A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 16, No. 31, 23 – 29 JULY 2013
Midday Meal Tragedy in Bihar – Innocent Victims of Callous Governance
The state government instituted a routine probe but even before the probe could reach any conclusion, the education minister of Bihar who recently lost in the Lok Sabha by-poll in the same area, started invoking the conspiracy theory. The school principal who fled away the moment children began to fall ill is apparently related to some leader of the RJD and the minister would want us to believe that the whole tragedy was actually a grand conspiracy hatched by the opposition to discredit and destabilise the government of Bihar. Forensic reports have indicated the presence of a pesticide in the food served to the children, and chances are that the soyabean curry served to the children was actually cooked in pesticide and not edible oil.
The probe must get to the bottom of the tragedy and everybody found guilty or negligent must be punished. But it will clearly be wrong to treat it as an isolated instance – in fact, the very next day there were reports from Madhubani of a similar incident, where children fell ill after taking their midday meal apparently because a lizard had fallen into the food, and from Gaya, where a student died after being administered Vitamin A. The MDM malady is not confined to Bihar – Tamil Nadu too reported a major MDM mishap even as Bihar was reeling under the shock of the Gandaman tragedy. Clearly, the entire MDM scheme is designed and administered in such a flawed and irresponsible manner that the scheme has turned into a scam and tragedies like the Gandaman one can happen almost anywhere anytime.
The Masrakh massacre must lead to a thorough overhauling of the MDM scheme. The midday meal scheme is a key component of the Union government's flagship education programme Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). Yet there is no guarantee that that the materials used for cooking are fresh and the cooking takes place in a hygienic environment. It is also time the school system, and especially teachers, were freed from the MDM burden. Critics of the MDM scheme rightly point out that education has taken a back seat while the whole focus is on implementing the MDM scheme. And above all, there is this all-important question of how the system deals with the people, especially the poor. The utter contempt with which the poor are treated in every sphere of life can be seen most glaringly in schemes like MDM. It is the rural poor who are forced to send their children to MDM schools and the governments think the poor will put up with anything.
As far as the Bihar government is concerned, it has long been known that like the NRHM in UP, MDM has become a victim of official negligence and pervasive corruption. A few years ago when the government was found guilty of a huge mismatch between its withdrawal and expenditure accounts, considerable irregularities were found in the realm of MDM and SSA. Recently the state government returned an unspent sum of Rs. 462.78 crore received between 2006-07 and 2009-10 ostensibly for building kitchen sheds and purchasing utensils for the MDM scheme. Now in the wake of the Masrakh tragedy, the Union HRD Ministry has started talking of systemic failure in monitoring the MDM project in Bihar.
It is not just the MDM scheme and the education system that have nearly collapsed in Bihar, the systems of healthcare and disaster management also stand brutally exposed. The children had fallen ill at midday on 16 July and effective medical care for critical cases could begin only in Patna and that too after an unpardonable lapse of more than twelve hours by which time the death toll had already reached near twenty, and four more died on the way and two more patients died soon after being admitted in the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH). This shows the state of the healthcare system in districts and the quality of the disaster management response of the state government. Could not the government rush a well equipped medical team to Chhapra from elsewhere? Could not the government use helicopters to airlift critical cases patients to Patna?
The biggest crisis that is being felt in Bihar today is the crisis of governance – the very plank that had brought Nitish Kumar to power. And underlying this crisis of governance is a total absence of sensitivity and accountability. Nitish Kumar who treats the people as subjects who must come to him in the 'Darbars' he holds in Patna or in the course of his periodic 'yatras' (the petitions submitted in such 'darbars' seldom yield any result though) is never to be seen by the side of the people when they are aggrieved, be it a case of police repression or any disaster or calamity, natural or man-made. And ever since the BJP ministers were 'dismissed' it is Nitish Kumar who is holding on to all those ministries and that includes the crucial department of health. Pushed into the opposition, the BJP is now obviously desperate to make political capital of every failure of the government, but it has had an equal share in promoting the official culture of apathy, arrogance, negligence and non-performance masked by phrases like 'good governance' and 'development with justice'. It is significant that the people of Masrakh turned away BJP leader Sushil Modi.
Redesigning of the MDM scheme, a thorough overhaul of the welfare mechanism, and fixing of appropriate accountability for the enormous crime that led to the MDM tragedy at Masrakh – that's the least that we owe to the innocent children whose lives were cut short so tragically by the 'welfare' arm of the state.
