May 10, 2012

Why this Shadow of Vidharbha over West Bengal?

How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?

THE lyrics of Bob Dylan reverberate in rural West Bengal these days, may be in a different refrain. In the last seven months of ‘changed’ regime, 51 farmers have committed suicide in the state. Dhana Tudu, an agricultural worker in Bhatar, Burdwan was the first. Khandu Ghosh, a poor peasant of Sadar1 block of the same district was the 50th. Ghosh hanged himself on April 27. He cultivated Aman rice in 10 bighas of land few months earlier. The produce did not fetch remunerative price as was the case with overwhelming majority of farmers in the state. Then he tried Boro cultivation but the paddy was destroyed by insects. In fact, there is a large scale insect attack in Burdwan and some other districts. Khandu Ghosh, after realising that his cultivation has been destroyed, committed suicide. Even before the news of this 50th death was commented upon, Mana Malik, a female sharecropper followed suit, again in Burdwan, this time in Jamalpur block. The story of young Mana, wife of a worker, is almost same as her paddy was also destroyed. Almost all of them were reeling under debt.

The brunt of spate of suicides has been felt by Burdwan, the leading paddy producer in the state. Till now, 35 farmers have taken their lives in this district alone. Three in Maldaha, two each in Bankura, Murshidabad, Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, one each in Jalpaiguri, West Midnapur, Howrah, Birbhum and south 24 Parganas.

The shadow of Vidharbha over West Bengal has raised serious questions. More than one lakh farmers’ suicides have taken place in the country in the last one decade. But West Bengal, except for sparse incidents, remained free from this trend. There was virtually no peasant suicides in the state related with crisis in agriculture during the tenure of the Left Front government. Even the virulent anti-Left media did not report any such incidents. Why this stream of suicides now? Madan Ghosh, state president of AIKS, identified neo-liberal policies as the central reason. ‘More than four  farmers’ suicides per month have taken place under the new government in the state. The central policies and the failure of the state government to protect the peasants are two principal factors behind such a tragedy’, said Ghosh. Both the governments are pursuing neo-liberal policies, he added.

The cost of production has sky rocketed in the recent period. The price of fertilizer has increased manifold. So are prices of other inputs like insecticides, seeds etc. The crisis in agriculture is an all India phenomenon. But during the Left Front period, the state government extended all possible protective measures to defend the peasants. That infrastructure has virtually collapsed under the new regime.

The minimum support price is usually much lower than the production cost. For example, while the per quintal production cost of jute was in the range of Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 in last season, MSP was declared at Rs 1175 only. Likewise, while MSP for the next season has been fixed at Rs 2200, the cost of production has meanwhile increased to Rs 3500 per quintal. Madan Ghosh alleged that the farmers have not received even the MSP. It was in the case of paddy too. No serious effort was made to procure paddy from the peasants. Farmers were forced to sell at distress prices. Same thing happened in the case of potatoes and onions.

This wide gap between production cost and sale price accentuated the problem of debt in rural Bengal. Farmers are taking recourse to private lending and micro finance loans with high interest rates.

Even this will not explain in full the disastrous situation prevailing in West Bengal today. Panchayats have been rendered inoperative systematically. The decentralisation of power has been reversed. This resulted in collapse of rural development programme and employment generation schemes, including MNREGA. Agricultural workers and poor peasants, partially dependent on such jobs, have lost their source of income. In a reign of terror, the peasants in most parts of the state are still unable to pressurise the government machinery to redress.

Bob Dylan’s lyrics have become relevant in the backdrop of continuous denial of the tragedy by the chief minister herself and her administration. In fact, the chief minister has admitted of only ‘one’ such incident without identifying which one. There is growing discontent in rural Bengal over neglect of peasantry while the state administration is busy in superficial beautification of Kolkata.

Left peasant organisations, along with other mass organisations have already initiated struggles against anti-peasant, anti-people policies of the government. Village level and block level rallies and jathas have taken place. Madan Ghosh said, ‘We are strongly against suicides. Our call is ‘Unite to struggle, not suicides.’

People’s Democracy, May 06, 2012

West Bengal gets a controversy a day

An issue a day keeps boredom at bay ” this could well be the guiding principle of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee these days.

MID-DAY, April 16 07:35:58, 2012
KOLKATA, Agencies

How else does one explain her government regularly dishing out controversies on a platter to her political opponents? The baton charging of women protesting eviction from a slum by male police, the arrest of those agitating against the assault, muscle flexing by ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) men vis-a-vis a small but feisty human rights group close to Banerjee’s Kalighat residence — the unending chain of events in a short span of time has triggered much condemnation from across society.

