People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 10, 2006
Beedi Workers Mass Housing
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh handing over the keys of a house to a beedi worker at a function in Solapur. CM, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sitaram Yechury and Narsayya Adam are also seen in the picture
IN a significant move for the working class movement, the CPI(M) and CITU Maharashtra units successfully completed a novel cooperative mass housing project for beedi workers of the state. The prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh handed over the keys of the newly built houses to five beedi workers thus formally inaugurating the massive 10,000 houses project in Solapur on September 1, 2006.
The project, which is the biggest co-operative housing project for workers in Asia, was developed and led by CPI(M) and CITU Solapur units under the leadership of CPI(M) MLA, Narasayya Adam. The project has been named after the legendary leader of the revolutionary struggle of Varli Adivasis, ‘Comrade Godavari Parulekar Mahila Bidi Kamgar Sahakari Griha Nirman Sanstha’. The construction for this massive project for 10,000 houses started in 2001 and has been completed three months back.
The function of inauguration of the housing project was held in the form of a mass rally which was attended by about 60,000 people, mainly comprising of beedi workers, their family members, other workers and general public. Five representatives of the beedi workers viz. Sunanda Balla, Shakuntala Panibhate Naseema Sheikh, Fatima Beg and Angubai Gurram were handed over the keys of their houses by the prime minister. All the 10,000 workers were to be handed over the possession of the houses over the next two days.
The meeting was presided over by Maharashtra governor S M Krishna. It was addressed by the prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Sitaram Yechury, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, union minister of state for labour, Chandrashekar Sahu, union power minister, Sushilkumar Shinde.
Among those present on the dais were Maharashtra minister for public works, Vijaysinha Mohite, CPI(M) Maharashtra state secretary, Ashok Dhawale, union minister for the PMO office, Prithviraj Chauhan. The builder of the 10,000 houses, Anil Pandhe, was felicitated by the prime minister for the exceptional quality work done by him at the lowest cost affordable to the poor beedi workers.
The project cost was Rs 62 crore and it consisted of construction of 10,000 houses (all single storied) for beedi workers, all of whom were women. The worker, the state government and the central government made an equal contribution of Rs 20,000 each for the project. Thus the total contribution of the workers, the central and the state governments was Rs 20 crore each. The contribution of the governments has been made from the collections of welfare cess on each bundle of the beedis from the consumers. The contribution of each worker has been taken by way of direct contribution from them as well as through withdrawals from their Provident Fund balances. In addition to the above, both the governments have contributed to the construction of water tank, electricity lines and 5 MW sub station etc. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Desmukh, declared that the state government has already contributed and shall continue to contribute equal amount as that of the central government for the project. He handed a token cheque amounting to Rs 1 crore matching the centre’s additional contribution in the project due to the escalation of the construction cost in the period.
The workers were organised into three cooperative housing societies named after Comrade Godavari Parulekar. A typical house unit consists of a land area of 555 sft, with a RCC cement concrete construction of 255 sft, divided into a hall, a kitchen and a separate toilet and bathroom. Each unit has an open space of 300 sft. The project has taken care of all the required open spaces as well as the land required for community services, schools, hospitals etc. The whole project has been designed and built by a well-known and dedicated local construction firm, Pandhe Constructions Pvt Ltd.
Clearly, the project has become a landmark in the history of (i) low cost mass housing; (ii) working class movement; (iii) cooperative movement and (iv) the role of the government in the creation of social security with people’s participation.
A view of the massive gathering for the function in Solapur
While addressing the rally the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, praised the project as “a model for all the workers”. He congratulated those behind the project for bringing together 10,000 beedi workers, the state and the central governments for this endeavour. He said there are more than 50 lakh beedi workers in the country and a cess collected so far of Rs 2 per one thousand beedis, has been raised to Rs 5 by the UPA government. Many welfare activities such as running hospitals, schools, and colleges are supported out of these funds for the workers welfare, said the prime minister. He added that the UPA government is focussed on the welfare of the common man and is bound by the Common Minimum Programme. He assured that the promises for the poor shall be met by the UPA government and cited the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme. “It shall be made applicable to all districts in the country very soon”, said the prime minister. In conclusion, he said that much more is left to be done for the welfare of the workers, to overcome their worries such as old age, illness etc. “It will require huge amounts of money. We shall have to find some means to raise these funds”, he said.
Sitaram Yechury, in his speech, recalled that Solapur was the city where four workers laid down their lives during the freedom movement. He said today the workers were facing newer challenges. This mass housing project has given an indication that workers can achieve their dream of house on the strength of the movement and cooperation from the governments, said Yechury. He quoted a famous Telugu poet Gurajada Appa Rao stating that a nation is made not not just of land but by its people and that ensuring the security and well-being of the people is real patriotism. “Every paisa for this project shall be utilised for the appropriate purpose and in a proper manner. This is the confidence that stems from our movement and track-record”, said Yechury. He thanked the UPA and the state government for the support and cooperation extended for the project. He expressed the hope that the UPA government shall continue to cooperate and make many more such projects and schemes for the working class.
Narasayya Adam, vice president of CITU Maharashtra, and the main organiser of the project, welcomed the guests. While addressing the rally in his inaugural speech, he said it was a historic day in the lives of the workers as their dream of having a home has been realised. At the same time, the workers are worried about the looming negative impact of stringent and repressive provisions of Anti-Smoking and Tobacco Act of the centre. He said this Act would destroy the beedi industry and protect the cigarette making companies. The lives of the 65,000 beedi workers in Solapur and 65 lakh beedi workers through out country would be ruined due to the application of this unjust law, he said. Narsayya Adam appealed to the prime minister to take a serious note of the situation and make some declaration on this issue which has already been referred to him before.
Chandra Shekhar Shahu, union minister of state for labour, hailed the organisers of the project viz. CPI(M) and CITU, particularly Narasayya Adam for the great work done. He also declared that the central government would construct a common hall at the project for facilitating the rolling of beedis at one place.