24 November 2014

PBKMS: Ninth State Conference

The Ninth State Conference of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity(PBKMS) will be held on November 23 and 24.

The Samity’s conference is taking place at a time when the situation of agricultural workers is becoming increasingly precarious.  Giving the pretext of economic reforms and development, all Governments in the state and at the centre have over the past three decades supported and pampered the corporate sector. This has led to the frightening situation of increasing pauperisation and landlessness in agriculture, with no alternative employment as jobless growth characterises the manufacturing sector. Agriculture is in a crisis with farmer suicides and distress migration.

To make matters worse, the few facilities that the Government has been willing to give in the past are now in the process of being withdrawn. The very limited 100 days work programme, fruit of a hard struggle for 18 years by PBKMS and other such workers’ organisations, is to be diluted even further. There is no sign of implementation of the National Food Security Act, which despite its imperfections would have provided some relief to agricultural workers.

In addition, various anti-labour measures are being adopted by both the State and Central Governments. Long standing and well accepted labour laws are being diluted; the right to strike is frowned upon; protests and organising by workers meets with attacks; it is becoming increasingly difficult to register trade unions etc.

A general climate of intolerance by the ruling party towards protest prevails in the state. To add to this worsening situation is the fear that political parties for narrow ends will rake up communal feelings.

During the conference, about 350-400 delegates of the PBKMS will spend two days looking at this alarming situation. They will also review their successes and failures in the past three years and will decide on their future strategies and programme.

The Ninth Conference will be held on November 23 and on the morning of November 24 at Maheswarpur Village PO Badu, Kolkata 700128.

The open session of the Ninth Conference will be held at Bharat Sabha Hall, Bow Bazar Street Kolkata from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. on November 24.

In keeping with the support and solidarity that you have always provided to the struggles of agricultural workers, you are requested to join us for the open session. Your presence will encourage us tremendously.

In solidarity
Swapan Ganguly, General Secretary

21 November 2014

Boost For Our Struggle: W.B. Assembly Moves Unanimous Motion

On November 20, just a day before it was to close, a unanimous resolution was passed by voice vote in the West Bengal Assembly, asking the Central Government to stop dilution of the 100 days work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity sees this as a small success of the campaign it has been undertaking. Along with other members of the Osonghotit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (The Struggle Platform of Unorganised Sector Workers- OKSSM), PBKMS has been carrying out a campaign to inform its members and the public at large about the Central Government's measures to dilute MGNREGA. Street corner meetings, public meetings, posters and handbills have formed an important part of this campaign. At the same time deputations have been given to BDOs and DMs of various districts in West Bengal.

As a culmination of this campaign, the PBKMS and other members of OKSSM met the Labour Minister, Mr Moloy Ghatak and the Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, Mr Subroto Mukherjee on November 3.  They also met the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, Mr Mohammed Sohrab, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Suryakanta Mishra. We appealed to all of them to get an all-party resolution passed at the Assembly asking the Centre to refrain from diluting MGNREGA. The main points put forward to them were as follows:

· The Central Government's plan to withdraw/dilute MGNREGA in richer areas would mean huge deprivation for the people of West Bengal. If, as rumoured, MGNREGA was limited to the 200 districts (MGNREGA Phase 1 districts) 13 districts in West Bengal would be deprived of MGNREGA benefits.
· The budget allocation for the program has been decreasing in not just nominal but also in real terms over the past few years. From 2009-10 when the MGNREGA budget was 0.6% of our GDP (at factor cost) it halved to 0.3.% of  GDP at factor cost in 2013-14.
· Huge budget cuts have been imposed. Compared to last financial year, till September, there has been nearly 45 per cent reduction in funds released by the Centre to states for NREGA-the sharpest since the inception of the scheme. In West Bengal, the fund release came down to Rs 1782 crore, against Rs 2214 crore in the same period last year.
· The ratio between materials and labour has been reduced from 40:60 to 49:51 for all panchayat works to be maintained at the district level.  With budget allocations constant in money terms, raising wage rates and a larger proportion allocated to material, this will translate into even fewer person days available for workers.
· Instead of taking such negative measures , the Government should concentrate on promoting MGNREGA by correcting anti labour practices such as low wages (wage rates in MGNREGA continue to be less than the agricultural minimum wage declared in West Bengal, thus violating the Minimum Wage Act), delayed payment of wages, non provision of work and unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.

The resolution in the Assembly was moved by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Partha Chatterjee, and supported by 11 MLAs including the Leader of the Opposition , Mr Surya Kanta Mishra, before being passed by a voice vote.

In these days when most news for workers is bad news, the small success against the withdrawal of MGNREGA has come as a boost for our union members, especially when all parties have come together above partisan interests for the worker's cause.

