21 December 2012

Solidarity With Tea Garden Workers

All of us know about inhuman conditions of the tea workers of North Bengal. During the Left Front Government’s regime, the unending procession of dead, starving workers that emerged from the tea gardens was an issue that was much discussed and which led to many protests. With the re-opening of many gardens, there has some improvement in this state of affairs. However, overall, the situation remains the same without any meaningful gains for the workers. The number of closed gardens may have reduced, but the wages of tea workers remain abysmally low, when compared to the huge price inflation in the past few years. The conditions of workers in this industry, in which India is a world leader, are as bad, if not worse, than that of workers in the unorganized sector.

Despite all the denials by Governments in power, one cannot but accept that hunger and hunger –related malnutrition are a daily problem for tea workers. For example, Ramjhora TE is now an open garden, so the workers there no longer get the facilities that were extended to closed gardens. Ironically, they are also not given the wages and facilities of workers of open gardens. They feel they have gone from the frying pan straight into the fire.

Dheklapara tea garden makes the headlines every second day for all the wrong reasons. There may be endless debate about whether the deaths in Dheklapara are due to starvation, but there can be no doubt that the workers are in horrendous conditions. While giving doles occasionally, the Government is silent, saying that the matter is sub judice. The garden is under liquidation, yet no buyer is coming forward. The Tea Board, which is legally obliged to see that tea gardens function properly, and the State Government, which is also responsible for workers’ welfare, could take it over, are shrinking from doing so.

Another garden close to these two is Dalmore, which has been closed or is on the verge of closure for two years now.  It gets none of the facilities for a closed garden and its management also shows no signs of re-opening the garden.

The workers of these three gardens want to take positive action. NTUI has organized worker representatives to come to Kolkata. 28 of them are coming to meet the state administration on 21st December 2012. On the 22nd December 2012 afternoon at 2 p.m., they will meet the press at Press Club to give details of their conditions and that of their gardens.

On 22nd December 2012, these 28 workers will meet various trade unions and other sympathetic persons at 10.30 AM at AWBSRU Guest House to explain their problems and ask for suggestions and solidarity support.

We invite you/a representative of your organization to join us on the 22nd to extend solidarity to the workers and give suggestions for their future movement.

In solidarity
Anuradha Talwar, Pradip Roy

09 December 2012

Return Kulpi Land To The Landless And Fish Workers, Not To Shipyard

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) welcomes the State Government’s move to declare about 500 acres of land bought illegally by benami companies as vested in the Kulpi block. We are however concerned about the future of this land.

We have been informed today by newspaper reports that Bengal Shipyard, a 50-50 venture of the Apeejay Surrendra Group and Bharati Shipyard, plans to set up a marine cluster, with ship building, repair, unloading and loading facilities etc. and that they propose to take the land vested by the Government on lease for this purpose.

We would like to remind the ruling party that they had won on the slogan of “No Agricultural Land for Non Agricultural Purposes” and “No Acquisition of Land by The Government for Industry”. Vesting the Kulpi land and giving it to a shipbuilding company amounts to breaking of these promises. It virtually amounts to acquisition of agricultural land for industry. The Government must instead distribute the land to the landless in Kulpi.  

This land in Rangaphala and Tangra Char villages was forcibly acquired by the land mafia from the land owners, bargadars, and pattadars. Force, intimidation, threats of use of firearms had all been used to suppress protests in the villages.

Due to the Samity’s movement, the police stopped protecting the land mafia and the illegal fencing of people’s land. The Samity also helped 5 registered bargadars- - Jabdali Peyada, Alauddin Jamader,Aipan Beowa, Badal Sarder and Sabur Ali Jamader-to move  Diamond Harbour court and to get the right to till their land. Thus in 2012, these bargadars farmed over 25 bighas of land within the so-called project area, and are at present harvesting their crops. The government also initiated an enquiry after receiving written complaints from the Samity.  

In a complaint given on 6th August 2012 to the Chief Minister and Industries Minister , PBKMS had stated that about 1500 bighas of land had been purchased by a cartel of 40 companies. On investigation we had found that many of these companies exist only on paper and were probably being used as fronts to circumvent the ceiling on purchase of agricultural land. For example, 10 of the companies were registered at the same address. The so-called project remained shrouded in secrecy, leading to suspicion that only land speculation will take place with no economic gains for the local people. No local consultation had taken place about the project. Even the lawyer (RN Ghose and Associates) of the so-called buyer/company had not revealed details of the so-called project in its letter to the administration. Many illegal methods had been used to purchase land and occupy it by the benami buyers, who have put forward a set of middlemen (“arrangers”) to do these transactions. Complaints about this, including 11 specific instances were put forward to the BLRO, BDO and OC at their request. Initially, no action was been taken. Instead the police provided protection to the “arrangers” to illegally fence the land of people who had not at all sold it or who were registered bargadars. The purchase of land had meant extensive loss of income and employment for fish-workers and agricultural workers in the areas.

