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A meeting of the central office bearers of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) held in New Delhi yesterday decided to support the idea of a Long March of the Dispossessed to Delhi to demand a special session of Parliament called entirely to discuss the serious agrarian crisis in the country.

This unprecedented agrarian crisis is reflected in the lakhs of suicides of debt-ridden peasants; the thousands of deaths of children and women due to starvation and malnutrition; the abysmal state of rural education and public health; the massive increase in rural unemployment and landlessness; and the unheard-of rise in economic and social inequality in the country.

There is now not an iota of doubt that this grave situation has been aggravated by the neo-liberal policies followed by the ruling classes during the last two and a half decades. The last four years have thoroughly exposed the Modi government as the most anti-farmer, anti-worker, pro-corporate and pro-imperialist government in Independent India. Along with this is its rabidly communal, casteist and divisive character.

The AIKS appeals to the broadest sections of progressive, democratic and secular organizations and individuals in the country who are sensitive to the intense pain and hardships being faced by farmers, both men and women, and their children, to support this idea of a Long March of the Dispossessed, to participate in it in huge numbers and to help it in any way that they can.

The AIKS appeals to all sections of farmers, agricultural workers, the working class, the middle class, students, youth and socially oppressed sections like women, Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities and others to support and join this Long March of the Dispossessed.

After a wider consultation with all concerned organizations and individuals, the date and programme of the March can be decided with consensus.

In the meanwhile, the AIKS calls upon all its units throughout the country to make a massive success of the three campaigns and agitations that have already been decided:

1. The 10 crore countrywide signature campaign on the burning demands of the peasantry;

2. The nationwide district-level Jail Bharo stir by lakhs of peasants and workers on August 9, Quit India Day;

3. The massive five lakh-strong All India Mazdoor-Kisan Rally in Delhi on September 5 organised jointly by the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU.

Dr Ashok Dhawale
President Hannan Mollah General Secretary
All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)

The Forest Department has given permission to chop down nearly 17,000 trees in Delhi for the redevelopment of Central Government accommodations. While the government is talking euphemistically about the destruction, the numbers are staggering. 11,000 out of 13,128 trees in Sarojini Nagar will be felled. 1,465 out of 1,513 in Nauroji Nagar. 3033 out of 3906 in Netaji Nagar. 108 out of 349 in Thyagraj Nagar. 447 out of 562 in Mohammadpur and all 520 trees in Kasturba Nagar. The felling of 1,713 trees was approved earlier for the integrated complex at Pragati Nagar, also implemented by NBCC, which is implementing these projects.

For a city fighting a losing struggle with pollution, desertification, a dropping water table and climate extremes, the cutting of most of the trees in an area is nothing short of catastrophic. Trees improve the quality of air, strengthen the structure of the land, help retain moisture in air and soil, support biodiversity - in short, trees do a lot of things that support human needs. At a time when largescale reforestation is seen as a viable longterm solution to combat climate change, and a government report warns of 21 Indian cities to run out of groundwater within 2 years, a government planning to decimate thousands of trees in a city already struggling with environmental degradation raises serious questions about the motivations of decisionmakers.

Even more ironic is that the destruction is being wreaked in the name of constructing housing at a time when the real estate market is in a massive slump and the unsold inventory is vast. It is a game of money. It will be cheaper for the government to construct bulk housing. That kickbacks in large projects grease the machinery everywhere is an open secret. The very survival of the city being ignored toward this end does not bode well.

The government is making placatory noises about saplings being planted and trees being relocated, with claims designed to fool the gullible with numbers. "10 saplings planted for every tree cut" etc. The fact of the matter is that it is not so simple. The loss isn't just of a number of trees, though the number itself is significant. The loss, in environmental terms is one of ecology. The biodiversity of well established trees growing in an area, with roots deep into the ground that enable them to survive Delhi's increasing desertification, the undergrowth of shrubbery, symbiotic and parasitic life forms existing in a stable balance, birds and animals finding shelter in the canopy, surviving the harsh summers in its protection, the cooling effect of their shade for the region, the binding of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen supporting a densely populated urban sprawl.... 10 saplings may seem like well compensated in numbers, but decades will pass before those saplings can approach the functions that established tree cover killed today will. In the meanwhile, life forms depending on those trees for survival will perish.

