Image: The Apna Ghar in Palakkad district.
By Bappaditya Paul
Thiruvananthapuram: In a first-ever initiative in India that could go a long way in ensuring the welfare of migrant workers, Kerala has built state-of-the-art lodging facilities for unorganised sector workers who throng the state from different parts of India for livelihood.
Not only this! Kerala has accorded “guest” status to the migrant workers, sending out a clear message to its people and administration that the migrant workforce should be treated with dignity and not hostility.
This comes at a time when there have been instances in the recent past of migrant workers being killed in the states like Rajasthan and rampant complaint of ill-treatment in Gujarat and Haryana.
The initiative will be of immense benefit to workers from Bengal who account for the largest chunk of Kerala’s nearly 15-lakh migrant workforce. There is also a sizeable number of workers from Bihar, Odisha, and Assam. The migrant workers are mostly engaged in sectors like construction, plywood industry, agriculture, and hospitality.
“Our aim is plain and simple. Every single migrant worker is entitled to the same dignity and privileges that are extended to Kerala’s native workers. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure this,” says Kerala’s labour minister TP Ramakrishnan.
Ramakrishnan is the one who impressed upon his finance ministry counterpart, Thomas Isaac, to recognise the migrant workers as “guest workers” in the Budget speech for 2018-19.
Kerala labour department has so far built a four-storied lodging facility for the migrant workers at KINFRA Integrated Industrial and Textile Park in Palakkad district.
Work is in progress for three more such facilities in Ernakulam district, Kozhikode district, and at Chempazhanthy near the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. This lodging facility project has been named Apna Ghar, which stands for “our home” in Hindi.
“Since nearly 95 per cent of the migrant workers are male, we are focusing on building accommodation for them first. At a later stage, we will build lodging facilities for female migrant workers as well,” informs Sreelal K, regional joint labour commissioner for central Kerala.
The newly constructed Apna Ghar at Palakkad is a 44,000 square feet sprawling facility having 62 rooms spread across the four floors. Meant to accommodate 620 male migrant workers, it is similar to the PG hostel in a central university.
The only difference is that while in PG hostels, two boarders are accommodated in one room, here, one room is meant for 10 workers.
“Our rooms are way bigger than that of a standard PG hostel room and hence they can easily accommodate 10 people. The idea is to facilitate community living as in most cases the migrant workers hail from the same district or region,” explains Niranjan Nair, the project director of Kerala government’s Bhavanam Foundation, which is implementing Apna Ghar project.
Palakkad Apna Ghar has, in each accommodation block, two separate community kitchens ~ for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, a dining room, a washing line with bathrooms, toilets, wash basins, and apparel washing-drying area.
Piped drinking and bath water have been drawn from a nearby water supply facility. There is a small playground and hanging out area on the campus for the recreation of workers who will be lodging here.
“The government has fixed a monthly rent of Rs 800 per individual worker lodging in Apna Ghar. This will cover all the expenses but food. Wrought iron cots, tables, wardrobes, and fans are already provided for. A worker will only need to bring in his beddings,” Nair said.
He added that private accommodation providers in Kerala charge a monthly rent of anything between Rs 800-Rs 1,500 per worker but do not provide as many facilities as Apna Ghar.
To select the beneficiaries who can find accommodation in Apna Ghar, Kerala labour department has undertaken a programme named “AAWAZ” wherein all identification details of a migrant worker are being recorded and he is being issued a biometric identity card on the spot.
“Our department is enrolling migrant workers into AAWAZ through both mobile camps and facilitation centres. Since November 2017 and till 31 March 2018, about 1.94-lakh migrant workers have been issued the biometric identity card,” informs labour department public relations officer CF Dileepkumar.
“A permanent facilitation centre, Shramik Bandhu, has been opened at Thampanoor in Thiruvananthapuram. Several more will be started soon in strategic locations across the state,” he added.
Apart from enabling them to apply for accommodation in Apna Ghar, enrolling for AAWAZ will make a migrant worker eligible for Rs 15,000 worth medical treatment in government and empanelled private hospitals, and Rs 2-lakh insurance coverage in the event of death by accident.