Thursday, March 24, 2011

AIKS in 2010: A Year of Peasant Agitations in Maharashtra

We present below a short report on the agitations undertaken by AIKS in Maharashtra in the year 2010, since the All India Conference of the AIKS held in Guntur in January 2010.


On September 15, 2010, we lost one of our stalwarts – Comrade Krishna Khopkar, who was the seniormost state vice president of the AIKS and a former CKC member. His ideological contribution to the growth of the AIKS in Maharashtra was immense. Even at the age of 86, he was alert, active and sprightly till the end. The void created by his loss will be impossible to fill. The AIKS Maharashtra state council has decided to set up the Comrade Krishna Khopkar Research Centre in his memory.


Since the Guntur All India conference in January 2010, the AIKS in Maharashtra has been active in struggles around the following main issues: 

1. Against price rise and for food security, including revamping and universalisation of the public distribution system and for BPL ration cards; 

2. For implementation of the Forest Rights Act; 

3. For compensation to the peasantry due to excess and unseasonal rainfall; 

4. For remunerative prices of cotton, sugarcane, paddy and other crops; 

5. On the vesting of temple lands in the name of the tilling peasantry; 

6. Against black marketeering of fertilisers and seeds; 

7. On local issues of irrigation and power; 

8. Opposition to the Maharashtra SEZ Bill tabled by the state government in the assembly.

Statewide Mass Mobilisation in November and Statewide Rally on Assembly in December

On all the above issues, two big actions in Maharashtra recently took place under AIKS leadership. From November 15 to 22, 2010, over 40,000 peasants were mobilised in several district and tehsil centres in Nashik, Thane, Ahmednagar, Nanded, Pune, Yavatmal, Wardha, Buldana, Parbhani, Hingoli, Solapur, Kolhapur, Raigad and other districts in militant actions that succeeded in winning many local demands. The AIKS mobilised 15,000 peasants in Nashik district, 12,000 in Thane district and 13,000 in all the other districts in these actions.

On December 15, 2010, the AIKS Maharashtra state council organised a 7,000-strong statewide rally on the state assembly session at Nagpur in the Vidarbha region on the above demands. The issue of indebtedness and the continuing peasant suicides in Vidarbha and other regions were naturally the main focus of this rally. Actually, the main mobilisation strength of the AIKS in Maharashtra is from Nashik and Thane districts, near Mumbai, over 800 Km from Nagpur. Even so, Nashik district had the lion’s share of the mobilisation in the Nagpur rally, but many other districts in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions also made good efforts. A memorandum was submitted to the state government, but as usual, the government gave vague assurances. So far as compensation to the rain-affected peasants is concerned, the state government declared a package of Rs 1,000 crore for the same on the floor of the state assembly, but did not announce the concrete details of the cropwise compensation per hectare, under the plea that it did not have the statistics of the damaged crops.

From the AIKS state rally during the Nagpur session of the State Assembly, December 15, 2010

Therefore, the AIKS Nagpur rally gave a call for a massive statewide Jail Bharo and Rasta Roko agitation on the above issues and on burning local demands from January 26 to 31, 2011.       

Against Price Rise and for Food Security

In the months of March and April 2010, Maharashtra saw constant large mass actions against price rise and for food security. Although these actions were held under the banner of the CPI(M) and the Left parties, the AIKS participation in all of them was the largest. These include the 2,000-strong state convention against price rise at Solapur on March 3; the statewide ‘Halla Bol’ struggle on March 18, in which nearly 60,000 of the CPI(M) took part, of which the AIKS share was over 25,000; the RLDF state rally on the assembly in Mumbai on March 30 of around 20,000, of which the CPI(M) participation alone was over 10,000, of which again the AIKS share was over 5,000; the nationwide Jail Bharo stir of April 8, in which the statewide Left and secular participation was around 70,000, of which the CPI(M) share was around 45,000, of which again the AIKS share was around 20,000; and the nationwide hartal of April 27, in which thousands courted arrest all over the state in rasta roko and rail roko actions.  

A large 13,000-strong independent tehsil-level mass rally of the AIKS was held on October 13, 2010 at Akole in Ahmednagar district demanding the inclusion of poor farmers and agricultural workers in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) list, so that they get BPL ration cards and other BPL benefits. Over 13,000 such BPL application forms were submitted to the tehsildar, who was forced to accept them. Now this struggle has spread to the adjoining Junnar tehsil in Pune district, where another large AIKS rally will be held on December 31, 2010. 

