28 December 2011

Defending Rights of Midday Meal Cooks

Convention of Midday Meal Cooks on 28 December, 2011 at University Institute Hall Library

Our Demands:
·          Minimum Wage, Regular Payment And A Corruption Free Midday Meal Scheme
·          Teachers Get Back To Teaching, Women Must Manage The Midday Meal Scheme,
·          Keep Corporates And NGOs Out Of The Midday Meal Scheme
·          To Maintain Nutritional Value, Increase The Cooking Costs With Inflation
·          Provide Self Help Group Members With More Jobs And Bank Loans At Low Interest

Our Government has once again shown its ability to turn women into slave labour.  With 1 crore 21 lakh children being covered under the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) in West Bengal, it has become a large provider of new jobs for poor women in rural and urban areas. It has thus provided more than 1.5 lakh women with work in their own villages and communities and at their own skill levels. In a labour surplus market, where poor women are desperately looking for work, the Government breaks its own Minimum Wages Act to give a subsistence wage of Rs 1,000 per month to cooks. Most often, even this is not paid regularly and women (for example from Uttar Dinajpur district) have reported non-payment for 6-8 months.

With increasing costs of cooking, groups of women who have formed self-help groups and are given the responsibility for the cooking and purchasing find themselves unable to give good food to children. On top of this is the boss-ism of school teachers, many of whom, despite clear orders otherwise, have kept the management of the MDMS to themselves, with many finding in it an easy way of making money. Some cooks have also become involved in this, willy-nilly.
A statement by the West Bengal Education Secretary a few weeks ago showed that the Government was thinking of taking away even this meagrely paid work from self-help groups, and of handing these over to mainly male-controlled NGOs, clubs etc. The new Food Security Bill by the Central Government goes a step further and is paving the way for the entry of large corporate companies by allowing for ready-to-eat meals or packaged food instead of cooked meals.

Women from self-help groups, who are responsible for the Midday Meal Scheme, are also charged exorbitant interest rates for funds provided to them as bank loans, despite many of them being BPL cardholders. They are deprived of suitable jobs (such as supervision of NREGA, supply of food to ICDS centres, cooking in hospitals etc.), many of which have been reserved for them by court orders and Government policy for self-help groups.

At the initiative of Shramajivi Mahila Samity, women from all over West Bengal are coming together in a Convention of Midday Meal Cooks on 28 December 2011 to protest against all such malpractices and to unite for their rights.

Time:  11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 28 December 2012
Venue:  University Institute Hall Library (2nd Floor)
Open Session at 3 PM

09 December 2011

Mamata Regime's Dismal Record With Unorganised Sector Workers

The Ashanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (Platform of Struggle for Unorganised Sector Workers), made up of 12 unions working for the rights of the unorganized sector workers, released a report on December 8, 2011, at Kolkata Press Club on the first 200 days of Trinamool Congress government's progress on issues and demands raised by the workers of the state.

The press conference, which was attended by various leading newspapers and news channels, addressed a number of issues like the progress of the MNREGA (100 days of work), the public distribution system for cheap food, minimum wages, state of contract workers and Forest Rights.

The Manch released a booklet containing data and information related to all the issues presented at the conference and, along with it, a mark sheet on the government's performance in four areas where it was assessed (MGNREGA, minimum wages, protection of contract workers and forest rights). The government barely passed in one (public distribution system for cheap food).

The organisers also pointed that fighting for better wages for unorganized sector workers was a dangerous pursuit, with death threats being received by Prithvish Bose, adviser of Shramjivi Sammanvay Committee, one of the constituents of the Manch, because of their demands to raise the wages of brick kiln workers. They said that brickfield owners, cutting across party lines, had held a secret meeting in Akash brickfield and it is suspected they have hired professionals to kill Prithvish Bose.

The PHE Water Supply Employees Union (West Bengal), another constituent whose members operate drinking water pumps of the State Government, claimed both the present and the past governments had cheated them. Pump operators receive a daily wage of Rs169. Payment is irregular, with some workers having dues for 12-15 months. The work, which is of a perennial nature, continues to be contractual in violation of the law. The union said it would start a dharna in front of their Minister’s office from December 12, which would be then converted to a hunger strike if their demands for timely payments, permanent status and minimum wages were not met. It said that all pump operators would also resort to mass casual leave from December 26 if the government persisted in ignoring them.

The unions, who are part of the Manch, are far from happy with the performance of the government on issues related to the deprived classes and the unorganized sector. There was enough evidence to believe that the government was not doing what it could do and that it had diverged from the pre-election promises.

