People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 05, 2006
Gharsana Peasant Agitation
V B Parameswaran
GHARSANA, a tehsil in Sriganganagar district has been fuming with peasant agitations since 2004. Reports of series of clashes with police appear each and everyday. In October 2004, police fired at the agitating peasants in Gharsana and Rawla and six people were killed. The peasants are demanding adequate water for the crops. Indira Gandhi canal is the lifeline of Gharsana-Rawla area. The canal gets water from Pong Dam built across Beas in Himachal Pradesh. In 2002, the Ashok Gehlot government reduced water allocation in the first phase area from 5.23 cusecs per 1000 hectares to 3.5 cusecs per 1000 hectares. However this decision was not implemented. In 2004 the newly formed BJP government under Vasundhara Raje Scindia decided to implement the reduction of supply of water to the first phase area. This is the root cause of the peasant agitation. Without water, this part of India-Pak border is simply a desert.
Naturally without water ordinary peasants canít survive, so most of the peasants migrated to neighboring states like Haryana and Punjab for their livelihood. The villagers living adjacent to the 128 kilometre long sub-canal area are migrating each day. This correspondent along with Kairali TV team visited 6 G D, 19 G D, Sakhi villages in this canal area. We observed 90 percent of the villagers have already migrated. Most of them are landed peasants. Without water they canít cultivate cotton and mustard in their fields. For Rabi crops they would get water in the first week of October. But this year they have not got it so far. This is the normal feature during Rabi season since 2000. So the only alternative before the peasants is migration to sustain their lives.
We noted another important feature ĖĖ those who canít move, like old men, are forced to live in the villages. 85-years old Ruda Ram is one among them. His five children have already left the village but he does not know their whereabouts. Who is going to look after him is another disturbing question. Bhagavan Ram and Surji Devi is another couple living in the village of 6 GD. They canít leave the village because of their paralysed son Sahib Ram. Because of this huge migration the primary school and health centre of the village was closed down. Now villagers are complaining about the lack of drinking water. They are forced to bring it from neighboring villages.
When agriculture has ruined in Gharsana area it badly affect the Agro-Industries also. Gharsana had become one of the important industrial centres in 1970s. When water gushed through Indira Gandhi canal it also led to the flourishing of the industry. Young industrialist like Bhavani Shankar Parval shifted their base from Ganganagar to Gharsana. In early 70s he started cotton and mustard mills in Gharsana. Total investment was Rs 2.5 crore. Like this, 20 cotton and mustard mills started functioning in this border town. Gradually, RICO also selected the area as one of their centre and started 65 big and small factories.
Most of the industries in this area are connected with cotton. Most of the mills provided 500 to 600 direct jobs. Indirectly the same number got outside jobs too. When BJP government decided to stop the water, the rosy industrial picture crashed. October to March is the normal season of the cotton crop. We visited the area in the mid of October. The big factory of Perval named R G Cotton Ginning and Pressing Factory had not yet got a single load of cotton. Hoping for better, Perval repaired his entire machines and waited for crops to come. But Perval is now even ready to sell his entire factory for Rs 25 lakhs. But nobody found it worth to buy it. Now Gharsana is a real desert for industries. Out of 20 cotton mills, only four of them are functioning that too partially. Most of the factory owners have already sold their costly machines for cheaper price and migrated from the area. Mill owners like Perval are not directly participating the peasant agitation, but are wholeheartedly supporting their cause.
Another important feature of the struggle is that the entire trading community is also supporting the peasant cause. The organization leading the agitation is known as Kisan Mazdoor Vyapari Sangharsh Samity. This name itself shows the unity between peasants and traders. Gharsana is the largest cotton market in Asia. Now it wears a deserted look. When flow of water in the Indira Gandhi canal reduced, the flourishing trade also got into doldrums. The statistics provided by the Vyapar mandal reveal the true nature of the story. In 1998-99 the cotton trade was 3,68,775 quintal per year. It fell down 20,994 quintal in 2003. Durga Prasad Saraswar, manager of Gharsana Vyapar mandal told us that before 2004, total trade was of Rs. 300 crores per year and now it has reduced to Rs 50 crore per year. Decline of the business naturally lead to migration. Among 250 traders, 150 have already left the city. Vyapar mandal, the organisation of traders is also on the decline. Earlier they had a huge earning of Rs 15 lakh per year from trade. Now their earning is only Rs 1.5 lakh per year. This is not even enough for proper maintenance of the office building just in front of the market. This shows that water shortage in Gharsana area is affecting all the sections of the society.