(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 15, 2011
People’s Agitations Ongoing in May
Tikender Singh Panwar
HIMACHAL PRADESH is all set to witness massive actions by the people in the month of May. These actions would be led by the various mass organisations of the people. The foremost issues involved here are the neo-liberal offensive on the common people and its fallouts. As we know, this offensive has further aggravated of late. For the state, the major issues pertain to development and of safeguarding the rights of the people from the threats that arise from the distortions in development, mainly in hydro power sector, cement production etc.
The state has a large proportion (66.6 per cent) of its total area under the forests and just 10 per cent is available for agriculture. It is thus that various issues related to forestry are emerging as prominent during the campaign.
Next, the state has a number of rivers and their tributaries that have been serving the people in a number of ways. However, growing commercialisation is threatening to restrict the rights of the people regarding the use of river water and hence the water related issues too are coming to the fore.
Thirdly, while only scant land is the available for agriculture, pressure on it is mounting from cement projects and other industrial projects, as well as from private universities that occupy large tracts of land. So this issue of land and demands associated with it have also come to the fore.
While these issues have become quite pressing, how they must concretely reflect in the popular demands of the people have been identified by respective mass organisations and their committees. It is on such popular demands that movements are springing throughout the state and the feeling is that these must not remain confined to mere propaganda; rather these demands can well be achieved. In any particular area, the focus is on one or two of the foremost demands.
To start with, the issue raised in Shimla town, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, is that of a Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill which is likely to severely affect the tax paying city dwellers because of its faulty method of assessing the property tax.
Once implemented, this bill with draconian provisions will give despotic powers to the municipal commissioner, and the common house owners will be forced to pay a tax well beyond their capacity. Ultimately, the burden for this extra taxation is going to fall on the tenant. The earlier provisions of assessing property tax on the basis of rent has been amended and the basis now is area of the building, irrespective of whether it is used for commercial or domestic purposes.
This has become a major issue for the town’s people and in this regard a vigorous campaign has been unleashed. For the purpose, a new organisation called the Shimla Nagrik Sabha (SNS) has been formed, and it has given the call for a ‘March to Governor’s House’ on May 31, as the act is waiting for the governor’s sanction.
Here it may be mentioned that the issue of property tax is one of the issues raised by the SNS and not the basis of its birth.
The other major issue for the town pertains to the outsourcing of garbage collection from doorsteps. A user charge of Rs 35, 50, 200 and 1000 per month per unit is being charged from house owners, small shopkeepers, big shops and hotels/restaurants respectively.
At Nirmand the
In Kinnaur, the foremost issue is of Forest Rights Act and its proper implementation, which will be highlighted and actions organised. Another pertinent issue and popular demand of the area is that of having a Subzi Mandi in Kinnaur district.
In Balh area of Mandi district, the demand being raised is of having a degree college. On April 20, a big convention was organised on this issue and at present a signature campaign is going on. This will be consolidated in a mass rally in May. This is the only constituency in Mandi district where there is no degree college.
At Sundernagar in Nihari, the foremost issue is that of shortage of doctors as there are no doctors in the primary health centres.
Another issue here is of the decision of the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation (HRTC) to suspend a large number of bus routes. This has created a stir amongst the people. On May 25, a mass rally has been planned.
In Sarkaghat, Jogender Nagar and Chattri regions, issues like the shortage of medical staff, lack of drinking water facilities and the need of a college in Jogender Nagar have become the foremost ones. From May 10 to 20, protest actions will be held in Gohar, Chattri and Sarkaghat.
In Kullu district, a 35 day programme has been planned in Naggar valley. Here the main demands of the people include the opening of a Subzi Mandi, as the area has a large population of those growing off-season vegetables and a number of stony and pulpy fruits. In this regard, 8 panchayats have moved in action and on May 6 a mass protest action was held at Naggar. For the campaign 3000 posters were distributed.
The other major issue is that of employment in Manali where a tunnel is being bored from Manali to Leh. Here the demand to provide employment to the local youth has become the foremost one. Actions have been planned --- starting with conventions and then blocking the work at the site.
In Banjar and Sainj valleys, two different plans of action have been worked out, involving 13 panchayats in one and 7 panchayats in the other case. The foremost issue of the area pertains to development and has to do with hydro power projects. The demands include opening of a hospital as promised by the NHPC in Banjar, drinking water etc. In this regard, a convention was held on May 8.
In Anni area, 10 panchayats have been marked where mass rallies will be held on the focal demand of raising the price of milk. At present, the Milk Federation buys milk for a meagre Rs 12-15 per litre from the milk producers and sells it at Rs 29 per litre.
DAM ON TAUNS TO
SUBMERGE A BIG AREA
In Sirmour district, issues of development and the ensuing dams have become the major ones. In Poanta area, the Samkar river divides the people of two hills and they cannot commute the distance during the rainy season as there is no bridge on the river. This situation affects more than 25,000 people. On this demand of construction of a bridge on the river, 5 panchayats have been marked and village level meetings are being held there. On this issue a convention has been planned on May 17. The kisan and women’s organisations will head this struggle.
