A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 13, No. 07, 09 – 15 FEBRUARY 2010
Price-rise: Assault on Food and Livelihood of Aam Aadmi
midst record-breaking rise in food prices, the UPA government continues to shed crocodile tears. Worse, in the name of tackling prices, the government is trying to use rising prices as a pretext to shower more concessions on big capital. The latest instance was the meeting of Chief Ministers in Delhi on February 6, in which the Prime Minister called for advancing retail sector reforms to tackle the surge in retail prices – a clear hint to push for greater and faster corporatization of the retail sector.
The conference of Chief Ministers was preceded by a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in which the Congress blamed the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for ‘talking up’ prices. Pawar had invoked the doctrine of ‘collective responsibility’ of the UPA government for the failure to control prices; the Congress accuses him of creating a scare by talking of shortages. While the government thus plays its own little blame game, the fact remains that the problem of shortage is quite real, partly because of falling production and partly also because of unwarranted export, what to talk of aggravating factors like distribution bottlenecks and hoarding.
Take the case of sugar for example. Production is estimated at 16 million tonnes while consumption estimates are of the order of 23 million tonnes. Instead of trying to meet this shortfall by increasing production, the central government talks of launching nationwide campaign to dissuade consumption! “No one dies due to not eating sugar,” argues the NCP mouthpiece Rashtravadi, while in a key sugar-producing state like Bihar, where sugar mills are lying closed for years, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is interested only in opening sugar mills that will produce not sugar but Ethnol!
While prices have been rising continuously, the UPA government has been busy rationalizing it as a veritable feature of economic growth, hoping to silence all inflation-related worries by invoking the loud rhetoric of double-digit growth. The statistical practice of measuring inflation through movements of Wholesale Price Index (WPI) has also helped the government in understating the real impact of inflation. In WPI, food and primary articles have a weightage of only 22%, which is just a third of the importance assigned to manufactured items. Thus, a near 20% rise in food price index remained conveniently hidden throughout the last one year in WPI increases of the order of 6-7%.
But this grim reality can no longer be hidden under any statistical carpet. Over the 52-week period ending on January 23, 2010, the composite food price index rose 17.56% while prices of potatoes and pulses rose by nearly 45%. The impact of this steep rise in food prices is felt all the more acutely by people with low and even moderate income who spend a high proportion of their earnings to buy food. For the 800 million people identified by the Arjun Sengupta committee with a daily expenditure of Rs. 20 or less, a near 20% rise in food prices can only mean a push to severe malnutrition and semi-starvation. To add insult to injury, Congress leaders would have us believe that the rise in prices is due primarily to increased mass consumption resulting from increased purchasing power of the rural poor and the peasantry!
The least that a government must do in the face of such a severe crisis is to ensure delivery of subsidized food and other primary articles of mass consumption to the needy. Yet, large numbers of the poor find themselves excluded from the BPL list, and the rations meant for BPL families are often diverted to the open market with the government looking the other way. Meanwhile, even as the country awaits the 2010 annual budget, the Kirit Parikh panel appointed by the government to examine fuel pricing has recommended a hike of Rs. 100 per LPG cylinder and Rs. 6 per litre of kerosene oil and freeing of petrol and diesel prices in tune with international standards!
Far from trying to check price-rise and mitigate its impact on the aam aadmi, the UPA government is working hand in glove with the market to wage an all-out price war on the people. We must resist this assault by all means and fight for the people’s basic right to food and livelihood with all our might.
Crooks, Conmen, & Counter-insurgents: Padma Awards in the Time of Nuke Deal & Greenhunt
The recipients of the country’s highest civilian honours – announced on Republic Day this year – included one NRI crook with several criminal cases pending against him, and one leader of a private militia in Kashmir notorious for torture and killings.
The Padma Bhushan to these two, while proving to be an embarrassment to the Government, is actually symbolic of the Indian State’s priorities at this juncture. Both reflect on the character of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Sant Singh Chatwal is an NRI hotelier with several cases of fraud pending in courts, complaints of criminal intimidation with the NHRC and a CBI investigation which was hastily closed, against the advice of the top investigators. His son’s wedding was attended by no less than Bill and Hillary Clinton and Manmohan Singh and Gurcharan Kaur.
What did he do to deserve the Padma award?
