(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 13, 2011
Public Hearings Expose Govt Callousness towards Adivasis
THE government gives no employment at all to our youth. So some of the youth from our village migrate to Bhiwandi for sand dregging. A team of four works together. They have to dive in turns 40 feet deep to extract sand. Holding his breath, the diver fills the bucket, scooping the sand with his hands, and then signals the others to pull the bucket up. Then he rushes up, gasping for breath. This routine continues until eight brass of sand is extracted. The diver gets Rs 500 and the others get Rs 250 each only if they extract eight brass, i.e. four truckloads of sand per day. If they fall short of dregging eight brass of sand, they get only 50 per cent of the above amount as wages. Many a time the diver dies in this hazardous occupation. So we send a live youth for work and we get back his dead body!
So said Sanguni Budhar from Wavar at a public hearing held in that village in the remote hilly areas of Jawhar tehsil in Thane district on January 24, 2011. Her husband died while dregging sand in 2009, and she received no compensation whatsoever.
“Due to the massive price rise of food items, our daily diet now comprises only of rotis made of nagli and chutney made of green chillies. We cook dal and vegetables only once or twice a month when our relatives come visiting. So my small children become very happy when relatives arrive, because they know that they will get dal and vegetables that day. Many of us have not been given BPL ration cards by the government in spite of making repeated applications, and we are thus denied cheap ration grain,” said Sangeeta Budhar from Behergaon village of Jawhar tehsil.
“We filled up our forms asking for the land that we have been cultivating for generations, under the Forest Rights Act over a year ago. We attached copies of all the proofs that were required. But, despite going there many times, the tehsil office in Dahanu refused to accept our forms. So these forms remain in the gram panchayat office even today. How will we get the right to forest land when even our forms are not accepted by the government?” asked Chandrakant Vartha of Dehyale village in Dahanu tehsil at the public hearing that was held in the same village on January 25.
Public hearings in the Jawhar, Dahanu and Vikramgad tehsils were organised by the CPI(M)’s Thane district committee on January 24-25, on the days adjoining the Central Committee meeting of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM), held at Comrade B T Ranadive Smarak Bhavan at Belapur in New Mumbai on January 22-23. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, MP, attended these public hearings. She was accompanied by CPI(M) state secretariat members Lahanu Kom, ex-MP, Rajaram Ozare, MLA, and Mariam Dhawale and state committee members L B Dhangar and Ratan Budhar. These hearings were attended by over 700 adivasi men and women from 19 villages.
After these hearings, Brinda Karat met various senior government officials in Jawhar and Dahanu, apprised them of the serious problems faced by the people and demanded immediate action on them. She also took them to task for the faulty implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) which was being carried out in flagrant violation of the provisions of the Act itself. The government officials were totally flummoxed when she asked them about the government rates for Minor Forest Produce (MFP). They were not even aware of such a thing. When asked as to why work under the MGREGA was not given despite forms demanding work being filled, they had no convincing answers to offer.
On the afternoon of January 25, Brinda Karat addressed a rally of thousands of adivasis in Dahanu city organised by the CPI(M) from the three tehsils of Talasari, Dahanu and Palghar. The rally was also addressed by CPI(M) state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, state secretariat members Lahanu Kom, Rajaram Ozare and Mariam Dhawale and state committee members L B Dhangar, Edward Vartha and Barkya Mangat.
In this rally, Brinda Karat related her experience of the public hearings and came down heavily on the callousness of the Congress-NCP state government towards the people in general and adivasis in particular. The FRA and the MGREGA were enacted by the UPA-1 regime under the pressure of the Left parties. But the situation as regards FRA and MGREGA implementation was extremely serious and totally unacceptable. This has to be changed through struggle. Migration and the plight of the migrants is a grave problem. Lakhs of the poor do not have even a BPL ration card; many do not have ration cards at all. Rats are eating the grain in government godowns, but the government is not willing to give it to the poor. The price of onions has brought tears to the eyes of the poor. But the onion peasants got nothing. It was the big traders and hoarders who amassed money. The prices of essential commodities in the tribal areas were higher than in the urban areas. This was because of higher transport costs due to the central government repeatedly hiking diesel and petrol prices. She criticised the forward trading and other policies of the Congress-led UPA central government for the relentless price rise. She attacked the innumerable corruption scams. She also warned against the communal and divisive machinations of the BJP-Shiv Sena. Dwelling upon the sterling work done by Left-led governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura for the upliftment of the adivasis and for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, she castigated the violence and lawlessness let loose by the Trinamul-Maoist combine in West Bengal. Recalling the legacy of Godavari Parulekar, she called upon the participants to understand the laws, know their rights and take the red flag and fight.
Dr Ashok Dhawale, while dealing with the political challenges in Maharashtra, condemned the state government and the administration for their flagrant violation of the Forest Rights Act. The Forest Department, which has deliberately been kept out of the implementation of the FRA by the Act itself, has nevertheless been allowed by the state administration to exercise veto powers to reject FRA claims of adivasi peasants en masse. Even as far as the very few accepted FRA claims are concerned, only a small fraction of the forest land that the adivasis have actually been cultivating has been granted to them by means of an empty certificate, but not through actual land ownership rights given by the revenue department. Now the rich are trying to take away the land of the adivasis which has been in their possession for several generations as a result of the struggles waged by the red flag, but which has not yet been vested in the name of the tiller. The Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha has given a call for a massive statewide Jail Bharo stir on these and other burning peasant issues from January 26. He called to make this stir a massive success in Thane district.
The CPI(M), AIKS, AIDWA and DYFI in Thane district have been leading sustained struggles of thousands of people for several years on issues like the FRA, against purchase of tribal land by non-tribals, MGREGA, PDS, BPL ration cards, the Doorstep Ration Scheme, registration of migrant labour and related issues. Large demonstrations and protest actions have been regularly organised from the village to the district level.
Thousands of forms under the FRA have been filled up and submitted by forest rights village committees long ago. Hundreds of such forms that had not been accepted then are still being submitted to the SDO offices under pressure of large rallies organised in recent months. Hundreds of forms demanding work under the MGREGA have also been submitted.
As a result of this public hearing and the massive Jail Bharo stir on January 31, 2011 in which over 25,000 people participated from 10 tehsils of Thane district, the administration has been forced to take positive steps for FRA implementation and MGREGA work has been started in several villages in Jawhar and Dahanu tehsils. The Doorstep Ration Scheme, which was pioneered by CPI(M) state secretariat member and then MLA, J P Gavit, in the Surgana tehsil of Nashik district, has begun in some villages in Dahanu and Talasari tehsils.
Struggles on these and other issues will continue unabated under the Red Flag.