Growing Struggles Against Land Grab and Displacement in Bihar
[With the Nitish Government’s rapid embrace of neoliberal policies, land acquisition and eviction are fast emerging as major points of conflict in the State. A brief report of some of the emerging struggles and CPI(ML)’s role follows.]
West Champaran is experiencing the biggest land grab since the grabbing of land by the colonial British for indigo farming. The Valmikinagar Tiger Project in West Champaran district of Bihar threatens to uproot 300 villages and evict lakhs of adivasi and non-adivasi residents. The forest rights of adivasis are being blatantly violated, and civil rights and liberties suppressed.
Ever since the Tiger Project was declared in 1989-90 in this forest area, the Tharu and Oraon adivasi communities and other traditional residents (most of whom are dalit), found their traditional rights to eke out a living by collecting minor forest products, were curbed. Livelihood based on bamboo etc were snatched away. Later, livelihood based on mining sand or stones of forest rivers, also vanished, and lakhs migrated to Nepal as well as other states in search of a living. Entire villages in the Gaunaha block are deserted.
Scores of villages in four blocks of West Champaran face eviction. Development work on streets, schools, Indira Awas homes, TV towers, and electrification have been stopped in 32 villages. The Forest Department has subjected these villages to an economic embargo. In order to prevent procurement of sugarcane from farmers of these villages, the Forest Department has put a stop to the road construction work post-monsoon. Thousands of farmers in the Done area themselves offered ‘shramdaan’ and constructed the 13-km long road. Then, the DFO tore up the register at the Naurangiya Done Weighing Station where the farmers had brought their sugarcane. Farmers protested on 31 December, and their leader Devnath Kazi was jailed. Warrants have been issued to Sukhai Manjhi and many others.
A ban has been imposed on river-bed mining of stones and sand, due to which the rivers have become shallow and change course during the rains. Gandak and Pandai rivers have become shallower by 12 ft compared to 1995. Fertile raiyyati land is turning to sand, and many villages are falling victims of floods thanks to the changing course of the rivers. According to a decision of the Central Forest Department, river-bed mining is allowed up to 30 metres in forest areas in many states. In the Gavla and Dapka rivers of Uttarakhand, mining is allowed uptil 20 km in the jungle. Yet, in W Champaran, the ban on river-bed mining is leading to severe loss of livelihood as well as flooding.
In the past two years, in the course of forest mapping, thousands of acres of land which adivasis and forest dwellers have traditionally been cultivating, have been marked out and eviction has begun. Land given as pattas by the Ramnagar Raj, as well as raiyyati land is being grabbed.
CPI(ML) has been leading the struggle against eviction of adivasis and forest dwellers in the wake of the Tiger Project. A ‘Forest Rights Yatra’ was held from 1-15 June, in which teams interacted personally with people of 143 villages, and tens of thousands of people took place in village meetings. Mahapanchayats were held in several blocks, in which gomushtas, sarpanches, and other village leaders participated. CPI(ML) leaders Virendra Gupta, Vishnudev Yadav, and several others addresses these meetings. The 9-point charter adopted by the Mahapanchayats was sent to the PM, central Minister for Environments and Forests, the Minister for SC/ST Affairs, Bihar CM and Environment Minister, as well as the Director of the Valmikinagar Tiger project.
Adivasis held a big demonstration at the Betia Collectorate on 25 June. And on 3 August, to protest the Government’s illegal decision to increase the core area of the Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve from 335 square km to 599 sq km, thousands of adivasis and peasants marched to the Bihar Assembly led by the CPI(ML).
The March was led by CPI(ML) CCM and former MP Rameshwar Prasad, AIALA’s national GS Dhirendra Jha, W Champaran District Secretary Arun Kumar, district committee members Chandeshwar Mehto, Lalita Devi as well as several other party leaders. Addressing a mass meeting, leaders strongly condemned the move to evict thousands, and deprive them of livelihood by snatching their traditional right to minor forest produce, banning development work and banning river-bed mining. The leaders pointed out that the decision to expand the core area was illegal and violated the Forest Rights Act 2006, according to which such a decision required the mandatory consent of the forest village committees. The Deputy PM Sushil Kumar Modiis colluding with the American company World Wildlife Fund to convert cultivable land into forest land.
Peasants have been waging a militant struggle against the acquisition of 1028 acres of cultivable land in Bhagalpur district (Ramzanipur panchayat). Peasants here have been paid compensation by the Government at the rate of Rs. 60,000 per acre in 1995-96; Rs 1, 20, 000 per acre in 2001-02; and Rs 2-2.5 lakh per acre in 2006-07; whereas the official rate is Rs 35 lakh per acre. When peasants demanded raising of the compensation rate and jobs in the industries being established, the Government responded with repression. Peasants are being cheated in the land acquisition for the NTPC project in Peerpouti in Bhagalpur and Abhijit Power Plant in Banka, too.
The CPI(ML) held a day-long dharna on 9 July at Bhagalpur, and AIKM held a mass meeting at Ramzanipur village on 19 August. This village has a base that has traditionally supported the RJD. Big Yadav farmers stayed away from the mass meeting, but small and medium farmers joined the meeting in large numbers.
Struggles against land grab have also emerged at Vaishali against forced acquisition by a Dalda company backed by the Deputy CM Sushil Modi; displacement of 120 villages in Muzaffarpur due to the Baghmati Dam project; grab of land at Khagadia by the Industries Minister from JD(U) Renu Kushwaha and the Pristine Courier Company; forced acquisition of 2800 acres of fertile land in Barauni Thermal in spite of the fact that peasants are willing for acquisition of less fertile land; against diversion of land which peasants had consentfully given for a sugar factory but which is now being used for a liquor factory of Vilay Mallya.
At Begusarai, there are projects to expand the existing rail line and build a bridge till Munger over the Ganga. But the train route has been changed to save RJD leader Shrinarayan Yadav’s land from acquisition, as a result of which thousands of acres of land of peasants has come up for acquisition. In the construction of the Buxar-Patna toll road too, there is a deliberate ploy to protect the land of powerful people and landlords. This road was to pass through Amhara village of Patna, but, under pressure from BJP-backed landlords, it now has been diverted through the Bihta fourways. The route was again changed to avoid a Tata godown and the British MNC Cobra Beer Company. But when the changed map threatens to uproot the Bihta bazaar and scores of homes in several villages, the Government had no problem. A people’s agitation has stalled this project for the time being.
In the backdrop of these struggles, the AIKM held a Kisan March in Patna during the Assembly session on 7th August. More than 2000 peasants participated in the March, which demanded a total ban on acquisition of cultivable land; a stop to eviction of peasants and adivasis in the name of flood control or Tiger Project; that Bihar be declared drought-affected; opening up of closed water taps on a war scale; thorouoghgoing drought relief; legal rights for sharecroppers; and preventing landlords from selling off ceiling-surplus land; and a stop to the attempt to overturn Sikmi sharecroppers’ rights in Purnea. AIKM’s National GS Rajaram Singh, who has recently been released on bail after being jailed during a people’s movement, led the March along with AIKM National Secretary Arun Singh, State President KD Yadav and several other leaders. The contingent from Purnea – comprising adivasi men and women with traditional musical instruments and bows and arrows - was a very vibrant and active component of the March.
The peasant leaders who addressed the mass meeting strongly opposed the growing forced grab of agricultural land for corporations and projects. The AIKM declared that it would expose the hypocrisy of the Government’s ‘Agriculture Road Map’ and would unite and intensify the people’s struggles and peasants’ resistance across the state.