February 14, 2016

Alternative Agricultural Policies Necessary for Development of Bihar

Arun Kumar Mishra

THE All India Kisan Sabha and the Prantiya Khetihar Mazdoor Union have jointly organised a one-day seminar on alternative agricultural policies for the development of Bihar in the era of neo-liberalism. From all accounts, it was a very rich experience where veterans of peasant movements were joined by Patna-based intellectuals and teachers who were unanimous that the agricultural scenario and the development of Bihar is intrinsically linked with the successful implementation of land reform. Why Bihar with rich soil and abundance of water is lagging behind on all social indices and presents a very dismal picture of agrarian economy?

Bihar has a rich history of peasants’ movements and has contributed in a big way in mobilising the farmers in the pre- and post-independence period against abolition of land- landlordism and rights of tenants of agricultural workers and progressive land reform. It has also forced the government to enact various laws but the feudal forces have been able to thwart implementation of all the well-meaning legislations. The present agrarian scenario poses a challenging situation before the revolutionary peasant movement to deal with a host of questions that have cropped up in the 68 years of Independence and the penetration of capitalism in the agrarian sector. The feudal-rich nexus, which dominates the rural landscape, is the new face of oppressing classes against whom the peasants will have to carry out the class struggle.

Even the recent tall talk of higher GDP growth has failed to make a big difference in the life of majority of the masses who inhabit in rural Bihar. Tokenism on the part of successive governments, including the Nitish Kumar dispensation, has throttled the productivity of the rural masses, dependent on agriculture for their survival. Large scale migration of the rural poor is the outcome of the stranglehold of feudal and semi-feudal relations in agriculture. On the one hand the rural poor masses, who eke out their living by selling their labour in far off places, feel librated from the suffocating environment back home on the other hand they are the primary source of cheap labour for more developed parts of the country.

In the background of deepening agrarian crisis in the country and large scale suicides by the peasants in the past two-and-a-half decades of neo-liberal regime, the abandonment of land reform on the one hand and large scale transfer of agricultural lands to the mines and land mafias, real-estate developers and builders of different hues have become the norm.

The seminar put before the people an alternative trajectory of agricultural development which is key to the all round development of Bihar. Presenting the theme paper on the occasion, vice president of All India Kisan Sabha and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member S Ramchandran Pillai gave a critical appraisal of the prevailing situation and the policy orientation of the successive governments right from Independence till today. He lambasted successive state governments for the non-implementation of land reform and succumbing to the pressure of feudal forces in maintaining the status quo and giving ample opportunity to the land lords and rich peasants to subvert the different land reform legislations from within. The latest instance of fate of the Bandyopadhyay Commission makes it abundantly clear that the stranglehold of the feudal and neo-rich nexus reigns supreme in Bihar and the so-called inclusive growth parroted by Nitish and Co. is a mirage.

Pillai touched upon various aspects of agrarian economy and suggested alternative ways to kick-start the stagnant agrarian economy, infusing public investment in irrigation, ware houses, cold storages etc and creating markets for agrarian products. While noting the progress made in production of fruits and vegetables, he emphasised the need for setting up processing units and for providing market of those products. Bihar has monopoly over litchi and makhana productions and if these exotic eatables can be packaged with new technique and their quality is maintained, such products can be exported not only to other states but to foreign countries too.

He suggested for strengthening cooperative societies, giving new lease of life to seed corporations, to have coordination among agricultural university and various government institutions associated with agriculture. Provide cheap credit through financial institutions and production of area specific crops, like pulses, oil seeds, maize, etc. Keeping in view the dominant agrarian economy, the government should open more agricultural universities and infrastructure should be provided for research and innovation. Every year, Bihar bears the brunt of natural calamities like flood and drought and needs special attention to meet the situation, he said.

Water management is another important aspect of agrarian economy and it needs a comprehensive policy of conservation and harvesting of rain water, utilisation of groundwater, preservation of water bodies, etc. He emphasised the need to develop fisheries by allotting water bodies to the fishermen and helping them financially and technically. There were several sugar mills in Bihar but now most of them are closed. Vast tract of land possessed by these mills remain unutilised. The government should frame a policy towards these mills and re-open them which will create jobs and will be beneficial for the sugarcane growers. 

