Most of what is going on in the name of ‘development’ is adversely affecting the ‘Labour-Industry-Environment’ balance. People’s lives and environment are often subjected to severe disorder or disaster. There is huge wastage of social resources. Nagarik Mancha believes that not all that goes on in the name of ‘development’ are inevitable. ‘Mancha’ was formed by some citizens who felt affected and hence concerned about these problems.
One among its many objectives is to know and try to understand these problems and the truth that is usually hidden behind, and to communicate this knowledge and understanding to the people at large. The Mancha also attempts at the same time, to find out alternative answers, both short term and long term, to these problems.
The Mancha tries to help any initiative or movement to protect and expand civic rights or rights of working people. Development ‘in whose interest’, ‘at whose cost’, ‘at what cost’ and ‘whether the ongoing paradigm of development is self-sustainable’ – are some questions which are constantly addressed, while searching for alternatives. Mancha tries to conduct its own activities in co-operation and in contact with all who are taking initiatives with similar objectives.
Mancha has no claim to utter the last words on these grave problems or their solutions. On the contrary, Mancha believes that search can best be conducted with open-ended, frank and sincere debate and discussion. Nagarik Mancha thinks that if these discussions exclude working people and are confined to ‘specialists’ alone, there is likely to be less gain. Besides, the struggle of working people is the greatest source of useful information relating to labour. So the Mancha tries its utmost to maintain as close a contact as possible with the life, livelihood, initiative and struggle of all sections and classes of toilers.
In this context, it should be made clear that Nagarik Mancha is not a trade union. Relationship of Nagarik Mancha with self-initiatives of toilers and or other citizens is one of friendship and co-operation and not from a supposedly higher pedestal. Mancha itself is an independent autonomous citizens’ initiative. Mancha, also a social action group, is more interested to lend its support to those initiatives, where scope is open for all to participate. Colour of the flag or size of the membership of the organisation is of little consequence.
From its own experience Nagarik Mancha has observed that there are many individuals scattered among different organisations or collectives who enjoy the trust of common workers and citizens. Irrespective of the party affiliation of these individuals, Mancha has no hesitation to get help from them or to co-operate with them within the limits of their own capabilities.
Mancha started its formal journey from 21 September 1989 with purposes mentioned above.
The field of activities the Mancha has been engaged in since then are in short, the following:
Information is a powerful weapon these days. Its use is more against the interest of labouring people and citizens. Nagarik Mancha has directed its efforts so that the same weapon can be used by toilers and other citizens in their own interest.
Besides documents, papers and books, Mancha pays special attention to its own direct field investigations. Help from anybody, whether ‘specialist’ or ‘common man’ is sought and taken without any inhibition. Attempt is made to communicate results of these investigations to as many citizens as possible.
So far the number of printed books or booklets published by Nagarik Mancha is 111. Besides there are handbills and newsletters – printed, photocopied or cyclo-styled – and a VCD on workers of closed industry and development. For Associate Friends we have ‘Mancha Sambad’ – a monthly newsletter. The Nagarik Mancha has been participating in the annual Kolkata Book Fair since 1993 to keep in touch with its associates/friends and make newer contacts.
Alongside its regular activities Nagarik Mancha has established Sashipada Bandyopadhyay Resource Centre (SBRC), which is presently located at RA 449, Naba Pally-Chingrighata, Salt Lake, Sector-4, Kolkata 700105. [It is less than a minute’s walk from Chingrighata Crossing on Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.When you face ‘VIP Sweets’ at Chingrighata, you will need to take the lane on the left, and SBRC will be on the ground floor of the fourth building on the right].
The Centre aims at providing support with background materials, like books, documents, video documentary, electronically accessed materials, etc. to civil society activists, researchers, trade unions and others, who are interested in social actions. The Centre will allow all interested users to access all the materials that Nagarik Mancha has accumulated over the years.
Protecting, Winning and Expanding Statutory Legal Rights
Within a very limited scale, Nagarik Mancha tries to offer legal help and advice to struggling working people of ‘sick’, closed and other industries. Besides as an organisation concerned with citizens’ interest, Nagarik Mancha presents itself to different judicial and quasi-judicial forums. Some examples of legal interventions are:
Moving MRTPC (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practises Commission) regarding a penicillin-manufacturing factory;
Engaging with BIFR and IRBI regarding sick and closed units;
‘Nagarik Mancha Matter’ pursued at Supreme Court relating to occupational diseases including the victims at Chinchurgheria, Jhargram, West Midnapur where Rs 1 lakh was paid by way of compensation to the deceased workers of Surendra Khanij, a stone crushing unit;
Filing cases at the Workmen’s Compensation Court for occupational disease in unorganised sector;
Interventions at the Supreme Court through ‘Nagarik Mancha Matter’ paved the way for setting up of the infrastructure for occupational disease and health;
Through protracted persuasion and awareness raising, the demand for financial assistance to workers of closed industries was kept alive till the implementation of the FAWLOI Scheme by the State Governement.
