Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reject Surrender at WTO Bali Ministerial

All India Kisan Sabha rejects the abject surrender at the WTO Ministerial by the Commerce Minister and demands that the Government refrain from accepting the provisions of the unequal Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes without discussion with and approval of the States and Parliament. We stand opposed to this WTO Ministerial Decision, which constrains and infringes upon our sovereign right to provide price support to farmers as well as ensure food security for the hungry millions. India has only given a new lease of life to the failed WTO, which was becoming irrelevant after the Doha Round.

The only possible gain that the Government can claim is that the Peace Clause will be in place in the interim until a permanent solution is found. The Commerce Minister’s public posturing and the text agreed to are at variance. On reading the Ministerial Decision carefully, one can understand how it will seriously compromise India’s food security and farmers’ livelihoods. India has failed to secure permanent protection to safeguard the food security and price support for farmers and assert it as a non-negotiable sovereign right. It has meekly agreed to the insistence of the developed world to accept guilt, by accepting the interim clause that mandates reporting of violations of de minimis Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS) levels. The agreement will threaten expansion of present programmes of food security and price support to farmers as well as future programmes with such objectives. The USA, EU and other developed countries have brokered a deal with the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma to protect the interests of the rich nations and their agribusinesses.

Standstill Provision: The Ministerial Decision has a standstill provision incorporated in the text which clearly states that the Peace Clause or Due Restraint Provisions shall only be used to protect the public stockholding programmes “existing as of the date of this Decision”. The Footnote Number 3 is deceptive and even as it states that this Decision does not preclude developing countries from introducing programmes of public stockholding for food security purposes, in the name of Safeguards against Circumvention, Para 4 clearly states that they should not distort trade and Para 5 prohibits an increase of the support subject to the Member’s Bound Total Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS) or the de minimis limits. This will freeze all scope of expansion of food security or price support to farmers in India and other G 33 countries, which have no such programmes in place at present, will also be deprived.

The crop basket under purview of Minimum Support Prices cannot be increased. Pulses, cooking oil and crops other than those described as “traditional staples” by the WTO cannot be included in the food security programme. Even the quantity of food grains procured cannot be increased beyond the procurement as of date which could have serious implications for the Food Security Programme. It may also mean entitlements under Food Security Programmes as also the MSP of different crops will have to be frozen. Further, the Support Price valuation will not be based on current prices as India was demanding and will remain to be based on 1987-88 prices.

Deliberate Ambiguity: While the Ministerial Decision in Para 2 states that it will be valid “in the interim, until a permanent solution is found” it also states in Para 1 that such a solution is for adoption at the 11th Ministerial Conference, which is 4 years hence. Para 2 also states that the Members shall refrain from challenging through the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism “provided that the conditions set out” in the Decision are met. The WTO Secretariat described this as a “constructive ambiguity” and it actually deliberately dilutes the G-33 demand that this should be applicable till a permanent settlement is found under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM). The present Decision at the behest of the USA and EU is applicable only to AoA implying that Members may drag India to the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism under ASCM.

Conditions and Monitoring: Mandatory compliance to onerous data and transparency requirements and conditions that there should be no distortion of trade or adverse effects on food security of other members. This is an infringement on a Nation’s sovereign decision-making process and could have serious implications. The Agriculture Ministry and Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry will be forced to comply with these unilaterally decided conditions on an annual basis. Failure to supply the data can be tantamount to suspension of Peace Clause since it has been made conditional to meet the transparency requirement.  Countries are also to provide information on their administered or release prices and the volume of stocks purchased as well as how they arrived at these figures. This could unnecessarily expose domestic policies and priorities to being questioned in the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture. Such detailed notification and transparency requirements have not been demanded of the developed countries who would enjoy Special and Differential Treatment regarding transparency and notification.

Silence on Subsidies of Rich Countries: The rich countries led by the USA and the EU have retained their unrestricted right to channelise billions of dollars to their farmers and food aid programmes and the WTO has failed to deal with issues like the export subsidies of rich nations and US cotton subsidies, which the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial had promised to address in 2005. India has failed in the WTO Ministerial to give leadership to the Third World countries and ensure removal of such subsidies.

Work Programme and Trade Facilitation: The Bali Ministerial also came up with an imbalanced package which will mean expensive customs agreement for developing countries in the name of Trade Facilitation. This is tailor-made to promote the interests of predatory agribusinesses who monopolise trade. The commitment to a Work Programme could lead to the damaging trade liberalisation agenda of Doha Round being brought in and developing countries will have to cough up much more in addition to paying with trade facilitation now for arriving at a permanent solution.

Solidarity of Third World Countries Broken: India was seen as the leader of the G-33 countries and the Third World looked up to its role. However, the Commerce Minister broke the solidarity built meticulously over the years and capitulated to the hard bargain from USA and developed countries. India failed to create a coalition of developing countries to collectively oppose the completely distorted Bali package. As a result, India could not contribute at all towards the correction of the fundamental problems of the present international trade regime. On the whole, the WTO agreement will continue to be a major threat to the working people in less-developed countries. India also did not insist on ending the inhuman 60-year US blockade on Cuba. The Latin American, African and Asian countries have been let down by India’s decision.

AIKS calls upon all sections to rise up and resist such decisions against the people and the sovereignty of the country.

Amra Ram

Hannan Mollah
General Secretary

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reject Peace Clause on G-33 Proposal in WTO Bali Ministerial; Protect Farmers’ Livelihoods and People’s Right to Access Food

The All India Kisan Sabha has released this press statement:

In the context of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 9th Ministerial Conference slated to be held in Bali in December 2013, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) calls upon the UPA Government to intervene to protect the livelihoods of millions of our farmers and remain committed to our sovereign right to decide upon our price support policy as well as food security programme. The WTO induced policies of trade liberalisation has led to adverse implications for the Indian peasantry especially the poor and marginal farmers. AIKS has strongly opposed the WTO and especially the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) which calls for cutting down agricultural subsidies in the developing countries on the pretext that they were “trade distorting”. AIKS calls for rejecting the Interim Solution suggested by the WTO Director General Roberto Azvedo to the G-33 Proposal. The proposed Interim Solution is detrimental to the interests of the developing countries and millions of farmers. 

