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

01 September 2015

Tea Workers Receive Pitiable Wages

The round table meeting on wages in tea sector held at Siliguri on wages in the tea sector organised by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and the Progressive Plantation Workers Union (PPWU) expresses utter concern at the extremely pitiable wages and working conditions of the workers of this sector.

Participants at the meeting included prominent civil society activists like Harsh Mander and Binayak Sen, academicians like Professor Sharit Bhowmik, earlier with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and prominent trade unionists like Ashim Roy and the leadership and other members of DTDPLU, PPWU, WBTGEA, NBTPEU, PBKMS and others.

It was noted that despite growing domestic demand for tea backed up with rising prices, the employers’ stubborn refusal to pay decent wages is bring this labour intensive industry to a grave crisis. It is strange to note that in spite of lower productivity and product prices, wages in South India are much higher, ranging from Rs.206 to Rs.254. However, wages in North India, with higher productivity and tea prices has only a wage of Rs.158 (proposed in West Bengal) and Rs.177 (Assam’s draft notification).

The meeting discussed other factors degrading workers like rampant violations of the Plantation Labour Act, productivity linked wages, the setting of arbitrary tasks, incentives and disincentives and how these were making it almost impossible for many workers to earn even the industry level wage fixed by collective bargaining.

Another issue that was touched upon was that of the expansion of small growers and bought leaf factories and the absence of any kind of regulatory framework for workers in such units. The adverse impact of small growers on prices as well as quality of tea, and subsequently the impact on workers’ wages were noted.

The issue of Duncans management jeopardising the lives of 74,190 people who were living in the gardens, including the families of 18,323 workers was noted with serious apprehension. The State Government was however equally to blame for turning a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating situation in these gardens and for not taking steps against the management. It was clear that starvation was setting in, in these gardens.

The meeting decided to put forward a common consensus letter to the State Government critiquing their draft of Rs. 158 as minimum wages. It was also decided to seek amendments to the Plantation Labour Act in at the national level. More locally, leadership training programmes for garden level leadership on the issue of wages have been planned. An intensive study of the task-productivity-incentive system has also been planned to critique the same and come up with alternatives.

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, 1 Shibtala Road, Vill Maheswarpur, Badu, Kolkata
Progressive Plantation Workers Union, PO Nagrakata, PS Nagrakata, Dist, Jalpaiguri