Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 17, 2017


Filed under: Ecology,Film,india — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

I have been a fan of Bollywood movies for many years. Since they are geared to ordinary people rather than international film festivals, there is a premium on story-telling and a disdain for the irony that has become so dominant in Hollywood films. This is not to speak of the song and dance routines that punctuate the films, which for me are far more enjoyable than anything in “La La Land.”

If you are a fan of Bollywood films like me or if you’d like to sample one of the more interesting examples, I recommend “Irada” that opened today at the AMC Empire 25 theater in NY. This is a detective story named that pits its hero Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), who is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Lieutenant Columbo, against a powerful chemical company boss named Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar). Like probably most chemical companies in India, his is dumping carcinogenic waste products into the groundwater of Bathinda, a Punjabi city.

When Sharma’s massive industrial complex is blown to bits in an apparent act of sabotage, Mishra is called in to investigate. He is summoned to the office of Chief Minister Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta), where she tells him to wrap up the case as quickly as possible. She is anxious for him to not look too closely into the company’s dealings for fear that he will discover that she is helping to cover up Sharma’s toxic waste dumping that has turned Bathinda into a virtual cancer epidemic.

The Chief Minister and just about everybody else in a position of power is beholden to him in the same way that Louisiana elected officials are in the pocket of BP and other polluters. If the idea of the BRICS countries is to catch up with the West, you wonder why such a prospect ever became embraced by part of the left. With people like Narendra Modi functioning as India’s Bobby Jindal, the Indo-American governor of Louisiana, perhaps there is a different model worth embracing.

Inspector Mitra hooks up with two allies in his lonely search to find out the truth. He is aided by the widow of an investigative journalist who was murdered by Sharma’s goons and the father of a seemingly healthy and athletic young woman who developed Stage Four lung cancer after swimming daily in a Bathinda river.

Unlike most Hollywood detective movies that rely on brute force, Mitra is much more old-school. In a way, the film is a throwback to the days of Dashiell Hammett with most scenes involving the sympathetic characters trying to figure things out rather than car chases or shootouts.

I imagine that the film hit a responsive chord in India, especially in Punjab. The film, despite its Bollywood aesthetic including two songs, is not escapist. Just consider what a Punjab newspaper reported in 2013:

The Tribune, October 14, 2013
Govt sleeps as toxic waste poisons water in Punjab
Umesh Dewan/TNS

Notwithstanding claims of the Punjab Government and the state Pollution Control Board (PPCB) that emphasis is being laid on ensuring clean and green environment in the state, the practice of discharging domestic waste and untreated industrial effluents into drains, rivulets and water channels continues unabated in Jalandhar and Kapurthala.

The worst affected is the Kala Sanghian Drain, which originates from Bullandpur village in Jalandhar and goes to Chiti Bein, which finally connects with the Sutlej.

In Kapurthala, untreated sewage waste is polluting Kali Bein. Same is the fate of Wadala Drain. It merges with Kali Bein, which finally falls into the Beas. Pollution of drains and rivulets has also started affecting groundwater. This has started affecting he health of people in many parts of Jalandhar and Kapurthala.

Apart from skin diseases, a number of cancer deaths have also been reported in many villages of Jalandhar. Intake of polluted water is said to be the main cause behind rising number of cancer cases in these areas. Though, the PPCB has tightened the noose around the tanneries at the Leather Complex and electroplating units in Jalandhar, the violation of anti-pollution norms continues.

The problem

Out of about 200 electroplating units in Jalandhar, many do not have effluent treatment plants (ETPs). The result: Toxic chrome effluents are discharged into Kala Sanghian Drain.

It is being claimed that electroplating units send effluents to the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Ludhiana for treatment, but there are reports that many units continue to discharge untreated effluents into Kala Sanghian Drain. There are about 60 tanneries in Leather Complex.

Kapurthala has a sewage treatment plant (STP) with total capacity of treating 25 million litre discharge per day (MLD). Since the plant is not properly functional, the discharge of untreated domestic waste into Kali Bein goes on. Untreated domestic waste of some areas also finds its way into Wadala Drain. Lakhs of fish were found dead in Kali Bein at Sultanpur Lodhi in April this year.

The promises

Sewage treatment plants (STPs) were to be set up in Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur. Industrial units had to send effluents to the CETP, Ludhiana, or had to install their own ETPs. On February 28, 2008, it was announced that Kala Sanghian Drain would be made pollution-free within one month, but there has not been much improvement five years down the line.

