Following the July 28 CC Call, organizational measures were accompanied by an intensification of movemental initiatives in Jharkhand. In particular, there have been sustained and militant struggles against the widespread corruption in schemes like PDS and NREGA.
The new Governor in the state, KS Narayanan, has demanded a small sum of Rs. 319 crores for the drought relief measures in face of widespread hunger. The rampant corruption in the administration may make this miniscule sum completely ineffective. The earlier Governor Mr. Sibte Razi, if proper inquiries had been conducted, could have been in jail under corruption charges but he was sent to Assam. There is no change in attitude of the state administration even under the new Governor.
CPI(ML)’s statewide campaign from 3-13 August against drought, hunger and corruption received a warm response, making PDS, NREGA and corruption a prominent issue in the political scene of Jharkhand. The campaign concluded in district-level road blockades in all 16 districts of Jharkhand on 14 August with the participation of tens of thousands of people.
Protests at Various Districts
The Palamu range in one of the worst affected by the famine-like situation this year. Lack of development and exploitation have turned this resource-rich area into a symbol of backwardness. The CPI(ML) has since long been demanding special package for the region. In the past two months, several died of hunger in this region alone. Officers are trying to prove these deaths as normal cases.
Kaushalya Kunwar, 45, a widow, died of hunger on 20 August. CPI(ML) organized protests for many days involving thousands of people in Garhwa district and demanded criminal cases to be registered against BDO and DM for this death. On 23 August Bhavnathpur orserved a complete bandh on party’s call. The CPI(ML)’s movement for famine-relief started in Jharkhand from 15 August. In Bhavnathpur of Garhwa people’s courts were organized in 13 pockets. Anomalies in BPL (lal card), pending wages in NREGA, hold of dealers over PDS, corruption in mid-day meal scheme, exploitation of Anganwadi workers, etc were raised in these courts. More than 10,000 people participated in these courts and the most prominent issue came in notice was naturally the anomalies in BPL. A large number of poor have been excluded for the BPL, the people expressed their resentment by permanently locking the PDS shops in protest at many places in the state. The administration had also suspended few of the dealers at some places, but these are only cosmetic measures.
Anti-famine conventions are being organized in Villages in Latehar district. Over sixty such conventions have been held so far. Over thousand people locked the Block HQ in Satbarwa block and forced the officers to order the suspension of a PDS dealer, asking for a week’s time to implement other demands. Similar protests were also held in Tarhasi, Panki, Patan, Chainpur and Lesliganj. The police tried to overpower the protesters in Lesliganj but had to retreat seeing the mood of people. The BDO who was absent had to come right from Daltonganj to the Block to listen to them. Hundreds of people marched to the Manatu block office, and were amazed to find the Block HQ locked and empty!
Following a spirited day-long siege of the Garhwa district HQ by 1500 women on 2 September, the party conducted a week-long ‘Ghera Dalo, Dera Dalo’ (sit-in) protest in Garhwa Block. In spite of specific complaints of corruption in drought relief against dealers, the administration protected the corrupt dealers, who are close to the local RJD MLA. Throughout the protest, thousands of people kept taking turns to come and camp at the block office day and night, paralyzing its functioning. One night, the police, seeing fewer people there, tried to chase people away, but very soon hundreds gathered and gheraoed the SDO. On 5 September, around 4000 rural poor flooded Garhwa and forced the BDO and SDO to come and answer questions at the gathering and assure of action.
On September 2, 1500 people marched from Pochra to the Ramgarh District HQ and held a massive demonstration. At Hazaribagh, 100 people sat on dharna at the district HQ. Earlier, thousands of people came to join a people’s court in Chumba village of Mandu block. They demanded food security and job guarantee and invited concerned officials to address the court. As expected, no one from the administration turned up. It was then decided to organize a blockade of district headquarters on September 2.
Similar protests were also held at block offices in Bokaro district with the demand of free foodgrains and BPL for every poor family. In Bundu of Ranchi, and Kisko of Lohardaga people came in streets to demand relief from famine. In Lohardaga district people have locked over sixty PDS outlets in protest of anomalies in BPL lists.