Summary In English
Report Bangla
Summary of Report in Bangla

07 December 2011

Unorganised Sector Workers Will Release Report on Mamata Government

Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch
4/1A Bhabanath Sen Street , Kolkata 700004


Dear friends,

The Mamata Banerjee Government is completing 200 days in office. How has this Government (which came to power on the slogan of Maa Mati Manush) fared as far as the demands and needs of the workers in this state are concerned?

Unorganised sector workers who are 93% of this State's working force and who are also the most exploited are presenting a report on the first 200 days of the present State Government. The report has been made by Ashanghatit Kshetra Sangrami Shramik Sangrami  Mancha, a platform of independent trade unions working in the unorganised sector formed in January 2010. It will touch on issues that concern the survival of such workers as: 
·  subsidised food 
·  availability of work under NREGA,
·  minimum wages
·  conditions of contract workers
·  rights on forest land etc.
·  democracy for workers' rights

The report entitled "Majoorer Chokhe Maa Maati Manush Sarkarer Doi Sho Din" will be released on December 8 at 3 p.m. at the Press Club, Kolkata. 

With regards, 

Swapan Ganguly and  Somnath Ghosh 
Joint Convenors 

Petition To Mamata Banerjee On Nandigram

[On November 10, 2011, in the time of Operation Nutan Surjauday (New Sunrise armed goons of the then ruling party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) “invaded” Nandigram and tried to re-establish their stranglehold over the villages there. A film showing the struggles of the people of Nandigram was released and a press conference at the Press Club, Kolkata. During the discussion after the film, it was decided to send a petition to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mrs Mamata Banerjee to draw her attention to the current state in Nandigram and take some decisive action.]

Smt. Mamata Banerjee,
Honourable Chief Minister,
Government of West Bengal,

Dear Madam,

It is now four years since Operation Nutan Surjauday, that terrible time in November 2007, when the armed goons of the then ruling party “invaded” Nandigram and tried once again to establish their stranglehold over the villages there. From January 2007 till the Panchayat elections in 2008, the brave people of Nandigram fought against oppression and terrorism to put a stop to the forcible acquisition of their land for an SEZ. They suffered tremendous human and material loss, undergoing much mental trauma. Women were especially the victims of sexual and all other kinds of torture. They looked forward to the 2011 elections and had expected many things from the new Government. However though it is now more than six months since your Government was installed, many of their expectations remain unfulfilled.

From past experience, we know that the cause of the Nandigram people is close to your heart.  As people and organisations that supported the Nandigram struggle whole-heartedly, we therefore believe it is our responsibility to draw your attention to their problems, and to seek your intervention to solve these problems. These are as follows:

1.       Some of the victims of the Nandigram 14th March firing and the other atrocities there are still in need of medical care. As this is not always freely available from Government hospitals, the victims have either to spend money from their own pockets or have to depend on others’ charity for their treatment. Abhijit Giri, Tapasi Jana and Haimavati Haldar of Gokulnagar are three examples of such victims. We would request you to arrange for free treatment for all such victims from the best Government facilities available (including free testing facilities, free medicines and support for travel and stay of the patient and a companion).

2.       Innumerable false criminal cases were filed against the people of Nandigram and Khejuri during their two years of struggle. Our estimates show that hundreds of such cases were filed between 2007 and 2008.Hundreds of innocent people from these areas are still having to run to courts to defend themselves at great expense. Sedition charges have been filed against three persons and they continue to languish in jail. We ask for immediate withdrawal of all these cases.

3.       The State of West Bengal has so far compensated only famileis of 14 persons killed, 159 injured persons and 3 rape victims of the 14th March 2007 incident at Nandigram. However, these numbers are very few compared to the actual number of people who were injured on March 14th and all the other heinous incidents that took place from January 2007 till the May 2008 Panchayat elections. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its report dated February 8th 2008 has stated that during the period 6th November to 12th November 2007, 7 persons were killed and 32 persons were injured. It further stated that “the next of kin of the dead in these incidents and also the injured persons should be compensated in the same manner as directed by the High Court of Calcutta for the victims of the incidents of 14th March, 2007”. On 14th March 2011, PBKMS and APDR had demanded compensation from the Chief Secretary for a list of 455 injured persons (including rape victims) of 14th March 2007 who had not received anything so far. No action has been taken on this list or on the NHRC report (which the former CPI(M)-led Government had refused to accept), despite the change in Government.  According to a PBKMS report, from January 3rd to January 7th 2007, 4 people died and at least 25 persons   were injured in Nandigram.  In addition, the People’s Tribunal on Nandigram has also collated reports of people who were injured and /or sexually assaulted in all the other incidents that took place in Nandigram. We would request your Government to enquire into all such reports and to provide compensation to all such injured and/or sexually assaulted persons in Nandigram.

