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THE AIKS in Maharashtra began the third kisan long march from Dindori in Nashik district to Mumbai on March 12, 2023, on a 15-point charter of demands. It was withdrawn at Vasind in Thane district six days later on March 18, after the state government conceded many of the major demands in writing and the chief minister placed the agreement with the AIKS before the state assembly on March 17. (See separate box for demands conceded by government.)
THREE KISAN LONG MARCHES
This was the third kisan long march in Maharashtra led by the AIKS. The first and the most effective was the one from Nashik to Mumbai, which lasted full seven days from March 6-12, 2018. The second lasted only two days, from February 20-21, 2019 in Nashik tehsil, because three ministers of the state government gave written assurances to the AIKS on the second day of the march. The third lasted six days from March 12-18, 2023, from Dindori to Vasind.
While there was a preparatory time of at least three weeks for the first two marches, the third began with less than a week’s preparation, because of the circumstances. Onion prices for farmers had plummeted suddenly; an immediate response was necessary; and the state assembly was due to end in the third week of March. The shortage of time naturally reflected in the strength of the march. While the first kisan long march of 2018 began at Nashik with 25,000 peasants and culminated in Mumbai with 50,000 peasants, the third kisan long march began at Dindori with 10,000 peasants and culminated at Vasind with 15,000 peasants. But it raised burning peasant issues at the right time and received very good media publicity.
In all the three long marches, the lion’s share of the mobilisation was adivasi peasants from Nashik district, followed by adivasi peasants from Thane-Palghar and Ahmednagar districts. There was also representation of non-adivasi peasants from the above four districts, plus from several districts of Vidarbha, Marathwada and western Maharashtra regions, especially in the first two marches. In the third march, as mentioned above, time for preparation fell short. Adivasi peasant women and youth participated in large numbers in all three marches.
By March 12 night the marchers from various tehsils of Nashik district, and from other districts of Maharashtra gathered at the Mhasrul Maidan just outside Nashik city. On March 13 morning, amidst great enthusiasm they marched into Nashik city. The march was replete with thousands of red caps, red placards, red flags, and red banners. Marathi banner headlines in the media hailed the coming of the Laal Vaadal (Red Storm). At the Dindori Chowk the peasants threw onions, tomatoes, brinjals, potatoes and other vegetables on the road in anger at the falling prices of all these items. The media captured those memorable moments.
On March 13 and 14, the kisan long march walked along the Agra-Nashik-Mumbai National Highway through Nashik district and reached the scenic spot of Ghatandevi near Igatpuri at night. After walking the whole day in the scorching sun, it was amazing that the adivasi peasant women and men still had the energy to sing and dance the collective tribal dances till late night. Their anger against the government and the system was seen with every step.
On the morning of March 15, the kisan long march descended down the famous serpentine Kasara Ghat, with high hills on one side and deep valleys on the other. The march now left Nashik district and entered Thane district. Beautifully stunning photos of the march were taken here by the electronic and print mainstream media and they soon reached all parts of the country. All sections of the social media did even better. By March 16, the marchers reached the Idgah Maidan at Vasind in Thane district, three days by walk from Mumbai.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH STATE GOVERNMENT
Due to the past experience of the amazing popular and political support that the 2018 kisan long march had received, the Shinde-Fadnavis state government was naturally nervous. On the night of March 12 itself, a senior state minister Dada Bhuse held a preliminary meeting with an AIKS delegation at Nashik. CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis declared that they, along with concerned ministers, will meet an AIKS delegation on March 14 at 3 pm in the state assembly premises. On March 14, a statewide strike of lakhs of state government employees and teachers began, for the old pension scheme and other demands. The state government suddenly postponed the March 14 meeting with the AIKS to March 15.
The AIKS responded by marching further towards Mumbai, refusing to go for the March 15 talks, and demanding that state ministers come to negotiate with the marchers. Eventually, two ministers Dada Bhuse and Atul Save came to meet the marchers, held discussions and requested the AIKS leadership to come to the state assembly premises on March 16 afternoon for full discussions with the CM, deputy CM, and other concerned ministers and officials. While agreeing to go for the talks, the AIKS made it clear that the kisan long march will continue on its route to Mumbai until a satisfactory agreement is reached.