Search for Alternatives
Feasible and concrete alternative proposals relating to problems of ‘sick’ and closed industries are put forward before the government and public including workers cooperatives. However Mancha does not think that there is any one and only simple way to open or rejuvenate closed or ‘sick’ industries. But it firmly believes that without direct participation of workers no kind of alternative proposal can succeed.
Today, in whatever is being done in the name of ‘development’, any commitment to mankind in general, is conspicuous by its absence. ‘Development’ for some people inevitably calls for the ruin for another section, who again, without exception belong to weaker section of the population. As if the other side of development is eviction and displacement coupled with destruction of the environment.
Nagarik Mancha is in favour of that kind of development which in its very nature is not based on these kinds of deprivations, which brings about self reliance, which depends on the participatory role and democratic consensus of people directly concerned with the development project and which is not unnecessarily, helplessly and inevitably dependent on big capital or so called foreign ultra-modern technology. In one word we are interested in an alternative which can generate trust and self confidence among the people. Some of the projects undertaken in the past are as follows:
Four study reports on the Jute Industry
A Socio-economic impact review on the proposed Port complex at Kulpi on river Hooghly
Two studies on Tea Industry and workers plight
Study on Eastern Coalfields Limited under Coal India
Survey of Industrial Pollution caused by Sponge Iron factories in West Bengal
Study on Locked-Out Factories, Plight of Workers and Urban Space which culminated in a video documentary titled ‘Unnayaner anyo mukh’.
Mancha seeks to help develop public opinion in favour of democratic and other rights of toilers and other citizens through all possible form of mass propaganda, like meetings, processions, rallies, conventions etc. or through utilisation of mass media whenever possible.
Some of the support and solidarity activities followed by awareness raising include:
Demand for monthly stipends for workers of locked out industries which was achieved
Solidarity and support group for workers in sick industries.
Issues regarding Employees Provident Fund
Issues regarding workers health including ESI Scheme
Hundreds of individual cases of unfair labour practises
Workers Unity and Autonomy
Within its capacity Nagarik Mancha tries to lend its help towards development of unity among different section of workers irrespective of their party or opinion, and welcome all signs of autonomy in defence of their own interest or general interest of the society.
Involvement in Daabi Mancha a platform of 22 labour support groups and autonomous unions
Organising Bhukha Michhil on May Day with workers of closed and sick industries
Discussions and proposals about workers cooperatives
Seminars, Workshops, Commissions
Organising the Fact Finding Commission on the Plight of Workers under the Chairmanship of Justice Rajindar Sachar, Chief Justice (Retd.) Delhi High Court, which was the first such People’s tribunal on this issue in this part of the country.
Seminar on Plight of Industries
Seminar on Industrial revival in West Bengal
Scores of Seminars, Conferences, Public Meetings, besides yearly Memorial Lectures
Social Issues and Initiatives
Occupational Disease and Safety was not in the social security agenda concerning workers even 15 years back. Issue was taken up from below and from above and now an occupational health infrastructure and compensation mechanism is in place.
Alternative proposal for the revival of six manufacturing industries in West Bengal
Twenty point citizen’s charter of demand to the state and central government on industry and labour.
Civil Society Election Manifesto
Investigation into degradation of land and water resources owing to pollution
Resisted filling up of East Calcutta Wetlands
Resisted filling up of many water bodies including one at Mudiali Nature Park
Air and water pollution in Kolkata and West Bengal
Rights of Forest Workers and Forest People for example at Gajaldoba
Resisted proposed Nuclear plant at Haripur
Exploring Alternative Energy scenario
Global Warming and Carbon Credit
Rights of Indigenous People
Sponge Iron factories and devastation
AT A GLANCE
Name: Purba Kolkata Nagarik Mancha (formerly Nagarik Mancha)
Registration No: S/IL/18985 (Registered under the West Bengal Societies Act)
Established: 21 September 1989 (Founded as ‘Nagarik Mancha’)
Date of Registration: 24 December 2003
Area of Primary Interest: Labour – Industry – Environment – Development