The Ministry of Home Affairs, defending the award in the face of questions about the aborted CBI enquiry, gave him a clean chit, and explained that he (Chatwal) had “been an active member of the NRI community in the US in securing support for the nuclear deal among members of the US Congress.”
Ghulam Mohamamd Mir, another recipient of the Padma award, is notorious as Muma Kanna, surrendered militant who used to run a private counter-insurgent militia. His name was synonymous with brutal terror and torture in the service of the State terror, and he also stands accused of illegally occupying land and timber smuggling.
It is no accident that the UPA Government, in times of Nuke Deal and Greenhunt, should choose to reward a crook who is basically a ‘fixer’ for Indo-US relations in general, and a man associated with what, in other words, was a Kashmiri version of Salwa Judum – complete with torture, killings, land grab and smuggling. However, these awards also reveal the unsavoury underbelly – marked by fraudsters and torturers – of Indo-US relations and of counter-insurgency.
Running with the Hare & Hunting with the Hounds
Rahul Gandhi declared in Bihar that people from Bihar and UP ought to be welcome in Mumbai; he followed this up with a visit to Mumbai in which he travelled in local trains and engaged in verbal duels with the Shiv Sena and MNS.
But his words cannot exactly heal the wounds inflicted on North Indians – wounds which owe themselves to the Congress-led State Government’s tacit encouragement of the MNS in Maharashtra. When the MNS terror was at its height, the Congress refused to act decisively to punish those indulging in violence. And not long before Rahul’s ‘defiance’ of the Shiv Sena-MNS, Maharashtra’s Congress CM Ashok Chavan took a leaf from the Shiv Sena-MNS book, declaring that fluency in Marathi must be a qualification for plying a taxi in Mumbai. He withdrew this fiat, but not before adding fuel to the regional chauvinists’ fire. When both the Senas rampaged against Chavan’s withdrawal of this order, the State Government and its machinery watched.
Not long ago, P Chidambaram belatedly condemned the orchestrated refusal of IPL teams to hire Pakistani players – but not before serious questions had been raised that this was done in response to tacit directives from the Home Ministry itself. Chidambaram’s talk carries as little weight as Rahul’s - when it is clear that the Congress Government of Maharashtra is unwilling to walk this talk; the Government failed to punish the troublemakers when the Shiv Sena threatened to attack theatres that screened Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film after he spoke out against the failure to hire Pakistani players.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s recent visit to Azamgarh is yet another instance of the Congress’ attempt to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Even as Digvijay Singh met families of boys arrested as terror suspects and even suggested an enquiry by the NIA into the Batla House ‘encounter’, another youth was arrested and his custodial ‘confession’ made the basis for the claim that he was one of those who allegedly ran away during the Batla House ‘encounter’. It is the Union Home Ministry in a Congress Government that has scotched the demand for a judicial or CBI enquiry into Batla House – and all Digvijay Singh’s piety and wit cannot wash out this inconvenient fact.
Token gestures, when juxtaposed with the Congress’ failure to take action in real time to uphold democracy, stand exposed as hypocrisy and dishonesty.
Demand an Impartial Enquiry Into the Custodial Death of Swapan Dasgupta
Swapan Dasgupta, publisher and editor of the Bangla People’s March, died in jail custody recently. This periodical was registered under the Government of India’s Registration of Newspapers Act and was not banned. Yet Dasgupta was arrested in October 2009 under the UAPA. Newspapers report that senior police officials have admitted that they had no evidence against Dasgupta – he was in effect an ideological prisoner in the war on democracy in the name of countering ‘Maoism’ declared by Central Government as well as WB Government.
Known to be a sufferer of various illnesses, it is unclear if he received medical attention in custody.
We condemn the arrest of citizens based on their ideology, and demand a judicial enquiry into the circumstances of Swapan Dasgupta’s death.
Anti-prise rise Protest in Pithoragarh
CPI(ML) activists in Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand) burnt effigies of the Centre’s Congress as well as State’s BJP Govt. on 3rd February holding both equally responsible for the skyrocketing prices of food grains and essential items. The Party members assembled at Gandhi Chowk led by CPI(ML)’s District in-charge Com. Govind Kaphalia and shouted slogans against the anti-people policies of these two parties. Various comrades of the Party and AISA addressed the gathering.
