1. The agrarian crisis continues to spread and deepen. Instead of addressing any of the structural dimensions of the crisis, whether by way of increasing public investment in agriculture or making better infrastructural facilities and cheap and easy credit available to the agricultural population or carrying out progressive reforms in land and other agrarian relations that could improve the lot of actual producers, the central and state governments continue to push the neo-liberal policy package in the agrarian arena, resulting in further aggravation of the crisis of Indian agriculture and the plight of the real producers including rural labourers.
2. Token government measures like occasional loan-waivers announced usually as a vote-catching tactic during elections have failed to provide any relief to the debt-ridden peasantry and the shame of peasant suicides continues unabated. The figure of peasant suicides since 1995 has exceeded 300,000 and despite government assurances of stopping suicides, at least one suicide is being recorded every thirty minutes, as pointed out in the shocking study “Every thirty minutes: Farmer suicides, human rights, and the agrarian crisis in India” carried out by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice of the New York University School of Law. The number will go up considerably if one includes cases of suicides of members of peasant families. Starvation deaths too continue unabated. While the state is afraid of admitting starvation deaths, it is an established fact that chronic hunger and malnutrition is the biggest cause of death in India, accounting annually for more than two million deaths.
3. Massive acquisition – often by forcible and fraudulent means – and relentless diversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural use has begun to pose a serious threat to food security. The availability of net cultivable land is further declining because of problems like soil erosion, desertification and increase in salinity, and lack of planned and effective measures to ensure soil improvement and land reclamation. The boastful claims of self-sufficiency in production of food grains are giving way to growing dependence on food imports. According to a study of land-deals worldwide since 2000, India figures among the top 10 countries accounting for a loss of 4.6 million hectares of agricultural land (out of an estimated global diversion of 70.2 million hectares).
4. In the face of stiff resistance by peasants and adivasis across the country, central and state governments have had to abandon or defer some of the most scandalous land acquisition projects, Nandigram in West Bengal, Niyamgiri (Vedanta) in Odisha, and Raigad (Reliance) in Maharashtra being the most notable examples. More recently, the government of Maharashtra has been forced to scrap four major proposed SEZ projects that would have entailed land acquisition of the order of about 9,000 acres. In many cases land-losers have managed to secure improved rates or packages of compensation. But there are also many cases of land remaining locked in litigation even though the projects for which the land had been acquired have not materialized, Singur being the most notable instance.
5. Yet even as peasants and adivasis succeed in halting or stopping acquisition in some pockets the onslaught continues in other areas. Defying widespread protests, the Odisha government has unleashed police repression to forcibly acquire land for POSCO, and in the north-western part of the country central and state governments are busy pushing through a massive land acquisition drive for the 1,483-km-long Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project. Large-scale land acquisition and eviction is going on in the name of construction of power projects and development of nature parks and eco-tourism zones. In the hill state of Uttarakhand where agricultural land is as little as 10% as many as 558 hydel power projects are being constructed with the Tehri dam alone resulting in the submergence of 1.5% agricultural land and eviction of an equal proportion of the state’s population. In coastal Tamil Nadu, more than 84,000 acres of land are being acquired by thermal power plants and petro-chemical complexes. And across the country, land acquisition is going on in the name of widening of roads and setting up of power plants or private universities and colleges.
6. In many places – Karbi Anglong in Assam, Sunderban in Bengal, and West Champaran in Bihar to take only three examples – people are also being evicted in the name of wildlife conservation, tiger projects and promotion of tourism (even as the number of tigers is steadily coming down, Valmiki Nagar in West Champaran had 54 tigers in 1997 and only 7 in 2010!).
7. Given the prohibitive political cost of state-led land acquisition, as exemplified most strikingly in the emphatic defeat of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal in the wake of the peasant resistance and popular outburst triggered by the events in Singur and Nandigram, the ruling classes have however become wary of the state playing a direct role in forcible land acquisition. The amended Land Acquisition Bill that has been approved by the UPA cabinet seeks to assign the main role in land acquisition directly to the corporate sector with the state playing the role of the facilitator with promises of better compensation. Instead of scrapping the infamous 1894 Land Acquisition Act and the SEZ Act 2005, the two Acts that have declared a veritable war on Indian agriculture and the land-dependent population, the government wants to promote corporate land-grab by giving a free hand to the land mafia, real estate barons and other corporate interests. The Robert Vadra-DLF deals in Haryana and Rajasthan and the land deals made in Maharashtra by the companies run by former BJP President Nitin Gadkari clearly indicate the extent of political patronage behind the ongoing ‘land rush’ at a time when capital is facing a deep and prolonged crisis in many key sectors of production.