4.       In November 2007, a number of people had their houses destroyed in Operation Nutan Surjauday. According to a report submitted to the NHRC by the Chief Secretary of the previous Government, 560 houses were completely destroyed and 399 houses were partially damaged. Later compensation was distributed by the previous Government before the 2008 Panchayat elections in a totally partisan manner. Reports from the area suggest that very few people who lost their houses actually got this money. The NHRC in its report declared that “since the State Government does not appear to have discharged its primary obligation in preventing the attack by CPI (M) cadres on 6th November, 2007, it should bear the responsibility for the loss of life and property following the attack.... The compensation that the State Government proposes to make for damaged houses appears to be quite inadequate. The Commission considers recommending enhanced compensation for fully and partially damaged houses. The Enquiry Team of the Commission has reported that after the incidents of 6th November, 2007 several houses of BUPC supporters have been occupied by CPI (M) cadres and they are now claiming to be owners of those houses and demanding compensation. The Commission considers it necessary to appoint a Committee to suggest compensation regarding damage that occurred and to ensure that the monetary relief does not fall in wrong hands and it reaches the genuine persons.”  It is therefore suggested that the present Government should enquire into this matter and compensate   those who actually lost their houses, but were not compensated.
We expect your Government to enquire into all these cases of loss and suffering in order to compensate them and take corrective steps immediately. 

06 December 2011

Rescue Of Migrant Bonded Workers From Mangalore, Karnataka

15 workers, including one woman, were rescued early morning today from Purkodi in Mangalore SEZ Area, Karnataka as they faced abuse and were kept as bonded labourers on site. The workers went as construction workers from Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal, employed by Gannon Dunkerley & Co. Ltd (GDCL), who is constructing for ONGC Mangalore Petrochemicals Ltd (OMPL).

The workers were made to work for 14-16 hours with very little payment of wages, were also subjected to physical violence and abusive language when they raised their problems before the employers. They were not being allowed to go back home and were tortured with hot water and hot rods when they had protested to work for long hours.

They had been working for almost two months in the Mangalore SEZ area, a proposed 3985 acres for Petrochemicals and Petroleum sector; out of which 1800 acres have already been acquired for two projects. The area has hundreds of colonies, with a large number of migrant worker population from West Bengal. Being a SEZ area, no outsider is allowed to talk and access to their residence is very restricted.

The families of the workers informed the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, about their family members not being in contact after they had left around 23 September through Dibesh Das Layekdi village, Lakhanpur, Hura, District Purulia who had recruited these workers. They were handed over to a labour contractor, Bholanath Singh, resident of Dishergarh, Kulti in Burdwan district, who in turn sent them for work to Mangalore through his employee Sanjay Singh.

The workers are forced to work in places like Mangalore because of hunger and starvation situation in their own villages. Sriram Bauri, 60 years, died of neglect and long term hunger on 9 September, in Layekdi village of Purulia district. On 10 September 2011, our union sent a medical team to this village to examine the health status of in the village and identified around 15 persons who were highly malnourished and in immediate need of medical help and nutrition.

There has been no NREGS work in the villages despite dharnas by workers asking for work. Wages from earlier work are yet to be paid. With a total absence of a system of regulation of contractors by the Labour Department in both States, recruitment of labour from Bankura and Purulia districts are common, and in violation of the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act.

In addition, there seems to be no system of labour inspection in Mangalore, and labour laws are blatantly flouted with workers working in the SEZ area. It is apparent that West Bengal is not exporting workers, but instead exporting slaves to these areas.

We immediately ask for the following:
·     the State Government of Karnataka to recover full wages due to the workers from the contractors and principal employer;
·     the State Government of Karnataka declares the workers as bonded labour and that the State Governments of West Bengal and Karnataka make available to them aid under schemes for bonded labour
·     the State Governments arrest the principal employer and the labour contractors in West Bengal and Karnataka and take legal action against them
·     all the concerned State Governments improve their systems of inspection and properly implement the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act, Minimum Wages Act, Contract Labour Act, Child Labour Act etc.
·     That the Government of West Bengal ensures that workers get employment with timely payment of wages under the MGNREGA and are therefore not forced to migrate to such precarious work.

17 October 2011

With the intervention of the Karnataka police and Labour Department, the workers recovered Rs.2.89 lakhs as wages , but no punitive action was taken against the employer. Nor were the workers declared as "bonded". The workers are now back in the village.