03 December 2015

International Fact Finding Mission Visiting Tea Plantations

An International Fact Finding Mission is visiting and tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal from November 27, 2015 to December 4, 2015. With 18 members from 9 countries, the purpose of the Mission is to understand the status of the human right to food and nutrition - and related rights - of tea plantation workers and to hold central and state governments accountable to their national and international human rights obligations. The mission team has visited tea gardens in the Dooars, Darjeeling and Assam and has had discussions with both tea workers and their unions. It is also meeting concerned officials in Assam and West Bengal such as Mr Amit Mitra, Minister of Industries, Mr Moloy Ghatak, Minister of Labour, the Secretary General of the Indian Tea Association, the management of tea companies, such as Tata, Apeejay.

This is the first Fact Finding Mission to be dispatched under the facilitation of the Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRtFN), a network composed of social movements and civil society organisations worldwide to support and give visibility to the struggles for these human rights. This Fact Finding Mission (FFM) is headed by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), who is a member of the GNRtFN. Other participating organisations are FIAN International, Pesticide Action Network, Right to Food Campaign (Nepal), Right to Food and Social Security Campaign (Bangladesh) and the Right To Food Campaign (India). The team consists of activists, experts and trade union leaders from Brazil, Peru,Germany, United Kingdom, Moldova, Spain, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

The Fact Finding Mission will also contribute to current international processes and dialogues relevant for the human right to adequate food and nutrition.

07 November 2015

This Is No Storm In A Teacup

Guest Post by Harsh Mander

[The sudden withdrawal by some tea plantation managements in North Bengal of not just regular employment, but also all a series of life-enabling services is proving to be nothing short of catastrophic for workers.]

A largely invisible, grim, humanitarian crisis, of mounting hunger, looms over several thousand North Bengal tea garden workers. Duncans, a leading tea company with 15 plantations in Darjeeling and the Himalayan foothills, has plunged its workers into a precarious state of illegal limbo. It has neither formally closed its gardens nor is it running operations normally, with devastating consequences for the survival and future of around 15,000 workers and their families.
The company began tea operations in India in 1857, clearing large swathes of dense forests in North Bengal to establish its extensive tea plantations. With other British plantation companies, it transported industrious tribal people from Chota Nagpur and Santal Parganas as indentured, near-slave labour. After Independence, ownership of these companies gradually passed into Indian hands. Although nominally free now, workers continued to work in near-colonial conditions. The dependence and submissiveness of the workers was partly secured by paying part-wages in kind, as food rations, housing and health services. Until recently, most tea worker households were not even issued Public Distribution System (PDS) ration cards. Instead, State governments supplied PDS grain to companies to issue to workers.

In these conditions, if tea garden managements suddenly withdraw these supplies, workers are left singularly defenceless and precarious. The first such crisis was thrust upon workers of 30 tea gardens in North Bengal in 2003-04, when they were illegally closed and abandoned overnight by owners who no longer found them to be commercially viable. Instead of first securing the interests of the workers and gardens, they simply disappeared. On my visits to the gardens at that time, I found several worker households facing conditions of actual starvation.

A similar situation has arisen today with the illegal semi-closure of 15 gardens by Duncans. Early in 2015, the management abruptly stopped paying wages to its workers. It also terminated food rations. It cut electricity and drinking water supplies to worker colonies. For several years, pensions and provident funds had not been paid. Gardens were not maintained, and ageing, unproductive tea bushes, some a hundred years old, were not replaced. Workers’ houses were not maintained for years. Workers allege both apathy and runaway corruption by the management.

Such illegal semi-closure would jeopardise critically the future of workers in any industry. But tea worker communities have been brought up for generations in forced direct dependence on the management even for basic essentials such as food, clean drinking water, housing and health care. For them, sudden withdrawal by the management of not just regular employment, but also all these life-enabling services, is nothing short of catastrophic.

I found workers surviving by travelling to neighbouring gardens and working at low, piece-work rates. These garden managements are profiting from their distress; they pick them up in buses for which they are charged, and workers are forced to spend longer hours to earn far less in uncertain casual employment, with no job security or additional benefits. Others are mining stones on riverbeds and several younger workers have migrated to Bhutan, Kerala, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Children are dropping out of school and joining the workforce to bring some food to the table. Adding to worker distress, many are dependent on untreated stream water for drinking. No Duncan tea estate has a functioning hospital since 2000: without doctors, medicine, and occasionally a nurse.

