06 December 2013

India Wilts To U.S. Pressure At Bali

India has wilted under pressure from the U.S. and agreed to accept conditionalities that were not part of the G-33 proposal.  The text of the agreed draft can be accessed below (see section WT/ MIN 913)/ W / 10 - Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes):

The text:

and the various parts to the declaration:

What India has traded away: 

1. Anand Sharma had unambiguously stated that the "peace clause" should be in place till such time that a permanent solution is found. The word "interim" that he had used IS IN the text (a clear victory), but in what is being described by the WTO Secretariat as "constructive ambiguity" the US position that it should be only for four years also finds its place (Para 1) in the text by adding, "for adoption by the 11th Ministerial Conference" (there is a WTO Ministerial once every two years and Bali was the 9th Ministerial. (Some experts though are interpreting it as being in India's favour since "interim" can be interpreted as holding on till a permanent settlement is found irrespective of the reference to the 11th Ministerial).

2. While India (G-33 draft) had demanded that no member country can drag a member state to the dispute settlement mechanism, till a permanent settlement is found under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and the Agreement on Subsisdies and Countervailing Measure (ASCM), only the AoA is mentioned in Para 2. which means that member states can still drag India India to the dispute settlement process under ASCM. The language has also been whittled down and instead of "shall not" replaced with "shall refrain from", which means this guarantee is not secure even under the AoA. 

3. Most disturbingly, this agreement is (Para 2) only, "in pursuance of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes existing as of date". This has the following implications

(a) Minimum Support Price Mechanism cannot be introduced for crops other than those already provided for.

(b) The quantity of foodgrains procured under the MSP cannot be increased beyond the procurement as of date which would threaten the NFSA in the near future.

(c) Pulses, cooking oil and other foods (other than rice, wheat or millets specified in the NFSA) CAN NO longer be introduced in the PDS either by the Government of India or the State Governments if they are not being provided now. Future 

(d) Governments CANNOT increase the entitlements of foodgrains guaranteed under the NFSA which has been notified. For instance, Chhattisgarh, amongst other states, provides 35 kgs per households but no other state which is now providing 20 kgs or 25 kgs can increase the quantity to 35 kgs. 

(e) This may also be interpreted to mean that Government of India  or the State Governments cannot increase the price of the MSP from beyond what has been specified now for the next four years.

4. India will now be subject to ONEROUS DATA requirements that have been made mandatory in the agreed text. This was there in the US/ EU text but not in the G-33 proposal which means that India has accepted to provide details of all holdings in procurement by both States and Government of India. 

5. India will also now have to notify that they have been exceeding the de minimis level (10% of agricultural production as the permissible subsidy for developing countries). Para 3 (a)

6. Para (4) is one of the most problematic proposition for India which has made its way from the US/ EU draft, "shall ensure that stocks procured under such programmes do not distort trade or adversely affect the food security of other members" This leaves open to interpretation that the entire MSP mechanism that is in place for decades and India can be dragged to the dispute settlement mechanism by the US alleging that the entire MSP mechanism distrorts trade. So can Pakistan alleging that India's rice exports is distorting trade.

7.  This also means that even with the most generous interpretation of this agreement, India will still have to continue negotiations for the next four years till a permanent settlement is done and we have to continue to agree to further concessions to the US/ EU while this is being negotiated. 

8. In Bali, the African Group, many members of the G-33 and LAC are very upset with India for having bilaterally with the US a text, whereas till this morning, they were seeking the support of all the countries for the G-33 and Indian position. Anand Sharma had taken a strident note till last night, and raised the hopes of most developing countries that India would not buckle to pressure from the US/ EU. Today his credibility and that of India is severely eroded.

As is evident, what is contained in the agreed text is a big climbdown from what had been stated by Anand Sharma in his strongly worded statement. We have put at stake not just the interests of 650 million Indian farmers but also every single one of the 820 entitlement holders under the NFSA. 

Anuradha Talwar & Biraj Patnaik (Right to Food Campaign)]

(At the WTO Ministerial, Nusa Dua, Bali)

05 December 2013

'India Must Not Barter Food Security'

On the occasion of the Ninth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, several farmers’ organisations, trade unions, mass organisations and peoples’ campaigns resolved to support the Indian Government’s position to not trade away national food security. 

The group welcomes the decision of the Indian Cabinet on 28th November to reject any peace clause that does not guarantee a permanent solution. The peace clause has been widely opposed by the Chairs of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce and Agriculture, several political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties, and mass organisations. 

