INDIA: BWI-USW Mission visits forestry project in Maharashtra State

08 March 2017 09:18


In India’s Maharashtra State, the BWI affiliate Maharashtra Building Construction Forest and Wood Workers Union (MBCFWU) has initiated a 2-year new forestry workers organizing project in February 2016 in two selected districts – Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. The project is supported by the USW’s Steelworkers Humanity Fund. The project aims to improve forestry workers’ and communities’ standards of living, educate them about their rights through capacity building and and in doing so promote economic and social sustainability within a rights-based approach. 

With one year of the project now complete, a joint BWI-USW Mission visited the field areas from 19 to 24 February 2017 to take stock of progress and to interact with the union and its members. 

The six-member USW mission, along with BWI, MBCFWU and BWI’s affiliate from Odisha State (OKKS) visited targeted villages in the forest areas and met Self Help Group members, forest and allied industry dependent workers, largely from tribal communities. They shared issues concerning their forest and land rights and highlighted the impact of irregular employment. During the course of interaction women workers engaged in plantation works, under the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The mission expressed concern on health and safety issues at a nearby factory producing incense sticks, that the local union assured to take up with the management in due course. 

For the MBCFWU President, Dadarao Dongre, “the project support has helped us to make organizing inroads in the forestry sector and the work in the field has paid rich dividends through increased membership. With the presence of OKKS General Secretary J N Tripathy, a widely-experienced forest rights activist and leader, we got new ideas to explore the formation of a welfare trust for tendu leaf workers in Maharashtra State. We shall continue to work closely with the target communities and workers to make a difference in their lives”. 

Following the field visit, a Project Review-cum-Planning Meeting was organized on 23 February 2017 at Chandrapur. Apart from the mission members, the meeting was attended by senior union officials, district committee representatives, field community mobilisers and Self Help Groups members. Bro. J N Tripathy from OKKS, Odisha State shared his perspective on the Forest Rights Act, and the long struggle of their union to form a welfare trust for kendu leaf workers in Odisha State. The mission shared their observations from the field and the union presented in detail the project journey so far, and their future road map.