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.