Those we found most threatened by hunger were single women, those ailing and the elderly. Phulo Munda, for instance, is a widow of 57 years. As a permanent worker, she earned around Rs.1,600 a month. But since the undeclared closure, she has received no wages. She has only one meal a day. When strong enough, she trudges to the river bed to break stones, for which she gets Rs.70 a week. For August 2015, she earned just Rs.150. The condition of her house is appalling, with virtually no walls. The wooden pillars to support the tin roof were also bought by her. When it rains, she squats with an umbrella inside the house, awake the whole night. Every day she walks 3 kilometres to fetch drinking water, and collects firewood from the forests nearby. Food, fuel and housing were all guaranteed in the past by the management.

This purgatory situation of semi-closure is patently illegal, but labour officials and trade unions have done little to hold the management and owners accountable. The State government has also not started wage work or restored health care, drinking water or electricity in worker habitations. In the inverse government morality of our times, States defend morally and legally culpable failures by wealthy plantation owners and their corrupt and inept managements. Workers are left defenceless, thrown to the edge of survival. 

Harsh Mander is a human rights worker, writer and teacher
(This article was originally published in The Hindu)

12 October 2015

Campaign On Alternative Politics Ends With Mock Hanging Of Traitors

The Osongothito Khetra Shramik Sangrami Mancha and Right to Food and Work Campaign- West Bengal jointly organized a mass gathering in Plassey in Nadia on October 9 at the end of their campaign that started on  September 26. The purpose of the campaign was to raise their voice in support of an alternative politics which makes the empowerment of the working class and their demands the moving force of politics and governance.

The campaign focuses on people’s rights and democracy. It calls for the unity of working people above caste, creed and religion. It aims to stop the rule of goons and demands the right to a life of dignity, which includes a universal guarantee for food, health, education, housing and work. A state-wide campaign program,e including motor cycle rallies, street corners, padayatras and mass contact programmes, along with distributing leaflets and posters, took place in different parts of Bengal, starting from September 26.

The participants began motorcycle rallies from the Assam border, Orissa border, Bangladesh border and Jharkhand border from October 1 and made their way to Krishnanagar after facing ruling party hooligans in Keshpur and police harassment in Baruipur on  October 8 .In the process, the campaign covered almost all 19 districts in West Bengal and travelled 1,300-1,400 km in the State.

On the following day, about 2,000 people, including 180 people who had been on the campaign trial, reached Plassey to identify the modern day Mir Jafars. Mir Jafar was originally responsible for India’s defeat at the hand of British at Plassey and is considered one of the great traitors in Indian history. For a symbolic protest, they gathered in a field near Plassey station and took part in a mock trial to penalise the modern day Mir Jafars.

Before the trial started, the leaders of the Mancha addressed the gathering. The Mancha consists of about 20 unions of unorganized sector, which is the largest and most deprived working sector of the country involving 94% of workers. Bela Adak President of PBKMS (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity) and Jagganath Das, General Secretary of Shramajivi Samanvay Committee spoke about the terror and discrimination faced by unorganised sector workers in their work place as well as homes. 

Anuradha Talwar, leader of PBKMS and Somnath Ghosh, leader of Hosiery Workers’ Union and convenor of the Manch, pointed out the success of the week-long campaign that took place in North Bengal in Doars where the tea garden owners had bowed to the demand of the workers for 20% bonus.

They also spoke of the success with which the participants in the rally had stood against ruling party terror at various places. Sanjay Poria, President and leader of West Bengal Civic Police Association, talked about their plight in not being appointed to the job which they rightfully deserved and the discriminatory behavior on the part of the police department. Sanjay has been under surveillance of the police and intelligence department for his organised protest against the injustice of the government to the civic volunteers. 

The civic volunteers are a huge number of unemployed  youth who have been provided with low wages and face dismissal and police brutality at the slightest attempt to protest about their terrible working conditions. On this day, following his speech, two police vans full of force reached the spot and there was tension that he might be arrested.

Following the speeches which ended with a great round of applause, the assembly participated in the mock trial to identify the modern traitors in politics. As the notion of alternative politics advocates for the right of people to dislodge the elected representatives from power if they are proved to be inefficient in working for the welfare of the people and to keep the elected representative under continuous monitoring, the assembly passed judgment on the basis of popular unanimity that the political leaders, administrators, bureaucrats, police and all the administrative officials had behaved treacherously with them.

Some of them played the role of political leaders, elected representatives, capitalists, bureaucrats and police while some were the people’s judges. The gathering agreed that these people had failed to perform their duty and they hade let the people down, therefore they deserved highest penalty. 

