People's Democracy

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


No. 46

November 14, 2010



Change These Policies or Perish!


Suneet Chopra


WE are living today in times when fraud and deception by the ruling classes in the interest of corporate monopolies, both Indian and foreign, threaten the people as never before. They are doing it not because they are convinced of the correctness of these policies but because they benefit individually and as a class, from the scores of corruption cases surfacing around us.   The people, on the other hand, are condemned to lose their assets of livelihood, like land, their access to work and even to food for their survival.


Instead of being concerned that we are showing an annual growth of 7 to 9 per cent for some time now, whose profits are plundered by a handful of billionaires while the majority of our people are sinking deeper into despair and poverty, the government is seeking to dispossess the people even more thoroughly. Over two lakh farmers have committed suicide and over 20,000 rural poor have died of hunger in the last few years. In agriculture, the government is encouraging multinationals and corporates to lure people to sell land for windfall profits and is allowing strong-arm methods to back them up. In these conditions, they face a future of penury once these are consumed by the price rise, job loss and the successive governments’ lack of concern even for their lives and security. What is worse, it is using coercive tactics where people are becoming conscious of this threat and resisting the blandishments of those who wish to dispossess them of their assets, livelihood and rights as stake-holders in the wealth our country produces. As such, the people have no alternative but to unleash countrywide struggles in order to get the right to work, the assets to work on and an assured access to the necessaries of life, health and education.




Over the years now, “Shining India” has been casting a growing shadow of darkness especially in the rural areas where the majority of our people live. Today the sustainability of our agriculture is threatened. According to a survey by the labour ministry, chronic unemployment in the rural areas stands at 11.1 per cent, with 14.6 per cent of women out of work. This means some four crore rural people have been jobless for over six months. What is worse is that now only 45.5 per cent are employed in agriculture. Of these too, only 57.6 per cent live in the villages and 9.9 per cent in urban areas, reflecting either distress migration or the enormous shift from rural to urban areas with widespread takeovers of rural land by speculators. This is evident from the fact that 7.5 per cent of rural labourers are employed in construction work.


The gross neglect of agriculture from the Annual Plan of 1991-92 is evident from the decline of the share of agriculture from 5.9 per cent of the plan outlay that year steadily to 3.7 per cent in the Eleventh Plan of 2007-12. It is obvious that the Indian state appears to have given up on Indian agriculture altogether, despite the fact that the livelihood of over half the Indian people depends on it. Instead of encouraging peasant agriculture which continues to provide the most of employment to the people of our country, the governments at the centre and in many states is encouraging the corporates to take over. To help this process, they are allowing increases in the input prices, neglecting irrigation and consistent electricity supply, leaving the purchase of agricultural produce largely at the mercy of wholesalers, by offering low support prices for crops or refusing to set up purchase centres. All this is leading to the ruin of the peasantry. This is what led to lakhs of suicides that have taken place in the last ten years. Already the area under paddy has come down by 30.58 lakh hectares because of drought, including 1.5 lakh hectares in Haryana 2.45 lakh hectares in Orissa, 6.39 lakh hectares in Bihar, 7.02 lakh hectares  in Punjab and 8.75 hectares in UP. Floods in many areas have compounded the problem.


The suicides of the earning members of peasant and agricultural labour families, distress sales of land under the pressure of debt and the uneconomic returns from agriculture as a result of anti-peasant policies have forced some three crore peasants to join the ranks of the rural landless and unemployed each year. Now to add to this, we have a minimum of ten lakh rural households whose land has been taken away for special economic zones (SEZs), infrastructure projects, industry or for “housing projects” that are just plain speculative land grabs.


This has added millions of unemployed to the growing number of rural workers. Their number is about 12 to 15 crores today. And the days of work available to them have come down to a third of those available in 1990, reflecting almost exactly the cut-back of government expenditure on rural development. The mistaken belief is that a government retreat from agriculture will allow private investors to step in and fill the gap. It has not happened. Private investment fell as government investment retreated. In fact, in advanced economies too the agricultural sector gets subsidies that are 10 to 30 times what our farmers get. Moreover, they are being increased, showing how necessary it is for the state to subsidise agriculture and secure an adequate supply of food. Only the government of India thinks otherwise.




This is coupled with the fraudulent belief that a high cost of production at home can be offset by imports. This was proved false when we faced food shortages and had to buy wheat at Rs 1350 per quintal while we sold it to foreign companies at Rs 850 per quintal. The same happened when the central government closed down seven fertiliser plants in Bihar, Orissa, Assam and West Bengal but fertiliser prices shot up to three times when India went in for imports from abroad. This was not unusual. It happened a number of times when we imported sugar. But the government did not learn any lessons as it was hell-bent on driving peasants off their land and handing it over to the corporates at throw-away rates. It does not care if Indian citizens get ruined. It does not care if rural unemployment increases many times over. It does not care if people commit suicide in lakhs as long as the coalition remains in power by hook or by crook.


Agricultural labour and the rural poor cannot idly wait to see when the solutions dreamed up by fraudulent bodies like the Planning Commission and the NAC materialise. They earn between Rs 35 and 130 a day but the price of a kilo of tur dal has gone up from Rs 32 to 80; groundnut oil from Rs 85 a litre to 122; sugar from Rs 14 a kilo to 36; wheat flour from Rs 8 per kg to 16. Even the humble potato has risen for Rs 8 per kg to 24 over the last year. Even now, despite the government’s promises, food prices continue to rise at over 14 per cent when winter is setting. Soaring fuel and medicine prices are likely to make life much more difficult than before.