We would like to remind the State Government that the first claimants to any vested Government land should be the landless. We therefore demand that this land be distributed amongst landless agricultural workers and fish workers in the area. In addition, all bargadars and attadars should have their land restored.

Anuradha Talwar  
Swapan Ganguly

02 November 2012

What The Tea Garden Workers Have To Face: Five Documents

Amid reports of continuing hunger and starvation deaths in the tea gardens of North Bengal, we publish a series of reports prepared by us on what the situation is like for these suffering workers.

Study on closed and re-opened tea gardens In North Bengal

Hunger in North Bengal tea gardens

Condition at Hilla tea estate

Condition at Kumlai tea estate

Nutritional survey of tea garden workers

01 November 2012

Jamshedpur Rally On World Food Day

On World Food Day five thousand people from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal gathered in Jamshedpur. The day began with a rally from Bistupur to Ram Mandir Maidan in Jamshedpur. This was the culmination of the yatras which began on 2 October. Hundreds had joined at each stop of the yatras which had passed through 27 districts of Bihar, 18 districts of Chhattisgarh, 17 districts of Jharkhand and 16 districts of West Bengal. The rally and the public meeting were full of energy with the Satnami dancers of Chhattisgarh dancing all the way from the railway station to the Maidan where they spread their colours by making all others dance as well.

The meeting started in the backdrop of the harsh reality of millions of Indians, with the reporting of the hunger death of 55-year-old Jayanto Suri from Dheklapara Tea Garden in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. The irony being that he died around the time when the Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick of the West Bengal Government had gone there as a part of an initiative to distribute 5kg of foodgrain to 5000 units for each district of the state on the occasion of World Food Day. Along with this there was also the announcement of the launch of a scheme in which every Primitive Tribal Group household of the state would be given 8 kg of free grain a month.

While these schemes were an acknowledgment of hunger and malnutrition in the State which the Yatra had exposed, the Minister has however been denying hunger deaths in West Bengal, said Anuradha Talwar, trade union leader from the Pachim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti. She also added that despite godowns overflowing with 82 million tons of foodgrain, there was widespread hunger, which was unacceptable.

Speaking on the occasion economist and policy advisor to the Jharkhand Government Prof Ramesh Saran, said that this yatra had connected people of the eastern region of the country in order to strengthen the struggle for rozi aur roti. He said this battle should also aim at changing the attitude of the planners and policy makers, whose policies actually increase the hunger of the people. He said that all subsidies and waivers was for the rich and not the poor. This had to change and the yatras were a step in that direction.

Speaking on the occasion Rupesh, from the Bihar Bhojan ka Adhikar Abhiyan said that a few years ago, 14 people of Jalhe Bongiya village in Gaya district were forced to dig out and eat a dead goat because of hunger. This led to the death of seven people, some of whom did not have a ration card. He strongly advocated for removing the distinction between APL and BPL categories from the National Food security Bill. This was unacceptable in the Food bill. He added that to for nutrition, apart from providing wheat and rice, the PDS also need to supply millets, pulses and oil.

Powerfully presenting the woe of the farmers, tribal leader Ganga Bhai from Chhattisgarh said that wherever he went the hungriest person was the farmer whose sweat and blood fed the nation. He also should widen its alliance with other organisations working with non-violent means and strengthen the struggle for a hunger-free farmer. Balram, coordinator of the meeting at Jameshpur and a representative of the Jharkhand state campaign in the Steering Group of the Right to Food Campaign, said that the yatra gave a platform to widespread anger against the reality of hunger amidst plenty. People wanted a strong PDS and ICDS.

People rejected the current draft of the National Food Security Bill. Kavita Srivastava from Rajashan and convenor of the Campaign’s Steering Group said that the enthusiastic response and vibrant rally and yatras had given a clear message that the fight for a hungerand malnutrition free Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal was actually a fight for the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in India. She added that similar yatras also took place in Gujarat and Rajasthan with other states preparing to start similar yatras. She gave a call for the Campaign to intensify in villages and at block and district levels for a National Food Security Bill which links production, procurement, storage and distribution. A demand for a universal PDS, maternal entitlements and a strong and independent grievance redressal system was reiterated. People would now travel to Delhi in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament to raise its demands in front of the Parliament and the Government.