14 November 2014

Total Strike At N. Bengal Tea Gardens

Workers in all the tea gardens of Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a total strike on 11 and 12 November, bringing the industry to a halt. The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions demanding minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a paltry wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day.

The United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) congratulates all workers across Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai for the complete success of this strike and feels that the resolute unity shown by almost all trade unions in the midst of adversities is also exemplary.

The strike shows that the struggle for decent living wages of the tea plantation workers has entered a new phase. It has received wide support from the people of North Bengal, as is evident from their participation in the general strike. The abysmally low wages of tea workers have also been condemned by many other sections of the public in Bengal.  On the other hand the State Government is in a state of inertia. It had called one meeting of all trade unions on November 5, 2014, and is calling another on November 17,2014. Unless it has something fresh to propose as action by or against the owners and unless it takes steps to declare minimum wages, such meetings seem futile.

Even though tea plantation workers continue to be one of the lowest paid workers in the country, with owners reaping profits at their expense, the plantation owners are stubborn towards any proposal to ensure decent living conditions for the workers in the industry. The current wage negotiations for the period April 2014 - March 2017 has virtually collapsed since the owners refuse to agree to any respectable settlement for the workers. UTWF condemns the obstinacy of the tea plantation owners led by their apex body, Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) which has almost closed all doors for any meaningful dialogue for the solution of the miserable conditions in which workers find themselves. The miserable wages in the sector binds workers to a vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill-health, with children of tea workers ending up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents before them.

UTWF notes that the role of the government has been inadequate and therefore, unsatisfactory. Instead of pro-actively forcing the plantation owners to ensure living wages for the workersb it has almost been silent on this issue. It has even failed to come out with a mere notification for the workers of the tea industry and has only proposed meager increases of Rs 40 in three years. Rather than confronting errant owners for their failure to guarantee the basic needs of nutrition, health, education and housing of the workers and their families, as required under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 it has nearly let them off the hook by acting passive.

We would urge the State Government to take pro-active steps to end the impasse in the tea sector before things spin out of control. We demand that itimmediately start the process of declaration of minimum wages in the tea sector, while at the same time taking action against errant and inhuman employers. One thing is for sure, the workers in this sector and the public in general will not silently tolerate the injustice meted out for ages.

Anuradha Talwar,Principal Convenor

11 November 2014

'We Are 93' March For Workers' Rights

“Aamra Tiranabboi”  (We are 93) organized a rally Rally at Rani Rashmoni Road on November 11, 2014. Two processions started at 12 p.m. from Sealdah and Howrah

We are 93% of the work force in India, producing 67% of the country’s GDP.  We are unorganized sector workers.  Our daily problems are insecurity in work and deprivation from any kind of social security; low wages in the midst of huge inflation; inhuman working conditions. We have understood in our work and our communities that the political situation and the socio-economic conditions at the State level and Central level are responsible for our dire situation.  The rally took  place under the banner of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch (Unorganised Sector Workers' Platform for Struggle), the conveners of which are Swapan Ganguly and Somnath Ghosh.

Among the issues highlighted at the rally were: 

·The attacks by the Government on the fundamental right to association. These form a part of the general police and gunda raj that prevails in the state. The experience of the civic police volunteers and brickfield workers who are members of the Manch is especially notable in this respect.
·The reluctance of the State Government to implement the Minimum Wages Act, especially in the context of tea plantation workers. 
·The failure of the State and Central Government to provide minimum food security to workers through the implementation of the National Food Security Act
·The dilution of the 100 days work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the attempt to withdraw it by the Central Government.

We are apprehensive about the attempts to create divisions amongst the working class by communal forces in our state and our country. The role of the party ruling at the Centre is especially worrying, as is the pandering to communal elements by the parties at both the Centre and State. The unity of the workers is our strength and divisions can only weaken us. Our rally is also taking place in this context.

Among those at the rally were agricultural workers, marginal farmers, construction workers, biri rollers, brick field workers, Health Department link workers, midday meal scheme cooks, civic police volunteers, members of self-help groups, sericulture workers, fish workers, tea plantation workers, hawkers, contract workers and many others. Workers camme from the hilly tea gardens in the north and the fisheries on the coast in Sunderbans, from Purulia in the west and Murshidabad in the east.

