Sunday, November 18, 2012

AIKS' Vidarbha Convention of Cotton Peasants: Call for Assembly March

Udayan Sharma

On October 31, 2012, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Maharashtra state council organised a 1000-strong Vidarbha-level cotton peasants convention at Amravati. Amravati is one of the two divisional headquarters of the Vidarbha region, the other being Nagpur. The six districts of Yavatmal, Amravati, Buldana, Akola, Washim and Wardha (the first five come in the Amravati division) account for the bulk of the peasant suicides due to indebtedness in Maharashtra during the last decade and a half. As per the report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Union Home Ministry, of the 2.5 lakh-odd peasant suicides in the last 15 years in the country, Maharashtra has the largest number of around 42,000. Most of these are from the Vidarbha region. Cotton-growing peasants from the six districts of Wardha, Yavatmal, Amravati, Buldana, Nagpur and Akola attended this convention.

The convention was inaugurated by AIKS joint secretary N K Shukla. It was presided over by AIKS state vice president Udayan Sharma. In his inaugural speech, N K Shukla said that Indian agriculture had been facing an unprecedented crisis since the inauguration of the neo-liberal policies in 1991. The peasant suicides due to indebtedness began in 1994. There are two suicides of debt-ridden peasants in our country every hour. The Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, unfortunately, is in the forefront of this tragedy. On the one hand, food production in the country has increased, godowns are bursting beyond capacity, but on the other hand this grain is rotting because the UPA regime is not ready to give it to the poor at cheap rates. The attacks on the peasantry in the form of cuts in subsidies of farm inputs and refusal to give remunerative prices to farm output are increasing day by day. The peasantry must come out on the streets in struggle against these neo-liberal attacks. N K Shukla concluded by saying that struggle is the way, not suicide.    

Three resolutions were adopted by the convention. The first resolution demanding remunerative prices for agricultural produce and an effective state machinery to purchase it, was moved by AIKS state vice president Dada Raipure and was seconded by state joint secretary Yashwant Zade and by the elected Panchayat Samiti member of the AIKS, Jitendra Chopade. The second resolution on the right of the peasantry to water and irrigation, and against the massive irrigation scam unearthed in Maharashtra, was moved by AIKS state council member Prakash Sonone and it was seconded by state council member Arun Latkar. The third resolution on the direction of the future struggle was moved by AIKS state joint secretary Shankarrao Danav and was seconded by state council member D B Naik. 

After the convention was addressed by AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar and by AIKS Amravati district vice president Vijay Ingle, the concluding speech was delivered by AIKS CKC member Dr Ashok Dhawale. He said that four main factors today contributed to the agrarian crisis. One, the government policy of slashing agricultural subsidies and encouraging multinationals have led to massive price rise of all agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers, insecticides, diesel, water and power, thus escalating the cost of production. Two, the refusal of successive central governments to give remunerative prices for agricultural produce, as per the recommendations of the National Commission for Farmers that was headed by Dr M S Swaminathan. Three, the credit crunch imposed on poor and middle farmers by banks and co-operative credit societies, forcing them to rely on usurious private money-lenders. Four, the bankrupt and corrupt state of irrigation in the state, as a result of which even today, 82 per cent of the cultivable land in Maharashtra is still dryland.

The most glaring example of this last point is the fact that out of Rs 70,000 crore spent by the Congress-NCP state government on irrigation over the last 10 years, it has been alleged by a leading chief engineer in the irrigation department itself that around Rs 35,000 crore went up in the smoke of corruption! Consequently, the percentage of land in the state under irrigation in these last 10 years rose by only 0.1 per cent, from 17.8 to 17.9! This entire controversy led to the resignation of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar of the NCP.

In the end, Dr Ashok Dhawale announced the future programme of struggle: 1. District conventions of cotton peasants in the end of November; 2. District and tehsil demonstrations in the first week of December; and 3. State-level march by the AIKS on the Nagpur session of the state assembly on December 12, the martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Babu Genu, who was run over and killed in Mumbai in 1930 during the freedom struggle while trying to stop a truck carrying British cloth.

