09 March 2017

Maruti Workers Union Appeal


Dear Comrades,
We are writing with an appeal, and update on the legal case. The Maruti Suzuki workers case ('State of Haryana vs Jiyalal & Others') is going on since July 2012 through a maze of evidence-less lies and clear pro-corporate anti-worker intent. Since 2012, 216 workers face possible convictions by a pro-corporate system, besides the terminations (and labour cases) of 546 permanent workers and 1800 contract workers, and a separate case of offences against 111 more workers in Kaithal since 2013.
The date for the Judgment from the Trial Court, the Gurgaon Additional District and Sessions Court, has been set for 10th March 2017. We are apprehensive and have grounds to believe that it will be a politically motivated anti-worker Judgement. The hand-shaking between the Maruti Suzuki company management and the Police, administration, the government and Judiciary could not be more clear as in this case. We are apprehensive about a Pricol-type 'life sentences' and long-term convictions against hundreds of workers and are preparing with a call for unity of all workers and all pro-worker forces. We appeal to you from the Provisional Working Committee, Maruti Suzuki Workers Union to be present in the Gurgaon Sessions Court premises on the day of the Judgement in the case on the 10th of March. We also appeal to you to be united and take solidarity actions in support of Justice for all Maruti Suzuki workers facing repression by the Central and State Government and the Company.

Update on the Legal Case as it Stands during the Final Arguments:

Context: We had 3 strikes in 2011 where we raised voice against the system of exploitation in the factory, and had to face continued management attacks on our Trade Union rights with complicity of the administration. We finally formed our Union – Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, Manesar (Reg. No.1923) on 1 March 2012. In April, we submitted their Charter of Demands, where the Union said abolition of contract worker system as one of its central demands, among others. This kind of assertion of our rights against their exploitation was not being taken lightly by the Company management, as it challenged their power and profits. They wanted to attack the Union through their power and conspiracy, which resulted in the incident on 18 July 2012, of a clash inside the plant and the death of an HR manager. Since then, 147 workers have been in Jail without having got bail for more than 3-and-a-half years on charges ranging from murder, attempt to murder, rioting, looting, setting fire to private property and various Sections of the IPC. Currently, 11 workers continue to be in jail without bail, which includes the members of the then Union Body. 66 more workers other than the 147 have similar charges under various non-bailable sections. Along with this criminalization of labour, 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers were terminated from their jobs, whose labour cases are also ongoing. 2500 working class families faced constant repression and penury on top of exploitation of the workers in the factory which created the basis for the management-labour conflict. We have had a movement against this regime of exploitation and repression till today.
The final legal arguments in the Maruti Suzuki workers Trial case concluded on 18 February, 2017 with arguments by Advocates Vrinda Grover, Rebecca John and RS Cheema against the State Prosecution. Find here some facts on the case as it stands in the Courts:

1.      It was established during the final arguments that there is no direct evidence linking ‘murder’ or ‘setting fire’ to the factory on any worker. No prosecution witness could establish any worker involvement in the same. Neither was any CCTV footage produced by the Prosecution even after Defence asked for the same. The management person Deepak Anand from GM Vigilance who filed the FIR against the 55 Maruti workers named therein, could not identify any worker. The witness Salil Vihari who named the main accused Jiyalal, could not identify him.

2.      On 18 July 2012, the incident of conflict happened at 7.20pm. But Police was called by the Company management at 11am itself, but Police was not allowed inside until the entire incident came to a boil. It has already been said by workers that it was a pre-planned conspiracy on behalf of the management so that a conflict is generated and workers can be implicated on this basis. Bouncers in workers clothes were also brought inside in the morning itself without IDs.

3.      The FIR mentions that 400–500 workers with rods, batons and sticks in hand entered the HR and beat the management but no witness mentions these weapons. Instead all the witness uniformly said that workers were carrying shockers and door beams – each doorbeam and shocker weighing over 4kgs, so around 4000kgs of weapons were supposedly recovered. On top of this, Police show that a major section of workers took all these weapons to their respective homes and kept them under their beds and almirahs. For another set of workers, Police showed that they caught 20 workers simultaneously siting under a tree conveniently possessing all these weapons.

