THOUSANDS of farmers under the banner of Himachal Pradesh Kisan Sabha (affiliated to AIKS) marched to Shimla and had a massive protest at the state secretariat on April 5, seeking redressal of the burning problems of the peasantry. Over five thousand farmers from across Himachal Pradesh joined the protest. Braving heavy rain they marched determined to fight for their legitimate rights.
The peasantry in the state are in extreme distress due to the anti-peasant policies of the Congress-led state government as well as BJP-led central government and the demonetisation move has hit them hard. The anger was palpable in the rally and the sloganeering by the peasantry. The rally was planned in February 2017 when the state conference of the Himachal Kisan Sabha took a decision to undertake massive campaign across the state and follow it up with a show of anger and united strength at Shimla. According to the decision of the state conference an intense campaign was carried out with activists of the Kisan Sabha panning out to villages and mobilising for the protest action.
The major issues raised in the rally were the issue of land rights, rights of forest land cultivators, job opportunities and wages under MGNREGA, wild animal menace and menace of stray cattle as well as remunerative prices for the farmers’ produce.
LAND AND RELATED ISSUES
Continuous struggles have been going on under the Kisan Sabha banner for land rights and against the eviction of forest land cultivators, the inhuman cutting down of full-grown fruiting trees as well as electricity and water to houses on such land. Over 1,67,339 applications by landless have been made way back in 2002 under Section 163-A in the amended Revenue Act of 1954. Many more people along with these applicants are landless. Kisan Sabha demands five bighas for landless and different governments have assured to implement the demand. The BJP led state government in 2002 and again in 2007 betrayed the peasantry and went back on its word that land would be given. The Congress government under Virbhadra Singh also instead of giving land started evicting farmers from government land they have been cultivating for generations. They have resorted to cutting down of fruit bearing apple, apricot, pear and cherry trees on such land. This is despite its commitment to stop evictions and give land to landless after thousands rallied in Shimla on August 27, 2015 and announcing a "Sankalp Prastaav" on the next day. Kisan Sabha leaders warned that the struggle will be intensified and land will be occupied if not handed over. They contrasted the plight of farmers with big industrialists like Ambuja, Jaypee, Ramdev's Patanjali etc who have got vast tracts of land on long lease at a pittance. The involvement of the chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his family as well as former chief minister from BJP, Dhumal and his family in land grab was also exposed. While long-term lease is being given to corporate companies, the government is not even willing to consider the demand of farmers for land rights. A large number of people facing the threat of evictions are adivasis and dalits. Implementation of Forest Rights Act is another major demand.
MENACE OF WILD ANIMALS AND STRAY CATTLE
The peasantry are also suffering huge losses due to wild animal menace. The HKS demands treating monkeys, wild boar, nilgais, sambar etc as vermin and for scientific management to curb losses and also compensation for losses suffered. In the case of stray cattle also, compensation for losses and shelter for them to protect crops was demanded. It is notable that every year crores worth of crops are destroyed by wild animals and stray cattle. The permission to kill monkeys has been restricted to Shimla alone while it is a state-wide problem. No assistance from the government in this regard is forthcoming. The peasantry in addition to losing their crops are also often at the receiving end of attacks by wild animals and deaths have been reported.
REMUNERATIVE PRICES AND EMPLOYMENT
Among other important demands were remunerative prices for crops according to Dr MS Swaminathan Commission recommendations, ie, at least 50 percent above cost of production. The farmers are not receiving appropriate prices for their produce and in many crops the price is often not even meeting the costs of production. A major demand raised in the rally has been for Rs 30/litre for milk. Across the state, thousands of poor peasants, a large number of women are dependent on dairying for their livelihood. The increasing costs of fodder and difficulty in sale of aged cattle are creating a big problem of a magnitude never seen before. It is boomeranging in the form of stray cattle menace leading to destruction of crops.
The rally also demanded 200 days of work and not less than Rs 300 per day as well as payment of arrears under MGNREGA. It called for increased allotment under MGNREGA and extension to benefit small and marginal farmers. Notably, the debilitating impact of the demonetisation move was further increased by the absence of employment opportunities as well as non-payment of arrears for work done.
CALL TO INTENSIFY UNITED STRUGGLES
The rally was addressed among others by Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary, AIKS, Rakesh Singha, secretary, Himachal Kisan Sabha, Kuldip Singh Tanwar, president, HKS, Kushal Bharadwaj, vice president, HKS and others. Manoj Kumar from AIKS centre was also present. Speakers warned of direct action in the near future if the government does not heed to the demands of farmers. Speaking on the occasion, Vijoo Krishnan called for direct action taking the struggle to the next level and ensuring a militant confrontation with massive participation against forcible evictions, cutting down of trees and disconnection of electricity and water supply. He called for forcible occupation of land including land leased out to corporates by putting up Kisan Sabha flags and building huts on such land if the government maintains its insensitive position. Rakesh Singha warned that in the coming days the government will witness the anger of the peasantry, intensified united struggles and all sections of the society will be rallied around for making a political impact as well as resolution of the issues. Kushal Bharadwaj mentioned about the specific problems and difficulties arising out of the different policies of the central and state governments and called for a sustained campaign as well as consistent struggle till victory.
The HKS leadership met senior minister Vidya Stokes and submitted a memorandum with demands of the peasantry after the protest.