8. To resist this ‘land rush’ and save agricultural land from the clutches of the corporate sector has emerged as a key agenda of the peasant movement across the country. Peasants are however not alone in this resistance – experience shows that struggles against land acquisition almost always tend to acquire a broad-based militant character. The Adivasi communities are also playing a heroic role in this resistance. In mineral-rich areas which are home to large sections of India’s adivasi population, land acquisition and mining loot have emerged as two sides of the same ugly coin of corporate plunder and predatory accumulation resulting in systematic displacement of adivasis from their hearth and home. The struggle for protection of agricultural land must therefore be waged in close collaboration with the anti-eviction struggles of the adivasi people with the land and mining mafia as the twin targets and the call for legal protection of agricultural land and forest land and nationalization of all mineral resources as the strategic demand to rally large sections of the working people in united struggles.
9. The task of protecting agricultural land and safeguarding the rights of the agricultural and adivasi population must be taken up as an essential and integral part of the larger battle for a pro-people development strategy in opposition to the ongoing disastrous course of pro-corporate development that considers agriculture in general and small-peasant agriculture in particular as a dispensable liability. While developing active resistance to every case of forcible land acquisition in our areas of work, we must make all-out efforts to broaden and deepen our intervention in anti-acquisition struggles and forge close ties with the fighting people. In forests and adivasi-inhabited areas we must stand by the adivasis in resisting illegal land transfer and for strict enforcement of land-protection laws (for example the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act in Jharkhand) and the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
10. The state has virtually abandoned the agenda of redistributive land reforms. To pay lip-service to the agenda, the central and state governments occasionally set up commissions, but the reports of the commissions are soon consigned to the waste paper basket. The National Council for Land Reforms set up in January 2008 under the leadership of the Prime Minister held not a single meeting till late 2012 and the recommendations made by the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task in Land Reforms continue to gather dust. In Bihar, the Nitish Kumar government shied away from implementing even the minimal recommendations made by the Bandyopadhya Commission. The much trumpeted Forest Rights Act 2006 is not really a piece of land reform legislation; it only extends legal recognition to land held by tribals and other forest dwellers settled for at least 75 years. But even this Act is being more violated than implemented.
11. While redistributive land reforms remain abandoned, a veritable campaign is on to reverse whatever land reforms had actually taken place whether officially or through decades of land struggle and rob poor peasants of whatever gains they had made. The revolutionary peasant movement must boldly defend the gains of land struggle and advance the agenda of land reforms by pressing for strict implementation of all existing land reform laws, redistribution of all ceiling-surplus, benami and illegally occupied land, lowering of land ceiling, abolition of absentee landlordism and usurpation and concentration of land in the name of temples and trusts, and the securing of homestead land rights.
12. The question of tenancy reform and tenancy rights must figure high on the agenda of the revolutionary peasant movement. Instead of granting ownership rights to tenants, the official model of tenancy reform limited the agenda to the issue of security and improvement of terms of tenancy. But the governments have even failed to ensure minimum rights for tenants like mandatory registration, inheritable cultivation right and subsidies and facilities that are granted to the owners of land.
13. Forms and practices of tenancy have undergone considerable changes in the last few decades. The system of share-cropping is increasingly giving way to money rents and the tenure of lease is also becoming increasingly seasonal. Tenants, often dependent on land-owners for not only land but also credit and other inputs, end up getting trapped in various forms and degrees of bondage. Managers of temples and religious trusts often behave like cruel landlords and treat tenants as their ‘subjects’. In Bihar and many other states where tenancy laws remain virtually unimplemented tenancy remains oral and concealed. There is no system of regulation of rent and tenants are denied access to credit, subsidies, sale of their crops at rates fixed by the government, or benefits like crop insurance and compensation in case of any major crop failure.