4.   Also, witnesses had said that each manager was beaten up by 4-5 workers with these weapons with intention of murder. The also stated that no one came to rescue them. But if this was so, then how did they manage to rescue themselves with no serious injury? To this, they said that the workers themselves let them off, which clearly is no intention to murder! The witnesses testified that all of them uniformly stopped the attacks with their left hand. In the MLC done on management injuries show absurdities as a dental root canal as injury!

5.      It has been established how 89 of the 147 workers have been arrested on the basis of names given alphabetically by 4 contractors. None of these workers were identified. Court documents show witness Virendra alias Rajender Yadav has named 25 workers such that all workers' names fall in the alphabetical range of A-G. Another witness contractor Yaad Ram testified that he saw 25 workers rioting, all of whose names fall in the next range G-P. Witness Ashok Rana names 26 workers who were allegedly rioting whose names range from P-S. The final witness Rakesh of Tirupati Associates who supplied 900 contract workers to MSIL testified to allegedly seeing 13 workers whose names, continuing the alphabetic sequence, are in the range S-Y.

6.      The lists of workers arrested thus was provided by the Company to the Police, and not on the basis of its own investigation, pointing to an active collusion between the two.

7.      On ‘setting fire to the factory’:  There was no evidence whatsoever as to setting fire and no witness could explain how the fire was lit and who did it. First, there were contradictory statements as to where the fire was lit – in the conference (M1) room in the first floor, or outside it, or in the ground floor. Awanish Dev’s dead body was recovered from the M1 room, and the witnesses claimed that the room was lit on fire from inside where fighting was taking place, but while testifying they argued that the room caught fire from the outside.

Fire lit and burnt everything down but the match box (a new one) was conveniently unharmed and lying there to be discovered. This recovery of the match box itself was not immediate. At the place of the incident, when the security on-watch, Om Prakash, went on 19th July 2012 in the morning at 6 am, to the M1 store with a photographer nothing was recovered. Then on that very day at 12 pm FSL authority D. Sonu searched and recovered a new match box and a door frame, and where the room was entirely burnt there was no sign of the matches itself being lit. He neither signed the recovery report nor did he testify in court on the recovered matches and door beam.

On the setting of fire inside the M1 room, of the 16 witnesses that had stated that the room was lit on fire, and 3 witnesses took names of those who did it. None of these witnesses could identify any worker or wrongly identified.

8.      According to the postmortem report, Awanish Dev’s death was due to asphyxiation. The injury he had is below the knee on the right leg, which cannot lead to death which proves that neither is there a murder case possible against the workers nor is their intention to murder in this case. So Sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) clearly do not hold. At max, only 2 people can cause such an injury, while 216 workers have been accused of murder and attempt to murder.
Thus even though this is, on the face of it, pertaining to the case on 18 July 2012 where a general manager of the company Awanish Kumar Dev died in the conflict that erupted that day after a Dalit worker Jiyalal was suspended from duty unilaterally when a supervisor attacked him and gave casteist abuse. But as is evident by now, it was a conspiracy from the management against assertion of workers for our Trade Union rights.
Even so, the considerations of the Judiciary are suspect as is evident from one of the High Court orders in May 2013 rejecting bail said “this is one one of the unfortunate incident that has lowered the reputation of India in the world. Foreign direct investment is likely not to happen due to fear of growing labour unrest”. The State has already spent crores of public money all these years against the workers. As per RTI, the government paid Advocate KTS Tulsi R.5.5 crore in just 2 years - s. 11 lakh per appearance - just in the Gurgaon Additional District and Sessions Court, Mr Tulsi's three assistants Rs. 66000 for each appearance and "clerkage" of over Rs. 1 lakh for his expenses each appearance. If this was not enough, instead of the Public Prosecutor from the State, Private Prosecutor from the Company, Vikas Pahwa again kept the 'last word' on their behalf in the Sessions Court Gurgaon during the final arguments.

Will there be Justice for Maruti Workers?