However, the group cautioned the Indian negotiating team headed by Commerce Minister Mr. Anand Sharma, to not bow to any pressure to weaken India’s position on defending and upholding national food security as a sovereign right. The group declared that the safeguarding and promotion of the country’s food security, rural employment and livelihoods are non-negotiable, and that food security cannot be ensured without supporting agricultural production by small and marginal farmers.

The group reminds the WTO members that no country needs to be defensive about protecting the right to food and fighting hunger in their countries.  And that aggressively upholding the rights of its citizens is not tantamount to collapsing the ministerial talks.  On the contrary, such pressure tactics must be exposed as a conspiracy to keep people hungry and poor.
It was decided that the group would closely monitor the negotiations during the ministerial meeting to ensure that the interests of the poor and hungry are not compromised in any way.

Bhartiya Kisan Union
Bharatiya Krishak Samaj
Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh
Focus on the Global South India
Great Mission Group Consultancy
Public Services International
Right to Food Campaign
Shram Seva Nyas
South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements
Swadeshi Jagran Manch
Third World Network India

17 September 2013

28 September: Convention On Working Women's Movement

Karmajibi Mahila Parishad would like to invite you/your organization to join a convention on 28th September 2013 at the University Institute Hall, College Square, Kolkata. The objective of the convention is to strengthen the movement of working women and raise their voices against the violence perpetrated against women workers. Karmajibi Mahila Parishad demands the safety and security of working women in their work place and in public places, especially when they commute to their work place. We will use the convention to share the findings of a study the women members of our unions have conducted on sexual harassment, working conditions and public safety of working women and to plan our future strategy on these issues.

Karmajibi Mahila Parishad has emerged from the firm resolve of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) to make gender concerns an integral part of the trade union movement. As a central trade union centre, NTUI unionises women in different professions. NTUI works with working women and raises their collective voices through active participation of individuals engaged in various occupations. Since the last three decades, NTUI and many of its affiliates are active in unionising workers in the unorganized labour sector, who constitute 93% of the workforce in the country. NTUI believes that every worker has a right to get organized and to raise their demands be it economic, social, or political. We also support the fight of neglected and marginalised women workers in society who are demanding social security, protection, equity, recognition, respect, equal remuneration for equal work, protection from sexual harassment in the work place, and last but not the least the right to form unions. 

On 8th March, 2013 to celebrate the International Women’s Day and also to accomplish the objective of the New Trade Union, NTUI organized a rally where 6,000 working women representing 13 different professions (such as agricultural workers, brick kiln workers, bidi workers, sex workers, construction workers, domestic workers, hosiery workers, NREGA workers, midday meal cooks etc.) joined together and raised their demands. Women from other walks of life joined them.  NTUI organized this procession with the understanding that working women and women in general must come together to focus public attention on their issues and to get demands fulfilled. The other objective was to constitute a State level working women's council, through active participation of women belonging to different occupations and walks of life, which we have named the Karmajibi Mahila Parishad.

To raise these issues on 28th September 2013, the Karmajibi Mahila Parishad has decided to organise a convention to strengthen its movement against violence, sexual harassment and the recent spate of rapes and murders of women with the view to apprise the State Government of appropriate steps to address this issue.

We wish your active presence in the convention and to support our movement.

Roma Debnath   
Astabala Maity

Joint Conveners                                                                                                                                     
Karmajibi Mahila Parishad (Working Women’s Council)

05 September 2013

Right To Food & Work Press Conference

Empty stomachs epitomise the situation of hunger in our country. In West Bengal, we have the added problems of a new Government unable to stem the continuing rot in the Public Distribution System (PDS). In such a situation, the National Food Security Act 2012, which has been planned as the new showpiece of the UPA II Government has been passed with doubtful potential to deal with the problems of hunger and malnutrition.  

Mass organizations, trade unions and NGOs have been creating public awareness on this issue and have been struggling for food entitlements for the hungry as part of a National Campaign. On the 5th of September 2013 we invite you so that we can share with you our assessment of the bill and can give before you our future programme.  

Right to Food and Work Campaign-West Bengal along with other participants is organizing a Press Conference on September 5 at 4 p.m. at Kolkata Press Club to provide information on the present state of hunger and starvation in the state and provide a critique of the National Food Security Act, as well as our future course of action.