Our specific demands are:

·Stop taking away workers’ rights, including the right to strike;
·Declare Rs.15,000 per month as the minimum wage for all workers in all trades, including tea plantation workers;
·Establish democracy in all spheres of society. Stop political violence and attacks on opposing forces and give every person the freedom to express their views;
·All workers must be covered by ESI (health security), provident fund, pension and other social security measures. Pension must be 50% of last wage drawn;
·Stop the appointment of contract, “volunteers” and temporary workers to work that is permanent in nature;
·Women’s safety in the workplace, in public places and in the homes must be ensured;
·Creches must be set up in all work places;
·Social and economic security of all Dalits, Adivasis, religious minorities and other deprived communities must be ensured;
·Stop dilution of the 100 days MGNREGA programme;
·Implement the limited provisions of National Food Security Act immediately and amend the Act to make it a law guaranteeing real food security;
·Remunerative prices for produce and subsidies for inputs must be guaranteed for small and marginal farmers;
·Affordable housing must be guaranteed for all workers near their places of work; pattas for homestead land must be given to all tea plantation workers;
·All closed tea gardens must be re-opened; 
·Implement the 2014 Hawkers Act immediately.

03 November 2014

WBCPA: Press Conference Invitation

The West Bengal Civic Police Association, a member organisation of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha, cordially welcomes you to a press conference at the Kolkata Press Club on November 4, 2014 at 3 p.m.

The West Bengal Civic Police Association (WBCPA) is an association of men and women who are employed by the State Government of West Bengal in India to supplement mainstream policing and to provide short duration routine guarding duties. WBCPA was formed in December 2013 for the betterment of its members’ working conditions.  

On October 10, 2013, 130,000 men and women between the age of 18 and 28 years were recruited by the West Bengal government as “civic police volunteers”, with a wage rate of only Rs.141.82 per day and extremely precarious working conditions. With the help of the Ossonghotito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch the civic police began self-organising in November 2013, with meetings and conventions in many police stations and districts. During the Lok Sabha elections, they were on duty. However by June 30, all of them were thrown out of employment. The young men and women therefore organised a large protest meeting in Kolkata on July 10, 2014, which was attended by about 35-40,000 youth. 

The members of WBCPA have had to face huge repression after their July meeting. Despite High Court orders in their favour, many facing dismissal have not been reinstated.  

It is in this context of repression, false police cases, physical torture and other illegal acts that the WBCPA is calling this press conference to declare its future programme as well as to give details of the problems being faced by our members.


Sanjay Poria, President

01 November 2014

Police, ruling party goons attack Civic Police demonstrators

We strongly protest the illegal arrest, harassment and brutal behaviour of West Bengal Police administration along with ruling party supported goons against members of the West Bengal Civic Police Association in particular and unorganised sector workers as a whole. The West Bengal Civic Police Association is a member of Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch. 

On October 31, more than 150 Civic Police assembled in a meeting near the Malda Town Hall with prior intimation to the administration to give deputation to the Superintendent of Police (SP) and District Magistrate (DM) of Malda district. After they assembled, without any reason the police arrested more than 140 Civic Police and confined them in English Bazar Police Station. Two of them, Mahesh Saha and Musaraf Hossen, were severely beaten up by the police and became seriously ill. They were taken to the Hospital by the police in haste. 

The deputation was to protest against the illegal dismissal of the entire civic police volunteer force in the district. The work of about 4,500 of them was stopped in June 2014 and they were not reinstated after that, despite of the fact that the Government’s order (GO no. 1940-PL/PB/3P-31/12) dated 14.07.2014, clearly mentioned that all of them should be reinstated and no new appointments should be made. The dismissed Civic Police of Malda wrote letters to the respective Police Stations and Superintendent of Police (SP) of Malda protesting the dismissal. They moved three writ petitions in Calcutta High Court. The Court ordered the SP of Malda on 5th, 19th & 25th of September 2014 either to reinstate them or explain why they are not eligible for the job of Civic Police within 4 weeks time. No action has been taken so far by the SP. 

According to the ASP Malda, the young men were arrested because Section 144 (banning assembly of more than 5 persons) had been imposed in the area. He claims that the civic volunteers were informed in writing about this, but had still persisted in having their meeting. The civic police on the other hand claim that they were informed that they were violating Section 144 just minutes before their arrest, without giving them even time to disperse.   Press reports on the 1st December claim that the DM and the Subdivisional Officer (SDO) who are empowered to declare Section 144 also had not idea about the impostion of Section 144. 

The Malda incident is a continuation of a series of actions being taken to suppress the movement of the civic police volunteers. Just a few days ago, on 29 October 2014 the Civic Police Association of Hooghly district organised a meeting at Arambagh Bus Terminal after giving prior information to SP, DM and IC Arambagh Police Station. When 300 of them assembled there, goons of the ruling party armed with lathis surrounded them and threatened them for dire consequences. The President of Hooghly district unit Subroto Hazra was confined till 7 pm and severely beaten up. Earlier Ramchandra Poria, father of Sanjay Poria, the President of the Association was threatened by armed goons of local ruling party to burn their house and belongings if Sanjay got involved in movement of Civic Police. Ramchnadra Poira was also told to stop his participation in the Paschim Banga khet Majoor Samity, another member organisation of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha. 