The 147 workers who have spent over four years in Jail, and 11 who continue to be jailed without bail since July 2012, the total implicated 216, the 2500 families, those who have lost their family members in that course of time or not been able to see their children grow up for those years or have not been able to part of the joys and sorrows of their family for that time - will there be justice?
In this industrial belt, workers struggle have happened from Rico Gurgaon (2009) to Shriram Pistons Bhiwadi (2014) to Honda Tapukhera (2016) and countless others against regime of exploitation on workers by the profit-hungry MNCs. Management. In all these cases, to control the simmering tension, there have been outright repression through terminations, violence, murders, lathi-charges, false criminal cases and prison terms by the Police-administration-government and local goons on the company’s payrolls. In current workers struggles, while the management says, “we will make Maruti-like situation for you” (repress you like the Maruti workers), the workers also say right back, “This can turn into a Maruti-like situation” (Workers will wage a collective movement relentlessly against exploitation-repression). We say this will be a ‘political judgement’ since this judgement becomes a measure and signal of which version of ‘maruti-like situation’ stands.
On 1st March 2017, we marked 6 years of the formation of our Union with a gate meeting in front of the factory in Manesar, where thousands of workers and Unions participated. After this,  the company has moved a stay order against 10 terminated workers in the leadership of the Provisional Working Committee, MSWU to stay 2kms away from the company gate. On 7th March, various Unions met in Gurgaon and resolved to hold factory gate meetings and give warning letters to their managements in solidarity with Jailed workers which happened on 8th March. There is lunch and dinner Boycott in various factories on 9th March. Hundreds of workers will gather in the Court premises at 10am and in the afternoon on 10th March.
We appeal to you to be united and resist this onslaught by capitalists and the government, and stand with the workers class movement in this crucial and decisive situation. We appeal to you from the Provisional Working Committee, Maruti Suzuki Workers Union to be present in the Gurgaon Sessions Court premises on the day of the Judgement in the case on the 10th of March. We also appeal to you to take solidarity actions in support of Justice for all Maruti Suzuki workers facing repression by the Central and State Government and the Company.

Provisional Working Committee,
Maruti Suzuki Workers Union

06 March 2017

Stop State Violence in Bhangar


The WSS (Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression) is a nationwide platform of various women’s organizations and individuals, whose member Sharmishtha Chowdhury is currently in jail for supporting the peasant movement against a power grid in the villages of Bhangar.  Over the past three days, a 12-member team of WSS has visited the affected villagers and concerned officials to understand the origins and the impetus behind the movement, and the response of the civil society and government functionaries to it.

Inquiries by the WSS team have revealed that since 2013, the peasant families of Bhangar have been repeatedly seeking basic information about the power grid and transmission line project that deeply impacts their lives and livelihoods, but have received no information or have been deliberately misinformed at every step.  They have tried to meet every statutory, legislative and constitutional authority in the area to register their concerns, but no one agreed to meet with them, and when they have demanded talks and dialogue with the administration to resolve their concerns, they have instead faced police encampments, arrests and bullets.

Such an irresponsible and insensitive response from the government has only heightened the tensions in the area and increased apprehensions about the project. This is the sole reason behind the situation today, where the villagers have lost all trust in the government and its intentions towards their well-being, and entire families, including women and children are resisting it despite the enormous hardship and violence they are continuously facing. This was definitely not expected of the current government that came to power on the back of people’s mass movements against large projects, and had thus won the confidence of the very people who are now so vehemently protesting.

Acquisition of Land Irregular, Illegal and Arbitrary

The Bhangar movement started around 2013, when around 13 acres of land were sought to be acquired by the government in the village Khamarait. The WSS team learned that the acquisition happened in a completely arbitrary and illegal manner, and that all processes of acquisition were handled by one person, Arabul Islam of the ruling party. He not only arbitrarily decided how much compensation was to be handed out to whom, but also took a cut from all these compensations. While a case against this forcible acquisition is still pending before the High Court, and 11 people have not yet taken the compensation, the construction of the grid proceeded at full place and was completed within one year. The Award has still not been shown to the villagers.

Not only was the acquisition procedures completely opaque to the villagers, they were even kept in the dark about the purpose of the acquisition – first it was meant for government flats, then for a power sub-station and only after the structure was half-completed, did the villagers learn from a board in front of the construction site that it was actually for a power grid.  And it was not until the last quarter of 2016, when giant transmission towers arrived in their village on the beds of the monstrous trucks did they realize that this project will impact the farms and lands outside of the 13-acre plot as well.

