May 15, 2016

Massive Protest Action of Himachal Peasants' for Protection of Land Rights

HUNDREDS of peasants and agricultural workers under the red flag and banners of Himachal Kisan Sabha and Himachal Apple Growers' Association marched to the Himachal Pradesh Secretariat demanding protection of land rights. They sat on dharna braving heavy rain and hailstorm on May 3-4. It was inaugurated by Rakesh Singha, former general secretary of CPI(M) HP state committee and leader of trade union movement as well as of Apple Growers' Association. AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan expressed solidarity with the struggle and addressed the protest.  The heavy downpour failed to dampen spirits and the dharna carried on with slogan shouting, singing of revolutionary songs and folk songs with the protestors braving the cold winds.

This 24 hour dharna was in culmination of 72 days of state-wide protests and campaign as per decision of the Kisan Convention held on January 22, 2016. The struggle was on life and death issue of land rights for the rural population. Notably, over 90 percent of the population of Himachal Pradesh is rural. Women form an overwhelming 56 percent of the cultivators and their presence was registered in large numbers.

As a result of incessant struggles by Kisan Sabha the state government led by Congress was forced to come up with a "Sankalp Prastaav" promising regularisation of up to 10 bighas of land belonging to poor, small and marginal peasants. But they soon violated the promise and going against the High Court decision they resorted to cutting of trees including full grown apple trees, apricot and other fruit bearing trees. The Congress government has also resorted to cutting the electricity and water connection and demolished some houses. Even cowsheds, storage places and small huts are not being spared. The protest was primarily against this insensitivity.

The main demands of the peasants are:

·         5 Bighas of land for poor, small and marginal peasants, dalits, widows and martyrs' families and regularisation of cultivators on government land.

·         Lease up to 25 bighas to peasants for cultivation at reasonable rates.

·         Amendment of anti-peasant laws like the 1952 Order by which two-thirds of land of Himachal Pradesh is under control of central government. Other than forest land the remaining must be distributed to landless.

·         Implement the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and give land pattas to traditional forest dwellers and adivasis. 

·         Stop illegal evictions of peasantry and cutting down of trees without their consent. Provide legal assistance and opportunity to legal recourse before felling trees.

·         The Land Revenue Act had been amended in 2002 to include Clause 163 A and then government had sought applications for regularisation of land in possession of the peasantry. These claims have to be settled forthwith.

·         Excessive powers given to forest officers equivalent to magisterial powers must be revoked.

Inaugurating the dharna, Rakesh Singha warned the Congress government that the people of the state would not forgive the betrayal. He called for intensifying the struggle as the government action is hitting at the livelihood of the peasantry. He called upon the government to respect the Forest Rights Act and protect rights of adivasis and traditional forest dwellers. He also pointed to the need to expose the double-speak of the Congress and the BJP on the matter. He pointed out that across the country peasants’ struggles have only intensified in the wake of attacks and Himachal would also rise up in protest. AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan stressed on the issue-based unity built against the Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s move to impose the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance. He pointed out that this unity and massive protests on the basis of this unity had handed over a resounding rebuff and led to defeat of the government which was forced to withdraw the ordinance. He called for building such a united resistance against the inhuman act of cutting down full grown fruit trees and demolishing houses. Onkar Shad, state secretary, CPI(M) Himachal Pradesh state committee addressed the dharna and expressed solidarity for the struggle. Outlining the need for intensifying the struggle he called for taking the campaign to every village in the state and mobilising all sections for a massive indefinite gherao of the assembly by mobilising thousands of people in the next session. Kuldip Tanwar, president and Kushal Bharadwaj, secretary, Himachal Kisan Sabha, Jagat Ram, secretary CITU, AIDWA president Santosh Kapoor, Vijender Mehra, CITU, SFI and DYFI leaders addressed the dharna.

The dharna continued through the night. On the second day of the dharna a delegation met chief minister and demanded immediate redressal of the issues. Himachal Kisan Sabha state committee decided 115 days long state-wide campaign and the dharna ended with the resolve to intensify the struggle with more militant actions by building broad issue-based unity. A state-level convention on May 21-22 and district level conventions have also been chalked out. The struggle shall go on until these demands are met.