For Implementation of the Forest Rights Act

On February 22, 2010, a delegation of the AIKS and AIAWU met the secretary of the Tribal Development department in Mumbai, which is in charge of the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). It brought to his notice not only the tardy implementation of the Act all across the state, but also the downright obstructionist stance taken by the bureaucracy and the Forest Department  in districts like Thane, Nandurbar, Ahmednagar, Yavatmal and elsewhere. The secretary was himself an Adivasi and had the reputation of being an upright officer. He immediately took cognisance of our complaints and rang up the concerned officials in the districts, ordering them to remove the bottlenecks in the implementation of the Act. This had a good impact. Later AIKS units in several districts followed up on this issue. In all the mass actions in March and April outlined above, the implementation of the Act was also made a major issue by the AIKS in all the tribal districts. But a few months ago, this officer was transferred.

On August 25, 2010, the AIKS and AIAWU under the banner of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch, organised two large rallies in Thane and Nashik districts on the question of the implementation of the FRA. The Thane district tribal rally at Jawhar was over 20,000-strong, while the 15,000-strong Nashik rally mobilised tribals from five districts of North Maharashtra, viz. Nashik, Ahmednagar, Nandurbar, Dhule and Jalgaon. Other rallies on the same issue were organised in August in Ahmednagar, Yavatmal and Nanded districts.

From the rally for Forest Rights Act implementation in Akole, Ahmednagar

On October 10, 2010, Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar addressed a massive 35,000-strong predominantly tribal rally organised by the CPI(M) at Dapchari in the Dahanu tehsil of Thane district, where FRA implementation was one of the major issues. The AIKS mobilised in strength. Manik Sarkar’s speech outlining the excellent implementation of the FRA by the Left Front government in Tripura had a very good impact.

Manik Sarkar addresses the Adivasi rally in Dahanu, 10 October 2010

The participants at the Adivasi rally, Dahanu, 10 October 2010

However, the implementation of the FRA in Maharashtra still continues to be extremely unsatisfactory. The lack of political will of the state government and the bureaucracy and the undue interference of the Forest Department is creating numerous hurdles in the way of the Adivasis getting their rights over forest land. Notices have been sent in Nandurbar, Nashik and Ahmednagar districts to thousands of Adivasi peasants rejecting their claims, and appeals are being filed by the AIKS against these rejections with the District Collector. Some eviction notices have been sent to tribals in the Wada tehsil of Thane district. In Yavatmal district, efforts are being made by the Forest Department and the police to actually evict tribals from their land. The January 2011 Jail Bharo call of the AIKS at its Nagpur rally will thus elicit massive response in the Adivasi districts.

For Remunerative Prices to the Peasantry      

On October 20, 2010, a 1000-strong cotton peasants convention was organised by the AIKS at Parbhani in Parbhani district, demanding remunerative prices for cotton. On September 25, a 500-strong joint convention was organised at Parali Vaijnath in Beed district, demanding remunerative prices for sugarcane and fair wages for sugarcane cutters. Dharnas and demonstrations were organised in several districts by the AIKS, independently and jointly with other peasant organisations, on these demands. This was one of the major issues taken up in the November statewide actions and the December statewide rally of the AIKS referred to above. The AIKS is planning to organise a statewide paddy peasants convention in the month of February 2011. 

For Vesting of Temple Lands in the names of the Cultivating Peasants   

All over Maharashtra, there are tens of thousands of acres of temple lands (called Devasthan zamini in Marathi) which, although they have been tilled by poor and middle peasants for the last several generations, are not vested in their names, but are vested in the name of the Devasthan trusts. The tenancy act passed by the state government several decades ago excluded these lands from its purview under pressure of the powerful temple lobby. Since these peasants are not the legal owners of the land they till, they are not entitled to credit and other facilities that are generally granted to landowning peasants.

The AIKS in Kolhapur district has taken up the above issue for the last three years through struggle and several meetings and demonstrations have been held. Seeing the good response, the AIKS took up this issue in the adjoining districts of Sangli and Satara as well. On March 23, 2010 a Western Maharashtra level convention of peasants tilling temple lands was held at Sangli, in which over 600 peasants from three districts took part. It decided to intensify and expand the struggle to newer districts in the days ahead.

Against Blackmarketeering of Fertilisers and Seeds

In Parbhani, Beed, Wardha, Buldana, Nanded, Hingoli, Kolhapur and other districts, the AIKS launched struggles against the rampant black marketeering of fertilisers and seeds. Big demonstrations and gheraos were held and as a result, the administration was forced to take action against many big traders. The fertilisers and seeds so unearthed were sold to the peasantry at reasonable prices.