The meeting was also addressed by Kapileshwar from Bihar, Clement Kujur from Jharkhand, Ramapati from West Bengal, Kashinath from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti and Murlidhar Chandram from Adhyaksh Saubhagi Manch. The meeting was coordinated by Gurjeet Singh from Jharkhand.
Ankita and Dheeraj
On behalf of the Right to Food Campaign Secretariat

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.

Update On Food Campaign

As part of action on rotten rations, Krishna Krishi Kalyan Samity (KKKS) members conducted a raid in one of the fair price shops at Pubong, Gairidura in Darjeeling district. The ration dealer here had been distributing poor quality ration and was selling off the good quality ration on the outside market. It was also found that the ration, which the shop receives from the Pubong Tea Management, was also adulterated and poor quality foodgrain was distributed to the tea garden workers.

The villagers handed over the samples of the shop to the Food and Supplies Department. With the help of police, officers from the Food & Supplies immediately sealed the shop and have confirmed that that the license of the owner will be cancelled.

At another place in the same district, within the vicinity of the earlier fair price shop, ration cards were with the shop owner since 1986. The shop owner informed the media that the cards were in the fire in that year, but inquiries revealed that the shop still received rations for 1,340 cards. The villagers have not been able to access other government schemes as they were without their ration cards. Several visits to the Food & Supplies office had no results. They met the C.I. who assured he would look into the matter immediately and inspect the shop and check the registers with allocation.

On 10 October, members from West Bengal Right to Food Campaign met the District Magistrate, Darjeeling. A copy of the signature campaign (which was collected in the month of July 2012) was submitted along with a memorandum stating the local grievances. The officer-in-charge from the Food & Supplies department was also contacted, who said that the problem of ration distribution to deserving families could be solved only when the false cards were cancelled in the district.

In Malda, Malda Sahayogita Samity undertook a whole day campaign recently. Three Gram Panchayats were covered with public meetings at bus stops and bazaars.

05 October 2012

Subsidy on pulses revived, computerisation of ration cards approved by Cabinet as Right to Food and Work Campaign gathers steam

Press Release
5 October 2012

As the Nationwide Campaign on Right to Food and Work is underway with new states like Gujarat joining in, important decisions were announced in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet has approved computerisation in PDS to address the issue of bogus and false ration cards. Further, it has decided to once again introduce pulses under PDS, and approved a subsidy of Rs.20 per kg on imported pulses for BPL households. This seems to be a sop to pacify opposition to its FDI related "reforms".

West Bengal state yatra continued with BDO deputation at the Patharpratima block in South 24 Parganas district lasted more than 3 hours with campaigners from Gosaba Anwesha for Science, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS), New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Sundarban Bonadihikar Sangram Committee and Udayani Social Action Forum. Workers working under MGNREGA are faced with a crisis in this block as wages amounting to Rs 7 crore are due for work done in this financial year. As per the BDO, this figure stands only at Rs.3 crore. One of the major problems has been that majority of workers have been given work under several schemes of NREGS without any proof, such as collection of 4a forms and giving in return 4b forms. According to the BDO, the discrepancy in the due wages is because of the panchayat not reporting the work done as yet. No assurances were given by the BDO as to when the payments could be made, he appeared helpless and said the district bank account for NREGS has only about a crore left in its account. It was also bought to his notice that about 52lakhs is lying with the Post office, and no steps being taken for disbursement. One of the only positive developments was that he ensured the yatris that 21,000 ration cards will be issued in the block within the next 2 months.

10 Gram Panchayats in Kalna 1, Burdwan district were covered by the vehicle rally by Udayani. Women participated and showed immense interest as they welcomed the yatris with garlands and actively took part in the public meetings.

A deputation of PBKMS, SMS and NTUI activists met with the District Magistrate's representative in Nadia district as the DM was not present. When issues of pension to old persons and widows were raised, he asked us to submit a list of names from every panchayat and block, who are not included despite being in the BPL list. Similarly on NREGS complaints of work not provided, he asked for lists with attached 4a forms.

