Day 9 special – A Tribute to Sankar Guha Neogi


Shankar Guha Niyogi, 14th February, 1943 to 28th September, 1991:

A Tribute

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

development’.

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

insects.

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

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About vijaymahajan

Educated at St XaviersSchool, Jaipur; IIT Delhi; IIM Ahmedabad and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA; Co-founder of several development organisations - BASIX (www.basixindia.com), PRADAN (www.pradan.net), Development Finance Forum (www.dfforum.org), Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society (www.apmas.org), Sa-Dhan (www.sa-dhan.org) and the Microfinance Institutions Networrk (www.mfinidai.org). Chair of CGAP Excom; BASIX Boards; DSC Board; Board member of MSSRF, ASSEFA, Gram Vikas Honours - WEF Davos Schwab Social Entrepreneur; Ashoka Global Fellow; IIT Delhi Distinguished Alumni Award; HSBC-Access Award for Outstanding Contribution to Microfinance in India; listed among India's top 50 most powerful people in India by BusinessWeek, Asia edition, 2010 Married to Savita, Deputy Dean, ISB, Hyderabad; two children, Chirag and Chandni
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7 Responses to Day 9 special – A Tribute to Sankar Guha Neogi

  1. Girish Godbole says:

    wo mera gaon, wo mere gaon ke chulhe,
    jinme sholay to sholay
    aajkal dhuaon bhi nahi dikhata………
    (Kafi Aazmi)

  2. Dr. Mahajan:
    Your work has inspired a whole generation of development professionals interested in strengthening rural livelihood. However, a ‘rights’ perspective has been missing from much of the livelihoods related work. On the other hand, those advocating “rights” have had little reflections on the hands on job of making sure that entitlements are turned into concrete economic gains for the common citizen. Interventions like Tawa Matsya Sangh are rare. Your reference to Shankar Guha Niyogi makes me believe that we are going to hear more about marrying livelihoods promotion to rights based approaches.
    Sincerely,
    Prakash

  3. Sitaraman says:

    Hi Vijay,

    Didnt know much about Neogi’s works… This read did enlighten me quite a bit about this personality.
    The steadfastedness towards purpose with the concern for environment is evident …… You’ve been talking about social equality and environmental sustainability – and that’s what Neogi seems to have lived for. A deserving tribute..
    Cheers

  4. We can do things with a “great love” to make it great ……not the other way around ” I have learned it today” take care Vijay Sir

  5. Dear sir,

    can you pls tell us tentative place & date for joining so that we can plan our scheduled accordingly ? day by day we found all the experiences interesting to read so now we are eager to join you.

    Regards ,
    Kausalya & Pradeep

  6. pradeep kumar mahajan says:

    Dear vijay,

    I am a bit late in responding 2 ur yatra but my dear u will remain selfless, honest, humble, god fearing, innocent citizen of this beautiful corrupt country. In my words u r
    v -visionary
    i -intelligent
    j -judicious
    a -able administrator
    y -young at heart & spirit
    where ever people like u r there, there is still hope that we will have bright future once again. With best wishes 4 ur good health.
    lovingly urs
    guddu

  7. kranti niyogi sankar guha mukti morcha niyogi family is best im missing

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