Guarantee Land Reforms and Land Rights, Extend MNREGA to Agriculture, Stop Rural Loot

(excerpts from Comrade Dipankar’s concluding address at the 4th National Conference of AIALA in Patna on 22 November 2011)

Land Reforms and Land Rights:

As far as land is concerned, the government now only talks of land acquisition and land market. Peasant organizations have rightly rejected this policy and called for protection of agricultural land as well as forest and coastal land from corporate invasion or state-led acquisition of such land in corporate or commercial interest. The agricultural labour movement in the country must also come out boldly against the state-corporate drive for land acquisition and insist on land reforms and land rights.

Today governments of various hues are not only abandoning land reforms but are also systematically trying to rob the rural poor of whatever gains they have made through years of struggle. The new TMC government of West Bengal has even termed the agricultural labour or poor peasant or tenant a land robber – it calls the rural poor’s hold on land achieved through years of struggle an act of land robbery! We must resist and defeat this eviction drive and move forward to force these governments to carry out land reforms and guarantee the land and shelter rights of the landless rural poor. The fight for homestead land has already started gathering momentum in many states and we must intensify this battle.

Improve MNREGA, Extend it to Agriculture:

The MNREGA has been the UPA government’s biggest talking point in recent years. Ground reports from almost all states however continue to confirm that the Act has made very little difference to the rural employment scene. Reports of all kinds of irregularities abound and rural labourers are often denied their due wages, and delayed payment of wages has become the normal practice. Now by making the KBC winner from Bihar the brand ambassador for MNREGA, the UPA government has also inadvertently revealed the true nature of the Act. The message has gone out that MNREGA too is more a case of chance like the Kaun Banega Krorepati game show where a fortunate few can gain something, and it does not provide effective guarantee of an assured right.

This conference has rightly demanded improved MNREGA terms – more workdays, better wages, prompt payment. A concerted move is underway to truncate and even scuttle the Act. We must resist this move and fight for expansion of MNREGA schemes. It is time MNREGA is also extended to agriculture. At a time when the small and marginal farmers have been hit hard by the agrarian crisis, and agricultural employment and wages are also adversely affected, extension of MNREGA to agriculture could provide some relief to the crisis-ridden peasantry and also bolster agricultural employment and wages.

Rural Labour in the Battle against Rural Loot:

Corruption has emerged as a major concern for the whole country and the rural poor are its worst victims. The mega corporate scams and huge corporate exemptions devour up funds that could be allocated for rural development while the corrupt system entrenched in blocks and panchayats claims the lion’s share of funds flowing through the panchayats. Mega corruption and mass pauperization go hand in hand. This is why the battle against loot and corruption must be treated as a key task for the agricultural labour movement in the country. It is important to force the government to enact strong anti-corruption legislation, but we must carry the anti-corruption battle beyond the limited agenda of Lokpal and Lokayuktas to the point of reversal of pro-corporate policies and overthrow of the anti-people nexus that retards and obstructs any real rural development.

AIALA has now spread to nearly twenty states. It has developed a two million-strong steady membership base. But the real strength of AIALA will always lie in its ability to develop a vibrant organizational network at panchayat level that can subject the panchayats to mass supervision and intervention, and wage determined struggles against the forces of loot and oppression. May this 4th National Conference of AIALA mark an important milestone in this cherished direction.


Agricultural Workers Hold Demos and Gheraos at Block HQs Countrywide

In keeping with the call given by the ‘Combat Corruption, Save Democracy’ Rally and the AIALA National Conference, the AIALA held militant demonstrations at the block-level all over the country, and gheraos of block headquarters in Bihar, in which tens of thousands of agricultural workers participated.

The demands raised in the agitation included – an end to the Rs 26-Rs32 type ‘poverty lines’; automatic inclusion of all agricultural workers, landless, sharecroppers, marginal farmers, contract and honorarium workers in the BPL category; passage of a genuine food security bill that ensures universalisation of PDS and guarantee of 50 kg of food grain as well as pulses, vegetables, milk, oil and other essentials as subsidized rations; 200 days of work at Rs.300 per day; recognition and security of sharecroppers; implementation of land reforms; and an end to the grab or diversion of agricultural and homestead land. In addition, in Bihar, the agricultural workers protested against Nitish Kumar’s betrayal of his announcement of BPL cards and rations to 1.5 crore poor families; 3 decimals of land to all landless and an end to eviction of sharecroppers and landless; and demanding an enquiry into the rampant corruption and loot in social welfare schemes and BIADA land scam.

In Odisha, around 3000 workers participated in demonstrations at block HQs at Rayagada, Muniguda, Padampur, Gunupur,Kalayansinghpur, Bissamcuttack and other blocks. In UP, hundreds participated in militant demonstrations in 35 blocks in 12 districts including Ballia, Maharajganj, Sonebhadra, Banaras, Bhadohi, Sitapur,Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, and Jalaun. Good block-level demonstrations were held in districts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, as well as Jharkhand, Bengal, Assam.

In Bihar, militant gheraos were held in spite of the bitterly cold weather, in 205 blocks and 12 sub-division HQs all over the state. At scores of blocks, the workers locked the HQs, and prevented officials from entering. In the course of these protests, tens of thousands of memorandums demanding homestead plots were submitted, and demanding papers under the 1948 PP Act for land which people had occupied for years. In Bihar, there are around 18 lakh families settled on gair mazarua and government land, who are yet to get their papers for homestead land, as a result of which they are deprived of benefits of the Indira Awas Yojana.

Workers who participated in the December 15 demonstration at the remote eastern block of Darbhanga, Kusheshwar, had earlier been associated with the JD(U) Mahadalit Wing, but on December 18, participated en masse in the party’s cadre convention and filled up party membership forms publicly.

In Bhojpur, homestead land remained a central issue, and demonstrations were held at 16 blocks. 5000 agricultural labourers participated in the protest at Jagdishpur. There was good participation at Koelwar, Bihiya and Shahpur, as well as other blocks. Militant demonstrations and gheraos also took place at Buxar, Kaimur, Patna rural, Jehenabad, Arwal, Gaya, Nalanda, Aurangabad, and Nawada districts. Militant protests took place at most distrocts of East Bihar – Begusarai, Khagaria, Araria, Purnea, Supaul, Saharsa etc. In North Bihar too, demonstrations took place at most districts, including 12 blocks of Siwan, 15 blocks of Darbhanga, 12 blocks of Samastipur, Bagha in Champaran, nine blocks of West Champaran and five blocks of East Champaran, as well as Sitamarhi, and Madhubani.

Observing the December 15 call, the Mumbai-Thane unit of the party held a procession of 300 adivasi workers of several villages near Bohisar to Palghar. The workers, protesting against the lack of water and electricity, corruption in MNREGA and rationing system, marched from the Tarapur crossing to Bohisar railway station, where they took a train to Palghar. From Palghar station they marched to the tehsildar office where they held a protest meeting and submitted a memorandum with their demands. The meeting was addressed by leaders from the respective villages, and by CPI(ML) leaders Comrade Dhiraj Rathor and Shyam Gohil.

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