Another foremost issue of the area is that of a dam being constructed on Tauns river by the Tehri Power Corporation that will jointly affect the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The Tauns river is one of the tributaries of Yamuna. According to the proposal, a dam named Keshu Dam will be constructed and it will have a height of more than 236 metres. Thus it will be higher even than the Bhakra Dam and will submerge a large area in the two states. The land that will submerge comprises the best of the land in the area and hence there is an unequivocal demand that this dam should not be constructed. In this regard a massive meeting took place on May 9 and the Kisan Sabha state unit of Uttarakhand was also contacted for joint struggle.
In Chamba district, almost all the major rivers and their tributaries have been targeted for hydro power generation. Here the major demands are of employment, environment, compensation, relief, rehabilitation and so on. Tissa area has been targeted for building a movement in this regard.
In Bhawai panchayat, a dalit woman, who happened to be a former ward member, was badly abused and slapped by some upper caste men. This incident took place on April 3 when a Gram Sabha meeting was going on. Despite the fact that various representations were made, the culprits were not arrested. Even though the Gram Panchayat pradhan stood by the victim, the government did not move a bit. At Sangrah, the block headquarters, a mass rally was therefore held on May 2 and more than 400 people of the panchayat area participated in it. A memorandum was submitted through the tehsildar addressed to the governor of the state. This action has created a churning among the people and a big convention has been planned for May 29 in Sangrah.
An association of the apple producing horticulturists is being formed in Shimla and other parts of the state. Apple growing has an economy of more than Rs 2000 crore per annum. But with the neo-liberal policies sharply pushing up the cost of production, compounded with an unfavourable weather, apple growers are today passing through a worst ever crisis. To further worsen their plight, the free trade agreement (FTA) with the ASEAN countries and lifting of 35 per cent of import duty is going to severely hit the apple growers. On the other hand, the state government too has virtually withdrawn itself from the issue and is refusing to provide whatever little help was hitherto being given to the growers.
The growers are facing this excruciating situation at a time when the produce is ready to be marketed. However, the abysmally poor infrastructure with ill maintained roads and the loot at the hands of private commission agents are taking their own toll.
In this regard, a massive convention of apple growers has been fixed for May 14, where a statewide Apple Growers Association will be launched.
In Bhatiyat, 6 out of 16 panchayats have no road connectivity. Hence these 6 panchayats have been marked for raising the demand of road construction. A massive contact programme has been unleashed. This is being led by an elected Zila Parishad member who also happens to be the district secretary of the CPI(M).
In Solan district and its headquarters town, some local issues have been identified. The foremost demands include those of adequate supply of LPG fuel and proper distribution through the PDS shops; at present the PDS shops open only once in 10 days in the town. Another demand pertains to the deposit of electricity bills. At present the department is sending powers bills monthly but has only two counters for a population of 66,000. This creates chaos in the area. In this regard a convention is fixed on May 30 that is likely to initiate a series of mass protest action.
The rural area of Solan is known for growing large quantities of off-season vegetables, mainly tomatoes and capsicum. The foremost demand is that of proper weighing of their produce in the Subzi Mandi, check on spurious seeds and compensation if the seeds turn out to be spurious. Having an agro based industry in the region is also an important demand here. Eight panchayats have been marked here and on April 30 there was held a mass convention which called for protest actions at the Subzi Mandi.
In Parwanoo area the demand of a college is being raised and an action plan has been chalked out.
In Darlaghat, cement is being manufactured by the Ambujas and here a prolonged agitation is going on. The foremost demands pertain to adequate compensation, relief, rehabilitation, employment, drinking water facility, pollution and so on. At present 5 panchayats have been marked and a mass protest demonstration has been planned.
At Palampur area in Kangra district, the issues of potatoes and MNREGA have been highlighted. Here 15 panchayats have been marked for building a movement.
In Hamirpur, the foremost issue is of enrolling a large part of rural population and area into the town and country planning. In this regard a massive convention of the people was held on May 1 and a signature campaign has been launched. Another major issue is of inadequate supply of LPG along with bungling regarding the quantity of gas in LPG cylinders. Here 15 panchayats have been marked for a mass campaign. A convention of the residents was organised and it has called for a protest demonstration outside the office of the district collector.
In Una district, the issue of loss to crops because of wild animals and particularly because of nilgais and wild boars has been raised from quite some time. The people have been forced to withdraw from farming because of the menace. It affects more than 50 village panchayats. A convention has been fixed on May 15, to be followed by a protest demonstration outside the office of Range Forest Officers.
In Bilaspur, the issue of MNREGA has been identified and 5 panchayats marked for building a movement.
When various organisations would be holding campaigns and protest actions in the month of May on the issues directly affecting the people, they would also run their membership campaigns simultaneously in order to consolidate the gains.