10 December 2010

Bengal Assembly Elections: Our Demands

Elections come and go. Ruling groups change with power equations. Projects and programmes are put forward in the name of national development. While different groups traverse the corridors of power, we the ordinary working people realise from our daily experience that the king changes, but our everyday lives don’t. As the juggernaut of development travels faster and faster, the speed of the daily suffering of the working people also increases. Today, development and displacement have become synonymous. Job losses and unemployment go hand in hand with the accumulation of capital and the construction of factories. There is a new addition to the economic dictionary: jobless growth.

The launching pad of development is capital, not people. Water, forests and land are being destroyed behind the smokescreen of development. Nature’s equilibrium is being destroyed. Sub-soil resources, from water to minerals, are being robbed; forests are being cleared. Those who lived in organic relationship with Nature are losing their livelihoods and way of life. Farmlands are being taken over in the name of industrialisation. Food production is suffering and food security is on the brink of an abyss. The interests of the working class are being sacrificed in the interests of capital. The current discourse of development is fundamentally opposed to the interests of the working people. If it falls on some to pillage and to enjoy the proceeds, others are condemned to work, to produce ceaselessly and to starve. The core of this developmental ‘thinking’ is: rob whatever you can.

This cannot change merely by changing ruling groups within the framework of the current state structure. The structure needs to be challenged at its base and the economic thinking transformed. This has to be done in stages, the first of which is the fight for working people’s rights. As part of this struggle, we have to force the ruling groups to negotiate on these rights, to force them to accept those.  Here are our demands which we are placing before all parties standing for Assembly elections in 2011.

Political Demands

  1. An atmosphere free of terror:
The government has to immediately take steps to restore a democratic environment, free of terror and violence so that every citizen can freely express his/her views. It has to give security guarantees so that the voters can exercise their ballot without fear.

  1. Sensitivity towards the people:
The government has to be sensitive towards the views of the working people and to their demands. Under no circumstances should the problem of under-development be seen through the prism of law and order. The needs and demands of the people cannot be put down with undemocratic, oppressive and authoritarian measures.

  1. Recognising minority views:
As democratic thinking demands, the views of minority groups have to be taken into account and respected. The government has to take steps to put an end to the culture of imposition from above and to the medieval practice of taking control of areas. The government has to recover illegal arms and put an end to political violence. ‘Undesirable’ organisations and individuals cannot be blacklisted at whim. The tags of Naxalite, Maoist or terrorist must not be used as a form of arbitrary legal harassment. The boundaries of debate need to be extended.

  1. The safety of complainants:
Attempts at terrorising by psychologically or physically attacking individuals or organisations who lodge complaints against the government, the administration or powerful individuals, must become a criminal offence and the law must be used to hand out exemplary justice in such cases.

5.    Party control of social institutions:
Of late, there is a growing political culture of imposing party control over all social institutions, from educational to social institutes. As a result, educational, health and social institutions have becomes hotbeds of party politics. The infiltration of party politics has to be stopped to ensure the autonomy and democratic functioning of social institutions.

6.    Partyless panchayats:
The current panchayat laws should be amended to ensure partyless panchayats. This will allow all villagers, irrespective of their party affiliations, to participate in village and rural social development. Narrow party politics will cease to interfere with work. Once freed from party politics, panchayats can truly become people’s panchayats.

7.    Village councils:
Village councils need to be strengthened and made to function more regularly. The panchayat system should be moved on from the three-tier to a four-tier system. As a way of giving more power to the people, meetings of the village council (Gram Sansad) or the fourth tier, (consisting of 500-750 voters in a single polling booth), every two months should be made compulsory. The current law on adjourned meetings must be repealed, where in the absence of a quorum, the next meeting does not require any quorum. As a way of keeping an eye on government projects, committees from within the village council must be formed for project-based monitoring. These committees, elected from among the Gram Sansad or village council, must be given the responsibility to implement projects and to approve accounts of such projects.

8.    More power to the panchayats:
The panchayats must be given more powers for area planning and for imposing and collecting revenues. The panchayats must not be used as mere contractors for the state and Central governments.
9.    Right to recall:
Legal steps must be introduced to allow the village council to recall members of the panchayats for corruption and other illegal actions.

10. System to redress complaints:
A new section must be added to the panchayat law that gives every individual the right to complain on any issue and to offer suggestions. Every complaint/suggestion must be noted in a legally acceptable format. Inquiries have to be made within 14 days of receiving the complaint/proposal and, where applicable, the guilty have to be punished. The complainant/proposer has to be informed in detail about the status of the inquiry and action taken on the complaint/proposal. This has to be made legally enforceable and the panchayat law amended for it.