Escalating Violence 

When the villagers of Bhangar started asking questions about the impact of these High Voltage Transmission Lines on their lives, livelihoods, health and environment, the government dispatched police to the village on 3 Nov 2016, who beat up people including many women and terrorized them by arresting 6 people, and occupied the village for 18 days.  Since then, the police have been regularly harassing the local populations to the extent that several families have left their houses and are living with their relatives out of fear of the police.  

The situation further worsened on 16 January 2017, when the police entered the villages, beat up people and arrested villagers. The next morning, the police assaulted people going to work, destroyed homes, picked up more people, ransacked shops, attacked the women who had come to assist the shopkeeper, including the elderly Mayur Jan Bibi whose hand was fractured in three places. Those arrested were badly beaten up and  the hand and finger of one juvenile Zahir Husain, was broken and remained untreated for 6 days. Manwara Bibi was sexually assaulted and her disabled husband was beaten up

In response, the villagers protested and blockaded the roads, demanding the authorities should conduct a dialogue with the people, release the detained villagers, and withdraw the police encampments from the area.  Eventually, after an extended stand-off, the DM and the SP sent separate messages through the SDO and the DSP agreeing to a meeting within two days, promising not to oppose the bail of arrested persons and remove the police.  The organizers used the microphones in the masjid to inform the agitated villagers of this, and requested them to safeguard the safety of the retreating police. But even as the crowd of villagers parted to let the police vehicles go back, the police randomly fired bullets in all directions, killing two villagers, Alamgir and Mofizul Khan, and injuring Akbar.  The villagers recounted to the team how, after Alarmgir fell after being hit with a bullet, the police kicked him repeatedly, and shot him at close quarters in cold-blooded murder.  Maufizul Khan was killed when he was walking home from work. Akbar was shot in the back.

The WSS team witnessed first-hand the continuing violence that the affected villagers have to live with every day, when they were caught in Khamarait on 4 March.  While the team was still in the village, a raucous and a loud rally organized by TMC members tried to terrorize the people by going past the village, bursting bombs, firing bullets in the air and throwing stones. One young boy, Saiful Molla, was badly injured when a brick hit him on his head.

Police Response Lethargic and Incompetent

The WSS team also visited PS Kashipur in order to hear the police version of this violence, however, the ASP and DSP present at the thana refused to discuss these incidents.  It is notable that till date no one has been held responsible for the murders of two young men, and the numerous complaints of physical violence by the villagers against the police have gone completely unheeded.  Moreover, instead of initiating dialogue as promised on 17th January, on the 25th the police arrested Sharmishta Chaudhary, Pradip Singh Thakur and a young villager, on very flimsy grounds as shown by the FIR. Later charges under UAPA were slapped on the accused though they are neither members of banned organiations and nor were they shown to be indulging in any terrorist activity.

Unanswered Questions and Concerns

The government has yet to answer basic questions of the villagers as to what are the health impacts of the heightened Electromagnetic Field that permeates the dwellings, the constant loud high frequency humming that emanates from the wires, the static charge build up near the towers that can light a bulb without a power source.  How do these impact the fertility of their soil, the long-term health of the residents, their cattle and their fisheries? More importantly, the towers are being placed without the consent of the landowners, and the one time compensation for their use of land and the right to access is being compensated in a highly opaque and arbitrary manner, at a fraction of the economic hit being forced upon the villagers.

These are valid and genuine concerns and any government accountable to its citizens would rush to allay their fears and enter into dialogue about the costs and benefits of such a project.  The fact that the government is rushing police battalions into the area, instead of trying to win over the confidence of the people by addressing their concerns highlights its complete contempt towards local populations.

