Three months ago Manmohan Singh had made a categorical public statement promising to give up his public career and accept any punishment given by the country if he were to be found responsible for any act of corruption. His moment of truth came on August 17 when the CAG report on the coal block allotment scam was tabled in Parliament. But far from offering to resign, Mr Singh, who is projected by the Congress as the epitome of honesty and integrity, is now bent upon rubbishing the CAG and its findings. Confronted with the 2G scam, Manmohan Singh had sought to blame it on the intricacies of coalition politics. Now when his own culpability has been exposed in the Coalgate, he seeks to explain it away in the name of compulsions of federalism and constitutional procedures.
The coal scam is far more shocking and sinister than even the 2G scam. In June 2004 the Coal Ministry suggested that coal blocks be allocated through a transparent process of competitive bidding. It should also be noted that 2004 witnessed a quantum jump internationally in coal prices. Up to July 2003, coal prices were in the range of $25-30 a tonne, but with a sudden surge in global demand, China being the biggest contributor, coal prices soon soared to $60 and then zoomed to $180 by July 2008, before seemingly settling down in the range of $100-105 a tonne. But while the Coal Ministry suggested the auction route, it was the PMO which came up with a note highlighting the possible drawbacks of competitive bidding.
The government then raised the plea that switching over to the practice of competitive bidding required an amendment to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. Yet by 2006 the Law Ministry made it clear that the government could introduce competitive bidding without resorting to any amendment in the MMDR Act. The government ignored the Law Ministry clearance and went ahead with its move to amend the MMDR Act promising to stall allocations pending the enactment of the amendment. Yet while the government showed no urgency in getting the amendments enacted, notified and enforced, allocations went on in with alacrity. Of the 208 blocks allocated between 1993 (when the policy of allocating coal blocks to private parties for purposes of captive mining and not commercial sale was adopted) and 2010, 85% allocations happened after 2006 and 63 allocations took place when Manmohan Singh was directly in charge of the Coal Ministry.
Manmohan Singh has questioned the CAG's evaluation of loss to the national exchequer on several counts. He argues that only such blocks have been allocated to private players where mining is most difficult and expensive and under the amended MMDR Act, 26% of profits made by these companies would anyway have to be spent by them for local development. The economist PM's corporate lawyer colleague who has now again been shifted to the Finance Ministry goes even so far as to question the very notion of loss when not an ounce of coal has been mined from the allocated blocks. Manmohan Singh chooses to forget that the amended MMDR Act is yet to come into force and would not retrospectively cover the period audited by the CAG. Chidambaram ignores the basic fact that the amount which could have accrued to the national exchequer if coal blocks were auctioned is not directly related to the actual volume and value of post-auction mining.
In fact, the Manmohan-Chidmabaram defence raises more questions while answering none. If production has not yet begun in the allocated blocks, why has these allocations not been cancelled so far? The very argument invoked for the dubious allocations made through the shady mechanism of a so-called screening committee pending the MMDR amendment and introduction of open, competitive bidding is that the allocations could not have waited. Delay in allocation would have affected GDP growth and generation of energy so crucial to the people and the economy. But if it was really so urgent why has no production begun even after years of allocation. If anything, the acquisition of mining rights has added to the economic muscle of the companies favoured, prominent among them are big players like Reliance, Tata, Mittal and Jindal, while contributing nothing to GDP and the national exchequer.
If the CAG has erred in estimating, it has clearly underestimated the whole scam. The draft report estimate of 10.65 lakh crores has already been reduced drastically by keeping public sector companies out of purview. The CAG's final estimate of loss is pegged at Rs 1,85,591 crore in the allotment of 57 mines to private parties between 2006 and 2009. But going by the experience of auction of six mines in Madhya Pradesh by the Madhya Pradesh State Mining Corporation (MPSMC) in November 2008, the CAG estimate is grossly conservative. The MPSMC auction – all the six mines auctioned have been underground, more expensive than the open-cast mines of Coal India Limited – has yielded 2.3-7.1 times the average amount the CAG has used in its report. In other words, the Coalgate is far bigger a scam than what it has been finally made to look like. The best way of finding the most appropriate estimate of the coal scam will be to cancel the allocations and auction them through fresh competitive bidding.
