Nagpur, February 13: The Lokshakti Abhiyan ended in Nagpur with a meeting of activists from 12 states meeting at Vinoba Vichar Kendra, Sarvoday Ashram who decided to hold a national Jan Sansad in New Delhi from March 19th-23rdduring the Budget Session of the Parliament. Activists working on land rights, anti corruption, mining, SEZs and other peoples’ movements from across the country have pledged to join the Jan Sansad in large number in Delhi so as to make a step towards a true people’s democracy.
- communities control over land, water, forest and minerals, development planning and alternative development.
- Unorganised sector workers, urban poor, against inequality and towards equity and community
- electoral politics and people – electoral reforms
- March 19 : Lokshakti Abhiyan Programmes discussion at three locations in Delhi
- March 20 – 22 : Jan Sansad on the key issues mentioned above
- March 22 – 23 : Adoption of Jan Sansad Resolution and March to parliament
Brief of Lokshakti Abhiyan’s Tour of Mahrashtra, Karnataka and Goa
On February 6th a historic Lokmanch was conducted at Azaad Maidan at which candidates from different political parties, independent candidates and from alliances were given a platform to put forward their agendas before the elections in front of people from bastis like Mankur Mandala, Malad, Golibar, Rafiq Nagar etc in Mumbai. What was different about this platform was that these candidates were not allowed to just make promises and leave the stage. They were made to stay back and answer specific questions raised by working class populations from the bastis in Mumbai about slum demolitions, water supply and health facilities . Our comrades from the bastis who are involved in many struggles like the Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao andolan emerged as politically conscious citizens putting forward their demands strongly and holding the candidates accountable for their statements and actions. Azaad Maidan echoed with slogans of azaadi from political, social and economic oppression on this day and the echoes will hopefully be heard above the sounds of the traffic on the busy streets of Mumbai and jolt the government into action.
The Lokshakti Abhiyan stands for the demands of people’s democracy, land rights, anti SEZs and other anti people policies passed by the government callously that are adversely affecting adivasis, dalits, working class and other marginalized communities across the country. Medha Patkar,Om Vathiji, Ved Vathiji, Raj Singh from Haryana- Delhi border fighting for land rights over their farm, Roshanlal Agarwal whose demand is for the removal of BPL and the imposition of property tax on the rich, Nagesh Tripathy from Kanpur, Mansaram Kaka, Vijay Bhai and Rattanji from Narmada Bachao Andolan, Naneswar Bhai and Madhuri Sivkar from Ghar Bachao , Ghar Banao Andolan, Suniti SR from Pune, Suhas Kolhekar from Pune, Sawantji and Mahesh from Yusuf Meherally Centre, Dr Sunilam, Adv Aradhana Bhargava, Madhuresh Kumar, Ashu, Anjali, Gee Ameena Suleiman and Seela were part of the Lokshakti Abhiyan team. Most of the people on the Abhiyan team have been fighting for housing rights, land rights and against corporate exploitation and hence, they could politically appeal to the masses and lend solidarity as insiders talking to other insiders struggling.
Land and forest rights to farmers, tillers, adivasis and other forest dwellers
The Bidkin village in Aurangabad is affected by the proposed Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor is a mega infra-structure project of USD 90 billion with the financial & technical aids from Japan, covering an overall length of 1483 kms between Delhi and Mumbai. The Government of India has announced establishing of the Multi-modal High Axle Load Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) between Delhi and Mumbai, covering an overall length of 1483 km and passing through the six States – U.P, NCR of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, with end terminals at Dadri in the National Capital Region of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai. This corridor will be equipped with an array of infrastructure facilities such as power facilities, rail connectivity to ports en route etc. Approximately 180 million people, 14 percent of the population, will be affected by the corridor’s development. As with any other mega development projects that we have seen the government approve and implement, there are serious issues of displacement with this DMIC project.It is estimated that implementation of DMIC Project requires an investment of US$90Billion for developing projects that can be implemented through Public Private Partnership (PPP) and for projects that need to be developed through budgetary resources.
