Of the 72 students of Budhamunda Village Primary School in Belpada block, just half line up for morning prayers in their crumpled, unwashed uniform.
What about the rest?
“Many of my friends have migrated with their parents to work in brick kilns. I will also follow them in a few days,” said Dipakanta Pradhan (10), a student of class 3.
The scene was the same at an anganwadi (mother and child) centre in Tentulimunda village in the same block, more than 400 km southwest of Bhubaneswar, where just eight out of 25 children wait for their food to be served.
About 200 out of the 247 families in Tentulimunda migrated to work in brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh last year. This year, villagers said more would follow because of acute drought in the region and no sign of government-sponsored programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS).
Surveys by Western Orissa Migration Network (WOMN), a consortium of voluntary organisations, have revealed more than 150,000 people from Balangir migrate every year to work in brick kilns and construction sites of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. At least 45,000 of them are in the age group 1-14, and a majority of them do jobs specially designed for them in the kilns.
Talking to HT, Orissa women and child development minister Anjali Behera said she would ask the collector and SP of the district to ensure that neither the parents nor the children migrated.
“I will look into the matter seriously,” Behera said.
Balangir collector SN Dey said he was not aware of anybody migrating from the district so far. “We have told the people to wait for the poverty line survey, which will start soon. Programmes like mid-day meal (MDM), the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and MGNREGS are going on smoothly in the district,” he said.
Tentulimunda looks barren. Farmers have left many unharvested paddy fields for their cattle to graze because there is no point harvesting them.
According to the agriculture department figures, in most areas up 75% of the crop has been damaged due to severe drought.
“We have no option to migrate,” said Abhimanyu Bag (40).
What about the MGNREGS? They are few and far between, he said.
Last year, there were just two works. However, people prefer not to work in them. “Payment is very late. It takes five months to get your dues,” he said.
In Balangir, the CBI is probing irregularities in the MGNREGS in response to a Supreme Court order.
The migration of families, along with the children, defeats the purpose of central government-funded programmes like MDM and the ICDS in Balangir, ranked as one of the country’s most backward districts.
The allocation for MDM and the ICDS in 2010-11 in the district was more than R30 crore.
According to the 2001 census, Balangir has a population of more than 1.3 million, of whom more than 261,000 are covered under MDM and another 200,000 under the ICDS.
The 2011 census says Balangir has a provisional population of more than 1.6 million.
However, the figures of children covered under MDM and the ICDS stand unchanged.
Anganwadi workers maintain migration notebooks for listing the migrant families.
Teachers too usually mark migrant children absent. However, they complain most often their superiors put pressure on them not to do so because that would reflect the failure of MDM.
“So we strike a balance. If 50 students migrate, we list 20 just to save our jobs,” said a teacher on anonymity.