CPI(ML) GS Attends Dharna Against Custodial Killing in UP
CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya on 22nd July attended and addressed a dharna organized by the Rihai Manch, a platform struggling for the release of innocent Muslims framed in false terror charges and demanding probe into the role of security agencies in it. This indefinite dharna that completed 62 days on the 22nd July, has been demanding justice for Khalid Mujahid, a youth jailed on terror charges and killed in police custody even after the UP Government had recommended his release.
Addressing the dharna Comrade Dipankar said that after killing Khalid Mujahid, the UP government is trying to bury the report of RD Nimesh Commission, which had found discrepancies in arrest of Khalid Mujahid and Tariq Qasmi, accused in 2007 serial blasts.
Questioning the role of security agencies, he said there are many instances in which the security agencies have framed innocent people in fake terror charges, and demanded more transparency and reform in functioning of police and security agencies.
Accusing BJP and RSS of trying to polarize people on communal lines, he said that the country cannot be run on Modi's model of mass murders and culture of fake encounters, which were a smokescreen to draw attention away from Modi's policies promoting corporate plunder.
He also said the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh, like the Congress nationally, is also hoping to benefit from the polarisation of communities in the state. This explained the SP's collusion with communal forces. "There is Khalid Mujahid in UP, Ishrat Jahan in Gujarat, Qateel Siddiqui in Congress-ruled Maharshtra; the pattern everywhere is the same, regardless of the party in power. It has become a pattern of the Government of India, which only highlights its pro-US policy of Islamophobia," he said.
He also said that Rihai Manch's protest is a "fight not just about the release of innocents who are locked in jails, it is as much about the release of democracy".
AICCTU's Country wide protests held on 18 July
Picketing in front of showrooms/offices of Maruti Suzuki
All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) held Country-wide protest demonstrations by Picketing in front of showrooms/offices of Maruti Suzuki and organizing rallies in several major cities on 18 July 2013- the day which marks the completion of one year of the determined resistance of workers Maruti Suzuki, Manesar against all out repression and blatant attack on their rights by nexus of Haryana's Hooda government and Maruti management.
On 18th July, several workers of AICCTU and students and youth of AISA and RYA from Delhi and NCR participated in the call of "Manesar Chalo" (Go to Manesar) given by Maruti worker. On this day again the Haryana government and administration exhibited their loyalty to the Maruti administration by imposing section-144 in Manesar region and several parts of Gurgaon. In this situation a mass meeting and demonstration was held near IFFCO Chowk, Gurgaon in which large number of people from civil society also participated. A memorandum was submitted to DC of Gurgaon from this demonstration.
Notably, at the initiative of AICCTU, in Chennai, a massive all-TU joint demonstration was held in which members of AICCTU, CITU, AITUC, HMS, LPF, INTUC, AIUTUC and WPTUC took part. Also, in Mumbai, workers from various trade unions and mass organizations including AICCTU, Sarva Shramik Sangathan, AISA and unions of Blue Star, Reliance Energy, Godrej, Jagruk Kamgar Manch, Kamgar Aghadi, Kachara Vahatuk Sangathan held a rally and convention.
The Chennai demonstration was presided over by Com. Kumaresh, state VP of AICCTU and was addressed by Com. Iraniappan, state secretary of AICCTU, among others. More than 500 workers participated including workers from sectors like Railways, State transport, Electricity board, Ashok Leyland, TI Diamond chain, Carborendum, Gymkhana Club, and some Hospitals and Hotels and also from unorganised sector. In rest of Tamil Nadu, programmes were held in 12 districts. There was a public meeting at Sriperumputhur of Kanji district in which workers including Hyundai participated. At Coimbatore, there was a demonstration at gate of both plants 1 and 3 with a large participation of workers. A strong demonstration was held at Salem with participation of HMS, AITUC and TUI and addressed by Com. Chandramohan, state VP of AICCTU. Also, there were demonstrations at Namakkal and Kanyakumari. In Tanjore construction workers wore demand badges when they assembled for the day's work. In Tirunelveli too, workers of unorganised sector like auto drivers, washer men and others wore demand badges. In Tiruchi Ordnance factory, both permanent and contract workers wore badges in support of Maruti workers' demands.