Manmohan Singh is invoking federalism and constitutionalism to explain away the coal scam and his personal culpability and complicity in the whole thing. If the government stayed away from allocating coal blocks through competitive bidding simply because a few states did not agree to the idea, why does it not give up the idea of inviting FDI in multi-brand retail which is being objected to by many state governments? If the screening committee mechanism is so sacrosanct in Manmohan Singh's notion of constitutional democracy why does his government refuse to show due respect to a constitutionally empowered and mandated body like the CAG?
Along with the Coalgate report, two other CAG reports, no less worthy of public attention, were also tabled in Parliament on August 17. One of these reports estimates a net largesse of Rs 29,033 crore gifted by the government to Anil Ambani's Reliance Power in an Ultra Mega Power Project while the other report exposes how the Civil Aviation Ministry has handed over the international airport in Delhi on a platter to the GMR group, leasing out tens of acres of land for commercial exploitation at a paltry annual rate of Rs 100 per acre and allowing it to earn a projected revenue of Rs 88,337 crore over a lease period of sixty years on the basis of an equity contribution of sheer Rs 2,450 crore.
The CAG reports corroborate with great details not only the mega corruption that is thriving as a direct outcome of the ongoing pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, but also the systematic subversion of the constitutional basis of Indian democracy. The democratic paradigm of government of the people, for the people and by the people has been reduced to government of the corporates, for the corporates, by the corporates. Crony capitalism subverts popular democracy and constitutional procedures at every step with the help of its kitchen cabinet. The demand for resignation of Manmohan Singh must therefore be raised as an integral part of the bigger battle for reorientation of India's policies and rejection of the growing nexus between big business and power politics.
AIALA Initiatives in West Bengal
Responding to the state-wide call for protest demonstrations at Panchayats by the West Bengal state council of All India Agricultural Labourer's Association (AIALA), protests were launched in several districts of the state. AIALA members and activists identified critical areas affecting farmers and agricultural labourers, where the Trinamool Congress-Indian National Congress-led government has miserably failed the people. Burning issues like deliberate and systemic erosion of democracy of the Panchayats and the plummeting of democratic milieu in the state in general, failure to issue BPL cards for poor families, fiasco over returning snatched land to Singur farmers, guaranteeing minimum wages for agricultural labourers (currently fixed by the govt. at Rs 171 rupees), ensuring 250 days of work at Rs. 250 daily wage under the NREGA scheme, ending corruption, and fair pricing for fertilizers were at the forefront of the AIALA demonstrations. The failure of the government to check farmer suicides also came under scathing attack.
The state AIALA leadership and the district leadership mobilized in at least 11 Panchayats in Bardhaman, 4 in Murshidabad, 3 in Birbhum, 3 in North Dinajpur, 4 in Darjeeling, 1 in North 24 Parganas, 1 in Bankura, 10 in Nadia and 9 in Hooghly districts in the form of mass demonstrations, and sent deputations to the respective Panchayats with their demands. More demonstrations are scheduled to be held in Bankura district and other parts of the state in the remainder of this month. AIALA is geared up for massive participation of farmers and agricultural labourers in the countrywide civil disobedience and mass arrest on 31st August.
Protests Against Growing Gender Violence in W Bengal
That West Bengal has earned the ignominious distinction of topping the list of states recording highest number of crimes against women in the country in 2011, comes as little surprise to the local people, who read newspapers full of such ghastly reports each day. As per the National Crime Records Bureau figures, West Bengal accounted for nearly 12.7 per cent of total crime against women (in India) by reporting 29,133 cases, of which 2,363 instances of rape had been registered in 2011. This alarming trend is showing no signs of decline in 2012.
On 27th August, a woman was gang-raped in the Madartala area under Jadavpur P.S. when she went out to buy medicines for her ailing child. The woman is currently battling with trauma in the hospital. AIPWA activists went to the area on the same day, met with relatives and neighbours of the victim, and sent a deputation to the officer-in-charge of Jadavpur P.S. demanding immediate arrest and charge-sheeting of the criminals involved.
