ON May 3, 2018, around 35,000 adivasi peasant women and men, under the banner of the CPI(M) and the AIKS, held a massive rally at Dahanu in Palghar district. They came in their thousands from all the seven tehsils of Palghar district, viz Dahanu, Talasari, Vikramgad, Jawhar, Mokhada, Wada and Palghar and from the Shahapur tehsil of Thane district. There were over 15,000 women led by the AIDWA. There were thousands of youth led by the DYFI. The rally was so huge that the media variously estimated it as between 40,000 to 50,000.
It was aptly called a Nirdhaar Rally (determination rally) and was a follow-up of the Kisan Long March from Nashik to Mumbai held two months ago. With red flags in their hands and red caps on their heads, the huge ocean of red marched first through Dahanu town and then covered a distance of about three kilometres in the scorching sun from the Saagar Naka to the Paar Naka in Dahanu. Here, in a huge park full of casuarina trees which provided much-needed shade, the three hour-long public meeting began.
A month ago, on April 2, another 30,000-strong Victory Rally was held at Kalwan in the other adivasi bastion of the CPI(M) and the AIKS in Nashik district.
Intensive preparations were undertaken for three weeks to make the Dahanu rally a success. Hundreds of village meetings were held in both the districts. 40,000 leaflets explaining the gains of the Kisan Long March and calling for vigilance and struggle to ensure the implementation of the promises made by the government were distributed in hundreds of villages and hamlets. Concerted efforts were made to ensure mobilisation.
The Dahanu rally was organised: 1. To keep up the pressure on the BJP-led state government to implement its written assurances about giving land rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and other demands. 2. To oppose tooth and nail the land acquisition moves of the BJP central government for its pet fancy projects - the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train and the Mumbai-Vadodara expressway. The state government had given in writing after the Kisan Long March that land would be acquired only with the consent of the farmers. But it had violated this during the last two months by beginning surveys for these projects and issuing threats to peasants. 3. To demonstrate the resolve to continue the struggle in order to consolidate and expand the CPI(M)-AIKS base in Thane-Palghar district.
The Dahanu public meeting was presided over by L B Dhangar, the 89 year-old veteran leader of the CPI(M) and the AIKS. It was addressed by many leaders of the Party. PWP leaders S V Jadhav and Raju Korde also attended the rally.
FANCY AND ELITIST PROJECTS
The main focus of the Dahanu rally was opposition to the bullet train and expressway projects of the BJP central government, both of which entail large-scale land acquisition that will devastate the lives of thousands of farmers in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor (MAHSRC) project, or bullet train project, costing Rs 1.1 lakh crore, is to be built with a loan of Rs 88,000 crore from Japan, to be repayable with interest over 50 years. The project involves both the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments. The rail corridor will originate from Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, pass through Thane and Palghar districts of Maharashtra and terminate at Sabarmati in Gujarat. Of the total 508 km railway line, 108 km will pass through villages in Maharashtra.
For the execution of the bullet train project, the National High-Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRC) has to acquire more than 850 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, all at the cost of local farmers’ livelihood. Around 192 villages in Gujarat and nearly 120 villages in Maharashtra will be affected by the project.
In Maharashtra, the authorities have initiated the procedures to acquire the land of farmers. Last week, MAHSRC officials landed at Dahanu to conduct a survey for the bullet train route. The residents said that they were unaware of the survey. No notice had been served regarding land acquisition. And yet government officials have begun threatening farmers in the Vasai, Palghar, Dahanu and Talasari tehsils in Thane and Palghar districts of dire consequences if they do not part with their land for the bullet train project. Similar complaints have come from the farmers of Gujarat.
The economics of the bullet train is also suspect. An air ticket from Mumbai to Ahmedabad today costs around Rs 2500. It has been announced that the bullet train ticket would be at least Rs 3000. With the inevitable cost escalations if and when the bullet train is completed, the ticket cost is likely to be much higher, putting a question mark on its feasibility.
