Floods Rains and an Apathetic Administration
Has December come to mean devastation for Tamil Nadu? Last year it was the killer waves of tsunami, this year it is the latest blow of rains and floods that have been lashing the state for more than two months. In both cases, nature’s fury followed by administrative apathy made matters horrifying. Post-tsunami relief operations were delayed, inadequate and messy (not to speak of the rampant corruption); the current calamities have been accompanied by all these and, worse still, by pathetic stampede deaths.
Tragedy struck the residents of MGR Nagar in Chennai in the wee hours of 18 December. Starting from 3 a.m., more than 4000 people had lined up outside a school doubling up as a relief centre. Around 4.30 a.m. there was a sudden rush towards the gate with some people noticing a movement near the school's entrance. There were not enough policemen to control the surging crowds, and the stampede started. Most of those who were waiting were coolies, tailors and small time workers. As usual, among the 49 dead more than half were women.
Why people gathered in the dead of night braving chilly rains is easy to see. With relief materials or coupons customarily in short supply, those who would come at the scheduled time ( 9 a.m.) were destined to return empty-handed. Even if 'rumours' of short supply had a role to play, as alleged by the administration, adequate administrative arrangements, like alerting the masses over loudspeakers, could have neutralized that. But who cares?
The dereliction in duty appears all the more unpardonable when one recalls that only last month people died in a similar incident in north Chennai. Were the government sensible enough to take this as a warning, as a measure of the frustrating conditions people find themselves in, and taken corrective steps to streamline and revamp the relief machinery, the latest tragedy could have been averted. But the government is moving adamantly in the opposite direction. Even after the second — and more massive — stampede, it refuses to find out its own lapses and shows more interest in passing the blame on to others. This is clear from the terms of reference for the one-man enquiry committee hurriedly appointed by the Chief Minister. The committee was asked to see whether there were any deficiencies, and also to find out how “mischievous elements spread out the rumours that only few would be given the coupons as the flood relief materials were in deficit.”
This means the basic reason behind the stampede deaths is already known before the ‘enquiry’ is even launched; the only thing left to be done is to find out the conspirators who spread the rumours and provoked the stampede just to tarnish the image of Jaya amma. The proclivity towards political vendetta Ms Jayalalithaa is infamous for here stands out in black relief.
Such criminal negligence regarding people’s — especially poor people's — life and property is not, unfortunately, a unique quality of the Tamil Nadu administration. In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, hundreds were killed this October in an easily avertable train accident’ that occurred because the tracks were washed away by a flash flood — a fact neither the railways nor the irrigation department took care to notice and act upon. Right now people in North India are dying in a cruel cold wave. The death toll has already crossed 30, waiting to take a quantum jump once the wave engulfs the poor of Bihar. In quake-hit Kashmir, relief and rehabilitation work is lagging miles behind what is needed. Thousands are suffering from disease, hunger and snowfall, many already in the throes of a slow, painful death. In the Indian far east, men, women and children of Karbi Anglong are languishing in deliberately under-supplied relief camps — under-supplied because the Congress government in Assam wants to push them back to their villages, where they are helplessly exposed to militant gunfire. And tens of thousands of “development refugees” in big cities and around anti-people projects like the Sardar Sarovar dam live in sub-human conditions year in and year out, barely noticed and never cared for.
Nowhere and never has the capitalist state been sensitive to people’s needs and aspirations. In the neo-liberal era marked by a model of development of the elite by the elite for the elite, it has come to regard the security and welfare of ordinary citizens as a bad burden and this anti-poor bias comes out most nakedly into the open during crises and calamities. From tsunami-ravaged South Asia and hurricane-hit Florida to quake-hit Kashmir and now flooded Tamil Nadu, people across the globe have witnessed this again and again over the past year and there is no reason to believe they are not taking their lessons.
Sankalpa Divas Observed in Memory of Comrade VM
Comrade Vinod Mishra was remembered all over the country by Party ranks and supporters on his Seventh death anniversary on 18 December. He led the Party through 1975 to 1998. All Party ranks reiterated the pledge to carry forward the party on the path shown by Comrade VM.