Economic Demands

Agriculture/food production:
1.    In a country racked with hunger, natural resources like water, land and forests must be put above all to producing food. All attempts at not using water, land and forests for growing food and instead offering them to national and multinational companies for non-agricultural uses must be stopped.
2.    The agricultural policy has to be changed to return to the time tested national agricultural systems rather than depending on corporate agriculture.
3.    Chemical fertilisers and insecticides have to be banned to develop agriculture free of these and alternative technical skills and financial aid have to be provided for it.
4.    Along with working for non-chemical food production, the entire GM technology has to be banned.

State investment in agriculture/price support for grain collection:
1.    The government has to invest more among small and marginal farmers to increase agricultural, specifically food production. The government has to pay a fair price to the farmers for rice, wheat, lentils and oilseeds among others to encourage food production.

Universal distribution/food security law:
1.    Legal guarantees have to be given for a general distribution system, not just for the BPL. The government has to pass legislation that will provide food security cover to everyone. Under such law, every adult will be entitled to 14 kg of staple at Rs. 2 a kg, 1.5 kg of dal at Rs. 20 a kg and 800 gm of cooking oil at Rs 35 a kg.

Barring the entry of multinational companies:
1.    Land, water and forest cannot be turned into commodities; the people’s rights over these have to be recognised. Along with implementing the current laws, new laws have to be introduced so that land, water and forest are not turned into commodities and handed over to the multinationals.
2.    Multinationals must not be allowed to enter agriculture and the food market.

No to Nuclear Energy:
1.    Nuclear plants to produce nuclear energy must not be set up in any place. The Government must invest in and encourage renewable energy.

Job-led industrialisation:
2.     The thrust of industrialisation must be to create jobs. Industries that restrict jobs must not be allowed.
3.     Land, water and forests cannot be acquired in the name of industrialisation. Land already acquired for industries (like growth centres in the districts) cannot be left idle. New factories have to be set up in that land. Unused land in factory areas must be used to set up new factories and not for housing or town centres.
4.     Closed factories must be reopened at once. Otherwise, new factories have to be set up in that land. If necessary, the existing land and land reform Act has to be amended
5.     If factories are set up where an earlier factory was closed, workers of the closed industry will have to be considered first in recruitment to the new factory.

Determining minimum wages and implementing labour laws, specially the minimum wages law:
1.    Minimum wages must be fixed in accordance with the 15th ILC (Indian Labour Conference) and Supreme Court rulings that will provide workers nationally minimum wages given the current market rates. Steps have to be taken so that all workers, especially agricultural workers, get the minimum wages determined by the government.
2.     Small landowners and businessmen in the informal sector who employ workers must be given wage subsidy or grants so that they can pay the minimum wage. There is no way that workers, including farm workers, are to be deprived of their minimum wage.
3.    The minimum wage has to be fixed at Rs. 249 a day in keeping with market rates and government regulations.
4.    All labour laws, especially minimum wage laws, have to be enforced strictly and for that a minimum wage inspector has to be appointed at every village panchayat. The inspector will enforce the rules strictly and bring to book those who break the law. For this, the current minimum wage law will have to be amended.

Social security for workers in the unorganised sector:
1.    Legislation must be introduced for workers in the unorganised sector so that they receive pension, insurance, accident-related benefits, maternal benefits, health and treatment facilities etc.

Implementing and amending NREGA:
1.    NREGA must be properly implemented and enough work made available for women. Appropriate work must be found for the aged and the disabled. Wages must be paid on time; late payment has to be compensated and the unemployed have to be paid allowances and necessary changes will have to be made to the rules to achieve this.
2.    As part of the changes to the laws, every individual, not families, will have to given work for 270 days a year in place of 100.

Economic and natural disasters:
1.    Homeless families must be given homes and landless labourers given land.
2.    Proper (pucca) shelters have to be set up for areas – such as the Sunderbans – prone to storms, flooding and drought. In case of natural disasters, the quantum of food distributed in these areas has to be doubled and work under NREGA too has to be at least doubled.

Social demands

Education and health:
1.    At least 60 per cent of the budget on education and health has to be spent on providing services. No more than 40 per cent can be spent on wages and overheads. Spending has to be increased in this sector to achieve this.
2.    ‘People’s rights’ has to be introduced as part of the syllabus in schools, colleges and universities. Facts on ‘people’s rights’ will have to be part of the syllabus at every stage.
3.    Anti-rabies and snake venom medicines will have to be stored at all rural health sub-centres and steps taken to make sure these are administered when needed.
4.    Liquor and gambling dens in the rural areas must be dismantled as part of a healthy social atmosphere. Alcoholism must not be encouraged to increase state revenues. Gambling must be dealt with severely as it leads to domestic violence.
5.    The state will have to deal sternly with atrocities against women and legal red tape must not be allowed to stand in the way of steps against the perpetrators.

Please send your response/suggestions to the charter of demands to
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity
1 Shibtola Road
Maheswarpur, Badu,
Kolkata 700 128
West Bengal
Email: pbkmswb@gmail.com

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