Activists of the AIKS, CITU and AIAWU in Amravati district had made excellent arrangements for this convention. Amravati will also host the 21st state conference of the AIKS in March 2013. A meeting of leading activists, attended by Dr Ashok Dhawale, Udayan Sharma and Kisan Gujar, was held the next day on November 1 to chalk out the preparatory tasks.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Condemn the firing on Sangli farmers!

The All India Kisan Sabha strongly condemns the heinous police firing on protesting farmers at Sangli in Maharashtra on 12th November. One farmer died in the incident. Another farmer who was part of the protest was run-over by a truck. AIKS offers its condolences to the families of the bereaved. Kisan Sabha demands Rs.10 lakh compensation and a Government job to one member of each of the families of the deceased. 

Family members of Chandrakant Nalawade, victim of the police firing, claimed that five bullets were fired at him. Nalawade is survived by his wife, two children and mother. He hailed from Bedag village in Miraj taluka of the district. His family shifted to Vasgade village where he had purchased one acre of land and had settled down.

The sugarcane farmers in different parts of Maharashtra have been on a consistent organised struggle demanding not less than Rs.3000/tonne as the first advance and Rs.3600/tonne as the final price for sugarcane in the State. The AIKS has been part of this struggle and have been carrying on a united struggle for remunerative prices. In the run-up to these struggles on 21st October 2012, a 500-strong Convention had been organised jointly by the AIKS, CITU and AIAWU at Ambajogai in the Beed District of Marathwada region comprising of sugarcane farmers, sugarcane cutters and sugar factory workers which took up demands of all three toiling sections.

Meanwhile, in the Kolhapur District of South Maharashtra, four Left and secular parties had come together to form a Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti and have held large demonstrations for remunerative price to sugarcane farmers. The AIKS has been a part of the struggle in Kolhapur including other organisations of the peasantry like the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana. The struggle has now spread to other cane growing areas and sugarcane farmers in Beed, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Pune and Sholapur Districts have been agitating with the demand that Rs.3000/tonne be fixed as the first advance on sugarcane purchase this season. In Ahmadnagar and Parbani Districts the Kisan Sabha has been independently carrying out this struggle from the last few months. On 9th November 2012 there was a miltant demonstration by over a thousand farmers at Pune under the banner of the Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti. It was in the course of the continuing struggle of sugarcane farmers, cutters and sugar factory workers that this brutal police firing took place.

Police attack a farmer activist during a protest in Karad

Yet again police fired on protestors on 14th November also. Police have arrested 152 protestors while no action has been taken on the police officials guilty of firing causing injury and death. This exposes the fact that the Congress-NCP led State Government is taking a confrontationist stand openly in favour of the sugar lobby and is least bothered about resolving the issue through negotiations. It is to be noted that the Congress-NCP State Government in line with the Congress-led Central Government and the Agriculture Ministry’s proposal to decontrol sugar industry, decided not to intervene in sugarcane pricing this year even before the Rangarajan Committee recommendations have got Parliamentary sanction. The Government is shirking its responsibility and wants the peasantry to settle the issue directly with the sugar mills and cooperatives. The private millers and cooperative sugar factories have refused to pay Rs.3000/tonne and were offering only between Rs.2100/tonne to Rs.2300/tonne.

Notably the private sugar mills in different parts of India owe arrears of over Rs.10,500 crores to sugarcane farmers. The ruling class has not made any sincere effort to recover this amount and give it back to the farmers. In Maharashtra a vast majority of the cooperatives and sugar mills are directly owned or controlled by the leaders of the Congress-NCP combine or the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. Hence none of these parties are interested in resolving the issue or paying remunerative prices to the sugarcane growers.

The AIKS along with the different Farmers’ organisations that are part of the Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti is organising a massive protest Dharna on 16th November in Kolhapur against the police firing. This will be followed by a massive protest rally in Mumbai on 26th November 2012.  We warn that protests will be intensified if the Government continues with its insensitive stand.