People's Democracy

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


No. 19

May 12, 2013




50,000 Peasants Join AIKS Stir on

Drought, Forest Rights Issues


Ashok Dhawale

R Ramakumar


OVER 50,000 peasants in Maharashtra rallied under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) from April 11 to 15, 2013 and conducted a massive road blockade stir on the two burning issues of drought and implementation of the Forest Rights Act. April 11 was chosen to begin the struggle since it is the foundation day of the AIKS; and it is also the birth anniversary of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, one of the earliest and foremost champions of the peasantry and of social justice in Maharashtra.




The epicentres of the struggle were the two bastions of the AIKS in Maharashtra, viz Nashik and Thane districts. Over 45,000 peasants in these two districts peacefully blocked the state highways at 20 centres in 15 tehsils --- from the crack of dawn on April 11 --- and simply refused to move – 25,000 people at nine centres in eight tehsils of Nashik district and 20,000 people at 11 centres in seven tehsils of Thane district. The stir in Thane district was led jointly by the AIKS, AIDWA and DYFI. A large majority of the participants in the agitation in these two districts were adivasis, and they included thousands of adivasi women and also youth. Effective Rasta Roko actions were also led by the AIKS in other districts like Yavatmal, Ahmednagar, Buldana, Solapur, Parbhani, Nanded, Jalna, Sangli and others.


Rattled by the stir that blocked all traffic in the rural areas of Nashik and Thane districts for over 40 hours at a stretch till the evening of April 12, the Congress-NCP state government finally saw reason and conceded the demand to invite an AIKS delegation to meet the chief minister, along with other concerned ministers, the chief secretary and other senior officials at the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai on April 17, when the state assembly was still in session. It was only after this meeting was fixed and confirmed that the road blockade was withdrawn by the AIKS on the evening of April 12.


A three hour meeting was accordingly held on April 17. For two hours detailed talks were held with the senior officials, after which chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat, forest minister Patangrao Kadam, adivasi development minister Babanrao Pachpute and his minister of state rajendra Gavit participated for over an hour along with the chief secretary and other officials who included the district collectors of Nashik and Thane districts.


The AIKS was represented by its state president and former MLA J P Gavit, state working president and MLA Rajaram Ozare, vice presidents Dr Ashok Dhawale and Ratan Budhar, general secretary Kisan Gujar, joint secretaries Dr Ajit Nawale and Barkya Mangat, and state council members Hemant Waghere and Irfan Shaikh, among others. Important concessions were made by the state government in this meeting, and these are given later in this report.


But first, let us take a quick look at the two main issues that were focused by the AIKS statewide stir. 




Maharashtra is today facing a drought situation that is more acute than the 1972 drought. This time there is an unprecedented shortage of water, which was not the case in many earlier droughts. For the last two years consecutively, the State has been facing deficient rainfall. This has seriously affected over 10,000 villages in 186 tehsils in 13 districts in Marathwada and parts of Western and Central Maharashtra. The worst affected districts are Jalna, Aurangabad, Beed, Usmanabad, Nanded, Hingoli, Dhule, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Pune, Solapur, Sangli and Satara. Combined with total state inaction, the situation has spiralled into a serious crisis of livelihoods in these regions.


The Deccan plateau constitutes about half of the drought prone area of Maharashtra. About 12 per cent of Maharashtra’s population lives in drought-prone areas. Historically, Maharashtra has experienced deficient rainfall once every five years. Further, severe drought conditions are experienced once in every eight or nine years. Between 1972 and 2013, there have been major droughts in 1982, 1992 and 2004 in addition to more frequent rainfall shortages.


In the present case, the crisis started with the failure of the monsoon in 2011. As a result, the government of Maharashtra declared drought in 7,753 villages in 15 districts of the state on October 15, 2011 and on March 26, 2012. In 2012 also, the monsoon was inadequate. The first half of the 2012 monsoon received extremely low rainfall as compared to “normal rainfall”. The small improvement in the second half was not enough to repair the damage. This led to further deterioration, falling crop productivity, drying up of drinking water sources and shortage of fodder.


The district-wise position of the shortage of rainfall in 2012, as on 30th of September 2012, is given in Table 1 alongside.