14. The feudal forces in Bihar succeeded in stalling the Bandyopadhyay Commission’s recommendations regarding tenancy registration and reform by creating a scare among small landowners while tenants were also not organized and confident enough to beat back the feudal offensive. Tenants must be organized systematically around every issue affecting their interests and pressure mounted on the government to fulfill their demands and recognize their rights. If we can inspire confidence among tenants through sustained and painstaking propaganda and agitation, tenants display great enthusiasm and tenacity in struggles. The revolutionary peasant movement must make it a point to beat back feudal offensives and state indifference by effective mobilization of tenants in determined struggles.
15. The formation of the All India Kisan Mahasabha in May 2010 marked an important step towards reinvigorating the peasant movement on a countrywide scale to defend small-peasant agriculture in the face of the all-pervasive agrarian crisis and growing corporate-imperialist invasion of agriculture. The AIKM has begun to respond to various dimensions of the agrarian crisis, propagating and agitating against forcible land acquisition and for securing land rights for forest-dwellers and the landless and on issues like irrigation, electricity, diesel, seeds, fertiliser and procurement of crops and milk from direct producers at remunerative prices and free from the clutches of middlemen.
16. While launching periodic campaigns on a national level, we must pay the greatest attention to the task of building powerful and vibrant local struggles involving the broad masses of the aggrieved peasantry and organizing poor and middle peasants and tenants around their specific demands. Whether it is the issue of timely availability of inputs like fertilizer, water and power, fixation of crop prices or sale of crops at minimum support price fixed by the government, peasants are erupting in protest all over the country and we must intervene effectively and promptly to compel the administration to settle their demands. We must make sure that AIKM emerges as a popular platform of peasant resistance backed by organized pockets or belts of sustained and powerful peasant movement.
17. The agrarian crisis and growing trends of corporatization and mechanization of agriculture have meant a decline in agricultural employment. The first decade of the 21st century has seen employment in agriculture decline annually by 0.13%. The decline has been more pronounced in the second half of the decade: 1.63%. Thanks to the relative expansion of the non-farm rural economy, overall rural employment has however grown in this same period (2004-05/2009-10) by 2.8% per annum. The changing pattern is reflected in the composition of rural NDP (where the share of agriculture has dropped steadily and that of the non-farm sector has increased from 28% in 1970-71 to 62% in 2004-05) and also in the structure of rural employment (employment in non-farm activities increased from 28.51 million or 15% in 1972-73 to 107.51 million or 32% in 2009-10). The key non-farm rural sectors are trade, construction, transport and financial services and the semi- or para-government agencies in healthcare, education and other social sectors.
18. But the non-farm rural economy is still in no position to absorb the growing rural workforce leading to increases in unemployment and out-migration. Activities allied with agriculture like fisheries, dairy, poultry, horticulture, floriculture etc. are also in crisis, and small entrepreneurs are forced to compete in an unequal battle for survival with big corporate players. While focusing on agricultural labourers, increasing attention must also be paid to the task of organizing non-agricultural rural labourers and employees around their immediate demands. A good beginning has been made in the rural construction and sand extraction sector (in Bihar), among workers of rice mills (in Karnataka) and cold-storage workers (West Bengal), and among women workers in social sectors like ASHA, Anganwadi and mid-day meal schemes in several states.
19. Wages of agricultural labourers continue to be very low in most parts of the country and given the relentless rise in prices of all basic goods and services, there has been little growth, if not a steady erosion, in the real wages or the purchasing power of agricultural labourers. In most states, wages also continue to lag behind the officially stipulated minimum wages. Gender disparity in agricultural wages remains a bitter reality with wages received by women varying from 90% to even 50% of that of their male counterparts, even as agricultural wage-labour becomes increasingly feminized in many regions with out-migration of men. The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) has shown that more than 95% of female agricultural wage workers received wages lower than the minimum wage (NCEUS 2007).
20. Wage struggle of agricultural labourers therefore remains crucially important, but such struggles still remain highly localized and spontaneous. The first ever all-India agricultural labour strike called by AIALA on 7 July 2010 evoked quite an enthusiastic response. The struggle for jobs, better wages and for improvement in living conditions and social security must be taken up more regularly and on a bigger scale.