The WTO Director General put forward a Peace Clause or Due Restraint Clause as a fait accompli to the G-33 countries with an arrogant “take it or leave it” stance. This will have adverse implications for the Procurement Policy and the Food Security Programme of the country. The WTO agenda remains to prise open the markets of the Third World Countries to the agribusinesses and to provide them an unregulated access.

The so-called Peace Clause restricts India and other developing countries’ right to provide subsidies or support to crops. It suggests that only “traditional staple food crops” may be extended subsidies for a stipulated period of 4 years extending till the 11th Ministerial Conference of WTO with an understanding that no member shall challenge it through WTO’s Dispute Settlement Mechanism till then. Already the AoA only allows de minimis subsidy of 10 percent of production cost for most developing countries. This itself defies logic and is calculated based on a fixed reference price of 1986-88 when prices were much lower. It thereby shows inflated subsidies while remaining totally oblivious to the present day global agricultural prices. It also calculates subsidy on the basis of total production receiving subsidy rather than the actual procurement.

In addition the developed capitalist countries which are seeking to impose such restrictions have flexibility to retain high levels of subsidies in the form of direct transfers, food stamps and other measures. The USA and the European Union are going ahead with their domestic subsidies as well as export subsidies by conveniently shifting subsidies to the Green Box and has refused to comply with the stipulated 20 percent reduction in their Aggregate Measurement of Support. The USA has more than doubled its subsidy from US $ 61 Billion to US $ 130 Billion between 1995 and 2010 while the EU subsidies hover around € 90 to 79 Billion between 2006-09.  In 2012 USA spent US $ 100 Billion for its food aid programmes while India’s food subsidy bill is expected to be less than US $20 Billion only.

Subsidies that seek to bring in a semblance of livelihood security and food security in impoverished countries cannot be treated as “trade distorting”. Acquisition of food stocks to ensure food security needs and support for resource-poor, small and marginal farmers to provide minimum livelihood security cannot be given up. Procurement on grounds of food security or support for poor and marginal farmers must be exempt from all restrictions. AIKS reiterates that this falls strictly within the realm of our sovereign State policy and the Government should speed up efforts to extricate India and other Third World countries from such unequal and unfair restrictions. The huge disparities in permissible agricultural support levels between developed and developing countries needs to be eliminated. In the interim period the reference price needs to be updated by accounting for inflation and increased costs and levels of price support should be computed on the basis of actual quantity procured rather than the actual quantity produced. India should effectively intervene to safeguard these rights. AIKS demands that the developed countries’ domestic and export subsidies in the Green Box should be challenged and eliminated. India should take the lead to unite all the developing and Third World countries to restructure and overturn the unequal WTO regime.

Amra Ram                                 


Hannan Mollah
General Secretary

Press Statement of the All India Kisan Sabha on the order on the Kasturirangan report

Save People’s Livelihoods and Western Ghats; Withdraw the Order on HLWG (Kasturirangan Committee) Report

The All India Kisan Sabha strongly condemns the office memorandum dated 16th November 2013 issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, accepting ‘in principle’ the High Level Working Group (HLWG) popularly known as the ‘Kasturirangan Committee’ Report and restricting agricultural and basic developmental activities in 4156 villages in the Western Ghat region. We demand immediate withdrawal of the same. The authoritarian manner, in which the order was issued, without considering the objections and suggestions made by the peasants and various other sections of the people, is highly objectionable. The HLWG under the leadership of Dr.Kasturirangan, formed to “submit an Action Plan to implement the WGEEP (Western Ghat Ecological Expert Panel popularly known as the Madhav Gadgil Committee) Report in the most effective and holistic manner”, and also to examine the Report keeping in view the “needs and aspirations of the local and indigenous people” has failed to address the grievances raised by the peasants and other toiling sections living in Western Ghat region.

In the context of the two Reports having contradictory recommendations, unilaterally choosing one over the other has only led to pitting precarious human livelihoods in the region against the ecological sensitive nature of the region as though people who have lived for generations in the region are wilful destroyers of the fragile ecosystem. Both the Reports ignore the fact that the people in these regions have been the most effective conservators and have coexisted with as well as actively protected the wildlife and biodiversity of the region. The Reports are at best a bureaucratic exercise without any democratic approach and is also not grounded on scientific assessment of the human-environment relationship in the region. AIKS demands that a scientific assessment by a broad-based Committee of social scientists, environmental experts, organisations of the peasantry and with adequate representation of the varied political opinions from the affected States be set up to look into the matter. Broad based consultations and public hearings with the people and all stake-holders must be held before arriving at a Comprehensive Plan for Protection of Fragile Ecosystems and Livelihoods. 

Unmindful of widespread protests the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has now hastily initiated steps to operationalise Kasturirangan Committee’s recommendations declaring 4156 villages in six States (99 in Goa, 64 in Gujarat, 1576 in Karnataka, 123 in Kerala, 2159 in Maharashtra and 135 in Tamil Nadu) as Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) and thereby restricting agricultural and basic developmental activities in the region. The declaration of the ESZs, basing revenue villages as the demarcation, is also unscientific.

The recommendations of the WGEEP on land use prohibiting use of land, for any purpose except for extension of village settlements for increasing populations, in the ESZ which have been endorsed by HLWG, is now by this order accepted by the Government of India. This will restrict even facilitation of basic amenities like hospitals and schools to the people of this most backward region. This is not at all acceptable. Restriction of agricultural activities by banning monoculture plantation which may include coffee, prohibiting chemical fertilisers, mandatory organic farming etc. are unacceptable. All these recommendations are now accepted by the Ministry by its order on 16th November. Hence, the claim by Union Minister Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan that there is nothing in the order that adversely affects the farmers is baseless.

While reiterating its deep commitment to the protection of environment, the AIKS rejects the approach of considering the environmental question demarcating it from humanity and civilization. Environmentally sound development cannot prohibit livelihood and economic options for the people of the region. In its recommendations, the WGEEP Report failed to address the socio-economic aspects of the issue. Both the Reports did not study the impact of the degradation of environment in the life of various social sections. They failed to suggest fruitful solutions to protect life and crops of peasants by solving the man-animal conflicts in forest border areas, to conserve flora and fauna in protected area, and preserve paddy fields and water bodies in the entire Western Ghats.

AIKS rejects the approach of categorising the peasantry at par with the mining and forest mafia as the destroyers of the environment. AIKS believes that peasants are always in the forefront in protecting the environment. The Government of India should understand that the support and conscious intervention of the local peasantry and local people are crucial for the protection of Western Ghats.

