Shankar Guha Niyogi, 14th February, 1943 to 28th September, 1991:
the peacock no longer dances…
Today on the way back from Kanker, northern Bastar, to Dhamtari, instead of taking the NH 43, I decided that I must take the detour and visit Dalli-Rajhara mines, the karma bhoomi of late Sankar Guha Neogi.
A remarkable trade union activist, he started off as a worker in the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) in the 1960s, and pursued his studies while working, to complete his B.Sc. He was so active in the militant wing of the trade union at BSP that he was dismissed, but he continued his work. In1975, he was arrested during the Emegency and and was in jail for a year and a half. On release, he formed the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), which became an umbrella organisation, under which both miners were organised with the banner of Chhattisgarh Mines Mazdoor Sangh (CMSS) and the local farmers under the Chhattisgarh Gramin Shramik Sangh (CGSS). The fact that he oragnised both workers and famers showed his unorthodox and superior approach to trade union work, and was unmatched anywhere else.
Due to the struggle that he led, the wages of mine workers went up from Rs 3 per day in 1977 to Rs 60 per day by 1991, a five to six-fold increase, even if take inflation into account. But Guha Neogi was not just a trade unionist – he was a social activist and he noticed that liquor consumption went up as did the wages, so he organised the women in the workers’ families for an anti-liquor campaign. He also led CMM to set up a dispensary which later became a 15 bed hospital, and is now a big established called Shaheed Hospital, in Dalli-Rajhara. The CMM also set up six schools in the area.
He worked with farmers to increase their productivity and get them better prices. He organised workers to counter the destruction of the environment and carried out a tree planting program, another program for cleaning up streams and rivers, and a third for ensuring garbage collection and disposal in the miners’ bastis. He even worked against excessive noise pollution caused by excessive use of loudspeakers! The quote below shows his concern for the environment and describes the destructive transformation of the area:
“The entire area is rich in iron ore and
now has one of the most productive mines in Asia. But just 35 years
ago when people went from Kusumkasa to Dondi or Bastar, they
had to cross dense forests. On the way they would encounter small
villages of Gond adivasis. Under the lush green canopy of trees,
lived numerous species of birds and their songs filled the air. Little
streams and rivulets roamed and rippled across the miles creating
yet another kind of music. Children played freely. Young men and
women frequently gathered to dance in the forest through the night.
Then one day some officers of the Geological Survey of India
arrived in the forest. They were soon followed by a team of Russian
and Indian engineers. Then there was a sudden, unexpected,
thundering blast. People, birds, animals and trees alike trembled
from the shock. That first blast was followed by many, many more.
After this the jarring noise of the bull-dozers came to dominate over
all that was before. Who knows where the koyal and peacock fled
to? The drums fell silent and young people no longer danced in the
forest, for there was no forests left. One by one lakhs of trees were
cut and carted away. In their place sprang up scores of
saw-mills. The once crystal clear, bubbling streams all turned blood
red from the iron ore particles which now flowed in them.
Finally the day came when no trace of the green canopy was
left. Instead, from Rajnandgaon to Durg and Raipur, grand palaces
of the saw-mill owners and traders came up. The iron ore from
Rajhara was smelted to make steel at the plant in Bhilai and the
swirling smoke from its chimneys heralded ‘development’. Upon
foundations tainted by destruction, came to stand the edifice of ‘new
Then the cement plant was installed and the powder dust
shower of cement which spread over the fields destroyed the
agriculture of lakhs of farmers. Meanwhile the putrefying molasses
at the newly opened distillery created an all pervasive odour
Eventually all the rivers were polluted. A vile itching spread among
the people who live beside these rivers. The mortality rate of cattle
became unnaturally high. More and more people began flocking to
the townships and cities. There amid the ceaseless noise of
machines, the stink of chemical pollutants and filth, hutment
colonies proliferated where people were compelled to live like
The protection of the environment is now the central issue. It is
the new challenge-to which we must rise.”
The man who wrote this was shot dead soon after, while he was asleep. The state has yet to find the assasin. The CMM continues.
From “Sankar Guha Neogi – His Work and Thinking” www.doccentre.org/JVA/His_Work.pdf