The Mancha has decided to organise a public meeting in Kolkata on 11-11-2014 to highlight various demands of unorganised sectors workers and the undemocratic situation prevailing in the state.
 We demand:
  1. Immediate reinstatement of dismissed Civic Police following Hon'be Calcutta High Court Order.
  2. Stop harassment and vicitimisation of Civic Police.
  3. Ensure gurrantee of constitutional right of  'Right to Association'.

Swapan Ganguly, Somenath Ghosh 
for Ossongothito Khetra Shramik Sangrami Mancha            

13 October 2014

Minister Agrees To Minimum Wages Panel In Tea By November First Week

A delegation from the United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) was told by Shri Moloy Ghatak, Minister-in-charge, Labour Department, Government of West Bengal that minimum wages in the tea industry would be implemented in another six months.A set of demands was submitted to him by the UTWF which are as follows:
a.       The State Government must immediately convene a tripartite meeting with the employers and unions in the tea industry to reach a mutual understanding on the wage issue;
b.       Regardless of the outcome of such a tripartite meeting, the State Government must immediately declare a minimum wage for the tea industry;
 c.        In the declaration of such a minimum wage, the State Government must ensure parity with the minimum wage it has already declared in other sectors, while also following widely accepted legal norms such as the 15th ILC norms and Supreme Court orders in the Workmen vs Reptakos Brett case and Unichoy vs State of Kerala. 

The Minister informed the delegation that the employers were stubbornly sticking to a raise of only Rs.132 in 3 years, which the Government found unacceptable, hence they were unwilling to call a tripartite meeting as they knew workers would also not accept the same.  On the other hand, the minister accepted the demands made by UTWF and agreed to set up a committee for the minimum wage of the tea-plantation workers under section 5(1) of Minimum Wages Act,1948 The hon’ble minister assured the delegation that his department would issue notifications for the said committee by the first week of November, 2014 and it would be mandated to submit reports and recommendations to the government within 3 months from its date of formation. He said that the government would thereupon issue the draft notification for the minimum wage for the plantation workers. As per Section 5 (2) of the Minimum Wages Act 1948, the minimum wage would then become enforceable within three months of the draft notification.

He thus assured the delegation that the minimum wages for the tea-plantations would be instituted within six to seven months. In response to the demands made by the delegation on the issue of closed gardens and their proper reopening, and the state government’s initiative and actions on the issue, it was reported that the hon’ble chief minister of the state has already written to the government of India about a possible takeover of closed tea gardens and their reopening.

UTWF affirms once again it stands for a consistent united struggle for the minimum living wages of the workers of the industry.

Signed: Anuradha Talwar, Kiran Kalindi, Sushovan Dhar, Debjit Dutta, Dipak Nag, Rohit Nag

02 September 2014

Tea Workers Seek Minimum 20% Bonus

The tea industry in West Bengal is sitting for bipartite bonus negotiations in Kolkata on 30th and 31st August 2014 at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce. In view of this, the United Tea Workers Front demands that all tea gardens in the industry must pay 20% bonus for all workers, regardless of the state of the garden. It condemns the trend that has existed in the industry of granting special concessions for garden owners in the name of sickness. Over 30 such gardens were given concessions last year and were allowed to pay bonus ranging between 11% and 18% after agreement had been reached on 20%. This is despite the fact these gardens continue to receive concessions in various forms under the pretext of ‘sickness’.
The UTWF, which is the united front of the biggest unions in the tea sector in West Bengal, would also like to question the double standards that are prevailing in the industry. In the ongoing wage negotiations, the employers are claiming that the wage that they pay amounts to a cash wage of Rs.95 and a non-cash component of Rs.66, amounting to a total wage of Rs.161. However, when it comes to bonus calculations, the employers are only willing to calculate the bonus on the total of the cash component of wages. The UTWF wants the computation of bonus to be not only on the basis of the wage handed over in cash but on both the cash and the non-cash component of wage.

We also demand the bonus for all workers including contractual workers engaged in the tea gardens. Also, the ceiling for bonus must be removed from Rs 10,000 as practiced currently, to Rs 13,500 for all workers.

Anuradha Talwar(Principal Convenor)                    
Tulsi Oraon (General Secretary, Progressive Tea Workers Union)            
Kiran Kalindi (Convenor and Chairman,Progressive Plantation Workers Union
Suraj Subba (General Secretary, Darjeeling Terai Doars Plantation Labour Union)

23 July 2014

Civic Police Face Harassment, Badu Collective Raided

A series of raids, arrests, dismissals and lathi-charges have greeted the leaders and supporters of the West Bengal Civic Police Association after their successful demonstration on July 10, 2014.