On May 18, 2011, some Rajasthan residents came to Jalandhar to lodge a protest with the administration saying the 45-km Kala Sanghian Drain was polluting the Sutlej and ultimately the Indira canal that carried water to several districts of Rajasthan.

The reality

The Punjab Effluent Treatment Society (PETS) has set up a 5 MLD CETP at Leather Complex for the treatment of toxic waste, while the old CETP (1.5 MLD) is non-functional. The installed capacity of tanneries at leather complex is about 8.8 MLD.

PPCB Senior Environmental Engineer SP Garg said the PETS had initiated the process to re-commission the old CETP at the Leather Complex. “The capacity of the new CETP is being increased from 5 MLD to 6 MLD. We are hopeful that work will be completed by October 31,” said PETS Secretary-cum-Director Ajay Sharma.

Garg said board officials kept conducting surprise checks on tanneries and action was initiated whenever any violation was noticed. Kapurthala MC Executive Officer and President had been prosecuted for not been able to ensure that the STP operated properly and achieved desired standards, he added.

Jalandhar needs to have STPs with a combined capacity of 235 MLD. At present, two STPs (100 MLD and 25 MLD capacity) are functional at Pholriwal. A 50 MLD STP is coming up Opposite the Leather Complex, whereas two STPs of 25 MLD and 10 MLD capacity are being set up along the Hoshiarpur Road and the GT Road in Jalandhar. Phagwara has an STP of 20 MLD capacity, while two other STPs of 8 MLD capacity each are being set up. In Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur, 6 MLD and 30 MLD STPs are coming up. The deadline for the commissioning of all STPs is March 31, 2014.

Health hazard

Consumption of polluted groundwater has left a large number of people suffering from various diseases, including cancer. Gazipur, Allowal, Badshapur, Mehmuwal Mahla, Kohar Kalan, Athola, Mandala Chana, Gidderpindi, Bahmania, Madala, Isewal and Namajepur villages in Jalandhar district are the worst-hit. Bulerkhanpur, Sidhpur, Sunra, Chaka, Ahmedpur and Mallu villages are among the worst-affected in Kapurthala.

Tumour and cancer cases, besides stomach, eye, skin and respiration problems are common among residents of Jalandhar villages that fall in the vicinity of Kala Sanghian Drain.

Jarnail Singh of Badshapur village said: “There had been eight cancer deaths in the village. Residents of other villagers are also suffering from various ailments. The state government has completely failed to check pollution of groundwater.” Inhabitants of many other villages also claimed that the people were suffering due to consumption of polluted water.

Seechewal’s take

According to environmentalist Seechewal, the discharge of Kala Sanghian Drain goes down to Chitti Bein, then to the Sutlej and finally to Harike headworks, from where drinking water is supplied to the Malwa region. Polluted water poses a serious risk not only to the aquatic life, but also to humans.

Till all STPs were in place, the Jalandhar Municipal Corporation should make arrangements to segregate silt from untreated waste at different points, so that less polluted water was discharged into the drains, he said. “An STP has been set up in Kapurthala at a cost of Rs 12 crore, but it is non-functional. The entire domestic waste goes into Kali Bein, which is really unfortunate,” he added.

(To be continued)

The sorry state of rivers

CHANDIGARH: Punjab ranks 23rd among states and UTs in environment performance index benchmarked by the Planning Commission in its 2012 report. The poor ranking is in sharp contrast with the commitment made by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in October, 2010 that all state rivers will be cleaned by November 30, 2011. The Shiromani Akali Dal manifesto for the last Assembly polls promised “clean air, water, sky and land (saf paun, pani dharti and akash)”. It had also spelled out a 5-point programme. Nothing has changed: The Sutlej continues to be a major victim, the Ghaggar is a repository of chemical waste, as toxins are dunked into the subsoil water at various places. The result is stark: most rivers and choes remain polluted. Government sources cite the lack of funds for handling pollution. For instance, they say, the state government identified 45 towns and cities from where untreated effluents flow into either rivers or nearby choes. Safely created dumps would have taken care of solid waste. But the government doesn’t have funds to set up treatment plants. –TNS

1 Comment »

  1. To Louis Proyect,

    Attached is my modest proposal for the

    resurrection of organized labor, published a few

    years ago in BlackCommentator.com.

