People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 13

March 28, 2010

MAHARASHTRA

 

CPI(M) Organises Convention for Food Security

 

Mariam Dhawale

 

“PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh has said that prices may increase after the budget by only 0.04 per cent. But they had already increased by 20 per cent before the budget itself! Last July, India gave the cheapest car to the world, the Nano, and also the most expensive tur dal, Rs 104 per kg. Our finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and agriculture and food supply minister Sharad Pawar, both declared that the price rise was due to drought. This is a lie. India faced drought during June-August 2009. But much before this drought, the price of tur dal rose from Rs 30 in 2004 to Rs 35 in 2005, Rs 45 in 2006 and Rs 70 in 2008. There is eternal drought in the homes of the poor. All commodities needed by the rich have cheapened. Today you can take 50 flights for the same amount you spent on 4-5 flights 20 years ago. Rates of air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines and cars have come down. But bus and rail fares, food items and all things needed by the poor have become dearer. Inequality has increased at a phenomenal rate over the last two decades of neo-liberalism. The government has declared war against the common man. I am sure that you will build your organisation, conduct campaigns and launch massive struggles to fight back!”

It was with these words that renowned journalist and Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu,  P Sainath inaugurated the CPI(M)  Maharashtra state convention for food security and against price rise at Solapur on March 3, 2010. Over 2,000 delegates from 21 districts of all regions – Vidarbha, Marathwada, Khandesh, Western Maharashtra and Konkan - thronged the Hutatma Smruti Mandir hall in Solapur. Hundreds of them could not get place inside the hall, but they listened to the proceedings from outside. Unorganised workers and also peasants from Solapur came in large numbers. Women predominated. The convention received excellent coverage in both the print and electronic media.

 

INAUGURAL

SPEECH

P Sainath further said that the situation of old people, pensioners, widows, women and children is pathetic. Today we find old people too are going for hard labour under the NREGA. In a village in Anantapur district, more than 300 people are working under the NREGA. 60 of the labourers are more than 65 years of age. These people had stopped working due to old age. But the rise in prices of all essential commodities has forced them to resume work as labourers. In one of the houses, there lived a family of eight members. Since they did not have enough to eat, only two of them ate food per day in turns. These two went for work while the starving ones stayed at home. The poor share their hunger!

The Economic Survey of Maharashtra shows that 20 lakh jobs had been lost by March 2009. This means there was a reduction in 1800 jobs per day. This was much before the recession or drought. Agricultural production decreased by 24 per cent before the drought. Many reservoirs are left with only 8 per cent water in Vidarbha and Marathwada. More than 30.7 per cent of the population i e 300 lakh people, is below the poverty line in Maharashtra. India has 24 per cent people below the poverty line, according to the central government. In 1993, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and West Bengal all had 35-37 per cent of their population BPL. Today the BPL figure in West Bengal is 23 per cent, in Tamilnadu it is 22 per cent and in Maharashtra it is still more than 30 per cent.

In 2007, the government set up a committee for identifying the BPL population. The BPL Expert group stated that the BPL population is 53 per cent in India and not 24 per cent as stated by the government. The BPL population in Maharashtra is 60 per cent, not 30 per cent. The Suresh Tendulkar committee too said that the BPL population is 38 per cent, not 24 per cent. In the first page of his report, Dr Arjun Sengupta noted that 77 per cent of the Indian population, that is 83.6 crore people do not have the capacity to spend more than Rs 20 per day. This means that actually 80 per cent of our population is BPL. On the other hand, we have 53 dollar-billionaires in India, half of whom are in Maharashtra, and 21 of them are in Mumbai!

The government has raised the prices of petrol and diesel in this budget. But corporate taxes of several lakh crore rupees have been slashed. This government keeps boasting about the Rs 71,000 crore loan-waiver to peasants, which was done after 20 years.  But it also cut direct taxes by Rs 80,000 crores, benefiting the corporate sector. This amounts to 57 crore rupees per hour or 1 crore rupees per minute of benefits to the corporate sector. This has been happening every year, in every central budget. Yet the government steadfastly refuses to increase food subsidy so that the public distribution system can be universalised!

