Vol. XLIII No. 12 March 24, 2019
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AIAWU Working Committee Meets in Maharashtra

Suneet Chopra

THE central working committee of AIAWU met at Nasik (Maharashtra) on June 19-20. 32 comrades attended the meeting from Kerala, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. The general secretary’s report had noted that the all-round attack on the rural cash economy, the hard hit farming sector, unemployment and the loss of jobs in agriculture, in construction as well as in small-scale rural businesses, is hurting the mass of the rural people and driving them to ruin and starvation. The central government has attempted to cover up this reality by making empty promises about bringing black money back into the country, by creating 2 crore jobs every year, by initiating schemes for lavatories, houses, as well as the Swachch Bharat and other schemes.

Recently the central government has tried to tinker with the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act through the Supreme Court. This was done at a time when according to the NCRB data, atrocities against SCs increased by 5.5 percent in 2016 over 2015. Apart from these attacks the central government has made huge cuts on funds for the SC Sub-Plan. To add to this, there is widespread discrimination against the traditional occupations of dalits like skinning dead bodies of cattle, eating beef, tanning leather and other traditional activities. Even today, 58 percent are landless and these activities are essential for their survival. In the last four years there has been no programme to give land to dalits and even the house sites that should be given to them out of gram samaj lands are taken over by the powerful elements or mafias in the village. This issue is important to look into to strengthen AIAWU and increase its membership.

Vulnerable sections of society like women and children not only face economic disabilities like wages that are considerably less than those of men, but also physical assaults with a rape taking place every six minutes in the country. Child abuse is also rampant in the country.

In this state of affairs, the union budget presented a number of schemes without adequate financial cover like a credit target of Rs 11 lakh crores,  an MSP of 1.5 times the cost of production, and a market fund with the corpus of Rs 2200 crores, bravely stating that the agriculture sector would grow at 2.1 percent in 2017-18 when the sector employs more than 50 percent of the total workforce but contributes only 17 percent to the country’s  GDP.  This may sound very pleasant but agricultural labour organisations, kisan organisations and Left have exposed the fraud behind this budget. In fact government expenditure to GDP has come down from 13.2 percent to 13 percent.  

The AIAWU demanded that at least 5 percent of the GDP be spent on agriculture but the budget has gone below the expenditure of last year, from 1.15 percent of the GDP to only 1.08 percent. Rural unemployment has grown to the 18 million mark and the most effective safety net is the  MNREGA which should have given Rs 1 lakh 60 thousand crores but the government has failed to allocate even one third of this. Rural anganwadi workers are still not provided living wages and our struggles have succeeded in getting the GST removed from sanitary napkins so necessary for girls but the gender budget has fallen from 0.68 percent to 0.65 percent of the GDP. The restrictive use of aadhar cards for social welfare benefits and subsidised food prevents lakhs of people from getting their due. Already the digitalisation of the PDS has led to 2.75 crore cards being disqualified as fake or nonexistent. 3.85 crore were similarly disqualified under the LPG scheme.

Primary education has been cut back from 0.49 percent of the GDP to 0.45 percent and this will lead to increasing child labour and exploitation of women and children at lower wages than men. In the same way the household scheme, hand-pumps and rural lavatories, and rural health care centres have been touted but not given their due allocation which has come down from 0.32 percent to 0.29 percent of the budget, reflecting only promises with no provision for implementation.    

AGITATIONS

There are increasing pressures on every aspect of rural life from work and wages, to accessing subsidies for food, health, girls education, to the struggle for housing plots, surplus and village land, ensuring the rights of SCs and STs under the Forest Rights Acts, their education and hostel premises, as well as the struggle for reservations. Apart from these, we are faced with fighting against rape and attacks on women, dalits and minorities.

WAGE ISSUE

In the past four years rule under Narendra Modi, the agricultural growth fell to a low of -0.2 percent in 2014-15 from 5.6 percent in 2013-14. It rose to 0.7 percent in 2015-16, 4.9 percent in 2016-17 and is predicted at 2.1 percent in 2017-18. Agricultural Workers who make up nearly 55 percent of those involved in agriculture are the poorest most downtrodden people, with a large number of dalits and adivasis among them.

The question of agricultural wages is shocking, although landed lobbies keep lamenting about their “high wages”.  Recent studies have shown that after some improvement between 2007-08 to 2014-15, rural wages have been stagnating under Modi rule.

MGNREGA

No increase has been made in MGNREGA allocation, even in the latest budget. Rs 55,000 crore allotted for it is exactly the same as the revised estimate for 2017-18. This is despite the fact that over 56 percent of wages were pending and more than 15 percent of wage seekers did not find any work in 2016-17, without being given unemployment relief as the law demands. Over 1,062 crore job cardholders under MGNREGA were struck off from the register in 2017-18. The average days of work provided per household was 29 in Assam, 36 in Bihar, 41 in Jharkhand and 40 in Odisha. In 2017-18 the law provided 45 days of work on an average to a rural household, compared to 49 days in 2015-16 when several states were under severe drought and the government had promised 150 days work for these areas, which was never implemented properly or at all.

INCREASING NUMBERS OF LANDLESS

 In this condition, the rural masses have no other alternative but to sell their assets and seek any form of distress employment available anywhere. Not only has the landless population in the village increased from 40.3 percent in 1991 to 55 percent in 2011, reflecting the growing misery of Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, Muslim and other religious populations, but also some 30,000 farmers are forced to sell their lands every year and enter the ranks of the rural landless. With waste land coming down from 21.5 percent of all land from 1951 to 10 percent in 2007, forest land to 14.24 percent from 22.88 percent in the same period, obviously reflecting the eviction or future eviction of Scheduled Tribes and traditional forest dwellers, tree crop land from 6.97 percent to 1.13 percent fallow land from 9.9 percent to 8.3 percent and land taken over for non-agricultural purposes from 3 percent to 8.8 percent. At the same time the population dependent on agriculture and other rural occupations has increased from 298.6 million in 1951 to 1,028.7 million in 2001.  In these conditions too, we see an increase of net sown area from 41.8 percent to 46 percent. This should give us hope that a peasantry holding on to even marginally cultivable land can fight back this dispossession.  

In rural India 57 percent households do not have houses. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana the revamped version of Indira Awas Yojana was launched in 2016; after two whole years, the scheme has constructed only 25.32 lakh houses, and 21.28 lakh houses are under construction while their election manifesto in 2014 promised they will build 2 crore houses. Now a revised promise has been given by Modi on June 5, in a housing conference in New Delhi, that the PMAY (rural) has set a target of completing only half that number by 2019. Clearly this is another attempt to fool the people.

ALL INDIA CONFERENCE OF AIAWU

To meet the situation and ensure a proper response, the AIAWU has decided to hold its next all India conference in Kerala whose venue and dates will be decided. AIAWU’s membership shows a steady growth in the recent period.

Most states other than Odisha have held their state conferences already.  In this period the state conferences of Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Rajasthan have taken place.

The CWC has decided to organise massive campaigns at all levels from August 5-September 4 for the September 5 worker peasant struggle rally in New Delhi. House to house campaigns, raising funds and recruiting volunteers for the rally have been planned. October 1 will be observed as a protest day against atrocities on dalits. A national level convention on MGNREGA will also be organised in New Delhi before the all India conference.