Reforestation is also not a simple game. Delhi's water table is very low. for saplings to survive till the point their roots can naturally reach and draw water will take years of careful watering and nurturing, which will prevent the establishment of forest and development of the biodiversity. And at the end of all this, it still cannot be guaranteed that the trees will survive, as reforestation shows best results in fertile soil with a good moisture content, and we all know the situation of Delhi on that front. Moving mature trees is an even more expensive and complicated process. Mature trees have extensive root systems, and suffer considerable damage to roots in the process, with only a section of the rootball (size is calculated based on tree size) being transplanted to the new location. The trees need careful nurturing after being transplanted in order to survive.

In a country where government policies make it hard for humans to survive, where an arbitrary action like demonetisation devastated the economic survival of many, where the imposition of Aadhaar forces people to get and update theirs or lose out on necessities, where millions of humans "transplanted" by government lack proper relocation, it is very difficult to imagine the government taking the effort it would require, to even deliver on their inadequate claims of compensatory action. Nor do the assurances appear to be backed by actual hard information on where this mythical extensive plantation of thousands of trees will happen. On what land.

Cutting down trees on this scale is irreversible damage to the city.

Today, largescale reforestation is being considered seriously by governments as an essential step toward combating climate change. Brazil kicked off the world's largest reforestation project to date last year with an ambitious plan to plant 73 million trees to combat the deforestation of the Amazon. Perhaps the Indian government should at least plant those saplings first and let them grow to maturity before touching established trees.

Imagine a democratic protest where a million farmers, labourers and others march to the capital and compel discussion of the exploding crisis of the countryside in a special three-week session of Parliament

Farmer long march in Mumbai. Night at somaiya ground
Farmer long march in Mumbai. Night at somaiya ground. Photo: People's Archive of Rural India

 

India’s agrarian crisis has gone beyond the agrarian.

It’s a crisis of society. Maybe even a civilizational crisis, with perhaps the largest body of small farmers and labourers on earth fighting to save their livelihoods. The agrarian crisis is no longer just a measure of loss of land. Nor only a measure of loss of human life, jobs or productivity. It is a measure of our own loss of humanity. Of the shrinking boundaries of our humaneness. That we have sat by and watched the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years. While some – ‘leading economists’ – have mocked the enormous suffering around us, even denying the existence of a crisis.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has not published data on farmers’ suicides for two years now. For some years before that, fraudulent data logged in by major states severely distorted the agency’s estimates. For instance, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal and many others claimed ‘zero suicides’ by farmers in their states. In 2014, 12 states and 6 Union Territories claimed ‘zero suicides’ among their farmers. The 2014 and 2015 NCRB reports saw huge, shameless fiddles in the methodology – aimed at bringing down the numbers.

And yet they keep rising.

Meanwhile, protests by farmers and labourers are on the rise. Farmers have been shot dead – as in Madhya Pradesh. Derided or cheated in agreements, as in Maharashtra. And devastated by demonetisation, as in just about everywhere. Anger and pain are mounting in the countryside. And not just among farmers but amongst labourers who find the MNREGA being dismantled by design. Amongst fisherfolk, forest communities, artisans, exploited anganwadi workers. Amongst those who send their children to government schools, only to find the state itself killing its own schools. Also, small government employees and transport and public sector workers whose jobs are on the anvil.

