Chandrakant Ghorkhana/ Chandrakant Dhangda
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IT was the largest mobilisation of people on the Palghar district collectorate, in the nine years that the new Palghar district was formed after dividing the original Thane district in 2014.
On May 30, 2023, over 25,000 peasants led by the AIKS stormed the Palghar district collectorate in Maharashtra. They had come from all the eight tehsils of Palghar district – Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Mokhada, Vikramgad, Wada, Vasai, and Palghar. Adivasis, women and youth peasants formed a large chunk of this huge rally, which stormed the gates of the collectorate, marched in, and occupied its grounds for over three hours until the end of the AIKS delegation's discussions with the district collector.
This was the fourth large mobilisation of people from Thane-Palghar district in the last three months. Over 1,000 peasants had joined at short notice the AIKS-led Dindori (Nashik) to Vasind (Thane) long march in March 2023; over 8,000 peasants had joined the AIKS-led march from Akole to Loni in Ahmednagar district in April 2023; over 12,000 women had joined the large AIDWA-led rally on the Palghar Collectorate just last week on May 24; and over 25,000 peasants joined the AIKS-led rally to the Palghar Collectorate on May 30.
Thousands of forms for land rights – over forest land, absentee landlords' (varkas) land, temple trust land, inaami land, pasture land, etc had been filled from peasants by the AIKS for the last one month. All of these were submitted to the collector and receipts taken.
In the two hour long positive discussion of the AIKS delegation with the district collector Govind Bodke and other concerned district officials, he conceded several demands concerning land rights, water and irrigation, MNREGA, ration, and other issues, and assured their implementation in a definite time frame.
The three most important assurances given by the district collector were:
1. A complete and detailed list of the current status of all 61,000-odd Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims in the district would be made available to the AIKS. The latest information on FRA implementation in the district given by the collector was as follows. There were a total of 61,043 individual FRA claims made in the district. Of these, 51,376 claims had been accepted and 29,392 hectares of forest land had been distributed to the beneficiaries. 6,615 claims had been rejected by the SDO level committee, and around 3,000 claims were still pending. The number of collective FRA claims received was 627, of which 496 had been accepted, and 27,775 hectares of forest land had been distributed. Thus, the two cardinal questions in Palghar district are: that over 10,000 claims have been either rejected or are pending; and even out of the 51,376 claims that have been accepted, the amount of land given in most cases is much less than what is being actually cultivated by the adivasi peasants. Four hectares (10 acres) is the limit under the FRA. There are also instances of hundreds of FRA claims just missing from the administration’s records. All these issues can be settled if the AIKS is given the detailed list, as agreed by the collector.
2. Thousands of land rights applications of different categories that were submitted by the AIKS on May 30, would be processed village-wise and decisions taken on each in a positive spirit. To solve the burning issues of water and irrigation, he agreed to convene a special meeting of all concerned officials in the district with the AIKS.
3. As regards the absentee landlords' land, the adivasi peasants actually cultivating the land would make applications when there was a standing crop in their fields in September 2023. This would be checked, and made the basis for making them tenants and then owners of the land. It was during the glorious AIKS-led Warli Adivasi Revolt from 1945-47, spearheaded by Comrades Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar, that hundreds of rapacious landlords were forced by the newly-freed adivasi peasants to leave the areas, and abandon their lands. However, as per land records, those lands still remain in the landlords’ names, although they are in the possession of and are cultivated by adivasi peasants for the last 75 years and more.
AIKS RALLY ON THANE DISTRICT COLLECTORATE
A day later, on May 31, a 3,000-strong rally of peasants led by the AIKS marched to the Thane district collectorate to press their demands related to land, water, and irrigation. The peasants, both women and men, came from Shahapur, Bhiwandi, Murbad and Thane tehsils of Thane district. AIKS work in this district has traditionally been limited to Shahapur tehsil; it has newly started in the latter three tehsils.
In contrast to the new Palghar district, which is predominantly a rural and adivasi dominated district, with the major exception being the Vasai-Virar urban belt, the present Thane district is predominantly an urban and non-adivasi dominated district, with two exceptions being the Shahapur and Murbad tehsils.
Hundreds of forms for land rights – over forest land, temple trust land, inaami land, pasture land etc had been filled from peasants for the last one month. All of them were submitted to the collector and receipts taken.
In Thane, an AIKS delegation met the collector Ashok Shingare and held discussion on the memorandum. He also agreed to furnish a full list of the current status of all the Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims to the AIKS. The information that he gave about the status of FRA implementation in Thane district was serious. The total number of FRA claims in the district are 17,157. Out of these, the adivasi claims are 11,910, of which 6,382 have been accepted, 3,473 have been rejected, and 1,785 are pending. Of the 5,247 non-adivasi claims, only 55 have been accepted, 5,044 have been rejected, and 148 claims are pending. Not only is this situation very unsatisfactory, but even among the FRA claims that have been accepted, there are large scale complaints that the amount of land given is much less in most cases than the amount of land that is being actually cultivated.
The collector also agreed to process all the land rights applications submitted by the AIKS and take decisions on them in a positive spirit. To solve the burning issues of water and irrigation, he agreed to convene a special meeting of all concerned officials in the district with the AIKS.
Both the Palghar rally and the Thane rally were led by the AIKS national, state and district leadership; and by the AIDWA, CITU, DYFI and SFI leadership.
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