Deputations with BDOs of Khatra and Indpur block in Bankura district were held today as part of the yatra organised by Rural Development Society, PBKMS, SMS, NTUI and Udayani Social Action Forum. Issues of delay in payment of old age pension and irregular meetings of the PDS vigilance committees were a point of discussion, with BDOs assuring that they would try and disburse the money before the pujas. On implementation of Forest Rights Act, Khatra BDO said that 500 pattas have been distributed in the block.

For more details, please contact                                 
Saradindu Biswas (Ph: 9433342488)         

03 October 2012

Positive impact starts reporting in from the yatra on Right to Food and Work in West Bengal

 Press Release
3 October 2012

As the West Bengal yatra on Right to Food and Work in West Bengal finished second day today, some positive results were reported from two blocks in Nadia district. In Tehatta II block, 450 people submitted their applications to the Food Inspector during a meeting with the BDO, where the former was also present, along with the CDPO of the ICDS program. When the yatra moved to the next block in Nakashipara, and met the BDO with the demands, where he instructed the Food Inspector, to accept applications and issue new ration cards keeping aside panchayat's recommendation and party affiliations.

Purulia district saw local people taking interest and distributing handbills and poster-ing walls on their own. Today, the yatra started from Manbazar I block, and after covering several panchayats entered Barabazar, one of the important blocks, where it raised slogans and campaigned outside the BDO's office. The yatra then moved to Berada Gram Panchayat and had two pathayatras, which included a meeting with Panchayat office members and the village pradhan. Balarampur block was covered after that where street corner meetings were held in important landmarks such as the bus stop and bazaars. Finally, it moved to Purulia 1 block, where meetings were organised in haats. In Manara gram panchayat, the yatra was stopped by people assuming that it was taken out on behalf of a political party, and objective was to garner votes before the forthcoming panchayat elections.

South 24 Parganas district, an island district affected by Cyclone Aila in 2009 and subsequent floods every year, is one of the poor areas where food security is a crucial question. The yatra in the district is co-organised by Gosaba Anwesha for Science, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS), Sundarban Bonadhikar Sangram Committee and Udayani Social Action Forum. The yatra started from the bazaar in Kakdwip block, covering several gram panchayats, and moving to Namkhana block where a rally was taken out. It will commence from here tomorrow.

Binpur 2 in the Jhargram sub-division of Paschim Medinipur district, is a naxal affected area where the state is giving foodgains for Rs. 2 under the Public Distribution System, continues to be a hunger-zone area. A padayatra was taken out there of more than 200 people.  

More updates from Bankura district will come in as they are reported.

For more details, please contact:

Saradindu Biswas        
Ph: 9433342488          

02 October 2012

West Bengal Yatra of the Right to Food and Work Campaign flags off

Press Release
2 October 2012

The Right to Food and Work Campaign-West Bengal started today demanding food security for all as part of the nationwide campaign.

In Purulia, the yatra started a day earlier. On 1 October 2012, the rally began at Joynagar bus stand in Purulia 2 Block, where over 250 members of PBKMS and SMS took out a rally in the morning at 9am.
In Hura block, more than 600 members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) rallied from Lakshmanpur Village in Lakshmanpur Gram Panchayat till Gandhi Maidan where an oath taking ceremony was held where people resolved to keep fighting till their demands on food security are met. People from the neighbouring villages joined in here and the meeting gained in number and strength. From there, a vehicle rally campaigned in a weekly haat.

Today, a padayatra was taken out from Lalpur mor in Hura block of Purulia, where it crossed many villages and crossed to Puncha block, where 2000 agricultural workers and members of PBKMS rallied ending in a public meeting. The second day yatra in this district ended at Pairachali at Manbazar 2, from where it shall convene tomorrow again. The two days in the district has generated much interest among villagers and local media.

A vehicle rally kicked off the campaign in Keshpur block of Paschim Medinipur district. The rally with flags and banners (majority red) was stopped by the ruling political party at three places. TMC members, the ruling party in the block along with other villagers were much interested with the reasons and organisers of the campaign, mistaking us on behalf of the opposition party. Numerous street corner meetings were held, with wall postering and listing of demands. Local TMC members followed the van till they were assured of the objectives and demand of the campaign. As the van crossed Anandapur police station, the Officer-in-charge stopped the van and asked for a permission, which even after it was showed to them, asked the yatra to leave for 'security' concerns and followed us under the garb of 'protection' till we left the block. Even after all the odds, the yatra ended at 5pm, only to be continued tomorrow.