At Brhamapuri, Chandrapur district in Nagpur, Bhumi Haqq Andolan hosted a Bhumi Haqq Parishad which was coordinated by Suhdakar Mahadore and many others from the Gadchiroli region joined in too. The Parishad discussed the problems arising out of the construction of the Ghosi Khurd dam, approved as early as 1982 and subsequent displacement by the construction of canals in the area. The dam and the have been constructed at a cost of around 500 crores. Among the farmers who have been given compensation, only 10% of the total market value of the land has been given. There is a sizeable number of farmers who are yet to receive compensation after the forceful acquisition of their land. Bhumi haqq parishad also demanded –
- The proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. There is a huge population of Gond adivasis, nomadic tribals and OBCs who are struggling for Forest Rights Act to be implemented.
- Pattas / land titles have not been given to the community of farmers. The lack of documentation of their rights over their land has made it difficult for the farmers to claim their rights with the government. The three generation proof for most of the traditional forest dwellers is not allowing them their rights.
- Compensation to be given to the rest of the farmers who are yet to receive compensation from the government. The difference in market value of the compensation already given to be paid.
The Parishad Abhiyan team went to Pavani taluk in Bhandara district where the main issue is over the waste disposal of Nagpur being directed into The Vain Ganga river, affecting their livelihoods and the quality of their lives in the region.
Development projects such as these displace farmers, adivasis and other working class communities without providing any rehabilitation packages that are even close to being fair. Rehabilitation as a concept itself is flawed when talking about communities like adivasis and farmers ,dependant on natural resources and having a long standing relationship of dependence on their environmental habitats. The need of the hour is to stand together and put up strong resistance to such detrimental “developmental” plans. Whose development is at stake here? Who are the players in such deals who reap profits and whose voices are silenced by force? It is these silenced but not silent voices that need to be heard by the entire nation. Our country is predominantly agricultural. The road to development is not by destroying farmlands and forests for mega scale infrastructural/industrial projects. Such projects that destroy our jal, jangal and zameen [water, land and forest resources] will only pave the way to complete destruction of our economy.
Special Economic Zones or Special Exploitation Zones?
In 2006, 3 SEZs covering three villages were allotted. Because of the non transparent way in which the allotment was done, people came to know about it only in 2007 after filing an RTI. There was a non violent agitation against this because of the fact that SEZs are autonomous bodies that have their own labour rules and hence gross violations of labour laws, uninterrupted power and water supply and are exempted from taxes. In short, SEZs are a free gateway for companies to strike deals with the government for robbing the country of natural resources in broad daylight. While the agitation against the SEZ allotments happened, the construction in the sites continued uninterrupted. The construction then had to be stopped physically by the people in the Andolan. On 12thApril 2006, 4 companies applied for SEZs and within 7 days the allotments came through. The speed with which the allotments were made shows the thoughtless anti people policies passed by the government. It was only in November 2010 that the High Court squashed the order on the allotments. But the land was still not given back to the people of the villages, without whose consent the allotments were made. The companies involved in this have challenged the High court order in the Supreme Court. The demands of the struggle in Goa are that the land should be given back to the rightful owners i.e, the villagers and strict disciplinary action should be taken against the companies to set a precedent and prevent this in future. FIRs were lodged in local police stations but not registered. For this, the local courts have been approached by the people fighting the struggle.
Micro Industrial Zones are also a cause for concern as is the issue of the privatization of health centres. In Panjim, the government hospital was shut down and the first medical college in Asia set up during Portugese rule is used only once a year for the International Film Festival! In Raibunder Maternity hospital has been converted into a management institute! It is clear from all these instances, that corruption is a reason and also an outcome of social inequalities and to fight for the right to health, shelter and life can be fought only by tackling all these issues together, through a combined struggle of all marginalized communities.
