June 29, 2014

Starvation deaths in West Bengal tea estates on the rise

Pinak Priya Bhattacharya,TNN | Jun 28, 2014, 02.00 AM IST

RAIPUR TEA ESTATE (Jalpaiguri): Starvation deaths are back to haunt the state. At least six deaths have been reported from the closed Raipur tea estate on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town over the past five days but the Mamata Banerjee government — like the Left Front regime earlier — refuses to acknowledge them.

The garden was locked out in September last year, leaving 645 workers and their families in misery. Many of them are starving, say local sources. The latest victim is Jeet Bahan Munda, 42, who died on Friday. When journalists went to the garden a few hours before his death, Munda looked like a bag of bones. He couldn't even whisper. His ramshackle hut had nothing, save a few empty utensils.

Three of the dead are women — Sarpina Tirkey, 65, Basu Oraon, 50, and Tetri Bara, 35 — and two are newborn babies. One of the infants died at North Bengal Medical College on Thursday. "Her mother was suffering from anaemia," a senior administrative official said — an indicator of malnutrition that plagues the tea garden residents.

Jalpaiguri Sadar SDO Sima Haldar visited Raipur with several officials and denied there were any hunger deaths. "There is no question of malnutrition in the garden," she said.

Jalpaiguri chief health officer Jagannath Sarkar was more guarded, saying that unless they received the "death audit report", they could not make any statement. The Left regime as well had never acknowledged reports of workers dying in closed and abandoned tea estates of the Dooars.

These workers have received heaps of promises from the administration and labour unions but virtually no help.

"Our garden started having problems in 2002 and closed down several times. But this time the problem is more acute as we haven't got our wages in three months. We want the government to find a new owner or take over the garden," said Pratima Baraik, a garden labourer.

She alleged that the foodgrains distributed to them are so rotten that even cattle refuse to eat them. "We are crying for help but received very little. The garden is running out of food and workers are going outside only in an effort to earn money for their families. Pimps are on the prowl and our women are at risk," said another worker.

Earlier the planters used to provide rice and wheat at a subsidized rate of 40 paisa per kg. After the introduction of targeted public distribution system(TPDS), workers had to buy the same at Rs 9 per kg. "But even this is not working now as we are solely dependent on the government supply of food grains," said a worker.

"There is very little drinking water, no electricity, almost no medical assistance, and no food, at all" is how a woman described their living conditions. The management committee that run closed gardens is not able to give workers more than Rs 15-20 a day. Several youths and girls have already left in search of work. The administration does provide them with welfare schemes but it isn't enough, they say. Besides, they cannot avail of the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked-Out Industries Scheme as the garden reopened twice in 2004 and 2010.

The plantation is in a very bad shape and if water is not sprayed immediately, there will be no new leaves. 

Left has to protect people if police fail, says Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

TNN | Jun 28, 2014, 02.05 AM IST

Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came out of his self-induced disengagement on Friday and gave a call to the ranks not to take the Trinamool assault lying down.

KOLKATA: Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came out of his self-induced disengagement on Friday and gave a call to the ranks not to take the Trinamool assault lying down.

The murder of an elected CPM member in the Tehatta panchayat office was the immediate turn signal for the CPM politburo member who had otherwise confined himself within the CPM party office at Alimuddin Street.

But this time, Bhattacharjee didn't ferret the dream of bringing about a turnaround. Instead, he wanted the Left to earn the credibility of a responsible Opposition when the BJP is keen on occupying that space, particularly after the saffron surge in Bengal in the Lok Sabha polls. Bhattacharjee also warned against the spurt in RSS activities in the city and the districts.

"People are scared. They are not getting police protection. Police and administration have sided with the ruling party. They (Trinamool) have been continuing with the assault on Left activists and sympathizers with the help of police for the last three years. Thousands of Left supporters have been driven out of home and hearth. Those who remain are not being allowed to pursue their occupation. Who will protect them?" Bhattacharjee said at the concluding day of the three-day Left dharna at Rani Rashmani Avenue against terror and price rise.

