28 January 2021

Women demand proper functioning of self help groups

SMS leads a demonstration in South 24 Parganas demanding adherence to guidelines in the functioning of self help groups

Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) and Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) organized a demonstration in front of the Kultuli block office in the district of South 24 Parganas office and a blockade to protest against the irregularities in the functioning of self help groups nurtured by the block administration. Grievances of our members were not redressed despite repeated submission of deputations and letters. The block administration has failed to honour its commitment to the people and has refused to act on the complaints submitted time and again by the whistleblowers of self help groups who had to bear the brunt of corrupt practices perpetuated by the elected committee(s) in connivance with the circle coordinator of the block. 'Sanghas' or village organizations are not following the guidelines in their transactions and the committee(s) are taking unilateral decisions without informing the members. We have written to the district administration and also to the Dept. of Panchayats and Rural Development, Govt. of West Bengal but no administrative action could be noticed to address our concerns. The women have finally decided to display their strength and resolve to the apathetic block administration and will be relentless in their efforts to ensure that justice is delivered to the scores of women who have been denied their rightful share in the decision making process(s) of these women led bodies.   
Women activists leading the demonstration in Kultuli, South 24 Parganas

We demand the assurance of accepting the following demands:
  • Immediate elections to the 'sanghas' should be called in the gram panchayats of Bhubaneshwari, Gopalganj, Maipith and Meriganj.
  • Accounts of the 'sanghas' from 2016 to the present day should be made available to the SHG members and the public at large
  • Organizing periodic Annual General Meetings (AGMs) with proper dissemination of information concerning the venue and time of the same.
  • Suitable action against the circle coordinator and CSP-Bank Linkage for non adherence to guidelines and indulging in corrupt practices
  • Enquiry into the practice of extorting money to accept loan applications from SHG(s)

 Women raising slogans during the 'gherao' of the block office

After demonstrating for the whole day, the concerned Block Development Officer has promised a follow-up meeting on 30th January, 2021 with himself as mediator with five women from the cooperative board (whom the women accuse of corruption) and five members of SMS.

27 January 2021

7th Purulia District Convention

 PBKMS Purulia unit organizes the 7th District Convention in Puncha block

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) organizes the convention of the Purulia unit in one of its oldest field areas in the district, the Puncha block under Manbazar subdivision. Purulia has been one of the first districts to have welcomed us three decades back when our independent trade union began to take shape to take up the struggles for the working class in rural West Bengal. It is still one of the largest district units of PBKMS with more than 25000 active members. Irregularities in disbursing people's entitlements under the Public Distribution System and access to work under the state sponsored public works programme (MGNREGA, 2005) are routinely taken up by the organization along with struggles to uphold the constitutional rights of the people.

Comrade Narayan Mahato, senior PBKMS activist addressing the convention

PBKMS and SMS members assembling to hear the address of the senior leadership 

The convention has witnessed the participation of about 150 delegates from 13 block units of our trade union. Senior state committee members of the organization including the General Secretary, Comrade Uttam Gayen attended the convention along with senior activists from the district. The convention was presided over by Comrade Swapan Bauri, the Secretary of Purulia District and the activities of the organization over the past one year was presented. The need to be vigilant against the divisive political forces and the true essence of the constitution of our secular, socialist republic featured in the address to the Purulia convention by our senior leadership.  

Comrade Swapan Ganguly addressing the convention

25 January 2021

10th State Convention of PBKMS

A large delegation taking a pledge to join hands in working for the emancipation of the working class in the 10th State Convention of PBKMS

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), one of the largest independent non-party political trade unions for small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers organized its 10th State Conference from 23rd January, 2021 to 24th January, 2021 at Badu Collective, Madhyamgram. The senior leadership and state committee members were present along with more than 250 members of the organization from more than 12 districts across West Bengal. Some of the photographs captured by our media team have been shared below:

The Badu Collective being decked up with red flags of the union and banners proclaiming the state convention

Hoisting of the national flag by a senior woman activist of PBKMS

Hoisting of the flag of PBKMS by one of the senior most members of the union

Comrade Swapan Ganguly presenting the report to the delegates

Women activists led by Comrade Namita Halder singing revolutionary songs in the convention

20 state committee members assembling after elections in the convention

Comrade Pratip Nag, trade union leader and social activist addressing the delegates

Stalls selling booklets on contemporary issues and handwoven clothes

22 January 2021

PBKMS announces its 10th State Convention at Badu Collective, Madhyamgram

District and block units of PBKMS assemble for the convention amidst the upcoming West Bengal assembly elections