On Local Issues of Irrigation and Power

In Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district, the AIKS has taken up the struggle demanding proper irrigation from the Nilwande dam. There have been a number of demonstrations, sit-ins and hunger strikes on the issue led by the AIKS. This has succeeded in mobilising the influential non-Adivasi peasantry in the tehsil also. We already have a base in the Adivasi peasantry there due to our championing of the Forest Rights Act. In Solapur district, the AIKS has been leading a struggle for irrigation water from the Ujni dam and many actions have been held.

In various districts, there have been local struggles on the questions of load shedding of power, massive and unjust electricity bills, the severing of power connections to the peasantry and other related issues.


In the by-election to a Panchayat Samiti seat in Jawhar tehsil of Thane district that took place in October 2010, AIKS Thane district president Ratan Budhar won the seat by a massive margin. He garnered 51 per cent of the total votes polled and trounced his BJP and NCP rivals, both of whom together polled only 49 per cent votes.

In the gram panchayat elections held over the last few months, AIKS candidates won in various gram panchayats in districts like Buldana, Wardha, Parbhani, Beed, Nanded and Thane. Some of them were also elected sarpanches of their villages.


The statewide class and workshop of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was held at the Comrade B T Ranadive Smarak Bhavan in New Mumbai on October 25-26, 2010. 134 delegates from 19 districts attended. The hall for the class was named after AIKS state vice president and former CKC member Krishna Khopkar. The state class was presided over by AIKS state president and ex-MLA J P Gavit and the state workshop was presided over by AIKS state working president and MLA Rajaram Ozare. The class was inaugurated by renowned journalist and Rural Affairs Editor of ‘The Hindu’, P Sainath.

AIKS President S Ramachandran Pillai took the class on the AIKS understanding of the agrarian crisis and the decisions of the AIKS Guntur national conference. In the second part of his class, he also stressed the need for a powerful organisation and on how to build it.

For the first time in a state AIKS class, state office bearers and state council members themselves had been asked to prepare notes on burning agrarian issues in Maharashtra on which struggles would be launched. The notes thus prepared were distributed to all the delegates. These comrades then briefly and effectively placed each of these issues before the class.

The nine topics and the comrades who placed them were as follows: 

1. Present agrarian crisis – its meaning, character and solution – Udayan Sharma; 
2. Indebtedness of the peasantry in Maharashtra – Dr R Ramakumar; 
3. Implementation of the Forest Rights Act – J P Gavit and Rajaram Ozare; 
4. The issue of irrigation and bankrupt state government policies – Dr Ajit Nawale; 
5. The question of SEZs and the new Maharashtra SEZ Bill – Sanjay Thakur; 
6. The issue of cotton prices – Yashwant Zade; 
7. The issue of sugarcane prices – Umesh Deshmukh; 
8. The question of temple lands and grass lands – Santram Patil; 
9. The public distribution system and food security – Manoj Kirtane.

AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar then placed the future action programme proposed by the state office bearers meeting held the previous night. The delegates then dispersed for group discussion for an hour, in which they concretised these tasks for their own district. One delegate from each district then reported to the class what they had decided. This last workshop session created enthusiasm among the activists to carry out the tasks that had been decided.

The five major decisions taken by the class were: 

1. On November 15, large and militant agitational actions would be organised by the AIKS at tehsil and district centres around specific state level and local demands. 
2. On December 15, the AIKS will organise a statewide march to the state assembly during its winter session at Nagpur. Eight major demands for both the above actions were identified. 
3. The AIKS membership drive will begin immediately and will be completed by the end of December. 
4. AIKS village committees would be activised for these agitational and organisational tasks; 
5. The dates of AIKS district council meetings to carry out these tasks were finalised.      

After the placing of the credentials report, the class was addressed by senior AIKS state vice president and former CKC member L B Dhangar. On the basis of his 60-year experience of working in the AIKS, Dhangar gave valuable suggestions for strengthening the movement. The concluding speech of the state class was made by AIKS state vice president and CKC member Dr Ashok Dhawale.


AIKS state office bearers and state council meetings have been regularly held during the last one year since the Guntur conference. Four such meetings were held on February 13-14, May 9, July 31-August 1, and October 25, 2010. The next meeting of the AIKS state council will be held on January 16, 2011.

AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar, along with other state office bearers, undertook a tour which covered 15 districts of the state in August and September 2010. AIKS district council meetings were held in each district and in these the planning for the coming year was done. These meetings had a good impact.