Earlier, on 14th August, Kolkata district committees of AIPWA and CPI(ML) held a joint demonstration at Charu Market P.S. and submitted a memorandum to the officer-in-charge after a woman alleged gang-rape near Chetla Bridge on 11th August. It was later revealed that the poor working woman was pressurized by one faction of the Trinamool Congress to allege rape 'falsely' in order to score a point over another faction. On the one hand the TMC-administration comprising of Mamata Banerjee and her ministers have been on the defensive, implicitly sheltering criminals and rapists by crying 'conspiracy against her regime' and playing the old game of blaming the victims. On the other hand, TMC is showing its true colours by forcing a poor woman to bring 'false rape charges' as a pawn in their factional infightings. The growing trends of lumpenization and anarchy in the political milieu post-'paribartan' is fuelling growing violence on women.
AICCTU's All-India Protest Against Sacking of Maruti Workers
As reported last week, AICCTU called for an all-India protest against the sacking of the Maruti workers, deployment of armed forces in the factory, and visit of the Maruti-Suzuki chief, on 22 August. In Delhi, a demonstration was held at Haryana Bhavan, where the effigy of Haryana CM Hooda and the Suzuki Motors Chairman Osamu Suzuki was burnt. AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee participated in this protest.
Demonstration were held all over Tamilnadu in support of the Maruti workers. In Coimbatore, a demonstration was held at Periyanaickapalayam in which more than 200 workers participated. Comrades Krishnamoorthy, state secretary of AICCTU, N K Natarajan, state President of AICCTU, Balasubramanian, state committee member of CPI(ML) and Chandran of LMW Workers' Union participated.
In Chennai, a demonstration was held at Thiruvottiyur, a centre of big industries. The demonstration was led by Com. Sekar of Solidarity Forum, and addressed by Com. Sivaprakasam, Deputy GS of MRF union, Com. Palani, GS of Carborundum Universal union, Com. Athi Tamilan of Royal Enfield and Comrades Bhuvana, Jawahar and A S Kumar from AICCTU. Workers and leaders of TI–Diamond Chain and On Load Gears (Ambattur) participated.
The Sirkazhi Municipality Conservancy Workers' union held a protest, attended by 75 workers including 25 women members. It was addressed by Com Prabakaran, President of the union and Com. Ilangovan, State committee member. Protests in Tiruchi and Tiruverumbur on 24th August were addressed by Com S Kumarasamy, All-India President of AICCTU. In the latter protest, contract labours of Ordnance factory, workers of Xomox Sanmar Ltd, and Pudukkottai district committee members of CPI(ML) participated.
In Tirunelveli, a protest on 24th August was led by District President of AICCTU, Com. Thenmozhi, Com. Ramesh, State VP of AICCTU and Com. Ganesan, district secretary.
A massive demonstration was held on 22nd August at Puducherry town in support of the struggling Maruti Suzuki workers. The demonstration also pressed for the immediate reinstatement of 112 women workers who were dismissed at a stroke in VINBROS & Co, Puducherry, and opeining all closed factories and mills in the UT of Puducherry.
The demonstration was led by Com. S Motilal, State Secretary AICCTU in front of the Labour Commissioner's Office. Com. S Balasubramanian, National Secretary AICCTU, Com. P. Sankaran, Vice-President AICCTU and P. Murugan, (AICWF) led the demonstration, in which hundreds of workers including a large number of women workers, participated.
On 22nd August, AICCTU West Bengal organised a protest meeting in front of the Eastern Zonal Office of Maruti-Suzuki at Camac Street at Kolkata. A memorandum was submitted to the senior manager. Atanu Chakravarty, Meena Pal, and NN Banerjee were members of the delegation. Comrades Dibakar Bhattacharaya, Kishore Sarkar and Atanu addressed the meeting.
Protest programs were held at 3 separate spots in Patna. A procession of workers led by the AICCTU General Secretary RN Thakur and State Secretary Ranvijay Kumar marched from R Block crossing to the ITO crossing, where the effigy of the Suzuki Motors Chairman was burnt. General Secretary of the Bihar Non-Gazetted Employees Federation (Gope faction), Rambali Prasad as well as Shivpujanprasad participated.