Jute Mill Workers' Strike
Since 14th December, 2009, workers of 54 jute mills of West Bengal are on strike. All trade unions, except the one affiliated to the Trinamool Congress, are participating in the strike. BCMA affiliated to All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) is part of the agitation. The workers are demanding that the mill owners clear dues of PF, ESI and gratuity, which run into crores of rupees and that casual labourers be made permanent. Also dearness allowance has been stopped and the mill owners intend to scrap it altogether. Negotiation with the management is on without any breakthrough so far. On 28th January, striking workers held a rally in front of the office of the Indian Jute Manufacturers Association (IJMA).
AIPWA’s Demonstration Against TN Women’s Commission
All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) organized a demonstration in Chennai on February 5 against the Tamil Nadu State Women’s Commission. The demonstrators demanded that the report submitted by the one-woman commission appointed by the Commission to enquire into the police witch-hunt of Pricol’s Women workers be scrapped as it is completely biased in favour of the Pricol management and anti-worker. The demonstrators also demanded that Ms. Vanitha, IPS, who conducted the enquiry and submitted the one-sided report be dropped from the Women’s Commission.
The demonstration was led by Com. Kuppabai, TN’s AIPWA Vice President. Comrades Devaki, VP of AIPWA, Usha, AIPWA’s TN Gen.Sec., Thenmozhi, AIPWA’s TN President, Bharati, AISA’s State President and Bhuvana, State Dy.GS AICCTU addressed the demonstration. Around 100 women from Pricol, Chennai, Tiruvallore, Kanchipuram, Villupuram, Namakkal districts participated in the demonstration.
A delegation led by Com. Thenmozhi met the Women’s Commission chairperson and submitted a memorandum. She has promised to order a fresh enquiry and she would discuss with the Social Welfare Ministry the demand for dropping IPS officer Vanitha from the Commission.
PRICOL UPDATE: On 5th February, 300 Pricol workers, including 200 women workers held a demonstration at the Pricol gate demanding scrapping of the report of the TN Women’s Commission.
AIALA Activists Meet at Kottur
State level Cadre Convention of All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association (AIALA) was held at Kottur on 4 Feb. More than 75 representative-activists from Bellary, Davanagere, Koppal and Mysore districts participated in the convention. The convention decided to intensify struggles at panchayat level and to develop and concentrate work, at least, in 10 panchayats in each taluk. The meeting also discussed reorientation of our work among agricultural labourers that included organising struggles of more militant nature depending on the intensity of the issue and regularizing organizational structures at grassroots.
Com. Shankar, CPI(ML)’s Central Committee member (CCM), called for intense and more profound struggles of agricultural labourers who are the most neglected lot in the State. Struggles of ‘Raitha Sangha (farmers associations)’ (various factions of KRRS) in Karnataka thus far has represented only the interests of rich farmers, despite overwhelming participation of small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers in their struggles. Organising agricultural labourers and small and marginal farmers as a class under the banner of AIALA is the sole initiative of CPI(ML) (Liberation) and no other party, including the Left, has taken any initiative in that direction in the State. No other party has any organization for agricultural labourers but for their own brands of ‘Raitha Sanghas’. He also said that developing struggles on the burning issues of agricultural labourers can only be the fitting reply to the communal, corrupt and non-performing BJP government in the State.
Com. Ramappa, State Secretary of the Party called for building struggles against the domination of mining and real estate mafia in the region and in State politics. He also outlined that AIALA has inherited the legacy of Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary and progressive strands of movements against the status-quo. He greeted the cadres for organizing the convention at Kottur in Bellary, for the first time, the hotbed of mining mafia and one of the most backward taluk in the State.
Com. Bharadwaj, State President of AIALA who chaired the convention called upon the cadres to intensify struggles at grassroots and to develop certain areas to be that of AIALA. He declared that AIALA will turn 2010 into year of struggles of agricultural labourers.
Comrades Javaraiah, State Secretary of AICCTU, Chowdappa, State Secretary of AIALA, Lingan Gowda, Vice-President, joint secretaries Devendrappa, Hanumanthappa and Parasuram also addressed the gathering.
