People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 41

October 11, 2009

Kashmir Peasants Organise First Conference


Suneet Chopra


ANANTNAG, on 30 eptember, was the venue for the first conference of the Jammu and Kashmir Kisan Tehrik in the Kashmir region, which is an affiliate of the AIKS. The Kashmir peasantry has  suffered long from not only a neglect of agriculture on the part of successive governments but also from a corrupt executive that sees misappropriating central funds as a part of its price for support to whichever government is at Delhi at the time.

 

A few figures are sufficient to give one an idea of the situation. From 1962-65 to 1980-83 the agricultural output in the state had grown at a rate of 4.55 per cent. In the period of 1980-83 to 1990-93, the figure fell to 0.28 per cent and from 1990-93 to 2003-06 it rose very marginally to 0.86 per cent. What this meant on the ground was that from 2004-05 to 2006-07, the net sown area declined by 11000 hectares, of which irrigated lands were 2000 hectares, while there has been a constant decline of agricultural workers from 1980 onwards, despite the fact that agriculture and its allied sector contributed no less than 27 per cent of the state GDP.

 

Moreover, this is pathetic given the fact that the state in 1950 had expropriated about 9000 absentee landlords without compensation, expropriated about 1.82 lakh hectares and gave free ownership without encumbrances on 0.94 lakh hectares. In 1978 absentee landlordism was abolished and a ceiling of 5.1 hectares was fixed but orchards were excluded. Clearly the will to implement land reforms thoroughly was not there. Still, given such a radical beginning, one would have expected better rates of growth. However, the answer lies not in the lack of effort of labour, but rather of a lack of support of the government. A recent CAG report shows that not only was the Plan allocation of agriculture brought down from 1.89 per cent in 2003-2004 to 1.46 per cent in 2006-07, but the state government spent 85 per cent of the Rs 550.68 crore expenditure on agriculture from 2003-08 on establishment charges.

 

Even the little that ought to have come to the farmers did not reach them on time. For example, the scheme for pulses, oil seeds, oil palm and maize received Rs 85 lakh in May 2004 and Rs 1.43 crore in May 2005 and were to be used in the first two quarters of the year. But they were released by the directors of agriculture four to six months late and only Rs 1.57 crore was spent, so a second instalment of Rs 2.27 crores actually lapsed!

 

The Rs 22.44 crore advanced by the Ground Water Division to irrigate the saffron growing area in Konibal and seed multiplication farm at Allowpura in Pulwama had not been touched till as late as March 2008. Worse, even the provision HYV seed for paddy, wheat and maize showed shortfalls of between 49 per cent to 86 per cent. Honey production has declined from 6834.5 quintals in 2004-05 to 2336.9 quintals in 2006-07, a shortfall of 77 per cent. Also, despite an expenditure of Rs 83.36 lakhs on the activities laboratory for mushroom growing at Jammu, the target of distributing 66,000 bottles of spawn could not be reached. In fact, performance declined from 33,534 bottles in 2003-04 to 30,702 bottles in 2006-07. Also the Rs 50 lakhs allocated for an integrated mushroom development unit released in advance in July 2004, could not be used so the plant was not set up. Now, with drought and the price rise compounding the distress, the peasantry is hard pressed and needs organising badly. That is why, despite the harvest being in full swing, nearly 3000 farmers from the valley gathered for the conference.

 

Inaugurating the conference, Ghulam Nabi Malik, the state general secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Kisan Tehrik, highlighted the corruption of the bureaucracy in every sphere of the peasants’ life. People were giving up farming for lack of infrastructure, marketing facilities, the public distribution system and crop insurance. Young people, he pointed out, were drifting to nearby cities and even migrating as cheap labour outside the state.

 

The despair of the peasants was turning the young unemployed towards crime, anti-social acts and drugs. He explained how the neglect of agriculture was a policy of the state. Even when they passed a law like NREGA it was not fully implemented. Instead of the promised 100 days’ work, the state had given only 39.57 days per family in 2008-09 which had come down to only 26.85 days per family in 2009-10. The number of households provided employment in 2008-09 was 1,99,166 and it came down to 77,368 in 2009-10. Clearly, the will was not there. So it was necessary to organise oneself to achieve even the bare minimum one needed.

