Odisha: Urban workshop in Bhubaneswar
A WORKSHOP on the problems of urban areas and tasks ahead was organised by CPI(M) Odisha state committee at Bhubanewar on Nov 10, 2019. Tikender Singh Panwar from all India centre attended the workshop and inaugurated it. Jagganath Mishra, state secretariat member of the party presided over the meeting where, Suresh Panigrahi, state secretariat member placed the theme paper and future tasks on urban issues. Thirty eight Party leaders and activists working in the cities representing five districts and seven cities including state capital Bhubaneswar attended this workshop. Delegates from northern part of Odisha could not attend the workshop because of cyclone ‘Bulbul’. Fifteen members took part in the discussion on range of urban issues and finally the report was adopted.
Inaugurating the workshop, Tikender placed the Party perspective of organising work in the cities. He also shared the process of urbanisation in India and how the cities are presently transforming from the old model of planned township to a free market economy guided principle. He said that the increasing urbanisation throughout the globe and in India is a great challenge and it is severely increasing inequity in the cities as the policies pursued by the governments treat cities as entrepreneurs, extracting humongous profit out of them. This poses serious threat to the livelihoods of urban poor and the middle classes. He said that in India, since the JNNURM reforms and even before that the policies designed from the centre to make cities autonomous bodies, managing themselves without financially empowering them, has worsened the situation.
In Odisha, roughly 17 per cent people live in the urban areas according to the 2011 census which is below the all India average. But some of the cities in Odisha are growing at a fast pace; one of the cities in this direction is the capital city of Bhubaneswar. In majority of the large and smaller cities in India, 40 per cent of the people live in slums. Though they occupy only 3-5 per cent of the land; entitlement to land and their houses is denied to them. In the name of ‘smart city plan’, ‘smart loot’ is going on. The increase in holding tax, water tax, cleaning tax, user fees etc., is the order of the day in the urban areas. Even the lower and middle classes are heavily taxed by the urban administration.
The government of India and the respective state governments are implementing the neo liberal policies where the urban reform is the primary agenda. In the name of reform, privatisation of the utilities is the suggested solution for the cities. Rampant privatisation of public transport, health, education and all types of public services is the motive of the government. In the rural countryside, rural poor people have no work; unemployment problem is increasing which is fuelling migration to the urban area by many folds. Practically the working people, domestic women workers, street vendors, homeless, slum dwellers are the worst victim of this unplanned and mindless urbanisation. In every city the heavy traffic, poor public transport, no waste management plants, lack of proper sewerage and drainage corresponding to the increasing population, lack of drinking water, shortage of electricity etc., are increasing.
The party plenum and the last Party Congress had suggested that the Party must take up the issues of urban poor, middle class, pension holders, street vendors on priority basis. The urban area has got its political importance for campaign and propaganda. In the name of development, there are plans of large scale displacement of slums and street vendors to grab the valuable land for state business and land mafia. Party should prioritise the issues of urban areas and make a concrete plan and systematically should go for campaign and struggles particularly for urban poor people to strengthen the party base.
Janardan Pati, senior leader of the party spoke in depth regarding the ideological onslaught of RSS and Modi led government on Left and progressive forces. The economic crisis is increasing the burden and miseries of common people. Every urban area should be the powerful centre of campaign and movement. Urban area is the head quarter of government and its administration, police etc. Urban area is the business centre as well. Health and education facilities are also available in urban areas. Keeping this in mind the urban Party committees must plan meticulously, alerting cadres from different fronts and build up the centre of movement and organisation of the Party. Unless we improve our political campaign and organisational network, we cannot meet this extraordinary, critical situation, Janardan Pati said.
The theme paper highlighted the party plenum guidelines, how to work in urban areas, taking developmental issues of slum people like house side pattas, housing, drinking water, waste management plan, public transport, quality health and education for poor people, problems of urban unemployment, emphasising how the government policies are responsible for the crisis, problems of senior citizens and pension holders, settlement of vendors, ration cards to all under food security act, construction of night shelters, citizen security, law and order situation, discipline of traffic, sewerage, drainage, drinking water, roads etc. The paper also identified three sectors to organise:
- The problems of urban poor, particularly the slum dwellers under the banner of ‘Basti Bashinda Mahasangh Odisha’.
- Problems of different types of middle class and to form citizen’s committees/ forums, residential associations, pensioners associations; whatever possible city-wise.
- The street vendors issue, and to lay focus on the Street Vendor’s Rehabilitation Act 2013.
Accordingly, these three sections must be organised on the basis of basti, colony, apartment, area and wards. The target has been fixed to hold the Basti-Bashinda state conference on membership basis within 2 months. Every city party committee should ensure formation of citizen’s committee or forum and street vendors also to be organised on urgent basis. The workshop also highlighted regarding the local body elections, where since last one year in Odisha the urban local body elections have been unduly delayed. Party demanded to hold the urban local body elections immediately to manage the urban administration by the elected bodies. The issue of slum displacement, land and housing problem came as a central point in the discussion. The workshop also discussed and decided to build organisation in urban areas on priority basis and also to ensure coordination with other mass and class fronts, particularly the youth, trade union and the women working in the cities. Five cities i.e., Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, Rourkela and Berhampur have been prioritised to set out urban plan in these cities.
STRUGGLE AGAINST SALIASAHI SLUM DISPLACEMENT
Saliasahi is one of the large slums, not only in Odisha but also it has its own presence in all India slum dwellers population map. About 20 – 25 thousand families; around one lakh people across all the categories are living in this slum. This is the working class hub of Bhubaneswar city, particularly the unorganised workers. Now, the government is planning to displace them part wise. The entire slum people cutting across political lines have been united under the banner of ‘Saliasahi Anchalik Committee’ since the last one week. Everyday processions, protest meetings, dharnas etc., are going on in the slum. The ruling BJD and its MLA representing the slum area are trying to suppress the movement in the interest of the corporates. The role of BJP, particularly the Bhubaneswar MP is also dubious. The Left parties with other different organisations have united and floated the forum to undertake the movement. Now the committee has decided to have ‘Bidhan Sabha Abhiyan’ on Nov 22, 2019 from Saliasahi slum to Vidhan Sabha, six kilometers by walking. A series of preparation is going on. The CPI(M) and all mass front leaders visited the slum; they met the people and addressed the meetings, declared their solidarity. Other Left parties also are supporting the cause and joining the struggle.
Tikender singh Panwar, Suresh Panigrahi, Sala Marandi, Chambur Soren, Prabhat Panigrahi and other CPI(M) activists visited the slum on Nov 10 and addressed the meeting. Earlier party senior leaders like Janardan Pati and Jaggnath Mishra and others addressed the meeting and declared their solidarity. Tikender addressing the slum dwellers narrated in detail the issues of slum people across the country, how the Modi and BJD governments are working against the poor slum people in the interest of the corporates. He said that the unity of slum people is necessary to face the challenge of displacement and in defence of land and housing rights for the slum people. He assured to take up this issue at all India level and seek the cooperation of all movements, collectives, organisations of this nature to stand in solidarity with Saliasahi slum dwellers of Bhubaneswar.