ASSAM: Massive Peasant Convention at Guwahati

Satanjib Das

LIKE the entire country Assam also has been witnessing unprecedented agrarian distress due to the anti-peasant neo-liberal economic policies pursued by BJP-led governments both at the centre and the state. The woes of the peasantry in Assam have all the more aggravated by the problem of devastating floodS and erosion that visits the state annually in several phases; the utter lack of irrigation facilities in the state; the non-possession of land pattas by overwhelming majority of the peasantry and the large scale eviction drive undertaken by the state government. By one estimate of the state government itself, more than 4,27,000 hectares of arable land in the state have so far been washed away by floods and erosion rendering lakhs of peasant households landless, homeless and destitute. It has been a longstanding demand of the people of Assam to declare the problem of flood and erosion as a national problem and take tangible steps for permanent solution of the problem. But the BJP government at the centre has refused to declare the problem as a national problem. This year flood devastation had been unprecedented and almost all the districts were affected. The prime minister made a belated visit to the state, that too after mounting protest and criticism by political parties and organisations in the state, but instead of visiting any flood affected area, he confined himself to a meeting with bureaucrats and ministers in the air-conditioned room and left the state in few hours. The central government this year provided virtually no help for relief and rehabilitation of the flood affected people of the state who are mostly peasants. The agri production has been very badly affected. It is a matter of grave concern and shame that even after seventy years of independence, only five per cent of the arable land in the state is irrigated. Huge scams have been unearthed in regard to irrigation projects. Situation has all the more compounded due to considerable cut in the budget allocation for flood control and irrigation by the state government. As a whole the state government led by the BJP has reduced allocation to the tune of Rs 58 crores in the agriculture and allied departments in the 2016-17 budget. The government instead of providing pattas to the peasantry has started large scale eviction from khas land, PGRS, VGRS, etc rendering thousands of peasant households homeless. Due to non-possession of pattas by the overwhelming majority of the peasantry, they are being deprived of whatever institutional credit is still available. The credit-deposit ratio of banks in Assam therefore is much lower (only 50 per cent) than the national average. Like other states in the country, the peasantry in Assam also has been subjected to distress sale of their agri-produce because of low MSPs that do not cover even the cost of production and lack of procurement by government agencies. For instance, this year the potato growers in the state have been forced to sell their produce at Rs 2 to Rs 3 per kilo while the cost of production is Rs 9 per kilo and the MSP declared by the government is Rs 5 per kilo. Similar is the situation of paddy and jute-growers. Peasant suicides, which were absent in Assam till the other day, have been mounting menacingly. Added to all these, the supply of seeds that do not yield any grain output has also badly affected the peasantry and agriculture is several districts of the state. MGNREGA also is a big failure in the state. In such a situation, Assam State Kisan Sabha, an affiliate of AIKS has been organising series of struggles on the burning issues facing the peasantry. On September 18, at the initiative of State Kisan Sabha a massive state-level convention of peasantry took place at Guwahati. More than five hundred delegates from different districts of Assam attended the convention which was inaugurated by Hemen Das, veteran leader of the peasant movement in Assam. Uddhab Barman, former MP and a senior leader of the State Kisan Sabha also addressed the convention. The draft declaration of the convention was placed by Tiken Das, secretary of the Assam State Kisan Sabha. The draft declaration chalked out a 13-point demand charter that included the demands of remunerative prices of agri produce, loan waiver, land pattas to the peasantry, large scale irrigation, declaration of flood and erosion problem as a national problem and its permanent solution, holding of price-line, stoppage of eviction etc. The declaration also charted out a future programme of powerful agitation throughout the state. Several peasant delegates took part in the discussion on the draft declaration following which it was adopted unanimously. The convention was also addressed by Durlov Mahanta of fraternal Krishak Sabha. The convention called upon the delegates to make maximum mobilisation for November 9 peasant rally to be unitedly held by Assam State Kisan Sabha, Krishak Mahasabha, Assam Rajyik Krishak Sabha, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, at Guwahati. The convention was also addressed by Tapan Sarma, general secretary CITU Assam state committee and Bhabendra Kr. Kalita, joint convenor, Joint Council of Trade Unions, Assam besides Deben Bhattacharya, secretary CPI(M) Assam state committee. All the speakers laid emphasis on building up strong worker-peasant unity in the present context when the ruling party and the government both at the centre and the state have been openly patronising communal forces to divide the working people so as to weaken the growing united resistance against the anti-peasant, anti-worker and anti-people policies of the present ruling dispensation. The convention was presided over by a presidium consisting of Rejamound Ali Barbhuya, Fazlur Rahman and Khargeswar Changmai.

 

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