The membership drive for 2010-11 is in progress and most of the membership for the current year will be completed by the next AIKS state council meeting on January 16, 2011. This year, we have planned to reverse the membership decline that we suffered last year as a fall-out of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Historic: 1 lakh peasants arrested in Maharashtra over Forest Rights Act

Ashok Dhawale

It was the largest peasant agitation led by the AIKS in Maharashtra in recent years. For two weeks beginning Republic Day on January 26, 2011 up to February 8, the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, affiliated to the AIKS, led a massive statewide Jail Bharo and Rasta Roko stir on burning agrarian issues, in which around one lakh peasants participated in strength. The call for this stir was given in the 7,000-strong statewide AIKS rally on the Nagpur state assembly on December 15, 2010. Earlier, from November 15 to 18, over 40,000 peasants under AIKS leadership had held district and tehsil level rallies on the same demands.

(Photo from the 50,000 strong AIKS Nashik district rally, Kalwan on February 8, 2011 as the culmination of the stir.)


The prominent agrarian issues that were taken up in this struggle were: peasant suicides due to indebtedness, compensation to crops destroyed due to excessive and unseasonal rainfall, remunerative prices to all crops based on their cost of production, provision of credit to the peasantry at cheap rates, lowering of costs of agricultural inputs, the load shedding and excessive bills of electricity, inclusion of poor peasants and agricultural workers in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists, universalisation of the Public Distribution System (PDS) and expansion of the Doorstep Ration Scheme, vesting of temple lands and pasture lands in the names of the cultivating peasants, opposition to the proposed Jaitapur nuclear plant and the Maharashtra SEZ Bill, a comprehensive crop insurance scheme and completion on a war footing of long-pending irrigation projects with proper rehabilitation.

Space does not permit an analysis of the above burning agrarian issues in Maharashtra. Suffice it to say that as per the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Union Home Ministry, Maharashtra holds the shameful record of having the largest number (41,000-odd) of peasant suicides out of the nearly 2.5 lakh peasant suicides in the country over the last 15 years. This is a clear result of the neo-liberal and anti-peasant policies of successive Congress-NCP and BJP-Shiv Sena regimes in the state and at the Centre. For the last seven years, the Union Agriculture and Food minister has been the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who himself hails from Maharashtra! All that he has been interested is the interest of the sugar lobby, IPL cricket and the building of cities for the rich like Lavasa!

Although thousands of peasants were mobilised around the above vital agrarian issues in several districts, the main chunk of participation in this Jail Bharo stir was on the question of the scandalous implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in Maharashtra. This issue had come to a head in recent weeks with the downright rejection by the state government machinery of thousands of FRA applications of Adivasi peasants in many districts.

(Photo from the 50,000 strong AIKS Nashik district rally, Kalwan on February 8, 2011 as the culmination of the stir.)


As per the status report as on December 31, 2010 on FRA implementation issued by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, a total of 3,35,701 individual FRA claims were filed in Maharashtra. Of these, the FRA village committees recommended 2,82,115 claims to the SDO level committees. Of these the SDO level committees cleared only 1,15,914 claims and sent them to the district level committees. Of these again, 1,04,344 claims were accepted and official certificates (but not actual land rights under the revenue department) were given. Of the 3,988 community FRA claims, only 423 were accepted.

This means that the SDO level committees rejected as many as 1,66,201 FRA individual claims and 3,565 FRA community claims. Even so far as the accepted claims were concerned, certificates granting much less land than that being actually cultivated and claimed by the Adivasis were given. So far as the non-Adivasi traditional forest dwellers were concerned, the draconian requirement of a 75-year (three generations) proof smuggled into the FRA at the last moment dashed their chances of getting any land rights.

One of the main reasons for such en masse rejections of FRA claims has been the illegal and unwarranted interference by the Forest Department, which has been allowed to run amok by the state government and the bureaucracy. Fully aware of the historical antagonism of the Forest Department towards tribals for generations together, the FRA had clearly kept the Forest Department out of the FRA implementation process and had made the Tribal Affairs Department the main nodal agency for FRA implementation.

But on July 18, 2008, the Chief Forest Conservator of Maharashtra State based at Nagpur, issued a 10-page circular laying down the mode of implementation of the FRA in the state. Many of its points flagrantly violated the FRA and its Rules. For nearly two years this circular stayed in force and it was blatantly used to veto thousands of genuine FRA claims.