A cadre convention was organised in Patna which was addressed by many senior leaders. Cultural proggramme was also held on the occasion. A district level convention was also held in Ara where pledge was taken to intensify struggles on basic issues of the people and to pave the way for a pro-people and viable third alternative political force in the state. Cadre conventions was also held in Paliganj, Arwal, Hilsa, Masaurhi and Naubatpur. It was pledged to strengthen the political assertion of the poor in Bihar in these conventions. In Central Jail, Beur, jailed comrades also observed the day by holding a meeting inside jailed. This meeting was addressed by Party's Central Committee member Rameshwar Prasad and Mahesh Prasad. In Jehanabad, it was resolved by the cadre convention to oppose the ongoing repression of poor villagers by Police and the STF. A protest march was also held after the convention. Conventions and mass meetings was also held in Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur, Navada, Siwan and other districts of Bihar. Various other programmes were also taken at different district and block headquarters in the state. Party in Bihar has also started a campaign from this day to induct one and a half million members in its agricultural labour wing, the All India Agricultural Labour Association and to intensify the movement of rural poor in the state as well.
On 18 December, Sankalpa Divas was observed in different districts of Assam by organizing cadre meets at constituency level where discussion on present situation was held. In Behali, L A constituency, Sonitpur, an activist meeting was held and it was attended by 1500 activists from 96 booth committees out of 106. The meeting was addressed by Party's Polit Bureau members Swadesh Bhattacharya and Rubul Sarma and State Committee member Vibek Das. The meeting discussed the political situation and made a comprehensive planning on forthcoming Assembly election in the constituency. In Tinsukia, a cadre meet was held covering all constituencies in the district, where 35 cadres attended. In Dibrugarh district, 2 cadre meets in Lahowal and Tingkhong LAC were held. In Jorhat, cadre meet was held at Teok LAC and discussed about some important articles of Com. VM as well as about the election preparations. In Pathsala, a cadre meet was held at Patasarkuchi at LAC level, that discussed about the prevailing political situation of the state as well as of the constituency. It pledged to activate and carry forward the party’s works. In Nagaon district, cadre meets held in 3 places viz. Kathiatoli, Dalongghat block and Nagaon town. In Guwahati, cadre meet was held at Dispur and Bonda.
In UP, the day was observed as a pledge day against the fascist forces desperately trying to raise heads in the state. A discussion was organised in Lucknow at Party state office on the recently released book, 'The Truth behind Mau Riots' (Mau Dange Ka Sach). A two minute silence was observed in the memory of Comrade VM. Seminars and conventions were held in some districts while classes were conducted at many places on Party's Programme and Constitution.
In Delhi, A photo exhibition on VM's life and a film show was organised in his memory where a video of one of his interviews was screened along with the films, 'Ten Days that Shook the World', 'The Great Dictotor' and another on the life of Che Guevara. Two articles of Comrade VM, 'Retrieve the Revolutionary Core of Marxism' and 'Develop a Correct Style of Work to Develop the Party' were read in all branches. All India General Kamgar Union's Azadpur unit held its conference on this memorial day.
In Haryana, a Sankalp Sabha was organised in Jhajhjhar town where the pledge was reiterated to oppose WTO's US-led onslaught on Indian people. A cadre meet was held in Gwalior on Madhya Pradesh in which discussion was organised on current situation and our tasks. It was also resolved in the meet to give more emphasis on party's work among agrarian labour, poor peasants and unorganised sector workers as these sections of Indian society have expressed their firm determination against the policies of globalisation and the WTO and also against the anti-people policies of the UPA government.
Similar programmes were also held in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, West Bengal and other states.
From Vinod Mishra’s Writings:
Land Reforms are Essential for Development
[We are reproducing excerpts from a speech delivered in 1994 by Comrade Vinod Mishra at ' Bihar Vikas Convention' (Convention on Development) in Patna . From Liberation, November 1994.]
Politics is the reflection of economics, and hence, what we call as criminalisation of politics is actually the reflection of the criminalisation of the economy.
The cessation of growth in Bihar ’s agricultural production is the root cause of all the other degenerations in the state.
