Uttarakhand Struggle Update
The All India Kisan Mahasabha has raised the issue of the rights of forest dwellers (living in khattas) and Van Grams (forest villages) for quite a long time. The inhabitants of these villages and khattas have been deprived of even their basic minimum rights in spite of the fact that they exist there for hundreds of years. They have not been given status of ‘villagers’ and the panchayati raj is a distant dream for them even after 65 years of independence. They are not eligible for schemes like NREGA and Forest Rights Act 2006 has failed to give them any relief. They cannot even acquire identity cards, ration cards, voter I-cards and even birth and death certificates which are mandatory requirements for various government facilities. They are left to live on the mercy of forest department officials, who extort bribes for everything they need for their livelihood, including taking dry grass to thatch their huts.
These khatta dwellers held out a big rally under the AIKM banner in Haldwani on 2 February (see report in Liberation March 2011). This was followed by some promises by the Chief Minister, which remained unfulfilled.
The main demand of these khatta dwellers, for decades, has been that they be granted revenue village status. The AIKM launched an intense mass contact campaign in these khattas which are spread all around in terai and bhabar regions of the state ranging from Nainital to Hardwar. This campaign culminated on 18 May 2011 in the state capital, Dehradun, where hundreds of inhabitants of van grams and khattas marched in a massive procession. Comrade Rajendra Pratholi, CCM, CPI(ML) addressed the gathering at Gandhi Maidan and called for a militant peasant movement to counter the government’s anti-peasant and pro-corporate offensive. Comrade Raja Bahuguna, In-charge of the Party in Uttarakhand, condemned the state government for not treating inhabitants of khattas and forest-villages as equal citizens. State President of AIKM, Purushottam Sharma declared that any governmental move to evict forest villagers in the name of development will be resisted. Many villages are facing threat of eviction for the reserve forests, without any compensation or proper rehabilitation. The mass meeting was also addressed by senior peasant leader Bahadur Singh Jangi, AIKM State Secretary Jagat Martolia, and many others. Veteran peasant leader Ganesh Singh Garib presided over the meeting. A memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister was handed over to the City Magistrate who came to collect it at the meeting venue.
ASHA Worker’s Rally in Dehradun
On 18 July 2011, a remarkable sight greeted people on the streets of the Uttarakhand capital, Dehradun. In pouring rain, there was a huge overflowing stream of women, raising slogans with red flags in their hands. These women were ASHA workers, of the AICCTU-affiliated Uttarakhand ASHA Health Workers’ Union, who were demanding their rights from the State Government.
From steep mountain terrain to the plains, ASHA (rural health) workers have to be ready to care for pregnant women and ensure safe deliveries at all times of day and night. They are the main force in implementing a host of crucial tasks including vaccinations and pre- and post-natal care. Yet they are supremely neglected and exploited in the state. Far from receiving a salary, these women workers get a mere ‘honorarium’ which is less than even the minimum wage!
Their situation in Uttarakhand is even worse than in other states. This is a state where the Government makes tall claims of being the first to implement the 6th Pay Commission for employees; but here, the honorarium received by an ASHA worker for each institutional delivery has been slashed from the already meager Rs 600 to a mere Rs 350. In urban areas they get just Rs 200. To make these women slog at all irregular hours for such a pitiful pittance is nothing but unpaid labour. And it is a shame that it is the Government which is exploiting this unpaid labour from women who the backbone of the rural health programme!
It is worth recalling that the present CM, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank,’ when he was Health Minister in 2008, had announced that ASHA workers would receive a monthly salary. His promise lies forgotten once he has been promoted to CM.
AICCTU has been organizing ASHA workers in the state. Beginning in Pithoragarh, this process has now expanded to Almora, Nainital and other districts of Uttarakhand. A workshop was held in Pithoragarh to orient the struggle ideologically, politically and on policy issues. On 7 June, demonstrations were held at all district and block HQs. And on 18 July, the women workers gathered at Dehradun to protest at the CM’s office and confront him with his hollow promises. When police stopped the procession from proceeding towards the CM office, the women sat on dharna at the State Secretariat which houses the CM’s office. A mass meeting was held there, which blocked the road in front of the Secretariat for four hours.
The mass meeting was addressed by AICCTU National Secretary Rajiv Dimri, who spoke of how the UPA Government at the Centre and the BJP Government in the state were united in their agenda of exploiting workers and violating labour rights.
Hemlata Soun, State Convener of the ASHA Health Workers’ Union, said that the treatment of ASHA workers exposed the state government’s discrimination towards women workers, and mocked their tall claims of women’s empowerment. She said that the Uttarakhand Government spoke of Antyoday Vikas Yatra and Vision 2020 on the one hand, but ASHA workers did not earn even Rs 10 per day. No party inside the state assembly had shown any concern for the ASHA workers, in fact they silently colluded with the exploitation.