It was only 20 months later on April 8, 2010, that a state level meeting of the FRA supervisory committee chaired by the then chief secretary, issued another circular generally stating that all circulars and directives of the Forest or any other Department that ran counter to the decisions of that meeting should be considered null and void. But by that time the damage had already been done. However, this same April 2010 meeting committed another blunder. It directed that all pending FRA claims should be disposed off in two months, by May 2010. The result was that the local bureaucracy hastily rushed through the verification process, and “disposed off” the pending claims by rejecting them outright!

The worst aspect of this whole process was that organisations actually working among the Adivasi masses were never taken into confidence at any stage of the FRA implementation. Had that been done, many of these pitfalls could have been averted. But for this, political will - like that shown by the Left Front governments – was required. And it was precisely this political will that was in short supply among the ruling clique in Maharashtra.


The largest and most militant mass struggle took place in Nashik district, in which over 60,000 peasants courted arrest. In this district, as many as 34,000 of the 51,000 FRA claims had been summarily rejected and this resulted in a mass uproar. The Jail Bharo stir began here on January 26 with over 15,000 Adivasi peasants from Surgana tehsil coming all the way from a distance of over 100 Km to court arrest in Nashik city. Subsequently, there were similar court arrest agitations every day up to February 7 in nine different tehsils.

When the first talks with the state government broke down on February 3, the stir in Nashik district was intensified to block highways. At Karanjali in Peth tehsil, over 4,000 peasants blocked the Nashik-Dharampur (Gujarat) highway for 50 hours at a stretch! The Mumbai-Agra national highway was blocked in Chandwad tehsil, and other highways were blocked by thousands of peasants in Surgana and Tryambakeshwar tehsils till February 7.

In Thane district, as a result of earlier huge mass actions on the FRA and other issues, the administration had not yet dared to reject FRA claims wholesale. Even so, over 25,000 peasants from ten tehsils in Thane district courted arrest on January 31, and it was decided to block all highways if the talks with the state government broke down again on February 7.

In Ahmednagar district, the most militant action in this stir took place at Akole on January 29. Here 526 peasants, including 47 women, refused to accept bail and they spent 11 days in four different jails at Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Pune and Nashik. They were led by Dr Ajit Nawale, Eknath Mengal, Raju Gambhire, Namdev Bhangre and others. Another big rally was held in Akole on February 3 to express solidarity with the comrades who were in jail.

In Nandurbar district, over 3,500 peasants and agricultural workers took part in rallies. Around 1,000 to 2,000 peasants each courted arrest in districts like Nanded, Yavatmal, Parbhani, Kolhapur and Pune. The stir was also carried out in districts like Beed, Solapur, Sangli, Buldana, Raigad and Hingoli. In many of these districts, other issues were taken up.

It was as a result of this statewide struggle, especially the widespread and militant peasant actions in Nashik, Thane and Ahmednagar districts, that the State Home Minister R R Patil invited an AIKS delegation to hold talks in Mumbai on February 7. He was accompanied by the Tribal Development Minister, the State Chief Secretary, Tribal Development Secretary and other senior officials. The AIKS was represented by its leaders J P Gavit, ex-MLA, Rajaram Ozare, MLA, Lahanu Kom, ex-MP, Kisan Gujar, Irfan Shaikh and Hemant Waghere.

In this meeting the state government agreed as follows: 1) All the rejected FRA claims will be reviewed and all those who have submitted any two proofs as per the FRA will be accepted; 2) Forest land up to the FRA limit of 4 hectares (10 acres) will be given to claimants who have it in their possession; 3) Appeals against rejected claims will be accepted even if they are submitted after the 60 day limit; 4) The unwarranted interference by the Forest Department will be stopped; 5) All police cases lodged in the course of this agitation will be withdrawn and all arrested peasants will be released.

The next day, February 8, there was an unprecedented 50,000-strong districtwide rally held by the AIKS at Kalwan in Nashik district to announce the results of the talks with the government and to convey the future line of action. Kalwan town had no ground in which to accommodate so many people, so the public meeting was held on the main road itself. Peasants sat on the road over a distance of over one kilometre to listen to the meeting.

The massive Kalwan rally was addressed by AIKS state president J P Gavit, ex-MLA, state vice presidents Dr Ashok Dhawale and Gunaji Gavit, state general secretary Kisan Gujar, state joint secretary Laxman Gaikwad and state council members Irfan Shaikh and Hemant Waghere. It was also addressed by CITU state general secretary Dr D L Karad, AIDWA state vice president Mariam Dhawale and DYFI leader Hemant Patil. It was presided over by AIKS leader Balasaheb Gangurde. The atmosphere at the rally was one of determination to ensure that the state government pledges are actually implemented. If this was not done, it was vowed that the struggle would be resumed and further intensified.