After the large gathering of about 35,000 civic police on July 10, 2014, the State Government, sensing the unrest amongst these young men and women came out with a notification within four days (Government Order No. 1940-PL/PB/3P-31/12 dated 14.7.2014) . The notification sanctioned 120 days of work at Rs.141.82 for the “Civic Police Volunteer Force” during July 2014 to December 2014. This is a victory for the movement initiated by the West Bengal Civic Police Association.

On the other hand, the State Government has also initiated repressive measures against the Association. On July 16, 2014, the President of the Association Sanjay Poria was missing for about six hours. No one knew of his whereabouts and his mobile phone was also unreachable. He was last known to have gone to the Keshpur police station where the Officer in Charge (OC) of the Police Station (PS) had called him. Finally, he was traced to the office of the Superintendent of Police, Paschim Midnapore, where he was interrogated repeatedly till about 12.30 midnight by the S.P. and a number of other senior officers.

On the same day, at Khatra police station in Bankura district, the OC threatened not to hire the leadership of the Association. This led to an altercation with all the young men who were on the rolls there, with the police ultimately resorting to a lathi-charge. Police cases were instituted against two of the leaders who had to take bail the next day.

Similar reports of OCs saying that they had been ordered to not hire the leadership of the Association were received from police stations in Bankura, Paschim Midnapore, Purba Midnapore, Jalpaiguri, Burdwan, Coochbehar, Purulia and other districts.  Verbally the young men were told that they were being punished for organising their fellow workers and for leading the movement and the demonstration on the July 10. They were told that video recordings had been made of their participation in the demonstration on that day and that the police’s Intelligence Branch had collected the names of the leaders. For example , in Sankrail PS of Paschim Midnapore, four youth were asked to not come back to work. In Daspur in the same district on the other hand all the 200 youth protested that they would not work if their leader was not hired, leading to the OC backing down.

The issue was taken to its extreme in Malda district where, on July 19, we heard that the Superintendent of the district was reported to have declared that all 4,800 civic police in the district would be replaced with fresh recruits. This was despite the clear declaration in the Government Order that the old 1,30,000 civic police would be taken for work and no new names would be entertained. This led to massive protests in many police stations. In Harishchandrapur Police Station protesting civic police were lathi-charged and then 12 of them were detained till midnight. They were finally let off without any criminal charges, after intervention by the local Member of Parliament.

In a parallel bizarre developments, on July 17, 2014, the Badu Collective, a commune where 12 families live together, a premises used by many activists for overnight stay and to hold informal meetings, was invaded first by the Intelligence Branch and then by a massive police force . The police force led by the Subdivisional Police Officer came in with teargas shells and prison vans to break up a meeting of the civic police that they had heard was to take place on the premises. The peaceful community, which has children and old people, was taken by surprise as they had no information of such a meeting. The police kept them surrounded the whole day, and in a clearly illegal invasion, trespassed on their land and houses without any rhyme or reason and without any warrants.

Equally bizarre was a newspaper report by a leading Bengali daily that claimed that the Chief Minister had allocated Rs.65 lakhs for an intelligence operation to find out who was “behind” the Civic Police Association. As the West Bengal Civic Police Association and its supporters have all been functioning openly – asking for and receiving police permission to hold a mass meeting, holding press conferences, meeting the Labour Minister, corresponding with the Government, bringing out and circulating widely reports of activities etc., the attempt at mystifying “who is behind this association” can only be ill-intentioned.

It should be noted that freedom of association is a constitutional right of all Indian citizens and the formation of an association, as well as peaceful protest, are well accepted methods for workers to focus public and employer attention on their working conditions. Why then is the Government behaving schizophrenically? It gives permission for the Association to hold a public meeting in Kolkata, its Labour Minister meets their delegation; at the same time, it sacks the leadership of the association and launches an intelligence operation to find out who is “behind” the Association. We would urge the Government to refrain from such undemocratic action and to instead concentrate its scarce resources and energy on improving the working conditions of the civic police who receive a paltry salary of just Rs.141.82 today, without any security or legal safeguards in the risky work they do.  

17 July 2014

Civic Police Prepare For Historic Battle

July 10, 2014, saw a historic gathering at Rani Rashmoni Road at Kolkata. Over 35,000-40,000 youth gathered there – all members of a new rural working class, all facing unemployment after the Government had promised jobs, all very angry, but determined to fight for their rights.

