People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 21, 2007
CPI(M) Intensifies Struggles For House Sites In Vizag
Women In Forefront Braving Police Repression
M Venugopala Rao
Police lathicharging the agitators in Vishakapatnam
UNDER the leadership of the CPI(M), the poor people in Visakhapatnam district have been waging militant struggles, resolutely demanding the state government to allot house sites of 60 square yards each to their families. Braving heavy police repression, the women are in the forefront of these struggles.
The struggles began on December 28, 2006 and continued till the January 6, 2007. Around 25,000 people participated in the struggles and about one thousand people, including children, were arrested. The poor people occupied lands, cooked their food and continued to stay there, despite the highhandedness of the police. 119 people, including leaders of the CPI(M), AIDWA and CITU, were sent to judicial custody from December 28. Out of them, 86 are women. Cases were registered against 192 leaders and other people and again out of them 102 are women. Almost every day, the police repeatedly resorted to lathicharge and heavy repression and arrested leaders who went there to console the affected people along with those who were actively spearheading the agitation. The police efforts to create a sense of fear among the agitators in order to water down the struggles of the poor failed miserably. Among the leaders arrested included Ch Narsinga Rao, state secretariat member and secretary of the Visakhapatnam district committee of the CPI(M), Choudary Tejeswara Rao, secretary of the neighbouring Srikakulam district committee of the Party, Y Venkateswara Rao, state secretariat member, M A Gafoor and K Lakshmana Murthy, CPI(M) MLAs, state secretary of AIDWA K Swarupa Rani, state president of CITU R Sudha Bhaskar, state leader of DYFI P V Srinivas and several other leaders of the district and city units of the Party and mass organisations. Apart from imposing prohibitory orders, the police obstructed and arrested the leaders and people going to participate in the dharnas at MRO offices at Chinagadili, Gajuvaka and Pendurthi. Several people were injured in the indiscriminate lathicharge resorted to by the police at these places.
On January 6, when the poor people led by Narsinga Rao took out a procession in Visakhapatnam to meet and represent to the chief minister, Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy – who was on a visit to the city that day – the police did not allow them to proceed and arrested them. Protesting the arrests, a rasta roko was organised. The officers refused to permit the poor to meet the chief minister and represent to him on their demands for house sites. Protest demonstrations and dharnas were held in Visakhapatnam in which working president of state unit of AIDWA S Punyavathy participated. Demonstrations were held in Hyderabad, Kurnool and Guntur, condemning the repression by the police and arrests of leaders and others. The effigies of the chief minister were burnt at demonstrations in Kurnool and Guntur.
The most significant part of the struggles is that nearly 90 per cent of the agitators are women. The entire leadership of the Visakhapatnam district and city units of AIDWA were among those who were sent to judicial custody and lodged in the central jail. Despite repression by the police, and ignoring the difficulties in their families, the women came forward to continue their struggles for land sites. Some of the women are facing threats of divorce from their spouses for participating in the struggles and going to jail and a situation has arisen when they have to be persuaded not to resort to such drastic and unwarranted moves, Swarupa Rani, who is facing six cases, has said.
The intensity of the struggle and the prevailing conditions in Visakhapatnam and surrounding areas confirm how serious the problem of housing is for the poor. The increasing value of lands, house rents, spiralling prices of essential commodities, educational fees, conditions imposed by owners of houses, etc are forcing the women to come on to the streets demanding the government to give them house sites. That the CPI(M) is standing by them has given them a lot of confidence and enthusiasm to continue their struggles. However, refusing to understand as to why about 25,000 people have been participating in these struggles, the government is letting loose repression by the police to suppress the people’s struggles.
ALL-ROUND CONDEMNATION OF REPRESSION
B V Raghavulu, state secretary of the CPI(M), demanded the government to give up repression on the poor agitating for house sites in Visakhapatnam and give them house sites. Condemning the repression, he made it clear that it would not be possible for the government to prevent the people’s movement with lalthicharges and arrests. He termed it atrocious on the part of the government, which has been allotting thousands of acres of land to the millionaires in the name of special economic zones, to resort to repression on the poor without giving them house sites. In a statement, Raghavulu demanded the government to release all those who were arrested by the police and sanction house sites to the poor. At the state level, eight Left parties and president of the Telugu Desam party, N Chandrababu Naidu, strongly condemned the police repression on the poor agitating for house sites in Visakhapatnam. In Visakhapatnam, leaders of the CPI(M), TDP and CPI(ML) New Democracy addressed a joint press meet, condemned the repression and later submitted a memorandum to the district collector, urging him to solve the problem of house sites for the urban poor. On January 10, conventions against repression were organised in Visakhapatnam in which CPI(M) MP P Madhu and leaders of the CPI, TDP and CPI(ML) New Democracy participated. On the same day those arrested were released on bail. They, particularly the women, were given a big heroic welcome in the public meeting. They were greeted with a roar of slogans reiterating their resolve to continue the struggle. “We will continue the struggle come what may till house sites were allotted” was the refrain.
It was announced in the meeting that the second phase of the struggle will be held with more vigor in the last week of January as the Pongal festival came in between. All the speakers strongly condemned the police repression on the urban poor agitating for house sites and demanded the government to solve their problem.
After the formation of the Rajasekhara Reddy government, one of the demands put forth by the CPI(M) was giving house sites to the poor. Finding no response from the government for almost one year, the CPI(M) conducted a movement all over the state in the month of July, 2005, demanding house sites for the poor. Leaders of the Party participated in indefinite hunger strikes in Hyderabad and all the districts on this demand. On the call of Chalo Hyderabad, given by the Party, about one lakh people came to the capital city and expressed their resentment against the inaction of the government. Then the government had appointed a committee with five ministers which had come to an understanding with the leadership of the CPI(M), agreeing to give house sites to the poor as per G O Ms No.1601. However, the assurance was not fulfilled. In Visakhapatnam, the CPI(M) represented to the government on the issue several times during the last two years and brought it to the notice of the chief minister during his visist to Gajuvaka. The CPI(M) had also submitted the representations received from the people for house sites to the district collector and laid siege to the offices of MROs and the collectorate several times. Holding a meeting at the collectorate with about 10,000 people on December 7, the CPI(M) made it clear that it would resort to direct action to occupy lands for house sites to the poor if the government would not respond to the demand. Finding no response from the government, on the call given by the Party, 25,000 people occupied lands for house sites.
On the land issue, the Congress party had given a call of “this land is ours” to the poor. Addressing a meeting of the dalits, the state president of the Congress party, K Kesava Rao, asked the people to occupy government lands wherever they are available. Contrary to that, the government has been trying to obstruct the poor from occupying the government lands in Visakhapatnam by letting loose a rein of repression by the police.
OCCUPATION BY THE RICH IS OK!
The chief minister, who questioned the propriety of occupation of government lands by the poor, is silent on encroachment of government lands by the rich and the influential. The CPI(M) had submitted a list of political leaders and the rich who encroached on about 4000 acres of government lands within greater Visakhapatnam itself. Similarly, the Party had submitted details of lands encroached upon by the rich in every Mandal to the officers concerned. The government announced housing programme to the poor in the state, saying that it would not allot house sites to them in urban areas. However, the housing schemes failed to attract the poor to apply for the same in view of the huge amounts they have to pay and due to lack of facilities like water and power in four-storied buildings, their inability to bear maintenance expenses and extremely inconvenient conditions for dwelling within an extent of 20 sq yds each per family. According to the joint collector of Visakhapatnam district, there are about one lakh people without houses in greater Visakhapatnam. The government formed 16 teams for conducting a survey of prospective beneficiaries eligible for house sites with a view to identifying pro-Congress people, while the CPI(M) had already submitted a list of 20,000 eligible beneficiaries to the officers concerned. The CPI(M) had made public details of thousands of acres of government wastelands, ceiling lands and endowment lands available in Visakhapatnam. The Party is demanding the government to allot those lands to the eligible poor and give pattas to the poor who occupied the vacant lands of the government. However, the government is trying to allot such lands for alternate afforestation in lieu of forest lands to be submerged under Polavaram project and to several political leaders and their kith and kin. The CPI(M) has made it clear that it would stand by the poor till they get house sites.