In Nadia district, a pathasabha (padayatra) was taken out in Dhubulia in Krishnagar 2 Block. Members of PBKMS and (SMS took out a rally which crossed through the main streets of the town. A lot of interest was generated by the shopkeepers and some joined in as the rally passed. Another public meeting is being held in Pukhuria village in Chapra block from where the yatra will again commence tomorrow.

For more details, please contact:

Saradindu Biswas        
Ph: 9433342488         

Please find below a list of participating organisations in every district:

New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), Rural Development Society, Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) and Udayani Social Action Forum
Uthnau and one more
PHE Workers Union and Udayani Social Action Forum
North Bengal Right to Food Campaign
Joint Bagan Bachao Progress Committee and People Progressive Plantation Workers Union
Griha Adhikar Manch, Haathgacchiya Basti Unnayan Committee, Jiban o Jeebika Uchhed Protirodh Committee (Prostuti), Nari Sanghati Committee (Boral), NTUI, Right Track, Tiljala Shed and Udayini Social Action Forum
Malda Sahayogita Samity
MASUM and PHE Workers union
APDR, Bidi Sramik Union-Tehotta, PBKMS, PHE Workers Union, NTUI and SMS
North 24 Parganas
APDR, NTUI, PBKMS, SMS and Shramajivee Samanvay Committee,
Paschim Medinipur
Majhi Jagran Kalyan Samiti, PBKMS, NTUI, SMS and one more
South 24 Parganas
Gosaba Anwesha for Science, NTUI, PBKMS, SMS, Sundarban Bonadhikar Sangram Committee and Udayani Social Action Forum

30 September 2012

The Country Demands Food Security For All APL BPL Khatam Karo Taala Kholo, KhaanaDo Stop Theft In The PDS

43% children suffering from malnutrition. 40% women anaemic.
Reports of hunger and starvation deaths from all corners of the country

India is one of the three countries where the hunger index between 1996 and 2011 has gone up from 22.9 to 23.7. On the other hand 78 out of the 81 developing countries studied, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Myanmar, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi, have all succeeded in improving their scores.

This was also the time when the Indian growth story in the middle of a world recession made us heroes in the world. It was also the period when we have managed to increase our buffer stocks of food to 8.5 crores metric tonnes. We continue to export food grains to feed the cattle of the developed countries while our own people go hungry.

It is in such a context that we must look at the UPA II’s plan to pass the National Food Security Bill in November- December during the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. The Bill is to say the least a damp squib. It talks about food security without in any way dealing with the causes of food insecurity- increasing joblessness, low wages, landlessness, the increasing displacement of people and encroaching upon their jal, jangal and jameen. It also does not mention the present agrarian crisis or the farmer suicides nor outlines any steps by which farmers will be supported and food production will be ensured within the country.

In terms of entitlements also, it takes the much ridiculed and flawed system of targeting one step further, by dividing the population into three categories –i) the excluded, who will get no food grains; ii)  the priority groups who will get 7 kgs of food grains per head per month at Rs. 3 for rice, Rs.2 for wheat and Rs.1 for coarse grains; and iii) the general group who will get 5 kgs of food grains per head per month at half the Minimum Support Price (the price at which grain is procured from farmers).

Indian Council of Medical Research, the prestigious research organisation on medical matters places the cereal requirements at 14 kgs per month for an adult. However, ignoring this, there are now reports that the Government is planning a system to cover 67% of our population, reducing allotments from the present 7 kgs per head per month to 5 kgs per head per month. Thus, in the face of increasing hunger, the Government has come up with a brilliant plan- reduce food entitlements further! To make things worse, there is no sign that the Government is even considering to provide pulses and cooking oil, essentials for good nutrition, at subsidised prices.

In fact, by sleight of hand, the Government while pretending to pass a Food Security Act is actually reducing its expenditure on food in the PDS through the new Bill. Where it used to spend Rs.89,272 crores on PDS alone, its latest plan is to spend Rs.116510 crores on all schemes- PDS, MDMS and ICDS. This is likely to involve a reduction in expenditure on the PDS. Food grains allocation are planned to be raised from 56.4 million metric tonnes for the PDS to 61.5 million metric tonnes, of which about 8 million tonnes is for the ICDS and MDMS, leaving a reduced amount of 53.5 million tonnes for the PDS.
We thus have a law being passed to reduce the amount many of us receive from 7 kgs per card to 5 kgs per card and to reduce the total amount spent on food. To make matters worse the new Bill has a very weak redressal system, which means that theft and corruption will have little remedy. It is also trying to push a regime of cash instead of food through the back door through some of its provisions.   

We say- stop fooling us!

