20 May 2017

Right to Food Campaign Rejects Cuts To Maternity Benefits In Food Act

The Right to Food Campaign expresses deep disappointment over the truncated Maternity Benefits Programme (MBP) that was approved by the Cabinet yesterday. Maternity benefits of at least Rs. 6000 for all pregnant and lactating women (except those working in government/public sector undertakings) have been a legal entitlement for almost four years now, guaranteed under the National Food Security Act (NFSA, 2013).  

Despite this, there was no scheme formulated to deliver this entitlement by the central government. Only the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) a pilot scheme in 53 districts continued to be implemented. The Prime Minister in his speech on December 31st announced expansion of maternity benefits to all districts without making any reference to the NFSA. Since then there have been indications that there will be a number of exclusions, a fear expressed by the RTFC as well in response to the underfunding of the scheme as reflected in the annual budget.  

The cabinet approved MBP goes against the letter and spirit of the NFSA. Firstly, it is restricted to only the first birth. There is no justification for this other than keeping the financial obligations to the minimum. All conditionalities attached to the current IGMSY scheme such as two child norm and age of marriage have been shown to be fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children affecting the most marginalised and vulnerable women large from socially discriminated communities such as SC, ST and minorities putting their lives to risk. In the process of universalisation rather than withdrawing all conditionalities from IGMSY, the new scheme makes it even more restrictive.  

In another unwarranted move, the MBP has also been linked to institutional deliveries, possibly to further reduce the funds allocated, and therefore merged with the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY). The JSY is an older scheme that was started with an entirely different purpose which was to incentivise institutional deliveries whereas the MBP is intended to provide wage compensation, just as it does in the formal sector and has been included in the NFSA as a minimum of Rs 6000 for that purpose alone. Based on data from the latest National Family Health Survey, 21% of children born at home are already ineligible for JSY.

The Maternity Benefits Act (MBA) was recently amended to expand the maternity leave from 17 weeks to 26 weeks. While this was a welcome move, the MBA covers only about 18 lakh women in the organised sector whereas over 2.7 crore deliveries take place in India each year. The maternity benefits act does not include in its ambit more than 95% of women in the country who are in the informal sector. When the requirement of six months of paid leave has been accepted for women in the formal sector (public and private), it is unacceptable that a wage compensation of less than half of minimum wages, that too only for one birth should be the norm for the rest of the women in the country. In fact, the modest maternity entitlements under MBP are barely equivalent to five weeks of minimum wages in Bihar [compared to the more than 6 months of paid leave offered in the formal sector]. Such meagre wage compensation in light of the amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, would in fact amount to discrimination and inequality of law under article 14 of the constitution.

The campaign demands universal, unconditional maternity entitlements equivalent to wages for a minimum of six months at no less than the prevailing minimum wages. Maternity entitlements must be seen as a right for all women and also as wage compensation for those in the unorganised sector.

19 May 2017

Bhangar: Press Conference Invitation

In a shocking situation in West Bengal, where the TMC and their Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee came to power on the back of struggles against forcible land acquisition, the ruling party has unleashed unprecedented repression on a movement in Bhangur against similar forcible land acquisition. People of the villages Khamarait, Machhibhanga, Tona, Gazipur etc. in Polerhat 2 No. Panchayat in Bhangar Assembly Constituency, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal are facing desperate situation due to the Government decision to situate a Power Grid (440/220 KV) in that area.

Two people have been killed in police firing, 33 people are in jail, over 40 people have been charged with terror charges under UAPA, and almost the entire population of about 20 villages (men, children and women) have been charged with a number of falsely fabricated non-bailable offences, including eminent activists working for justice through a West Bengal level solidarity committee. An unofficial economic blockade has been declared with any person leaving the village being arrested. Despite repeatedly asking for dialogue, the Government is refusing to talk to the affected people.

In order to bring national attention to this struggle, we are organising a press conference on the on 5th May 2017 at 1.30 PM at the Women’s Press Corps office, 5 Windsor Place, New Delhi 110001.

The people addressing the press conference are Justice RajinderSachar, former Chief Justice Delhi High Court, KN Ramachandran, General Secretary, CPI(ML) Red Star, Dipankar Bhattacharya General secretary CPI(ML) Liberation, Anuradha Talwar, representative of Bhangur Andolan Sanhati (Solidarity) Committee, Achin Vanaik , writer and academic , Amit of Majdur Kranti Parishad,Sanjay Parikh, Supreme Court counsel and PUCL vice president, Bittu Convenor WSS, and Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union of Civil Liberties.

Thousands March For Right To Food

Undaunted by the heat and the sun, with temperatures reaching 400C, members of the Right to Food and Work Campaign-West Bengal reached Kolkata on April 27 for a deputation to the Food and Supplies Department. Those participating came from the Himalayan foothills of North Bengal, the islands of the Sunderbans, the burning red laterite soil of western West Bengal, the areas bordering Bangladesh and the green plains surrounding the Hooghly. Those in the processions ranged from sex workers to midday meal cooks, agricultural workers to van rickshaw pullers, housewives to members of self-help groups, domestic servants to tea garden workers etc. 

This huge group of over 5,000 people from 16 districts of the State, along with the urban poor of Kolkata, sent a delegation that met the Secretary Food and Supplies Department, Mr Durga Das Goswami and Joint Secretary and Nodal Officer (for the National Food Security Act), Mr Shubra Chakraborty. Their response was as follows:

Measures would be taken by the Department to segregate Government and tea management rations so that the management does not cheat tea garden workers by replacing its food grain component of wages-in-kind with Government rations.

The Department was already considering the Campaign’s demands to give wheat instead of bad quality atta. It was also in the process of issuing a circular to ensure that the five different types of cards are not used unfairly and to stop many poor families being enlisted as RKSY 2 and many better off families being given Antodaya cards. 

The delegation was assured that Vigilance and Monitoring Committees would be formed and made functional soon and representation from Campaign members in these committees would also be ensured.

The officials said that allotment copies of the amount of food grains transferred to each ration dealer would be provided to the members of the campaign. For this purpose, the delegation was asked to give a list of names with phone numbers in every block to whom they would give the allotment copy. Also the SMS system to provide ration card holders with information about their allotments would be re-started.

Issues such as universalization of the rationing system, formation of the Food Commission, bringing all food schemes under the Food Security Rules and providing all ration card holders with 14kgs of food grains, 1.5 kg pulses, 800 ml edible oil and 1 litre kerosene oil at subsidized prices were policy issues which they would forward to their superiors.

While the Department felt that the PoS machine could be used to stop corruption, they agreed to look at the Campaign’s experience in other states and to see that PoS machines and Aadhar cards do not become a means of exclusion.

The delegation was assured that on giving specific experiences, all food grains due to beneficiaries from their past quotas in the rationing system would be immediately disbursed to the beneficiaries;

The participants from 17 districts came to the Subodh Mullick Square in two rallies from Howrah Station, and Sealdah station. Throughout the rallies their main slogan was “Work in every hand and Food in every plate”, interspersed with songs and dances. 

While the original intention was to go to Khadya Bhawan itself, the police stopped the rallies at SM Square, where many participants made speeches in support of the demands while a delegation of 7 people met the Minister’s representatives.

Amongst the participating organisations, who are all members of the Campaign, were Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, Shramajeevi Mahila Samity, Udayani Social Action Forum’s self help group members, TUCC, Swayam’s Nari Suraksha committees, Durbar Disha Griha Paricharika Union, Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, BMCDM etc.
JANA SANGHATI KENDRA,1 Shibtala Road,Maheswarpur, Badu, Kolkata 700128