(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 10, 2012
CPI(M) Mobilises Rural Poor for Drought Relief
RESPONDING to the call of
After dithering for weeks, in the beginning of May, the state government finally admitted that 7753 villages in 15 districts were drought-affected. As always, this was also a gross underestimate, based on the ridiculously false ‘paisewari’ estimates of crop produce that are still based on the crop production criteria set up during the British colonial era!
Today, the situation in
thousands of villages is grave. There is great scarcity and
even complete absence of drinking water. Wells have run dry.
Dams and reservoirs are depleted. There is lack of adequate
fodder for cattle.
Drought is by no means a
new phenomenon in
For instance, some of
these commissions had said that with optimum utilisation of
both groundwater and surface water resources, 45 per cent of
the land under cultivation could have been brought under
irrigation. But what is the actual situation? As per the Economic
Survey of Maharashtra 2011-12, when the state of
The nadir was reached in the last ten years. As part of the running battle between the Congress and the NCP (the NCP has long held the Irrigation portfolio in the state), Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan declared recently that after spending Rs 70,000 crore on irrigation in the last ten years, the proportion of irrigated land increased by only 0.1 per cent. He announced that a White Paper on the issue would be published. This led to a war of words between both the parties in the ruling alliance.
Another significant issue concerns the massive escalation of irrigation expenses. The Irrigation Commissions in the early 1960s had opined that with an expense of 1,300 crore rupees, 30 per cent of the land could have been brought under irrigation by 1980. Today the chief minister says that a sum of 77,000 crore rupees would be required for the completion of incomplete projects! Needless to say, a significant part of this cost escalation is directly related to rising corruption at all levels. Now the rulers say that since such massive outlays are not possible, priority would be given to water conservation schemes. Nothing stopped them from doing so for the last several decades.
The third issue is the
completely skewed nature of the distribution of irrigated
water. It is well known that sugarcane is a water-guzzling
crop. It is equally well known that Maharashtra is ruled by an
alliance of the big bourgeoisie and the sugar lobby,
The last issue concerns the neo-liberal prescription - privatisation of water resources and diversion of water to the rich in the cities and to SEZs, at the expense of the countryside. As a major step towards privatisation, the Maharashtra Water Resources Bill was hurriedly passed and in 2005, the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority was set up. Since the state government claims that it has no money to set up or complete irrigation projects, the policy of allowing private players in this sector began in right earnest, with all the attendant ill-effects on water-users.
Simultaneously, a drive began to divert scarce water resources from the rural areas to the uncontrolled expansion of the cities to cater to the interests of the builder lobby, and to SEZs. It was this same drive that led last year to the peasant resistance and police firing at Maval in Pune district, which killed three farmers, including a woman. It is now proposed to build as many as ten dams by displacing thousands of Adivasis and others from several villages in the Thane and Raigad districts adjoining Mumbai. Thane district, which has some of the largest dams and water reservoirs in the state, has only 2 per cent of irrigated land and there is great scarcity even of drinking water in several tribal-dominated tehsils.
On the other hand, it has been reported that Mukesh Ambani’s new 27-storey residence ‘Antilia’ in Mumbai, built at a cost of Rs 9,000 crore, is provided 60 lakh litres of water per month! While most of the state is in darkness due to power load-shedding (which is itself a direct result of the power privatisation policy of the ruling classes that led to the Enron fiasco, and is now being compounded by the Jaitapur nuclear power project drive), the monthly electricity bill of this modern-day Ambani palace is to the tune of Rs 70 lakh! This is only one instance amongst many in Mumbai.
The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee, which met on April 29, decided to launch an independent struggle on the issue of drought with two objectives in mind. The first was, of course, to ensure that immediate relief in the form of drinking water, employment, ration grain and fodder reached the people and their cattle. Towards this end, a charter of demands was prepared by the state committee. The second was to highlight the bankrupt ruling class policies briefly outlined above that had led to plunging the state in a chronic drought situation over the last several decades.
The two districts where the biggest mass actions were held were Thane and Nashik districts. Over 12,000 people stormed seven tehsil offices in Thane district and over 11,000 people stormed nine tehsil offices in Nashik district. In Thane district, the people gheraoed government offices in four tehsil centres and did not move until the authorities gave written assurances on their demands. At Igatpuri in Nashik district, over 500 people blocked the Mumbai-Agra National Highway.
In the Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district, which hosted the Party state conference in March, over 3,000 people were mobilised in several village level actions. In the South Solapur tehsil of Solapur district, over 2000 people led a road blockade. In Parbhani district, a 1500-strong demonstration marched to the district collectorate. In Hatkanangale in Kolhapur district, a 1000-strong demonstration was held. In Nandurbar district, road blockades were organised in four tehsils, and nearly 400 people were arrested.
Similar actions took place in districts like Nanded, Beed, Jalna, Aurangabad, Hingoli, Amravati, Buldana, Jalgaon, Satara, Sangli and Raigad districts. Special mention must be made of demonstrations held by the Party in the urban centres like Mumbai, Nashik, Jalna and Aurangabad, where the working class raised the demand of the peasantry for drought relief. The actions in Solapur, Kolhapur and Parbhani districts also mobilised the working class along with the peasantry. In Pune, a Convention on Water was organised by left and secular parties.
All these mass actions succeeded in wresting concessions and immediate action from the government authorities for drought relief. Most of these actions were well covered by both print and electronic media, some of whom reported that it was only the CPI(M) among all other political parties in the state that took up concerted cudgels against the severe drought situation in the state.