Why is it so? On a closer investigation of the institutional constraints we find that the basic problem is of land reform which even today is incomplete in Bihar . When Laloo Yadav came to power he said — he in fact threatened — that he would take legal action against the 85 families who have land holdings above 500 acres and if need be he would nationalise the land. A circular on recording the lands of all landlords was also brought out by the state government. With the passage of time Laloo stopped saying such things and even withdrew the circular.
There is a view from some intellectuals that land reform is no longer required in Bihar because whatever land reform had to take place is already over. ... There is a need for educating the masses so that a feeling of enterprising initiatives is awakened in them. Bihari youth should invest capital and set up industry instead of becoming a ‘Babu’. ... And instead of cultivating only rice and wheat, potatoes should be cultivated and sold, fisheries should be encouraged etc. ... I will say that such ideas, in whatever left form they come in, are all wrong. For you will see that the status-quoist forces present here, be it Congress or JD, they all in a roundabout way say that there is no need for land reform. If only we proceed with advanced farming in Bihar and if a little bit of training is given to the bureaucracy, then probably all the troubles of Bihar can be eradicated. So we understand that somewhere or the other all these arguments are all in favour of the status-quoist and government forces.
If we look at history we see that, in 1973, in Bihar , a seminar on land reform had taken place where Jai Prakash Narayan, was present along with many well-known intellectuals and many others. Various things were discussed and suggestions were given for what is to be done, especially by the Bihar government. The first suggestion that came up was that land records were not proper and that they needed correction, specially the recordings of the tenants was required. Secondly, there should be reform in tenancy whose ultimate goal should be making the tenants the owners of their own land. ... The third recommendation that came up was that ceiling laws should be modified and properly implemented. Fourthly, special land tribunals should be formed and the cases should be transferred from the courts and speedily settled in these tribunals.
And recently, in 1991, a workshop on land reform took place in the same Patna where too various intellectuals participated among whom were some who had participated in the 1973 seminar. This workshop ... concluded that in Bihar the process of agricultural reform has not progressed at all. There was no progress on bringing in laws for limiting land ceiling and on distribution of the acquired land. In fact what happened was that the agenda of land reform was always pushed to the background by calling it irrelevant. This workshop again sent some new proposals to the state government hoping they would be implemented. The special recommendation was to set limits to land holding in a new way in which the presently followed classification of land into six types should be changed to three types. One, cultivated land which has a ceiling of 15 acres; uncultivated land with a ceiling of 22 acres and barren and waste land with a ceiling of 30 acres. Secondly, all concessions related to ceiling given to people holding land under private trusts and land possessed in the name of sugar mills, should be withdrawn. The third proposal was that land tribunals should be formed which the government had attempted but was stopped by the High Court. So it was suggested that permission be taken from the Supreme Court in its favour. The fourth point was that an ‘Operation Batai’ should be undertaken in Bihar similar to ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal . Even these proposals sent by well-known intellectuals were not implemented by the Bihar government.
So this position is not only ours. Well-known intellectuals of the country, all established intellectuals who want the betterment of Bihar , agree on this point that the process of land reform in Bihar is incomplete and completing it holds the key to Bihar ’s development. Only forces like Jagannath Mishra and Laloo Yadav or broker-intellectual types say that there is no need for land reform in Bihar and newer technology in agriculture is the only panacea for Bihar .
The first and foremost thing is the question of agricultural labourers and they should receive their minimum wages. For this, before the farming season, local farmers, peasants, labourers, Kisan Sabha-like organisations of the masses and the officials of the administrative machinery should sit and decide the wages for the season. This should become a regular system because every year conditions change and new rates of wages are to be decided and their implementation should be guaranteed because they don’t get work throughout the year. So a guarantee for their work should be made and land provided for their housing. This should be the first programme. Secondly, fresh surveys should be carried out to record land and then not only should the land be distributed but collectivisation is also required so that farming can be done scientifically. Apart from this the rights of the tenants should be secured and they should be provided low-interest loans from the government institutions so that they can do farming in a better way and eventually be the owners of their own land. This should be our second programme.
The third programme is to strengthen the infrastructure of agriculture in Bihar like augmenting irrigation, renovating old canals and improving land for better productivity. The fourth agenda is the diversification of agriculture. Poultry farming should be started. The fifth point is that the traditional industries of Bihar like the jute mills, sugar mills or handloom units of North Bihar should be revived. The sixth point is that we must revive all democratic institutions like panchayats. And the seventh point I would like to make is that democratic organisations like Kisan Sabha are to participate in this whole process.
