Demonetisation forces Odisha’s plumbers to leave Gujarat for unscheduled return home

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For 42-year-old Prasant Baidya of far-flung Pitapata village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district and others like him, the scrapping of high-value notes have provided an opportunity for an unscheduled homecoming.

Baidya, a plumber by profession, was earning handsomely in Gujarat’s Surat but had to move back to his native village after cash crunch virtually brought the plumbing activities to a grinding halt.

Odisha's plumbers
File photo

Like Baidya, hundreds of skilled migrant labourers mostly plumbers from Kendrapara district were forced to return to native places in the aftermath of demonetisation.

“After the note-ban, our employers were left with no cash. Even those who sought for our services deferred their work. The inactivity continued for a week. So instead of idling away the time, I moved back to village on November 17 to spend time with the family”, he said.

“I had Rs 1,700 in my purse of which there were three scrapped Rs 500 notes. However, I faced no difficulty in exchanging it during journey,” he recalled.

The fellow-workers who stayed back in Surat told him the situation is yet to improve fully and when he called up the employers to resume work they asked him to wait for a week for normalcy to restore, Baidya said.

“However, though they have also committed to pay methe salary on no-work period, I do not know whether they will pay me or not. Now I am jobless,” he said.

Baidya, who turned to old profession of inland fishing, used to earn Rs 20,000 every month as a plumber, besides free one-room accommodation and free lunch.

Another plumber from Gupti village under Rajnagar Tehsil, Shankarshan Behera has been rendered jobless following the note ban.

“We are living with uncertainties. Note ban has hit skilled labour forces. I had got engaged in a plumbing firm in Bhopal. Daily work dipped after the note ban. With little to work, I returned to my native village,” Behera said.
“For almost a month, I have not earned single penny. Now I am toiling in the field for paddy harvesting,” he said.

Kendrapara district, called a plumbing hub, is bearing the brunt of demonetisation with drop in daily work forcing the skilled human resources to return to their native places.

District Collector Muralidhar Mallik said, “This is a temporary phenomenon. The skilled labour force would go back to their workplaces as inactivity due to demonetisation is now getting over.

“The placement agencies and farms will never get the replacement of Kendrapara plumbers, whose dexterity and sincerity has been appreciated worldwide”, he pointed out.

Besides major urban centres in the district, plumbers from Pattamundai, Aul, Rajnagar and Aul region have spread their network in various places across the country.

Many also have made their way to Gulf and middle-east countries stamping out their class and dexterity in plumbing sectors. An official estimate put the number of migrant overseas plumbers at 20,000.

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