Sending out the signal to the grassroots to defy the anarchy, the CPM politburo member explained why the Left have to take to the streets. "A tea stall owner is being asked to wind up his shop if he is a Leftist. A vegetable vendor is being denied access to the market for his political belief. The police and administration have sided with the ruling party. The Left have to provide them with protection when the police have failed in their duty. We are committed to the poor. We can't keep silent," he said.

Pointing to the plight of the workers at Hind Motors and Jessop that have stopped operations, and the uncertainty in jute mills where wages are falling due to dearth of orders, Bhattacharjee held that none but the Left can uphold their cause. Coming down heavily on the ruling Trinamool and BJP for the price rise, Bhattacharjee said: "Rice is selling at Rs 38 a kilo. The Modi government in Delhi has hiked railway fares. The poor feel marginalized. Who is bothered? All these do not affect the glitterati that have entered Parliament as Trinamool MPs. When we had the strength of 60 in Parliament we could prevent the UPA government from taking anti-people policies," Bhattacharjee said.

At the same time, he cautioned the gathering over the BJP's bid to occupy Opposition space in Bengal. "BJP is a rightist party. It began with railway fare hike and is against of subsidy on fuel, transport and food prices. Their leaders want the corporate to run the country and they will run the government. Worse, the RSS is spreading out to villages in the state of Tagore and Nazrul Islam," he said.

June 26, 2014

Left Front in 72 Hour Sit-in Demonstration

Left Front’s 72 hour sit-in demonstration started on Wednesday afternoon in Kolkata protesting against the ruthless attack on democratic rights in the state. Thousands of people gathered braving rains. The sit-in continued uninterrupted through the night with leaders of Left Front including Biman Basu staying in the road.

The state has witnessed unabated political terror against opposition activists and supporters. 157 activists of the Left Front have been murdered under the TMC regime. Thousands have been rendered homeless, their houses destroyed in many cases. More than 5 thousand Left activists are facing false cases. But the attack has not spared others, spreading in educational institutions, workplaces and localities where anti-social elements are the real rulers now. As part of the wider mobilization to resist this onslaught on the people Left Front has decided to stage this sit-in at the heart of state capital. It was on 25th June, 1975 that the internal emergency was declared and massive attack on democracy was launched throughout the country.
The families of the martyrs were present in the sit-in. Some of them narrated their horrible experiences in the gathering.
Inaugurating the programme, Biman Basu detailed the nature of terror in the state and said that Left Front met the Chief Minister to ask her to take measures to maintain law and order. But there was no sign of serious action on behalf of the state administration. Basu also mentioned about the attacks on livelihood of the people and said the new government at the centre has also started launching fresh attack on the common people.
Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Surjyakanta Mishra said the time to resist the anarchy has arrived. Along with that the unity of the people has to defended, secularism has to be guarded. Wherever there will be attacks on people, the Left will reach and stay on the roads.
RSP leader Kshiti Goswami, CPI leader Swapan Banerjee, Forward Block leader Jayanta Roy also addressed the protesters.
Left Front leaders including Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were present in the sit in. People from districts will participate in the demonstration and it will conclude through a rally which will be addressed by Left leaders. 

