A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol.19 | No.15 | 5-11 April 2016
Time to Question The 'Flyover Model' of Urban Development
On the 1st of April, a flyover that had been under construction for several years in Kolkata, collapsed in a crowded commercial area, trapping pedestrians and vehicles under concrete and metal. This deadly calamity killed 26 and severely injuring nearly a 100 people.
The flyover collapse highlighted India's chronic lack of preparedness for calamities, with rescue cranes arriving hours after the collapse, and ordinary citizens attempting in vain to help those trapped and slowly dying under the debris.
On the eve of West Bengal Assembly polls, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee predictably washed her hands off responsibility for the whole incident and blamed the previous Left Front Government.
It is true that the LF Government had awarded the contract for the construction of the Vivekananda flyover to the Hyderabad-based IVRCL in 2007. Since then, however, the company came on the Railway Ministry's watch-list for non-performance, and was blacklisted twice by different government departments in Jharkhand, and faced questions in Andhra Pradesh as well. Why did Mamata Banerjee's own Government not monitor the flyover construction more closely, given the company's dubious track record?
The flyover was being constructed under the central government's JNNURM/ Amrut project. It had missed its original deadline of August 2010, but the CM Mamata Banerjee announced last November that its new deadline was February 2016, ostensibly so that she could boast of its completion before the Assembly elections. While the Government placed a political burden of haste on the project, why could it not monitor the project for compliance with all required safety norms? Why were pedestrians and traffic allowed on the narrow, congested roads while the construction was underway? Was the long-delayed structure checked regularly for design and structural flaws as well as for poor maintenance? Why were the complaints of local residents that the flyover came dangerously close to their own homes, not taken seriously?
The IVRCL has called the collapse an "act of God" – thereby washing their own hands too off any responsibility and accountability for criminal negligence. And given the track record of impunity enjoyed by private companies – Uphaar cinema and Carbide-Dow in Bhopal are glaring instances - that have played God with the lives of people, IVRCL also has reason to feel confident. 'Private-Public-Partnership' after all has come to mean public patronage for private profit and plunder. With the Government acting to minimize the accountability of the private partners and to slacken on compliance of labour and safety norms, the private companies have no incentive to invest in safety or to abide by norms.
The BJP too is trying to make political capital on the collapse, using it to argue that West Bengal needs the BJP 'model of development.' That fact, however, is that the collapse of the flyover highlights the fatal 'design flaw' in the ruling class development model itself, especially the PPP model. NCRB data shows that in the past five years, seven people were killed every day in structure collapses in India. Collapse of structures like flyovers resulted 47.3% of such deaths, while collapse of residential buildings accounted for 37.3% of such deaths. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat have the worst record, reporting more than 150 deaths each year. The famed 'Gujarat model' of the BJP is no exception to the general trend; one may recall the collapse of the under-construction flyover in Surat in June 2014.
In West Bengal, too, there have been such collapses in the past, too. An under-construction flyover collapsed in Ultadanga in 2013; the casualties were fewer only because the collapse took place before dawn when the area was deserted. The victims of the 2011 AMRI Hospital fire in Kolkata still await justice.
In the wake of every engineering or medical disaster, anti-reservationist propaganda blames the so-called 'privileging' of caste over merit. Such propaganda is fond of arguing that reservations in the private sector would jeopardize 'quality' and lead to lack of safety. In fact, the systematic impunity for private companies who only recognize the imperative of corporate greed over any safety norms, is the single biggest reason for the epidemic of avoidable calamities like structure collapses, urban fires, and medical calamities.
The flyover syndrome (along with the bullet train) itself is a metaphor of the elitist model of development which prioritises the interests of the affluent at the cost of the needs and interests of ordinary citizens. The experience of cities the world over, as well as India's own experience go to show that flyovers are not necessarily the best solutions to the problems of traffic congestion in most Indian cities, yet the many variants of Smart City schemes prioritise flyovers over public transport and pedestrian safety.