    It’s the product of years of working under union

    contracts and working for a national union for many


    If you have time to read this, I’d appreciate a

    comment. Thanks.

    In union,

    John Funiciello

    Beginning to resuscitate the union movement
    (A modest plan)

    1. Do a scientific survey of union members and other rank-and-file workers across the country, about what things are the most important to them, other than their families, their unions, and their jobs. Make a list of the 10 issues or subjects that appear most frequently. Act to engage workers to address those issues.

    2. Educate the members and the general public about things that they never learned in school or college. Offer basic courses of study in political science, American history (with emphasis on working men and women), economics, civics, geography, foreign affairs, how unions work (or don’t), arithmetic and math, race relations (what worked, what didn’t, and why), how the class system works in America. (In other words, a general education, but you get the idea. Emphasis should be placed on the myth that we are in a post-racial society. And, every effort should be made to encourage minority workers to achieve leadership in unions, in general.)

    3. Curb the corporate-sized annual pay of union leaders, which, invariably leads them to feel more comfortable with CEOs of corporations and presidents of chambers of commerce (or presidents of the U.S.), than with their own rank-and-file. Encourage leaders who come out of the rank-and-file, rather than those who rise from a system of nepotism or favoritism.

    4. In electoral politics within unions, establish a two-party system in union constitutions, so that competition for elected office at every level is possible and that, when an incumbent leader is challenged, the challenger is not seen as some kind of insurgent or traitor to the union. And, both work in good faith together after the election. To the extent possible, every election within the union movement should be open to every member in good standing, whether to run for office or to vote. There is precedent for this—the International Typographical Union, which included a two-party system in its constitution.

    5. In every election and for every vote (such as contract ratification), every member’s question should be answered by the leaders, especially those who are at the bargaining table, in the case of contract negotiations. A vital aspect of negotiations is that members know what is at stake and how negotiations are conducted. Explain to the members how difficult it is to negotiate in a climate of fear (of losing a job or an entire industry), and why it is difficult to negotiate under laws that have been designed to oppress the rights of American workers for more than a half-century. Explain those laws, like the Taft-Hartley law of 1947. (See item No. 2) Indicate why it and others like it must be repealed.

    6. Don’t fear the members. Rather, free the members (presuming they have been educated in the ways of the union movement in countering the power of Corporate America). In a time when unions have become bureaucratic, it has been the tendency of the leaders to try to keep a lid on the enthusiasm of the local leaders and the rank-and-file, because they might not express the position of the union in the same way as a paid skilled professional would. Union members have had a lifetime of learning their own history and the history of their country, as those in power have explained it. They need to learn the more complete history. If the members have been educated about their role and their place in society and the economy, there will be no better spokespersons for the union movement, and no union leader will ever have to fear that a member will “say the wrong thing,” when he or she speaks to the press or the public.

    7. The general public has seen organized labor as a rather one-note institution: Concerned mostly with wages, benefits, and working conditions for the members only. While these are the foundation purposes for organizing into unions, for most workers today, that is not enough. The members of unions, however active they are in union work, many, if not most of them, have other interests and activities that are as important as their jobs and their contract (See item No. 1). There was a time when unions served a social function, as well as to fight for decent pay, benefits, and healthy and safe working conditions. They took care of their sick and buried their dead and participated in the life of their communities. That perspective has not existed in organized labor for a long time.

    8. The world is a dangerous place and it is not because of terrorism. It is dangerous because of the degradation of the environment—the polluted air, the fouled water, the near complete depletion of the soil in which our food is grown, and the thousands of species that are being rendered extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago. This is happening because the systems within which we live are literally destroying the earth and, since we humans are part of the earth, we will be destroyed with it. Corporations and their politicians (which is most of them) are largely responsible and people are beginning to become aware of just how precarious their lives are and any institution that does not respond to this danger in a meaningful way will be ignored as irrelevant by the people. Unions must move on this (See No. 1). Resurrect the labor-environment coalitions across the country, so that it is not workers (jobs) vs. environmentalists, for, in many cases, they are one in the same.