DEMANDS

The WSS demands that the authorities de-escalate the situation by holding immediate and unconditional talks with the protesting villagers and their leaders, and undertake confidence-building measures to gain back the trust of the villages. This is in the best interests of a functioning and healthy democracy. The FIRs under which people have been imprisoned include dozens of other names, including those of many WSS members (Nisha Bishwas, Swapna Bannerjee, Anuradha Talwar, Krishna Bandopadhyay), and 500-1,500 others who are unnamed, which has given the police a virtual license to arrest and harass a large number of villagers.  Confidence building measures should include the quashing of such vindictive FIRs.  Immediate action must be taken against police personnel and goons involved in the violence.  Attempts to paint the legitimate and peaceful protest as unconstitutional or “terrorist” must stop. 

Members of the WSS team –
1.      Madhuri Krishnaswamy (M.P.)
2.      Adv.Shalini Gera (Chhatisgarh)
3.      Promila (Odisha)
4.      Swapna Bannerjee (West Bengal)
5.      Urmila (MP)
6.      Fatima Bibi (West Bengal)
7.      Sanchita Mukherji (West Bengal)
8.      Indrani Sen (West Bengal)
9.      Shashwati Ghosh (West Bengal)
10.     Sukanti (Odisha)
11.     Deepa (Chhatisgarh)
12.     Rajkali (M.P)

11 January 2017

Maternity Entitlements: A Case Of Too Little, Too Late


PIB press release today states that the Government of India intends to initiate universal maternity entitlements as per the National Food Security Act from 1 January 2017. However, the figures don’t add up. India’s birth rate is around 20 per 1,000. The current population is around 130 crore. So the number of births per year must be around 26 million.

Thus, at Rs 6,000 per birth, universal maternity entitlements (assuming, optimistically, that 10% births are already covered under the formal sector) would cost Rs 14,000 crore per year.

However, in the plan presented in the PIB press release, the central government’s contribution for the next three financial years is only Rs 7,348 crore, or Rs 2,449 crore per year. With a 60:40 ratio for centre/state contributions, this means a total of barely Rs 4,000 crore per year.

This is a fraction of what is actually required, even assuming that only the first two births are covered by maternity entitlements.”Women’s organizations and the Right to Food Campaign called upon Prime Minister Modi to make maternity entitlements truly universal instead of the extremely weak announcement of cash benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women on 31st December 2016. In a country like India where more than 90% of women are outside of organised sector employment, state-provided maternity support becomes a crucial tool for protecting the health of women and their babies.

Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties stated, “The Prime Minister on 31 December 2016 has announced a cash entitlement of Rs. 6000 for pregnant women across the country; presenting it as an original idea and also as if it is somehow to mitigate the hardships caused by demonetisation. However this is far from the truth. This entitlement was unanimously passed by the parliament in Septemebr 2013 under the National Food Security Act, but the government had so far not provided the budgetary allocations for the same.”

“Maternity entitlements are women’s rights, and not a reward for good behaviour,” said Jashodhara Dasgupta of SAHAYOG, a women’s organization. With the passing of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, a universal maternity entitlement of at least Rs. 6000 has been a legal entitlement for all pregnant and lactating women in the country.

Dipa Sinha, of the Right to Food Campaign stated, “The government, in complete violation of the Act, has failed to provide the required budget for its implementation. What is currently on the ground in 53 districts is the 2010 pilot scheme IGMSY (Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana) that provides Rs 6000 provided pregnant women meet certain criteria .

Sudeshna Sengupta of the Alliance for Early Childhood Development mentioned that despite repeated demands by women and civil society organisations  across the country  to provide universal maternity benefits in tune with the NFSA, neither the coverage nor the budget allocated for the scheme has been enhanced, despite the Supreme Court asking for an explanation for the delay in implementation.

Sejal Dand of the Mahila Kisaan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM) expressed the major concern regarding the inequity in the maternity entitlements available through the MBA (1961) amendments passed by the Rajya Sabha in the december 2016 session of the parliament which guarantees 26 weeks of paid leave to women in the formal sector which is only 5% of women workers in this country.  For the largest number of women workers- namely women farmers and agricultural labour, we will now  have a universal entitlement of a minimal 6000/- rupees.  

