10 October 2009

Towards a People’s Charter on Food Security: a Note

In a season of recession, all-time high food prices, retrenchment and wage cuts, decline in food production and drought that is affecting large swathes of the country, the UPA Government has announced its promise of a National Food Security Act, with the agenda of “assuring food security for all” and also ensuring “broader systemic reform in the Public Distribution System.” The Prime Minister, too, has announced that “not a single Indian will be allowed to go hungry.” No Government has any moral right to rule if even a single citizen goes hungry; in India, ironically, boasts of “high growth” have only led to more hunger, with India enjoying the dubious distinction of being home to an estimated one quarter of the world’s hungry people. Does the Government’s conception of food security legislation match up to the promise of eliminating hunger? A look at the ‘Proposed National Food Security Act – a Concept Note’ circulated by the Ministry of Food and Public Distribution among State Governments reveals a very different picture of ‘food security’ as envisioned by the UPA Government. The central concern that emanates from the Concept Note is not how to end malnutrition and hunger, but how to restrict the number of BPL families in order to make the projected BPL numbers ‘fit’ the amount the Government is willing to spend under this head! Claims of reduced poverty...

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Jharkhand Diary

Following the July 28 CC Call, organizational measures were accompanied by an intensification of movemental initiatives in Jharkhand. In particular, there have been sustained and militant struggles against the widespread corruption in schemes like PDS and NREGA. The new Governor in the state, KS Narayanan, has demanded a small sum of Rs. 319 crores for the drought relief measures in face of widespread hunger. The rampant corruption in the administration may make this miniscule sum completely ineffective. The earlier Governor Mr. Sibte Razi, if proper inquiries had been conducted, could have been in jail under corruption charges but he was sent to Assam. There is no change in attitude of the state administration even under the new Governor. CPI(ML)’s statewide campaign from 3-13 August against drought, hunger and corruption received a warm response, making PDS, NREGA and corruption a prominent issue in the political scene of Jharkhand. The campaign concluded in district-level road blockades in all 16 districts of Jharkhand on 14 August with the participation of tens of thousands of people. Protests at Various Districts The Palamu range in one of the worst affected by the famine-like situation this year. Lack of development and exploitation have turned this resource-rich area into a symbol of backwardness. The CPI(ML) has since long been demanding special package for the region. In the past two months, several died of hunger in this...

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Implementation of the CC’s July 28 Call

Initial Reports from Bhojpur The 28 July call of the CC has evoked quite enthusiastic response among the Party rank and file in most of our areas of work and vigorous efforts have begun to achieve a new breakthrough in the field of mass struggles. In order to transmit the real message of the Call in letter and spirit down to every branch and lower-level structure, leading Party cadres will have to unleash their fullest initiative and lead from the front. This calls for a determined struggle against the deeply entrenched and highly infectious superficial and managerial style of work. Reports from Bhojpur indicate the beginning of serious efforts in this direction and preliminary results can be seen in terms of increased mass mobilisation and participation in day-to-day activities and struggles on burning issues of the people. Following the July 28 State-level cadre convention in Patna, the district committee discussed the Call in an open and thoroughgoing manner. All appreciated it in general, and yet, certain comrades expressed their scepticism (‘this is nothing new, we have discussed such problems time and again, but things have not changed’), some found it ‘applicable only for panchayats where we have elected representatives,’ and some saw it as an opportunity to teach a lesson to erring mukhias and leaders. The District Committee discarded such erroneous approaches and partial understanding and emphasised the central...

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Labour Migration

The World Bank’s logic that the informal sector “is a safety net” is not only structured on laboured arguments but seems mischievously interpreted too. Prof Jan Breman, noted comparative sociologist who worked extensively among unorganized and migrant workers in south Gujarat as also in the east coast of China, and is now a visiting professor at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, questioned this imposed perception. “According to the World Bank, one is poor if one earns less than $ 2 a day and $ 1 a day. In Surat, a diamond cutter or polisher on an average earns Rs 125 a day against previous rate of Rs 250 a day, due to the recession in the diamond market abroad. On an average, a worker has seven dependants. Even when a worker used to earn Rs 250 a day, the per head income to survive is a little more than Rs 30 which means a little more than half a dollar”, Prof Breman stated. He was speaking at the Sashipada Bandyopadhyay Resource Centre on 9 September at Jodhpur Park in Kolkata. Dr Breman who had stints as Chair in Sociology at the University of Amsterdam (UA), Professor at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam and scientific director, CASA (a joint venture of the UA and Free University for post-graduate studies) undertook anthropological field studies in south Gujarat, West Java, and lately...