At Gumla, a padyatra to the Raj Bhavan was held on the issue of hunger, with hundreds of activists walking the entire 100 kilometers. The march began after a mass meeting in Ghagra on 25 August. The marchers went through various villages and towns of Gumla, Lohardaga and Ranchi districts, addressing meetings and staying nights in villages. They reached Ranchi on 28 August where they were addressed by AICCTU leader Subhendu Sen, CCM Rajaram and other leaders. A delegation later met the Governor on 29 August and apprised him of the gravity of the situation. Immediate steps were demanded to ensure job for every poor, 50 kg free foodgrains per month, BPL to all poor, and other demands. Opening of an aluminum factory in Gumla-Lohardaga and connecting of Gumla by railway line with Ranchi were also demanded.
This campaign attained new momentum in Giridih district where village level mobilizations were organized which later converged into district level protests. Issues of pension, house-sites and NREGA came to the fore and block level protests saw good participation of the people. Whole of the district became almost paralyzed during this campaign. The mobilizations gradually attained a kind of spontaneity with masses from other parties’ support bases came in to join our protests. The road blockade organized on 14 August witnessed very vibrant participation of the masses. More than 3000 people participated in the road blockade on 14 August, which was lifted only when the administration accepted all the demands. On September 2, the gate of the Koderma DC’s office was blockaded for 3 hours by more than 2500 people.
On 31 August, a rail and street blockade raising a 15-point charter of demands had been organized by the party at Chakradharpur, Jharkhand demanding appointments to 4735 vacant posts; ending contract labour in the railways and recruitment of local youth as gangmen. The blockade at Railway Gate of National Highway 75 was led by party CCM, former MLA and popular leader Comrade Bahadur Oraon. The local SHO assaulted and abused him. This was met with spirited resistance, and eventually 4 leading comrades including Comrade Bahadur Oraon, Omprakash Singh, Dibru Donge and Lakhan Jamuda were arrested. The assault on Bahadur Oraon who has been a popular and respected leader from the days of the Jharkhand struggle for separate statehood sparked off anger among the people.
Some victories against corruption
In some cases, sustained struggles succeeded in forcing the local administration to beat a retreat and take some action. In case of PDS anomalies, while many dealers and middlemen were punished, people at some places even seized the hoarded food grains and distributed them to the needy public. Our activists forced the PDS dealers in hundreds of villages to distribute foodgrains properly. Administration suspended nearly two dozen dealers while licenses were cancelled of five dealers. The movement against the dealer of Nigni was fought by the villagers of Bamdiha, Jori, Oina, Nigni and Navadih villages in Lohardaga. The ration dealer in Aaina was taken hostage for three hours; he then had to go door to door apologising for not distributing the rations of the poor. At dozens of places people also boycotted the ration shops in protest against the rampant failure to address hunger.
In Berham village in Tatijharia of Hazaribagh, people seized 38 quintals of hoarded rice from the dealer and distributed among the poor in presence of the concerned officials. Grains were also seized in Govindpur of Bishungarh block and officials were made to distribute it properly.
10 quintals of rice were seized in Basadih of Churchu block by the villagers. At many villages in Garhwa like Sukhwana, Jarhgarh, Tenar, dealers were forced to distribute food grains in proper quantity under pressure of the movement. The dealers in Bhikhahi and Motihara were suspended due to the party’s struggle. The food grains were also distributed in many villages of Meral block, and also in Gamhariya, Sapahi and Bulka of Ramuna block. In Cherwadih of Bhavnathpur block, dealer distributed grains in full prescribed quantity seeing the growing people’s anger against him. A dealer was suspended in Pandariya also, while people blockaded road in Dhurki block on the same issue. A similar road block in Panki of Palamu braved a heavy police lathicharge. A Panki, a bandh was held on 18 September against this lathicharge. The cards of many BPL holders had been seized by dealers, in Kundari, Jhargawa and Revaratu villages: the struggle forced dealers to return the BPL cards to their owners..