Take the example of Chennai, which witnessed a flyover construction boom in the last decade or so. Studies have shown that while each flyover cost around 5 times a normal road, and the total cost of flyovers could have instead been spent on 7,000 public transport buses or more than 2,000 km of dedicated cycle lanes or an extensive bus rapid transit system, flyovers have not really solved the problem of traffic congestion. The reason is obvious: flyovers act as an incentive to buy more cars. In fact, it was the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) that pushed for construction of flyovers – precisely in the hope that these would boost automobile sales. Governments that allow transport policy to be shaped by automobile manufacturers are ignoring the well-established fact that a smoothly functioning public transport system that encourages people to choose public transport over cars, is the only lasting solution to traffic congestion as well as dangerous levels of pollution.
Cities the world over are showing a drop in automobile use and a marked preference for public transport. The truly 'smart' cities are the ones that prioritise the needs of the poorest citizens; that invest in public transport and ensure that roads and public spaces are friendly to pedestrians and the poor. The 'flyover' is a metaphor for a model of urban development that bypasses and flies right over the mass of people whose lives and whose needs – for housing, transport, sanitation, basic services – are rendered invisible. This model of development is what the Uruguayan writer, the late Eduardo Galeano, described as 'A bridge with no river/A tall façade with no building/ A sprinkler on a plastic lawn/An escalator to nowhere/ A highway to the places the highway destroyed…'
It is imperative that we take lessons from the collapse of the flyover in Kolkata, and ensure that it is the last of such accidents that have become routine in our country. The owners of the company responsible for the construction must not only face criminal charges and a timebound trial, but must be made to pay for the costs of rescue and rehabilitation. The role of the concerned Ministers and political leaders must also be investigated so that they also can face appropriate action. And, while ending the culture of impunity of private companies at public cost, there must also be a reappraisal and overhaul of the 'Smart City' model of urban planning, so that the needs and interests of the poor and ordinary citizens is prioritized over the needs and interests of the private profiteers and the rich and privileged.
Call of April 22:
Strengthen the Student-Youth Upsurge!
Build a Bulwark of People's Resistance!!
Save Democracy, Save India!!!
This April 22 we will observe the 47th anniversary of the foundation of CPI(ML), and May 25 will mark the commencement of the 50th year of the historic Naxalbari uprising which presaged the emergence of the CPI(ML) as the new rallying centre for a whole new generation of communist revolutionaries in India. As we remember the glorious past our feet are firmly placed on the fighting ground of the present and our vision is focused on the challenges and great potential that are knocking on our doors.
With Narendra Modi at the head of India's first BJP-majority government at the Centre, it is amply clear that the Sangh brigade is busy systematically unleashing the whole gamut of its corporate-worshipping communal fascist agenda. From the natural and human resources of the country to the institutional structure of the state, from the realm of history, culture and knowledge to the constitutional domain of liberties and rights of the people and secular and democratic foundation of the republic – the Sangh brigade has launched a concerted attack in every sphere, using the state power to the hilt to suppress and incriminate dissent, brazenly plant its hand-picked people in key positions in various institutions and protect its thugs and goons with utter impunity.
While confronting this offensive of the Sangh brigade we must of course focus on the brighter side of the picture – on the reassuring signs of unity, determination and courage with which the people are resisting, successfully exposing, challenging, and even beating back the corporate-communal offensive at times. In 2015 the government had to withdraw the land acquisition ordinance in the face of stiff opposition from peasant organisations and most opposition parties. In this year's budget, the government had to roll back the proposed taxation on withdrawals from workers' provident funds. And the protests that were initiated last year by prominent writers, historians, scientists and cultural personalities in the wake of the killings of Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Mohammad Akhlaq have now found its complement in a powerful student-youth upsurge.
This student upsurge or India's growing youth spring has a great potential to challenge and thwart the fascist offensive of the corporate-communal order. It is an upsurge of a protracted nature, glimpses of which we have been seeing intermittently for the last few years. We saw it erupt in Delhi against the horrific rape and murder of a young girl, and go on to resonate across the country with the call for freedom for India's women from the shackles of patriarchy. We saw it erupt in Hyderabad in the wake of the tragic end of young dreamer and researcher Rohith Vemula and strike a chord across the country against the continuing shame of social discrimination and the growing danger of saffron regimentation in India's educational institutions. And then we saw it erupt again in Delhi following the police crackdown and saffron witch-hunt in JNU and grow into a loud cry for 'azaadi' and democracy in today's India.