These 40,000 youth were all part of a newly formed West Bengal Civic Police Association. In 2013 130,000 men and women between the age of 18 and 28 years were recruited by the West Bengal government as “civic police volunteers”. There were many unwritten promises made to them - they would be given a uniform and a torch and a lathi, their wages would be gradually increased to be at par with other Government employees, they would be made permanent police personnel etc. Some of these young people claim to have paid bribes amounting to Rs. 70-80,000 to local political dadas to get this job.

The job ultimately involved 120 days of work during a period of six months and a daily payment of Rs.141.82 (much below the Government’s lowest rate of minimum wage which is Rs.206). Even this was paid irregularly with delays of two to three months being common. In addition, no appointment letters were given, payments were made on muster rolls, No uniform was given in most districts. Worst of all, the young men and women were given risky duties without any training or any legal security. As one young man told us, he was asked by the Officer in Charge of his police station to go and break down illegal hooch dens. The hooch den owners who know the youth well as they are all from the same villages swore to take revenge when his employment was over. There was no protection available for him.

Six of these young people have died while on duty. For example, Saphikul Sheikh of Behrampur Police Station in Murshidabad died when he was thrown down from a bridge by irate lorry drivers when he was trying to control traffic. There has been no compensation paid to any of these people. In fact, if these young people are injured there is no surety of medical treatment for them.

With the help of the Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (Struggle Platform for Unorganised Sector Workers), the civic police began self organising in November 2013, with meetings and conventions in many police stations and districts. During the Lok Sabha elections, they were on duty. However by June 30 all of them were thrown out of employment. The young men and women therefore decided to organise a large protest meeting in Kolkata.


Despite the heavy rain that day, the gathering of 35-40,000 people showed the spontaneous anger of these youth. A delegation also met the Labour Minister, who immediately passed an order to enrol them under a social security scheme for unorganised sector workers. He also promised to take a month to confer on their other demands (continuation of duty, giving appointment letter, payment of minimum wages, provident fund, gratuity, ESIS coverage, proper training and protection at work) with the Chief Minister. In addition he asked for information of those who had been injured or had died during their duty, so that he could arrange for their compensation and medical treatment. 

After returning to their own areas, the youth have been threatened by their seniors in the police force and by local party leaders. Some of them have been given “official dismissal letters”. Lists are being made of “those who went to the Kolkata gathering”. Newspaper reports quoting senior Government Ministers have also come out, blaming the Association of being backed by the BJP, the CPI(M) and the Naxals.

On the other hand, on July 14, 2014, the CM is said to have said that she was willing to extend the employment of civic police, saying she was not in favour of taking away jobs. However, she put in a rider- the youth must behave themselves and must not be “unruly”.
The civic police plan a convention in Kolkata on July 25, 2014, with representatives from all police stations and districts to focus attention on the repression they are facing and to declare their future programme. This is to be preceded by visits by a team of Association members to areas where reports of repression are coming from. The team will meet Officers in Charge of police stations and District Superintendents of Police in these areas.

10 July 2014

Second Day's Visit To Tea Gardens: Procession Of Death Continues

The procession of death remains unabated in the closed tea gardens. We had reported yesterday of 3 persons we had met in Bandapani Tea Gardens (TG) who were near death. Unfortunately, the first news we have got this morning is of the death of Mukesh Goala, one of these three persons. It has induced in all of us a feeling of great helplessness and anger at the injustice of life in the tea estates, where on the one hand owners make huge profits, paying a measly wage of Rs.95 to workers, abandoning gardens with impunity and on the other hand young men like Mukesh Goala die untimely deaths due to hunger and poverty.

The death remains unregistered in any official record and unmarked, part of many such unknown tragedies that take place here every day.

Our second day was spent in Dheklapara Tea Estate. This estate has been closed since 2006. It has been tied up in litigation with the Tea Board as one of the parties. The Tea Board was asked to take over the garden by the High court under Section 16 E of the Tea Act. The Tea Board has after 4-5 years of legal wrangling said it was unable to find a new buyer or run the garden in any other manner. Right now, a group of garden labour owing allegiance to the Trinamool Congress-run the garden selling leaves to a broker. This is done separately in two parts of the garden with the Nirpania division reporting payment of Rs.45 each day to each plucker and a sharing of the profits, while the main division pays Rs.35 per day. There are reports that the labour have recently asked the BDO for permission to allow them to do plantation of new bushes.

Besides plucking, the adults and children from the garden also work in collecting stone and sand from the river, stone breaking, work in a brick field, and at an Army construction site nearby. Earnings range from Rs.100 to Rs.140 per day.

