— Chandan Kumar
June and July are crucial months in a farmer’s life. It is a time of hope. But farmers are greatly troubled this season due to adverse weather conditions. By now paddy saplings should be thriving and transplanting should have started. But the conditions are such that in many fields even the sowing has not taken place. Some farmers have managed to take loans, buy seeds, and sow their crop but due to lack of water they are in danger of withering and dying.
According to one report, sowing has been done in only very few areas across the State. In Bhojpur paddy have been sown in hardly 1% of the expected 1,50,000 hectares. The district has so far got 42% rainfall and all the canals are dry, causing the farmers grave anxiety with the impending doom of famine.
Several canals have not received water for years. In a few canals where water comes, the quantity is so little that it does not reach the lower banks of the canals. As the quantity is so less, the farmers at the higher banks dam the water and irrigate their fields, and the farmers at the lower banks demand releasing of the water, resulting in fights over water.
As the canal water does not reach the lower banks, the farmers are forced to either irrigate their fields by digging their own tube wells or by using machines. If there is no water at all they are unable even to use machines and their entire crop is charred and destroyed. The use of private bore-wells causes the ground water level to go down further and the villages then face a drinking water crisis.
In view of the critical condition, the All India Kisan Mahasabha raised the demand to join the Narayanpur canal in Agiaon Block, Bhojpur with Diliyan Lakh, so that irrigation water from Diliyan can reach the villages of Chavri, Bahuara, Amrua, Kosiyad, Bhikhampur, Gorpa, Diliyan, Madanpur, Situhari, Kamal Tola, Baghuai, Narayanpur, Baruna, Bhaluni, Sewtha, Muradpur, Baghi, Bantola, Dihra and Kurmichak.
An indefinite road jam was announced to demand the re-digging and repair of Sevtha canal, which has not received water for the past 20 years, so that water reaches up to the lower banks and thus the villages of Dhawri, Hathi Tola, Sakhuana, Perahap, Chakke, Chanargarh, Anua, Ekwari, Inrukhi, Hanuman Chhapra, Baruna, Sewtha and Baghi; and similarly the repair of Pawar Line canal (which has also not received water for the past 20 years) which would bring water to the villages of Pawar, Narayanpur, Chhaprapur, Mehandi Chak, Banaivali, Keshwarpur, Osawa, Espura, Dhobaha, Khanet, Pawar, Ekoni Tola and other villages.
If the demands of this struggle are fulfilled, not only will hundreds of farmers in about 50 villages get a good crop but hundreds of unemployed persons will also get employment.
To make the movement a success, CPI(ML) activists led by CC member Manoj Manzil held a series of meetings in different villages with farmers from different classes and different political affiliations. After the meetings marches were held and drums were beaten to inform the farmers of the initiatives.
From the morning of 5 July farmers in hundreds from various villages started arriving at Narayanpur Bazaar with red flags and traditional weapons, raising slogans in support of their demands. Exactly at 11 am they placed tents, chairs and benches in the middle of the road and jammed the road. Very soon the jam extended to about 10 km on either side of Narayanpur. The indifference of the administration towards the agitation angered the farmers and their numbers were steadily increasing.
This blockade got the support of the common farmers as well as farmers associated with other political parties.
After about 5 hours of the blockade, a group of District administration and Canal Department officials came to hold talks with the protesters but the talks failed as the officials expressed inability to take any concrete steps in the matter.
The agitation continued and the farmers remained on the road all through the night. The people from neighbouring villages brought food for the protesting farmers at the protest venue as gesture of solidarity.
The next day the road jam continued and as the number of farmers kept swelling, at 3 pm the Canal Dept SDO Chandan Kumar, Agiaon Inspector Boondi Manjhi with police personnel from 5 Thanas, para-military forces, women police, carrying tear gas shells reached the protest site. Eventually the officials had to accede to the farmers’ demand and inspect the canals, after which they gave a written assurance that both canals would be repaired and water would be released the next day. The road block was ended after this assurance.
The agitation got the full support of all shopkeepers, common people and also the drivers of vehicles caught in the jam, who actually sat with the protesters and had the night meal together. The movement had also appealed to the MP, MLAs and people’s representatives in the district, but not one of them came to the venue. Local cultural teams including poet Nirmohi, Sakhichand and Vakil Paswan energized the protesters with inspiring songs.
CPI(ML) CC member Manoj Manzil addressing the protest called upon the farmers to put up a united fight to save their livelihoods, lands, lives, and their farming. He said that the government, by failing to give water in the canals and by increasing the price of diesel, fertilizers, seeds and pesticides is escalating the distress of the already distressed farmers. Even 71 years after independence the farmer who gives his blood and sweat to produce food for the country is pushed to commit suicide, and when they demand MSP as per Swaminathan commission recommendations and loan waivers which PM Modi had promised them they are repressed, even fired at and killed.
CPI(ML) CC member and farmer leader Raju Yadav said that irrigation and modernization of canals has not found a place in the government’s 7 schemes. Flyovers and road construction have been started on most canals. The Irrigation and Small Irrigation Departments have been closed down. All government tube-wells are lying defunct. Who is responsible for this situation? The government is making the excuses that water is not being released from the Kavdhan Reservoir in an attempt to divert people’s attention from its anti-farmer policies. The farmers are not being given water for their crops, and if somehow the farmer manages to produce a crop he is not being given the minimum support price.
The two-day protest dharna was also addressed by CPI(ML) Block Secretary Raghuvar Paswan, farmer leader Vimal Yadav, AISA State President Shiv Prakash Ranjan, SB College Students Union President Sudhir Kumar, Chandeshwar Paswan, Hasbuddin Ansari, Jitendra Paswan, Naveen Kumar, Baliram Yadav, Chandan Yadav, Ramji Ravani, Kanhaiya Singh, Laxman Singh and others.
The next day water started to be released into the canals and officials came with JCBs to re-dig and deepen the canals. The farmers’ faces lighted up at the sight of the water in the canals and a very positive message about the CPI(ML) was conveyed. But after one day the government filed cases against 40 farmers and activists including Manoj Manzil who was leading the agitation, thus clearly once agains exposing their anti-farmer character.