We demand:
  • Open the doors of the godowns and distribute the 8.5 crores of food grains that you have locked up to the hungry of this country immediately.
  • Provide food grains to everyone in the 200 poorest districts immediately as a first step and then move towards universal coverage under the PDS.
  • Stop theft in the PDS system immediately. Let us get rid of all the bogus cards- each ration dealer has at least 500-800 such cards. Let us break the nexus between the ration dealers, the whole sale retailers, mill owners, the Food Department and the politicians. We want a clean, transparent, well run rationing system
  • Pass a genuine Food Security Bill with strong redressal mechanisms.
  • Remove this false difference between APL and BPL. Ensure that everyone in this country gets the medically necessary 14 kgs of food grains per head per month. Give us pulses and cooking oil at subsidised rates through the PDS.
  • Ensure an agrarian revival by making remunerative support prices for farmers a legal guarantee and ensuring that food grains required for the PDS are procured in a decentralised manner from farmers all over the country at these remunerative prices.
Join us in our nation-wide campaign. Join the Yatra in your state to highlight these issues from 2 to 15 October 2012

And, join us at the mass meeting for Eastern India in Jamshedpur where state wide yatras from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal will culminate on 16 October 2012.  

Khadyan Adhikar Yatra -Orissa,  Right to Food Campaign-Bihar, Right to Food and Work Campaign -West Bengal , Roti Rozi Adhikar Abhiyan -Jharkhand, Roti Rozi Adhikar Abhiyan Chattisgarh, New Trade Union Initiative

19 August 2012

Police officer: "What do you mean we can't arrest you? Why were you clinging to a tree and shouting 'Hao Mao'?"
'Hao Mao Kao' are nonsense words used by ghosts in children's stories in Bengal.

19 July 2012

Management Used Outsiders To Attack Maruti Workers: Union

The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) is anguished at the recent developments in Maruti Suzuki plant, IMT Manesar where the management has resorted to anti-worker and anti-Union activities in a pre-planned manner leading to the closure of the factory yesterday.

We have had a long tough struggle with the strong unity of our permanent and contract workers to establish and register our Union last year, and had recently as of April 2012 submitted our Charter of Demands to the management of Maruti Suzuki, and the process of negotiation for wages and other demands was underway. However the management has done its utmost to derail the process and break the back of the spirit of unity of the workers and the legitimacy of the Union.

As part of this vindictive attitude and in a pre-planned manner, yesterday, the afternoon of 18th July, a supervisor in the shop floor abused and made casteist comments against a dalit worker of the permanent category, which was legitimately protested by the worker. Instead of taking action against the said supervisor, the management immediately suspended the worker concerned without any investigation as was demanded by the workers. When the workers along with Union representatives went to meet the HR to demand against the supervisor and revoke the unjust suspension of the worker, the HR officials flatly refused to hear our arguments, and it was in no mood to resolve the issue amicably.

When the negotiation was going on with the leaders of the Union inside the office, the management called in the entry of hundreds of bouncers on its payroll to attack the workers. This is completely an illegal vindictive action in the spirit of conspiracy to corner us into submission even as our demands and methods are legitimate. The gates were closed by the security on behest of the management and the bouncers brutally attacked the workers with sharp weapons and arms. They, joined by some of the managerial staff and police later, beat up a number of workers who have had to be hospitalised with serious injuries. The bouncers, who are anti-social elements on hire, also destroyed company property and set fire to a portion of the factory. The gates were later opened to oust the workers and enforce a lockout by the company.

We have the workers and the company's welfare in mind and have worked towards it after the resolution of the dispute last year, and to blame the current violence on us is unjust. We are still keen to dialogue with the company and want to sit with the company management and the government labour department to amicably resolve the matter and restore industrial peace in the factory.

Ram Meher
President, Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU)

15 July 2012

Food Campaign Now In Vigilance Mode

A public meeting is being organised at 3 p.m. on July 16 at Rabindra Bhaban in Dantan, Paschim Midnapore, to publicise the results of a recent block-level survey on the shabby state of affairs in the rationing system in Datan 1 block and to organise public action for vigilance. All important stake holders have been invited for the meeting such as District Controller (Food and Supplies), Paschim Medinipur; Arun Mahapatra, MLA, Datan, and Bira Mandi, MLA, Keshiary; BDO and Food Inspector, Dantan 1 block; beneficiaries of 9 gram panchayats and leaders of all political parties.