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), one of the largest independent trade unions for agricultural workers and farm workers in India organizes the 10th State Convention in the sprawling campus of the Badu Collective. On 23rd and 24th January, 2021 members and activists across West Bengal will assemble for the state convention to discuss and deliberate on organizational issues and the general state of affairs in the state. The organization has always been at the forefront in upholding the constitutional rights of the people and advocating for effective implementation of rights based implementation(s). Against the backdrop of the upcoming assemble elections in West Bengal, we have begun our mass contact programmes to drive awareness about the relevance of issues affecting the working class and the apathy of the political leadership in taking them up. 'জলে কুমির, ডাঙায় বাঘ: এবার আমরা কি করবো?' (we are in a situation where we are finding ourselves in between the devil and the deep blue sea) is a call given by us to express the latent anger of the working class amidst the apathy and misplaced priorities of the political dispensation wherein political parties cutting across party lines are failing to address the concerns of the people. The recently ratified farm laws and the labour laws point clearly towards the intention of the central government which has taken a vow to erode the rights of small and marginal farmers, workers and people associated with the unorganized sector. The state government of West Bengal has also not adequate steps to ensure access to food, nutrition, housing, health, quality education and livelihood opportunities for the people. We are attempting to sustain a social media campaign to highlight important concerns of the people to enable the masses in taking an informed decision during the upcoming state assembly elections.   

From the tea gardens of North Bengal to the 'Amphan' affected coastal districts of South Bengal, we are relentlessly bringing up the issues affecting the working class and the vulnerable sections of the society. The proper functioning of the Public Distribution System and the public works programme in rural areas have been ensured in the numerous field areas across the state by our activists and members. Monitoring of existing grievance redressal systems and advocating for community led monitoring systems feature amongst one of the core activities of our field units.

Poster circulated widely on the announcement of our 10th state convention at Badu

The convention will witness presentation of various reports by the respective committees and deliberations on issues that require the immediate attention of the organization. We will be charting out our future roadmap and putting forward our demand charter along with resolutions to extend our solidarity with ongoing people's movements on numerous issues in different parts of the country. 

18 January 2021

PBKMS and SMS in the Women Kishan-Mazdoor Vidhan Sabha

Our women members join thousands in a historic assembly of women farmers and labourers in Kolkata 

The Women Kishan Mazdoor Vidhan Sabha held in Kolkata today saw an enthusiastic participation from thousands of women farmers and labourers which led to the passing of 9 resolutions to establish rights of women over natural resources, access to adequate nutrition and effective steps against inequality in wages and social discrimination. Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) marched from various locations to the meeting and took part actively in the proceedings. The public meeting with presentations of revolutionary songs culminated in a huge rally with burning torches marking a decisive phase in people's struggles against anti-working class policies of the central government.

Women in a rally to join the Vidhan Sabha in Kolkata

Women members of PBKMS take part in a rally before joining the public meeting

Numerous rallies joining in Dharmatala to participate in the Vidhan Sabha

Call for action given out by senior activists of SMS

Our members at the venue taking part in passing the resolutions on women and the working class

13 January 2021

'Natok Kora Baad De, Bhukha Pete Bhat De'

  Stop Gimmicks, Give Us Our Right to Food

The Right to Food and Work Network-West Bengal 

(RTFWN- WB) is amazed by the hypocrisy of the 'Ek Muthi Chawal' that the BJP has launched on 9.1.2021, with their President Shri Nadda begging for a fistful of rice from farmer households. News reports say that the rice will ultimately be used to start community kitchens to feed the hungry. Shri Nadda is the president of a party that controls the Central Government and that is sitting on 512.94 lakh metric tonnes of food grains. With Kharif procurements still going on we can only expect this to rise even further in the next few days. Does he or his party really need to collect fistfuls of rice to feed the people of Bengal or, for that matter, the entire country? All his party has to do is to extend the free rations programme that was started under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) during the lockdown and that was abruptly stopped after November 2020.

People waiting to collect ration from a Fair Price Shop during the nationwide lockdown in West Bengal. Source: News India Express 

Under this program, each cardholder under NFSA, amounting to 60189384 persons or 67% of West Bengal’s population was receiving 5 kgs of free food grains per month and later 1 kg of pulses per family per month. The plight of people has remained dismal so, far after the lock down and the down turn in the economy, so one cannot fathom the reason for the Central Government’s discontinuation of free rations. The Hunger Watch Study whose interim results were published on the eve of International Human Rights Day on 9th December 2020 show people all over the country are suffering from severe shortage of food. In West Bengal, where the RTFWN- WB conducted a study amongst 2906 families from 20 districts of the state in October and November, the situation, even when free food grains were available under PMGKAY, was grim.

