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Naveen Patnaik discusses return of Odia workers with Uddhav Thackeray and Vijay Rupani


BHUBANESWAR: Naveen Patnaik discussed the return of lakhs of Odia workers stuck outside the state with Gujarat Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani and Maharashtra CM, Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday.

Two senior officers from each state will coordinate the return of workers, not in hundreds or thousands, but lakhs expected to travel across five states to reach their families in the eastern coast. Union minister for petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan, who hails from Odisha, also dialled in for these video conferences from New Delhi.

The Gujarat government has suggested that these men and women, mostly employed in Surat’s textile mills and diamond polishing units, make the three-day journey across the width of India in buses. Patnaik left the mode of transport in the hands of the Gujarat government. Speaking in Hindi, he asked Rupani, to ensure their well being and safe return making sure they were registered on Odisha’s specially created portal.

Thackeray told Patnaik that he didn’t want the workers to leave but if they wanted to his government would work closely with Patnaik’s and the Centre to ensure smooth coordination. Pradhan requested the Maharashtra CM to waive road tax; the Centre will make similar requests to other states, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. that the buses will have to travel through.

The Odisha CM has been insistent that returning migrants must be treated with dignity. His government had planned to bring them back in an organised and staggered manner after the current lockdown ended on May 3, possibly chartering special trains at a cost of Rs 50 lakh each. Plans were sent into tizzy with the Surat police telling workers on 24 April to get ready to board buses, said a senior official on condition of anonymity. “Videos show cops telling workers they would have to pay for these bus rides that were to start immediately, despite the lockdown and with no discussion with the host state,” claimed the official.

Surat police commissioner, R B Brahmbhatt, told ET that the announcements had been general in nature to avoid a mad rush on 3 May. “Administration is making arrangements for those who are in shelter camps. If people were organising their private mode of transport to leave earlier they could apply for permission to the regional transport office since these would require pan national permits,” said Brahmbhatt.

An estimated 7-8 lakh Odias, mostly from Ganjam district, live in Surat, some have settled there, many have not. That Odia labour is employed in large numbers in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and other states was never a secret but an official figure of exactly how many migrants live and work outside the state, in Surat for example, has always evaded NGO’s working in the area. While making arrangements fr their return, and empowering panchayats and local urban bodies to monitor them, the state had asked for them to register themselves first. To arrive at a realistic estimate on how many will be return due in the midst of this Covid19 pandemic, the state is counting on the registration portal it has set up.

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