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Impact of Agrarian Crisis on Peasant Women

The havoc caused by capitalist-intensive agriculture in a deeply traditional and feudal society is borne out in the daily lives of women, dalits, children, youth and the elderly. Each peasant suicide in Punjab is an indicator of the plight of millions of agricultural poor who are struggling for survival. This article shows how the economic and social realms are inextricably linked in the lived reality of the peasantry, including peasant women. The current grave situation threatens to not only engulf even more lives but along with it the dreams and aspirations of the next generation too. The picture of the laughing Punjabi farmer in calendars was mere propaganda of the Green Revolution as there’s depression, alienation and suicide written on many young faces today. Both research and ground reality show how it is the Green Revolution and the measures undertaken then that led to the rapid deterioration of soil conditions, increased demand of high cost pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and a network of institutional funding that extended to non-institution sources too; the latter subsequently brought almost the entire of the farming community into the vicious grip of indebtedness. In this article, I share some preliminary findings of a survey of women of 125 families across 10 districts of the Malwa region – the region most affected by the agrarian crisis in Punjab. This survey has been made possible with...

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Cutting Through the Hype

(Globalisation is empowering Indian women economically and socially. Right? Wrong! Never Done and Poorly Paid: Women’s Work in Globalising India studies the world of women’s work in India and challenges many of the widely held beliefs about the impact of globalisation on women’s work and lives. Liberation examines some of the trends and issues that the book brings to light. – Ed/- ) Never Done and Poorly Paid, published by Women Unlimited as part of its ‘feminist fine print’ series, is a collection of essays by Jayati Ghosh. It looks at the impact of the last nearly two decades of ‘liberalisation’ of the Indian economy on women’s work. Apart from being a rigorously researched study of the state of women’s work in India, it is also a larger comment on the realities of India’s globalised economy, reflected in the mirror of women’s lives and work. It is useful to take some of the notions widely peddled by governments and pro-globalisation economists, and confront them with the Never Done’s rigorous analysis. “Feminisation” of the labour force? Is the hype about “feminisation” of the labour force (often claimed with special reference to export-oriented sectors) thanks to globalisation justified? Quite surprisingly, NSSO data on female work participation rates reveals that in fact, these rates in rural areas have barely changed since the late 1970s. In urban areas, the rates have increased very...

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Anatomy of a School Stampede

Based on the findings of a fact finding team that visited the Government Girls Senior Secondary School (GGSSS: 1104153), Khajuri Khas, Delhi where several girls got injured and five died in a stampede. The members of the team included Professor Azra Razzack, Dr Farah Farooqui, academics from Jamia Milia Islamia, Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA, Radhika Menon of Forum for Democratic Initiatives, Omprakash Sharma, Rahimuddin and Vinod Kumar of Building Workers Union, and Ram Abhilash of Delhi State Committee, CPIML. The activists of the building workers union also reside in the area hence information was collected by them on an ongoing basis. Afroz Ansari, a student of Government Girls Senior Secondary School (GGSSS), Khajuri Khas, Northeast Delhi began her Ramzan fast as usual on the morning of 10 September 2009 and rushed to her school to appear for the first term examinations. A 17 year old student of class XI, she was seen as a serious student and was also the first in the family to have attained higher secondary education. A few hours after she had left, came the news from panic struck girls that Afroz was caught in a human crush on the stairs of her school supposedly because of the rains. When she had been pulled out from a pile of girls, she had already collapsed. Shamsheran, her mother, hurried to the school but with no one...

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The Vedic Village Scam

Ugly and Tragic Culmination of the Social Democratic Model of Development (Abridged version of an article by Partha Ghosh published in Deshabrati, 17 September 2009, with additional inputs from Rajarhat comrades.) A local level football match played on 23 August at a place called Shikharpur under the Rajarhat Police Station near Kolkata eventually erupted into a tumultuous incident beset with a high degree of political drama. The controversy apparently broke out on the issue of a disputed goal which decided the fate of the match. The losing side, reported to be sponsored by a local land mafia, Gaffar, popularly known as ‘Land Gaffar’, started throwing bombs at the supporters of the winning side followed by firing, in which one of the local youths died. This enraged the local people who set on fire the nearby luxury resort ‘Vedic Village’ alleging that the miscreants responsible for the bombing and killing were provided shelter in that resort. A large part of the resort was razed to the ground by the fire, but the political heat which the incident generated is showing no signs of mitigation thereafter. In the face of popular unrest, the police had to arrest the Managing Director of the resort Rajkishore Modi, his employee and accomplice Biplab Biswas, and ultimately, Gaffar Molla with his miscreants in arms. The statement which Gaffar Molla made before the police and subsequent...

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WTO: US Plays Villain Again

The limping Doha round of WTO negotiations has stumbled once again, this time too on the rock of American obduracy. Senior trade officials from around 11 countries — the United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Mexico among them — met in Geneva recently to explore how they could resolve their differences. However, with the negotiating table being reduced to the US on one side and the other 10 countries on the other, no substantive progress could be made. The US insisted that emerging countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa should further open up their markets in agriculture and industrial goods, but was not ready for any quid pro quo. On the contrary, very recently it has imposed extra tariffs on cheap Chinese tyres and wants China and India, the two biggest emerging countries, to join the so-called zero-for-zero tariff elimination talks on chemical, industrial and industrial engineering products. Beijing has already conveyed its rejection of this demand, even as New Delhi remains ambivalent. The stalemated Geneva meeting and the preceding ministerial meeting hosted by New Delhi in early September must be understood in the context of the pressures and pulls of the prevailing international situation. Still reeling heavily under the impact of the continuing global recession, the US and other advanced capitalist countries have begun pressing for a quick conclusion of...