They also expressed their unanimous opinion to hang these modern day Mir Jafars and an act of mock death penalty was performed by hanging a straw effigy. The meeting ended with a pledge to fight these modern day Mir Jafars and to strengthen the unity of the working people.

09 October 2015

Rallies Join Forces For Final Day's Programme

On October 8, the penultimate day of the campaign by Asanghatit Shramik Sangrami Manch and the Right to Food and Work Campaign West Bengal, two rallies started from two seperate points- one from Pandua in Hooghly, and the other from Badu in North 24 Parganas.

The rally in Pandua met women’s groups in Kalna 1 , Kalna 2 and Pandua blocks, campaigning with them, mainly through small public meetings where women from self-help groups had organised street corner meetings . The meetings focused majorly on the issues of the non–implementation of NFSA . The women took a lot of initiative in making all these meetings a a success.

The rally from Badu was joined by strong contingents from Shramajivi Samanvay Committee and West Bengal Civic Police Association (WBCPA). The rally travelled through Nadia district and was hosted by the Chakdah Lorry Owners’ Association and Chakdah Bigyan O Sanskritik Sanstha. At a meeting at the lorry stand issues of environmental importance were brought up. 


A similar programme on the issue of indiscriminate cutting of trees and filling of ponds by racketeers was organised by Netaji Swamiji Ideal Youth Society at Shantipur, where the motorcycle rally was also taken throughout Shantipur town. In Krishnanagar, a similar road show was organised by friends from Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, along with street corner meetings at the DM's office and near the Post Office.

Two deputations – one to the BDO Shantipur, and the other to District Magistrate of Nadia district - were also undertaken to inform the Government about the Manch's demands.

The two rallies met and merged at Krishnanagar and will proceed towards Plassey on October 9, where a mock trial of modern day Mir Jaffars (traitors to the people’s causes) will he held tomorrow (October 9) from 10 a.m. to 12 noon at the field next to Plassey station, Nadia.

08 October 2015

State-wide Rally Photographs

State-wide Rally Update

October 4: Number of rallies increase to three
October 5: Rally attacked by ruling party goons at Keshpur
October 6: Mass meeting in Baruipur, South 24 Parganas
October 7: Rally from South 24 Parganas broken up by police
October 7: Agreement signed on Rally’s demand for 20% bonus for tea garden workers

  • Closed gardens owned by Duncans visited 
  • Deputations to District Magistrates in Purulia, Midnapore, Bankura and North 24 Parganas

On October 4, while the rally in North Bengal that had started its journey from the Assam border continued its campaigning in the tea gardens of the Doars, another rally started from the Orissa border with 20 motorcycles, a pick up van with microphone set and a jeep. There were about 75 people in this rally.

This rally was attacked at Keshpur block on October 5 by goons of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) late in the evening. We received reports from the morning of TMC goons gathering at various places to stop the rally, and we were also told by the villagers who were hosting us, that they had been warned against keeping us in their village for the night. Despite this, after successfully campaigning in Keshpur town, the villagers insisted that the rally come to their areas..

The rally had a police escort with it from the time it entered Keshpur. It headed for Bibekpur village in the neighbouring Anandapur PS At Gameria, a village from which the rally turned off the main road for Bibekpur village, a mob of 150 people, shouting slogans eulogising the TMC and Mamata Banerjee attacked the rally with an improvised bomb. The rally broke into two parts and one motorcycle with three riders was taken off the route by the mob. These three people were told to leave the area immediately by the mob. One of the – an old man of about 55 years – was also slapped. The police helped the rest of the rally bikes and the two vehicles to cross the area. Later the mob on about 25-30 motorcycles chased the rally till it reached Bibekpur village . Entry into the village was blocked by the police jeep and our jeep.

An hour of slogan shouting, calling us “Harmads” ( a word commonly used for CPM goons), followed. An inflammatory speech by a local TMC leader, Tanoy Dandpat, followed , with slogans of “Go Back”. The rallyists began informing the press and senior party leaders of the TMC. They contacted the DM also. Later, the Home Secretary was contacted by friends from Delhi. Within an hour or so, things calmed down.

The villagers who had disappeared into their houses during the terror slowly came out of their houses, brought lights for their guests and made arrangements for their stay. The primary school where the rallyists were to stay was locked up by the goons. Villagers were told that if anyone allowed the rallyists to sleep on their verandahs or in their houses , their houses would be looted the next day.A good dinner which was being cooked all the time the trouble was going on was served and we were helped to our beds. The next day, the villagers kept expressing fear about reprisals after we left. Three to four families from Keshpur reported that their shops had been forcibly shut down because of their involvement with the rally. We therefore went and lodged complaints with OCs of both police stations before leaving the area.