Vishwanath Khule, a marginal farmer, lost his entire crop during the drought year. His son, Vishla Khule, consumed a bottle of weedicide that Vishwanath had bought
Vishwanath Khule of Vidarbha’s Akola district, whose son Vishal consumed weedicide. Farmer suicides are mounting, but governments are falsifying numbers. Photo: Jaideep Hardikar / People's Archive of Rural India

And the crisis of the rural is no longer confined to the rural. Studies suggest an absolute decline in employment in the country between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

The 2011 Census signalled perhaps the greatest distress-driven migrations we’ve seen in independent India. And millions of poor fleeing the collapse of their livelihoods have moved out to other villages, rural towns, urban agglomerations, big cities – in search of jobs that are not there. Census 2011 logs nearly 15 million fewer farmers (‘main cultivators’) than there were in 1991. And you now find many once-proud food-producers working as domestic servants. The poor are now up for exploitation by both urban and rural elites.

The government tries its best not to listen. It’s the same with the news media.

When the media do skim over the issues, they mostly reduce them to demands for a ‘loan waiver.’ In recent days, they’ve recognised the minimum support price (MSP) demand of farmers – the Cost of Production (CoP2) + 50 per cent. But the media don’t challenge the government’s claims of already having implemented this demand. Nor do they mention that the National Commission on Farmers (NCF; popularly known as the Swaminathan Commission) flagged a bunch of other, equally serious issues. Some of the NCF’s reports have remained in Parliament 12 years without discussion. Also the media, while denouncing loan waiver appeals, won’t mention that corporates and businessmen account for the bulk of the non-performing assets drowning the banks.

Perhaps the time has come for a very large, democratic protest, alongside a demand for Parliament to hold a three-week or 21-day special session dedicated entirely to the crisis and related issues. A joint session of both houses.

Two women sitting at Azad maidanIn Mumbai, covering their heads with cardboard boxes in the blistering heat.
We can’t resolve the agrarian crisis if we do not engage with the rights and problems of women farmers PHOTO • BINAIFER BHARUCHA / People's Archive of Rural India

On what principles would that session be based? The Indian Constitution. Specifically, the most important of its Directive Principles of State Policy. That chapter speaks of a need to “minimise the inequalities in income” and “endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities, opportunities….” The principles call for “a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”

The right to work, to education, to social security. The raising of the level of nutrition and of public health. The right to a better standard of living. Equal pay for equal work for men and women. Just and humane conditions of work. These are amongst the main principles. The Supreme Court has more than once said the Directive Principles are as important as our Fundamental Rights.

An agenda for the special session? Some suggestions that others concerned by the situation can amend or add to:

3 days: Discussion of the Swaminathan Commission report – 12 years overdue.

It submitted five reports between December 2004 and October 2006 that cover a multitude of vital issues and not just MSP. Those include, to name a few: productivity, profitability, sustainability; technology and technology fatigue; dryland farming, price shocks and stabilisation – and much more. We also need to halt the privatisation of agricultural research and technology. And deal with impending ecological disaster.

3 days: People’s testimonies.

Let victims of the crisis speak from the floor of Parliament’s central hall and tell the nation what the crisis is about, what it has done to them and countless millions of others. And it’s not just about farming. But how surging privatisation of health and education has devastated the rural poor, indeed all the poor. Health expenditure is either the fastest or second fastest growing component of rural family debt.

3 days: Credit crisis.

The unrelenting rise of indebtedness. This has been a huge driving factor in the suicide deaths of countless thousands of farmers, apart from devastating millions of others. Often it has meant loss of much or all of their land. Policies on institutional credit paved the way for the return of the moneylender.

3 days: The country’s mega water crisis.

It’s much greater than a drought. This government seems determined to push through privatisation of water in the name of ‘rational pricing’. We need the right to drinking water established as a fundamental human right – and the banning of privatisation of this life-giving resource in any sector. Ensuring social control and equal access, particularly to the landless.

3 days: The rights of women farmers.

The agrarian crisis cannot be resolved without engaging with the rights – including those of ownership – and problems of those who do the most work in the fields and farms. While in the Rajya Sabha, Prof. Swaminathan introduced the Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill, 2011 (lapsed in 2013) that could still provide a starting point for this debate.

3 days: The rights of landless labourers, both women and men.

