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.