Compared to the pre-lock down period, the percentage of families who had to miss meals had doubled. 18.74% reported going to bed hungry in the last 30 days while 45% families had to borrow money to buy food. 60-70 % of the respondents reported decreased consumption of cereals, pulses and vegetables, while 80.3% reported a decrease in consumption of eggs, meat and fish. 26% expected the situation to deteriorate even further in the next six months. It would therefore be good if Shri Nadda would stop his charade of begging for rice to feed the hungry. If he is interested in removing hunger and not just in getting votes, he should get his Prime Minister to release the mountains of food grains that are lying in the godowns to feed the hungry. An additional reason given for this program is that the BJP intends to meet farmers and explain their new farm laws to them. This is another farce- why not talk first to the farmers who are sitting at your doorstep in Delhi? A government or party that wants to show that it cares for and listens to farmers would do well to negotiate first with those freezing in Delhi’s cold. It would do well to also look at the MSPs it declares for paddy- most farmers find them unprofitable in West Bengal and prefer open market sale to selling at the measly rates declared by the Central Government.

In this season of gimmicks, we also have the Duare Sarkar program of the ruling TMC in West Bengal. The Government suddenly has come to our doorsteps just before the elections, while it has been at best ignoring us, and at worst stealing from us for most part of the two terms that the TMC has been in power. Not only that, the State Government has made light of redressal mechanisms that exist in the laws – the Food Commission under the National Food Security Act is still unformed despite 7 years of the Act; the Information Commission under the Right Information Act is practically non-functional3 ; the Employment Guarantee Council under the NREGA exists in name only; district level Grievance Redressal Officers under the National Food Security Act are unheard of; despite fixed times for dealing with complaints and providing entitlements and services under various laws, delay and obfuscation are the responses to people who go to the door step of the Government. Our appeal to political parties in the run up to elections is- stop the gimmicks; instead, listen to the people’s problems and come up with structural and permanent solutions. For starters restart the PMGKAY for a minimum of another six months. 



https://fci.gov.in/stocks.php?view=46 2 https://wbpds.wb.gov.in/RCCount_District.aspx 2

Block and District Conventions and call for action

Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Purulia units organize conventions to highlight local issues and declare the social action programme(s) of PBKMS

The district units of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) has organized block conventions to take up pressing issues faced by the local population and extensive discussions on the future course of action were held. General issues faced in accessing work under MGNREGA, 2005 and inadequacies in the Public Distribution System were also highlighted. The senior leadership of the organization participated in the conventions and the systemic apathy towards the interests of the working class featured in the speeches built up on the anti-working policies ratified by the central government.

A block convention in Tehetta-2 block of Nadia district was held on 10th January, 2021 which witnessed an enthusiastic participation of our members, well wishers and partner organizations.   

Block Convention in Tehetta-2, Nadia

Comrade Uttam Gayen, General Secretary of PBKMS addressing the gathering in Tehetta-2, Nadia

The following demands were raised in the Tehetta-2 block convention:
  • Immediate operationalization of the 'Choto Naldaha' hospital
  • Disbursal of notified NREGA daily wage of ₹204
  • Provision of work for every NREGA job card holder
  • Disbursal of unemployment allowances on not providing work under NREGA within 15 days of submission of work demand applications
  • Taking effective steps to curb corrupt practices in Public Distribution System 
  • Extending pension to all widows and senior citizens
  • Exemplary action against erring public officials found to be involved in fraudulent practices
A convention took place in Hura block of Purulia district on 7th January, 2020. Extensive discussions on the farm legislations and below subsistence levels of distribution of food grains through the Public Distribution System were held.
Block Convention in Hura, Purulia

Comrade Swapan Ganguly, Founding Member of PBKMS addressing the gathering in Hura, Purulia

The district convention of North 24 Parganas took place on 9th January, 2020 and a call to participate in the farmer protest meets across the state was given by the senior leadership.  

The District Convention of North 24 Parganas

Comrade Rashid Baidya, the District President of PBKMS addressing the gathering 

Women members turn up in large numbers for the convention

Later in the week, we have seen large participation of members of PBKMS and Sharamajivee Mahila Samity in the numerous farmer protests and sit-in demonstrations held across West Bengal and especially in Kolkata. Symbolic protests and burning of the farm bills have been organized in various places to extend solidarity with our farmers battling an inclement weather and an unresponsive central government near the borders of Delhi.