The decision of the MoEF to accept the HLWG report in principle has led to widespread protest in these States. AIKS supports the agitations by the people against the anti-peasant, anti-people recommendations of both the Reports and calls upon all its units to join the protest actions.

AIKS demands that the MoEF discuss with the peasant organisations and all others concerned, drop the anti-peasant, anti-people recommendations in both WGEEP and HLWG Reports and take a holistic approach and plan of action to protect the Western Ghats. The doubts and insecurities in the minds of people of the region have been created by the State and Central Governments and effective steps have to be taken to reassure the millions of people that their livelihood security will be ensured and genuine developmental activities in their habitats will be promoted.

Amra Ram

Hannan Mollah
General Secretary

Dated 20th November 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

21st Maharashtra State Conference of AIKS held at Amravati

Ajit Nawale

The 21st Maharashtra state conference of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was successfully held in a spirit of unity and determination from July 11-13, 2013 at Amravati, which is in the centre of the peasant suicide-affected Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. The conference was being held four and a half years after the 20th AIKS state conference that was held at Selu in Parbhani district in the Marathwada region in January 2009.

The conference venue was named after veteran AIKS leader Krishna Khopkar; the public meeting venue after veteran CITU leader M K Pandhe; the conference hall after AIKS state leader Vinayak Gaikwad; and the stage after another AIKS state leader Narendra Kavishwar.

The conference was inaugurated by renowned journalist P Sainath and it was attended by AIKS president S Ramachandran Pillai and AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan, both of whom remained present on all three days. The conference was attended by 257 delegates from 23 districts of Maharashtra, who represented a membership of 2,13,331 for 2012-13.


On the morning of July 11, after the flag-hoisting by veteran AIKS leader L B Dhangar, floral tributes to martyrs, condolence resolution and welcome address by reception committee chairman Udayan Sharma, the conference was inaugurated by P Sainath.

Referring to the fact that this conference was being held in Vidarbha which has gained notoriety for peasant suicides, Sainath said that as per the latest data released by the NCRB, a total of 2,84,694 farmers have committed suicide in India during the last 18 years. Of these, the largest number of over 57,000 peasant suicides is from Maharashtra. The main reason for these suicides is, of course, indebtedness. In addition, there are lakhs of peasants who, for the same reason, have simply left agriculture. These are some of the major symptoms of the deepening agrarian crisis as a result of the neo-liberal policies of the rulers.

Sainath then analysed the factors behind this crisis – the massive increase in the cost of inputs and consequently of the cost of production in agriculture, the sharp fall and fluctuations in the price of agricultural outputs and the crunch in institutional credit to the peasantry – along with the policy-related reasons for these factors. While banks give loans to buy a luxury Mercedes Benz car at 7 per cent interest, a farmer has to buy a tractor at 14 per cent interest! 50 per cent of agricultural credit in Mumbai is being given to corporates!

Recommendations of the National Commission for Farmers headed by Dr M S Swaminathan were gathering dust for the last six years. They included many seminal pro-farmer steps like a price stabilisation fund, farm output price to comprise cost of production plus 50 per cent profit, agricultural credit at 4 per cent rate of interest etc. But Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, said Sainath, was more interested in Lavasa than in taking these steps!

Sainath sharply criticised the new central scheme of doling out Rs 7000 crore to corporates in the name of so-called training of 10 lakh farmers; the growing concentration of land and water resources in the hands of a few; the trend towards corporatisation of agriculture; the skewed viewpoint as regards irrigation; and the withdrawal of the public sector in agricultural research which is now fast becoming a monopoly of the corporates.

To increase agricultural production and productivity, Sainath suggested steps like concerted agricultural research, scientific testing of soil and water, co-operative management of agriculture and so on. At the same time, he stressed that the paramount need is to build a powerful struggle against the anti-peasant policies of the ruling classes. He concluded by saying that “Mass Movements, not Mass Suicides!” must be our slogan in the days ahead.


The public meeting was held on the afternoon of the first day, July 11. It was presided over by AIKS state president J P Gavit, and the main speaker was AIKS president S R Pillai. Others who spoke were AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan, CKC member Dr Ashok Dhawale, AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar, veteran leader L B Dhangar and state office-bearers Dada Raipure, Udayan Sharma, Shankarrao Danav, Yashwant Zade and Arjun Adey.

The public meeting was a success despite constant rains for the preceding few days. Peasants, agricultural workers and unorganised workers had come from tehsils of Amravati district, and also from adjoining districts of Vidarbha like Yavatmal, Wardha and Buldana.


The conference report was placed in the delegate session on the evening of July 11 by AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar. Copies of the 88-page printed report were given to all the delegates. The report comprised the following six main sections: 1. Current Political Challenges; 2. The Crisis in Indian Agriculture; 3. The Agrarian Situation in Maharashtra: 4. Work Report; 5. Organisational Report; 6. Future Tasks.

The Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha has led a number of struggles in the last four years:

  • A massive independent statewide Jail Bharo stir by the AIKS in January 2011 for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and on burning issues like peasant suicides, in which over 1 lakh peasants courted arrest.
  • Revival of the same struggle for FRA implementation and on the question of severe drought by the AIKS in April 2013, in which over 50,000 peasants conducted Rasta Roko at several centres for over 40 hours. The state government was forced to concede many important demands on April 17 after negotiations with the AIKS.
  • Independent statewide demonstrations of 1.25 lakh rural poor in 2012 led by the AIKS for their demand for inclusion in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists. The struggle was successful in some districts, where the names of thousands of rural poor were included in the BPL lists.  
  • A joint struggle from 2007 to 2010, in alliance with the PWP against the proposed 25,000-acre MahaMumbai SEZ allotted to Mukesh Ambani. It entailed two huge rallies of over 50,000 peasants each and a referendum. The state government was finally forced to denotify the SEZ, which was a major victory for the peasantry.    
  • Two independent AIKS statewide rallies of thousands of peasants to the Nagpur state assembly on a set of burning peasant demands on several vital issues.
  • Struggles for remunerative prices for crops like cotton and sugarcane.
  • Struggles on the burning issue of bank credit to the peasantry.
  • Struggles against the severe load-shedding of power and exorbitant power bills.
  • Struggles for getting temple lands, pasture lands, waste lands etc vested in the names of the cultivating peasants.
  • Campaigns against price rise, for food security and universalisation of the PDS.
  • Statewide campaign against the irrigation scam and other corruption scams.
  • Successful local struggle on the issue of canals of the Nilwande dam in Nagar district.
  • Mass marriage programmes of thousands of Adivasi couples in Nashik district.
  • Active support to All India working class strikes and to the Sangharsh Sandesh Jathas.
  • Regular holding of AIKS state camps for activists and publication of literature.
After group discussion in their district delegations, 43 delegates from 23 districts spoke on the report on July 12 and enriched it with their experiences, suggestions and criticisms. After the general secretary’s reply, the report was unanimously adopted amidst cheers.