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The Ambanis: Private Plunder of Public Resources

The ongoing Ambani brothers’ case before Bombay High Court and now in Supreme Court has brought to fore the spectre of loot of our natural resources (land, water, mines) by tiny elite hand in glove with corrupt politicians. The roles of regulators, executives and government officials have been most shameful, with the highest authorities pleading with both brothers to settle the dispute between them in “national interest”. It seems as though the government is ready to accept and make into policy whatever is acceptable to the two brothers as a compromise formula. For a backgrounder, the private sector was invited into the oil and gas exploration sector in 1997 under the New Exploration Licencing Policy (NELP). It was said that India faced a long term shortage of oil and gas and as the industrial growth gathered pace shortages would be more acute. Since exploration is a highly capital intensive business and the government did not have enough resources and expertise, roping in the private sector would help in increasing domestic production and the much needed energy security. Under NELP various private sector as well as public sector companies were invited to quote for the blocks. As oil and gas is a national resource, the bidding companies were required to be “operators” of the field, who would share the produce with the government in a specific manner laid out in...

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Act Against ‘Honour’ Killings Now!

An Open Letter to P Chidambaram (Circulated by the AIPWA) Dear Home Minister, We appreciate your strong statement in Parliament on July 28, 2009 against killing of couples by caste panchayats in Haryana. You said that you “hang your head in shame” at such killings in the 21st century. This is welcome. But it is not enough. You must be aware that the State Government of Haryana, ruled by your own party, the Congress, is abetting the khaap panchayats. Take the case of 21-year old Ved Pal Mor of Jind, Haryana, who was lynched to death on July 22. Are you aware that Ved Pal Mor was escorted to death by a posse of policemen and an officer of the Court, on whose orders and assurance he had gone to get his legally wedded wife from her village? Clearly, the police colluded with the killers and the khaap panchayat which ordered the killing. They mocked the Court, they mocked the law of the land, and killed an innocent youth who had trusted in the law to protect him. You called for a struggle against “anachronistic attitudes and false values” expressed by the khaap panchayats. But Deepinder Hooda, who has himself enjoyed advanced education in the US, and is one of the proud pack of Congress’ ‘young MPs’ in Parliament, has said that the same values and “sentiments” of the...

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Chaos in the BJP and Prospects for the Left

In the wake of its second successive defeat in Lok Sabha elections, the BJP finds itself in a deep and protracted crisis. The summary expulsion of Jaswant Singh following the publication of his book on Jinnah has only added fuel to the fire. Rebellion and desertion by prominent leaders, bitter factional infighting, and growing differences and debates over many past incidents and ‘settled’ issues and policies have become the order of the day in the party. Till a few years ago Advani epitomized confidence and certainty in the BJP, today he embodies confusion and chaos. If one has to find a defining moment for this downhill journey of the BJP’s once most authentic and authoritative leader, it was when he made those fateful comments on Jinnah in Pakistan. Ironically, it is once again the evaluation of Jinnah – this time a heavy tome on him by another senior leader – that has pushed the BJP into a whirlpool of confusion. And Advani has once again rendered it more profound by now claiming that he did not support the idea of expulsion of Jaswant Singh over the Jinnah controversy. What explains this sudden obsession of senior BJP leaders with Jinnah? It is certainly not prompted by a historian’s quest for truth. Do Advani or Jaswant Singh then really believe that the historical rehabilitation of Jinnah would redeem the BJP in...

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Growing Rejection of Nitish Kumar’s Reign of Loot, Hunger, and Lies

It is commonly believed that by-election results tend to go in favour of the incumbent ruling parties. But recent by-election results have come as a major jolt to the powers that be in Delhi and Bihar. The ruling Congress has lost both the Assembly seats for which by-polls were held in Delhi, while in Bihar the JD(U)-BJP combine could win only 5 of the 18 seats that were up for grabs. Earlier, the Congress also suffered heavily in Gujarat where the BJP managed to wrest as many as five seats from the Congress. The reversal of the Lok Sabha election trends within just four months is indeed quite significant. With prices soaring sky-high and the spectre of drought and starvation looming large over vast stretches of rural India, the anger of the aam aadmi is assuming explosive proportions. The by-elections have reflected this anger quite emphatically. Most surprising has been the outcome in Bihar. Four months ago, the JD(U)-BJP combine had swept the polls bagging 32 of the 40 seats in the state. Lalu Prasad’s RJD was reduced to a tally of only 4 while Paswan’s LJP failed to open its account. The decline of the RJD triggered a veritable spree of desertion, with prominent RJD leaders seeking political shelter under Nitish Kumar’s umbrella. Among the 18 seats for which by-elections were held in Bihar, as many as 13...

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