People's Democracy

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


No. 36

September 06, 2009



Rally Demands Whole State Declared As Drought Hit


Sarvodaya Sharma


PATNA, the capital of Bihar, witnessed a big procession on August 19, which according to the media estimates 15,000 or more people attended. This was the largest protest demonstration in the city in the recent past.


The CPI(M) had organised the procession on some of the burning demands, the main demand being that the whole of the state of Bihar must be declared drought affected. The party demanded that the central and state governments must take concrete relief measures instead of indulging in verbal claim-mongering and duels, and also take strict action against price rises, hoarding and black marketing. The APL/BPL distinction must be ended, the public distribution system strengthened, and the basic necessities of life must be made available to all people. The CPI(M), in addition, also demanded rice and wheat for the poor at Rs 2 per kg in order to check the starvation deaths, and expansion of the employment guarantee scheme to the urban poor as well and provision of 200 days of work a year to all the willing persons. Another crucial demand was that the state government implement the D Bandopadhyaya committee�s recommendations on land reforms, and also provide every rural poor family four decimals of homestead plot.




As a part of preparations for the August 19 protests, the CPI(M) had organised impressive protest marches and demonstrations at the block level on August 3 and 4, and at the district level on August 8. These protest actions are significant in view of the famine threat that is haunting the state today. In its meeting on July 25 and 26, the Bihar state committee of the party had identified land, food and employment as the basic demands for independent as well as joint actions. The recent protest actions were parts of the first phase of the agitation.


For the August 19 demonstration in Patna, jathas from districts began to arrive from August 18 evening itself. They were accommodated in make-shift camps near Patna Junction and Rajendra Nagar stations.


On August 19, the procession started at exactly 12 noon from Gandhi Maidan and reached the R Block via J P Golambar, Frazer Road, Dak Bungalow Chowk, Station Golambar and General Post Office. Leaders of the CPI(M) and various mass organisations led by the party were seen in the front row of the procession. The state government had deployed policemen in large numbers at every point, while the road was blocked with a big iron gate at R Block near the state assembly building. Apart from an extra large number of policemen, riot prevention squads and fire extinguishing squads were also deployed here.


The procession culminated in a mass rally at R Block. Addressing the rally, CPI(M) Central Secretariat member Hannan Mollah said more than 200 districts in the country are reeling under drought condition but the central and state governments have badly failed in disaster management. On the contrary, they are busying themselves in giving the capitalists exemptions in various taxes, excise duties and customs duties as well as in preparing relief packages for them. These exemptions come to Rs 700 crore per day or Rs 30 crore per hour, while only Rs 39,000 crore have been allocated for such an important programme as the rural employment guarantee scheme. Other poverty alleviation programmes as well as the public distribution system are also being curtailed. He urged the demonstrators to intensify the agitation at the ground level and warned the state and central governments that they would soon face a bihar-wide agitation for land, food and employment.


CPI(M) state secretary Vijaykant Thakur asked the Nitish government to desist from issuing hollow statements and take effective steps to prevent the starvation deaths taking place in various districts. He said communists do not fear repression and that the agitation would continue till the people get their rights, failing which the Nitish government too would have to go.


Subodh Roy, who presided over the mass rally, moved a resolution that held the state government directly responsible for the three recent starvation deaths in Jahanabad district. This charge was based on the report of a probe into the matter. The resolution demanded proper compensation for the affected families and free distribution of ration among the poor so that such deaths do not take place again.


Next day, on August 20, the state secretariat of the CPI(M) reviewed the first phase of the agitation, noting that the rally as well as the district and block level demonstrations had scored a bigger success than what other parties have received. Congratulating the lower units of the party for their mobilisation, the secretariat deliberated on how to further intensify the agitation on the question of drought.




Earlier, about the drought, the CPI(M) had noted that Bihar received only 331.7 mm of rainfall by June-July this year, which was 42 per cent less than the normal 568.5 mm for this period. This has badly damaged the bhadai crops like corn, bhadai paddy, kauni, madua, cheena and kodo. The temperature recorded an increase of five to seven degree Celsius in comparison to the average temperature. Paddy transplantation could not take place successfully in most areas for want of irrigation water. The shortfall could not be compensated because the means of irrigation are in a bad shape in Bihar. In some areas, lack of adequate maintenance has left the age-old canals in a dilapidated condition. Heavy silting has also affected the condition of rivers, streams and canals, creating big problem for irrigation. Government tubewells, lift irrigation schemes and small irrigation projects are also in a pathetic condition. Bihar is lacking much in flood control and utilisation of water resources, and the Nitish government has also fared badly on this score. In such a situation, alarm bells are ringing all over the state, and the news of one death in Saharsa and Rohtas each, two from Nalanda and three from Jahanabad district have come. A number of political parties and mass organisation have put the state government in the dock on this issue.


Sensing the danger, the chief minister did call an all-party meeting on this issue, where all the parties demanded that whole of Bihar must be declared as drought hit. The meeting decided that relief work must be started in supervision of all the parties, the centre must bear its cost, and that all-party meetings must be held at all levels to review the relief operations. But next day the state government declared only 26 out of 38 districts as drought hit. The CPI(M) took strong objection to this step. It pointed out that the data behind this declaration were faulty because they were not collected from the villages and towns; in its stead, bureaucrats of the state government had cooked up these data in their air conditioned rooms. The chief minister sent to all the political parties, including the CPI(M), the copies of a memorandum to be given to the central government. Two senior ministers --- Nand Kishore Yadav and Bijendra Yadav --- brought a copy of this memorandum to the CPI(M) state office and tried to explain why only 26 districts were declared drought hit on the basis of the reports from various district magistrates, as per the new rules of disaster management. The state CPI(M) leadership refuse to but this argument. They clearly told the ministers that the state government must rectify its data base, or else the CPI(M) would give the centre a separate memorandum. Various media publicised the data put forward and suggestions made by the CPI(M) in this regard.


It was the CPI(M) which sent its teams to Nalanda and Jahanabad districts after the news of starvation deaths came from there.


Surprisingly, even in such an odd situation, the Election Commission of India announced that it would hold by-elections to seven assembly seats on September 10. The Janata Dal (United) and the BJP took it as a great escape route and sent a delegation to the Election Commission in Delhi, demanding polls on the remaining 11 seats as well. As a result, the commission announced to hold polls on 11 seats on September 25. 


This prompted a meeting of three Left parties --- the CPI, CPI(ML) and CPI(M) --- in the latter�s state office on August 17, and the meeting dubbed as a cruel joke the Election Commission�s decision to hold assembly bypolls in such a situation. The three parties decided to contest these polls jointly. Now the CPI(M) will contest the Begusarai seat, CPI in Nautan Warrisnagar, Simri Bakhtiyarpur, Dhoraiya and Bodhgaya, and the CPI(ML) in Bagaha, Kalyanpur, Ramgarh, Bochaha and Phulwari Sharif. It was decided that discussions would be held for the other seats on August 23. But the CPI(ML) lost its patience and on August it unilaterally declared that it would also contest the Ghosi, Triveniganj and Chainpur seats. These are the seats which the CPI(M) wanted to contest. However, the CPI(M) has decided to stick to the seat adjustment, even if it is only partial, and face the odd situation through joint efforts.