Environmental and Economic Issues of Mining
The disastrous impacts of mining on the environment apart from affecting the water resources through contamination and the destruction of the soil and displacement issues, mining has grave implications in the economic front. Most of the iron ore resources are mined and exported to China from India. Mines cannot be “owned” by anyone, it belongs to the public. This was upheld by a Supreme Court judgment in the Reliance Vs Government of India case dealing with rights over gas resources. The Court ruled that the government is only the custodian of natural resources and not the owner. The ownership of shared natural resources is with the public. In Goa, leases for mining are given free of cost, without even auctions. There are 91 mines in Goa making a profit of 20,000 crores in a year, whereas, the total budget of Goa is only 8000 crore for a year!There are 360 mines that are not operative all the time, but given on leases making the total number of mines in Goa close to 450! There have been very militant struggles by indigenous peoples against mining projects by Vedanta in Niyamgiri, POSCO in Jagatsingpur,Orissa etc. The government paves the way for these companies to loot the country of its natural resources in broad daylight. Our voices of protest against this daylight robbery of what rightfully belongs to the indigenous peoples of our country needs to be strong and echo throughout the world so that we can successfully stop the neo liberal policies of the government opening up the nation to large scale neo imperialist exploitation.
Housing rights and the struggle against builders
The Lokshakti Abhiyan team went to Sinchan Bhavan, to meet officials from the Krishna Kore development authority and engineers. The main issue discussed was the Lavasa Hill City developed by Lavasa Corporation Limited in the hill stations on the outskirts of Pune and the Special Planning Authority given to the company by the government. The Lavasa Corporation Limited has shown on official documents that the work for Hotel Fortune was started in 2004 and completed in 2008. The Lavasa Corporation was given SPA status in June 2008, and the Hotel building was approved in the same year. The work of the Hotel was however completed within one month of the approval date for the project!
There are also other issues like illegal construction work being carried on in other buildings like the Country Club, Convention Centre, Portfino Apartments, Retail and Hostel. It is clear in this case that the post facto approval was given by the government illegally. Lavasa Corporation has also included 1236 ha of disputed MKDVC land. Wrong figures in building sections to fit permissible heights for such buildings specified by hill station by laws are also a serious offense. To get larger frontage of water body to the buildings under Lavasa’s construction, they have also reclaimed land under dam. This has affected the capacity of the dam. The demands of the team who went to meet the Collector also later with community people and other supporters and activists are –
- Special Planning Authority should not be given to any private company
- All approvals given to Lavasa Corporation Limited be treated and declared as null and void.
- Strict disciplinary action should be taken against Lavasa Corporation Ltd so that it acts as a detriment to any future such deals being made between the government and private companies.
It is clear that the government of our country has been time and again passing anti people policies and openly functioning hand in hand with private builders, Multinational Corporations, Mining companies etc. It is imperative that the voices of all marginalised communities should come together on all these issues and force the government to take action to protect the citizens of our country instead of making them scapegoats for mega developmental projects.
Lokshakti Abhiyan went to several villages and towns in Maharshtra and Goa where many of the struggles have not been reported in the national media thought they have been going on for years. It is important that news about these struggles is disseminated to everyone and we lend solidarity to smaller struggles. One of the ways in which the State has reared its oppressive hammer to squash protest is by taking over mainstream media and imprisoning people who raise questions or fight for the rights of their communities. It is important to fight for the release of all our comrades like Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi, Bhagawati Sahu, Kartam Joga, Sukhnath Oyami and many others languishing in jail as political prisoners. Such a struggle is necessary to uphold our democratic right to freedom and voice our opinions publically. The struggle over livelihood, land rights, housing rights, anti capitalist agendas, mega developmental projects must continue unabated and the slogans of our struggle must be heard in all corners of our subcontinent and beyond so that such exploitation does not continue unchecked.
Medha Patkar, Dr. Sunilam, Suniti S R, Gautam Bandopadhyay, Vilas Bhongade, Manish Gupta, Gabriele Dietrich, Vimal Bhai, Bhupinder Singh Rawat, Gurwant Singh, Rakesh Rafiq, Madhuresh Kumar
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