With mounting distress migrations in many directions, this crisis is no longer just rural. Where it is, any public investment made in agriculture has to factor in their needs, their rights, their perspective.

3 days: Debate on agriculture.

What kind of farming do we want 20 years from now? One driven by corporate profit? Or by communities and families for whom it is the basis of their existence? There are also other forms of ownership and control in agriculture we need to press for – like the vigorous sangha krishi (group farming) efforts of Kerala’s Kudumbashree movement. And we have to revive the unfinished agenda of land reform. For all of the above debates to be truly meaningful – and this is very important – every one of them must focus, too, on the rights of Adivasi and Dalit farmers and labourers.

While no political party would openly oppose such a session, who will ensure it actually happens? The dispossessed themselves.

Midnight walk to Azad Maidan
The morcha of farmers from Nashik to Mumbai in March has to go national – not just of farmers and labourers, but also others devastated by the crisis PHOTO • SHRIRANG SWARGE / People's Archive of Rural India

In March this year, 40,000 peasants and labourers marched for a week from Nashik to Mumbai making some of these very demands. An arrogant government in Mumbai dismissed the marchers as ‘urban Maoists’ with whom it would not talk. But caved in within hours of the multitude reaching Mumbai to encircle the state legislative assembly. That was the rural poor sorting out their government.

The highly disciplined marchers struck a rare chord in Mumbai. Not just the urban working class, but also the middle classes, even some from the upper middle classes, stepped out in sympathy.

We need to do this at the national level – scaled up 25 times over. A Long March of the Dispossessed – not just of farmers and labourers, but also others devastated by the crisis. And importantly, those not affected by it – but moved by the misery of fellow human beings. Those standing for justice and democracy. A march starting from everywhere in the country, converging on the capital. No Red Fort rallies, nor skulls at Jantar Mantar. That march should encircle Parliament – compel it to hear, listen and act. Yes, they would Occupy Delhi.

It might take many months to get off the ground, a gargantuan logistical challenge. One that has to be met by the largest and widest coalition possible of farm, labour and other organisations. It will face great hostility from the rulers – and their media – who would seek to undermine it at every stage.

It can be done. Do not underestimate the poor – it is they, not the chattering classes, who keep democracy alive.

It would be one of the highest forms of democratic protest – a million human beings or more showing up to ensure their representatives perform. As a Bhagat Singh, if alive, might have said of them: they could make the deaf hear, the blind see and the dumb speak.

This article was originally published in the People's Archive of Rural India on June 22, 2018

It wouldn't be the first time news stories reporting unfavorably on BJP President Amit Shah vanished from news websites without explanation. At other times, news organizations have been under tremendous pressure to redact stories, transfer editors and otherwise silence inconvenient news from reaching the masses. Here are some notable stories that vanished from several sites without any official redaction or explanation offered:

Journalists and news organizations that faced pressure over journalistic work that shows Amit Shah's potentially illegal dealings:

Please free to suggest stories this list misses in the comments.

Originally published by The New Indian Express, deleted without explanation.

MUMBAI: A district cooperative bank, which has Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah as a director, netted the highest deposits among such banks of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on November 8, 2016, according to RTI replies received by a Mumbai activist.

The Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the spiked notes -- in just five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the demonetisation announcement. All the district cooperative banks were banned from accepting deposits of the banned currency notes from the public after November 14, 2016, -- five days after demonetisation -- on fears that black money would be laundered through this route.

According to the bank's website, Shah continues to be a director with the bank and has been in that position for several years. He was also the bank's chairman in 2000. ADCB's total deposits on March 31, 2017, were Rs 5,050 crore and its net profit for 2016-17 was Rs 14.31 crore.

Right behind ADCB, is the Rajkot District Cooperative Bank, whose chairman Jayeshbhai Vitthalbhai Radadiya is a cabinet minister in Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's government. It got deposits of old currencies worth Rs 693.19 crore.