On 18 July, Bangalore City Committee of AICCTU organized an impressive demonstration in the city centre in solidarity with struggling Maruti workers as a part of the all-India call. The demo was addressed by AICCTU leader Comrade Shankar said that the case of Maruti is the worst example of central and state governments openly siding with MNCs and corporate capital against the working class in the era of globalization and liberalization. Com. Appanna, state secretary, district leaders Krishna Golla, Ashok Gowda and Raghavendra also addressed the demonstrators. Com. Puttegowda, district secretary led the demonstration.
On the same day, another demonstration was organized at Ganagavati in front of Maruti Show Room. Com. Bharadwaj, state president hailed Maruti struggle as a symbol of unity of entire working class defying artificial divisions of contract and permanent. Com. Basavangowda, NCM, Virupakshappa, taluk president and Raghavendra of RYA addressed the demonstrators among others.
In Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, a strong demonstration and a mass meeting, preceded by a rally, was held in front of show-room of Maruti company, led by leaders of AICCTU including Shubhendu Sen, Sukhdev Prasad and Bhuneshwar Kewat. The demonstrations were also held at steel city of Bokaro and coal belt of Dhanbad and Ramgarh.
In Bhagalpur, Bihar a big demonstration, led by Com. SK Sharma, national VP of AICCTU, was held and an effigy of Hooda government and Maurti management was burnt with participation of hundreds of workers, particularly unorganized workers. In Puduchery, a massive demonstration was held in front of Maruti Showroom in the leadership of AICCTU state secretary, Com. S. Motilal and national secretary, S. Balasubramanian.
The demonstrations were also held in front of Maruti showrooms in Kanpur in U.P. in the leadership of AICCTU's national VP, Hari Singh and in Bhilai, Chattisgarh in the leadership of national leaders of AICCTU JP Nair and Rajendra Parganiha.
Memoranda were sent to CM and Governor of Haryana, Union Labour Minister and Chief Labour Commissioners (Central) from various states.
The demands raised in these country-wide demonstrations were:
Immediately reinstate all terminated workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar Plant, Suzuki, Powertrain India and Suzuki Motorcycles; unconditional release of the 147 workers lodged in Gurgaon Jail for the past one year and 10 workers and other people lodged in Kaithal jail since 18th May 2013 and withdrawal of all fabricated charges against them; a high level Judicial probe into the violation of labour laws by Maruti and other employers in Gurgaon Manesar belt; an independent, high level Judicial enquiry into the incident of 18 July 2012; Prohibition of the employment of bouncers by employers and regularization of contract labour and other non-regular workers who are engaged in works of a perennial nature and equal pay for equal work.
Mashrakh MDM Massacre:
Nitish Government Has Blood of Children on Its Hands
(A report by CPI(ML)'s Bihar State Secretary Kunal)
The massacre of 23 school children through the mid-day meal on 16th July in Dharmasati Gandaman village of Mashrakh block in Saran district has not only completely exposed the Nitish Government's empty boasts about development, it has also brought to the fore the total insensitivity and irresponsibility of the Government.
When the CPI(ML) team led by General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya reached the place on 17th July afternoon, the village was grief-stricken and also seething with anger. 4 government vehicles had been torched and reduced to cinders by the roadside. In the open maidan of the Dharmasati temple, JCB cranes had been employed to dig graves for the burial of the children. Two children had already been buried and 21 had been placed in the burial pits.
As soon as we entered the village we came upon the house of cook Manju Kunwar whose family was wailing for their dead. 9 children from the family had been killed. We were told that immediately upon consuming the meal, the children tottered, fell to the floor and lost consciousness. They were immediately taken to the Block level hospital at Mashrakh. Seeing no facilities for treatment there, the children were taken to the District HQ in Chhapra. By evening a dozen children had lost their lives. 4 more children died on the way to Patna Medical College Hospital. 27 children were admitted to the hospital, of whom 2 died on the morning of 17th July. 25 children survived the tragedy.
Dharmasati Gandaman village has a population of about 200 families, most of whom are poor and small farmers from the Yadav and Noniya castes. The primary school has no building of its own and is run in the small community hall situated in the open temple complex. Meals were prepared and eaten in the open. On the day of the incident, the cook complained about the foul smell of the oil, and many children refused to eat the food due to its bad smell and poison-like taste but the Principal Meena Devi threatened the children and forced them to eat the food. Now the forensic report has confirmed the presence of large quantities of the pesticide organo-phosphorus in the meal. This pesticide has been banned in 50 countries including the USA but it is still widely used in India. It is so poisonous that it can even enter the body through the pores of the skin and cause death. The villagers tell us that one of them, Bigeshwar Mishra, had submitted a written complaint 6 months ago to the district education officer regarding the pathetic state of the mid-day meals but the authorities took no notice.