You’re joking! Ambikesh Mahapatra, who allegedly forwarded the Mamata cartoons,  was booked for outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation, and hacking

However, the midnight arrest of a Jadavpur University professor and a septuagenarian retired engineer in connection with the online circulation of a cartoon strip which the authorities saw as defaming Banerjee, or ‘Didi’ as she is popularly known, was the icing on the cake. The collage of cartoons allegedly forwarded by physical chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra included the photographs of Banerjee and Railway Minister Mukul Roy and used some dialogues of filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Bengali detective masterpiece Sonar Kella.
It showed the two TMC leaders discussing how to get rid of party leader Dinesh Trivedi. Subrata Sengupta, a former Public Works Department engineer, was taken into custody, as Mahapatra had sent the cartoons from the registered e-mail id of the housing cooperative of which Sengupta was secretary. The mail account had been opened in Sengupta’s name.
But what was more laughable were the charges. The duo was booked for outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation and hacking. Though the professor and the retired engineer got bail from the court, there was a distinct similarity in the modus operandi in their case as also that involving the attack on the human rights group.
The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) activists, intending to take out a pre-announced procession, were first roughed up by youths allegedly close to TMC. Within minutes, police, instead of taking action against the culprits, arrested the APDR people. Mahapatra was also first allegedly beaten up by TMC men and forced to write out a signed statement that he had circulated the cartoon “motivatedly” as he was a CPI-Marxist activist. And then police swung into action based on a complaint by someone who does not even have an e-mail account to take the professor and the retired, ailing engineer into custody.
After their release, Mahapatra filed a counter complaint, and buckling under the storm of protests, four of the youths were arrested. But they were bailed out within hours. Now there is a fresh angle to the story. It has been reported that those who attacked Mahapatra were members of a building material suppliers’ syndicate with links to the TMC. It is being said that bills worth Rs 17 lakh submitted by suppliers were being withheld by the housing society which doubted how genuine these were. Mahapatra is assistant secretary of the cooperative. Meanwhile Banerjee appears unfazed. While she defended the arrests, a source close to her said, “This will not have any impact on her support base, as very few people are bothered with Facebook and Twitter.”

CPI(M) State Secretariat Elected

A 19 member state secretariat was elected in the two- day state committee meeting held on April 28-29. The members are: Biman Basu, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, Nirupam Sen, Suryakanta Misra, Madan Ghosh, Shyamal Chakraborty, Mridul Dey, Md Salim, Gautam Deb, Shyamali Gupta, Dipak Dasgupta, Nripen Choudhury, Raghunath Kushari, Amitava Basu, Sridip Bhattacharya, Rabin Deb, Dipak Sarkar, Amiya Patra and Sujan Chakraborty.  The last two members have been newly inducted. Amiya Patra is district secretary of Bankura while Sujan Chakraborty is district secretary of South 24 Parganas.

Veteran leader Benoy Konar was a member of the last state secretariat. However, he got relieved due to age and ill health. Konar is a special invitee to the state committee as well as is the chairman of the Central Control Commission.

People’s Democracy, May 06, 2012

Bengal borrows Rs 2.5Kcr from market to pay salary and pension

Ajanta Chakraborty, TNN | May 3, 2012, 04.19AM IST

KOLKATA: Ahead of CM Mamata Banerjee's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the three-year moratorium and a debt-restructuring, the state has just borrowed Rs 2,500 crore to pay salaries and pensions.

Just when the chief minister hopes to find a political answer to Bengal's fiscal miseries, armed with the state's debt records, her borrowing has gone up yet again just to pay salaries and the likes. Sources in the state finance department indicated that Bengal's total borrowings have reached Rs 2,08,382 crore in the last fiscal - up from Rs 1,87,387 crore as on March 2011, barely two months after Mamata took over Writers' Buildings.

The state's borrowing has been upped ahead of another crucial meeting in North Block to negotiate on Mamata's demands along with the chief ministers of Punjab and Kerala in the next fortnight. The finance ministry has set up a committee headed by expenditure secretary Sumit Bose which is likely to meet senior officials from the three most debt-ridden states this month. The committee will seek commitments from the states on raising resources and reducing borrowing and non-developmental expenditure.

A finance department official explained: "We had to borrow this amount in April for basic expenses. The borrowing will continue in this manner unless the Centre does something about the state of affairs in Bengal." Officials felt that the latest borrowing would help Mamata build her case of inheriting a bankrupt government. But the saddest part is that debt-stressed Punjab and Kerala, which are also seeking a moratorium and debt recast, borrowed only Rs 400 crore and Rs 1,000 crore respectively. Andhra Pradesh borrowed Rs 750 crore and Mizoram Rs 65 crore.

