Published: 13th September 2019
Why the youth of West Bengal are marching from Singur to Mamata's Secretariat
Declining quality of education is not an issue new to Bengal neither is unemployment and the youth has been the worst affected
The unemployment rate in India has been insufferably increasing in the past few years and it hit a three-year high of 8.4 per cent, revealed data released by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) — but West Bengal has been dealing with unemployment for the past decade. And the youth are protesting.
SFI and DYFI, along with 12 Left other students’ and youth organisations, have organised a 34 km-long march from Singur, where Tata was supposed to set up an automobile plant, to Nabanna, the new Secretariat building of the West Bengal government to protest everything, from education, or the lack of it, to unemployment, that has been plaguing the state for too long. The march, which started on September 12, will reach the secretariat on September 13.
Declining quality of education is not an issue new to Bengal. The youth has been moving out of the state to study elsewhere for decades. The protesters want to confront the CM about the privatisation of education and the resulting exorbitant fee hike and corruption in the sector. "It's not just about higher education, it is a problem right from the elementary level. The state government is spending Rs 3 less per child per day than what they are supposed to for mid-day meals. When we asked them they said the funds that are coming in from the Centre and we should ask the central government for a clarification," said Srijon Bhattacharya, the West Bengal State Secretary for SFI.
"Private schools and colleges are charging exorbitant fees and they are being left unchecked. We want her (the CM) to take steps to bring down the fees of the higher education institutes. The root of this problem is that the funds allotted to each college are very low. She needs to take steps to increase that," he added.
The next thing on the protesters' list of demands to the CM is allowing "democratic student elections and ensuring democracy on campus". The state government had earlier decided to replace “political” students’ unions with an “apolitical" students' council. After several protests from student organisations, the education minister, Partha Chatterjee, had promised to think about it and said they are positive about polls on campus. But Srijon said that that will not help unless change comes from the grassroots level. "She will say good things that will sound good on stage but none of it is reflected on the ground level. We urge her to arrange for students' union polls as soon as it is possible and also talk to her own party's student activists to create an environment on campuses that others can also exercise their democratic right of freedom of speech. Delivering fascinating speeches about it won't cut it anymore. Make it happen on the ground," he said. "She has accepted herself that there has been a huge number of scams during the college admission process. Then there are the SSC, TET, PSC scams. Get that corruption money back," he added.
Mamata Bannerjee was instrumental in the Singur-Nandigram fight against capitalism and the vowed to give the farmers their land back. But almost a decade later, it does not seem as rosy as it sounded then — the 1,000 acres of land where Tata had already started the construction for their factory is useless, infertile and of no use to the farmers — the CM accepted this in the Assembly recently. The dynamic CM had once also suggested that she will treat the soil there, after uprooting the concrete foundation. "She (Mamata Banerjee) has not given back the farmers cultivable land neither has she established industries to provide people with an opportunity for an alternative stream of income. This issue has been in limbo for too long," said Srijon. "We need jobs, not futile business summits that bring nothing to the table for us. She needs to generate employment in the state so that youth does not have to leave their state and go work in Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Chennai. If she cannot generate employment she should provide the unemployment allowance as she promised. We need something more than a one-time payment of Rs 1,000 or temporary employment as civic volunteers," added the young leader.
Mamata Banerjee, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi's infamous Rs 15 lakh and Achche Din schemes, had promised a hoard of developments, none of which her government has been able to fulfil. The state government schemes are ridden with scams but her erratic deluge of promises is still unchecked. "Her promises of bringing economic development to Bengal have failed miserably. In spite of having organised several business summits not a single investment has been made in Bengal," said Mayukh Biswas, General Secretary of SFI. "Instead, there has been a mushrooming of syndicates and extortionists across Bengal. Our protest is about the education system that is failing and the unemployment rate that remains unchecked," he added.