Also present will be eminent scientist, Meher Engineer; West Bengal Advisor to the Supreme Court, Anuradha Talwar; State Committee member of PBKMS, Swapan Ganguly; and, eminent social activist and member of National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), Debjit Dutta.

Please find below a note giving the background to the meeting and please do join us if possible. A copy of the study is attached

Sandip Singha
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, Paschim Midnapore

On June 26, 2012, a number of trade unions, mass organisations and NGOs in West Bengal, all part of the Right To Food and Work Campaign - West Bengal, announced the start of the ‘Tala Kholo Abhijan’. The purpose was to focus public attention on hunger that continues to exist amidst overflowing Government stocks of foodgrain. In West Bengal, there is the added problem of a new Government which is struggling to stem the continuing rot in the Public Distribution System (PDS). 

Activities been started in Datan as part of this campaign. Datan 1 block is to be a pilot in organising public vigilance on the rationing system. A recent study in Datan 1 block (Paschim Midnapore) conducted by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), one of the constituent organisations of the Campaign, has shown shocking results. The study covered 18 shops and 148 beneficiaries in all. Almost 40% of the cardholders had no ration cards in their possession. Most shops did not have boards outside the MR shops that are legally required by the Supreme Court, stating basic information such as stock rates, quotas and list of beneficiaries. Of the 148 beneficiaries interviewed only five reported receiving the correct amount of foodgrain. No cash memos were issued to cardholders. It was clear that Sales Registers maintained by the ration dealers were clearly cooked up records, as were their logbooks showing stocks and allocations. The entire PDS seemed to be functioning on a whole lot of spurious and outdated information.

The results of this study were shared with Mr Nurul Haque, Food Commissioner, and Mr Jaydev Jana, Director (Distribution, Procurement and Supply) on June 13, 2012, and later on July 3, 2012, with the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies, Mr Jyotipriya Mallick, by PBKMS members along with Anuradha Talwar, West Bengal Advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court. After discussions with them, it was agreed that the inspection system was failing and there was a need for public vigilance and awareness to ensure that beneficiaries got their entitlements. It was also agreed that the West Bengal Advisor would take up activities in the block to generate public awareness with the help of PBKMS. This would be treated as a pilot to understand how to increase public vigilance. 

A phone call system to inform 60-70 interested members of the public about their weekly allotment is being organised by the PBKMS for the past month and feedback shows that those who know about their allotments are ensuring that they get the correct amount. In the same vein, a public meeting is being organised on July 16, 2012, at at Datan to publicise the results of the recent survey and to organise people’s committees for vigilance.
Meanwhile, ration dealers have started reacting to the increased public vigilance. On July 5, 2012, a drunken ration dealer forced his way into the PBKMS office at Barangi in Datan 1 block and threatened the PBKMS activist couple that lives and works there. The Ration Dealers Association of the block has split with a large section leaving the CPI(M) to join the Trinamool Congress for protection. Cohorts of the ration dealers made a threat in public on July 14, 2012 that PBKMS leaders would be beaten and thrown out of the block.

It is amid such threats and intimidation that the meeting is being organised on July 16. The PBKMS plans to use the meeting to start an SMS-based system to inform people about their allotments every week. It also plans to set up people's committees in each ration shop as well as provide training to such committee members, as also to the members of the official vigilance committees. It is also proposed that the complaints system at the block level be revamped to ensure maximum public involvement and responsiveness.

Related read: PDS in West Midnapore, report prepared by Mrinalini Paul

06 July 2012

Food March In Burdwan Yields Results

As the continuation of the State-level Campaign on ‘Right To Food and Work’, coordinated by the Jesuits-run Udayani Social Action Forum, Kolkata, a rally and dharna was organized at Kalna Town of Burdwan District on the fourth of July. 

Around 400 women from self-help groups and around 100 men from farmers’ club from about 53 villages from Kalna block I & II gathered at two different spot at 11 a.m. braving rain and the heat. Some activists from Kolkata and Nadia joined the gathering to encourage and support women and men demanding their rights to life.

The rallies started at two different places (Kalna I from the Bus Stand and Kalna II from Kalo Dokan More) and merged at Tetul Tola crossing (close to Christo Seva Ashram) and walked to the Sub-Divisional Controller of Food and Supply through the crowded markets and Police Station shouting slogans. They shouted like  ‘Tala Kholo Khabar dao’ - Open the door and give us food- ‘Churi Bando Koro’ – stop stealing- ‘Keu Khabe Keu Khabe Na Ta Hobe Na’- some eat and some don’t shouldn’t be - with conviction. 