Emergency and today’s West Bengal

By Biman Basu

Thirty nine years back in the midnight of 25th June in 1975 internal emergency was imposed on our country. This declaration of internal emergency was totally uncalled for because there was no invasion of foreign enemies, nor there was such situation which could not be solved through constitutionally approved democratic system.
The look back through pages of history will reveal that the livelihood of the common people became tough from the early seventies. The economic development became stagnant and the Government could not find it possible to create employment for the lakhs of aspirant youth. The gap between rich and poor was on the rise. ‘Garibi hatao’ (elimination of poverty) was the slogan of Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the 5th Lok Sabha elections in 1971 and she promised development, increase in employment and price control of the essential commodities. Congress won 352 seats out of total 518 in that election to get clear majority. Mrs. Gandhi travelled entire country in the election campaign to win the confidence of the people and to create record for her party. But people became disillusioned within only three to four years. This loss of people’s confidence brought out the autocratic nature of Mrs. Gandhi. Like other dictatorial rulers she imposed emergency without considering democratic practices just to establish absolute control of power. The arrest of the opposition political leaders started from the midnight of 25th June in 1975 but no minister of the Central cabinet utter single word on that. Gradually more than one lakh opposition political leaders and activists were sent behind the bars.
In a democratic country like India it was not at all necessary to arrest the opposition political leaders to teach them a lesson. Recalling of the speech of veteran CPI (M) leader A.K. Gopalan which he delivered in the Lok Sabha on 21st July of 1975 will reflect the situation very well. He said – ''I am speaking in an unnatural and severe situation when 34 members of Parliament are not here. They are not absent because they wanted to but they are not here because they are behind the bars without trial. Mrs. Gandhi and her party have made the house a matter of farce and contempt. I too was in the jail and got release only a week back. Jyotirmoy Basu is known to you all. Nurul Huda is another member of our party. I am an old man and cannot shout much. I have been released but those two still are in jail. The motive is very clear. I am not scared of jail because I was behind the bars for 17 years of last 45 years. But I cannot forget the inhuman treatment on me for two days. I had to declare hunger strike. Finally I send telegram to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and that might have changed the situation … 
''The internal emergency was imposed not due to any external threat but the real causes were ruling of the Allahabad high court, verdict against Congress in the Gujarat Assembly elections, Indira Gandhi’s denial of stepping down from the Prime Ministership before the final ruling of the Supreme Court and mass discontent against Congress Government. The mass discontent took shape because of deep crisis of Indian economy and adoption of Capitalist mode of development which made the rich richer and the poor became poorer...
''The imposition of emergency clearly showed that the Government initiated anti-people measures. All the democratic practices were abolished. Fundamental rights conferred through the Indian Constitution became paralyzed. Constitutional provisions given through article 14 and 22 were kept on halt. Bills were moved for further curtailment of Constitutional rights. All the power was centralized by the Prime Ministers without even taking into account the Constitutional provisions.  Amendment of the Constitution became frequent affair. And the same status of every citizen in front of law also became not mandatory. Government administration started all sorts of discrimination. The administration did not find necessary to produce several of the arrested persons to the court, they suppressed whom they actually have arrested and where they have kept them..."
The BJP Government under the leadership of Narendra Modi has been formed in the center with clear majority due to illusion among several poor people especially the young generation.  RSS is the life blood of BJP and that fanatic Hindu fundamentalist force is playing the key role in Modi’s Government. They have come to power by promising good days but we have to wait to see how they react to people’s wrath after failing to minimize the discontent among common people and failure to create scopes for employment. The communal threat has been increased in the country with their entry in the helm of affairs. We have to be cautious enough so that they cannot divert people’s attention after failing to bring any paradigmatic shift. We should also not forget that it was none other than Trinamool Congress who brought them in West Bengal.
Since the Assembly elections in West Bengal attacks have been unleashed on the leaders and activists of the democratic movements by the police administration and hoodlums backed by the ruling party to prohibit movements based on people’s demands. False and fabricated cases are being initiated against the leaders and activists of the democratic movements. Arrest warrants are being issued against them who could not be arrested. Attacks on the houses of Left Front activists, looting, arson, terrorization and attacks on livelihood have been taking place extensively. Cattle, poultry, fishes in ponds, agricultural produce and seeds also have been looted. About 27300 farmers, agricultural laborers and share croppers have been ejected and deprived of their right of land. Near about 50000 persons have been evicted from their own houses. 157 Left leaders, activists and supporters have lost their lives in attacks by hoodlums nakedly backed by the ruling party. Thousands of Left activists have been forced to live with injury. All these have been happening in a state where emergency has not been imposed but still the ruling party is trying to trample the voice of the opposition. But it is impossible to terrorize the people for a long time. Movements have to be launched by all of us for resurrection of democracy and democratic right in the state and for that close connection with common people has to be reinforced by taking lessons from history. We must overcome this suffocating atmosphere of terror with confident note of people’s movement. We don’t have any other alternative.
Communists and Leftists never surrender. The hoodlums of the ruling party will try to sustain terror-driven atmosphere but isolate them from people and reduce their strength is not at all impossible. The united strength of working class and all other poor sections of the society is quite capable of dislodging them. The call of the hour is to mark protest against all single attacks in every localities and launch movements. Communists and Leftists may take attack or lose lives but ultimately victory awaits them. We shall not forget that the devils could never make history; in the contrary it is always made by the invincible people.