On March 16, at the invitation of the CM and Deputy CM of Maharashtra, a 16-member AIKS delegation held a two and a half hour discussion with the state government in the state assembly premises in Mumbai. For this discussion six other concerned ministers, the chief secretary, and several secretaries of related departments were present. Among those in the AIKS delegation that met the state government were J P Gavit, ex-MLA, Ashok Dhawale, Ajit Nawale, Uday Narkar, Vinod Nikole, MLA, D L Karad, Umesh Deshmukh, Subhash Choudhary, Irfan Shaikh, Arjun Adey, Kiran Gahala, Mohan Jadhav, Ramesh Choudhary, Indrajit Gavit, Hiraman Gavit and Manjula Bangal. The talks ended on a positive note, with the state government acceding to most of the 15-point charter of demands of the farmers.
But the AIKS refused to withdraw the kisan long march and decided to sit-in at Vasind, district Thane till such time as the minutes of the decisions of this meeting were not placed on the table of the state assembly and instructions about their implementation were not sent out to all district officials. In the face of such a resolute decision by the AIKS, the chief minister was forced on March 17 to announce all the decisions in the legislative assembly in a 15-minute address. On March 18, the AIKS received an official copy of the decisions and the government also issued the same to all the district and lower authorities. In the wake of this significant victory, the third kisan long march was withdrawn on March 18, after six days.
A tragic incident occurred on the second last day of the march. A farmer who had walked in the march right from the beginning, called Pundalik Ambadas Jadhav, age 58, village Mavdi, tehsil Dindori, district Nashik, died of illness in a government hospital at Shahapur in Thane district, where he had been admitted. This was a great shock. J P Gavit immediately demanded compensation from the state government. The CM had to announce Rs 5 lakh as ex gratia payment to the family of the peasant martyr.
CONGRATULATIONS FROM THE AIKS
The AIKS centre congratulated the farmers of Maharashtra for the victorious third kisan long march. It concluded its statement by saying, “The AIKS-led kisan long march in 2018 had caught the imagination of the people and had instilled confidence in all democratic sections by forcing the then BJP-led state government to accept almost all demands. In 2023, yet again the poor peasants, a large number of them adivasis, with women leading from the front, have forced the SS-BJP to bow down and accept the demands. This victory will inspire militant struggles against the anti-people BJP government and its pro-corporate policies. Coming just a fortnight before the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally at Delhi, it will also inspire the working class and the peasantry to come out in bigger numbers in all forthcoming struggles.”
What the Kisan Long March Achieved
We give below in brief the demands won by the AIKS as a result of this kisan long march. This is based on the official minutes of the meeting between the state government and the AIKS on March 16, 2023, which were placed on the table of the state assembly by the chief minister on March 17. One very significant aspect of this kisan long march was that, while taking up the burning demands of the peasantry and agricultural workers, it also took up some crucial demands of workers, employees, and unorganised scheme workers, and won some of them. This was a significant step in the direction of worker-peasant unity, which was widely noted.
1. Onion Prices: Due to collapse in onion prices, the state government agreed to give a subsidy of Rs 350 per quintal for onions. A state level onion price advisory committee will be constituted. Since fluctuation of onion prices is a regular phenomenon that is connected with central government policies, a state delegation will soon meet central ministers to discuss a long-term solution to the problem.
2. Forest Rights Act (FRA) Implementation: Several problems still remain in FRA implementation. These are as follows: thousands of claims remaining pending, less area than that under cultivation granted in the claims, not getting benefit of government schemes, and so on. For settling all these problems, a committee of concerned ministers will be set up, it will include J P Gavit, ex-MLA, and Vinod Nikole, MLA, and it will submit its report within one month. On the basis of this report, immediate action will be taken for vesting land in the names of adivasi peasants.
3. Temple (Devasthan) and Waqf Board Lands: The government will make a law to vest temple lands in the name of the cultivating peasants, and this will be placed soon before the cabinet. The decision of the Supreme Court as regards Waqf Board lands will be studied and it will be sent to all district collectors for clarification. Both these types involve lakhs of acres of land throughout the state, which are cultivated by peasants, but have not been vested in their names for generations.
4. Provide Electricity Supply for 12 hours constantly and Waive the pending Electricity Bills of Peasants: Under the CM Solar Agricultural Scheme, electricity projects will be started on a priority basis in the Adivasi areas. A 120 KV subcentre at Kanashi in Kalwan tehsil will be set up with adequate funds.