Dheklapara has been the focus of the present Government’s relief efforts. Since December 2012, when it became the focus of attention due to many deaths, as well as threats of suicide by surviving workers, two successful community kitchens catering to about 150 destitute people are being run. Electricity has been given to all people. Water supply has improved. Antodaya rations are given regularly. The FAWLOI and old age pensions are being given with some delays. NREGS works are there though with delays in payment.

Despite the above, we got reports of at least 7 deaths from the three lines to which we had access. (In one line we were stopped from collecting information by rowdies who informed us that they were from the Trinamool Congress)

We also found three persons who were on the verge of death due to hunger. Budu Oraon, (62) has been suffering from low pressure .He fell down about a month ago. The family has kept him in one room. As he is unable to move and is bedridden, he soils himself. Medical aid is needed on an urgent basis in order to save his life.

Rabi Tanti from Beech line died 2 months ago after his FAWLOI (Family Allowance for Workers in Locked Out Industry) was stopped as he had crossed the age of 58. His wife Champa Tanti (59) is now in dire straits. With FAWLOI stopped and a 19 years old son who has no source of income, the family is hungry and Champa is likely to die. Mohan Khariya (57) s/o late Habil wife Surajmani (50). Both he and his wife get food from the community kitchen run under the Sahay scheme.

The above shows the limitation of Government relief efforts even when they are comparatively well run. Dheklapara and other closed gardens need re-opening more than anything. The workers of tea gardens need fair wages- not the paltry Rs.95 that they get presently.

The workers in Dheklapara should be helped to form a cooperative and to run their garden themselves, as many workers want this. Attempts to find an owner have failed and the seeds of self-running are already there- they need to be nurtured with good Government help and proper accountability systems. The tendency of rowdies with political patronage to control people managed processes must be controlled.
Related Read ('The Hindu'): Three Bandapani tea garden wokers bed-ridden: NGOs, trade unions

Food Campaign Team Finds Shocking Conditions At Tea Garden

A 12-member team from the Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal on the first day of their survey of closed tea gardens visited Bandapani, the situation there is grim, to say the least. Twenty-nine deaths have taken place after closure since 13th July 2013. Three other persons are on death row. They are:

Amrit Jhora, aged 23, suffering from malnutrition and barely able to walk. The family has shown him to the National Rural Health Mission clinic being run by an NGO, MANT, for the last one year, but it has not helped. He has to be carried to the NGO’s camp, but this is not always possible. Surprisingly the NGO has not referred him to any other place.  Nanki Soren (aged 60 years) no family, husband has already died. No ration card or any other benefits. Abha Soren a neighbour feeds her occasionally- one meal a day. Mukesh Goala (23 years) suffering from diabetes according to his widowed mother. No earning member in the family.

The garden is not re-opening because it is mired in illegalities. Despite that, the Government has not taken corrective action. The lease given by the State Government has lapsed since 2006, and the ownership of the TG is now in dispute. The present “owner”, M/s Sarada Pleasure and Adventure Ltd, has been operating in the name of the past owner, M/s Alipurduar Enterprises Ltd, who in turn is not legally in possession of the tea garden land. The lapsed lease seems to be in the name of a third party. The disputed ownership is now acting as a problem to get a new owner. The management has also not deposited Provident Fund dues of about Rs.3.1 crores since 2002; electricity bills amounting to Rs.10-14 lakhs are lying unpaid; wages and salaries amounting to Rs.1 crore, gratuity of Rs.1 crore and bonus of Rs. 56 lakhs have not been paid.

The Labour Department and the district magistrate have called several meetings for re-opening, but the owner has not responded. In February 2014, the DM wrote to the Land Reforms and Land Revenue Department asking for lease cancellation. No progress is reported after that.

In the name of domestic work, many able bodied young women have been taken to cities and other places in Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. One woman was sexually assaulted while at work and was forced to come back from Punjab when she was pregnant . She was taken to Delhi and then Punjab by an agent. Four to five agents seem to have free access to the garden, and they are reported to take away half the salary of the women they put in employment. Despite such problems, within this week, about 3-4 women from Chaibasa line say that they will be forced to leave for Bangalore as they have no other way of surviving in the garden.

The team found gross violation of Supreme Court orders on facilities to be given in closed gardens. While AAY rations are available, FAWLOI (family Allowance for Workers in Locked Out Industry) forms are just being distributed. NREGS works are largely unavailable. Drinking water is a severe problem, with insufficient, highly contaminated water often with worms coming from a Bhutan stream. Medical facilities being provided by an NGO under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) do not meet the NRHM norms, with most medicines having to be bought. Ambulance facilities are unavailable as are good referral services.