AIKS president S R Pillai, while addressing the conference, congratulated the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha for the struggles that it has led and the expansion that it has achieved in the last few years. However, he underlined the point that in view of the severity of the agrarian crisis in the country, there is much more that the AIKS must do all over the country.

He said that the roots of today’s agrarian crisis must be traced to the immediate post-Independence period. The refusal of the ruling classes under successive Congress regimes to carry out radical land reforms led to the concentration of land in the hands of the landlords and rich peasants, and therefore to the inequitable distribution of rural wealth and incomes. The green revolution also helped mainly the irrigated areas, further accentuating the gap between the rural rich and the rural poor, and also between irrigated and dryland areas.

With the neo-liberal policies that were unveiled two decades ago, things only got worse. The government withdrew from its responsibilities in agriculture, slashed public expenditure, cut subsidies to the peasantry, embarked on the privatisation drive, encouraged multinational corporations and indigenous corporates and surrendered to the unjust WTO regime.

As a result of all this, said SRP, the share of agriculture in the country’s GDP is now down to just 14 per cent. Agriculture is increasingly becoming an unviable option. Along with peasant suicides, innumerable farmers are being driven into the ranks of landless agricultural workers. Land acquisition by corporates and other sections of the land and real estate mafia is sharply increasing, displacing thousands of peasants from their land and livelihood.

The government says that it does not have any money for agriculture. But it has enough money to squander on massive tax concessions to the corporates year after year, and for the stinking corruption scams that are being unearthed every day. 

To change this situation, concluded SRP, massive and consistent struggles of the peasantry are the need of the hour. These struggles must be directed towards ensuring that alternative agrarian policies are put in place. For this, the right issues must be selected at the right time, local struggles must be intensified and the organisation must be strengthened. He expressed confidence that all this would be carried out in Maharashtra.

AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan also made an effective intervention on the last day, wherein he dealt with various important agrarian and organisational issues.


The state conference was greeted by CITU state secretary Amrut Meshram, AIAWU state joint secretary Maroti Khandare, AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale, DYFI state president Bhagwan Bhojane and SFI state joint secretary Balaji Kaletwad.

One of the highlights of this conference was the placing of a 35-page document entitled “The Question of Irrigation in Maharashtra”. After discussion in the AIKS state council, this document was prepared and placed by AIKS state joint secretary Dr Ajit Nawale. Printed copies of it were given to all the delegates. One delegate from each district placed his views on this document. This document will soon be finalised in the light of a wider discussion and will become the basis of future struggles on this vital issue.

The other highlight was a reporting on the “Current Agrarian Situation in China” by AIKS state council member Dr R Ramakumar, who had recently been to China as part of a delegation. He provided very interesting insights into the agrarian situation of a socialist country, which were not only informative but also provided inspiration to the delegates.

The first issue of the revived journal of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, “Shetkari Sangharsh” was released in this conference. It was decided to bring it out regularly as a bi-monthly. After discussion in the district delegations, it was decided to enrol over 8000 subscribers to this journal in advance. It was also enthusiastically decided to enrol over 3 lakh members of the AIKS in Maharashtra in the coming year 2013-14, and the district targets were finalised in the conference itself.

Several resolutions on important issues were unanimously adopted by the conference. Another 44-page booklet with all the draft resolutions was also circulated to delegates.

The conference unanimously decided to observe August 3 every year as Peasant Day all over Maharashtra. August 3 happens to be the birth anniversary of former AIKS national president Comrade Krantisimha Nana Patil and also the death anniversary of the founder general secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, Comrade Shamrao Parulekar.

Amidst great enthusiasm, AIKS president S R Pillai felicitated four veteran leaders of the AIKS who had devoted their entire lives to the cause – L B Dhangar (Thane), Nanasaheb Pokle (Beed), Sarangdhar Tanpure (Ahmednagar) and Prabhakar Nagargoje (Beed). He also felicitated two young comrades Irfan Shaikh (Nashik) and Sonu Kakwa (Thane) for extraordinary work in different areas of struggle.

AIKS state joint secretary Arjun Adey placed the credentials report, which had many interesting features. However, space does not permit their inclusion in this report.

Progressive literature worth over Rs 20,000 was sold during this state conference of the AIKS, and literature worth an equal amount was sold during the 23 district conferences of the AIKS that took place earlier. Also, subscriptions worth over Rs 18,000 to progressive journals were collected during this state conference.


The state conference unanimously elected a 77-member state council, which in turn unanimously elected its office-bearers: President – Dada Raipure; Working President – Arjun Adey; General Secretary – Kisan Gujar; Treasurer – Sanjay Thakur; Vice Presidents – L B Dhangar, Dr Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit, Lahanu Kom, Rajaram Ozare, Nanasaheb Pokle, Udayan Sharma, Ghanashyam Patil, Jaisingh Mali, Ramkrishna Shere, Ratan Budhar, Gunaji Gavit; Joint Secretaries – Shankarrao Danav, Pandurang Rathod, Yashwant Zade, Barkya Mangat, Uddhav Poul, Manoj Kirtane, Dr Ajit Nawale, Sidhappa Kalshetty, Hemant Waghere, Irfan Shaikh, Radka Kalangda, Umesh Deshmukh, Dr R Ramakumar.

After inspiring concluding speeches by the incoming president Dada Raipure, veteran leader L B Dhangar, CKC member Dr Ashok Dhawale and outgoing president J P Gavit, all the activists and volunteers of the AIKS, AIAWU, CITU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI from Amravati district who had spared no efforts to make this conference a great success, were felicitated by the leaders with rose flowers amidst resounding cheers and slogans. The 21st Maharashtra state conference of the AIKS then ended in an atmosphere of great unity, enthusiasm and determination.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Glorious Legacy of the Kisan Movement in Maharashtra

Ashok Dhawale

Maharashtra is among the states that have a long and glorious legacy of the Kisan movement, and a rich history of several peasant and tribal struggles against landlordism and feudalism. The peasantry of Maharashtra was also in the forefront of the struggle for independence against British imperialism.  Thousands of peasants were martyred in all these valiant struggles.