At Phulwaisharif block HQs, the AICCTU-affiliated Nalanda Biscuit Company Ltd Workers' Union held a procession and burnt an effigy. In another demonstration at Phulwarisharif, workers of the Sudha Dairy, and Patna district private vehicle drivers' and employees' union, demonstrated. At Bhagalpur, too, a protest demonstration and effigy burning took place in the midst of heavy rain, led by AICCTU State President SK Shamra and District Secretary Mukesh Mukt.
Protest programmes were held all over Jharkhand. In Ranchi, a protest procession marched to Albert Ekka Chowk and burnt an effigy there. Organised and unorganised sector workers held a protest march at Jarangdih in Bermo Koylanchal (Bokaro). Another protest march was held at Bokaro's Naya Mod. 200 workers of Mugma Area (ECL) of Dhanbad district held a motorcycle procession led by CMWU leaders. A protest march and effigy burning was also held at Dhanbad towm's Randhir Varma Chowk, and at Argadda in Ramgarh district. Protest meetings were held at Jainagar and Chandwara in Koderma district.
A protest meeting was held at Maroda Gate of the Bhilai Steel Plant on 22nd August, which was addressed by leaders of AICCTU, CPI(ML) and Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha. On 17th August, a Convention was organised by AICCTU in Bhilai, in solidarity with Maruti workers and asserting the demand for implementation of labour laws.
Demonstration of Electricity Board Employees in TN
Dr. Ambedkar Employees and Engineers Union affiliated with AICCTU held a day-long demonstration against privatisation, TU recognition through secret ballot, for filling up 53,000 vacancies, reservation in promotion, regularising contracting labour, wage agreement without work load (as the employees are already under heavy work load), and the post of mazdoor to be changed to 'field assistant'. Over 1000 employees and engineers participated in the demonstration.
Com. S Kumarasami, AICCTU National President, Com. Subramanyam, AICCTU State Secretary and GS of the union, Com. Ramachandran, President of the Union, addressed the gathering. The demonstration was led by Com. Chandramohan, AICCTU State vice-president.
Convention Demands Justice for Paramakudi and Bathani Tola
A convention was organized in Madurai on August 18 2012, under the banner 'Citizens for Justice for Paramakudi and Bathani Tola. The convention began by paying homage to the victims of caste atrocities and feudal and state-sponsored massacres.
Several grass root activists shared their experiences of atrocities and their struggles. Presiding over the convention, Comrade Simpson, a member of the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola, and State Organizer of the Liberation Front of the Oppressed, emphasized how the dispossession of Dalits from land and resources is central to all atrocities, and hence land struggle is paramount to Dalit empowerment. He spoke of the ongoing struggle for justice in the Paramakudi firing in which 6 people from the oppressed community were brutally killed.
Com. Subramanyam, State Secretary of AICCTU (and General Secretary, Dr. Ambetakar Paniyalar and Porialars Sangam) said that that Ambedkarism and Marxism were the right weapons for Dalit liberation. He lamented the sub-caste identity which is inimical to the unity of Dalits' struggle.
Com. P.Chandir Bose, GS, Thiyagi Immanuel Sekaran Peravai, who led the gathering on which the police firing at Paramakudi took place last year, welcomed the move to unite with like-minded struggling forces.
CPIML CCM Kavita Krishnan termed the Patna High Court verdict on Bathani Tola a judicial massacre, and spoke of the feudal-communal politics of the Ranveer Sena.
Dalit writer Ilam Parithi also addressed the gathering. In his concluding remarks, Com. Balasundaram, State Secretary of the CPIML questioned the impunity for perpetrators of massacres like Venmani, Thamiraparani , Bathani and now Paramakudi. He called upon the left , democratic and progressive forces to observe September 11, the anniversary of the Paramakudi firing, in TN as a day to commemorate the struggles at Paramakudi and Bathani Tola. The gathering endorsed the call.
A large number of CPI(ML) activists, Dalit activists and well wishers attended the convention, including a large section of rural and urban poor women. Several resolutions were passed in the convention. Comrade Mathivanan, District Secretary of CPIML's Madurai unit welcomed the gathering and Comrade G Ramesh, SCM of CPI(ML), presented vote of thanks.
