Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee – Seven Decades of Dedicated service to the workers’ Cause
Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee will complete 97 by June 2017. He is the senior most leader of the Central Government employees’ movement and especially that of P & T. Sisir Da, as he is respectfully called, is an inspiration for a whole generation of workers. His life is part of the history of the trade union movement in W.Bengal. Telecom Factory workers worship him as their saviour. He is still active in the movement as the guide and philosopher. He was the first Patron of BSNL Employees Union, elected in its formation Conference at Visakhapatnam in March 2001. He now lives in a small house in Behala in the outskirts of Kolkata.
I, along with Comrades Mihir Dasgupta, former AGS BSNLEU, Adhir Kumar Sen, Vice-President, BSNLEU, Animesh Mitra, then Dy. General Secretary BSNLEU & Circle Secretary W.Bengal and Om Praksh Singh, Circle Secretary, Telecom Factory visited Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee in his home in Kolkata on 06-07-2013, 10-07-2013, 08-11-2015 and 27-07-2016 and discussed about his life, experiences and activities. Com. A.K.Bhattacharjee, President AIBDPA and Com. Saibal Sengupta, Circle Secretary, BSNLEU, Kolkata also gave some inputs. The following are derived out of the talks with him. Though he was not able to recollect certain dates, he was very clear about the incidents.
Sisir Bhattacharjee was born on 2nd June 1920 (He was not very sure about the exactness of the date). His father was Shri Hemantha Bhattacharjee, an eminent Advocate and mother, Smt. Hemantabala Bhattacharjee. He passed matriculation in 1936 though he was under aged for appearing the same and passed B.A. in 1941 from Rippon College, (now named as Surendranath College), Calcutta.
Sisir joined P&T Work Shop (later renamed as Telecom Factory), Calcutta as a daily rated ‘Sircar’ (clerk) in November 1941. His daily wage was Rs. 1.50. The pay scale was Rs. 33.00 – 120.00. The condition was ‘No Work – No Pay’. He was absorbed as a regular clerk in 1945 in a non-industrial post of Lower Division Clerk (LDC). Most of the workers were Industrial Workers who are under the Factory Act. Sisir Da retired from service in June 1978 as Lower Selection Grade (LSG) Clerk.
Young Sisir was much interested in sports. He was a sports organizer and a registered referee for basket ball and volley ball games. He was considered as an expert referee with strict decisions. He acted as referee in the Volley Ball Match between India and USSR and was much commended for the same. Com. A.K.Bhattacharjee told me that when Vietnam Volley Ball team came for a tournament in Bombay, they proposed Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee as umpire. The DG P&T consulted Sisirda on such matters.
It was the veteran P&T leader, Com. K.G.Bose, who inspired Sisir Bhattacharjee to become an active worker of the union. He took much interest in organizing the Industrial and Non-Industrial workers of the P&T Work Shop. At that time, there was only one Telecom Factory in the whole of India, situated at Alipore, Calcutta. This was started in 1855 and was called as P&T Workshop. The Jabalpur Telecom Factory was started at the time of II World War (1942-45) by shifting some of the equipment from Alipore Factory, considering the danger of Calcutta being attacked by Japan. Other five Telecom Factories at Bombay, Richai, Bhilai, Gopalpur and Kharagpur were started later, consequent to the vast expansion of telecommunication sector and requirement.
The Festival Advance Movement
In 1955, for the first time, the Great Eastern Penisular Railways with head quarters at Calcutta, granted Festival Advance of Rs. 50 and Rs. 30 respectively for the Class III and Class IV employees to celebrate Durga Puja Festival, after workers’ agitation. Mr. Cornellious, who was the General Manager of TF Alipore, also sanctioned Rs. 50 as Festival Advance only to the Industrial Workers. Non-Industrial Workers in the same factory who were denied the same were very much angry at the discrimination. As the demand for the allowance to non-industrial workers was denied by General Manager, continued dharna was organized at the TF premises. But still, the GM did not agree to grant advance.
The issue was brought to the notice of Com.K.G.Bose, who already was an established leader of Calcutta. He asked Sisir Da, whether he can bring all the workers to the office of the Post Master General to agitate. (Both Postal and Telegraphs were under the PMG at that time). Sisir Da agreed.
Next day, 19th October 1955, more than three thousand industrial and non-industrial workers of the TF under the leadership of Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee, marched in a procession through the city of Calcutta to the PMG Office, which was a few miles from the factory. On the way, the employees of the DET’s Office also joined. Com. K.G.Bose, who was waiting at the PMG office, was very happy to see the large number of workers marching as planned. On his call, all the employees of the PMG Office and CTO Calcutta came out. They continued demonstration in front of the office demanding Puja Advance as given to Industrial workers.
