31 October 2012

Update on Food Yatra (Two)


Public meetings were held in Tangra and Boral in Kolkata, organized by Griha Adhikar Manch, Jiban o Jeebika Uchhed Protirodh Committee (Prostuti), Nari Sanghati Committee (Boral), New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Right Track, Ragpickers Association, Tiljala Shed and Calcutta Samaritans on 12 and 14 October respectively. Both the meetings were attended predominantly by women slum dwellers living in the city along rail-lines, many working as rag pickers. Living in the peripheries of the city, most of these slum dwellers have to face the challenge of displacement against the state and are constantly on the edge of food insecurity.   

On 12 and 14 October, the right to food yatra touched Birbhum district. A street corner meetingwas organised by the Sangrami Jan Manch in a busy market place at Rajnagar, right in one corner of the district, just a few hundred yards away from the Jharkhand border. This was followed on 14 October by a meeting organised by Uthnau, a member organisation of the campaign and  the Bharat Jakat Majhi Mandwa in Mollarpur, which was attend by 35-40 activists of these Santhal organisations. Discussions were also held with members of the district-level Santhal organsiation, Birbhum Adivasi Goanta, at both Rajnagar and Mollarpur on the next phase of the programme. The Birbhum programmes were attended by NTUI, PBKMS and SMS members from other districts. In Birbhum the hunger among unorganised workers in stone quarries, stone crushers, rice mills, brick fields as well as agricultural work were prominently the issues discussed, as well as the problem of people's control over forests and land, and the impact of this on food security.  

On 13 October, MASUM, another member organisation of the campaign, organised a mass meeting at Char Durgapur in Raninagar block of the Murshidabad  district, right on the Bangladesh border. A number of organisations and individuals supporting the campaign attended the meeting - the PHE Pump Operators Contract Workers' Union, NTUI, PBKMS, SMS, Pallabh Goswami, a retired Government official and Anant Moitra, a playwright. At Char Durgapur, a picture of great deprivation came up. The usual problems of a dysfunctional PDS, and non-functioning Anganwaris was compounded by the stories of atrocities of the BSF and by the way in which the Government treats these citizens with great suspicion, making them the subject of constant surveillance and recurring midnight raids in their houses. Just getting a ration card was a big struggle for the people of this region.   

Twelve Gram Panchayats were covered in Dhaniakhali Block and Hoogli blocks of Hooghly district on 12 and 13 October 2012, by Udayani Social Action Forum. The main slogans raised by women were, ‘ration churi bondo koro’ (Stop stealing ration). The main issues raised were less than the allocated quantity of foodgrain being given to BPL and AAY cardholders, and none to Annapurna cardholders. The rally walked to the ration shops demanding the dealers to give them the right quantity and cash memo. Some women in fact came with their ration cards to collect their due as per the State orders from the dealers and got their ration as per the order.  

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) Shramajivee Samanvay Committee and NTUI concluded the North 24 Parganas district chapter of the yatra with pathasabhas and public meetings in Hasnabad, Minakha, Basirhat 1 and 2, Sandeshkhali 1 and 2, Bagda and Bongaon blocks from 11 to 14 October 2012.  

The yatra forced the state government to acknowledge hunger and distribute free rations of 5 kg foodgrains to 5,000 units for each district i.e. around 278 units from each blocks/ municipalities on the occasion of ‘World Food Day’ on 16 October 2012, something which has never been done before in the state. The Minister of Food and Supplies is himself visiting two tea plantations in Jalpaiguri district, which were recently rocked by reports of hunger and starvation deaths.  
The yatra has covered 16 districts in the state.

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