Interestingly, Rajkot is the hub of Gujarat BJP politics -- Prime Minister Modi was first elected from there as a legislator in 2001.

ADC bank board of directors screenshot - click to enlarge.

Incidentally, the figures of Ahmedabad-Rajkot DCCBs are much higher than the apex Gujarat State Cooperative Bank Ltd, which got deposits of a mere Rs 1.11 crore.

"The amount of deposits made in the State Cooperative Banks (SCBs) and District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) -- revealed under RTI for first time since demonetisation -- are astounding," Manoranjan S. Roy, the RTI activist who made the effort to get the information, told IANS.

The RTI information was given by the Chief General Manager and Appellate Authority, S. Saravanavel, of the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD).

It has also come to light, through the RTI queries, that only seven public sector banks (PSBs), 32 SCBs, 370 DCCBs, and a little over three-dozen post offices across India collected Rs 7.91 lakh crore -- more than half (52 per cent) of the total amount of old currencies of Rs 15.28 lakh crore deposited with the RBI.

The break-up of Rs 7.91 lakh crore mentioned in the RTI replies shows that the value of spiked notes deposited with the RBI by the seven PSBs was Rs 7.57 lakh crore, the 32 SCBs gave in Rs 6,407 crore and the 370 DCCBs brought in Rs 22,271 crore. Old notes deposited by 39 post offices were worth Rs 4,408 crore.

Information from all the SCBs and DCCBs across India were received through the replies. The seven PSBs account for around 29,000 branches -- out of the over 92,500 branches of the 21 PSBs in India -- according to data published by the RBI. The 14 other PSBs declined to gave information on one ground or the other. There are around 155,000 post offices in the country.

Fifteen months after demonetisation, the government had announced that Rs 15.28 Lakh crore -- or 99 per cent of the cancelled notes worth Rs 15.44 lakh crore -- were returned to the RBI treasury.

Roy said it was a serious matter if only a few banks and their branches and a handful post offices, apart from SCBs and DCCBs, accounted for over half the old currency notes.

"At this rate, serious questions arise about the actual collection of spiked notes through the remaining 14 mega-PSBs, besides rural-urban banks, private banks (like ICICI, HDFC and others), local cooperatives, Jankalyan Banks and credit cooperatives and other entities with banking licenses, the figures of which are not made available under RTI," he said.

The SCBs were allowed to exchange or take deposits of banned notes till December 30, 2016 -- for a little over seven weeks, in contrast to district cooperative banks which were allowed only five days of transactions.

The prime minister during his demonetisation speech had said that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes could be deposited in bank or post office accounts from November 10 till close of banking hours on December 30, 2016, without any limit. "Thus you will have 50 days to deposit your notes and there is no need for panic," he had said.

After an uproar, mostly from BJP allies, the government also opened a small window in mid-2017, during the presidential elections, allowing the 32 SCBs and 370 DCCBs -- largely owned, managed or controlled by politicians of various parties -- to deposit their stocks of the spiked notes with the RBI. The move was strongly criticised by the Congress and other major Opposition parties.

Among the SCBs, the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank topped the list of depositors with Rs 1,128 crore from 55 branches and the smallest share of Rs 5.94 crore came from just five branches of Jharkhand State Cooperative Bank, according to the replies.

Surprisingly, the Andaman & Nicobar State Cooperative Bank's share (from 29 branches) was Rs 85.76 crore.

While Maharashtra has a population of 12 crore, Jharkhand's population is 3.6 crore. Andaman & Nicobar Islands have less than four lakh residents.

The poorest of all the cooperative banks in the country is Banki Central Cooperative Bank Ltd in Odisha, which admitted to receiving zero deposits of the spiked currency.

Of the total 21 PSBs, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Bank of Maharashtra, Central Bank of India, Dena Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Punjab & Sindh Bank, Vijaya Bank, Andhra Bank, Syndicate Bank, UCO Bank, United Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce, and IDBI Bank (14 banks) -- with over 63,500 branches amongst them -- did not give any information on deposits.