The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) had warned the agricultural labour, as far back as its Patna conference in 1992, that this would happen and that the struggle for land, employment and public distribution system needed to be undertaken. We led many struggles on these issues and our membership grew from 17,59,565 in 1991-92 to 48,31,804 in 2009-10. This won’t have been possible without consistent struggles.   


This the union has achieved taking up the issue of legislations like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to provide alternative employment to agricultural labour and the Tribal and Traditional Forest Dwellers Rights Act to ensure an alternative asset base for a livelihood for the poorest and most deprived. In our union’s depositions before the respective standing committees of parliament, we raised the issue of applying for work directly on plain paper; no use of machines and contractors; enforcement of minimum wages or Rs 100 per day, whichever is higher; proper delineation of wages for piece-work; water, first aid and crèches at the worksites; work to be given not further than 5 km from one’s place of residence; unemployment relief and adequate budgetary funding for MNREGA implementation. With regard to the Forest Rights Act, we ensured that it would be extended to “Traditional Forest Dwellers” including those who may well be Adivasis but are not given SC status by the government. We called for a cut-off line based on actual possession, pattas to all on the proof given by local government officials and the right to forest produce, among other provisions.


We did not merely fight for the passage of these laws; we worked for their implementation. We took up the issue of employment guarantee notably in the states of Andhra, Tripura, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana. To ensure the success of our work we carried out propaganda in hundreds of villages, mass filling up of job applications, ensuring proper wages, demanding work or unemployment relief and ensuring social audits. With regard to the Forest Act, we have led struggles for pattas, house-sites and land in Andhra, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, UP, Karnataka, Orissa and Bihar. Much more needs to be done though.




This is all the more necessary as the UPA government at the centre no longer needs the support of the Left as it was earlier when these laws were passed and a Common Minimum Programme adopted. Our representative, Kumar Shiralkar, has been removed from the National Committee. Now, by a series of ordinances and amendments to rules in the case of MNREGA, this government is attempting not only to make the law meaningless but also a vehicle of corruption.


In 2008, to discredit the law, the ministry complained to the CAG of a major gap between its letter and its implementation. On December 31, 2008, it made panchayats less accountable to social audits by saying they could conduct them on their own. Within 24 hours it brought out its infamous notification of January 1, 2009 by misrepresenting its power under section 6(1) of the act to fix wages to mean that it could violate the minimum wages act. On November 11, 2009 the ministry issued another notification to shift from labour intensive to material intensive projects with the construction of a “facilitation centre” named after Rajiv Gandhi in each village, violating the rights of panchayats and bringing in contractors and corrupt practices.


The January 2008 notification has raised bleats of protest from various members of the NAC, but more substantially, legal luminaries like two former chief justices of India (M N Venkatachalliah and J S Verma), four former Supreme Court judges (V R Krishna Iyer, P B Sawant, K Ramaswamy and Santosh Hegde) and a state chief justice (A P Shah), called it unconstitutional, while the noted lawyer in so many human rights cases, Indira Jaisingh called it a means to revive “forced labour”. Now the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, has added her voice. So a mass campaign to make people conscious is necessary. The shameless manner in which the constitution is being violated by the UPA government is obvious from the fact that in the Congress ruled Rajasthan, home state of the rural development minister, 99 workers in Gudaliya village in Tonk district were paid as little as Re 1 per day for digging a check dam between April 26 and May 11 this year. This is merely one case. So the only thing to do is to build a mass movement of the rural poor to resist and reverse these trends. That this is possible is obvious from the efforts being made by the NAC and the Congress president to present themselves as implementing our demands when in fact their government is doing the reverse.




The same is the case with the Food Bill which has now been put in cold storage as its aspects like reducing the quantity of antodaya grain, raising its price by 33 per cent, retaining a two-tier rationing system with the upper tier being too little in quantity and too expensive to prevent people being forced to go to the open market anyway, became public and exposed the UPA’s character as the supporter of foreign direct investment in retail trade and of multinationals’ control on our agriculture. To defend ourselves, we must now firmly commit ourselves to a public distribution system (PDS) that is universal and provides all necessaries of life to the mass of the people at controlled prices. There can be no compromise on this as the government, in its bid to corporatise agriculture, intends to drive us off our small plots of land and reduce us to migrant labour, begging or becoming the victims of those selling body parts. The people need protection from predators in rural areas and the AIAWU must organise them to protect themselves.


Legally, we were able to get legislation for agricultural labour passed in Kerala and Tripura. We now call for a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour to protect over 10 crore of our fellow citizens, over half of them dalits. The draft legislation has been ready since 1980. Successive governments promised to pass the legislation but none has done it. Now it is time to raise with a new fervour the demand we have been fighting for. Let the world know that in India there are laws to protect animals but none for agricultural labour. It is time this is changed.


Our state units have been demonstrating on these issues for the last couple of months. On November 30 we will march to parliament. The marchers will come from Bihar, UP, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In other states, our units will mobilise locally on these demands. The country must know that a good half of the people want their share in the fruits of progress that is now restricted to a favoured few. Now they are to come out on the streets to fight for their due.