Saradindu Biswas

Right to Food and Work Campaign-West Bengal 

07 June 2013

Press Conference on Food Bill Campaign

Despite 64 years of Independence, hunger remains a living and ever-pressing problem in India. In the midst of godowns bursting with foodgrain, every year there is a recurrence of farmers' suicides, deaths due to hunger and starvation in Amlashole-type situations and in abandoned tea gardens. The UPA 2 has been planning to bring in a Food Security Bill for the past four years. A case on the Right to Food has been ongoing in the Supreme Court for the past 12 years and is now heading for final orders. 

The Right To Food Campaign is organising an Eastern and North Eastern Regional Consultation on 8th June at Proggaloy, Barasat, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The members of the campaign plan to discuss two important issues, which are emerging as challenges to a comprehensive Right to Food in the country - one, the plan of the UPA 2 Government to introduce a minimalist National Food Security Bill as an ordinance, with no Parliamentary debate; and, two, the possibility of getting concrete orders from the Supreme Court in the ongoing Right To Food Case (Writ 196/2001) so as to make the right to food a constitutional and comprehensive right. They shall also be planning their campaign actions for the next few months, till the Bill is finalised.

Members of the Campaign from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam and other north-eastern states will address the consultation. We shall also be joined by Kavita Srivastava, National Convenor of the Campaign and Secretary, People's Union For Civil Liberties and Harsh Mander, Supreme Court Commissioner and former member of the National Advisory Council(NAC). 

On 8th June 2011 at 5 PM at Kolkata Press Club (AC Room), Kavita Srivastava, Harsh Mander and state representatives of the Campaign from Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Assam and West Bengal will meet the press to give their critique of the the National Food Security Bill, the UPA 2's plan to introduce an ordinance,and the future of the Supreme Court Right To Food case.

Saradindu Biswas                                                              Anuradha Talwar
West Bengal State Convenor                           Member, National Steering Group

04 June 2013

North Eastern – Eastern Regional Right to Food Campaign Convention

As per the decision on the 5th of May, 2013, on holding regional meeting with campaign constituents and other friends of Right To Food Campaign, the Eastern and North Eastern Regions will hold the convention on 8th of June 2013 at Proggalaya, Barasat in Noith 24 Parganas, West Bengal.

The convention is being called with a threefold agenda as proposed by the RTFC.

1.      PUCL SC case 197/2001 on the right to food, relating to the constitutional framework and International law to bring Right to food under the purview of Article 19, like in the Olga Tellis case.

2.      The campaign's strategy on ensuring amendments in the NFSB according to the campaign's vision and lobbying with MPs and Parties in States and Nationally

3.      On how to strengthen the state and regional campaigns

 I       Working towards specific and general orders relating to the legal framework on the Right to Food

As you are aware that after a long journey of 11 years since 2001 and more than a hundred interim orders which changed the Right to Food policy and its implementation in the country, the PUCL case is headed towards conclusion. This may take several months still, however, it was planned in one of the case advisory meeting that we must try asking for final orders which must include :

  • expansion of the various scheme entitlements like on PDS reform on which discussion is underway, MDMS, ICDS, Pensions and the Homeless question 
  • a legal framework on the Right to food developed on constitutional and international principles.

It was decided that it was important to take this issue to our campaign constituents and lawyers and activist friends, in the various State in order to widen our understanding

II        To continue to lobby in States and nationally for a comprehensive food security law.

You are also well aware that the NFSB, 2011 along with the amendments placed by the Food Minister K V Thomas, is still far short of a comprehensive food security law. (See attachment) Since the bill was not discussed in the budget session of the Parliament, we are hoping that it will come up for discussion in the Monsoon Session. We have an important chance to still influence the bill if we lobby with MPs and parties at the regional level and then once again come to Delhi and do something when the Parliament will open.

In order to discuss the above and also begin the discussion on strengthening the campaign at the grass roots, it was felt that we must meet in the four regions of the country. It is important that we hear more voices on these issues from the regions as those voices are hardly there in the campaign anymore, with many of the State's not sending any representatives for any of the campaign meetings in the last twelve months. .

III         Initiating the Discussion on strengthening the Campaign

Finally, it is also very important that we start reflecting and analysing as to how to strengthen the campaign, this has to begin from the districts and the blocks. We will also discuss the issues and the modalities related to the forthcoming Right to Food campaign convention, which is over ten months overdue.

These regional meetings are being done on short notice, however we would be very grateful if you could join on behalf of your organisation in your regional meeting.

