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.