31 January 2011

NREGA 5th Anniversary Is 'Lajja Diwas' (Day Of Shame): PBKMS

On  February 2, 2011, NREGA will  be five years old, a day when both the Central and State Governments will juggle figures to show excellent implementation. However the truth of the matter is that NREGA has failed to provide the benefits it should have to rural workers. Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity has therefore called for the observation of NREGA Lajja Diwas (NREGA Day of Shame)  on February 1, 2011.

On this occasion, as a symbol of shame, black badges will be presented by union members to all BDOs, Panchayat Pradhans and all important political leaders in the area. 

There will be a number of myths that will be publicized by the Government on February 2, 2011. Here are the facts:

Myth #1:     NREGS Workers are safe

Fact: Our members have faced violent attacks while demanding work or payment of wages or even while working. These attacks have often been in Government premises like Panchayat and BDO offices and often at the instigation of or by elected Panchayat members, in full sight of Government officials.  Some examples are given below:

2007- in Puncha block (Purulia) within the BDO office in full sight of the BDO, SDO and the police, attack by a mob of 200 armed Kisan Sabha supporters;
2009 - at the Panchayat office in Kamtajangidiri in Manbazar block(Purulia), attack  by goons called in by a TMC Pradhan;
2009 - at a work site in Puncha GP in Purulia by a CPM instigated mob;
2009-  in Canning 1 block(South 24 Pgs) at the Panchayat office  where the CPM Pradhan organized goons to attack NREGS workers asking for payment of wages ;
2009- in Pathar Pratima, Achintonagar, South 24 Parganas  an attack because workers forced the TMC Panchayat to the work according to the law;
2010- in Jangipara block, Hooghly where workers were asking for work, while an investigation was taking place, the attack took place against complainants  in front of the SDO at the instigation of the CPM Panchayat Samity  Sabhapati ;
2010- in Midnapore Sadar, Paschim Midnapore because workers are getting organized to demand work by CPM and TMC combined;
2011- in Dakshin Raipur GP, Pathar Pratima (South 24 Pgs) where people gheraoed the GP for not giving work, here the attack was by a board that was controlled by CPM, Congress and BJP combined.

Shame on the police and administration for allowing attacks on workers, while pretending to be concerned about poverty alleviation

Myth #2:     West Bengal Government is creating plenty of work for applicants

Fact: In the past five years, the West Bengal has not even created half the number of days required, sometimes creating as little as 14 or 25 days.  While 2009-10 showed some improvement in NREGA performance, in the current year the outlook is bleak, with the Government having created only 21 person days on the average.

 Employment created (Person days per household)
2010-2011(up to 23rd Jan 2011)
West Bengal- no of days

Myth #3:      The Government of West Bengal’s performance is better than other states

Fact: Even this year, West Bengal’s performance is  likely to be at the bottom of the 20 large states, as it has been for all years , except 2009-10.

Employment created (Person daysper household)
(up to 23rd 
Jan 2011)
National Average
Best performance-
name of state
Best performance- 
no of days
Rank amongst 20
large states
or last
20th or last

West Bengal has also lagged far behind the states that have created the maximum number of days of employment, creating at most 1/3rd  (33-35%) of the number of days of employment created by them, and sometimes as little as 16.3%. The figures are as follows:

Total number of 
days employment created (in lakhs)
(up to 23rd 
Jan 2011)
Best performance- name of state
Madhya Pradesh
Best performance- no of days
West Bengal- no of days
percent of best perfomance

It should be noted that West Bengal has 1 in every 10 cards issued in the country (9.2% of total job cards), but has created only 1 in 20 or 1 in 25 of all person days of employment in the country (3.6 to 6.7%) in the past 5 years.

Shame on the West Bengal Government for lagging behind all the states even after  5 years

Myth #4:      The West Bengal Government provides all its citizens with their entitlements under the Act
Fact: The West Bengal has been able to provide only 0.8% to 2.1% of people demanding work with their full entitlement of 100 days of work  

2008-09 2009-10 2010-2011(up 
to 23rd 
Jan 2011)
Cumulative No of Households
demanding employment
3025854 3489363 4421128
Households completing 100 days of 
work in West Bengal
23050 72123 42142
Percent 0.8 2.1 1.0

Despite its inability to provide work to all applicants and delays in payment of wages, the West Bengal has paid unemployment allowance to barely a few hundred people. Compensation for late payment of wages (provided for under the Act) has not been to even a single person, though delays take place in most cases. Those eligible for unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment would run into lakhs. The Government has no budgetary provision or procedures in place for such these payments. 