The rally covered an excruciating distance of almost 150 km from Bibekpur in Paschim Midnapore to Purba Khanpur Bamanpara. The roads were terrible, and the motorcyclists , many of whom have never travelled long distance found it exhausting. The journey seemed never-ending especially as a large part of it had to be covered in the dark.

An extra bonus was a tea stop at a village in Burdwan, where the local people began talking to the rallyists. Many were sympathetic and though it was almost 9 o’clock at night, a crowd gathered around. We managed to sell a number of the small booklets we had printed for the campaign

The North Bengal rally travelled through the closed Duncans gardens of Hantapara, Gairganda, Dumchipara, Tulsipara and Lankapara, expressing its solidarity with the starving people of the closed gardens on the 4th. They held a meeting with men and women from Lankapara tea garden, where they were hosted by the local unit of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, with the local Panchayat from GJM, Dumbar Tamang in the lead.

The rally was received at Birpara by Sunil, Secretary of the Birpara Taxi Union, who also organised snacks for the rallyists. In Chowpati, Birapara there was a street corner meeting. The idea of alternative politics and the demands of tea garden workers were explained in this meeting. After this meeting, the rally travelled through different tea gardens in Birpara, and Dhupguri and reached Champaguri bazar in the evening, where rallyists were again received by the local people and a meeting were organised by the local activists. Nearly 150 people were present in the meeting. Then, in the night, the rally headed for Neyaselli tea garden for the night stay. On October 5, the North Bengal rally covered Chalsa. Here in a public meeting Kiran Kalindi from PPWU and Sushovon Dhar from Osongohito Shromik Songrami Manch explained the demands of the campaign and the idea of alternative politics. 

After this, the rally campaigned in Batabari then Nowera Nudy Tea Gardens, both owned by the Tatas. The latter garden has recently been the site for a clash between workers belonging to the PPWU and some goons from the TMC. The clash was instigated by management to avoid discussion on the workers’ charter of demands the next day. Sixteen people from PPWU have a false case against them at the moment . The rally participants addressed this issue. The rally went around the tea garden and addressed a public meeting in the market. With this public meeting they ended their long journey of about 275 kilometres.

The rally from Orissa border had started from Ainkula in Dantan 1 block at 11:40 a.m. on October 4. On this day the rally campaigned through different blocks like Mohanpur, Dantan-1 and Dantan-2 and addressed public meeting on their way to Kharagpur. The campaign and speeches at Kharagpur evoked much interest. At Kharagpur , they visited seven villages in the area surrounding Changaul.

On October 4, a third rally where the motorcycles had started from the Jharkhand border joined the campaign. The next day, they gave a deputation to the District Magistrate  Purulia, and then proceeded towards Bankura, staying the night at Chhatna. On October 6, they joined rallyists in Bankura to meet the District Magistrate Bankura, while a cultural team performed outside the DM’s office. This rally travelled through extensive areas of Purulia, Bankura and Burdwan districts on October 4,5 and 6. They were pleased to find that people listened to their ideas of alternative politics and people’s rights. Our campaign on the non-implementation of National Food Security Act and NREGA was also well received. They finally met up with the rally from the Orissa border in a small village in Burdwan. The rally was now almost a kilometre long

Ironically despite all the attacks by party goons and the antipathy shown by TMC supporters to the red flags of the rally, the rally on October 6 was hosted at the house and village of the Food Minister Jyotipriya Mullick. His elder brother, Dr. Debopriyo Mullick made all the arrangements and also ensured our security.

On October 7, this huge rally met members of Udayani Social Action Forum at Masagram in Burdwan . A day-long campaign with members of the self-help groups in this area followed. Heavy rain and counting for the by-elections at the BDO office meant they could not make a deputation to the BDO at Pandua as planned earlier.

On October 7, the rally met with resistance from the police who broke up our state-wide campaign at Baruipur. The motorcycle rally was stopped early in the morning by police from the Baruipur Police Station, when they were about to proceed from the place where they had stayed on the night of October 5 at Sashan after a successful day of campaigning at Baruipur.
Motorcycles and the jeep which had the microphone that were being used for the campaign were not even allowed to get on to the road. The excuse given by the police has been that the motorcycle rally did not have “permission”. As far as we know, no such law exists banning motor cycle or other rallies or processions in South 24 Parganas district.