5. Loan Waiver: In the case of over 88,000 peasants in adivasi areas who have not received the benefit of the two earlier loan waiver schemes, named after Chhatrapati Shivaji and Mahatma Phule respectively, they will be given a loan waiver.
6. Old Pension Scheme: A committee has been set up to make a comparative study of the old pension scheme and the national pension scheme. It will discuss with all the stake-holders and submit its report within three months. On the basis of this report appropriate action will be taken.
7. Increase in PM Housing Scheme Subsidy from Rs 1.40 lakh to Rs 5.00 lakh due to price rise, a re-survey of poor beneficiaries and their inclusion in the ‘D’ lists: Discussion will be held with the Employment Guarantee Department so that extra fund with MNREGA can be made available for this housing subsidy. The eligible beneficiaries who do not find a place in the ‘D’ list of the centre will be accommodated in the housing scheme of the state government. Under the Shabari, Pardhi and Aadim Awaas schemes, 1 lakh new houses will be built. For building houses for workers, more subsidy will be given from the Workers’ Welfare Fund.
8. Declaring all Scheme Workers as Government Employees with Government Pay Scales: The monthly honorarium for scheme workers has been increased as follows: anganwadi worker – Rs 8,325 to Rs 10,000; mini anganwadi worker – Rs 5,975 to Rs 7,200; Anganwadi helper – Rs 4,425 to Rs 5,500. Also, 20,000 vacant posts of anganwadi workers and helpers will be filled. Asha workers and block facilitators will be given a raise from the state government of Rs 1500 per month. Thus, a block facilitator will now receive Rs 14,975 instead of Rs 13,475 earlier. And an Asha worker will now receive Rs 6,500 instead of Rs 5,000 earlier. As regards pension and gratuity for anganwadi workers and helpers, the law and justice department will study all the court decisions and will ensure their proper implementation. Arrangements will be made to send the wages of contract workers directly into their bank accounts, instead of them being arbitrarily cut by the contractors. Vacant posts in various workers welfare boards and tripartite committees will be filled and they will function with their full strength.
9. Compensation by NDRF for Crop Loss due to Unseasonal Rains and Stop of Loot of Farmers by Crop Insurance Companies: At present compensation is paid to farmers in case of unseasonal rains. For constant rain, criteria for compensation are being decided. To get the Crop Insurance compensation in Beed district for 2020, the state government will send a proposal to the central government.
10. State Government should begin purchase of the Bal Hirda crop at Rs 250 per Kg. Adequate compensation be given for the destruction of the Bal Hirda crop due to cyclone in 2020: The Maharashtra Adivasi Development Corporation used to purchase Bal Hirda earlier, but it stopped doing so in 2017 due to losses. The issue will be reopened and studied again, and an appropriate decision will be taken. The professional training centres were being run by the adivasi development department through the central government-sponsored scheme. Now this scheme has stopped. An effort will be made to re-start these centres through the skill development department of the state government.
11. Cancel the River Linking Scheme and divert excess water flowing to the west into the Arabian Sea, to the east of drought-prone areas of Nashik district, Khandesh and Marathwada: This scheme has already been announced in the latest budget of the state government. Irrigation schemes in Surgana and Kalwan tehsils were accepted and work on them was directed to begin.
12. Thousands of bogus Adivasis have wrongly cornered ST reserved jobs by producing false caste certificates. Remove them from their jobs, replace them with genuine Adivasis, and fill all ST/SC vacant posts: All such cases of bogus adivasis have been dealt with, they have been removed and the posts made vacant. These posts will be properly filled by genuine Adivasis within the next three months.
13. Increase in Old Age and other Pensions: The sum for the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Scheme and the Shravan Bal Scheme has been increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 per month.
14. Along with the free grain given on ration cards, re-start the grain that was earlier available for sale: A request to this effect will be made to the central government. Instructions will be given to all districts about giving yellow ration cards to families who have divided their cards. There are many problems on this score for many years.
15. An independent machinery should be erected to examine the milkometres and weight scales, with appointment of milkometre inspectors. Implement the policy of FRP and Revenue Sharing for milk: To stop the loot of milk peasants, standard milkometres will be insisted upon and priority will be given to appoint independent inspectors to examine milkometres. In the present situation, the state government has no control over private milk bodies. A meeting will be held with those concerned and an appropriate decision will be taken to establish such control of the state government over the private milk sector.
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