12 April 2011

Snapshot Of Those Who Will Rule West Bengal

As West Bengal prepares for Assembly elections starting within the next few days, it is perhaps time to have a look at the people who will rule us for the next five years. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) have analysed the list of candidates for North Bengal where elections will be held first. They find that: 
  • 49 candidates, that is 19.37% (of 253 analysed), have criminal charges against them and 27 of them have serious charges like murder, attempt to murder, extortion and theft charges against them (though it must be said that the Left Front government was famous for being quick to slap these accusations against people it didn’t like) 
  • All major parties have given tickets to candidates with pending criminal cases. The Indian National Congress (INC) has 10 candidates out of 27 (37%); the Communist Party of India [Marxist] CPI(M) 8 out of 32 (25%); the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 8 out of 48 (17%); the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) 5 out of 9 (56 %) and All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) 4 out of 26 (15%) candidates with pending criminal cases. 
  • 9 candidates (4%) have property and income worth more than Rs 1 crore (Rs 1, 000,000) 
  • 143 candidates (57 %) have declared that they have never filed income tax returns.
  • 92 (36%) have not given PAN details 
  • The CPI (M) has the maximum number of candidates, 15 (47%), who have never filed IT returns (ITR), followed by INC with 11 (41%). AITC 7 and All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) 3 
  • 29 candidates (11%) are post-graduates.
  • 4 candidates (2%) have doctorates. 
  • 16 candidates have declared their age to be less than 30
  • 6 candidates are more than 71 years 
  • There are 225 male candidates and 28 females 
More information at: www.adrindia.org and http://www.myneta.info

                  06 April 2011

                  'A Government That Breaks Its Own Law Has No Right To Rule'

                  Members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity hit the streets once again on April 5, 2011, at Krishnanagar, district headquarters of Nadia distric, to demand pending wages, work and food. Armed with empty plates, hundreds of women and men surrounded the District Magistrate’s office. Their main slogan was simple: “A Government that breaks its own law has no right to rule”.

                  The Government, according to PBKMS, has violated the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act by refusing to accept applications for work, by not providing them work and by not paying them wages in time. It had also violated Supreme Court orders on pensions and rations. Thus,
                  ·   1,941 members of PBKMS and its fraternal organisation Shramajeevi Mahila Samity had demanded work for 37,693 days in the past four months, but had not been provided employment.
                  ·   Workers in only 4 Panchayats from 3 blocks were owed wages of Rs 10.24 million – again payments were pending for over 4 months .
                  ·   Workers demanded payment of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.
                  ·   There were serious anomalies in the survey that had been done to identify below poverty line (BPL) families. For example, an entire village (Goraimari of Mahatpur Gram Panchayat in Chapra Block) was missing from the Rural Household Survey list, depriving such families of the entitlements due to below poverty line families. An old man had been given a certificate by the Panchayat Pradhan, saying he was a beggar, but still found no place on the BPL list.
                  ·   There were more than a hundred old women and men present in the dharna (sit-in) who said their pensions had been stopped, because their names had inexplicably been struck off the BPL list.
                  ·   After the furore created in the Supreme Court on the issue of food grains rotting in Government godowns, while millions starved in the country, additional rations had been sanctioned by the Government of India in October and December 2011. These had not reached the ration card holders in Nadia. The PBKMS members demanded punishment of corrupt government officials and ration dealers and immediate distribution of all foodgrain due to them from October.

                  In earlier discussions and meetings with district and state-level officials, when these problems were brought up, a strange picture was presented to the PBKMS members. It was not that the Government was short of money for creation of employment or payment of wages under the NREGS. The district of Nadia had an unspent balance of Rs 28 crores, but this was lying idle with some blocks and Gram Panchayats (GP), while others were unable to pay wages because they had no money. The district did not seem to have the power to shift the money from one block to the other.

                  A team of nine persons, led by Bela Adak, Nadia district PBKMS organiser, spent two hours fighting on these issues with Rashmi Kamal, the Additional District Magistrate (General), while over five hundred members of the PBKMS and SMS waited patiently outside in the sun. Members of Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Bandi Mukti Committee (committee for the release of political prisoners), New Trade Union Initiative and many other local organisations extended their support to the dharna. While the PBKMS had invited all political parties, interestingly, only the Trinamul Congress candidate for the Krishnanagar Dakshin constituency and the President of the Town Trinamul Congress came to express solidarity with the people on dharna.

                  The team emerged to say that the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) had first claimed to have transferred sufficient funds to all GPs to pay for pending wages. However, the team proved that while the ADM had transferred only Rs 5-6 lakhs to a GP, PBKMS members alone were owed more than Rs 20 lakhs in a single GP. The ADM finally agreed to send an officer immediately to every affected GP and to ensure payment of wages within the next four days.  The ADM had also claimed that they were unable to give work or accept work applications as this was a violation of the Election Code. The team forced the ADM to immediately phone up the Election Commission on this matter after which she admitted that she had been mistaken, and issued letters to 12 GPs asking them to give work immediately.

