selected locations in Kerala. It will be the one-stop source for support and information to workers travelling to and working at the respective locations.


  • To provide effective and high quality advice/information to migrant workers about basic services and enhance the utilization of services by migrant workers and their families
  • To help the migrant workers enroll under various welfare schemes relevant to them and avail the benefits.
  • Help the migrant workers find potential employers who provide decent work opportunities
  • To facilitate migrants’ access to financial services such as banking and insurance
  • To offer necessary interpretation services if required to avail relevant services.

The services provided by the BSSK include:

  • Information about jobs
  • Preparation of worker profiles and curriculum vitae to enable better job search
  • Facilitation for finding suitable accommodation
  • Redressal of grievances of workers regarding employers or conditions of work
  • Facilitate government coordination for legal and social security matters
  • Facilitation of identity documents for different needs
  • Linkages with banks and financial institutions
  • Financial literacy initiatives
  • Provide health information and linking to quality and affordable healthcare
  • Provide follow up services for treatment adherence and clinical access
  • Provide psycho-social counselling support

Most migrant workers will be engaged in work between 8 am and 6 pm, except on Sundays. Most government offices do not function at the timings convenient to migrant workers. Majority of them are closed on Sundays when migrants are available. The BSSK will operate between 1.30 pm to 9.30 pm during Sunday to Friday. Saturday will be holiday for the helpdesk. The telephone helpline will be functional between 9.30am to 9.30 pm except on Saturday.

Coordination with Government

The Safe and Dignified Migration Programme requires critical support from the Governments in both Kerala and Odisha. In Odisha, the Gram Panchayats will also play a key role in ensuring the safety and dignity of the workers travelling to other States.

In Kerala, CMID will coordinate with the Labour Department, National Health Mission and the District Legal Services Authority other relevant departments to facilitate various services to the migrant workers.

In Odisha, Gram Vikas will coordinate with the Labour and Employment Department, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department and the District Administration to ensure that the migrating workers, their families and communities obtain necessary services. The SBSK and CCN will work along with the Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samiti to enable workers and families to access social protection schemes and other benefits. Convergence with Odisha Livelihoods Mission and Mission Shakti will enable women from the migration dependent families to strengthen their social and economic security.

Promoting MGNREGS

It is our firm belief that migration should not be the first option for avoiding distress or for building a sustainable and dignified livelihoods. Only when other options are inadequate should a person or family consider migrating for work. In this regard, the role of MGNREGS is very critical. Gram Vikas is committed to ensure that all families in the operational areas of the Safe and Dignified Migration Programme have easy access to their MGNREGS entitlements. We will work together with the Gram Panchayats to ensure that all interested families have their job cards.

Adherence to legal norms

The programme will be taken up in strict adherence to the laws and rules governing Inter-State Migration. The intent of the programme is to facilitate the welfare of the workers and their families. It does not provide employment to any individual from Odisha in Kerala. The programme will work closely with the law enforcement agencies in both States to ensure that the rights of citizens are not violated.

Safe and Dignified Migration Programme – Phase 1

The first phase of the Safe and Dignified Migration Programme is being taken up in Thuamul Rampur Block of Kalahandi district. The Shramik Bandhu Seva Kendra is being set up in Bhawanipatna, with three sub-centres in Gunupur, Gopalpur and Adri Gram Panchayats of Thuamul Rampur.

Given the limitation posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, during the first phase, the programme will also support the workers migrating to Kerala with transport arrangements.

Community meeting on safe migration in Thuamul Rampur, Kalahandi, Odisha. Photograph by Ajaya Behera.


The migrant workers from our partner villages, whose hard work, resilience and lives inspired this programme.


Liby Johnson is the Executive Director of Gram Vikas. Benoy Peter is the Executive Director of Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.


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