People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXV

No. 01

January 02, 2011

MAHARASHTRA

 

Thousands of Peasants Rally under Kisan Sabha Banner

 

Kisan Gujar

 

ON December 15, 2010, around 7,000 peasants hailing from various districts of the regions of Vidarbha, Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, Northern Maharashtra and Konkan marched to the state assembly during its winter session at Nagpur under the banner of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was holding its statewide rally at Nagpur in the Vidarbha region after a gap of many years.

 

Earlier, between November 15 and 22, 2010, nearly 40,000 peasants under the AIKS banner took part in large demonstrations and rallies at several district and tehsil headquarters in Maharashtra. Of these, 15,000 were mobilised in Nashik district, 12,000 in Thane district and 13,000 in other districts like Ahmednagar, Nanded, Pune, Yavatmal, Wardha, Buldana, Parbhani, Hingoli, Solapur, Kolhapur, Raigad and others. The call for statewide actions in the months of November and December was given by the AIKS state class and workshop that was held at Belapur in New Mumbai on October 25-26, 2010.

 

The AIKS Nagpur rally was described by the Nagpur media as the largest peasant rally that was organised during the two-week state assembly session there. The rally coursed through Nagpur city with attractive banners, placards and slogans. A delegation comprising AIKS state president J P Gavit (former MLA), working president Rajaram Ozare (MLA), vice presidents Dr Ashok Dhawale and Yashwant Zade, general secretary Kisan Gujar, joint secretaries Arjun Adey and Shankarrao Danav, and state council member Santram Patil met the minister Babanrao Pachpute, submitted a memorandum of demands and held discussions with him on various burning issues facing the peasantry.

 

The Nagpur rally culminated in a public meeting that was presided over by AIKS state vice president Udayan Sharma and was addressed by the above-mentioned leaders, as well as by AIKS state council members Laxman Gaikwad, Hemant Waghere, Vasant Dhadga, Arun Latkar, Manoj Kirtane, Shankar Sidam, Vilas Babar, Subhash Nikam, Prabhakar Nagargoje, D B Naik, Mahendra Thorat, Asha Jadhav and Anita Khunkar. The rally was greeted by PWP MLAs Meenakshi Patil and Dhairyasheel Patil and by CITU state secretary Amrut Meshram. The CPI(M) and AIKS Nagpur district committees had made excellent arrangements for this peasant rally.

 

Seeing the indifferent response of the state government to its demands, the AIKS Nagpur rally gave a call for a massive statewide Jail Bharo and Rasta Roko agitation from January 26 to 31.

 

The state government, which did not think it necessary to give a positive response to the various legitimate demands raised by the rallies of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers and other toiling sections, on the contrary pushed through a bill on the last day of this assembly session on December 16, doubling the emoluments of ministers and legislators! The only MLA to oppose and condemn this bill was the CPI(M) MLA, Rajaram Ozare, who issued a strong statement to this effect.

 

BURNING

PEASANT ISSUES

This year, due to excessive and unseasonal rainfall, the crops of lakhs of farmers in Maharashtra have been severely damaged or destroyed. In such a situation, the AIKS conducted several struggles to demand a minimum compensation of Rs 15,000 per acre. After an uproar in the state assembly, the state government announced Rs 1,000 crore as a compensation package for the farmers, but did not divulge the crop-wise compensation per acre. Besides, the crop loss panchnamas are being conducted in an extremely tardy and defective manner, thus ensuring that very few peasants actually get the compensation amount.

 

According to the figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau of the union Home Ministry, over two lakh peasants have committed suicide in the country over the last 12 years, of which the highest number of over 41,000 peasant suicides is from Maharashtra. By far the largest number of peasant suicides is from the cotton belt of Vidarbha, followed by Marathwada and other regions. An overwhelming number of these suicides is due to indebtedness. The prime ministerís package and the chief ministerís package have had little impact on the situation, and the suicides continue even today. Peasant indebtedness and suicides were the main issues highlighted by the AIKS Nagpur rally.

 

The massive rise in the cost of agricultural inputs due to slashing of government subsidies on the one hand and the encouragement given to rapacious multinationals on the other, the government policy of denying peasants remunerative prices for their crops based on the cost of production, the continuing crunch in institutional credit forcing peasants to rely on private moneylenders, the refusal to give adequate compensation for crop losses, and the poor state of irrigation in the vast dryland areas are the five main reasons for indebtedness and peasant suicides in Maharashtra.

 

In this situation, the AIKS struggles have been demanding lowering of the cost of inputs, remunerative prices based on the cost of production for cotton, sugarcane, paddy, soyabean and other crops, adequate peasant credit at four per cent rate of interest, and completion of all pending irrigation projects on a war footing.

 

On the very day of the AIKS Nagpur rally, there came the news of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh having shamelessly shielded the moneylender father of Congress MLA Dilipkumar Sananda of Khamgaon in the Buldana district of Vidarbha. Deshmukh ordered the then district collector and police officials not to file a criminal case against this moneylender, despite a complaint lodged against him by a poor farmer. The Supreme Court slapped a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the Maharashtra government for this shocking act committed by Deshmukh. The AIKS rally strongly condemned the callous anti-peasant stance and the corruption of the Congress-NCP regime that was exhibited by this episode. 

 

The record of implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the NREGA in Maharashtra is among the worst in the country. The FRA is, in fact, being implemented with a view not to give, but to deny, land rights to the tribals. In several districts, rejection notices have been served on FRA applicants by thousands. In some of the Vidarbha districts, eviction notices have also been issued. The state was at one time a pioneer in the employment guarantee scheme but has fallen far behind in the NREGA due to lack of political will and bureaucratic apathy. Hence the stringent and positive implementation of the FRA and the NREGA was one of the vital demands of AIKS struggles.

 

The AIKS rally demanded the withdrawal of the Maharashtra Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill, which was slated to be adopted in this assembly session, but was not. In Raigad district, the Left parties led a massive peasant struggle that succeeded in aborting the proposed 10,000-hectare Maha Mumbai SEZ that was being promoted by Mukesh Ambani. The AIKS also demanded that temple lands, pasture lands and government lands be vested in the names of the peasants who have been cultivating them for years. It also demanded cancellation of the proposed disastrous Jaitapur atomic power plant in Ratnagiri.

 

Thanks to the Enron fiasco, in which all the four major parties --- Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena --- were involved, Maharashtra has been facing massive load-shedding of power for the last several years, coupled with periodic escalation of power tariffs. Peasants who are unable to pay their power bills are faced with the prospects of severance of their electricity connections. All this is adversely affecting agriculture. The AIKS rally took up these power-related demands as well.

 

At a time of astronomical price rise, the public distribution system (PDS) is nearing a collapse. The APL (above poverty line) ration card holders are getting no grains at all but even the BPL (below poverty line) ration card holders do not get regular and adequate grain quotas. Lakhs of poor households are being denied BPL ration cards. Corruption is rampant in the PDS. A Doorstep Ration Scheme (DRS), which can effectively check this corruption, was pioneered by AIKS state president J P Gavit when he was the CPI(M) MLA from Surgana in Nashik district. But it is not being extended to other districts due to resistance by the vested interests that are often in league with the administration. The AIKS struggles have therefore been demanding universalised PDS, vast expansion of the BPL lists and extension of the DRS across the state.

 

Finally, the AIKS Nagpur rally demanded a thorough investigation into the recent shocking scams that have rocked the country and the state, and prosecution of all the culprits involved therein. These scams include the scams in 2-G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Society, Lavasa city and other land and mining deals.