What we are witnessing is an assertion of the awakened youth that refuses to be sedated after a change of government. After the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and AAP in Delhi on a popular anti-corruption plank in early 2014, many had thought the upsurge had found its new political destination. In May 2014, many more claimed that Modi had emerged as the most decisive answer for young India's quest for change. But the renewed post-Modi assertion of students has made it clear that far from being quenched, the thirst for change among India's young is only growing and they have all the courage and strength and ability to confront the diktats and machinations of the forces in power. It is a quest for change which inherits the legacy of both Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and if we look at the desperate attacks by RSS-BJP-ABVP goons on activists and academics whether in Delhi or Allahabad, Gwalior or Muzaffarpur, it becomes quite clear how mortally afraid the Sangh brigade is of this legacy and this quest.
And it is not difficult to see why they are so afraid of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and the prospect of the two legacies coming ever closer in action. The BJP is keenly aware that it has no roots in the glorious history of India's freedom movement. The best known figure from its ideological family during the freedom struggle days was Savarkar who eventually became notorious for his mercy petitions to the British rulers and his advocacy of Hindu Rashtra. The founder leaders of RSS drew their inspiration from Mussolini and Hitler and when the colonial rulers finally had to leave the country amidst the bloodbath of Partition, the RSS-Hindu Mahasabha contribution was the assassination of Gandhi, which invited a ban on the organisation imposed by none other than Sardar Patel, the Congress leader who Advani and Modi have been so keen to appropriate. In contrast to this history of shame and disgrace, the radical youth of India continues to draw their inspiration from the sacrifice and vision of Bhagat Singh, his legacy of uncompromising battle against imperialism and total commitment to the cause of the emancipation of the people from all kinds of slavery and bondage.
Like Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar too is an anathema to the RSS because he strikes at the very Manuvadi foundation of the RSS vision of Hindu Rashtra and challenges the RSS dream of resurrecting the caste system with his clarion call for annihilation of castes and the constitutional proclamation of liberty, equality and fraternity as the basis of the Indian republic. In recent years while maligning secularism as minority appeasement and invoking Hindu majoritarianism to transcend the caste divide, the BJP has been trying to hard to hide its casteist core and project a pro-dalit OBC-friendly image of the party, marketing Narendra Modi as India's first EBC Prime Minister. Ambedkar not only tears asunder this carefully constructed camouflage but also inspires the building of bridges of solidarity to unite a whole range of struggles for justice. This is why a desperate Sangh brigade forced the IIT Madras authorities to disband the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, restoring it only after countrywide protests, and accused Rohith Vemula and his comrades in Hyderabad central university of indulging in casteist and anti-national activities when they questioned the communal carnage in Muzaffarnagar.
The ongoing student-youth awakening will have to confront the political machinations, ideological diktats and fascist offensive of the Sangh-BJP establishment not only in university campuses but also in the larger battlefield of the society and state and unite with the fighting people on different fronts. This was the mission of Bhagat Singh during the freedom struggle; this was the call of Charu Mazumdar to the revolutionary students in the 1960s and 1970s which united the historic student upsurge of that period with the uprising of the rural poor; this is the spirit of Ambedkar's message 'educate, agitate, organise'. Let us carry forward this mission by infusing the ongoing 'youth spring' with the revolutionary spirit of the 'spring thunder' of Naxalbari and defeat the fascist threat to march towards a new India of fuller freedom and deeper democracy.
- Central Committee, CPI(ML)
AISA Convention on "Nation, Nationalism and Patriotism" in Madurai.