Denial of this minimalist entitlement to women who though no choice of theirs bear children under the age of  19 years of age or have multiparous pregnancies will deprive the most at risk women, largely from the   Dalit, tribal and poorest social groups from this essential support. There is an urgent need to ensure that technology is used for ensuring entitlements are made easily and timely available, rather than become one more hurdle to exclude the poorest"

The organizations expressed concern that the government already seeks to restrict coverage by imposing conditionalities on access to this entitlement; similar to the IGMSY. The Prime Minister in his speech mentioned that this is for women who have institutional deliveries and immunise their children. Dr. Vandana Prasad of the Working Group for Children Under 6 pointed out that such conditionalities are likely to further exclude the most marginalised women from much needed financial support, especially given poor availability of good quality maternity services.

The demand for universal unconditional maternity entitlements will be taken by campaigns throughout the year 2017 by the collective that issued this statement, including:Right to Food Campaign, Alliance for Early Childhood Development, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human rights, Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, women’s groups, trade unions and a number of other organisations working for the rights of unorganized sector women workers based in small-scale production, construction and brick-kiln workers, domestic workers, agricultural labourers and tribal women collecting forest produce, and so forth.

22 December 2016

Sit-In Against Demonetisation

The Platform Against Neo-Liberalism is organising a sit-in at BBD Bag, Kolkata, on December 23 from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. against the demonetisation policy of the Union Government.


20 September 2016

Women Tea Workers Come Calling


Fifty women from the closed tea gardens of Duncans recently marched into the corridors of powers in Kolkata on a two-day trip to ask for their rights and to highlight the plight of their co-workers, families and gardens.

As one of the world’s leading tea producer and exporter, India’s tea industry employs more than 1.2 million people. Two regions, Assam and Bengal, produce over 70% of India’s tea and are also home to the worst working conditions for the tea plantation workers in the country. In contrast to the images of tranquil, lush green tea gardens presented to the consumers, tea plantation workers are paid poverty wages and endure appalling working conditions. Women, who make up 70% of the workforce, are especially affected.

In this context, a more complex situation has arisen in North Bengal —15 tea estates owned by one of the premier tea companies, Duncans Industries Private Limited, are in a state of limbo. They are neither closed nor open in the usual sense of the terms, with frightening consequences for the workers on the estates. The Central government, with its eye on the Assembly elections, got the Tea Board to take over 7 of these estates — all in the same Assembly constituency — just days before the elections.

They gained from the decision as the constituency has a BJP MLA now. The losers have been the workers in these gardens, with neither Duncans nor the State government nor the Tea Board willing to take responsibility for their conditions. 

The situation has added one more chapter in the shameful history of hunger in the tea industry. Apart from hunger, and being deprived of their livelihood, all of a sudden for no fault of their own, these women are now battling with the lack of basic amenities like water and electricity, lack of any primary health or education facilities. They have been forced into harmful and insecure odd jobs available nearby. Coupled with high rates of migration by the youth and the men of the gardens, the women have been left alone to tackle threats from the local mafia and goons, which is on the rise as these mischievous groups have been encroaching on the tea garden property and resources. 


While many workers have come together to form groups and start plucking by themselves, harassment from all quarters, ranging from middlemen to contractors, is rapidly destroying both the minimum chances of these women to survive and the huge areas of tea bushes, as the lush green tea gardens turn into jungles and women become invisible subjects of injustice.

With neither the government nor the management actively setting out to solve their plight, the women took the resolve of coming all the way from the north of the state to meet and request early effective intervention by the authorities.

08 September 2016

How W.Bengal Subsidises Tea Garden Owners, Deprives Workers


The Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity finds newspaper reports of bonus meetings in the tea sector being deadlocked due to the huge losses of owners absurd, as it does the plan by the State Government to intervene in what has traditionally been a strictly bipartite affair. This is because this year, especially, has been one when the State Government has bent over backwards to give huge concessions to the owners, by using the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and Central Government funds. The mechanism of doing this is given below.

It as an accepted practice, which has been reiterated by repeated tri-partite wage agreements, that tea garden management provides a portion of the wages of all permanent workers in the form of subsidised foodgrain.   These foodgrain are bought by the management from the market and then provided at 0.40 p per kg to all its permanent workers and their dependents.