From 1826, the peasants of Pune district led uprisings which forced the British authorities to cede to them land holdings for low revenue charges. In 1844, Kolhapur and Sawantwadi witnessed a large-scale peasant revolt provoked by the British decision to increase land revenue in order to pay tribute to the princes. In 1848, the Rohillas of Nagpur took up arms. Around the same time, the peasants of Khandesh region rose up in protest against the land settlement which resulted in the increase of land tax. In protest against the British take-over of jungles and their effort to evict the Adivasis from forests, there were large struggles led by the Bhil, Koli, Ramoshi and other Adivasi tribes.

The peasantry of Maharashtra played an important role in the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. Among those who led the revolt, were renowned figures like Nana Sahib Peshwa, Tatya Tope and, of course, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. All of them hailed from Maharashtra. Very few know that Rani Lakshmibai’s maiden name was Manikarnika Tambe, and she was the daughter of Moropant and Bhagirathi Tambe, whose native village was Parola in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra.

One of the most radical social reformers of Maharashtra in the nineteenth century, Mahatma Jotirao Phule (1827-1890), was a great champion of the peasantry and he bitterly attacked landlordism and all forms of caste oppression. His book ‘Shetkaryacha Aasood’ (Peasant’s Whipcord) was, and still remains, a classic. The ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ that he founded had a major impact in the state.

Phule’s influence was yet another factor that inspired the peasantry to fight against landlords and money-lenders. In the famous ‘Deccan Riots’ of 1875, the drought-hit peasants of Pune and Ahmednagar districts barged into the houses of rapacious money-lenders, ransacked all papers related to peasant debt and publicly burnt them on the streets to destroy all evidence. Due to this uprising, in 1879 the British Government was forced to enact the Deccan Agricultural Debt Relief Act.   

Peasant struggles in Maharashtra on various issues continued in the first part of the twentieth century. They were joined by struggles of the working class. In the 1920s, massive strikes and other militant struggles of the textile workers of Mumbai were spearheaded under the Red Flag of the famous Girni Kamgar Union (GKU) which was led by the Communist Party. One of the most memorable of these strikes was the six-month strike of textile workers in 1928. It was as a result of these bitter class struggles that the working class of Mumbai and Maharashtra won several of its rights and demands. Among the legendary first generation leaders of these working class struggles were Comrades B T Ranadive, S A Dange, S S Mirajkar and others. From Mumbai, these struggles spread to other textile mill centres in districts like Thane, Solapur, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nagpur and so on.

Two cardinal features of these Communist-led working class struggles in Maharashtra were that they mobilised the workers in the freedom struggle against British colonialism; and they also championed the cause of secularism and working class unity against the reactionary forces of communalism.

In 1930, the working class and the people of Solapur rose up in revolt against British rule. For a few days, they ousted the British rulers and took control of the administration of Solapur city. This became known as the Solapur Commune. The British clamped down and imposed a most draconian Martial Law. There was massive repression. Four leaders of this struggle – Mallappa Dhanshetty, Shrikisan Sarda, Qurban Husain and Jagannath Shinde - were hanged on January 12, 1931.

On March 23, 1931, the British hanged three other illustrious and revolutionary martyrs – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. Of these, Shivram Hari Rajguru hailed from a peasant family of Khed in the Pune district of Maharashtra. Khed has since been renamed as Rajgurunagar.

In the historic struggles against caste and against landlordism that were led by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in the 1920s and 1930s, R B More and Shamrao Parulekar were two prominent leaders who participated. Both of them later joined the Communist Party. R B More was one of the main organisers of the famous 1927 Chowdar Lake Satyagraha at Mahad in Raigad district that was led by Dr Ambedkar. It demanded the basic right of Dalits to draw water from that lake. Dr Ambedkar and Shamrao Parulekar led a huge 8000-strong peasant demonstration on the Mumbai Assembly in 1938 against the ‘Khoti’ system of landlordism that was then prevalent in the Konkan region. Remarkably, the peasants had all come to Mumbai by boat from the then Ratnagiri district of Konkan region.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was formed at its foundation conference at Lucknow on April 11, 1936. Some delegates from Maharashtra attended it. The second conference of the AIKS was held at Faizpur in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra on December 25-26, 1936. M A Rasul, in his detailed work ‘A History of the All India Kisan Sabha’, has recorded that, “About 500 kisan marchers led by V M Bhuskute and J Bukhari started from Manmad on 12 December and marched over a 200-mile trek and reached Tilaknagar, Faizpur at noon on 25 December carrying the Red Flag and shouting kisan slogans. On arrival there they were received by Jawaharlal Nehru (Congress president), Shankar Rao Deo (Congress Reception Committee chairman), M N Roy, Maniben Mulji, Narendra Dev, besides kisan leaders like Swamiji, Ranga, Yagnik, Jaiprakash Narayan, Bankim Mukherji and Shibnath Banerji, also S A Dange, M R Masani, Yusuf Meherali and other Congress, kisan and labour leaders.”        

Peasant struggles on various issues intensified in the mid-1930s in Thane, Nashik, Ahmednagar and other districts. The AIKS had chosen Shamrao Parulekar to be its organiser in Maharashtra. In 1942, after their release from a two-year British jail term for leading the anti-war campaign, Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar began work in the AIKS in right earnest. In 1943-44, the Kisan Sabha was started by them in the Kalyan, Murbad and Shahapur tehsils of Thane district. Shamrao and Godavari met P Sundarayya and M Basavapunnaiah, the future leaders of the historic Telangana armed peasant struggle, with whom they continued to have very close relations throughout their lives.     

The foundation conference of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha was held on January 12, 1945 at Titwala in Thane district.  Godavari has recorded that she, along with other activists, covered over 700 villages on foot and addressed 160 public meetings for this conference. More than 7,000 poor and middle peasants and agricultural workers from several districts attended this first state conference of the Kisan Sabha. Among the top leaders who addressed the conference were P Sundarayya, P Krishna Pillai, B T Ranadive, M A Rasul, Teja Singh Swatantra and N M Joshi. The conference elected a 33-member state kisan council. Buwa Nawale from Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district was elected the first president, Shamrao Parulekar the first general secretary and Godavari Parulekar the first joint secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, among other office-bearers.