The pale and malnourished women carrying empty plates and posters in the hand was a sight for the town and administration. Many agreed saying, ‘this is a just fight for survival and I support fully’. Some passers-by joined the catchy slogans voluntarily. The posters had demands like, ‘Open the ration shop for 51/2 days, Give us 100 days’ work, Stop stealing our food, No BPL and APL give food to all equally, Give bills for the ration given’.

The police, though informed well in advance, neglected to be present at the start of the venue but when they saw the crowd shouting slogans pass by suddenly sent a team. The neglect of the economically weak and socially lower class and caste by the administration is not news any more. Once the march reached the venue of the Sub-Divisional controller, the activists encouraged them and enlightened them of their basic rights with food and how the Government and Administration were indifferent and wasted foodgrain while people died of starvation and hunger. 

Since neither the controller nor any other official came out to listen to people, the women decided to force their way into the office and ‘gherao’ the officers. The small office could not contain all the women and soa delegation went in with local demands, while rest squatted in the office premise and outside demanding immediate action. A two-hour ‘gherao’ yielded results as the officials gave out the allotment list and the price of each item and promised to  receive complains and application for new ration card on Wednesday of every week. They also promised to work diligently hereafter. 

The women, now sure of a little more of their ‘Rights’ with regard to food programs, said: “We shall come back in bigger number if the promises are not kept”. Udayani Social Action Forum will organize two more mass awareness programmes for Hugli and Bankura districts in the coming weeks together with other NGOs, Networks and Activists. 

04 July 2012

Food Campaign: One Lock That Opened

As part of the ‘Tala Kholo Abhiyan’ (Opening the Locks), 75 Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity members from 11 blocks of Purulia district gathered before the District Controller of Food and Supplies  (DCF&S) and also met the District Magistrate on June 28.

An interesting development before the Tala Kholo Abhiyan in Purulia was that some 106 workers from Purulia 2 block were called hurriedly the day before the day of the deputation by the block and Panchayat officials. About Rs 48,000 has been paid to them as unemployment allowance in one of the rare occasions when this has been paid to workers in West Bengal. A PBKMS member said when she heard about this said “Ekta tala khullo!” (At least one lock opened!)

The deputation to the District Food Controller demanded certain immediate steps to be taken regarding the rationing system. The Controller was also given a copy of the demands of the Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal - demands regarding the National Food Security Bill and the distribution of excess food grains rotting in godowns. He promised to discuss these with the State Government, and to ensure that the demands were in turn taken up with the Centre.

A categorical demand was made to the Controller that he should immediately publish a list of who is a Below Poverty Line beneficiary and who is not, along with all ration card holder lists, since it was becoming impossible to otherwise distinguish between false and true ration cards.

Another matter of serious concern was raised by the people of Balarampur and Barabazar blocks. The Government has announced a scheme of cheap foodgrain for people of these blocks. Thus, in 23 LWE (Left Wing Extremist) blocks, in Purulia, Bankura and Paschim Midnapore districts, all tribals with an income below Rs 42,000 per annum and all non-tribals with an income less than Rs  36,000 per annum have been included under the BPL category, and can therefore now get rice at Rs 2 per kg, wheat at Rs 4.65 per kg and atta at Rs 6.70 per kg. These are the “new” BPL, the ones chosen by the Trinamool Congress (TMC). 

The people from these blocks complained that there was discrimination going on between the “new” TMC BPL and the “old” Left Front BPL cardholders. While the “new” BPL were getting 2 kg of rice per head per week at Rs 2 per kg, as per the newly -eclared expanded allotments, the “old” BPL card holders continued to get only 1 kilo of rice for 2 rupees. The Controller said he would take immediate action to see that no such discrimination took place.

It was also clear that the pressure on the ration dealers in the district is increasing. Some of them have tried to complain falsely to the District Controller about two of the prominent PBKMS leaders from Hura block, including the PBKMS district secretary Mohan Mahato. This issue was also discussed with the District Controller.

A delegation also met the District Magistrate on issues related to the 100 days work programme (MGNREGA). The complaints were of not getting unemployment allowance, as well as compensation for late payment of wages. A special meeting was also held with the Puncha and Hura block people regarding giving sufficient employment to job card holders in the 100 days work programme. The District Magistrate specially asked the District Nodal Officer (DNO) in charge of MGNREGA to attend this meeting and it was finally agreed that a joint weekly evaluation would be done by the DNO with PBKMS activists to address their complaints.