Thousands of workers entered the office and the leaders went inside PMG’s room. PMG was not at all prepared to agree to the demand for Puja Advance. Demonstration continued till evening. Before dispersing, Com. K.G.Bose, standing in front of PMG addressed the workers and warned the PMG that if the demand is not conceded, more workers will come next day and continue the agitation.
Next day, by about 10.00 AM, PMG informed Com. KG that decision has been taken to grant Puja Advance of Rs. 50 and Rs. 30 respectively to class III and Class IV employees and that the amount will be recovered in six installments. The pay scale of Group D was starting from Rs. 30 and that of class III from Rs. 40.
This was a great victory for the P&T Employees and their movement. This was the start of an important demand of the workers for Festival Advance all over India. Gradually, the Festival Advance was granted to all employees in the P&T and other Central Government departments. Later this became the inspiration for the Central Government employees to demand for Bonus.
1946 Postmen Strike
The call for the strike was given by the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union led by Com.V.G.Dalvi, General Secretary. Com.K.G.Bose and telecom workers were members of the Indian Posts & Telegraph Union. Though requested by KG and other Bengal leaders, Dr. Nohrona, who was the General Secretary, refused to give call for strike. Hence KG and other leaders in IPTU resigned, joined ITU and participated in the strike. From the day he joined in the DET (O) Calcutta, KG Bose was in the thick of union life. Sisirda participated in the strike.
Since some of the all India unions did not give call for the strike, W.Bengal employees assembled before the Victoria Memorial Calcutta in a mass meeting convened by Com. K.G.Bose. The meeting unanimously decided to go on strike. Industrial workers of the Telecom Factory also participated in the strike. Senior leader Com.S.K.Pakrasi and Com.Sisir Bhattacharjee actively campaigned for the success of the strike.
Formation of UPTW
After the 1946 Postal Strike and the evidence before the First Pay Commission, there was a feeling among the unions that they should co-ordinate and if possible, merge. Almost all the unions like Indian Telegraph Association and All India Postal Employees Union were agreeable, but Postmen Union Conference did not agree, despite persuasion by its General Secretary, Com.Dalvi. The unions came together and formed “Union of P & T Workers” (UPTW) in 1948. In Bengal, Coms. K.G.Bose, Sisir Bhattacharjee and S.K.Pakrasi made firm efforts for the formation of UPTW.
The Supreme Council of UPTW was held in Calcutta. The Reception Committee was headed by Com. Ajoy Das as President and Sisirda as Secretary.
Formation of NFPTE
Shri Jagjivan Ram, Minister for Posts & Telegraphs proposed amalgamation of all the existing unions in P&T including Postmen union into one Federation. There were doubts among the unions, whether to accept the proposals or not? Whether militancy of the unions will be lost? So, many meetings took place in Delhi and other centres before taking any decision. Sisirda attended the discussions at Calcutta. Com. Jyoti Basu, who was then leader of Railway Unions, used to attend these meetings. Com.B.N.Ghosh, respectfully called Dada Ghosh also came to Calcutta to attend these meetings. He was called the “Lion of Bengal”.
At last all the unions agreed and the National Federation of P&T Employees (NFPTE) was formed with 9 affiliated All India unions on 24th November 1954. Dada Ghosh was elected as the first Secretary General of NFPTE. Com.V.G.Dalvi was elected as President. Coms. K.G, Sisirda and others were in the forefront to strengthen the new organization.
Five Days Glorious Strike of 1960
Five days historic strike of Central Government employees took place from midnight of 11th / 12th July 1960. Bengal unit fully participated in the strike and many were victimized. Sisirda was removed from service for leading the strike, but was reinstated later, after a year or so with punishment of reducing the increments and denial of promotion.
1968 One Day Token Strike
One Day Token Strike on 19th September 1968 of the Central Govt. Employees was a big success in Bengal. There was brutal victimization. Sisirda was suspended and Rule 14 charge sheet issued. Policemen came to arrest Sisirda. Shri P.K.Bose, Manager of the Telecom Factory at that time, opposed the arrest of Sisirda stating that he is of course the leader of the strike, but a leader leading the workers for increased production and motivating them.
Sisir Bhattacharjee functioned as the Secretary of the W.Bengal P&T Sports Control Board. The All India P & T Meet was conducted at South Calcutta Stadium after the 1968 strike. In the meeting of the committee the issue was raised how it is possible to organize the Sports festival if the officials are arrested and suspended. The athletes during the march past protested against the victimization of the striking workers and shouted slogans demanding stoppage of the event. Officers did not get the salute and were perplexed and humbled. As a result, the P&T Athletic, Sports and Cultural Competition was kept postponed for the year. The incident was a shock to the top officers of the Department. This compelled them to rethink about further victimization.