Then, of course, there is the burning issue of the disastrous plight of the existing railway system itself, including the all-important issue of safety that has been underlined by the spate of recent railway accidents. Privatisation of railways has become the norm and the Modi regime has given the green signal to FDI in railways. While public investment to revamp the existing railway system is being slashed, the bullet train is being imposed on the country to cater to the needs of the rich and to fatten the Indian and Japanese corporates. All this is being done at the cost of farmers who will lose their land and their livelihood.
The same holds true for the proposed Mumbai-Vadodara expressway. This is a Rs 44,000 crore project for a six-lane highway which will run 380 Km. There is already a large four-lane National Highway No 8 which runs from Mumbai to Surat and Vadodara and then to Delhi. The simple and much cheaper solution in response to increased traffic would be to widen it further. That has been the sensible proposal made by the CPI(M) and the AIKS, which are not against development. It is clear that the insistence on the new expressway is meant to fill the coffers of the corporate construction companies, the contractors and, through the inevitable corruption involved, the rulers themselves. At the cost of farmers.
OTHER VITAL ISSUES
Another vital issue that was raised in this rally and also in earlier struggles was that of water for drinking and irrigation. Thane and Palghar districts have the largest water reservoirs in the state like Tansa, Vaitarna, Bhatsa, Surya (Dhamni) etc. The last one was built out of the funds for the adivasi sub-plan, with the express aim of providing water for drinking and irrigation to adivasi farmers. But despite this the people here, mainly adivasis, hardly get drinking water during summer and almost no irrigation water at all. A large part of the reservoir water from the above dams goes to the cities of Mumbai, Thane and their satellite towns. This is a major reason for discontent in the rural areas.
Apart from the cardinal issue of FRA implementation, there is another important type of land in Palghar district which is called ‘varkas’ land. This is land which is tilled by adivasi peasants themselves and is in their possession for decades. But in land records it is still in the name of the old landlords who were driven away during the great adivasi revolt led by the AIKS from 1945-48 and later. The demand is to vest this land in the names of the adivasi tillers. This is for two other reasons. One, land ownership ensures access to the benefits of various government schemes. Two, in cases of sale of land, the proceeds go to the absentee landlord as per the land records and not to the Adivasi peasants tilling it.
There is also the question of temple land, i.e., ‘devasthan’ or ‘inami’ land. Here it is the temple trust that owns the land but it is actually tilled by hundreds of adivasi families and some non-adivasi families. This is a major state-wide issue. Again the demand is to vest it in the name of the tillers.
Other vital issues on which struggles regularly take place here and which were raised in the Dahanu rally are the PDS, MNREGA, education, employment, health, roads and electricity.
Agriculture in the tribal areas of Thane-Palghar and Nashik districts, as indeed in most of the adivasi areas in Maharashtra, is mainly subsistence agriculture due to lack of irrigation facilities and general backwardness. There is very little surplus grain to sell. That is why the adivasi farmers here are not much affected by issues like loan waiver, remunerative prices and crop insurance. There are practically no peasant suicides due to indebtedness in the tribal belts of Maharashtra. But here, on the other hand, a major issue is the deaths of thousands of tribal children every year due to malnutrition and starvation. And this tragedy is inextricably linked to the various issues discussed above.
It is a matter of great pride for the AIKS that the tens of thousands of adivasi farmers in the Kisan Long March and also in the subsequent Kalwan and Dahanu rallies still raised the burning issues of loan waiver, remunerative prices and crop insurance as a mark of their fraternal solidarity with their farmer brothers and sisters all over the state and the country.
PALGHAR LOK SABHA BY-ELECTION
The Palghar (ST) Lok Sabha by-election, necessitated by the death of the sitting BJP MP, was not yet announced when the call for the May 3 rally was given. It was announced while the campaign for the rally was on in full swing. Hence the rally served another political objective of declaring that the CPI(M) would fight this election with all its strength. It thus also served as an impressive opening election rally of the Party. The voting for this seat is on May 28. The CPI(M) has decided on the young adivasi leader Kiran Gahla as its candidate. He is 42 years old, has recently been elected to the CPI(M) state committee, is a member of the Party’s district secretariat, secretary of the Party’s Vikramgad tehsil committee and is state vice president of the DYFI.