The meeting was also addressed by Janaki Gurrani, Almora District President of the Uttarakhand ASHA Health Workers’ Union, Ranikhet Secretary Gita Sajwan, Bageshwar leader Ganga Arya, Champawat district President Saraswati Punetha, Tanakpur President Mina Kashyap, Nainital district President Kamala Kunjwal, Mamta Dhanu of Udhamsinghnagar, Agnes of Khatima, and others.
AIKM State President Purushottam Sharma, State Secretary Jagat Martoliya, Almora AIKM Convener Anand Negi, AICCTU leader Kailash Pande, and AISA State President Malati Haldar also addressed the meeting and expressed solidarity. The meeting was presided by AICCTU State President Nishan Singh, and conducted by AICCTU State Secretary K K Bora.
After the meeting, a memorandum was sent through the City Magistrate to the CM demanding that ASHA workers be recognized as government employees; be given Rs 6000 per month as salary in keeping with labour laws and SC directive; 20 days leave per year be guaranteed; the cut in honorarium be withdrawn and ASHA workers be given Rs 1000 per delivery; ASHA rest rooms be built in every hospital; ASHA workers be allowed to avail free healthcare like state government employees and be given special health cards; and the government give ASHA workers accident insurance worth Rs 20 lakh.
Letter From Jharkhand
With the BJP being trounced by the JVM in the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha By-elections, the people of Jharkhand have given the Arjun Munda Government its eviction orders. The Munda Government has been unleashing bulldozers to evict ‘unauthorised’ constructions and ‘encroachments’; but the people have made it clear that the BJP Government supported by JMM and AJSU is itself founded on unauthorized and illegally grabbed power. The Government’s department-level review meetings and introduction of welfare schemes like meals for Rs. 5 are being seen as desperate attempts to steady its wobbling throne.
The JMM is seizing this moment to flex its muscles within the coalition, and make a bid for its turn to run the Government. It is reminding Munda of the agreement that JMM and BJP would run the government for 28 months each.
The government’s anti-encroachment drive has emerged as a major issue in Jharkhand politics. Localities inhabited for years in big cities and small towns have been demolished in minutes, rendering thousands of poor families homeless. The number of those evicted is much greater than the total number of Indira Awas houses distributed by the government in the state! The Government is callous to the question of rehabilitation of the lakhs who are now homeless and forced to live on the streets.
Arjun Munda is claiming credit for the panchayat elections that have taken place for the first time in Jharkhand. Let alone PESA, panchayats are yet to get even their ordinary rights. The Planning Commission has warned the state government that it will stop the grants due to the state in this head. Munda has now declared that panchayat regulations are ready and all powers will be conferred on the panchayats very soon.
The delay in notifying panchayat regulations is a sign that the Munda Government wants to keep panchayats under their thumb. Panchayat representatives in the state are struggling for their minimal rights, just like pare-teachers, para-medical cadres and many others!
Even as his Government faces a severe loss of popularity, Munda is busy in fulfilling his commitment to provide land to corporate houses through 71 different MOUs. The corporate houses have acquired land directly from the farmers in many of these projects, at cheap rates, often with the backing of police lathis and repression. But now, Munda has suddenly declared that corporate houses cannot buy land from the peasants directly and, ‘to protect interests of the farmers,’ the government itself will acquire the land. Why this about-turn?
The fact of the matter is that honouring the MOUs and acquiring the land is not easy. Section 46(1)(b) of the CNT Act makes land non-transferable. Earlier, an effort to amend the CNT Act as per World Bank suggestions by the then Chief Minister Babulal Marandi was foiled by the protests. Land acquisition has been completed for just 13 projects. Of projects amounting to 4 lakh crore, only about 1000 crores worth of work is complete. Projects of big corporate sharks like Mittal, Hindalco and POSCO remain pending. Perhaps this why Munda is suddenly waking up to a concern for farmers! In order to keep his commitments to the corporations, his government will take it upon itself to evict adivasi villages. Very soon, he has to provide corporations with land for 26 private energy projects.
In signing MOUs, Munda has beaten his predecessors’ record. Of the 71 MOUs, Munda himself signed 52; while Madhu Koda cleared 13 of them, and Shibu Soren, 8. With just 13 MOUs to his credit, Koda is in jail for a scam worth Rs 4,000 crores. Koda, before he became CM, was a Minister in previous governments headed by all power centres in Jharkhand - Babulal Marandi; Arjun Munda; Shibu Soren.