The police threatened to take away the papers of all the motorcycles and the pick-up with microphone that was with the rally. Police also insisted that banners be taken off and that the microphone be removed. All this is illegal and much beyond the powers that the police have.
It should be mentioned that the police, including DGP Police, and all concerned SPs from all districts through which the rally is passing were informed about the route of the rally, number of participants on motor cycles, stoppages, chief places of campaigning and major programmes on September 29, 2015. No information or feedback has been received from the police till date about the illegality of the programme. Also, the programme has been going on for six days without any such information.

On October 6, a rally also started from the Bangladesh border near Hasnabad in North 24 Parganas and travelled to Badu while campaigning on the way. The rally campaigned in Barasat the district headquarters the next day and gave a deputation to the District Magistrate.
It however did not enter the city of Kolkata as previously planned as there was fear that the police would seize their motorcycles as they had done at Baruipur that morning.

Today – on October 8- we are now proceeding towards Krishnanagar in Naida, where all rallies will meet to proceed to Plassey tomorrow for the culmination of the rally.

There has been good news in the meantime. Tea garden workers after completing the rally in their area came for negotiations to Kolkata on October 6 and 7 for their yearly bonus. This was the third round of negotiations.  Progressive Plantation Workers Union and the United Tea Workers Front managed to fight along with other unions for a 20% bonus and late at night the bonus agreement was signed.

07 October 2015

Police Disrupt Campaign at Baruipur

Asanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch condemns the unilateral police action on  October 6, 2015 to break up our state-wide campaign at Baruipur. The motorcycle rally was stopped early in the morning by police from the Baruipur Police Station, when they were about to proceed from the place where they had stayed the night before at Sashan after a successful day of campaigning at Baruipur.

Motorcyclists and the jeep which had the microphone that was being used for the campaign were not even allowed to get on to the road.  The excuse given by the police has been that the motorcycle rally did not have “permission”. As far as we know, no such law exists banning motorcycle or other rallies or processions in South 24 Parganas district.

The police threatened to take away the papers of all the motorcycle and the pick-up with microphone that was with the rally. They also insisted that banners be taken off and that the microphone be removed. All this is illegal and much beyond the powers that the police have.

It should be mentioned that the police, including DGP Police, and all concerned SPs from all districts through which the rally is passing, were informed about the route of the rally, number of participants on motorcycles, stoppages, chief places of campaigning and major programmes on September 29, 2015. No information or feedback has been received from the police till date about the illegality of the programme. Also, the programme has been going on for five days without any such information.

Coming just two days after the rallyists were attacked with bombs by TMC goons in Bibekpur village under Keshpur block (Paschim Midnapore), the situation reflects very poorly on the attitude of the Government and the ruling party towards the rights and demands of the unorganised sector, which form 97% of the workers in the state. This is more or less a continuation of the way in which the administration is neglecting demands of the Manch members for declaration and implementation of the living wages in all sectors, for creation of employment under MGNREGA, for immediate implementation of the National Food Security, for regularisation of the civic police volunteer force, for the right to organise trade unions, for 20% bonus for tea garden workers etc.

The Manch will now be organising a rally at Malda town on October 8. In addition, rallyists will be proceeding through Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Burdwan and Hooghly districts toward Palashi, where the final programme is to be held on October 9. We are apprehensive that similar attacks by the administration and goons who say they are from the ruling party could take place.
Swapan Ganguly, Somnath Ghosh (Convenors) 

05 October 2015

Campaign For Alternative Politics Gets Going From North Bengal

The Osanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch’s statewide campaign began on October 2 from Newlands Tea Garden near the Assam border. The campaign was formally started by Kiran Kalindi, president of the Progressive Plantation Workers Union (PPWU), with participation of about forty motorcycles, and about 90 people who set off for the rally. Many women workers from neighbouring tea gardens also arrived to send off the rally.

The main issue of the rally was the burning need for an alternative politics that is based on working people’s demands and needs. The rally also focused on four main local issues:
  • The unresolved issue of yearly bonus to the workers, for which negotiations are presently underway. Workers are demanding 20% while the employers association wants to get away with only 8.33% or at most 13.5% in most gardens
  • The pending issue of declaration of a minimum wage for tea workers by the State Government;
  • The long-standing demand of the workers for a right to their homes, as all of them are homeless and live on company land, always under threat of eviction
  • The illegal closure of the 16 gardens owned by Duncans , as well as the demand to re-open 7 other gardens.
A gate meeting on the above issues was organised at the Newlands factory. Soon after at about 3 p.m. the rally set off for Alipur Duar. At Alipur Duar, from seven till nine at night, the rallyists along with a pick-up and a microphone campaigned through the streets. A street corner meeting was also organised at one of the most important cross roads in Alipur Duar town. The rally was joined by APDR members and individuals from other Left parties like the SUCI and CPI(ML) Liberation. Also present were members of a local platform who focus on violence against women and members of other cultural organisations in Alipur Duar. The main organiser was Suman Goswami of APDR.