21. The UPA government had introduced MGNREGA as the answer to rural poverty and unemployment. A study done by the NSSO for the period July 2009-June 2010 (NSSO 66th Round) shows that only 24% of rural households got any employment under MGNREGA (as low as 4% in Maharashtra, 5% in Punjab and Haryana, 8% in Karnataka, 10% in Bihar, 11% in Kerala and 16% in UP and Jharkhand) and the average persondays of employment for these households during this period is only 37 (17 for West Bengal, 23 for Jharkhand, 24 for Bihar and 31 for UP). The actual wages have been found to be almost uniformly lower than the notified wages, payment has been delayed as a rule and unemployment allowance has been utterly negligible, even though 193 out of every 1000 households having job cards claimed to have got no employment (the figure is 344 for Bihar). The same study also found that only 347 out of every 1000 rural households had job cards (the figure for Bihar is as low as 172 even though the official BPL percentage for Bihar is as high as 55.3). MGNREGA, though touted as the world’s biggest employment guarantee programme, has clearly failed to make any major dent in rural poverty and unemployment, let alone create any positive push to raise the low level of rural wages.
22. AIALA had taken impressive initiatives in the initial phase when NREGA was being launched, and it is important to sustain the momentum with planned and systematic intervention to take up NREGA-related struggles. While sections of the ruling classes are trying hard to subvert, if not stop, MGNREGA we must fight for its extension to agriculture to help the crisis-ridden peasantry, for greater availability of employment and better wages and against gross violation of various provisions of the law by panchayats as well as state and central governments.
23. Food security is another UPA promise that has turned into a long and bitter story of betrayal. It is only now with the 2014 elections getting nearer that the Congress once again seems desperate to turn food security into a poll plank. Going by the recommendations made by the concerned parliamentary standing committee headed by Vilas Muttemwar, the proposal is to cover 75% of rural and 50% of urban population with provisions of only 5 kg of rice and wheat at a price of Rs. 3 and Rs. 2 per kg respectively. This works out to 25 kg of subsidized foodgrain for a family of five – half of what the people have long been demanding and lower than even the 35 kg level being currently supplied. The struggle must be intensified for a universal PDS covering all essential articles of mass consumption in opposition to the government’s current proposals of a truncated food security framework.
24. Closely related to the issue of food security is the question of procurement of crops and storage of food grains. In the absence of effective tenancy rights and prompt system of assured procurement large sections of small producers are denied the benefit of the minimum support prices announced by the governments and they are forced to sell crops to intermediaries at considerably reduced rates who in turn earn a profit by reselling it to the state or in the open market. Likewise, in the absence of sufficient and appropriate storage facilities, we have the paradox of foodgrains rotting in the open or being eaten up by rats in ill-maintained godowns even as the poor are left to die of starvation and hunger. The apex court had rightly called for free distribution of surplus foodgrains among the poor, but the government refused to heed the voice of reason or remedy the situation and the problem continues. The battle for assured procurement, improved and adequate storage and a fair system of distribution must therefore be taken up as a key agenda of popular mobilization.
25. Most of the centrally sponsored schemes are meant exclusively for BPL beneficiaries, and it is on the issue of fixing the poverty line that the government and the Planning Commission headed by the Prime Minister are playing cruel jokes on the poor of the country. Even as the absurd Planning Commission BPL benchmarks of Rs 26 in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas drew widespread flak from all quarters including the Supreme Court, the PC further reduced the benchmarks in 2012 to Rs 22.40 and 28.65 respectively, thereby claiming a fall in poverty from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10!
26. The poor are thus being deprived right at the point of fixation of the poverty line, apart from the administrative errors of exclusion which are often quite deliberate. Now a third dimension is proposed to be added, in the name of better targeting, in the form of the so-called direct-benefit-transfer or cash-transfer method. This method, being introduced now in a limited way, is intended to cover gradually almost all welfare schemes and even food security may come under it at a later stage. The schemes will require the beneficiaries to have mandatory UID (aadhaar) cards and bank accounts, thereby further enlarging the scope of exclusion. The battle against exclusion and for assured universal entitlement of the poor to welfare and social security is an important agenda for the movement of the rural poor.