AISA unit of Madurai Kamaraj University organized a convention on 25th of March on 'Nation, Nationalism and Patriotism'. It was presided over by Com. Pandiarajan of AISA. The list of speakers included Prof. Vivekanandan, Vice President of AIFUCTO, Mr. Murali Ex. Principal of Madurai college and also state campaign committee member of AIPF, Com. Kumarasamy, state secretary of CPI(ML), Com Shehla Rashid Shora, Vice President of JNUSU and Com. Sucheda De, National President of AISA. The convention was attended by Left and progressive students and Youths of Madurai and neighboring districts.
Com. Shehla spoke at length on the issue of branding students fighting for democracy as anti-nationals by the ruling establishment. She said that the ruling BJP government wanted to cover its inability to overcome economic crisis by using intimidation as a tool to silence fighting students. They had resorted to manipulation of video clippings and opened fake twitter accounts to foister cases against students of JNU. Sangh parivar wanted to narrow down India into a single identity. However, even as they claimed to stand for uniformity, why did they want the society to remain divided into varnas and castes? She said that nationalism meant encouraging love for the people of the nation and not manufacturing hatred. We, students stand for the unity, rights and dignity of the people.
Com. Sucheta De said that it was because of the democratic and egalitarian space created by the left politics in JNU that there were no barriers to student activism. The students had strived to follow Dr. Ambedkar's call for annihilation of caste. She added that the student community should stand for democracy and for annihilation of caste. They must also stand to defend in solidarity with Pricol workers in their fight for their rights. The students must steadfastly oppose the WTO dictates in education. She said this anti-people, communal and fascist Government will be charge-sheeted in the peoples' court and declared guilty.
Com Kumarasamy, accused the BJP of trying to equate nation with the Modi government. He condemned the killings of dalits by castiest forces in the case of inter caste marriages and called for a vibrant democratic movement for annihilation of castes.
A booklet on the struggles of AISA was also released on the occasion and convention demanded the repeal of British era sedition law.
On 23 March 2016 big rallies were taken out in Topa and Ghutua of Ramgarh district in Jharkhand, organized by AISA, RYA, and CPI(ML) activists. The marches were taken out from Railway Colony and Ghutua Bazaar respectively. Folders were distributed at the rallies and a seminar was held at Ghutua. These rallies marked the beginning of the widespread campaign to be conducted under the banners of AISA and RYA between 23 March and 14 April 2016. Subsequently, once again on 28 March another march was taken out from Railway Colony, Topa, with greater mobilization, led by CPI(ML) leaders comrades Ashok Gupta, Ram Singh Marandi, and others. In Jhumri Tilaiya of Koderma district, students and youth from various regions were mobilized and the AISA district committee was formed. On 23 March a Student-Youth convention was organized by the newly constituted AISA district committee under the banners of AISA and RYA, addressed by CPI(ML) district Secretary Mohan Datta and Koderma district committee members. It was resolved at the convention to conduct the 'Utho Mere Desh Naye Bharat ke Vaaste Bhagat Singh Ambedkar ke Raaste' widely through all the regions in the district.
Ex JNUSU President comrade Ashutosh, Vice President Anant and AISA leader Niraj also participated in several public meetings. In several instances the state administration tried to create problems by cancelling permissions last minutes. In Deoghar, the state police watched silently as ABVP goons threw stones and engaged in violence against AISA and RYA activists. Com. Ashutosh was also hurt but comrades continued with the programme. Speaking later, Ashutosh said that from Delhi, to Hyderabad to Bihar and Jharkhand, everytime Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh's names are mentioned, the sangh brigade gets agitated. They do not realise that they cannot kill ideas. We will rise from the ashes, each time they try to put us down.
A convention on the theme of the campaign was also organised in Karnal on 3 April. Omprasad, National Secretary of RYA and AISA activist Geeta, spoke during the convention. Prem Singh Gahlawat, Haryana state incharge of CPI(ML) was also present in the convention.
In the coming days AISA and RYA activists will continue spreading the campaign in different parts of the country. The campaign will continue till 14 April 2016, birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar.