The incident has exposed the wretched condition of school education in Bihar. The school education system has failed completely due to lack of an independent system for organizing the mid-day meal scheme, as this has now become one of the main duties of the schools themselves. The State has 8600 primary schools which have no buildings but function under trees, in dilapidated houses, community halls, back yards etc. Moreover, these schools are open to the risk of tragedy at any time through the mid-day meal. There are no arrangements for hygienic cooking and serving of food to the children. There is also huge corruption and scams involved in the scheme.
The mid-day meal played a big role in the recent AC/DC scams which flourish under the politician-bureaucrat-village chief-Principal nexus. The meal is cooked for 100 children but the attendance register records show 200-300 children. Nowhere is the meal cooked according to the prescribed menu. Neither is the directive followed that the cook and teachers must taste the food before it is served to the children. Nowhere in the implementation of the scheme is there any sense that the purpose of the scheme is to feed nutritious food to little children. That is why from all across Bihar (and other states) we get reports of worms in the food, children falling ill and even dying from eating the food.
After this incident children in hundreds of State government schools have refused to eat the food and the mid-day meal scheme is closed at present. What is needed is to develop a system (independent from the teaching work) to cook and serve hygienic and nutritious meals to the children. The administration should be made accountable and stringent action should be taken where regulations are violated.
This incident has also exposed the poor state of the medical system in the State. Apart from the capital (Patna), there are no basic life-saving emergency facilities available anywhere. There were no facilities even for a saline drip in the District hospital at Chhapra and no compounder was available to administer drips. Even in the Patna MCH, the leakage of gas in the AC system caused a panic and the parents/guardians of the children from Mashrakh had to run out of the hospital with the sick children in their arms. Nitish Kumar has repeatedly made announcements of opening a new medical college and increasing the number of seats but these remain on paper only. The Mashrakh incident has thoroughly exposed the sorry state of the medical facilities in Bihar.
The Mashrakh incident has also exposed the pathetic state of Disaster Management in Bihar. Nitish Kumar boasts of having constructed good roads by which one can reach the capital from any corner of Bihar within 4 hours. Then why did it take over 14 hours to bring these children to Patna? Helicopters are available for the CM and his Ministers to tour extensively but not for saving the lives of the poor children of the State. A team of doctors could have been sent to the place or the children could have been shifted to Patna without delay, saving many lives.
The whole of Bihar falls within the risk-prone earthquake zone. There had been a destructive earthquake in 1934. Geologists have warned that at any time Bihar could be the epicentre of a future earthquake. Floods occur and boats capsize every year but the Disaster Management of the State works not to save lives but to fish out dead bodies and is unsuccessful even in this endeavour.
This incident has also exposed the utter heartlessness of the Nitish govt. The CM, who embarks on various yatras at the drop of a hat, neither visited Dharmasati to console the victims nor went to the Patna hospital to meet them. All his Ministers were busy in preparing for the coming elections. All limits were crossed when the Education Minister shamelessly put forward the theory of the incident being the result of a political conspiracy to malign the government. Nitish Kumar considered his duty over when he announced a compensation of 2 lakhs each to the victims.
In all, the repeated acquittal of perpetrators of carnages, the incidents at Forbesganj, Aurangabad, Madhubani, Bagaha and Purnea and now the murder of school children at Mashrakh have brought out the total failure of the Nitish govt. Nitish Kumar has no right to continue to remain in the seat of power in Bihar.
Women Protesters Arrested in Purnea
On 20th July, 1000 women under the banner of AIPWA had protested in Purnea demanding schooling, education for girls who are rape survivors, and freeing of Purnea's adivasi women who remain in jail. The SDO stopped the procession by force, snatched AIPWA flags and banners and beat up the protesters. Following this the women surrounded and soundly beat the SDO, broke the gates of the DM's office and entered the DM's office in full strength. The administration did not have the courage to arrest the women then. But when the women were returning from the city, police picked up some 150 women from various places on their way home! Most of the women resisted the arrest boldly, and were eventually released under pressure from local people. As we go to press, around 50 women are still in custody.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: email@example.com, website: www.cpiml.org