Cyclone Calamity in West Bengal

Nityananda Ghosh

Normal life in the Sunderbans has been totally paralyzed, it being the worst-hit by the Cyclone Aila. Even thirty days after the Aila devastation in this delta there is no sign of progress in restoring normalcy although good gestures are prevailing among the cadres of few political parties and voluntary groups engaged in relief work. Most parts of the devastated area of this delta had till now have been cut off from the rest of the world. More or less all the embankments have been broken, flooding the homes of the rural poor. The fragile ecology too has been badly affected, resulting in tremendous loss of biodiversity in this delta. Scientists are apprehending fifteen per cent loss of mangrove vegetation. As a consequence the food chain of this delta’s ecosystem will be damaged and the dwellers of Sundarbans will face severe crises to maintain their livelihood both at present and future.
At present lakhs of marooned people are homeless, jobless, shelter-less and they are spending sleepless nights without food, drinking water, medicines and other civic amenities. The Aila’s ravages in 54 islands in the Sundarbans, inhabited by over 40 lakh people, are unprecedented. According to unofficial sources Aila has claimed more than 300 human lives and there is huge loss of cattle and other animals of Sunderbans but the LF Government has yet to give an official estimate. Not only the parts belongs to North & South 24 Parganas, some parts of Bangladesh too are badly affected. The influx of population from Sunderbans to the adjoining semi towns of these districts has already reached its zenith. The lack of pure drinking water, easily available medicines and food has rendered the people vulnerable to the outbreak of enteric diseases. The LF Govt.'s callous and partisan attitude in relief distribution coupled with poor supervision has fuelled people’s anger. Angry over the government’s shoddy relief, people of cyclone-affected areas of Gosaba vented their anger when the Chief Minister visited the block to take stock of relief operations. The CM had to face widespread resentment and anger during his visit, and even the block development officer of Gosaba, Amiyo Bhushan Chakraborty, was manhandled by the affected villagers as soon as the CM left the place. The CM faced further humiliation when he visited Hingalgunge on June 1. The local CPI(M) MLA, Mr. Gopal Gayen was roughed up in a relief camp, where the CM was later bombarded with uncomfortable questions. 
The CPI(ML), AICCTU, People's Health, Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) and other democratic organisations and clubs of North & South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Howrah & Hooghly have organised relief camps in the worst affected areas of both North & South 24 Parganas. CPI(ML)’s Jadavpur-Dhakuria Area Committee began distributing relief on 3-4 June 2009 in the Sunderbans adjacent to Gosaba and Basanti of South 24 Parganas. On 10 June RYA and AICCTU along with the members of People's Health visited Sahebkhali of Sundarbans near Hasnabad, North 24 Parganas and distributed truckloads of dry food, water, clothes and medicines. A 25-member team with the help of motor boat halted at several points and distributed reliefs and the doctors opened camp to treat the affected villagers. East Kolkata medical camp in collaboration with People's Health have jointly organised medical camps at Hingalgunge, North 24 Parganas from 5-10 June 2009. Six doctors with the help of their attendants treated 3,000 cyclone Aila-affected villagers. They too have distributed milk packets, drinking water pouches and medicines to the affected people of Charalkhali, Sahebkhali, Gobindaghati, Panchapally, Pukuria areas of Hingalgunge.
Kolkata Nagarik Samannay in association with APC Polytechnic's alumni association visited Kumirmari, the worst affected area of Gosaba and beyond to distribute relief. The 18-member team distributed clothes for the children, packets of rice, dal and salt. They have distributed relief among the villagers of Aatapur, Taltala, Bhasarkhali, Lebukhali, Sahebkhali, Madhupur, Roymangal, Khulna-Hatkhola, Gopalerghat, Chimta, Ramapur, Sarkarpara.
The party, as well as mass organisations, student, youth, doctors, will continue with the relief efforts and stand by the people in the face of the terrible calamity.    q