Struggle Against Privatisation of Mumbai Municipality Schools
On 23rd August, thousands of Municipality schoolteachers, students, and the latter's parents, demonstrated at 24 administrative offices of the Mumbai Municipality to protest the move to privatise municipality schools. The protest demonstration was organised by the Republican Party of India led by Prakash Ambedkar, and joined by the Municipal Kamgar Karamchari Purogami Union, CPI(ML)'s Mumbai unit, CPI, Sarva Shramik Sanghatana, Republican Panthers and other organisations. The protest was organised against the move of the Shiv Sena-BJP-ruled Mumbai Municipality to privatise schooling.
CPI(ML) leader Shyam Gohil, Municipal Kamgar Karamchari Purogami Union GS Dhiraj Rathod, Republican Panthers leader Shyam Sonar, and RPI leaders Siddharth Kadam, Prateek Kamble and Tambe addressed many of the demonstrations. A five-member team of Siddharth Kadam, Prateek Kamble, Tambe, Shyam Gohil and Shyam Sonar visited many of the protest sites to lead the protestors.
The protestors demanded a stop to the move to introduce PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) in the schools; regularisation of teachers and non-teaching staff; free schooling for all students till Std. X; a ban on allowing any corporate house, private company, NGO or foreign institution to use the school grounds or classrooms; and recruitment of one clerk per 150 students and one main teacher per 100 students in every school.
Seminars on Hydel-Power projects in Uttarakhand
Ever since the Vijay Bahuguna Government came to power in Uttarakhand, a lobby of fanatic supporters of hydel-power projects has come up, that has even violently attacked those questioning or protesting these projects, branding the latter as enemies of the hill-state. On the other hand, opponents of the projects have tended to be of a religious variety, for whom the main issue has been the pollution of the sacred rivers and submersion of temples. In this competing discourse between fanatic pro-project forces and religious anti-project voices, the voices of people affected by the projects due to eviction, destruction of livelihood, as well as of land and environment, have not been heard. In this backdrop, a series of Seminars have been organised by the All India Kisan Mahasabha, on the theme 'Hydel-Power projects in Uttarakhand and the Question of Pro-People Development'.
A two-day seminar on this theme was held at Joshimath on 28-29 July. This seminar was addressed by the AIKM's State President Purushottam Sharma, senior journalist Harish Chandola, Uttarakhand Mahila Manch convenor Kamala Pant; and Chetna Andolan leader Trepan Chauhan. The seminar began with a people's song presented by Dhan Singh Rana, and was conducted by Comrade Atul Sati of CPI(ML), leader of people's movements against eviction in Joshimath. A paper on the theme of the seminar was presented by AIKM State VP Indresh Maikhuri. Participants in the seminar included several leaders of traders, students, women of Joshimath, as well as several project-affected people.
A similar convention was held at Srinagar on 22 August. Since 22 August marked the second death anniversary of well known people's poet Girish Tiwari 'Girda', the second session of the seminar was dedicated to his memory.
The Srinagar seminar began with the presentation of a Garhwali song penned by Com. Dhan Singh Rana who is from a remote Joshimath village. The song, presented by Jan Sanskriti Manch national councillor Madan Mohan Chamoli, speaks of how Uttarakhand's people have been betrayed by their own leaders, and called for people to rise up and join the communist movement.
The theme paper was presented by social activist Yogendra Kandpal, and addressed by Purushottam Sharma, Uttarakhand Lok Vahini President Shamsher Singh Bisht; CPI(M) state committee member Gangadhar Nautiyal; Nainital Samachar editor Rajivlochan Sah; Garhwal University Geology researcher Sr. SP Sati; Kamla Pant; Trepan Chauhan; Atul Sati; Ganesh Singh 'Garib'; Uma Bhatt; B Shankar Thapliyal; Garhwal University Teachers' Union Secretary Dr. Mahavir Singh Negi; Susheela Bhandari and several other activists and journalists. A highlight of the seminar was when popular singer Narendra Singh Negi sang his composition on the devastation of Uttarakhand's nature and people in the name of 'development'.
The second session on 'Girda' was conducted by cultural activist Dr. DR Purohit. NS Negi sang a well-known composition by Girda. Many activists, writers, composers and cultural personalities shared memories of Girda and his commitment to people's struggles.