A civil engineering graduate in Odisha, who had lost his job in a road construction company in Chennai during the Covid-19 lockdown, had to work as a labourer in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) till the district collector intervened.
In another district, a tehsildar saved a school-going boy from working as a migrant labourer after his studies were affected due to lack of a smartphone.
Anant Beria, who did his civil engineering in Odisha, had lost his Rs 15,000 a month job in Chennai during the lockdown. With his savings wiped out, Beria, the eldest child of his family, was forced to come back to his home in Jurlakani village in Deogaon block of Bolangir district.
Beria would probably have been toiling away as an MGNREGS worker had Bolangir district collector Chanchal Rana not chanced upon him during his visit to Deogaon block on Tuesday.
“I found him digging a canal under MGNREGS with his father Baisakhu. It was a little disturbing for me. As an engineering graduate, he was supposed to be in a better place, doing more skilful work. So, we offered him the job of a data entry operator in National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) cell of the district where he would get better remuneration. I would also personally try to get him a job matching his education and skills,” said Rana, who is also an engineer by education.
Beria and three of his siblings were brought up with much hardship by their daily wager father Baisakhu Beria. “As he did not get any work after returning home from Chennai, he decided to work under MGNREGS. After all one has to survive,” said Beria’s father.
Over 6.6 million white collar professional jobs were lost from May till August 2020 as per Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Those rendered jobless during the pandemic included engineers, physicians, teachers and accountants.
In Malkangiri district, tehsildar of Kalimela, Alok Kumar Anugulia managed to save Kondh tribal boy Surendra Khara from the clutches of labour mafia by buying him a smartphone so that the boy could resume his online classes.
Khara, a Class IX student of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya-1 in Malkangiri district, was all set to migrate to Bhadrachalam district in Telangana as a daily wager to arrange money for a smartphone for his online classes. The Kalimela tehsildar got to know about the local labour mafia trying to entice the boy and rescued him.
Khara, 18, did not have a smartphone, and could not join the online classes of his school. “Though I had textbooks, there was no one in my village to guide me. I was scared of lagging behind in studies and decided to migrate to Bhadrachalam in Telangana. I thought I would earn enough to buy a smartphone, come back within two months and resume my studies,” he said.
However, Khara panicked when he learnt that the labour agent was not taking them to Bhadrachalam but to Bengaluru. He and others in the group were then rescued by Jai Malkangiri, a volunteers’ group.
“He is good in his studies. His 17-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister have already dropped out from school and become daily wagers. I want him to study and so bought him a smartphone. I did not want the student dropping out because of a smartphone. I have suggested that his family moves him to Mathili where he will stay with the volunteers of Jai Malkangiri so that the local labour mafia can’t entice him. Once his school re-opens he would go,” said the tehsildar.
As per Odisha school and mass education department, about 38 lakh out of 60 lakh students in Odisha did not have access to online education, forcing several parents in Odisha to sell their belongings to buy smartphones for their children. A couple in Mayurbhanj district had to sell their milch cow to buy a smartphone for their daughter. Similarly, a housewife in Cuttack district had to sell her gold earrings to buy a smartphone for her daughter.