                  On all other issues, the ADM followed the usual bureaucratic procedure of referring the matter to another department. The issue of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages has been referred by the ADM to her immediate boss, as she does not have the powers to do anything about such issues. Similarly, the District Controller of Food and Civil Supplies has been asked to look into the matter of corruption of ration dealers and undistributed rations, while the anomalies in the BPL list and old age pensions have been referred to the concerned officials.

                  The dharna ended with the decision to go back to the GPs to ensure immediate payment of wages and starting of new works under NREGS. A meeting with the District Food and Civil Supplies Controller has also been fixed for April 11, while all other issues are also to be followed up immediately.

                  04 April 2011

                  April 9: Rally For Workers' Rights

                  PBKMS will join a host of organisations for a ‘Shramjeevi Adhikar Yatra’ (march for working peoples’ rights) in Kolkata from 12 noon on April 9. As Assembly elections draw closer in West Bengal, the traditional parties are engaged in a spiteful contest among themselves. The demonstration is being organised to highlight the demands of the working people which are being ignored in the electoral campaign. The other organisations organising this yatra include those representing farmers, Adivasis, the forest people, workers in the formal and informal sectors and environmental and human rights organisations.

                  01 April 2011

                  To Fukushima With Love!

                  [A guest post by Satya Sagar]

                  Here is an idea, which not too far into the future will rank as perhaps the finest to emerge in the entire 21st Century. And not just because this is going to be the shortest Century the human species ever enjoyed on this planet, thanks to Fukushima.  The idea is to send all the supporters of nuclear power from around the globe to the stricken Japanese nuclear complex to help plug the great leak from the sputtering reactors there.

                  Now isn’t that a sparkling thought – all the champions of nuclear power marching off to help clean up the holy mess created by their beloved industry? A hundred thousand beaming pro-nukes working shoulder to shoulder, pumping water into the reactor core, shifting the spent fuel with their brave and bare hands, absorbing the radiation that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and from there around the globe.

                  Come on guys, don’t say ‘no thanks’. This is the moment you have all been waiting for. Your moment under the sun, the sun of course now covered by a lovely cloud of radioactive iodine, caesium and plutonium. Finally you seem to have achieved your dream of deep frying the entire planet and its population with a technology you never tired of calling both ‘safe’, ‘clean’ and in recent times ‘green’ too.

                  Here is the chance to prove that your love for everything nuclear was not just loose, armchair talk. Here is also the time to finally nail the canard that nuclear power always meant the electricity went to the elites while some poor indigenous folk somewhere had to deal with disposal of the radioactive wastes generated.

                  You can show the world that you are made of sterner stuff- that your heart is clad with zirconium stronger than the one that seems to have cracked at the Dai-ichi plant. That the wonderful engineering you promoted for decades may have once again proved to be flawed but the science behind it is still very sound. As we see now, unfortunately it is very heat and light too.

                  What a grand spectacle it would make – the scores of nuclear industry enthusiasts: Russian, Chinese, American, Indian, Japanese, whatever – saving the world from cataclysm by putting their well-paid lives on the line.  What are a few gamma rays after all –  equivalent perhaps to having a CT scan done every half a second – think of the great photo opportunity? Imagine the fantastic see-through images we can hang on our walls after it is all over and your profession will finally be hailed as the most transparent on our planet.

                  You are damn right – those fifty-odd underpaid Japanese contract workers trying to stop the meltdown in Fukushima know nothing at all. Imagine walking straight into radioactive water with slippers on!  They are just some dumb blokes suckered into becoming the latest kamikaze at the service of the Japanese industrial empire. Sure, they are being hailed as ‘heroes’ for what they are doing but if they are allowed to continue like this the rest of us are going to be zeroes anyway!

                  What is really required in their place now is the urgent presence of all those highly qualified professors, scientists, engineers and pro-nuke media plugs from around the globe at Fukushima. The events in Japan call for the direct involvement of all those who have made a nice living out of peddling nuclear power as the solution to everything from global poverty to galloping climate change.

                  It is time for all of them to leave the safe confinements of the television talk shows they keep appearing on and catch the earliest flight to Japan. They need not be coy about showing up without Japanese visas too – undoubtedly the lonely guys at the Tokyo Electric Power Company would not mind some like-minded company these days. You can all collectively rejoice at the idea that while you were unable to supply nuclear power to all citizens on Earth you have now succeeded in allocating to each one an appropriately deadly dose of user-friendly radiation. And future generations will surely thank you for the ample Becquerels you have now bequeathed them. (I can picture you guys glowing with pride!)

                  Pro-nukes who still refuse to go to Fukushima after all these compelling arguments I have made above, should consider disappearing into a suitable hole where the rest of us can never find them any more. If we do, then the fission that is bound to happen will release energies before which even a typical nuclear blast will look like a mere firecracker.

                  Satya Sagar is a writer,  journalist and public health worker based in New Delhi.