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.