He also touched upon the abysmal state of education and health service in Bihar and exhorted the audience to fight for free education and health care which are essential for a healthy society. While concluding his speech, Pillai called upon the gathering to popularise the alternative policies that focus on land reform, and mobilise the peasants around these policies and unleash a continuous struggle to bring about a change in correlation of class forces in rural areas and fight the landlord-rich nexus for building a rich and progressive Bihar.

Shaibal Gupta, director of Asian Development Research Institute, said that agrarian development have two different routes one adopted by Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in pre-Independence period itself when the government invested in irrigation projects that accelerated agricultural growth while in West Bengal, the Left Front government implement land reforms which resulted in agricultural growth. Land reform was not implemented in Bihar which has come in the way of industrial development. He lamented that the Bandyopadhyay Commission report was not adopted though it was not a radical report.

After Independence, developed states like Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra received the largest share of investment whereas Bihar was neglected though its national resources were utilised for power generation in other states. The freight equalisation policy robbed the state of its due share of revenue. He fully sported the views expressed by Pillai.

Former director of A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies D M Diwakar came down heavily on successive governments of Bihar for not implementing land reform, though Bihar was the first state to enact a land reform act as early as 1950. Everybody talks about the high density of population of Bihar, but the state also has 11 lakh hectares of waste land which can be distributed and utilised for agricultural purposes. According to him, there are 23 lakh hectares of surplus land but the state government has no document and has failed to take them into possession and distribute then among the landless people.

Diwakar said water management cannot have one formula. It should be area specific and taking into account the ground reality by interacting with the people in those areas. He criticised the behaviour of the central government for less allocation of funds under MNRGEA and giving too much incentive to the corporate houses for the elusive investment.

He was of the opinion that the Left forces are not doing enough against such blatant class policies of the central and state governments. He exhorted the audience to go to the people and mobilise them on the issues that are of vital importance for the life of exploited and oppressed.

Nawal Chowdhary, an economist and former principal of Patna College, minced no words in exposing the present dispensation of Bihar. He said that these people have betrayed the social justice plank which demands that the policies of Land reform and right to education be implemented forthwith. According to him, the education system has collapsed and the government of the day has no clue to go ahead and do the needful.

Bhoodan leader Shubhmoorti informed the gathering that around 7.50 lakh acres of lands were gifted to the Bhoodan committee and 3-50 lakh acres of lands were distributed but many of the land-holders are not in possession of their land. He also informed that most of the lands were gifted by small peasants but big landlords did not gift their lands. He was of the opinion that the popular movement on this issue can force the government to take action.

S Thirunavakkarasu, general secretary of All India Agricultural Workers Union, criticised the so-called model of development of Bihar where the GDP growth has not benefited the agricultural workers. Now they are getting less days of work and migrating in hoards to far-off places for their livelihood.

All India Kisan Sabha general secretary and Polit Bureau member Hannan Mollah said 63 percent of land is in the hands of high caste and only 4 percent are with agricultural labourers while dalit, minority and backward castes constituted the bulk of the rural poor and agricultural labourer. Unless we fight the land lord-rich nexus, we cannot go forward. He congratulated the Kisan Sabha and Khetihar Majdoor Union of Bihar for organsing a timely seminar on agrarian issue.

N K Shukla, secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, while speaking on the occasion said that without liberating the peasants from the present state, no development can take place. Vijoo Krishanan also spoke on the occasion and underlined the need for unleashing continuous peasant struggle to fight the neo-liberal onslaught.

V K Thakur, a veteran farmers’ leader, gave a brief account of peasant movements of Bihar and the sacrifices made by the farmers. He also spoke about how the powerful feudal lobby was not only successful in thwarting the enactment of land reforms act but also creating hurdles in their implementation. At different times, Bihar has witnessed bloody war on this issue which has taken a toll of stalwarts like Ajit Sarkar, Ramnath Mahto, Anandi Singh and hundreds of other grassroot peasant leaders. In the 70’s and 90’s, peasant movements brought the land reform issue to the fore. During the movement, thousands of acres of ceiling, and government land were liberated and distributed among the poor and the needy right from Purnea to Madhubani, Gaya, Champaran and Bhagalpur.

The seminar was presided over by a two-member presidium comprising Lalan Chowdhary and Devendra Chaurasia. Choudhary, on behalf of the presidium, exhorted the three hundred strong peasant cadres and leaders representing different districts of Bihar to go to the people and mobilise the peasant masses on alternative issues that can change the life of peasants as well the face of Bihar.