AIPWA, CPI(ML) protest forced evacuation of nurses and their families from the nurses' hostel in DMCH
A new nurses hostel was recently constructed in Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) and the union of DMCH (affiliated to AICCTU) had led the struggle to ensure its allotment. However, soon after the superintendent declared it illegal and started machinations to have it vacant. Continuing the series of such attempts, the superintendent recently forced several nurses and their families to vacate the hostel and move to streets terming their residing in hostel as encroachment. He cited 'high court' to forcibly push them out. No concern was shown for ensuring an alternative accommodation for them. AIPWA and CPI(ML) intervened on behalf of the nurses and forced the administration to reach an agreement.
District conferences of the CPI(ML) were held in districts across Bihar in the month of March. The conferences were occasions for discussing the current political and social situation in the country as well as in Bihar, paying tributes to martyred comrades, intellectuals and students including Com. Pansare, Dhabolkar, Kalburgi, Rohith Vemula, and others, discussing, amending, and passing the previous year's reports, and electing new committees.
The 10th district conference of Eastern Champaran district was held on 5-6 March 2016. Inaugurating the convention CCW member and AIARLA National President Com. Rameshwar Prasad said that the pro-corporate, communal and fascist forces in power today are attacking farmers, workers, as well as intellectuals and students; MNREGA funds are being cut and farmers' produce is not being adequately purchased; economic and trade union rights are being snatched away from workers; fabricated cases of sedition are being slapped on students. He called upon all these forces to unite and raise their voices in opposition from a united platform. Joint Editor of Samkaleen Lokyudh Pradeep Jha and other leaders also addressed the convention.
The 10th district conference of Siwan was on 23-24 February. CPI(ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya, State Secretary Com. Kunal and other leaders addressed the open session of the conference held near the statue of martyred former JNUSU President and CPI(ML) leader Com. Chandrashekhar. Com. Dipankar said that today the Central government is attacking the same JNU which gave us a peerless leader like Com. Chandrashekhar. He stressed that the government will never succeed in its unholy attempt to snatch the freedom of expression from people and demanded that the cases of sedition against JNU students should be withdrawn immediately. He pointed out that the mahagathbandhan government is also doing injustice to political activists, and gave the example of the false cases against comrades Satyadev Ram and Amarjeet Kushwaha. Violence against women and crime are on the rise in the state, but the government is doing nothing about it.
The 4th and 10th district conferences were held in Arwal and Aurangabad on 5-6 March and 4-5 March respectively. Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya and Com. Rajaram Singh, were the main speakers and they spoke of the dark times (burre din) today for students, youth, intellectuals, farmers, workers, and the common people, but said that the bright side is that the people are fighting back and putting up spirited struggles against injustice and oppression.
The 8th district conference was held in Muzaffarpur on 6-7 March. Addressing the inaugural session AIPWA National President Com. Meena Tiwari said that the Modi government is attacking all democratic systems and the basic rights of the common people. Education, culture, history, and even science is being saffronized. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and the arrests and fabricated sedition charges against JNU students are part of the Sanghi agenda. She stressed the need for a strong and united fight under 'Save democracy, save the country' against this all-round attempt to murder democracy.
The 9th district conference of Gaya was held on 6-7 March. Inaugurating the delegates' session Com. Ram Jatan Sharma said that the Modi government is anti-farmer and anti-worker. Acting on the directions of the Sangh, it is attacking HCU, JNU and other campuses and trying to destroy all democratic institutions and crush democratic movements.
The 6th district conference of Beguserai was held on 7 March. Comrades Rajaram Singh, Naveen Kumar, Divakar, CPI leader Com. Anil Anjan, CPI(M) leader Com. Ravindra Singh and others addressed the conference. The speakers stressed the need for strengthening Left unity in order to fight effectively against the anti-people policies of the governments both at the Centre and in the State. The 10th district conferences of Jehanabad and Kaimur were held on 12-13 March and 8 March respectively. The 8th district conference of Gopalganj was held on 15-16 March. The speakers condemned the failure of the State government to act against the Sanghi violence at the CPI(ML) meeting in Muzaffarpur and said that the Party would not be crushed by such violence but work with renewed vigour to expose the governments at the Centre and the State.