Two PBKMS cases - one for payment of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages and another for payment of arrears of wages of rs.72 crores - are still pending  in the High Court.

Shame on West Bengal for not obeying the law

Myth #5:      The Government is a good employer , paying its workers in time

Fact:  The law requires wage payment to take place within 14 days of the work being completed . It is very difficult for NREGS workers who live a hand to mouth existence to manage without daily payment of wages.  However, the West Bengal Government does not make payments even within the statutory 14 days. In 2010-11, almost half (42.8%) of wages have been paid late, with Rs. 440.74 crores of wages out of a total wage payment of Rs. 1040.01 crores being paid at least 16 days after work was completed. Of this delayed payment, Rs. 78.07 crores was paid more than 3 months after work was completed.

On the other hand, one does not hear about this kind of delay in payment in the case of salaries of other Government employees, despite the fact that they are responsible for delays.

Shame on West Bengal: Coupled with low creation of work, delayed payment of wages has forced workers to migrate to other states to work under precarious and exploitative conditions.

Myth #6:      The State Government is sympathetic to women and gender sensitive

Fact:- The NREG Act makes it mandatory for 1/3rd of the work to be created for women. However West Bengal has created less than this amount of work for women, except during 2009-10, creating as little as 16% work for women. The national average has ranged between 40-50%, while the best states (Kerala) have given even 90% of the work for women.

2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-2011
(up to 23rd Jan 2011)
National 40.44 42.52 47.88 48.65 50
Best performance
- name of state
Kerala Kerala Kerala
Best performance- percent 81.11 82.01 85.01 88.29 90
West Bengal 18.28 16.99 26.53 33.42 31
Rank amongst 20 large states 15th 17th 16th 17th 18th

In West Bengal where many of the women are new entrants into the wage market or unused to doing earth work, despite repeated deputations by our union and other women’s organizations, there has been no separate thinking of works suitable for women. Women also face a lot of resistance from the Panchayats when they apply for work.

Shame on West Bengal Government for its anti-women behavior

Myth #7:      It is the State Government that is to blame, the Central Government is supportive of NREGS workers

Fact: The Central Government has been introducing new systems for the implementation of NREGA. In their interest to monitor and control the programme and to ensure that funds are not siphoned off, they have introduced conditions that have made workers the sufferers i.e.
2006: during the Assembly elections, it was declared that NREGS works came under the Election Code. Work stopped leading to workers being deprived. It was only after many of us complained that a clarification was given and NREGS works were brought out of the ambit of the Election Code.
2008: bank accounts became compulsory, with workers either not being given work or not being paid wages because banks and post offices were very slow in opening accounts. This problem of non-cooperation by banks and post offices continues.
2009: wages were delinked from the minimum wage and the basic has been frozen at Rs.100, which is not even a subsistence wage. Wages were linked to the price index from 2011 onwards
2010: a new Management Information system has been introduced due to which many GPs could not get money for new works, with workers being deprived of work.

Myth #8:      A change in Government will change NREGS implementation

Fact: Our analysis shows that there has been only a marginal improvement in performance in the four districts that have Zilla Parishads led by the Congress or TMC. This along with the violence faced from all parties by workers who are demanding work does not augur well for the future of MGNREGA if there is a regime change

Shame on all major political parties for neglecting rural workers on the one hand and suppressing their movements through attacks on the other

Union members will be taking up the following programme in the areas:

                                                          1st February 2011
South 24 Parganas Sagar, Namkhana, Kulpi, Mandirbazar, Pathar Pratima at block offices; Kanai Haldar,Swapna Tripathi, Asta Maity

Canning 1 (Tambuldaha GP); Kakdwip (Rabindra GP);
North 24 Parganas Bagda, Bongaon, Gaighata at block offices Mijanur Rehaman, Khushilal Sardar 

Hasnabad (Murarisha, Makhalgaccha GPs); Minakha (Champali, Chaital GPs)

Basirhat town
Nadia Nakashipara, Shantipur, Chapra block offices Bela Adak,Molina Pramanick
Paschim Midnapore Datan 1 and 2 , Mohanpur at block offices Sandip Singha 

