After the major statewide struggle for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) that was led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in Maharashtra in January-February 2011 and which mobilised over one lakh peasants (see report in People’s Democracy, March 21 to 27, 2011 and Loklahar, March 28 to April 3, 2011) another big statewide struggle led by the AIKS recently was for the inclusion of names of the poor in the BPL (Below Poverty Line) lists. This is another burning issue of the rural poor in Maharashtra. Hence this struggle also evoked massive response and once again, over one lakh peasants came out on the streets.
Burning issue of the rural poor
It is a notorious fact that BPL surveys have been fraudulent, often excluding the poor and including the rich in the BPL lists. For this reason, the 2002 BPL survey, which eventually came into force in 2006, was challenged in the Supreme Court. In the Writ Petition (Civil) No 196 of 2001, People’s Union of Civil Liberties versus Union of India & others, the Supreme Court ruled on February 14, 2006 that, provision will be made to allow new names to be added and ineligible names deleted from the BPL list 2002 on a continuous basis during the period that the list will be applicable.
The Maharashtra state government issued a government resolution dated August 27, 2010 that laid down the procedure for implementing this decision of the Supreme Court. The first appeal by an individual who wished to be included in the BPL list is to be made to the tehsildar who will inquire into its merit and will decide whether to accept or reject the appeal. If the appeal is rejected, the second appeal is to be made to the district Collector.
However, in line with the thoroughly anti-people, neoliberal policies of the UPA-2 central government, the state government said that there will be no increase in the total number of BPL beneficiaries that have been arbitrarily decided by the Planning Commission. If new deserving entrants are to be admitted into the BPL lists, the same number of relatively better-off people will have to be excluded.
Poverty in Maharashtra
As per official figures, poverty in Maharashtra as per the revised official estimate of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee for 2004-05 is 38.1 per cent, which is 1 per cent more than the national average of 37.2. The state ranks fourth highest in poverty in the country after Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This revised estimate itself is faulty and unacceptable if we consider the Arjun Sengupta Committee findings, but that is another story.
Poverty in rural Maharashtra increased from 34.6 per cent in 1997, to 35.7 per cent in 2002, to 47.9 per cent in 2004-05, as per the revised estimate. This means that nearly half of rural Maharashtra is poor! Similarly, poverty in urban Maharashtra rose from 8.8 per cent in 1997, to 18.2 per cent in 2002, to 25.6 per cent in 2004-05, as per the revised estimate.
However, in the year 2010, of the total 215.95 lakh ration cards in Maharashtra, the number and percentage of various categories was as follows, according to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra, 2010-11: Antyodaya – 23.40 lakh (10.8 per cent), BPL – 43.75 lakh (20.3 per cent), Annapurna – 0.86 lakh (0.4 per cent), APL – 138.40 lakh (64.1 per cent), White – 9.54 lakh (4.4 per cent). This means that Antyodaya + BPL categories together came to just 31.1 per cent (67.15 lakh cards), which is much less than even the official poverty estimates.
According to the provisional figures of the 2011 Census, Maharashtra has a total population of 11.24 crore, ranking second in all states in India after Uttar Pradesh. Even considering the fraudulent poverty estimate of 38.1 per cent, 4.28 crore people are below the poverty line!
Hence, apart from the campaign for inclusion in the present BPL lists, there has to be a big struggle to increase the total quantum of the people under BPL, using realistic criteria in the new and dubious BPL census that is about to begin. Also, there has to be a struggle for the universalisation of the public distribution system and expansion of the doorstep ration scheme to ensure genuine food security. Along with this, the struggle for remunerative prices to the peasantry based on the cost of production has to be intensified.
Spontaneous response, massive rallies
It was with this basic position that the AIKS began the struggle. After holding tehsil-level workshops to explain the issue and the modus operandi of the struggle, hundreds of activists of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha began a campaign of going to the rural poor, village to village. They filled up the BPL appeal forms as per the format given by the state government. Massive rallies of the rural poor on the tehsil offices across the state were held to submit these appeal forms to the government authorities. The struggle began from the Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district and then spread to several other districts in the state.
The AIKS state council gave a call for statewide demonstrations on this issue on May 9 to submit the BPL appeal forms. This struggle elicited spontaneous response from the rural poor. Over one lakh poor peasants, agricultural labourers, unorganised rural workers and artisans took part in 35 tehsil-level demonstrations in 14 districts and over one lakh BPL appeal forms were submitted to the tehsildars. In Thane district, the struggle was jointly led by the AIKS, AIDWA and DYFI. The AIDWA in Ahmednagar district and the SFI in Pune district actively helped in the campaign. The local media gave excellent coverage to the rallies.
The districtwise total mobilisation figures in this struggle were as follows: Thane – 33,000, Nashik – 31,000, Ahmednagar – 23,500, Pune – 16,000, Kolhapur – 3,500, Nanded – 3,000, Parbhani – 1,500, Beed – 1,000, Yavatmal – 500, Amravati – 350, Satara – 350, Sangli – 350, Solapur – 200, Hingoli – 200, Total – 1,14,450.
Some of the largest and most impressive rallies in this struggle on the BPL issue were as follows: Akole, Dist Ahmednagar – 13,000; Talasari, Dist Thane – 10,000; Junnar, Dist Pune – 10,000; Sangamner, Dist Ahmednagar – 7,000; Jawhar, Dist Thane – 7,000; Ambegaon, Dist Pune – 6,000; Kalwan, Dist Nashik – 5,000; Igatpuri, Dist Nashik – 5,000; Vikramgad, Dist Thane – 5,000; Sinnar, Dist Nashik – 4,000; Rahuri, Dist Ahmednagar – 3,500; Ichalkaranji, Dist Kolhapur – 3,500; Kinwat, Dist Nanded – 3,000; Chandwad, Dist Nashik – 3,000; Dindori, Dist Nashik – 3,000; Selu, Dist Parbhani – 1,500; Ashti, Dist Beed – 1,000.
Now pressure is being exerted by the AIKS on the tehsildars in the above districts to see to it that the talathis and gram sevaks are sent to the villages to actually conduct the inquiry about the appeal forms that have been submitted, so as to include them in the BPL lists.
Among the AIKS leaders who led the above actions were J P Gavit ex-MLA, Rajaram Ozare MLA, Kisan Gujar, Dr Ajit Nawale, Ratan Budhar, Barkya Mangat, Prin. A B Patil, Arjun Adey, Nanasaheb Pokale, Ramkrishna Shere, Uddhav Poul and Dr Ashok Dhawale (all AIKS state office-bearers), Vasant Dhadga, Savliram Pawar, Irfan Shaikh, Shivram Girandhala, Raja Gahala, Yashwant Ghatal, Subhash Nikam, Adv Natha Shingade, Amol Waghmare, Mahendra Thorat, Somnath Mali, Ashok Pekari, Sadashiv Sable, Sahebrao Ghode, Adv Dnyaneshwar Kakad, Balasaheb Walunj, Jijabai Ushir, Ashabai Jadhav, Devidas Adole, Namdev Rakshe, Hanuman Gunjal and Haribhau Tambe. CITU leaders Dr D L Karad, Ajit Abhyankar, Vasant Pawar, Edward Vartha and Ladak Kharpade, AIDWA leaders Mariam Dhawale, Hemlata Kom, Adv Vasudha Karad and Asha Naikwadi, DYFI leader Sunil Dhanwa and SFI leader Prashant Vidhate also worked for the success of, and addressed, some of these major rallies.