On October 3, the rally travelled to Kalchini, covering tea estates like Dima, Rajbhatkuwa, Atiabari, Mechpara, Chuapara , Kalchini, Raimatang etc. They were joined at Dima by 6 members of the Uttar Banga Banshramajivi Manch on motorcycles.

All throughout there was campaigning on the need for alternative politics and the 4 local demands. At Kalchini, again a street corner meeting was organised where, despite having given prior information to the police, the rally was stopped and warned against entering the next block till 5 p.m. as by-elections were going on there.  A police escort then joined the rally, without even being requested for.

The rally stopped for lunch and a meeting with local people at Chinchula Tea Gadren, where the members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists) organised lunch for the rallyists at their local Buddhist temple. A great festive air prevailed with colourful Buddhist prayer flags fluttering, and all the women workers and their families present. The unit secretary of Progressive Tea Workers Union joined the meeting, which was addressed by Baijnath Naik, General Secretary of the PPWU. Both spoke of taking up the issue of 20% bonus unitedly at the next bonus negotiation meeting on October 6.

The rally then travelled to Sishubari in Madarihat, starting at 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon. It covered Hashimari and gardens such as Varnabari on the way to Madarihat. With some minutes left for the 5 p.m. deadline, they were stopped by the Madarihat police, who insisted on their waiting for the 5 p.m. Election Commission deadline. After campaigning on the way, the rally ended at 6 p.m. at Shishubari, where the local unit of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity had organised a local school for their night stay and dinner and breakfast the next day.

01 October 2015

Statewide Campaign On Alternative Politics, October 1-9

The Battle of Plassey was an important event in the history of the British East India Company and subsequent military domination by imperialist British state over the people of this sub-continent by snatching away their social, political and economic independence.

The name of Plassey has been the hallmark of first defeat and thereby losing independence/freedom of 'India' to the British. Mir Jafar was one of the key persons held responsible for the defeat by many and his name is commonly associated with betrayal.

While avoiding debates around historical interpretations, Osanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch is ending its campaign symbolically at Plassey on October 9.

The purpose of the campaign, which has already started in some places, is to initiate a dialogue with people about the form politics is taking today and the need for an alternative politics. The voices and the demands of the workers must become the prime moving force in politics through their direct control and collective participation, with active vigilance over those whom we elect, who often sell our democracy and our country for their own selfish interests.

While in a number of areas the campaign has already started, taking the form of cycle rallies, padayatras and street corner meetings, from October 1-9, a motor cycle rally will be traveling all over Bengal. After starting from five corners of the state, namely the Assam border, the Bangladesh border, the Jharkhand border, the Orissa border and the Bay of Bengal, five rallies would meet at Plassey.

At Plassey, we plan to identify the modern day Mir Jafars and to pledge to start a new movement for freedom, especially freedom from wage slavery, at the spot where we identify and assume that we lost our independence.

Somnath Ghosh and Swapan Ganguly (Convenors)

Statewide Campaign On Right To Food And Work, Sept. 26 - Oct 9

Join State Wide Awareness Campaign Programme  from September 26 to October 9

The Demands:
Ø  A Food Security Act Guaranteeing Food For All
Ø  Work For Every Hand All Through The Year
Ø  A Living Wage For Everyone
Ø  Support to Food Production,
Ø  Acquire Food at Fair Support Prices, Increase Decentralized Storage Capacity
Ø  Immediate Implementation of Maternity Benefit of Rs.6000 given in the NFSA
Ø  Increase Allocations For All Food Security Programmes like ICDS, MDMS

The Right to Food and Work Campaign- West Bengal invites all of you to participate in its state-wide awareness programme. We are demanding immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). We have been especially amazed at the strange manner in which beneficiaries are being selected in West Bengal for the rations under NFSA. A month long programme for registration of names in August of those who had been left out of NFSA beneficiary lists turned out to be farcical.

There was limited public display of lists, though this was mandatory. Lists were in English and arranged in such a manner that people found it very difficult to find their names. Green forms and white forms for inclusion of names were unavailable in many places. As a crowning glory, the inclusion of new names will now be done after forms are verified by civic police volunteers in September and October. (The civic police volunteers are an ill paid, highly exploited, untrained group of Government workers who are more used to traffic control and law and order duties than activities involving identification of the hungry!!).

