First State Level Convention of Slum-Dwellers Held in Kolkata
By Sridip Bhattacharya
THE first ever state level convention of slum dwellers (bustee basee) was held in Kolkata on December 9, 2012. From this convention, a state level organisation of slum dwellers, “Paschim Banga Bustee Unnayan Samity” has been formed. There was tremendous enthusiasm among the participants in the convention, which saw delegates from all the districts participating.
Bustee organisation has been in existence in Kolkata for decades. In three to four districts, more than three bustee organisations have been formed during the last one decade. In all the remaining districts, serious efforts were put in for formation of bustee organisations in the last two years. Bustee organisations have been formed in all the districts of the state before this convention. The situation was demanding for the formation of a state level bustee organisation for better coordination of their movements. The emergence of a state level slum dwellers organisation will add a new fillip to the overall democratic movement in West Bengal.
SLUM DWELLERS ON THE RISE
The process of urbanisation is continuing throughout the world. The proportion of urban people in the entire population is rising fast. Same is true for our country also. In West Bengal, towns and townships are coming up in new areas. The state is experiencing significant growth of urban population.
It is very relevant to add that in capitalist system, this process of urbanisation gathers greater momentum. There was faster growth of urbanisation process centering around industrial centres and simultaneously, there was growth of slums that were the residences of workers and toiling people. Very narrow space, unhealthy atmosphere, not fit to live in a healthy way – these are typically the characteristics of slums. All the terrible and inhuman aspects of capitalist exploitation are being manifested in slums.
In West Bengal, apart from Kolkata, some big towns, and many medium sized and small towns witnessed proliferation of huge number of slums and jhopdis. Lakhs and lakhs of people stay in these slums and their numbers are rising. Due to acute land problem in urban areas, these jhopdis are coming up by the side of railway lines, highways and canals. The number of jhopdis throughout the state are increasing. Jhopdis should be considered as the extension of bustees (slums).
All the districts of the state are having bustees. But they are not of the same type. Most of the bustees in Kolkata and Howrah are on the lands of zamindars. They are termed as thika-bustees. In our state, there are private bustees having land deed, Waqf bustees, Vest-land bustees, government bustees on occupied land etc.
Bustees and jhopdis have multifarious problems like inadequate residence, dirty environment, non availability of drinking water, latrine and drainage problem, absence of education and health infrastructure, lack of sports and cultural facilities etc. This is affecting the lives of the bustee people. Issue of identity card, ration card, inclusion in voter list etc are some of the problems faced by the bustee dwellers. High infant and maternal mortality rates among them is common as also malnutrition and spread of various infectious diseases. They are at the mercy of the police, administration and anti-socials. The fear of eviction always hangs above them like the sword of Damocles.
LF GOVT STOOD FOR SLUM DWELLERS
The central government, guided as it is by neo-liberal policy regime, is trying to shift the slums from the cities/towns to the outskirts and fringe areas. Whatever projects are being taken up, most of the slum dwellers are being deprived of its benefits. Due to the anti-people policies of the central government, there is increase in the number of bustees on the one hand and on the other , the government is again attacking the lives of the slum dwellers in the name of beautification. The TMC government of the state has also initiated attacks on the lives of the bustee people.
During the 34 years of its rule, the Left Front government never succumbed to the tremendous pressure brought on it by the central government to remove the slums. The centre exerted tremendous pressure to restrict the maximum limit of utilisation of land, change of land use and lifting the subsidy on use of drinking water, but the Left Front government refused to oblige in order to protect the interests of the bustee people in cities, towns and suburbs.
Urban development with slum development was the goal of the Left Front government as also no eviction without rehabilitation. Due to these policies, conspiracies of promoters and other dubious people to evict slum dwellers could not succeed during LF rule. Inculcating a sense of right among the bustee people was one of the remarkable achievements of the Left Front government.
EXPERIENCE OF THE LAST 18 MONTHS
More than eighteen months have elapsed since TMC government came to power. In the case of urban development, it has adopted measures just opposite to those of the Left Front government. Slums are no longer its priority. During this period, there has been no distribution of land patta for bustee people. Actually, the fund allotment for bustee development has been reduced with the plea of paucity of funds. Though this government is spending lot of money for festivals and various other extravagant shows, it is citing lack of funds for slum development.
This government has undemocratically enacted a black Act whereby a huge number of bustee people will be evicted from their living places. Since the inception of TMC government in the state, promoters and land agents have become more aggressive. Bustee people are under pressure from money collectors who are intimidating them all the time. New methods of evictions are being experienced by bustee people, which has pushed an already impoverished people into absolute uncertainty and insecurity.
ORGANISATION WITH DEFINITE PERSPECTIVE
This state level organisation has been formed for the defense and enlargement of the rights of bustee people. At the same time, all the issues faced by poorer sections and toiling people are to be taken up by this organisation. Price-rise, universal public distribution system are the issues to be taken up by this organisation. Voices of protest have to be raised against various types of anti-social activities in the slum areas. Different linguistic people reside in the slums. Huge number of Bengal people, as well as non-Bengali people are living in these slums. Also, people of various religions are staying in the slums. Harmful activities of communal and fundamentalist groups can also be found in some of the slums. Bustee organisation has to work for strengthening communal harmony.
In West Bengal, the prestige and security of women are under serious attack ever since the TMC came to power. One of the important tasks of the newly formed organisation would be to safeguard the prestige and security of women living in the slums.
Literacy campaign among the bustee dwellers is to be seriously taken up by this organisation because most of the urban illiteracy is concentrated in slums. Along with this, science-awareness, fight against superstitions etc are to be important areas of activity for the organisation.
The number of unorganised workers, both men and women, living in the slums is huge. These working people facing tremendous insecurity throughout the country. So, bustee organisation will have to play its role in drawing this section towards bustee movement on the one hand, as well as towards the mainstream of working class movement on the other.
This bustee people’s movement will help to shift the balance of correlation of forces in favour of toiling people. It will sharpen the class struggle. This movement is developing in the state to organise all the slum dwellers with the slogans of ‘Housing, Harmony and Development’. This organisation will march ahead with the aims of ensuring security of bustee people’s lives and drawing this section towards movement for development. We are sure that the united struggles of bustee and jhopdi people will be able to contribute in strengthening the overall democratic movement in West Bengal.