It was this conference that unleashed the historic Adivasi Revolt led by the Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha in Thane district. This revolt which began in May 1945, continued for over two years. It abolished all forms of slavery and bonded labour, increased wages of agricultural labourers and succeeded to an extent in giving land to the tiller. This struggle is documented in detail in Shamrao Parulekar’s book ‘Revolt of the Warlis’ and in Godavari Parulekar’s book ‘Adivasis Revolt’. The Adivasi Revolt gave its first five martyrs on October 10, 1945, when the British police, who were in league with a plot hatched by the landlord lobby, fired mercilessly on a peaceful gathering of over 30,000 Adivasis at Talwada, near the Talasari tehsil of Thane district. Comrade Jethya Gangad was among those who were killed in this state repression. There have been a total of 60 martyrs of the Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha in Thane district since 1945, and 3 martyrs in Nashik district.

The foundation of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha and the Warli Adivasi Revolt were the culmination of the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggle waged by Shamrao and Godavari in the pre-independence era. However, space does not permit a detailed analysis of these events.

From 1943 to 1946, in another historic occurrence, British rule was overthrown for three and a half years and a ‘Parallel Government’ (Prati Sarkar) was established in Satara and Sangli districts of Western Maharashtra. It had the full support and backing of the peasantry. This revolt was led by ‘Krantisinha’ Nana Patil, who later joined the Communist Party and was also elected AIKS national president in the 13th AIKS Conference that took place at Dahanu in Thane district in May 1955.

On August 15, 1947, independence dawned over India at last. But on that day, over 600 Adivasis from Thane district owing allegiance to the Red Flag of the Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha woke up to freedom in Congress jails, as did thousands of other Communists all across the country. The most famous among them was, of course, another legendary leader of the Indian people – A K Gopalan, who was to lead the AIKS as its national president for several years.

The liberation of large parts of Dadra and Nagarhaveli from Portuguese rule from July 24 to August 3, 1954, under the armed leadership of the Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha in Thane district, was a major event in the post-independence period. This struggle was directly led by Shamrao and Godavari. L B Dhangar and hundreds of Adivasi comrades participated in this liberation struggle.

The holding of the 13th national conference of the AIKS at Dahanu in Thane district from May 19-22, 1955, braving all manner of repression and obstacles by the government, was another significant event in the history of the Kisan movement in Maharashtra. Towering leaders of the AIKS like P Sundarayya, A K Gopalan, E M S Namboodiripad, Hare Krishna Konar, N Prasada Rao, M A Rasul, Bankim Mukherjee, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Dasharath Deb, B Srinivas Rao, Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri and others attended the conference which was accompanied by a massive rally. Shamrao and Godavari were the moving spirits behind this conference and Nana Patil was elected as AIKS president.

Another leader from Maharashtra, Godavari Parulekar, would also be elected national president of the AIKS at its 25th Conference, which was its Golden Jubilee session at Patna. She is the only woman to have held the post so far. In earlier times, Shamrao Parulekar had also been an AIKS central office-bearer for many years.

In the 1950s, democratic movements for the formation of linguistic states were unleashed in many parts of the country. The ruling Congress Party went back on its pre-independence pledge to form such states. This was the reason for the movements like Aikya Keralam, Vishal Andhra, Samyukta Maharashtra and Maha Gujarat that swept these states in the decade of the 1950s. The Samyukta Maharashtra movement, from 1956 to 1960, was led by the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, which comprised four main parties – the Communist Party, the Praja Samajwadi Party, the Peasants and Workers Party and the Republican Party. It engulfed the state, with the peasantry and working class both joining it in huge numbers. In the massive repression that followed, 106 martyrs were killed in police firing. Most of them were from the working class in Mumbai and the rest were peasants.

This movement dealt a massive blow to the Congress Party in the 1957 elections to parliament and the state assembly. Several leaders of the above four parties won the elections. Among those elected to parliament were AIKS leaders Shamrao Parulekar and Nana Patil and another towering RPI peasant leader Dadasaheb Gaikwad. Many AIKS leaders were elected to the state assembly. Eventually, the central government was forced to concede the demand, and the state of Maharashtra was formed with Mumbai as its capital on May Day - May 1, 1960. 

In 1958, a big joint statewide struggle for land was launched in Maharashtra. The significant aspect of this struggle was that blue flags of the Republican Party led by Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad and red flags of the Communist Party led by Shamrao, Godavari, Nana Patil, R B More and others came together in it. Thousands of Dalits, Adivasis and other landless took part in the satyagrahas and filled the jails. The government was forced to make some concessions.

In 1960, the Kisan Sabha led by Shamrao and Godavari took up the vital demand of vesting forest plots in the names of the Adivasis who have been cultivating them for decades. Thousands of acres of land were vested in the names of Adivasis as a result of this struggle, until the draconian Forest Conservation Act of 1980 put a stop to the entire process. Ever since then, large struggles of Adivasis have been led by the AIKS in several districts of Maharashtra to press this demand. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) passed by Parliament in December 2006, although it marks an important advance on paper, leaves much to be desired as regards its implementation. Massive struggles of the Adivasi peasantry have been waged by the AIKS in Maharashtra in recent years towards this end.

On August 3, 1965, Shamrao Parulekar, who was in detention in the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, suddenly died due to a massive heart attack. It was a shattering blow for Godavari, who was also in the same jail at the time. It was an equally shattering blow for the AIKS and for the Kisan movement.
In 1968, the AIKS split at the All India level, and in 1969 the 7th state conference of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha was held in the village called Moha in the Beed district of Marathwada region, with the initiative taken by Gangadhar Appa Burande. AIKS general secretary Hare Krishna Konar attended this conference which decided the future course of the Kisan Sabha in Maharashtra. Godavari was elected its president and continued in that post for more than two decades.

In 1972-73, an extremely serious drought hit Maharashtra and the Kisan Sabha, led by stalwarts like Godavari Parulekar, Gangadhar Appa Burande, Narendra Malusare, Ramchandra Ghangare, Vithalrao Naik, L B Dhangar, Krishna Khopkar, Lahanu Kom and others led big peasant struggles for drought relief. The CITU in Maharashtra extended fraternal help and this illustrated the concept of worker-peasant unity in action. Joint struggles on this issue were also launched along with peasant organisations led by other Left parties. Police firing led to the death of peasants at Islampur in Sangli district and at Vairag in Solapur district.  This led to a statewide uproar.  It was as a result of these struggles that the state government was forced to start two important schemes – the Employment Guarantee Scheme (the precursor to the NREGA) and the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme.      