Before the introduction of NFSA, tea garden owners were buying foodgrain at Rs 21 per kg and providing the same to the workers at 0.40 p per kg, with a subsidy of Rs 20.60 per kg. Generally, a worker with an adult wife and 2 dependent children would receive about 32 kgs of food grains per month, amounting to a subsidy of about Rs 660 per month. 

On October 30, 2016, the State Government amended the Public Distribution Supply Control Order 2013 to allow ration shops in tea gardens to be given to self help groups or the tea garden management. In at least 200 tea gardens, the management has been designated the ration shop owner making it easy for the management to replace their own foodgrain with Government-provided foodgrain after the introduction of NFSA.

The management now purchases foodgrain from the Food Department at Rs 2 per kg and is providing these to its permanent workers at 0.40 p per kg. While each worker is losing Rs 660 per month, taking an average of 1,000 workers per tea estate, each garden owner is adding Rs 6.6 lakhs per month.

This practice started in February 2016, seven months ago. Therefore, so far, each garden has saved an average of Rs4,620 per worker or Rs 46.20 lakhs per garden. This amount covers a substantial amount of the bonus demand of the workers.

The State Government is in full support of these practises. Effectively,the NFSA is now being used to provide a subsidy to the management with no benefits accruing to permanent workers and their dependents.

This action by the State Government has been taken unilaterally in consultation with the associations of employers, the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations and its member associations. Workers or their representative unions did not at any point agree to this arrangement. Yet now, after having taken an action that supported the owners unilaterally at the expense of the workers, the State Government wants to intervene in bonus negotiations . Whether this is to increase its sphere of influence or to benefit the workers is debateable. We hope however, that good sense will prevail and the State Government will intervene on behalf of the workers.

02 August 2016

Court Acts On Tea Workers' Plight


After a wait of six months, the Kolkata High Court finally decided to take action on a petition filed by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity on the plight of tea workers. A division bench of the Kolkata High Court headed by the Chief Justice on 29th July 2016 ordered the State Government, the Tea Board and the Central Government to submit action taken reports by August 12, 2016, clearly stating what they had done to relieve the misery of tea workers.

The Chief Justice expressed extreme displeasure on hunger deaths and the continuing distress of tea plantation workers, especially the plight of workers in the Duncans gardens. Incidentally, Duncans Industries Limited, one of the largest and seemingly most prosperous plantation owners in West Bengal, had abandoned 16 gardens in the Doars and Darjeeling areas in early 2015. The Central Government took over 7 of these gardens through a special notification on January 29, 2016. The Tea Board was subsequently to run these gardens, but it has taken practically no steps to re-open the gardens or to relieve the distress of the workers. The Chief Justice questioned the Tea Board, the Duncans management and the State and Central Government about the predicament of the workers, only to be informed that none of these authorities were willing to say that they were responsible for the workers.

PBKMS had filed a writ petition (WP-4225W/2016) in February 2016 before the High Court highlighting the problems of tea garden workers, arising from the present crisis in the industry as well as long term issues. Mr Bikash Bhattacharya, senior advocate, intervened on behalf of PBKMS.

The petition focused on the non-compliance by employers, State and Central Governments of the provisions of the Tea Act, Plantation Labour Act, Employees Provident Fund Act and Minimum Wages Act. It asked the court to ensure that conditions are created to ensure each tea worker gets a food intake of at least 2400 calories per day. It also asked for immediate relief for tea garden population in the form of Antodaya Anna Yojana, MGNREGA work and wages, health facilities, drinking water and electricity. Respondents were State and Central Governments, the Tea Board and employers such as Duncans India Limited.

In her first verbal order on March 12, 2016 , the Chief Justice had asked PBKMS to seek the intervention of the State Legal Services Authority through Lok Adalats to mitigate the problems of tea workers. The Chief Justice had given a time of two weeks for the petitioner to seek and receive help from the Lok Adalat process. If such relief is not received, the case was to be heard once again by the division bench at the end of the month.

PBKMS had immediately tried to get the Lok Adalat process functioning, submitting 53 complaints from over 500 complainants from 7 gardens in April 2016. However, the District Legal Services Authority is still to respond.

PBKMS’s petition is being heard together with another petition filed by the Darjeeling District Legal Aid Forum.

Please also look at the Bangla links below: