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