The demand that we want to raise through our campaign — stop this farce of beneficiary selection. Start immediate implementation of the NFSA. Ensure universal coverage for food.  When we look around at the beautification works in the State, we believe, surely our Government has money for a basic essential like food 

It is also not sufficient to have an Act that ensures distribution of food but does not ensure its production, its procurement or its storage. This year, 12 districts of West Bengal have experienced floods. Acres of paddy seedlings were just washed away. This flood will inevitably lead to a shortage of production of paddy and other crops. We are therefore demanding that the Government must take special measures to ensure that agriculture is protected and food production is encouraged. It must also ensure that food is procured in a decentralized manner and at fair prices.

We also want to raise the issue of gradual pull back in the MGNREGA. We are seeing the worst performance in the history of this scheme. Work is not being given , payments are delayed and wages are very low. We therefore demand work for all and a living wage for everyone.

The NFSA also has a provision for Rs.6000 as maternity benefit. This has not started anywhere, and there is neither any money allocated for it. Nor are there rules in place for implementation. To make things worse, programmes for women and children like ICDS and MDMS are seeing a huge cutback in funds. The Centre has drastically reduced its support for these programmes, but there is no surety that the State Government (though it has extra funds in its kitty) will step in to fill this gap.

Please join our awareness campaigns at various district towns and villages. We intend to cover 13 districts through our mass awareness on Government Social Security Schemes and the fundamental rights to food and work over the next few weeks.

25 September 2015

'No More Attacks On Civic Police'

Agreeing that all citizens of the country had the right to organise, the Additional District Magistrate General (ADM G) Malda said that there would not be any more police attacks on peaceful demonstrations of the civic police, when a delegation of six people from Asanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch met him on behalf of the civic police volunteers on 24th September 2015.

The delegation brought up three main issues - one that the police action on the assembly of 5,000 civic volunteers on September 14 had been brutal and without provocation. The police and RAF had prevented the volunteers from meeting the Superintendent of Police (SP), an appointment that they had been given many days in advance. In addition, they had chased the men and even women civic police volunteers for at least two kilometres from the site and badly beaten them. They had taken wounded people from the hospital and arrested them, they had forced doctors not to treat them – in other words, without any provocation they had gone far beyond their call of duty and had behaved inhumanely.

The second issue that the delegation stressed on was the sacking of 4,800 civic police volunteers. The SP Malda had arbitrarily set up a second panel of 4,800 volunteers and had used them to replace the first group of 4,800 civic volunteers. This was in contravention to a High Court order that the West Bengal Civic Police Association had got. It also contravened at least four circulars of the State Government which insist that no such replacements are to take place.

On both these issues the ADM G said he would be able to provide information after inquiries in a week’s time.

The third issue was the civic police volunteers’ right to organise. The delegation said this was the fourth attack on a peaceful assembly by the police. Civic police volunteers were also being victimised at their places of work for being members of the West Bengal Civic Police Volunteers Association. At this, the delegation was assured that no such attacks would take place in the future.

The deputation was followed by a convention which was attended by about 500 members of the West Bengal Civic Police Volunteers Association, many of whom had been lathi-charged and wounded just 10 days ago.

The meeting was presided by Pratip Nag. From amongst the civic police spoke Bijoli Mondal , Dipankar Ghosh, Sanjay Poria, Anjar Ali  and Bakhtar Hussain. AICCTU member Sk. Ibrahim and Hind Motor Sangrami Sramik Karmachari Union member  Sukanto Ghosh also addressed the meeting. Amongst others who spoke were the APDR  member Jishnu Ray Choudhuri and AWBSRU district secretary Subhojit Basak. Lawyers Goutam Mukherjee and Prabir Jha (Malda Bar Association President) who have extended legal aid to the Association members were also present. Anuradha Talwar spoke on behalf of the Asanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch and New Trade Union Initiative.

The Convention resolved to organise a delegation and a dharna in Kolkata in the next week as well as participate in the statewide rally and public campaign being organised by the Manch.

24 September 2015

Ignoring Hunger Document Link

This is the link to the .pdf document on the plight of the Duncans tea garden workers in North Bengal titled Ignoring Hunger

23 September 2015

Call For Protest In Malda

A number of organisations, including the members of the Osonghotit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch, are organising a protest at Malda town, Sanaullah Manch at 1.30 p.m. on September 24, 2015.  The protest will be preceded by a deputation to the District Magistrate at 12 noon. The protest is against police brutality and against the attack on the internationally accepted and constitutional right to organise.  