The program schedule:

9:30 am Registration

10:00 Introduction of participants and to the programme

10:30 to 11:15 : On  Supreme Court Order on RTF: Harsh Mander, Supreme Court Commissioner

11.:15 to 11:45 On NFSB: Kavita Srivastava, convener National RTF

12:30 to 1:00 : Discussion and clarifications

1:00 to 2:00:  Lunch Break

2:00 to 2:45: State wise group discussion on ‘strategic planning’

2:45 to 3:15: Learning from each other – presentation

5:00 Press conference

Arrangement have made for those who like to stay back at Proggaloy for the night or for those who come on the previous day. But do inform us immediately.

Fr. Jothi and Saradindu Biswas

Convenors , West Bengal RTF&W Network

03 June 2013

Call for Panchayat Reforms and Early Elections

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity welcomes Calcutta High Court’s verdict which clears the way for the immediate holding of Panchayat elections.  While Panchayats are still far away from being people’s Panchayats and often remain under the control of different political parties and local vested interests, a further delaying of Panchayat elections will lead to powers of local decision-making being handed over to the BDO and other bureaucrats. This is definitely not an advisable course of action and a scenario worse than the present one, with all its limitations.

In addition to having timely Panchayat elections, we appeal to all our legislators and our people to start thinking about reforms in the Panchayat laws which will make them truly pro-people Panchayats. The reforms are as follows:
  • Make the fourth tier of the Panchayat Raj institutions, the Gram Sansad, the most powerful of all the tiers. This would mean holding monthly or bi-monthly meetings with the Gram Sansad, the assembly of all local voters in a booth; consulting them for all decisions; and making all local institutions (the local ration shop, the ICDS centre, the health sub centre etc.) accountable to this body
  • Let us not have just one Gram Unnayan committee or beneficiary committee with 10-15 voters for the five years tenure of a Panchayat. Let separate beneficiary committees be set up for the monitoring of each new scheme. These would mean that 50-100 villagers would be involved in the monitoring of all schemes making corruption and partisan decision making that much more difficult. This would also mean the involvement of many more people in the development of their villages;
  • Give more funds in the hands of the Gram Panchayat. While 70% of our people continue to live in villages, the funds provided for them are only 2-5% of the GDP, a tinyamount compared to requirements, leading to the persistence of rural poverty;
  • To improve the kinds of candidates that are put up by political parties , make Right to Reject an option on the EVM i.e. the “None of the Above” button should be put as an option if people do not like any candidate; 
The Right to Recall which already exists in 3-4 states of India should be legislated so that voters will be granted a right to recall an under-performing/non performing/corrupt representative before his 5 year term ends.Let us also look for candidates beyond parties - let the voters of a village come together and choose their candidates (if possible by consensus) not because the person is supported by one party or the other but because he or she is the best person they can find for their village.

We reiterate our appeal for early Panchayat elections and Panchayat reforms.

Anuradha Talwar, Bela Adak  ,Swapan Ganguly and Uttam Gayen
(on behalf of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity)

Documentary -- Our Panchayat: An Introspection

As the elections in West Bengal are around the corner, this is a documentary Produced by 'Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity' and Directed by Akash Sharma and Akhil Shukla on the Gram Panchayat System travelling across the villages of Bengal highlighting various problems in NREGA, PDS, pension, gram sabha etc.

The main aim of the documentary was to provide solutions and reforms like having a non-party panchayat, right to recall/reject, 4 tier decentralized panchayat, and more independence to the Gram Panchayat itself. Hopefully, the documentary will make the people more conscious about their surroundings and the will gather confidence to vote for change.

The documentary is completely in Bengali because of its rural target audience.

14 March 2013

March 8 Rally: A Mixed Bag of Promises And Rejections

Four thousand women from 11 independent trade unions and mass organisations marched from Sealdah to Esplande in Kolkata on the occasion of International Women’s Day, highlighting problems faced by women workers working in the informal sector. The women marched to demand strict measures on sexual harassment at workplace, minimum wages for all workers, including women who are employed under government programmes and working as Anganwadi workers and helpers, ASHA workers, mid-day meal cooks, link workers and those employed in tea gardens; regularization of casual and contractual Government workers; a stop to arbitrary sacking of women; social security benefits for all workers; and provision of worksite facilities, such as toilets, drinking water and crèches. The workers also highlighted the government’s refusal to register trade unions formed by women, specifically sex workers and domestic workers and the arbitrary manner in which hawkers were being treated in the absence of a State Hawkers’ Policy.