In the struggle against the hated Emergency imposed by the Congress regime from 1975 to 1977, several opposition party leaders were arrested and detained for 19 months. But in the general elections of 1977, the authoritarian Congress was routed. In that election, three Left leaders – Ahilya Rangnekar from Mumbai, Lahanu Kom from Thane district and Gangadhar Appa Burande from Beed district – were elected to the Lok Sabha as part of a united front. The latter two were prominent AIKS leaders. In the 1978 state assembly elections, 9 MLAs of the Left were elected on an anti-authoritarian platform. They also included AIKS leaders. During the Emergency itself, Godavari led a successful struggle for the release of over 1000 debt slaves in the Wada tehsil of Thane district.

Several statewide and local struggles on burning issues of the peasantry were led by the AIKS in the post-Emergency period, especially in the post-1991 era of imperialist globalisation in the wake of its severe attack on agriculture and the peasantry. Space does not permit a detailed account of all these struggles in this piece. Only a few major struggles led by the AIKS recently may be briefly mentioned.

  • A massive independent statewide Jail Bharo stir in January 2011 for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and on burning issues like peasant suicides, in which over 1 lakh peasants courted arrest.
  • Revival of the same struggle for FRA implementation and on the question of severe drought in April 2013, in which over 50,000 peasants conducted Rasta Roko at several centres for over 40 hours. The state government was forced to concede several demands on April 17.
  • Independent statewide demonstrations of 1.25 lakh rural poor in 2012 for their demand for inclusion in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists. The struggle was successful in some districts, where the names of thousands of rural poor were included in the BPL lists.  
  • A joint and militant struggle from 2007 to 2010, in alliance with the PWP against the proposed 25,000-acre MahaMumbai SEZ allotted to Mukesh Ambani. It entailed two huge rallies of over 50,000 peasants each and a referendum. The state government was finally forced to denotify the MahaMumbai SEZ, which was a major victory for the peasantry.    
  • Two independent statewide rallies of thousands of peasants to the Nagpur state assembly on a set of burning peasant demands on several vital issues.
  • Struggles on the vital issue of remunerative prices for crops like cotton and sugarcane, and also on the burning issue of bank credit.
  • Struggles against the severe load-shedding of power and fantastic power bills, and also against the proposed disastrous Jaitapur atomic power plant.
  • Campaigns and struggles for getting temple lands, pasture lands, waste lands etc vested in the names of the cultivating peasants.
  • Statewide campaigns against price rise, for food security and universalisation of the PDS.
  • Statewide campaign against the irrigation scam and other corruption scams.
  • Intervention in cases of social atrocities against dalits, adivasis, minorities and women.
  • Organising of mass marriage programmes of thousands of Adivasi couples in Nashik district.
  • Regular holding of AIKS state camps for activists and publication of literature.

It is as a result of these struggles and campaigns that the membership of the AIKS in Maharashtra has generally been above the 2 lakh mark in the last few years. Of course, much more needs to be done to intensify struggles, increase the membership and strengthen the organisation.

51 years after Thane district hosted the 13th national conference of the AIKS in May 1955, it was Nashik district that hosted the 31st national conference of the AIKS in January 2006, with an unprecedented one lakh-strong peasant rally representing 30 districts of Maharashtra. Godavari Parulekar would have been the happiest had she lived to see it.

Unfortunately, she passed away at the ripe old age of 89 on October 8, 1996. The day on which she was cremated at Talasari in Thane district on October 10 was also the day 51 years ago in 1945 when the first five martyrs of the historic Adivasi Revolt were mercilessly gunned down by the venal nexus of the landlords and the imperialists. Thus, October 10 is observed every year in Thane district as Martyrs’ Day and also as the Godavari Parulekar Death Anniversary Day.  

Today, there are many formidable political challenges before the AIKS in Maharashtra. The 21th AIKS state conference that is being held from July 11-13, 2013 at Amravati in the Vidarbha region will take up all these challenges and will chart out the future course of mass struggles and our advance.

(Ashok Dhawale is Vice President, Maharashtra State Kisan Sabha; CKC Member, All India Kisan Sabha)

Monday, June 3, 2013

AIKS organises mass marriage of 825 Adivasi couples in Surgana, Nashik

J. P. Gavit and Hemant Waghere

On May 21, 2013, thousands of people attended a mass marriage ceremony of 825 Adivasi couples at Alangun village in Surgana tehsil of Nashik district. This remarkably enthusiastic function was organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Surgana tehsil unit, in association with the CPI(M)-led Adarsh Samata Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, an educational institution that runs several schools and hostels for Adivasi children in Nashik district.

The chief guest at this function was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat. The other two guests of honour were AIKS state working president Rajaram Ozare, who is the sitting CPI(M) MLA from the Dahanu (ST) seat in Thane district; and AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale – both of them state secretariat members of the CPI(M). Among the main organisers of the mass marriage function were AIKS state president, CPI(M) state secretariat member and former MLA J P Gavit, AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar and AIKS state council members Hemant Waghere and Irfan Shaikh – all three being state committee members of the CPI(M) - and many others.

While addressing the huge public meeting of several thousand people who had come to witness the mass marriage ceremony and to bless the newly-wed couples, Brinda Karat congratulated the AIKS for starting and continuing the tradition of holding this remarkable function for the last three decades, which saved lakhs of rupees of wedding expenses for the poor Adivasi people. She referred to the positive aspects of Adivasi culture and said that these should be defended against the attacks of neo-liberalism and communalism. For instance, there is no dowry system among Adivasis, and women enjoy a better status in tribals than in most other communities.

Among those who also addressed the large meeting were Rajaram Ozare MLA, Mariam Dhawale, J P Gavit, Kisan Gujar, Hemant Waghere and Irfan Shaikh.


The AIKS in Nashik district began the tradition of holding mass Adivasi marriages 32 years ago in 1981, under the leadership of veteran leader Narendra Malusare and with the efforts of Adivasi activists of Surgana tehsil – Rama Mahale, K K Pawar, J P Gavit and Hari Mahale. Surgana tehsil has a 98 per cent Adivasi population. Adjoining Gujarat, this hilly region dependent only on rain-fed agriculture, is extremely backward, both economically and educationally.