 

NEED FOR

SYSTEMIC CHANGE

Giving the keynote address as the chief guest, I stressed the need for systemic change. We were living in a system where those who grew food starved and those who built mansions for others were homeless. This was to be expected in society functioning under the rule of capitalists and landlords. Under the neo-liberal regime things had become intolerable. 20,000 people had died of starvation in the country and 1, 66,304 farmers hand committed suicide. But this did not concern the government. The delay and lack of implementation of programmes, the lack of credit, of investment in agriculture and of proper implementation of schemes were part of a policy to hand over resources to a few and destroy petty producers. Despite the suicides, the government’s Rs 71,000 crores debt relief was merely giving money from one bank to another. The farmer, who needed credit for the next harvest, got nothing. That is why the suicides continued in Maharashtra even after the prime minister’s special package. In Kerala, where the Left government gave money directly to the farmers, the suicides stopped. It was not for a lack of funds but a lack of will. The government had given tax relief of over Rs 3 lakh crores to corporates in 2007-08 without a murmur. So, it was not enough to merely make demands, one must organise a stiff resistance to force a change in polices favouring corporates to those favouring peasants and workers. Such organisations would have to make grass roots members, build roots in the villages, lead local struggles to success and build a mass movement. This would involve petitioning, dharnas, picketing and fighting communal and divisive forces because they prevent our uniting as one massive force.

 

After all, we are not beggars. We work hard for a living and still cannot make ends meet. The government has created a climate of begging. The prime minister begs form the World Bank, the states are forced to beg from the centre, and even on the ground, a beggar earns more than a hard-working labourer. The government, both at the centre and in the state, was not giving us charity. They are depriving us of our right. And to succeed we need a powerful organisation. The AIKS and AIAWU with over two crore members were such organisations and they were duty bound to stand by the J&K Kisan Tehrik in its struggles for the rights of the peasantry, as they were in the country as a whole. Also in the whole of South Asia, struggles were being launched against multinationals and imperialism, and we, the strongest force of peasants and workers in the whole region, had an important responsibility to support them.

 

Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, CPI(M) state secretary delivered the concluding address in which he highlighted the need for mass movements to take up their demands with a full knowledge of the political situation around them. He called for a unified approach to their problems. He told the delegates that “You cannot change your fate unless you wake up and strive to shape you destiny”. He noted how people were faced with violence on every side and called on people of all political and ideological shades to come together to resist it as it was counter-productive and harmful. Peace had to be restored for people to be able to fight for their just demands. This peace and reconciliation was not relevant only for the people of the state but for the region as a whole. He urged the governments of both India and Pakistan to push the peace process forward as the hostility was damaging the region as a whole. He noted that no headway had been made to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as promised by the central government and called on it to reduce the disproportionate presence of the army in the state, as a measure to restore the normalcy the people wanted so badly so that they could struggle to better their condition.

 

Resolutions on issues ranging from condolences for martyrs, the provision of rice, wheat, pulses, oil, kerosene and tea through the public distribution system and the increase in the wages and days of work under NREGA to horticulture, irrigation and rural credit were placed by Ghulam Mohiuddin, Ghulam Ahmed Gul, Mohammed Khalil Nayak, ex MLA, Arshad Baba and Ghulam Ahmed Ganai.

 

The conference then elected a 25-member committee with Ghulam Hussain Naqshbandi as president, Mohammed Afsal Parrey as regional secretary, Mohammed Khalil Nayak as chief organizer, Abdul Hamid Wani vice president, Abdul Khaliq Rather as finance secretary and Ghulam Ahmed Ganai as publicity secretary. The conference closed on a hopeful note in a region that was once said to be ‘heaven on earth’ but has been converted into the hub of violence today.