The All India Conference of All India Telegraph Engineering Employees Union Class III (E.III Union) held at Gauhati in July 1970 saw crucial debate on the policies of the union. The pro-government policies of Com.O.P.Gupta, General Secretary, came for severe criticism. Probably for the first time, contest took place in E.III Union against OPG. Election took place between OPG panel and KG Bose panel. Sisir Bhattacharjee was the comrade selected to contest General Secretary’s post against OPG. Though defeated, he got 42% of votes, which was a surprise to all. In fact, it shocked the OPG group.
1974 CG Employees Strike
Since the Confederation and NFPTE were divided, the strike was partial, though in Railways it was total. Sisirda was in the forefront organizing the strike.
Sisirda participated in the historic 1978 Federal Council of NFPTE where unity was restored.
P & T Industrial Workers Union.
Sisir Bhattacharjee, after his retirement from service, was elected as the General Secretary of the P&T Industrial Workers Union, which included the industrial workers of the 7 Telecom Factories and the Telecom Stores Organization. Com.Rajani Mukherjee was the earlier GS. There were thousands of workers as members of the union. Com. Sisirda was elected as the Vice-President of E.III Union for a long period. P&T Industrial Workers Union was one of the organizations which merged to form BSNL Employees Union in 2001. Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee was elected as Patron of BSNLEU in the foundation conference.
Co-Ordination Committee of CG Employees & Workers Unions & Associations
Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee had always been equally associated with the mighty Coordination Committee of Central Govt. Employees’ & Workers’ Unions & Associations, West Bengal as a leading functionary. He was the General Secretary of the Coordination Committee for the period from 1981 to 1985
Co-Ordination Committee of Canteen Employees Unions
The condition of the employees of the Telecom Factory was miserable. Their salary was very less. They used to take advance from pay every month to manage their day-to-day expenses. After retirement, Sisirda took initiative in forming the Co-ordination Committee of Canteen Employees of all the CG Departments including Factories, P&T, Income Tax, AIR etc. It was a big movement. Com.Basudeb Acharia, a long time CPI(M) MP, helped the movement. He was elected as its President. Due to sustained agitation, all the canteens were departmentalized, with option to be absorbed in departmental posts. This was a great achievement for the employees of the canteens, both under private owners and co-operative societies. They were earlier getting only Rs. 20 to Rs. 30 and departmental job was a great achievement. Sisirda took extreme efforts by contacting Members of Parliament etc. for the same.
Suicide of Dada Ghosh, Founder SG, NFPTE
The suicide by Dada Ghosh in 1960 in Calcutta was a great shock to all. He had returned to Calcutta from Delhi after relinquishing the post of Secretary General, NFPTE. Although reasons are not known, it was believed that both family as also organizational issues were behind the same.
Sisir Da explained with pain about the last days of Dada Ghosh, the great leader of the P&T movement, the founder Secretary General of NFPTE. He had been staying alone in a Calcutta Hotel for a few days before committing suicide.
The senior most leader of CG Employees movement
Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee is the senior most leader of the Central Government / BSNL Employees movement. Though almost 97, he still attends the important meetings of the BSNLEU, Pesnioners’ organizations etc. His presence is assured in all the meetings at Telecom Factory. He was the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the NCCPA Conference held at Kolkata in 2015. Whenever I visit Kolkata, I try to meet the veteran leader and seek his advice on many matters.
Before concluding, I would like to quote a portion of the letter Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee, dated 8th May 2010, sent to me as the General Secretary of the BSNLEU expressing his inability to attend the All India Conference at Thiruvananthapuram held from 12th to 15th May 2010.
“Comrade, I would have very much liked to be amongst you in this historic Conference, but I regret very much to intimate that due to health reasons, I will be missing the opportunity. However, I would like to convey my Fraternal Greetings to the thousands of delegates & observers who will be assembled in the Conference from all corners of the country. ………”
“I earnestly wish the Conference an all round success and I have full faith that the 5th All India Conference at Trivandrum will remain as a major mile stone in the history of the BSNL Employees Union.”
“On this august occasion, I congratulate your Central Working Committee for taking the decision about purchasing a spacious building at New Delhi for housing the central union. This has been a decision in the right direction and I would like to make a humble contribution of Rs. 250/- herewith towards the building fund which may kindly be accepted and acknowledged. I would like to suggest that the proposed union building be named as “K.G.Bose Bhawan”, New Delhi to commemorate the loving memory of our beloved departed leader who was loved and respected by all sections of Telecom employees all over the country. I am sure my suggestion will be given a serious and earnest consideration by the All India Conference / Central Working Committee of your union.
With Revolutionary Greetings,
(sd)/- Sisir Bhattacharjee, Ex-Patron, Central Union.”
Of course, the union accepted the correct guidance of Sisirda and named the Union house as “K.G.Bose Bhawan”.
His wife, Smt. Nilima Bhattacharjee, died on 11-09-2015. She was 85. She retired from Telecom Factory, Alipore as S.S. in 1988. She was an active worker of NFPTE.
Let us hope that Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee will continue to guide us for a long time to come.