New AIALA Unit at HPHalli
AIALA formed its new unit at Aracknahalu village in HP Halli taluk on 21 January and the inaugural meeting was addressed by Com. Ramappa, Party Secretary, AIALA leaders Chowdappa, Parasuram, Devendrappa and Mylappa. AIALA name-board was also opened at Hullikatti village in the same panchayat. More than 150 people, including large number of women, participated in the programme.
All progressive organizations of HD Kote taluk, including CPI(ML) and DSS, came together and organized a two-day dharna in front of taluk office on 5-6 February demanding suspension of taluk Social Welfare Officer who was responsible for discrimination against dalits in various places in the taluk, including student hostels. Following the protest and the people’s pressure, the taluk social welfare officer was suspended by the higher authorities. CPI(ML) and AISA played a major role in the struggle.
Contract workers’ Partial Victory despite LabourDepartment and Army Authority’s Betrayal and Apathy
Defence Sector topping the list of budget allocation, also surpasses others in corruption and labour repression. Anybody going deep into any serious study of the ongoing industrial relation pertaining to this sector can easily see “19th century mindset in this 21st century” defence industry. The immutable attitude of Garrison Engineers (GEs), being the principal employers of Dinjan Military Station, Chabua and Dinjan Air Force Stations of Dibrugarh District of Assam, that was experienced in a recent strike of contract workers there, amply justifies the charge.
The contract labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, if implemented even with little seriousness can still give some relief to the contract workers in terms of wage and other welfare and health care measures like- provision for canteen, rest rooms, facilities for supply of drinking water, latrines, urinals, first aid facilities for dignity of human labour, etc. Even the Supreme Court has time and again spoken about the appalling conditions of the contract workers. But the laws and the notifications are routinely trampled by the ALC (C) and the principal employer- the garrison engineer (GE).
There are more than 1500 contract workers engaged in regular and almost perennial nature of works in military and Air Force Stations of Dinjan, Chabua, Mohanbari in Dibrugarh and Lekhapani in Tinsukia District of Assam. In these military and air force stations, there are four categories of contract workers, viz., unskilled, semi-skilled/unskilled supervisory, skilled/ clerical and highly skilled.
The experience gained so far reveals that lack of conscious, strong and pro-worker trade union culture amongst contract workers is the main hindrance on the way of developing struggle for realizing their just demands. The “All Assam Contract Workers’ Union” affiliated to AICCTU has just started taking primary but conscious initiative to organize contract workers of military and air force stations in the two upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. Presence of the organization is just felt in Dinjan military and air force station and partly in Chabua air force station. There are also defence establishments spreading over the rest of Assam Districts – like Sonitpur, Jorhat, Kamrup, Cachar, etc. where thousands of such workers remain unorganized and untouched. As a result, these stations remain paradise of exploitation, loot and plunder by the unscrupulous contractors being patronized by the Govt. Central Labour department and the principal employers.
Even during these days of unprecedented price-rise, the majority of the contract workers belonging to unskilled and the semi-skilled category get only 70-80/- rupees and the skilled ones get only 120 rupees a day, and in spite of there being another legislation, namely the- “Equal Remuneration Act, 1976” the female workers still get 10 rupees less than their male counterpart, to be sure, in the military and air force stations.
However the Regional Labour Commissioner (C), Guwahati, on the basis of various notification No. S.O.1284 (E), S.O.1285 (E) & S.O.1286 (E) dated 20.05.09 issued by the Union Minister, Labour and Employment, issued a Circular No. 41R.93 (C).96.Cor.L.s-11 dated 16.10.09 Wherein it was fixed that the minimum daily wage of Contact workers working in various categories in central sphere in schedule employment in Assam will be Rs.135/- for unskilled, Rs.158/- for semi-skilled/supervisory, Rs.192/- for skilled/clerical and Rs.225/- for highly skilled.
The circular had to be implemented from 1.10.09 but the contractors of the above installations concealed it deliberately and so to say were pick-pocketing the workers by making less payment to unskilled, the semi-skilled and the skilled workers respectively by Rs.55/-, Rs.83/- and Rs.72/- per day.
As per rule still in force, the daily wage of contract workers is enhanced per every six months. So, it becomes the responsibility, first of all, of the Labour Deptt. to see for itself whether the workers are being paid at the enhanced rates or not. Moreover, the Principal employer and here, the Garrison Engineer (G.E) in his official and authoritative capacity has to ensure payment of wages as per notification or at the enhanced rates whatsoever, to the workers.