Soon after Mamata gave the Centre 15 days to grant a three-year moratorium to Bengal, one of the country's most debt-stressed states along with Punjab and Kerala, Punjab and Kerala followed suit in issuing similar demands.

While Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal sought appointments with Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy had met the central leadership with his plea that his state should be treated alike and not be discriminated against. He has sought a debt recast of Rs 11,000 crore.

Punjab is seeking a waiver on outstanding dues of Rs 22,202 crore from the centrally administered small-savings scheme and moratorium on repayment of the principal and interest on other loans spaced over five years. Punjab's outstanding debt on March 2012 stood at Rs 77,585 crore and its annual interest liability was Rs 6,500 crore.

North Block officials have already communicated to Writers' Buildings that Punjab has a stronger case because the state has been striving to raise revenues and cut expenditure. Neither Bengal nor Kerala cared to do so.

Mamata, on the other had, has been bent on "not increasing the burden on common people" and had gone soft on taxes. She has already written to the prime minister for a debt recast, inclusive of waiver of part of the components, repayable in 20 years. But the sorry state of fiscal affairs has hardly dissuaded her government from spending and creating jobs.

On the contrary, responding to a populist call, Mamata had sacrificed revenues on essential items like electricity, LPG and others. Unlike most states, Bengal did not enhance the base VAT from four to five per cent.

As a corrective measure, the state recently imposed "entry tax". It is yet to be seen if the measure could help boost the tax revenues by the targeted 25% in 2012-13. If the current indicators are of any significance, it will not be an easy task at all.

Mamata is confident that the UPA will adhere to her demands even as there is no ready reference of such a debt recast in Indian federal history. Her finance minister seems to have taken a leaf out of the Greek government which has recently averted default, thanks to bailout packages and debt haircuts.

Crime against women: Highest in Bengal

TNN | May 3, 2012, 03.57AM IST

KOLKATA: The rising crime against women in the state hasn't escaped the notice of West Bengal Human Rights Commission. The commission - headed by retired Supreme Court judge Asoke Ganguly - has proposed changes in the law to make it an effective deterrent. It has recommended to the state government to increase punishment for such crimes from the present two-year jail term to seven-year term and make the offence non-bailable.

Justice Ganguly said, "The commission in its recommendation has cited the changes made by Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in the first schedule of CrPC, 1993 and Section 354 IPC to give the law more teeth."

This, incidentally, is the first time when WBHRC is using its powers under Section 12(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which empowers it to periodically review constitutional and legal safeguards and recommend measures to make them more effective.

The commission's attention to the issue was drawn by the media reports. It also consulted the National Crime Records Bureau data, which indicates that in the last decade, the number of molestation cases (punishable under Section 354) has increases 10-fold. According to NCRB data, in 1992 the number of such cases was 384. In 1993 it reached 1,074. It increased in the successive years (showing a partial decline in 2001-2002). The highest number of such cases occurred in 2011. The figure was 3,340. The year before, it was 2465.

At present, Section 354 is bailable and punishment is a two-year jail term. This, the commission feels, isn't effective enough. In 1995, Odisha had amended the CrPC (to make the offence non-bailable) and four years before that Andhra had increased the punishment under to a maximum of seven years. Also, the Law Commission in its 84th report (in 1980) and 156th report (1997) had recommended sexual assault be punishable under this section and the punishment increased to a five-year jail term. Most importantly, the commission observed that in many cases, where rape is not proved and the court has to let off the accused with minor punishment even if he is found guilty of outraging a women's modesty. This, it feels, causes a social imbalance and injustice to the victim.

What the commission proposes for Bengal has been done in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It proposes to make the law non-bailable like Odisha and wants the punishment increased as in Andhra Pradesh.

It proposes a maximum seven year jail term in Bengal and a minimum of five years. And if somebody is given a jail term less than five years, the reasons for that must be mentioned clearly in the judgment.

The commission's recommendation mentions that social movement in Bengal to protect women's honour was a harbinger for the entire country.


Section 354 IPC - Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Classification of offence - Cognizable, Bailable and Non-compoundable.

What other states have done?

Andhra Pradesh - Increased the punishment to seven years and not less than five years. If for special reasons, the court gives a lesser sentence it can't be less than two years.

Madhya Pradesh - Extended the punishment term to a maximum of 10 years.

Odisha - Made the offence bailable.

WBHRC's recommendation for Bengal - Increase the punishment to a maximum of seven years and minimum of five years. If less than five years, the reasons have to be mentioned. Make the offence non-bailable.