District-wise Percentage of Rainfall up to  September 30, 2012

Sr. no

Actual rainfall as a  per cent of normal rainfall

No of



Name of the Districts


< 50 per cent




50-75 per cent


Dhule, Jalgaon, Ahmadnagar, Pune, Solapur, Sangli, Aurangabad, Beed, Osmanabad, Nanded


75-100 per cent


Thane, Raigad, Sindhudurg, Nashik, Nandurbar, Satara, Kolhapur, Latur, Parbhani, Hingoli, Buldhana, Washim, Yavatmal, Wardha, Gondia


100 per cent and above


 Ratnagiri, Akola, Amravati, Nagpur, Bhandara, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli


If we look at the taluk-wise data also, the acuteness of the situation is evident. The rainfall was 25-50 per cent below normal in 50 talukas and 75 per cent below normal in 136 talukas. In 102 talukas, the rainfall was 75-100 per cent below normal.


Decline in sowing: The first important impact of the deficient rainfall was on the extent of sowing in the kharif season and the growth of already sown kharif crops. The most affected districts have been Pune, Satara, Sangli and Ahmednagar (all in Western Maharashtra) and Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed and Usmanabad (all in Marathwada).


Usually, 50 lakh hectares of area is sown with cereals in Maharashtra; in 2012-13, the area sown was only 37.7 lakh hectares. In the case of pulses, only 19 lakh hectares of area was sown as compared to the normal area of 24.4 lakh hectares. For all foodgrains, the normal area is 74 lakh hectares, while the actual area sown was 56.8 lakh hectares. For jowar, the normal area sown is 14.5 lakh hectares, while the actual area sown was 7.5 lakh hectares.


The situation was not different for rabi crops, though the data is still not fully collected by the government. In the rabi season, about 50 per cent area is usually sowed with jowar. Due to deficit moisture and moisture stress, the area under rabi jowar has also reduced. Further, due to early harvest, the production of grain and fodder was also adversely affected.


Fall in water levels in the reservoirs: As a result of poor rainfall, the levels of storage in most irrigation projects in the region have rapidly depleted. The biggest dam in Maharashtra is Jayakwadi in Aurangabad; it has almost zero live storage. Similar is the case with the Ujani dam in southern Maharashtra. Depletion of live storage has affected both the water available for irrigation as well as water available for drinking. As on March 4, 2013, it is estimated that the total average storage level in all the reservoirs was only 35 per cent of the total capacity. This is lower than the figure of 40 per cent in March 2012 and 55 per cent in March 2011.


The region-wise situation of water storage in the dams is given in Table 2 alongside.



Water Storage in Dams of Maharashtra

As Percentage of Total Storage


March 4, 2011

March 4, 2012

March 4, 2013

Dams in Marathwada regio




Dams in Konkan region




Dams in Nagpur division




Dams in Amravati division




Dams in Nashik division




Dams in Pune division




All dams in Maharashtra




Source: Down to Earth magazine.


Response of the government: The response of the government has been one of inaction. The government has been reacting to the drought, and not proactively addressing the drought, leave alone its root causes. It has been reacting mostly by deploying water tankers, opening cattle and fodder camps and moderately expanding the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). However, on all three grounds the reaction has been largely inadequate.


First, going by the data of the government itself, one village may be receiving one water tanker only once in five days. Most of the water tankers are owned by local politicians or their cronies. Owning water tankers has become one of the most profitable businesses in the State today. Secondly, the opening of cattle camps has largely been in some regions only. Thirdly, the MGNREGS is a monumental failure in the state. Consider the following data:


1) Only 13 per cent of the households in Maharashtra have a MGNREGS job card, while the share is 35 per cent in India and 71 per cent in Rajasthan.


2) Among dalit households, if 45 per cent in India and 74 per cent in Rajasthan had job cards, the share for Maharashtra was 12 per cent.


3) Among adivasi households, if 54 per cent in India and 83 per cent in Rajasthan had job cards, the share for Maharashtra was 21 per cent.


4) Only four per cent of the households have received employment under MGNREGS, while the share is 25 per cent in India and 62 per cent in Rajasthan.