People’s Health’ Seminar in Kolkata

Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen recently visited Kolkata responding to an initiative taken by People’s Health. They addressed the Calcutta press at Calcutta Press Club on 29th May. Dr. Binayak Sen’s two year long unlawful detention in a Chattisgarh jail ended on 25th May. “I want to resume my unfinished work as early as possible,” he said. “I could finally come out of jail but many colleagues and comrades of mine are still in Chattisgarh jails on fictitious charges – we have a long fight due for their unconditional release.”
Dr. Debasish Dutta, President, People’s Health, initiated the press conference by introducing Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen as pioneering figures in the people’s health movement who have been working for the last three decades in different corners of India where the Indian State has been absent completely in providing even the basic medical care. Dr. Sen was arrested on 14 May 2007 by Chattisgarh government on the charges of sedition, accused of being a Maoist conspirator.
People’s Health organised a seminar on 30 May on ‘Whither People’s Health’ and dedicated the seminar to the efforts of Dr. Binayak Sen. Speakers from different parts of India spoke at the seminar. Dr. Kaustav Roy presented an audio-visual documentation to expose the underdevelopment in primary health care services. He shows that some diseases which we assumed nearly extinct from the world are coming back, often in the form of epidemic. The last UPA govt, Dr. Roy says, closed down three public owned factories which were there to produce a few crucial vaccines. The govt offered the tender to private companies and they supply low quality medicine at unusually high prices.
Swati Bhattacharya, researcher and journalist, focused on the poor scenario of primary health care services for women in West Bengal. According to the statistics, 57% of the pregnant women in WB are deprived of primary health care during child-birth. Dr. Sudip Chakrabarty of Medical Service Centre, Mr. Ramkishen of All India Central Health Care Services and Com. Suresh from Jharkhand addressed the audience.
Dr. Ilina Sen remarked that issue of people’s health must be seen from the point of view of equality and social justice. In India, Dr. Sen explains, primary health care progammes are more bureaucratic than participatory. She said that the demand for the primary health care must be framed in the perspective of the people’s rights movement. Dr. Binayak Sen said that anyone having body-mass index less than 18.5 is said to be suffering from malnutrition. And when most of the members of a population have body-mass ratio less than 18.5, the population is said to be affected by famine. He says that most of the tribal villages in Chattisgarh by this parameter are affected by famine. 
Dr. Sen also spoke on the human rights conditions in Chattisgarh and said that as Chattisgarh is full of valuable minerals lying under land occupied by adivasis, Salwa Judum is often found deputed by mine barons to snatch the land from the poor villagers. In the name of encounters, police kill innocent poor people in villages. The villagers in Chattisgarh are living in a state of terror. The industrialists, with the direct help of the govt. are robbing the land, water resources and forests from the villagers. The poor people are becoming poorer every day. The issues regarding health, nutrition, education and occupation are entirely neglected.  q

AIALA Convention in Dharmapuri

A Convention demanding 2 acres land, 5 cents home-stead land, 200 days work and Rs.200/day wage in NREGA was held by All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association (AIALA) at Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu on 15 June. Dozens of rural poor, 95 percent of them women, participated in the convention. Com. Balasundaram, State Secretary of the Party, came down heavily upon the CM-in-the-making, Mr. Stalin, the Dy. CM, for being lavish in allocating lands for the corporate sector in the name of development but now absolutely silent about the promises made by his government on 2 acres land to the rural poor. 
The proceedings of the convention were conducted by Com. Ramakrishnan, AIALA district organizer. AIALA State General Secretary Com. Janakiraman, AIPWA state leaders comrades Thenmozhi and Usha also addressed the gathering. State Committee Members Ilangovan and Chandramohan also participated in the convention.