Due to dire poverty, the age-old custom here was that, instead of an expensive marriage ceremony, a simple engagement ceremony called ‘pen’ used to be performed, after which the bride used to go and live at her in-laws’ place. Later on, if the economic situation improved, a wedding would be organised. But due to poverty, thousands of poor couples used to spend their entire life together without any marriage ceremony being ever performed. However, such couples and their offspring were socially looked down upon and had to face humiliation within the Adivasi community.

Taking all this into account, the AIKS organised the first mass marriage ceremony of 32 Adivasi couples at Rakshasbhuvan village in Surgana tehsil in 1981. The chief guest at this function was the then Commissioner for Adivasi Development, Sadashivrao Tinaikar, an IAS officer renowned for his uprightness. The expenses for lunch and for the mandap were carried out through contributions collected by the AIKS from the people of the village. The AIKS collected additional funds and presented the newly-wed couples with utensils and other such necessities. Over 1000 people attended this first-ever mass marriage ceremony in Surgana tehsil and Nashik district.

The success of this small function gave a boost to such social efforts. The next year in 1982, a mass marriage ceremony of 351 Adivasi couples was performed at Alangun village in the same tehsil. The chief guests at this function were the renowned Marathi poet and playwright Kusumagraj (who later won the Jnanpith Award), CPI(M) central committee member Ahilya Rangnekar and AIKS state general secretary Narendra Malusare. After that, mass weddings were regularly organised in several villages and became very popular. In 1995, in another huge function, 1276 couples were married.

In 2002, with the then CPI(M) state secretary Prabhakar Sanzgiri and Suman Sanzgiri as chief guests, another such function was held. In this function, both the son and daughter of J P Gavit got married. That was, indeed, one of the specialities of this movement – that many CPI(M) and AIKS leaders and their children themselves got married in the mass marriage functions. Other leaders who got married in this way were Hemant Waghere, Savliram Pawar, Ramji Gavit, Ananda Chavan and so on.

On May 20, 2005, a mass wedding of 501 Adivasi couples was held at Alangun. The two chief guests at this function were the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, and the CPI(M) state secretary and central committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale. After this function, J P Gavit, who was then an MLA, raised the demand in the state assembly for government help to be given to couples who got married in mass marriage functions. Since the chief minister had himself attended the function and had actually seen the situation, the demand was conceded. A ‘Kanyadaan Yojana’ was started, wherein a cheque of Rs 10,000 is given to each such newly-wed couple. Brinda Karat in her speech called for a substantial increase in this amount due to the massive price rise.

The CPI(M) and the AIKS have also taken the lead in various other fields in Surgana tehsil. For instance, they initiated the novel Doorstep Ration Scheme which is now being implemented in 123 out of 291 revenue villages in the tehsil. This scheme has controlled the large-scale corruption in the PDS and has succeeded in reaching food grains regularly to the people. In the Old Age Pension Scheme, Surgana tehsil has taken the lead in Maharashtra, with over 14,000 old women and men getting a regular pension of Rs 500 per month, which amounts to nearly Rs 5 crore per year. So far as the Forest Rights Act is concerned, out of the 12,000-odd land claims made by Adivasis, over 7,300 claims have been accepted by the state government and a statewide AIKS struggle is going on for the rest. (See report in People’s Democracy, May 6-12, 2013 and in Loklahar, 20-26 May, 2013).

As a result of all this work, in 2012, the CPI(M) won all the 3 Zilla Parishad seats and 5 of the 6 Panchayat Samiti seats in Surgana tehsil, and also several Gram Panchayats. The Party has been winning the Surgana Panchayat Samiti for over 25 years, a record that is surpassed only by the Talasari Panchayat Samiti in Thane district, which the Party has been winning continuously for the last 50 years. The Party lost the state assembly seat here in 2009 after winning it six times earlier, mainly due to the delimitation of constituencies and the unprincipled gang-up of all political forces –secular and communal - against the CPI(M). In the year 2013, the AIKS has completed a membership of 35,000-odd in Surgana tehsil alone, out of the total 75,000-odd membership in Nashik district and the 2,00,000-odd membership in the state. This has set a new record for any tehsil in Maharashtra.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Maharashtra: 50,000 peasants' stir on drought and forest rights

Ashok Dhawale and 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 9 centres in 8 tehsils of Nashik district and 20,000 people at 11 centres in 7 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% 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 8-9 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 26 March 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 below in Table 1.

If we look at the taluk-wise data also, the acuteness of the situation is evident. The rainfall was 25-50% below normal in 50 talukas and 75% below normal in 136 talukas. In 102 talukas, the rainfall was 75-100% 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 food grains, 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% 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 4th March 2013, it is estimated that the total average storage level in all the reservoirs was only 35% of the total capacity. This is lower than the figure of 40% in March 2012 and 55% in March 2011.

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

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 NREGS. 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 5 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 NREGS is a monumental failure in the State. Consider the following data:

  • Only 13% of the households in Maharashtra have a NREGS job card, while the share is 35% in India and 71% in Rajasthan.
  • Among Dalit households, if 45% in India and 74% in Rajasthan had job cards, the share for Maharashtra was 12%.
  • Among Adivasi households, if 54% in India and 83% in Rajasthan had job cards, the share for Maharashtra was 21%.
  • Only 4% of the households have received employment under NREGS, while the share is 25% in India and 62% in Rajasthan.
  • Among Dalit households, if 34% in India and 65% in Rajasthan had received employment under NREGS, the share for Maharashtra was 2%.
  • Among Adivasi households, if 42% in India and 82% in Rajasthan had received employment under NREGS, the share for Maharashtra was 6%.
  • The average number of days of employment for a household under NREGS was 34 days in Maharashtra and 71 days in Rajasthan.
  • The share of households who received more than 10 days of work under NREGS was 3% in Maharashtra and 35% 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 2 per kg. At a time when the food godowns of India are over-stored and food grains 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 NREGS 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 % to 17.9% in the same period, i.e. an increase of just 0.1 %!

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 % 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 overhauled.

Some of the other memorandums submitted by the AIKS at this meeting concerned the vesting of the massive amount of temple lands, enami 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.

Response of the government

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 4 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 AIKS Maharashtra state council 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.