At the end of their march, while some of the women joined a public meeting organized by Maitree, a women’s network working on gender issues in West Bengal, others joined a protest by the Soni Sori Mukti Manch to demand release of Soni Sori and other such women prisoners.

A delegation also met with the Labour Minister of the State, Mr Purnendu Basu, in the evening for over an hour. On the issue of Minimum Wage, a demand for a floor level minimum wage of Rs. 400 (as per calculations of the 15th ILC and Supreme Court Orders) was made. The Minister outrightly refused this demand and disagreed with our calculations. The issue of the minimum wage in agriculture being fixed at Rs. 167, as against Rs. 217 in other rural industries was also raised as being too low, which the Minister was not able to justify. He also stated that they had demanded that the Central Government declare Rs.171 as the minimum wage in NREGS works, but was not able to give the logic for this.  The delegation also demanded Minimum wages for all Government employees, including midday meal cooks, ASHA, Anganwadi, link workers in health, trained dai and other workers who work under Government programmes, which the Labour Minister asked us to raise with the Central Government, as these were all schemes under the Centre.

The issue of increasing casualisation and contractualisation of workers and the need for their regularization in the case of Government employees was also bought to his notice, to which the Minister agreed in principle, but showed his helplessness due to the huge debt that had been run up by the previous Government. Again we were advised to meet the Central Government and to organise an all India movement.

One of the most important discussion was on state government’s refusal to register trade unions formed by women, that of sex workers, domestic workers. The response in this regard was not positive, as the State asked us again to take up the demand with the Central Government as the Trade Union Act falls under their purview.

On a more positive note, the Minister told us that they had already taken positive steps on a state policy for hawkers, with a State Government sponsored Bill which they plan to pass soon in the State Legislature.

The demand for social security for all unorganised workers was received positively, with the Minister promising to immediately enlist all names put forward by the unions and mass organizations present under the State Assisted Scheme of Provident Fund for Unorganised Workers in West Bengal (SASPFUW) from his office itself if the requisite papers were given. Important issues of Sexual Harassment at workplaces, including government worksites such as NREGS and Construction sites and provision of worksite facilities, such as toilets, drinking water and crèches were met with seriousness, with promises that they would be looked into.

Participating organisations include New Trade Union Initiative and its affiliates such as Binodini Shramik Union, All Bengal Sales Representative Union and Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, along with other mass organsaitions and unions such as Hawkers Sangram Committee,  Shramajivi Mahila Samity, Bagan Suraksha Committee (Jalpaiguri), Gogo Gaonta (Birbhum),  Paschim Banga Swarojgari O Raduni Union, Paschim Banga Nirmaan Shilpa Shramik Union ( Organising Committee), Shramajivi Samnvay Committee, , West Bengal Government Employees Union (Nabaparjaya) and Durbar Disha Mahila Griha Shramik Samanvay Committee

(Asta Bala Maity)   (Rama Debnath)
Karmajivi Mahila Parishad (Organising Committee)

07 January 2013

Court Orders Payment Of Dues

Reprimanding the State Government for not paying minimum wages to workers in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the Kolkata High Court passed its final order in WP 16913(W) of 2009 filed by Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity (PBKMS) on 7th January 2013. It ordered the State Government to not make such a mistake in the future. The State Government has also not disputed that it has not paid minimum wages and has thus admitted its mistake. The court has asked the State Government to pay the balance amount to all workers who apply for the same.

According to the petitioner, the Government of West Bengal did not pay statutory minimum wages to MGNREGS workers in 2009. Workers were paid Rs.81 per day when the declared legal agricultural minimum wage was Rs.87.50 in West Bengal. Section 6(2) of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, states that until wage rate for the purpose of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is specified by the Central Government, the minimum wage fixed by the State Government under Section 3 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 for agricultural labourers, shall be considered as the wage rate applicable for NREGS works. PBKMS therefore contended that each NREGS worker in West Bengal has been paid Rs.6.50 less than his/her legal entitlement from January to December 2009, and had claimed that the State Government must pay Rs. 71.82 crores for 1105.02 lakhs of person days of employment to NREGS workers.
The PBKMS has declared that all its members and all other NREGS workers will apply for the remaining amount from the State Government and if they meet with refusal, the union will again move for contempt of court against the State Government.