5) Among dalit households, if 34 per cent in India and 65 per cent in Rajasthan had received employment under MGNREGS, the share for Maharashtra was two per cent.


6) Among adivasi households, if 42 per cent in India and 82 per cent in Rajasthan had received employment under MGNREGS, the share for Maharashtra was six per cent.


7) The average number of days of employment for a household under MGNREGS was 34 days in Maharashtra and 71 days in Rajasthan.


8) The share of households who received more than 10 days of work under MGNREGS was three per cent in Maharashtra and 35 per cent in Rajasthan.


Principles of drought proofing: What is required in Maharashtra today to address drought? Clearly, there are steps required in the short-term, medium-term and long-term. In the short-term, the government urgently needs to ensure that three forms of security are ensured in the drought-affected regions: “food security,” “water security” and “employment security.”


First, the government should immediately declare that all ration cards in the drought-affected talukas would be considered as Antyodaya cards and provided with 35 kg of rice and wheat at Rs two per kg. At a time when the food godowns of India are over-stored and foodgrains are rotting, this should not be a problem at all. Secondly, the supply of water tankers to the villages should be directly handled by the government and the number of tankers significantly increased. The diversion of tankers from villages to industries and to the elite of the region should be cracked down upon. All beer and liquor manufacturing factories in the drought-hit areas should be closed down. Thirdly, the coverage of MGNREGS should be immediately stepped up. Employment should be provided to people in the drought-affected regions on a war-footing, and the possibility of providing wages in kind should also be explored. Thus, if the availability of food, water and employment are improved in the drought-regions, there will be relief, at least to some extent.


However, focussing only on the short-term is not enough. In the medium-term and long-term, the government should aim to totally drought-proof the state. Drought-proofing implies that the government aims to weaken the conditions that create a drought and also reduce its impact on the people. First, there has to be renewed focus on the development of drought-resistant crop varieties and hybrids that are grown in the dry regions. The focus has to be specifically on crops like jowar, bajra, pulses and oilseeds. Secondly, all the ongoing irrigation projects in the state have to be completed in a time-bound manner, and a social audit of these projects undertaken to correct design errors. There has to be a stern crackdown on the massive and chronic corruption in the irrigation department. Further, it has to be ensured that during all the droughts, all irrigation projects in a river basin get access to the same amount of water. Thirdly, a land use plan needs to be put in place, whereby the cultivation of water-intensive crops is strongly discouraged in regions prone to droughts. Such a water-use pattern should be an integral part of the drought proofing plan. Finally, a permanent social security programme has to be instituted in the drought-prone regions, covering the spheres of food, water and employment in a comprehensive manner.


None of these plans would become a reality in the absence of political will. However, the situation in Maharashtra is that none of the leading political formations – the Congress-NCP or the Shiv Sena-BJP-MNS have either the will or the vision to implement such a programme. Without long-lasting political change, plans to drought-proof the state would only remain a dream.


This is further underlined by the thoroughly callous and shameless remarks made recently by the state deputy chief minister, former decade-long irrigation minister and current finance and electricity minister Ajit Pawar at a meeting in Indapur in his own Pune district. These remarks, which rubbed salt into the wounds of the victims of drought and power load-shedding, were roundly condemned by all sections of people. These remarks come from a politician who is at the centre of the massive irrigation scam that was recently unearthed and which is now sought to be suppressed. An idea of the scam can be had from the fact that while Rs 70,000 crore was spent by the Irrigation Department of the state in the decade between 2001-2010 (when Ajit Pawar was the state irrigation minister), the Economic Survey of Maharashtra officially states that the proportion of the land under irrigation in the state rose from 17.8 per cent to 17.9 per cent in the same period, i.e. an increase of just 0.1 per cent!


The AIKS memorandum that was submitted to the chief minister on the issue of drought listed out a series of demands around the vital questions analysed above.




The other major issue taken up by the AIKS in this stir was that of the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). In this case also, the actual situation on the ground is thoroughly unsatisfactory.