27. Rural struggles must also pay adequate attention to issues like rural roads, electrification, sanitation, health and education. The infrastructure being built by the government is not only woefully inadequate but also corruption-ridden and controlled by the feudal-kulak-bureaucratic nexus. The National Rural Health Mission became a byname for mega-corruption in UP under BSP rule leading to mysterious murders of top health officials and scams are being exposed in Bihar, Jharkhand and several other states as well. Various central and state schemes announced in the name of welfare of minority communities and oppressed and backward castes are also soaked in shallow tokenism and corruption. The rightful beneficiaries of such schemes who are being deceived and deprived in the process must be organized to fight against this deception and to secure their due benefits. While failing to provide basic amenities, almost all state governments are bent upon promoting the liquor business, with legal licences often operating as a front for illicit distillation. As a result there are growing liquor deaths even as governments boast of increased revenue and the parties of the ruling classes collaborate with the liquor mafia. Building a powerful anti-liquor movement must therefore become an integral part of our agenda.
28. Along with the rural administrative network of the central and state governments, the panchayats are playing an increasingly pivotal role in the economics and politics of rural development and various public services and welfare schemes. The network of cooperatives as well as self-help groups also plays an important role in rural life. But thanks to feudal-kulak control, corrupt bureaucratic stranglehold and exorbitant rates of interest, the cooperatives and micro-finance agencies are often spelling greater misery for the rural poor rather than giving them any relief. The fight against corruption and against feudal-kulak-bureaucratic control and for transparency and accountability in these institutions is an important component in the battle for democracy in rural areas. Leading Party committees in rural areas and the entire network of mass organizations – AIALA and AIKM in particular – must work concertedly in this direction.
29. Rural India continues to witness brutal forms of caste and gender-based oppression and violence. Communal forces are also active in rural areas to propagate communal prejudices and fan communal hatred. The questions of human dignity and human rights of the oppressed sections of the society, dalits and women in particular, must therefore be understood as a core agenda of communist rural work. Some crude forms of oppression and violence may have become a thing of the past thanks to sustained and determined resistance, but there can certainly be no room for complacency on this score as brutalities continue to resurface in various spheres of social life. The battle for democracy, dignity and social progress can only be carried forward by relentlessly challenging the feudal-kulak patriarchal hegemony in the countryside.
30. Militant agrarian struggles have been the main source of our mass strength and revolutionary identity. Almost everywhere such struggles have invariably had to face feudal-kulak violence and state repression. In Bihar, feudal-kulak forces formed private armies using caste networks and political patronage and such armies have often enjoyed a high degree of impunity, a veritable immunity from the machinery of law enforcement. This has been borne out by the entire trajectory of the Ranveer Sena right from its inception and the serial perpetration of barbaric massacres to the disbanding of the Amir Das Commission, acquittal of the massacre convicts, and surrender of the state to the fury of Ranveer Sena supporters following the elimination of the Sena chief. In spite of this collusion between the state and the Ranveer Sena, the Party and the revolutionary peasant movement succeeded in overcoming the challenge, by weakening and isolating the Sena and reviving agrarian struggles and broad-based rural mobilisation. The experience of breaking the feudal stranglehold, combating the private armies, the Ranveer Sena in particular, and sustaining broad peasant unity and militant peasant struggles is an invaluable vindication of the inherent strength of the agrarian programme and practice of revolutionary communists.
31. Military challenges apart, agrarian and rural struggles are also facing powerful political challenges from different quarters. The agrarian and rural development strategy of the state has spawned a feudal-kulak nexus with a strong grip on rural administration and the network of panchayati raj institutions. The militant peasant-rural poor unity forged through years of anti-feudal struggle today finds itself pitted against the machinations of this feudal-kulak- bureaucratic nexus, and vulnerable to the competition and division triggered by the ruling class politics of doles.
32. The growing corporate-imperialist invasion of agriculture and the rural economy has also brought about major changes in the rural scene with a mushrooming network of NGOs and an army of agents and middlemen making money from land and various other resources. Faced with such challenges, the revolutionary peasant movement must renew and rejuvenate itself. Any prolonged spell of stagnation can make the movement especially vulnerable to the perils of economism and the rise of vested interests. It is important to maintain the flow of struggles and not get confined to any single issue, even if it is the basic issue of land. The gains of a struggle can be preserved, consolidated and expanded only by upholding the live and dynamic political perspective of building the counter-hegemony of the people against feudal-kulak domination and corporate-imperialist invasion.