So I think that this programme is essential for the development of Bihar . But implementing it is not an easy task. For this we have to traverse a long path of struggle. In the first place, struggle has to be waged against the owners of land, or the rich Kulaks, and those who are associated with multiple businesses, and those who manipulate politics and run regional politics from behind. These three qualities were present in the notorious landlord of Bhojpur, Jwala Singh. On the one hand, he was the owner of a sizeable amount of land, on the other, he ran his various business ventures with black money from his underworld activities and coordinated the entire politics of that region. Such forces are present in all corners of Bihar and the first thing is to wage a struggle against them. Secondly, an extensive struggle should be waged against the corrupt bureaucracy. Thirdly, we have to wage a struggle against the class of politicians I mentioned earlier.
Second National Conference of All India Agricultural Labour Association to be Held in Rajamundry
The Second National Conference of All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA) will be held at Rajamundry in Andhra Pradesh on 30-31 January, 2006. The preparations for the Conference are on in all the states with intensive membership campaigns going on. Conferences at district and state level are also being accomplished. AIALA has reiterated its resolve to strengthen the assertion of rural poor against the anti-people, anti-poor pro-US policies of liberalisation which have further aggravated the present agrarian crisis instead of providing any solution. The emphasis is being given to induct more and more members from dalits, backwards, tribals, women and other weaker sections into the organisation.
The issues of surrendering of Indian government before the WTO, need for a radical land reforms in favour of peasants and Indian agriculture, universalisation of Employment Guarantee Act and to provide it effectiveness and transparency, rampant loot of development funds and corruption in the villages, accountability of elected representatives at all levels, and state repression will be raised in this Conference along with various other issues.
Workers' Court in Ranchi
With the construction sector emerging as one of the most profitable and expanding industry in the country, the plight of workers associated with it has deteriorated further as a consequence of anti-worker policies of liberalisation being followed by the governments. Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand houses more than thirty thousand such workers who were forced to migrate from their native villages owing to rising unemployment and starvation. This pathetic state of deprivation, forced upon by the government policies, has provided builders and contractors an opportunity to exploit cheap labour. With unlimited working hours, non-transparent payment of wages, non-implementation of labour laws, absence of medical facilities and no regular homestead their life has become miserable. Even exploitation of women workers is a regular phenomenon.
Jharkhand General Mazdoor Union has taken up the task of fighting for the rights and dignity of construction workers in Ranchi. It has demanded total implementation of the Construction Workers' Act, formation of a judicial Board, I-cards and BPL Cards for all workers, equal wages for men and women workers besides other demands. A workers' Court was organised on December 15, on the occasion of fifth anniversary of formation of Jharkhand state, in front of Commissioner's office to highlight these demands. This court sent a nine-point demand charter to the Governor of the state. The seven-judge panel decided to meet all concerned officers who hadn't turned up in the court, with the demand-charter, and to hold protest programmes if the demands were not considered by the authorities. Tarun Sarkar presented the case on behalf of the workers.
Earlier, Jharkhand General Mazdoor Union had also protested ouster of 63 workers of Bihar Foundry and Casting Ltd. in Ramgarh. An indefinite fast was organised at factory gates since Dec. 5 and this movement is now gaining momentum. Vicitimised workers have now decided to organised blockade of the factory. A rally was also held on Dec. 13 in support of the struggling workers.
JSM Seminar in Lucknow
Jan Sanskriti Manch organised a Seminar in Lucknow on December 14 on 'What is the reality behind communal riots in Mau'. There was unanimity among speakers that the riots in Mau were perpetrated to fulfil the political needs of the BJP as well as the Samajwadi Party and that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was mainly responsible for these riots. Speakers condemned the Mulayam Singh Yadav for his surrender before the Hindu Yuva Vahini, BJP and RSS which has given a chance for revival to these communal fascist organisations in the state. It was resolved in the seminar that communal fascists can only be defeated through strong democratic popular movement with peasants and agrarian labour struggles at its core and by the likes of Mulayam, Lalu Prasad or the Congress.