Pricol Workers on Indefinite Fast

Workers of the Pricol factory who are conducting a protracted struggle against the management for more than 2 years, are on an indefinite fast from 15 June 2009 demanding that the TN government intervene to resolve their issues.
As per the long term settlement, the management has to give DA and salary increase once in July 2007 and again in July 2008. This amount is from Rs.948 to Rs.1498 per worker for over 1500 workers. This increase is given as notice pay only when workers are dismissed but this wage increase is not paid while they are in service. The amount due for the workers and withheld by the management in this period alone, under this head alone would run to a few crores. The balance sheet of the company for the financial year 2008 – 2009 shows that the expenditure under the head salary (employees cost) has decreased, which never happens under normal circumstances.
Workers, in the name of trainees and contract labourers, are employed in work of permanent nature. The labour department has sent its officials and conducted a raid and has found for itself that trainees and contract labourers are employed in work of permanent nature. The labour department has already issued show cause notices to the management on these two issues.
Now the workers have demanded the government intervene on these issues. Reminding that the government itself has indicted the management, the workers are demanding that the government pass orders under section 10 B of ID Act, 1947 directing the management to clear the DA and wage increase due for the workers and stop employing trainees and contract labourers in work of permanent nature.
The management is going on a victimization spree since the workers formed their union and it has intensified it in the recent months to the extent of cutting their salary for flimsy reasons down to Rs.1500. June being time for school and college admission and paying fees, which is exorbitant in TN, workers had no other way but to take up a form of struggle that would draw the general public in the area in large numbers.
Twenty nine workers including 5 women workers began their indefinite fast in the union office which is situated near the plant. The management switched off even the flash lights on its building which was lighting the union office entrance too, where the workers were on fast and which was busy day and night and flooded with workers of other factories in and around Perianaickenpalayam, relatives and neighbours of the fasting workers.
Police officials on Day 1 tried to arrest the workers for attempting suicide. But the union gave a representation to the police explaining that they are not on fast unto death but on indefinite fast, that their purpose is not to die but to press their just demands and they have taken up this form only to live in dignity. 
The TN assembly session began on June 17 and a team of Pricol workers came down to Chennai and met the Labour Minister, MLAs and asked them to raise their demands in the assembly. They also met the labour department officers, local DMK ex-MLA, Panchayat President of the area, and leaders of workers’ unions in the area. AIADMK and PMK MLAs moved resolution for a discussion on the Pricol workers issue in the assembly.
Pricol workers distributed 50,000 pamphlets in Coimbatore to take the message of the struggle to the people at large. Over 100 flex boards carrying the photograph of the fasting workers were erected on the highways from Mettupalayam to Coimbatore covering more than 30 kms.
More than 1000 workers who are going to work are on lunch boycott from 16 June and there was no call or instruction from the union for this action and the workers themselves have taken up this measure to express their solidarity with those who are on indefinite fast.
AICCTU has sent telegrams to the Labour Minister and Principal Secretary, Labour of TN to intervene in the issue immediately. Workers of TIDC went on a lunch boycott on 22 June in solidarity. Hyundai Motors India Employees Union released a poster in support of Pricol workers’ struggle.
Arunkumar, ex-MLA of the DMK, and Eswaran of Kongu Munnetra Kazhagam met the workers and expressed their solidarity. Kongu Munnetra Kazhagam also took up a demonstration in support of the fasting workers.
When the struggle of the workers is gathering support from various quarters irrespective of political affiliation, the management has buried its head deep in the sand and is trying to woo the workers with payment of arrears on the one hand and on the other is threatening the workers with action against them on various previous charges. But the workers are steadfast in their struggle.

Reports from Chhatishgarh

CPI(ML) and the Safai Kamgar Union (sanitary workers’ union, affiliated to the AICCTU) jointly held a dharna at the Commissioner’s office in Bhilai on 6th June with several demands pertaining to the livelihood and working condition of the sanitary workers working for the Bhilai Municipal Council. A memorandum was handed over to the Commissioner asking him to ensure proper wages, safe and dignified working condition such as providing raincoats and gumboots for the sanitary workers, housing, education for their children, medical facilities and weekly off on Sunday. About four hundred people attended the dharna. The workers from Durg Municipal Council, Kumhari Municipality and Bhilai Steel Plant also attended this dharna. The dharna was led and addressed by comrades Brijendra Tiwari, Shyamlal Sahu, Ashok, Rekha, Jayprakash Nayar, Adalat Ali, Manglu and Keshav among others.
Previously a rally of Durg’s rickshaw sanitary workers was held on 22 May and a memorandum with their demands was handed over to the Dy. Commissioner of Durg. The memorandum demanded the statutory minimum wage to be ensured and recorded in the muster roll. The sanitary workers went on strike on 6 June when the contractor continued to pay them the depressed wages despite Dy. Commissioner’s assurances that things would be improved. The struggle continues.
The Party State Committee is also engaged in freeing up illegally occupied agricultural land from Sona Breweries of Raipur. The land in question is situated at village Gorhi. The company had bought the 50 acres of agricultural land and started constructing there a factory for manufacturing beer. Also, it illegally occupied 10 acres of revenue land belonging to the Gram Sabha (village conference) and started constructing road connecting the factory to the main roads. The sarpanch, and other panchayat members illegally allotted land to the company. It is clearly mentioned in the Panchayat Act that the Gram Sabha needs to be taken into confidence before taking such important decisions. The situation has become quite tense in the 20 villages near Gorhi as those opposing this unconstitutional and grossly illegal act are being threatened with dire consequences by the company goons. Many people have been slapped with false cases against them by the company.With the demand to stop construction on the said sites, a thorough investigation and stringent legal action against the company, punishable action against the Gram Panchayat officials for deliberately ignoring the Gram Sabha, and provision of full security to the villagers, more than thousand people demonstrated at the District Magistrate’s office and presented him their demands. A memorandum was also given to the Superintendent of Police. At the moment the construction activity has been stopped, as a result of the protests.