People's Democracy

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


No. 13

March 25, 2012




Girijans Fight for Remunerative Prices for Forest Produce


The girijans (tribal people) of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh have been agitating for remunerative prices for the forest produce. They collect a variety of forest produce like tamarind, gum, wax, Addakulu (leaves for serving meals), honey etc --- nearly 26 items --- from the forests, carry them on their heads and shoulders over long distances to the weekly markets and sell them there. 


In the scheduled area of three northern coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, about one lakh tribal families depend on collection of forest produce for their livelihood. In a year they collect nearly 7000 metric tonnes (MTs) of tamarind, 400 MTs of Addaakulu, 1000 MTs of turmeric and 2.5 lakh MTs of hill broomsticks, among other things.


The Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC), a state government organisation, headed by an IAS officer, is entitled to procure the forest produce and sell them in the open market. The GCC is, like the Food Corporation of India, meant to procure the produce order that the tribals are not left at the mercy of the middlemen.


The Andhra Pradesh Girijan Sangham, with the support of the CPI(M), has been leading the Girijan struggles. It has been rallying the tribals of the area and taking up their issues.


Over the period, due to the policies of globalisation and the World Bankís dictates, however, the GCC has not been procuring the forest produce from the tribals or procuring the same at low prices, thus pushing the tribals towards the middlemen. Having brought the produce to the shandy (weekly market) from a long distance on their heads, the tribals are left with no option but to sell these produce to the middlemen for a pittance, in order to avoid carrying them back. 


To cap its misdemeanour, the GCC enters the scene later, after the harvest season, when no stock or only nominal stock is there. The irony is that the GCC then procures these items from the middlemen at higher prices and sells them to customers at much higher prices. 


In view of this situation, the tribals have been agitating for procurement at remunerative prices. The logic is clear. In season, the GGC procures tamarind, for example, for just Rs 15 a kg (with seed) only whereas in the open market the same product is sold at Rs 70 per kg. Agreeable to make purchases from the middlemen, the GCC has been avoiding to procure the forest produce from tribals, and selling the same in the market at still higher prices.  


Thus frustrated, tribals have been in the course of an agitation for the last two months of the tamarind season to get remunerative prices for the produce. They have organised, under the Girijan Sanghamís banner, dharnas in front of mandal offices. Once they took out a rally to the Visakhapatnam Collectorate and held a dharna there. Supporting the struggle, the CPI(M)ís district committee organised a novel kind of protest, collecting the  tamarind from the doorsteps in tribal villages, transporting the same to Visakhapatnam city and sold the same in the rythu bazaars (public market) at Rs 30 per kg. It has been demanding that the GCC procure this item at Rs 30 per kg.


On March 15, CPI(M) state secretary B V Raghavulu started selling tamarind at a counter organised by the CPI(M)ís Visakhaptnam district committee. People came in large numbers and nearly 1000 kg of tamrind was sold in just one hour. It was a slap on the face of the GCC and the state government.


Even then, the GCC did not come forward.


On March 20, the AP Girijan Sangham organised a manyam bandh (bandh in the forest) in the three north coastal districts of the state, viz Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam. The bandh was an instant success. All transport, private or public, came to a halt. All the offices were closed. Thousands of tribal people held rallies at all the mandal headquarters. The whole tribal belt wore a deserted look.  All the media reported the same.


The CPI(M) forcefully supported the call and saw to it that the bandh was a grand success.


Later the press reported that the GCC was forced to come to the negotiating table. Now it is expected that the issue would be clinched in the coming negotiations soon.