Purba Midnapore Egra 1 , Canthi 1 at block offices
Purulia Puncha, Manbazar 1, Hura, Santuri, Balarampur, Purulia 1 at block offices Uttam Gayen, Talik Mahato

Barabazar (Berada GP)
Bankura Chhatna, Bankura 1 , Saltora general publicity Suchitra Mondal, Swapan Haldar

                                                                     2nd February 2011
South 24 Parganas Kultali at Block Office
Nadia Krishnagar 2 at block office
North 24 Parganas Bagda, Bongaon and Gaighata at block offices

28 January 2011

How Our Union Organisers Are Harassed

On principle, and as part of its strategy, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity uses non–violent forms of struggle to raise its demands. Despite this, we find ourselves being harassed by law enforcement agencies, the administration and political parties. We have analysed 19 such pending cases, leaving out many others which are comparatively minor. 
Our analysis has shown that the cases can be grouped into three groups. The first have resulted from our interventions in various anti-land acquisition struggles in West Bengal, while the second has involved our members fighting for our rights under the MGNREGA. A third set of cases has resulted from our attempts to organize people on other issues.

 Land struggles: 

 From 2006, West Bengal has seen a number of struggles by farmers and rural workers against land acquisition. These struggles have by and large been peaceful and the local people have followed a number of forms of non-cooperation, like blockading the cars of officials; symbolic protests in front of walls and barbed wires surrounding the site where land has been acquired to put up a factory etcetera. Each such action has resulted in the filing of a case (FIR) by the police authorities. The cases have certain peculiarities – firstly there are always very serious non-bailable sections put in like attempt to murder, destruction of Government property, possession of lethal arms etc. 


Evidence is also planted to prove such sections as being true (e.g. in a case in Bahadurpur, Nadia, the police were reported to have gone the day after the arrest of the activists to plant stones, swords, scythes etc at the place of incidence and also to film these items there in order to prove that the group of villagers protesting in front of a district official’s car was violent.) 

Secondly, the cases always have a number of unnamed accused i.e. the names of a few accused are given and they are supposed to be accompanied by “50 others” or “200 others”. This is then used as a tool by the party in power to punish all protest. Days after the complaint has been filed, any person who is considered a troublemaker by the party in power is included as one of the accused among the “50 others”.

Thirdly, the cases have often been an attempt to prevent activists from entering an area where people are protesting against a move by the Government and the party in power. Thus, in Singur PS Case Number 8/07, the sub-divisional court banned the accused from entering the area for the next four months, so that the support she was providing to the local people could be stopped. The High Court ultimately declared this order null and void and said it was an infringement of the fundamental rights of the activist. Besides this, Section 144, which makes assembly of more than 5 people a crime, has been routinely and illegally declared in such areas to break the movements and struggles of the local people. People have been physically arrested for trying to enter Lalgarh, Nandigram and Singur. 

In Nandigram, the party in power manhandled in front of the police activists trying to enter the area. In Lalgarh, they went a step further – the party in power organised camps of armed cadres, who instilled fear going as far as to murder, rape and kidnap local people, with the central paramilitary forces and the state police turning a blind eye and often even supporting such actions in the name of taming Maoists.

Fourthly, these actions have been accompanied by a continuous campaign to harass and frighten leading activists. These have taken the form of regular abusive posters in front of one of our offices; writing or planting defaming stories about sources of fund or labeling us Maoists in party controlled media; and even visiting the activists’ homes and threatening to kidnap their children.


NREGA related problems

The union activists have also faced severe problems when fighting for work or timely payment under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. These problems have taken place, no matter which party controls the local Government in the area. There have been physical attacks on the workers at the work site itself in most cases or, even more shockingly, at Government offices in the presence of senior officials. The attacks are organized and led by political party leaders (who are often people’s representatives in the local Government). The intention seems to be to ensure that the weakest sections among the workers, the agricultural workers, remain unorganized and oppressed.

The police and the administration most often have not responded to the complaints of workers who have been attacked. Instead false cases are filed without any kind of verification by the police against the victims of the attack. For example, Narayan Mahato, a worker in Puncha (Purulia district), who was hospitalised with a serious head injury, was accused in a counter-case of grievously injuring those who had beaten him up, even though medical reports showed no such injuries for the complainants  (who were also Narayan’s attackers). 