On September 14, 2015, members of the West Bengal Civic Police Association of Malda district, including state president Sanjoy Poria, assembled near Rathbari More, Malda Town to give deputation to the SP of Malda district. They were brutally attacked by the police and RAF and even passers-by were not spared. The meeting is being organised to protest against this incident and other atrocities on the civic police volunteer force.

Participating in the protest along with members of the Manch will be members of APDR, All West Bengal Sales Representative Union, and many other mass organisatiosn , along with local intellectuals and lawyers.

Swapan Ganguli, Somnath Ghosh (Convenors) 

14 September 2015

Civic Volunteers Attacked

We strongly protest the illegal arrest, harassment and brutal lathi-charge of West Bengal Police administration against the Civic Volunteers in particular and unorganised sector workers as a whole.

The members of West Bengal Civic Police Association of Malda district, including state president Sanjoy Poria, assembled near Rathbari More, Malda Town to give deputation to the SP of Malda district today. Prior to this they informed the SP, DM, and IC of English Bazar Police Station of today’s programme.  

The Malda police administration refused to reinstate the Civic Volunteers of  Malda district. In spite of the fact that the GO no. 2573-PL/PB/3P-31/12 dated28/07/15 of special secretary of West Bengal clearly mentioned that only the old list of Civic Volunteers have to be enrolled for the re-appointment of Civic Volunteers.

The dismissed Civic Volunteers of Malda wrote letters to the respective Police Stations, protesting the administration to give deputation to SP with prior intimation. After they assembled, without any reason the police brutally lathi-charged causing severe injury to 75 civic volunteers and arrested more than 65 Civic Volunteers and confined them in English Bazar Police Station. 

Many of them severely beaten up by the police and became seriously ill. They were taken to the Hospital. The West Bengal Civic Police Association is a member of the 'Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha'. The mancha protests and condemns the illegal arrest, brutal lathi-charge, and harassment of civic volunteers by the police administration We demand:
  1. Immediate release of all the arrested Civic Volunteers.
  2. Immediate reinstatement of dismissed Civic Volunteers following the GO no. 2573-PL/PB/3P-31/12 dated28/07/15 of special secretary of West Bengal and  Hon'be Calcutta High Court Order.
  3. Stop harassment and vicitimisation of Civic Volunteers.
  4. Ensure guarantee of constitutional right of 'Right to Association'.
  Swapan Ganguly, Somenath Ghosh (Convernors)

North Bengal Tea Workers Face Humanitarian Crisis

A strange situation has arisen in North Bengal — 15 tea estates owned by one the premier companies in tea, Duncans Industries Private Limited, are in a state of limbo. They are neither closed nor open in the usual sense of the terms, with frightening consequences for the workers on the estates. This situation has added one more chapter to the shameful history of hunger in the tea industry. A report on the situation there entitled “Ignoring Hunger:Report on the Situation In Duncans Tea Estates in North Bengal” is being released for the public.

Earlier on September 8, 2015, the Special Commissioner of the Supreme Court on Right to Food after visiting the gardens wrote to the Chief Secretary, West Bengal Government, asking for immediate steps for relief to the workers. He wrote that “the illegal and undeclared stoppage of wage payments and ration payments in the Duncan gardens has resulted in enormous food distress and livelihood distress, as well as considerable hardship to the workers and their families.”  So far, we are not aware of any effective response by the West Bengal Government.

The report shows that closure (or semi-closure) of Duncans’ estates in North Bengal is becoming a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Over 75,000 people have been affected. Two cases of deaths probably due to hunger were also found during the study.  Immediate measures need to be taken by the State Government. There has been drastic decline in earnings and consequent severe deterioration in diets. If we add to this the crisis in drinking water in the estates, along with the total collapse of medical care, we seem near a disaster situation.

The State Government has played a negative role in this crisis by ignoring several important lapses by the Duncans management, such as non-renewal of leases to the garden land, non-payment of dues and rations to workers, not depositing Provident Fund money etc. It has in fact turned a blind eye to several illegal acts of the management.

With no realistic plan being put forward by the management to re-open the gardens, the State Government must step in with short term relief measures, which it is obliged to do under the Supreme Court orders on the Right to Food such as an immediate distribution of GR, followed by regular distribution of rations; opening of MGNREGA works and immediate clearing of all due wages under the MGNREGA; extension of medical facilities through mobile medical camps; ensuring safe drinking water supply for the workers etc.

The State Government must also take measures to ensure that the management immediately opens the gardens and runs them properly. In the absence of such initiative by the management, it must begin the search for new owners, after cancelling leases where necessary. It must also ensure that the dues of the workers are paid by the management so that workers do not have to suffer because of the callousness of the employer.

For Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal