People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 3

January 25, 2009



Cultivators Suffer From BJP Policies,  Hold Protest Actions

Dr Omkar Shad

AS soon as the BJP formed a government in Himachal Pradesh a year back, it forgot its promises made to the peasantry and began to vehemently implement neo-liberal policies in agriculture in the state. These were precisely the policies that made the Congress unpopular in the state, leading to its defeat in the last assembly polls.

These policies have made the agricultural or horticultural operations more costly and thereby added to the peasants’ losses. This is specially pinching in a hilly state like Himachal Pradesh where pursuing agriculture or horticulture is extremely difficult.

As Himachal Pradesh is a hilly state, peasants don’t have much cultivable land here and have to depend also on other vocations for their livelihood. Though 92 percent of the people live in villages and 69 percent are directly dependent on agriculture and horticulture, these pursuits contribute only 20 percent to the state domestic product (SDP).

The state has 5.42 lakh hectares of cultivable land, which forms only 10 percent of the total area. On the other hand, though 66 percent of the land has been declared as the forestland, forests stand on only 25.7 percent of the area. The rest of the declared forest area has no trees. Landholdings are 8,63,473 in number, they are very small, and an average landholding measures only 1.1 hectares. As many as 86.4 percent of the cultivators are small and marginal peasants who own only 50.2 percent of the cultivable land. Middle peasants constitute 13.2 percent of the total.

As many as 82 percent of the cultivators are dependent on rain for irrigation. However, what to talk of construction of new canals and water channels, the policy to curtail public investment in agriculture has led to a serious lack of maintenance and repair of the old ones. As a result, many of them are not even functioning. If some of them are functioning, it is only because of the collective initiative of the local peasantry. In a bid to make Himachal Pradesh a “state of power” (bijli rajya), the state government is recklessly selling river water to private power companies. This is stalling or harming many of the irrigation projects, and some of them are on the verge of collapse or closure as their water is being diverted to power companies. Special, underground routes have been created for this diversion, and rivers and streams are drying up at places as a result.

The BJP government of the state is thus sacrificing the interests of the peasantry at the altar of big capital.

This government has also ended many of the subsidies and grants that were hitherto being given for agriculture and horticulture. The budget for the purpose has been slashed from Rs 6 crore to Rs 1 crore.

Himachal Pradesh is a fruit growing state, with apples having an economy of Rs 2,100 crore. Here, since 2003, the government has been giving a subsidy of Rs 10 per carton for the packaging of apple crops. But the BJP government has fully stopped this subsidy. This very year, it has also closed down the public sector Guma carton factory that has been manufacturing cardboard cartons, and is now planning to sell this factory. As a result, private carton making companies are having a field day now; they are looting the horticulturists with both hands. Hikes in the prices of cartons and other packing materials, weedicides and pesticides, fertilisers and transport services have severely pushed up the cultivation costs, while the cultivators are not getting any remunerative prices in the market.

The state is facing a severe shortage of fertilisers for the last one year or so, but the government has not taken any worthwhile remedial steps. Peasants are forced to purchase costly imported fertilisers from private distributors; an American brand is selling at Rs 900 per 25 kilograms. Some peasants are being duped with spurious fertilisers; even the DAP stock in government godowns was found spurious. The government is selling loose soil in the name of organic manure. The state had a shortage of 15,000 metric tonnes in October and 6,800 metric tonnes in November but the state government is content with blaming the centre, saying that it is not giving the state the fertilisers in adequate quantities.

All this is adversely impacting the crop cultivation in the state.

Further, wild and stray animals are causing serious harms to the crops. There are 3,20,000 monkeys and 50,000 langurs in the state, harming crops worth crores of rupees everywhere. The BJP poll manifesto had promised that it would take steps for crop protection, but it forgot its assurance as soon as it came to power. The erstwhile Congress government had, following a Kisan Sabha agitation, allowed the killing of monkeys and wild hogs, but the present government has banned the killing of monkeys altogether. In its stead, it decided in favour of sterilising the monkeys and to create two sanctuaries for them. But, pending their implementation, these decisions have added to the woes of the cultivators who are compelled to leave some of their holdings uncultivated. The government announced that it would construct sheds for stray cows, but that decision too remains unimplemented.

Since 2006, the court has put the timber distribution rights in the state. But government of the Congress or of the BJP did not take any step to get it restored. Houses are getting destroyed because of fire, flood and other natural calamities but peasants are unable to reconstruct or repair their houses because of timber shortage. Tragically, the peasants of this hilly state have no other material for the purpose. The government has proposed a new timber policy to the court, according to which a right holder will get 3 cubic metres of timber once in 30 years and one cubic metre of timber once in 15 years for house repair, at 30 percent of the market rate. This means that a peasant won’t be able to get timber openly; he can purchase it only in the black market. This will only lead to more corruption.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is being implemented in all the 12 districts of the state, but the BJP government is leaving much to be desired. Even where the scheme is being implemented, workers are facing severe problems. Most of them are not getting the minimum wage because the work is not being monitored on time. The state lacks minimum structure for the purpose; there are no supervisors at the panchayat level or nodal officers at the block level.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) is currently spearheading the campaign to protest these anti-peasant policies. In the recent past, the state unit of the AIKS has organised several demonstrations, dharnas and other protest actions at various places in the state. Earlier, it ran a campaign throughout the state from November 24 and 30, culminating in a series of rallies, dharnas, demonstrations and other protest actions at various places on December 1. Thousands of peasants participated in these actions. The demands The Kisan Sabha focussed were (1) restoration of the timber distribution (TD) rights; (2) greater availability of fertilisers; (3) protection of the crops from wild and stray animals; (4) proper and vigorous implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme; and (5) fixation of support price of milk at Rs 20 per litre. Local units added their own demands to these five central demands. Closure of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was one of such local demands at Gagret in Una district.

Lakhs of handbills and 10,000 posters were printed for his phase of the agitation.

The Kisan Sabha is now educating the peasants about the real, anti-national and anti-people nature of the agrarian and other policies the central and state governments are currently pursuing. Through village level meetings and other methods, the organisation is seeking to convey the need of organisation and mobilisation to fight these IMF-World Bank dictated policies. The AIKS is in the process of chalking out plans for the next phase of the agitation.