Preventing Organising

In many instances, the filing of false cases is done to ensure that the workers do not organise themselves.  Thus, in Purulia, the police and party in power tried to make the Secretary of our GP level committee an accused in a bomb blast in which Maoists were suspected of being involved. This was done at the instigation of a local party leader to terrorise our union secretary. Ration dealers who were stealing people’s rations were caught by our women members in Chapra block, Nadia. Not only did the ration dealer and their supporters physically attack the activists and women members, but false cases were also instituted against them to stop them from organizing. 

In 2000, there was an attempt to murder one of our activists. This case is still pending after 11 years. Thus, in cases where attempts have been made to kill union activists and such facts are well known and verifiable, courts take a long time to deal with such cases. Also, police still go ahead to file counter cases, making activism a very risky pursuit.

A review of our experiences has revealed the class bias in the way human rights defenders are treated. In highly publicized anti-land acquisition struggles like Singur, Nandigram and Bahadurpur, whenever upper class activists have been at the receiving end, the defenders get bail after a single night in the lock up; lawyers give pro bono service; media and internet access ensure a quick public reaction. The activists are thus heroes, who get support as well as flak. In the other cases, the victims from agricultural worker backgrounds remain unsung heroes. The union has to make a special effort to make the media pay attention or to get the administration to relent.  Each day’s involvement in these cases means a loss of earning for these activists who anyway live at the margins. The union has to collect money from other sources for their legal support. Class difference thus makes the experience of these cases very different for these two sets of activists.

Our experience has also shown that in West Bengal we have faced a monolith from the Gram Panchayat level to the State administration where the party in power has combined efficiently with the police administration and the bureaucracy to suppress both protests and protestors. Violence and repression seem to be the immediate and prompt answer to all demands for rights.

What outrages us is that the governments at Centre and at the State cry themselves hoarse about the need for poverty alleviation. They declare policies and laws it, yet when the poor start organising for the implementation of these very laws and policies, they face repression and false cases. 

Our demand is that the law should support these activists who are trying to alleviate poverty by protecting them from false cases and from violence. Cases accusing activists falsely must be examined very objectively and without bias before arrest of these human rights defenders and cases where activists have been attacked must be fast tracked to see that attackers are punished quickly.

27 January 2011

Report on Netai Killings

Debjit Dutta, a human rights activist, visited Netai village where seven people were killed on January 7 by armed members of a militia controlled by the ruling party in West Bengal. Two others later died in hospital from their injuries. It was the first time that four women in West Bengal had been killed in firing. Debjit unearths what led to the killings, the role of the armed cadres and the sequence of events. The published report is an abridged one and can be accessed at:

03 January 2011

Asia Caravan Reaches Gaza City

After almost a week of waiting in the port city of Latakia in Syria, the members of the Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan finally set off for their penultimate destination, El Arish in Egypt. Swapan Ganguly of PBKMS is part of the group. This journey was preceded by many “ifs” and “buts” from the Egyptian authorities, who first refused to give visas to 46 Iranians and Jordanians, including 6 Iranian MPs. This reduced the caravan from 160 to 120 persons. At first the caravan members had refused to go without their Iranian and Jordanian comrades but later, at the insistence of those who had been refused visas, they decided to proceed, as the Palestinians were looking forward to their arrival.

A second objection came to the ship’s cargo, where among the aid being carried (two ambulances, medicines, toys etc.), 10 generators were considered “dangerous”, and removed from the cargo.

The ship set sail on the January 1, with only 8 activists on board while the rest went by air. Those on board reported being tailed by 5 Israeli naval vessels.The activists arrived in El Arish on January 2, after each one of them had signed declarations about how their bodies were to be disposed off in case of any mishap. They then spent a tense four hours confined by the Egyptian authorities in El Arish airport, not knowing whether they would be allowed to go to the Rafah crossing, from where they could enter Gaza. After they began protesting at the airport, they were taken to Rafah late at night. The Palestinians received them and they reached the beleaguered city of Gaza at 3 a.m. on the morning of January 3.

The 120 activists are from more than 15 countries, the majority of whom are Indians but also include nationals from Iran, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Kuwait. They will spend another three days in Gaza before returning home.

Related Post: Asia Lifeline To Gaza