Riding high on the Jamshedpur victory, Marandi is projecting his party, the JVM, as an alternative, and himself as an honest and able administrator. But he is already under scanner for the JPSC scam, where BDOs, DSPs and COs and other officials were appointed fraudulently. His earlier tenure as CM is still remembered for unprecedented police repression on movements including the police massacre of anti- displacement protestors.
There is a sharp fall recorded in the Human Development Index of Jharkhand. Its share in welfare schemes has declined and it is in a vicious debt trap. Still, it possesses vast reserves of mineral wealth and other natural resources, and is therefore a favourable destination for multinational capital. Corporate capital, however, is not content with tired horses. It badly needs a fresh new horse to ride.
JVM candidate Ajay Kumar has won the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha Bye-election. He had left the IPS cadre to join TATA as a Security Manager. He defeated the BJP State President Dineshanand Goswami by around 1.5 lakh votes. Marandi is projecting this victory as his bid for power in the state. But the victory is overshadowed by the Munda’s defeat. Shibu Soren, a UPA-backed CM, had to quit after the Tamar Assembly by-poll defeat; Jamshedpur is the Tamar for Munda, a NDA-backed CM. But the by-election result reflects the mood of the people – their growing rejection of and resistance to the exploitation and plunder in the state.
Central Committee Meeting and Convention at Mysore
Following successful conclusion of the central committee meeting from 30 June to 2 July 2011, held for the first time in Karnataka, a well-attended, colourful convention was organized on 3 July at Mysore. “For a Left Alternative; Against Corruption, Price Rise and State Repression” was the theme of the convention. The Convention was inaugurated by V Shankar, CCM. Com. E.Ramappa, state secretary conducted the proceedings. Comrade Dipankar was the main speaker and Comrade Hariharan, convenor of Left Coordination Committee, Kerala attended as a special guest. Also present was Comrade Venugopalan, Kerala State Leading Team member of CPIML. Prof. Lakshminarayana was the other guest from Mysore. J.Bharadwaj, SLTM of Karnataka, Rati Rao, VP of AIPWA also addressed the gathering along with Appanna, Somu, Narayanaswamy from Bangalore and Prakash from Davanagere, C.Javaraiah, district secretary of the party welcomed the gathering and Gaddappa thanked the people and guests for their cooperation for the success of the convention.
The convention was preceded by a colourful rally of workers from railway station to the hall that marched through important streets of Mysore. All workers were wearing red T-shirt with AICCTU and hammer and sickle logo and each one of them were also carrying a flag. In view of the CC meeting, major junctions in entire Mysore were decorated with red buntings and party flags.
Comrade Dipankar congratulated Karnataka comrades for making excellent arrangements for the smooth conduct of the 3-day long central committee meeting in Mysore. He came down heavily on the UPA government for the worst-ever corruption scandals in the history of post-independence India. He said the working people of the country were the worst victims of the growing corruption and corporate plunder and therefore they must come forward to resist corruption and reverse the pro-corporate policies that are promoting corruption.
Com. Shankar, CCM, exposed the fallacy of anti-corruption rhetoric of Yeddyurappa and the BJP while the BJP-led state government was actually promoting corporate loot and corruption. He condemned the BJP government for leasing out thousands of acres of land in each district for the corporate houses. As an instance, he cited the cases of the district Haveri and Gadag being earmarked for POSCO while Bellary is divided between Mittals and Reddys.
Demonstration in Gujarat
The CPI(ML) has been campaigning against intimidation and an attack by the MLA Raman Patkar from Umargam taluka in Valsad district of Gujarat. This attack took place on the villagers of Ghoriparha and Gadikparha villages on 13 June 2011, in which around 15 adivasi and dalit villagers including CPI(ML) leader Kapila Ben were seriously injured.
Even a month after the incident, the police failed to lodge any FIR against the perpetrators and the injured are yet to receive proper medical attention.
For the past three years, CPI(ML) has been organising adivasi peasants here against attempts by land mafia to grab their lands. On 15 July, a demonstration was held demanding an FIR against the perpetrators of the attack including the BJP MLA and arrest of the land mafia who have grabbed adivasis’ lands. 300 adivasis including 80 women participated in the demonstration in spite of heavy rain. The demonstration took place at the DM’s office and a memorandum of demands was presented to the DM and DSP.
The demonstration was led by Central Committee member Comrade Prabhat Kumar, State in-charge Ranjan Ganguly, Valsad district secretary Laxman Vadia and RYA leader Amit Patanwaria.
A similar memorandum had been sent to the Home Minister of the Central Government, and a delegation also met the Gujarat Governor.
On 9 August, in response to the national call of the party, a big dharna against corruption and price rise will be held at the Umargam taluka.