Our Environment: Perspective of Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh

January 31, 2014

By Shankar Guha Niyogi

Editor’s Note:
This month we are again reproducing an article from the Shankar Guha Niyogi – CMM Archive at Sanhati.

In this publication, published a year after the assassination of Shankar Guha Niyogi on September 28th, 1991 in the CMSS office in Bhilai, the Jan Vikas Andolan calls for a ‘Niyogi week’, marked from Sept 22nd to Sept 28th, to commemorate his martyrdom and reinvigorate the ideas he lived and fought for.

As an apt inauguration of the week, this booklet describes the life of Niyogi before and after he joined the Chattisgarh movement. It aimed to give an overall picture of the variety of tasks undertaken by the movement, in favor of the people of Chattisgarh and its role in promoting environmental awareness and sustainable growth. To that end, the booklet contains an original article by Niyogi (translated to English) called ‘ Our Environment’: his last piece of writing.

Niyogi had moved from Bengal to work at the Bhilai Steel Plant, where he became increasingly politically active, associating with the Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries (precursor to CPI-M) and eventually losing his job for that reason. However, he developed his genre of social activism, where he sought practical and non-divisive ways to implement socio-economic change starting in the 1960s- early 1970s- he was on his own. Several publications by the People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) shed light on his movements during the early periods of his struggles for the rights of adivasis and agricultural laborers. His close work with local struggles would provide the experience needed to organize mass movements.

In 1975, after being released from his first period of imprisonment, he founded the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). The CMSS brought about increase in wages, anti- alcohol campaigns and empowerment of women. It built a hospital, schools and called for basic sanitation for the miner’s slums or bastis. The Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), the Chattisgarh Gramin Shramik Sangh (CGSS) and the CMSS have worked together for the betterment of the whole region.

Shifting his focus to directly tackle issues at the forefront, taking on wealthy and most powerful industrialists in Bhilai, Niyogi anticipated the possibility of being murdered as a way to cull the movement.

The citizen’s committee that conducted a detailed inquiry into the circumstances of Niyogi’s murder consisted of many dignitaries including Vijay Tendulkar, playwright and theatre personality, Senior journalist and diplomat – Kuldip Nayar. Their findings put his murder into the context of post-colonial industrialization of the backward regions of India, where traditional occupations are lost to provide labor for industries. They state in their report that the murder reflects the attrition of democratic space for the workers, where they can fight for or even voice their basic rights, needed for a dignified survival.

In his final writing, on the impact of mines and industrialization on the environment, Niyogi describes the native people’s concern for the degrading environment and the blatant disregard for it by the government and the industrialists. CMSS was always involved in diverse ways to improve the life of the workers, not limited to increase in wages, like most other trade unions of the time.

The environmental initiative of CMSS began when the rights of the adivasis or forest dwelling people to utilize the natural resources were questioned and called ‘damaging’ to the environment. The oversight to the main cause of environmental degradation- the saw mills and industrialization and the rampant corruption in the forest officials, while the law and forest policies oppressed the forest dwellers, was seen as a very important issue, for the well-being of the environment and of the adivasis. Reducing air, water and noise pollution and wastage of human and financial resources by the government officials under the guise of ‘environment-protection’ were also issues that the CMSS proposed to tackle.

In the essay Niyogi says that CMSS believed scientific developments should go hand in hand with conserving nature, as that in itself is patriotism and the basis of national consciousness. The union held detailed discussions on the negative effects of monoculture plantation, and shared its observations with the Forest department. They were strictly in the favor of prohibiting the cutting of Mahua, Char and Tendu trees that provide the livelihood of the local people and would help sustain the economic balance. The union was able to bring about several notable successful changes, including the building of small dams that promote forest growth, redirection of water out flow from iron ore mines.

To encourage such close association to nature, the first step would be for the natives to feel a close allegiance, an ‘ownership’ of the jungles, which would then lead to watchfulness and protection of the forests. This would lead to prevention of poaching and illegal logging. To this end, a ‘Know Your Jungle’ campaign was initiated that involved planting trees of domestic value, like Bamboo, Mahua, Mango, Jamun and planted commercially useful trees in plantations. The plan was to involve government authorities and the local people to plant a variety of trees that could revive the forests and educate children about their surrounding forest trees. Among other successes resulting from constant struggles, Niyogi notes the digging of tube wells for safe drinking water for the adivasis and the slight changes in attitude of taking responsibility for miners’ health by the Bhilai Steel Plant. While supporting environment protection, the union did not approve of anti-industrialization ideas as it believed in maintaining a balance in nature and in science.

No Comments »

Leave a comment