Sainath concluded by saying that as a result of these policies, inequalities have sharply increased. But there has been a 340 per cent increase in the wealth of Maharashtra MLAs in just two elections. You have to be a crorepati if you want to win elections. In 2009, 212 crorepatis contested the state assembly polls and 186 of them won. The poor cannot afford to participate in such elections. Today large sections of the media also get bought over during elections. In the recent state assembly polls, it is estimated that media barons made 500 crore rupees from ‘paid news’! All this must be changed by all of us working together.

 

RESOLUTION AND

CALL FOR ACTION

The resolution of the convention, which was circulated to all the delegates, was placed by CPI(M) state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale. He said that the Congress-NCP had made false promises to the people during the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. Now all essential commodities are going out of the reach of the people. The TPDS which was started in 1997 led to the three-card ration system. Now because of faulty assessment of the poverty line, the poor have been thrown out of the PDS. Only 24 per cent families have been given the BPL yellow ration cards. One-fifth of the population does not have any ration cards at all in spite of repeated demands. The APL quota of food grains of the states has been slashed by 73 per cent. Sugar was exported and now it is being imported at double the price – just like wheat two years ago. The central government has drafted a bill on food security which is actually a bill for food insecurity. This bill proposes to reduce the quota of grains per BPL ration card from 35 kg to 25 kg, disband the Antyodaya scheme and stop food grains for APL card holders.

Instead of increasing the supply of cheap food grains through the PDS, the Congress-NCP state government has permitted factories to manufacture liquor from food grains like jowar, bajra and maize. Jowar and bajra are consumed by a large section of the population in Maharashtra. These factories have been distributed to the sons, daughters and relatives of Congress, NCP and BJP leaders. The state government which refuses to give subsidised food grains to the poor is giving a subsidy of hundreds of crores to these liquor factories! 

Today 60 per cent of Maharashtra is facing drought. 20,200 villages out of 35,000 have been hit. Yet agricultural workers do not get either work or minimum wage. The implementation of the Forest Rights Act and NREGA is scandalous. No law has been enacted for the unorganised sector. 41,000 debt-ridden peasants in the state have committed suicide. Rates of diesel, petrol, fertilisers, electricity and water have been or will be raised tremendously. But the government refuses to increase remunerative prices for the peasantry.

To divert attention of the people from all the above burning issues, the Shiv Sena raised divisive issues like opposing the screening of ‘My Name is Khan’. Not to be left behind, the MNS too keeps stoking the fire of violent Marathi chauvinism. The BJP, NCP and some leaders of the Congress come together for the demand for a separate state of Vidarbha, in spite of the fracas that occurred over Telangana. A determined struggle against the communal and chauvinist forces is a must for building a united struggle against the neo-liberal policies.

After enumerating the specific demands of the agitation, Ashok Dhawale then placed the three-point plan of action: 1) Participation in the All India Delhi rally of the Left parties on March 12; 2) Massive and militant actions independently led by the CPI(M), mobilising over one lakh people, to be organised in district/tehsil centres all over the state on March 18, the first day of the budget session of the state assembly; 3) Making a success of the state-level rally in Mumbai organised by the Republican Left Democratic Front (RLDF) on March 30.

29 comrades from 21 districts seconded the resolution through effective speeches that outlined the serious situation faced by the people in their areas. The convention was then addressed by Party state secretariat members Mahendra Singh, J P Gavit ex-MLA, Rajaram Ozare MLA, Dr Vithal More, Kiran Moghe and Mariam Dhawale. State committee member Vijay Gabhane placed the resolution paying homage to Comrade Jyoti Basu. M H Shaikh and Siddhappa Kalshetty from Solapur welcomed and thanked the delegates respectively.

In his fiery presidential speech concluding the convention, CPI(M) state secretariat member and ex-MLA Narsayya Adam came down heavily on central and state government policies and called for a massive and sustained struggle against price rise and to ensure food security for all. The convention then concluded amidst enthusiastic revolutionary slogans.