According to the official state government figures for February 2013 that were presented in the April 17 meeting, out of the 3,39,100 individual claims and 5,048 collective claims (total 3,44,148 FRA claims) that came to the Gram Sabhas, a total of 3,41,177 claims, i.e. 99.10  per cent have been disposed of. Of these, 1,04,758 individual claims and 2,796 collective claims (total 1,07,554 claims) were accepted. Later, at the SDO level, 43,342 appeals were received, out of which 19,252 appeals were accepted and 23,077 were rejected. At the district level, 95,643 appeals were received, out of which only 36,023 appeals were accepted and 16,485 were rejected. 1,013 appeals at the SDO level and 43,135 appeals at the district level are still pending.


Hence, according to the official state government claim itself, out of the total of 3,44,148 FRA claims, only 1,43,577 claims have been accepted, leaving a massive number of 2,00,571 claims either rejected or pending. The state government further claims that land titles have been distributed in respect of 1,35,032 claims and the total forest land distributed as such titles is 8,39,193 acres. Thus, the government claims that on an average, a 6.21 acre patta has been given to each FRA claimant.


The AIKS memorandum submitted to the chief minister on the FRA issue made the following main points:


(1) First, it strongly questioned the massive rejection of over 2,00,000 FRA claims in the state.


(2) Second, it equally strongly questioned the amount of land that was given in respect of most of the accepted claims, asserting that in most cases the land pattas that were given were of an area that was far less than what had been claimed and was actually being cultivated by the adivasi peasants.


(3) Third, it charged that this serious situation had arisen because the administration had relied solely on the forest department, which has historically been against the adivasi peasantry and which was hence specifically kept out of the implementation process of the FRA by the act itself.


(4) Fourth, it pointed to the tremendous obstacles that were being faced by non-Adivasi traditional forest-dwellers with regard to getting forest lands vested in their names.


(5) Finally, the AIKS demanded that the entire process of FRA implementation in Maharashtra be reviewed and radically overhaul.


Some of the other memorandums submitted by the AIKS at this meeting concerned the vesting of the massive amount of temple lands, benami lands, pasture lands, government fallow lands and varkas lands (meaning those lands that are being cultivated by tribals for generations but that are still in the names of the old absentee landlords, an issue which has become a burning one in Thane district due to the rapacious drive of the land mafia and its agents) in the names of the cultivating peasants; and one opposing the plan of joining of rivers that is likely to lead to the submergence of several adivasi villages, at the same time proposing an alternative to conserve that water.




On the issue of drought, the chief minister accepted all the immediate demands concerning water, fodder, employment, grain, waiving of debts, electricity bills and student fees etc that were made in the AIKS memorandum. He also agreed to consider the other issues of land, river waters etc.


On the question of FRA implementation, he agreed to review the entire implementation process as follows:


(1) All the rejected FRA claimants can re-submit their appeals to the district collectors along with the re-submission of any two of the nine proofs as laid down in article 13 of the FRA itself.


(2) As regards the question of lesser area of forest land allotted, this will also be reconsidered, the relevant proofs of the area of land actually being cultivated by the claimant will be checked, and such land up to four hectares as provided for in the act, will be given.


(3) As regards non-adivasis, submission of residential proof in the forest area of 75 years ago will be adequate for accepting their claims.


(4) Fresh FRA claims will be considered after the completion of review of the old claims as given above.


(5) Instructions will be given to the forest department to desist from unnecessary interference.


The Maharashtra state council of the AIKS has decided to tenaciously pursue the gains that it has made in these talks with the state government as a result of struggle. The AIKS Ahmednagar district council has already decided to organise an indefinite dharna before the District Collectorate from May 14.  Other districts are also making their own preparations for a campaign. If needed, the AIKS will later take up the matter with the union minister for adivasi development.


Right now, AIKS district and tehsil conferences are going on as preparation for the 21st AIKS state conference to be held at Amravati in the Vidarbha region from July 11 to 13, 2013. The gains of the recent struggle are being reported and the need for a renewed struggle on other burning issues like peasant suicides and the debt trap, remunerative prices for agricultural produce based on the cost of production etc. is being stressed in all these AIKS conferences, along with the great necessity of strengthening the Kisan Sabha organisation manifold all over the state.