The team found stunted children and anaemic adults in the garden population. Most depend on stone collection from the river with an income of Rs.50-100 per day for a living. Many families reported eating only once a day. Huge numbers are migrating or getting trafficked.
Before coming to the gardens some members of the team had met the Food Minister, who had informed us of a number of positive measures being taken. The attitude of the Government towards this problem was seen by us as being very encouraging. However, however, our experience tells us that these measures still need more effort to percolate to the affected people.

06 July 2014

'Ensure Universal Food Coverage'

In 2013, the National Food Security Act was passed by the Parliament with the clause that implementation of the Act would be started by 5th July 2014. However, today we find that the Act is still far from being put into operation. On the other hand, food inflation is continuing unabated, causing great problems to the people at large. In addition, in chronic hunger pockets such as the closed tea gardens, we are seeing another spate of deaths. While it may be endlessly debated whether the immediate cause of these deaths is starvation, it is well accepted that these areas, as well as in other areas are suffering from chronic hunger, the suffering of the people is huge and needs urgent attention.      

In this context, a team from the Right to Food and Work Campaign West Bnegal consisting of Anuradha Talwar, Swapan Ganguly, Saradindu Biswas, Debojyoti Chakraborty and Fr. Jothi S.J. met the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies on July 5.

The network raised its demand for universal coverage under the National Food Security Act. The Minister informed us that it has been the stand of their Government that universal coverage should be there. He further informed us that 22 states had made the same demand in the meeting of Food Ministers held in Delhi on 4th July. As the Central Government would have to move an amendment in parliament for deferring the date for implementation of the Act, he said that it was possible that an amendment for universal coverage could also be moved, as 22 States had asked for it.

Considering food is the most basic right of the people, we insist that the State Government declares universal coverage through a State level Act or Scheme. We demand that the State Government put this into practice by at least putting forth a plan for universal coverage over the next 5 years, along with a plan for resource mobilisation.  

We would like to draw attention to the following:

1.      Despite a year having passed since the Act (first in the form of an Ordinance) was promulgated, the State of West Bengal seems to be still unprepared for the implementation of the Act.
a.       The Socio Economic Caste Census on which the choice of beneficiaries depends is still incomplete. The survey lists are available online only in 9 out of 19 districts. Lists are incomplete even where they have been put online. Public display of draft lists has not taken place in most places, nor have hearings for correction been conducted. We asked the Minister to ensure that this task is completed immediately so that the Government can start actual choice of beneficiaries.

b.      For choice of beneficiaries, we urged the use of simple exclusion criteria , excluding those who have Government jobs , permanent well paid jobs, income tax payers, those who own 4 wheeled vehicles, owners of large businesses etc. This would simplify the task of choice of beneficiaries and lead to fewer errors. The Minister was of the view that universal coverage was a better option.    

c.       Rules under the Act are still far from being framed. We insisted that this task also be taken up on a war footing.

2.      Grievance redressal and people’s vigilance are an important part of ensuring that food grains actually reach the beneficiaries. We welcome the Government’s decision to include NGO representatives in Monitoring and Vigilance committees up to the block level. We would however from our past experience of these committees urge the Government to ensure proper training and regular functioning of these committees. The Minister promised to support our efforts in this matter and to be present for the first meeting of NGO representatives.

3.       The deaths in tea gardens have left us very perturbed as they are part of a trend that started in 2003. The Government, both the past one and the present one seem unable to deal with the problem.  We welcome the setting up of a permanent committee of three ministers to oversee the steps being taken in the gardens We would urge the Government to ensure that the following:
a.       Supreme Court orders ensuring AAY rations, NREGA work, FAWLOI, medical facilities, drinking water, ICDS and MDMS coverage are enforced

b.      Regular monitoring through a district level cell of these schemes takes place

c.       Just as AAY rations are being continued in all closed and formerly closed gardens, FAWLOI should also not be discontinued in gardens which are going through cycles of closure and opening.

d.      Under NREGA, workers suffer immensely because of delayed payments. Payment of part of the wages at least should be made on a daily basis.

e.       The Government should take proactive steps to ensure that employers do not abandon gardens so easily. Such steps would include punishment of rogue employers who abandon the gardens, recovery of workers’ dues such as gratuity, provident fund  etc., cancellation of lease to find new employers etc.

f.       As the underlying problem is the abysmally low level of wages in tea gardens, we urge the Government to take a pro-active role in the on-going industry level negotiations to ensure a living wage for the workers. We also urge you to declare a minimum wage for tea workers under the Minimum Wages Act.

The Minister informed us of a permanent inspection system for 23 closed gardens. 

The Network is also sending a fact finding team to 6 closed gardens from 7th to 13th July 2014.The report will especially examine the steps the Government has taken and the results will be shared with the Government. It also plans to set up a permanent monitoring system.