Teach A Lesson To Betrayers of Hill People’s Aspirations in Uttarakhand!

Elections to the Uttarakhand Assembly are being held for the third time. For over a decade, Congress and BJP governments, turn by turn, have vied with each other to break all records for scams.

What these successive governments have achieved is to give national and international crime networks a foothold in the state and intensify the plunder of natural resources and degradation of environment. People are being evicted in the name of hydro-electric projects and forest reserves. Peasants are forced to give up farming due to agrarian crisis and anti-farmer policies. Out-migration has risen due to rampant unemployment, and dismal conditions of education, health, and transport in the state.

The BJP Government, true to its communal colours, fomented communal riots in Rudrapur, and it is notable that the local Congress MLA too played a role in this violence on minorities.

BJP was forced to replace its CM Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ with Khanduri with a view to approaching polls – but neither this hurried change nor Khanduri’s Lokayukta Act can make people forget the huge scams over which the BJP Government under Nishank presided. For all the talk of Lokayukta and ending corruption, the Khanduri Government is careful not to begin any proceedings against Nishank in the corruption cases. Its Lokayukta Act stipulates that the full 7-member Bench of Lokayukta must give consent to begin any investigation of cases against a Chief Minister. Since the Act is ambiguous on whether or not such consent must be unanimous, the clause appears designed to shield former CM Nishank.

The BJP Government’s Much-Touted Policy Initiatives

The BJP Government is proudly presenting a whole range of policy initiatives as its achievements. What’s the truth about these initiatives? All these policies, for all their populist posturing, have a neoliberal and anti-people hidden agenda.

There has been a long standing demand to scrap a colonial-era order of 1893 declaring unmeasured (benaap) land to be protected forest land. CPI(ML) demanded that all non-cultivated unmeasured land be entrusted to village panchayats for management and redistribution. The Khanduri government scrapped the order, but kept almost 10 acres of land under control of the state govt. This move is obviously to make it easy to hand over the land for corporate plunder, which will be a great injustice to the poor hill people and peasants.

The government has introduced a new Disaster and Rehabilitation Policy 2011. But instead of relief and permanent rehabilitation for displaced people, the policy is a ploy to evict people from traditional avenues of employment. The policy provides for residential plots to be given to the displaced, but allows agricultural, forest, grazing land, and village commons to be transferred to state control. As a result, many who depend on cattle grazing for survival will be affected. CPI(ML) has demanded that agricultural land and grazing land be included in the rehabilitation policy.

The new agricultural policy, similarly, is a blueprint for plunder of agricultural land. In Uttarakhand currently, cultivated area is a mere 6%, while 75% of the population is dependant on agriculture. The policy, instead of expanding cultivable land and curbing diversion for non agricultural use, allows selling of up to 12 acres of agricultural land. This will further jeopardise agriculture and food security in the state.

The government has proposed a Panchayat Raj Act. Due to out-migration, the hill population is shrinking, and the minimum population criterion for formation of a panchayat should have been reduced. Instead, it has been doubled. Further, the Act is silent on direct election of block pramukh and zila panchayat president, on providing honorarium to village pradhans, and on giving a decisive say to village panchayats in decisions relating to village works. As of now, departments ignore village panchayats and distribute village works through contractors, taking commissions in the process.

The new Mining policy for hills introduced by the government appeases the mining mafia, endangers the hill ecosystem, and increases dangers of seismic disturbances. The policy paves the way to legalise sand and stone mining in hill river beds. CPI(ML) has demanded that this dangerous policy be scrapped.

The government has formed a Building Workers’ Welfare Board. But this Board is defunct, and its eligibility norms and registration process so complicated as to make it impossible for workers to access. The welfare programmes promised to construction workers remain a distant dream.

Some Major Issues

There are more than 1 lakh Bhojan mata, ASHA, anganwadi, gram-prahri, and PTC workers, in the state, comprising 1% of the population, who are all virtually ‘government bonded labour,’ since they receive an honorarium that is less than even minimum wages. CPI(ML) has organised these workers in struggles, demanding that they be declared state government employees, and be brought under Minimum Wage Act. Both Congress and BJP are silent on this question.

CPI(ML) has led consistent struggles demanding the status of revenue village to many forest villages and khattas. In the absence of this status, forest dwellers (vanvasi-khattavasi), who are around 1.5% of the state’s population, remain unable to avail of basic facilities such as family register, ration card, MNREGA, NRHM, panchayati raj or Forest Act.
CPI(ML) has led many struggles against the rampant violation of trade union and labour laws in industrial centres like SIDCUL, where the Government has blatantly supported the offending managements at the cost of Uttarakhand’s workers.

Under the Cow Protection Act introduced by the BJP Government, villagers are suffering huge losses due to being unable to sell their cattle. Moreover, stray cattle roam free, destroying agriculture.

The Tree Protection Act 1976 is anti-peasant, under which peasants cannot chop wood either for sale or personal use, whereas in plains they can commercially grow trees in their fields for income. CPI(ML) supports the demand of hill peasants that cultivated (naap) land be exempted from this law.

After the new state was formed, the old Kumaon and Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition Act (KUZA) was to be replaced with a new land reform act. New land bandobast was to begin in 2004. Neither promise has been kept. Another urgent demand of peasants has been for mandatory chakbandi and ending the neglect of horticulture.

Food security is extremely fragile in hill areas. The PDS is weak because there is no effort on part of the Government to ensure that ration food grains actually reach remote and difficult-to-access areas in the state.

The Uttarakhand Assembly has never had a real, functioning Opposition, since the rival parties Congress and BJP have agreed on most policy issues. Formations like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and BSP have been marked by blatant political opportunism.

In the ongoing elections, people are heartened by the fact that three Left parties, CPI, CPI(M) and CPI(ML), have come together in a shared election campaign, offering an agenda of struggle and genuine people’s Opposition.

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