    9. A national newspaper (five days a week) that is owned by organized labor, which covers the issues important to working men and women that are not covered by the mass press. The paper would be separated from any undue influence by heads of the unions by a board made up of two dozen persons chosen from a broad cross section of women and men with experience in (especially) newsgathering and dissemination, the sciences, mathematics, business, literature and the arts, history, and political science. Unions spend tens of millions of dollars for their publications every year and they do not seem to have been credible sources of real news for their members, because of their point of view or because they are seen as simply house organs, existing just to place leadership in a good light.

    10. Staff members of unions are some of the most dedicated, energetic, tireless, and creative members of the union movement, but their contributions are ignored or stifled completely because they are not encouraged to participate in the political life of either their unions or the union movement, in general. In fact, in many cases, they are specifically prohibited from engaging in any meaningful way in the real life of any union or the movement. They cannot participate in the political life of the union, which they serve. There are staff unions in many cases. All of the aggregate benefits offered by staff to the union movement would be made feasible to benefit workers, in general, if staff unions across the country formed an international union of staff unions and joined the AFL-CIO. The influence of all that energy on behalf of working people would manifest itself across all unions and at the highest levels of leadership.

    11. Political money is something that unions could do without: Spending tens of millions of dollars (maybe hundreds of millions) in each election cycle. Most of that money is wasted, with the biggest part going to the Democratic Party, which does not recognize most parts of the union movement between elections. At the state and county and more local levels of government, much of that money goes to Republicans and, at any level, most of it goes to incumbents, who care little for working women and men and their unions. The evidence for this is the onslaught against the union movement waged by the combined forces of Corporate America and politicians who call themselves conservative. The vast majority have never lifted a finger to mitigate the damage done to U.S. labor laws by the machinations of the nation’s Right Wing (mostly rich) and the corporations. The courts, mostly elected with merely a nod to democracy, have (and continue to have) a strong hand in this attack on workers, as well.

    12. As has been suggested before, since it seems too difficult to change laws to support workers at the national level, make the right to organize a civil right at the state level, state by state. The campaign in every state would be an educational process for all workers, no matter how much or how little they earn. Workers must rise up and do it themselves, because we’ll find no politicians willing to stake everything and lead such a civil rights campaign.

    13. Issues of war and peace need to be addressed head-on by organized labor. Every union member should be made aware of the direct connection between the slaughter of foreign wars and the demise of working class and middle class American life. (See uslaboragainstwar.org) The more money that is spent on war and “defense,” the less money there is for all of the domestic social programs that are a direct benefit to people. If there is dissension on this matter, because of all of the workers in this (lucrative) industry who are unionized, it must be made clear that this is a matter of literal life and death of the U.S. economy and society and that other kinds of work must be made available to those whose industries are phased out.

    14. Nuclear weapons are in a special category of their own. In these stockpiled weapons lie the seeds of the destruction of life on Earth. There should be none, as had been decided (at least on paper) many years ago. So far, those weapons still exist and the Defense Department (it should be named what it once was, the War Department) is now asking for billions of dollars to “improve” some of the nuclear weapons that we have. Again, workers need to be made aware of the direct quid pro quo: The more money spent on weapons, the less money there is for any hope of a decent life for 320 million people.

    15. Organized labor, as an institution, must make global solidarity one of the primary movers of its existence. Union-to-union connections are vital, if workers and the working classes of the world are to make worthy adversaries to global corporations, which already control much of the economic, social, and cultural life of scores of countries. A few unions do this now, but it is on a very small scale and much of it is done without the awareness or participation of rank-and-file members. They must be part of it.

    16. Associate membership of unorganized workers needs to be a priority for U.S. unions. Since they are not candidates for full rights under the National Labor Relations Act, unless they have a union, accommodations must be made to help them achieve their rights as human beings. Their dues must be commensurate with their (often) low wages and other needs must be met by creatively using the law as it exists and by the judicial system (even though it is skewed toward corporations and the rich), using unique approaches to common problems. Make union organizing a civil right (see number 12).

    17. Lastly, one very important point: Unions and organized labor, in general, must begin the long process of planning for worker ownership of production of the things human beings need to live their lives at a decent standard. There are numerous examples from around the world, Mondragon in northern Spain being the first that comes to mind. And, this should be done on a regional basis, to make individual worker participation in cooperative formation likely. Unions need to take the lead in educating workers and providing start-up money for such worker-owned factories and services.

    Comment by John Funiciello — March 5, 2017 @ 3:06 pm

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