Slum Dwellers Conference in West Bengal

From our Special Correspondent

MOVEMENT and mobilisation of slum dwellers in West Bengal is gaining momentum. This has been reflected in second state conference of Paschim Banga Basti Unnayan Samity(PBUS)- the largest organisation of slum dwellers in the state. The conference, held on December 1-2, in Kolkata, was preceded by organising slum dwellers at slum, town and district levels. In all 754 slum level committees were formed throughout the state, though, according to leaders of the PBUS, this covers only a part of the actual potential.

There was organisation of slum dwellers in Kolkata and Howrah. In 2012, it was decided to spread in the districts. PBUS had come into existence through a state convention. Though Left activists formed the core of the organisation, PBUS was conceived as a broad platform of all slum dwellers irrespective of their political affiliation. Through years of movement and work among the bustees, PBUS has been able to spread its reach. It had fought against eviction, took up questions of local problems, organised movements on electricity and water connections, and raised voices against atrocities against women.

The main slogans of the second conference were houses for all, jobs for all, unity of all. PBUS considers the right to secure land tenures and tenancy rights as essential for all slum dwellers. This has become more important in the background of growing role of land mafia and real estate promoters. The growing unemployment has accentuated the problem of livelihood in the slums. The activities of the communal forces,  particularly Sangh Parivar outfits in different names has aggravated threat of polarisation among slum dwellers also.

A large open rally was held on November 30, in Rajabazar, Kolkata. Mohd Salim, MP, CITU state secretary Anadi Sahu, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, PBUS state secretary Sukharanjan Dey, Fuad Halim, Ashok Bhattacharya were among the speakers.

In all 333 delegates from 22 districts attended the conference in Sramik Bhavan at Kolkata. Out of them 190 delegates are slum dwellers, the others live in slum neighbourhood.   Amiya Bagchi a noted economist delivered the inaugural speech in which he explained how wealth inequality has intensified and how it affects the development of the society.

Delegates deliberated on myriad problems in slums. In West Bengal the ‘beautification’ of cities and towns are only exterior and superficial in nature. In the slums there is dearth of water, sanitation, electricity and  health facilities. Slum dwellers are denied of social benefits, self help groups are being weakened, and loan sharks are extending their grip. Lumpenisation, patronised by the ruling party has created dangers for social fabric. Many delegates reported about sudden rise of competitive religious activities, encouraged both by BJP and TMC.

Two special sessions were held. Ashok Bhattacharya former minister and Siliguri Mayor placed the keynote address in one of the sessions titled ‘urbanisation and situation in slums’. He detailed the nature of contemporary urbanisation, shifting of industrial production from centres of cities, growing number of unorganised workers, growth of service sector and consequent changes in class character of the slums. He also emphasised on changing nature of aspirations. After discussion Ashok Bhattacharya summed up the immediate tasks before the slum movement. One of them was to conduct survey in slums and to be acquainted more closely with slums.

Another special session was conducted on implementation of governmental projects in the slums. It was summed up that the so called ‘benefits’ are to be seen as rights of the people. The task of slum movement should be to help slum dwellers in achieving those rights

The conference elected a 90 member state committee with Ashok Bhattacharya as president and Sukharanjan Dey as secretary. It has adopted a charter of demands, basing on which movements would be launched.

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