Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee – Seven Decades of Dedicated service to the workers’ Cause
Com.Sisir Bhattacharjee with Com. V.A.N.Namboodiri at Sisirda’s home (08-11-2015) (Photo: Com. Mihir Dasgupta)
Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee has completed 95 years by June 2015. He is the senior most leader of the Central Government employees’ movement and especially that of P and 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 the interior of Kolkata.
I along with Comrades Mihir Dasgupta, former AGS BSNLEU, Adhir Kumar Sen, Vice-President, BSNLEU, Animesh Mitra, then Dy. General Secretary and Circle Secretary BSNLEU, W.Bengal and Om Prakash Singh, former Circle Secretary, Telecom Factory visited Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee in his home in Kolkata on 06-07-2013,10-07-2013 and 08-11-2015 and discussed about his life, experiences and activities. Coms. A.K.Bhattacharjee, President AIBDPA and Saibal Sengupta, Circle Secretary BSNLEU, Kolkata Telephones 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 date). His father was Shri Hemantha Bhattacharjee and mother, Smt. Hemantabala Bhattacharjee. He passed matriculation in 1936 though he was under aged for appearing the same and passed B.A. in 1940.
Sisir joined P and T Work Shop (later renamed as Telecom Factory), Kolkata 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. 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 the Vietnam Volley Ball team came for a tournament in Bombay, they proposed Com. Sisirda as umpire. The DG P&T consulted Sisirda on such matters.
It was the veteran P and 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 and 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 and T Workshop and located at Calcutta, the capital of British India. The Jabalpur Telecom Factory was started at the time of II World War (1942-45), 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. Mr. Cornellious, who was the General Manager of TF Alipore, also sanctioned Rs. 50 as Festival Advance 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. 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 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. The 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 and T Employees and their movement. Gradually, the Festival Advance was granted to all employees in the P and T Department.
1946 Postmen Strike
The call for the strike was given by the Postmen Union led by Com.V.G.Dalvi, General Secretary. Com.K.G.Bose and telecom workers were in Indian Posts and 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 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 took keen interest 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. Almost all other unions together formed “Union of P and T Workers” (UPTW) in 1948. In Bengal, KG Bose and Sisir Bhattacharjee made firm efforts for the formation of UPTW.
Formation of NFPTE
Shri Jagjivan Ram, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs proposed amalgamation of all the existing unions in P and T including Postmen union in to one Federation. There was doubt 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, called “Dada Ghosh” also came to Calcutta to attend these meetings. Com.B.N.Ghosh was also called the “Lion of Bengal”. A stenographer will be with him to record the discussions.
At last all the unions agreed and the National Federation of P and 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. KG, Sisirda and other leaders were in the forefront to strengthen the new organisation.
Five Days Glorious Strike of 1960
Five days historic strike of central Government employees took place from 11th July 1960. Bengal unit fully participated in the strike and many were victimized. Com. Ajoy Das was President and Sisirda Joint Secretary of Bengal unit at that time. Sisirda was removed from service for leading the strike, but was reinstated later.
1968 One Day Token Strike
One Day Token Strike on 19th September 1968 of the Central Govt. Employees was also a big success in Bengal. There was brutal victimization. Sisirda was arrested, detained and suspended. Rule 14 charge sheet was also issued. P.K.Das, 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 greater production.
Sisir Bhattacharjee functioned as the Secretary of the Sports Control Board. The All India P & T Meet was conducted at South Calcutta Stadium after the 1968 strike. The athletes during the march past protested against the victimization of the striking workers.
Gauhati All India Conference July 1970
The All India Conference of AITEE Union Class III (E.III Union) held at Gauhati in July 1970 saw crucial debate on the policies of the union. The pro-government policy of O.P.Gupta, General Secretary was severely criticised. Probably, for the first time, contest took place in the E.III Union against OPG. Election took place between the OPG panel and KG Bose group. Sisir Bhattacharjee was the comrade selected to contest against OPG for General Secretary’s post and though defeated, he got 42% votes, which was a surprise to all. It, in fact, 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 of the struggle. Sisirda participated in the historic 1976 Federal Council of NFPTE where unity was restored.
P and T Industrial Workers Federation.
Sisir Bhattacharjee was the unquestioned leader and General Secretary of the P&T Industrial Workers Federation, which included the industrial workers of the 7 telecom factories and the telecom stores organization. There were thousands of workers in the union. It’s All India Conferences were usually held at the time of the AIC of the E.III Union. He was the Vice-President of E.III Union for a long period. P&T Industrial Workers Federation was one of the organizations which merged to form BSNL Employees Union in 2001. Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee was elected as Patron of BSNLEU. .
Co-Ordination Committee of Canteen Employees Unions
Sisirda took initiative in forming the Co-ordination Committee of Canteen Employees of all the CG Departments including Railways, P and T, Income Tax, AIR etc. It was a big movement. Com.Basudeb Acharia, long time MP, inaugurated it. He was elected as its President. Due to sustained agitation, all the canteens were departmentalized, with option to departmental posts. They were organized during 1980s, after retirement of Sisirda.
Suicide of Dada Ghosh, Founder SG, NFPTE
The suicide by Dada Ghosh in 1960 in a Calcutta hotel 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 was staying alone in a Calcutta Hotel.
The Senior most leader of CG Employees movement
Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee is the senior most leader of the Central Government / BSNL Employees movement. Though 95, he still attends the important meetings of BSNLEU, Pesnioners’ organizations. His presence is assured in all the meetings at Telecom Factory. He was the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the NCCPA Conference held in Kolkata in 2015. Whenever I visit Kolkata, I try to meet the guide and 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 also a leader of NFPTE.
Let us hope that Com. Sisir Bhattacharjee will continue to guide us for a long time to come.