But it was a matter of grave concern that the ALC (C) Dibrugarh neither made it sure that the contractors made payment as per instruction of the circular issued by his superior the RLC (C), Guwahati, nor he sent his labour enforcement officer to the spots for any enquiry regarding whether the circular was being implemented, nor he, till the union took initiative for building up movement, and in this process staged a demonstration before his office at Dibrugarh on 17.12.09 ( strike notice was served on 02/12/09), took any initiative to compel the G.E. to follow the legal procedures to redress the grievances of the workers. Also the GE abstained till date from making any formal commitment that he would take initiative as per direction of the Act.
Later, the Union held many programmes of action before going on strike, the major ones of which were- (I) addressing a letter of request to the G.E. to compel the contractors to make the enhanced payment at the enhanced rates on 17.11.09; (2) gate meetings were held both in Dinjan and Chabua twice at each place and a workers’ mass meeting was held at Mohanbari to form a union branch. But the G.E. remained adamant and did not respond; (3) on 4.12.09 strike notice was served. Still, the ALC (c ) and the principal employer remained quite indifferent; (4) a militant demonstration of 400 plus workers was staged before his office; (5) on being compelled, the ALC (C), invited a meeting at his office on 21.12.09 which was attended by the Union representatives, the representative of the G.E. Dinjan but the contractor Union and the G.E. Chabua abstained; (6) still, in order to avoid strike another effort was made to involve the G.O.C. and a letter was also addressed to him on 30/12/09. But all the above efforts failing to bear any fruit, the strike became inevitable from 4.01.2010.
The strike was total on 4th January in Dinjan Military and Air Force Station in which more than 600 workers participated. The contractors of the Dinjan Military Station having given an assurance that they would make payment of Rs. 110/- to the unskilled and semi-skilled workers (instead ofRs. 70-80/- as was being paid earlier and Rs.135/- and 158/- as in the new circular with enhanced rates) and Rs.140/- to the skilled workers (instead of Rs. 120/- as was being paid earlier but instead of Rs. 192/- as per the new circular.) Major Section of the workers agreed to the above enhancement and the strike was temporarily withdrawn there. But the strike in Dinjan Airforce Station continued till 12th January, i.e. for 9 days and there the contractors were compelled to respect the new circular. But the same contractors except 4 of them betrayed the workers of Dinjan Military Station not sticking to their commitment there and on the next payment day being Saturday, (on 09 .01. 2010) made payment of Rs.80/- to a section, Rs.90/- to some others and again Rs.100/- to another section in order to create division, anarchy and industrial unrest and also to utilise one Section of the workers against another. As a result, the workers there again got furious and from 11th January the workers again resorted to strike at their own decision and continued up to 17th with the demand of full implementation of circular and the Union fully supported it.
It is interesting and worth mentioning that the contractors are all the same in all the military and Air Force Stations spreading over Assam and the North East. But the same contractors who agreed to abide by the new circular in Dinjan Air Force Station did not agree to do so in case of Dinjan Military Station. They had to surrender before the resoluteness of the workers of the Dinjan Air Force Station where the number of workers were, though less, say only one hundred but were conscious and resolute both in organizational and ideological sphere.
During the strike period the Contractors Union adopted their conventional practice of utilising police force against the strikers. Besides lodging a false ejahar against the General Secretary of All Assam Contractor workers’ Union, Com. Subhash Singh, who also happens to be one of the national councillors and Assam State Committee member of AICCTU, threatened his life, sending the police to his residence time and again and resorting to other form of harassment in order to make other leaders panic. They also engaged hired goons and lumpens for intimidating in many other ways by way of hiring workers from other places but failed.
In order to foil their evil designs, the Union also adopted various measures and the important ones were as follows: (1) Holding meetings of workers at the rural and tea garden spots from where the workers come to their duties in the field of the military and air force station; (2) an effective leaflet was published targeting and condemning the police-contractors nexus, appealing to stand firmly to realize the demands of enhanced wage as notified by the Govt.; (3) holding gate meetings frequently; apart from various other initiatives
To conclude, in order to consolidate the gains, the organization needs to be strengthened, daily life of the union which is now almost nil, has to be regular and membership drive to be undertaken with all earnestness.