Daily struggle, dingy rooms! That’s life for migrants in Loutolim

Trimming his hairline moustache outside his one-room asbestos-roofed accommodation, Pramod, 26, a migrant worker, crossed this reporter’s vision first. The reporter caught up with him making a turnaround and understood that migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Karnataka and other states look upon Goa as ‘Gulf State’ as it provides opportunities for jobs and employment that they cannot hope for at home.

"What if it comes on contracts and is not the permanent one…at least we get work and payment to make a living," Pramod said.

They migrate in herds and live in groups. They share rooms, sometimes 5-10 of them living in a single unventilated, unhygienic room, and struggle hard to save from the pittance they get as salary and send it home to their families, which comprise of many individuals.

Pramod, an unlettered and a semi-skilled worker, had a nightshift at one of the many shipyard companies nearby. "I’ve not faced any problem here as such from the local people, not even after this recent murder. But yes, the closure of mines has affected us badly," said Pramod, "as the business has gone down and so also, the need of workers like me over here."

But, do local people tease and trouble them for being migrants? "No…Never. We have been living here without any problem for the last five years and it is they who have given us rooms to stay," he said without any interruption. Pramod has come from the Mau district of Uttar Pradesh and many of his co-workers are from Deoria and Ballia districts of eastern UP.

Loutolim has around 400 outside migrants living on rent in rooms or a portion of the house let out by the locals. The 2001 census demographic statistics on Goa indicates that migrants working in the organised and unorganised sectors constitute nearly 4 lakh of Goa’s 13.48 lakh population.

"The villagers let out their rooms or a portion of their house to these migrant labourers as they get more money from them. Even for a 3 x 4 single room with no facility, they get not less than
` 1,500 as rent and it makes their livelihood easy," said a local real estate owner, Mr Jayprakash Rasaikar. Mr Rasaikar also said that ever since the dock business arrived in the village, the inflow of migrant workers has increased. "Locals don’t want to work as labourers and on contract; they prefer to go to the Gulf and other countries to earn more. So we are faced with labour problem over here," he said further. "The migrants, mostly from UP, Bihar and Karnataka work on any given service conditions and labour is cheap. And, since Loutolim village is close to the industrial area of Verna, connected with easy transport, they prefer to stay here," he said.

But, do the villagers submit their verification forms to the police for security reasons before letting out the rooms to the migrants? "Yes, we take all the precautions…Submitting their verification forms with all the details to the police and the police often come to check the given details," he said. "The problem, however, is that for this, we have to travel a distance of 14 km to go to Maina-Curtorim police station. We need a police post here," he demanded. Mr Rasaikar further strengthened his argument saying that it is because of the migrants that many bars and vegetable corners have sprung up in the village. "They are the buyers and the locals earn from them," he said.

But, don’t they create nuisance and scuffle after their drinking binge in bars? "The migrants from UP and Bihar rarely visit bars but the Karnataka migrants do go there and sometime engage in some minor but totally avoidable nuisance," he said while adding that the recent murder by a Karnataka migrant was an "isolated and an unfortunate incident."

Agreed Mr Inacinho Fernandes, a businessman from the village. Mr Fernandes has let out about two dozen of his dank dwellings to the migrant workers, mostly from Karnataka but few of them are also from UP and Bihar. "The incident which happened should not have happened…It’s an exceptional case…Otherwise, we do not have any problem here with the outside migrants," he said adding that he keeps a close eye on the activities of migrants living in his dwellings. "I get all the verification forms filled and submit them to the police. Besides, if I find anything suspicious I immediately ask them to vacate my premises," he said. Mr Fernandes charges from ` 1,000 to ` 2,000 for a room accommodation.

However, informed sources said that all his dwellings are illegal and built violating the CRZ rules and regulations, which he denies flatly. "Nothing is illegal…If the villagers raise an objection I’ll get the premises vacated the same day. For my own businesses also, I need labourers and I keep them there," he said emphatically. All the dwellings owned by him on the banks of the River Zuari were locked as the tenants had gone for work. "Only ten rooms are occupied these days as suspension of mining has cut down the demand for workforce in shipyards also," said Mr Fernandes.

Similarly, the former sarpanch of Loutolim, Mr J T Vaz said that the villagers do take all the precautions before letting out accommodation to migrant labourers like submitting verification forms to the police. "And, the police regularly come and check the details with migrants and their landowners. The presence of outside migrants has never been a problem here," he agreed. According to him, the problem in the village is something else. He said that it is because of migrants that the number of bars in Loutolim has gone up to 15. "The heaps of garbage, malaria bog us down. Every year the Primary Health Centre here directs shipyard companies to undertake fogging in order to control the spread of malaria from the areas inhabited by migrants…Malaria affects Loutolim every year," he rued.

But a peep into the squalid, overcrowded living conditions of labourers in Loutolim could leave anyone feeling pity for them. Most of them sleep on bare cement floors; some have sacks for pillows, blue tarpaulin or plastic mattress for bed sheet. The sole luxury is a portable TV set and the whirring uncapped ceiling fans. Plastic mattresses help us keep the insects away, said Pramod Kumar. But, he wouldn’t describe the condition of the toilet that he shares with dozens of other workers. He wanted us to see it for ourselves. "Nothing will be worse than this dreadful stench coming out from there," he said while pointing his finger towards a small cubicle on the slope.

Ignorant of the local language and culture, these migrant workers like Pramod living in appalling conditions are ubiquitous in Loutolim and beyond. "Nevertheless, sometimes some locals see us as intruders. They often wrongly relate our poverty and abjection to the crimes in the locality," rued a friend of Pramod, requesting not to be named and photographed. Meanwhile, the official line, Loutolim is tense but under control! [NT]