We will wait for government to fulfil our demands, says leader of kisan long march

MLA from Kalvan in Nashik district is one of three leaders that led the ‘kisan long march’ to Mumbai last week. Gavit is very clear about what will happen if tribal farmers’ demands are not met this time
Jiva Pandu Gavit, CPI(M) MLA, leader of kisan long march(Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Jiva Pandu Gavit, CPI(M) MLA, leader of kisan long march(Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Mar 20, 2018 04:29 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByVaishali Balajiwale

Nearly 30,000 farmers, mostly adivasis (tribals) marched from Nashik to Mumbai in sweltering heat, while maintaining absolute discipline and showing concern for Class 10 students appearing for their board exams. The adivasis had resolved to lay siege to the state assembly in Maharashtra till their long pending demands were met by the government.

An MLA of seven terms, Gavit is the only Leftist legislator in the state assembly and has led several agitations of the adivasis in the past.

He spoke to Vaishali Balajiwale about the rights of tribals to forest lands they till; right to water and old age pension for adivasis, all among the primary demands of the kisan march.

Why did you plan the famers’ long march to Mumbai?

We have been, time and again, putting forth our demands and holding demonstrations. However, all this while, the government has been assuring us and we realised that nothing much happens later. This time we were determined to draw the attention of the government to our issues which are genuine and long standing. We simply resorted to a different method, that’s all.

The agitation was primarily led by tribals to press for their demands. However, we saw that the scope of this agitation was far larger than anything in the past.

Our primary demands were very clear. They have always been about the rights of the tribals to the forest lands which they till by adding their names to the 7/12 (saat-bara) land holding extract. Our other demands were separate ration cards for families that have broken away from joint families and have become nuclear families, old-age pension for tribals and water for the region. We also sought loan waiver for farmers as this is an issue of across Maharashtra.

The right to forest land is an issue for which you have been agitating for long. Could you please elaborate on this?

The forest land issue is very important. According to the Forest Act (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006), the tribals have a right to till four hectares of forest land. Some have got this right, but some cases are in the appellate. These cases need to be looked at urgently. Also, very importantly, the names of these tribals tilling the land should appear on the 7/12 extract. This is one of our important demands.

You have also demanded sustainable water supply in the region.

Our other issue is about availability of water and river linking in the region which is also very important. Our tribal region in Nashik district sees a lot of rainfall in the monsoon, but we see severe water scarcity in the summers and the land goes dry.

We need a mechanism by way of which water is available all round the year. We need to store rainwater and make it available to people in the region. There is a proposal for river linking in the region. The waters of rivers like Nar, Par, Damanganga, Wagh and Pinjal which flow well through the monsoon go straight into the Arabian sea.

We have demanded that this water be stored in weirs or small dams in the region. If this happens the summer migration of the tribal populace to the cities in search of work will stop.

They will be able to conduct farming all through the year.

Along with traditional crops like nagli and paddy, they can also take up crops like sugarcane, harbara (chick pea) and strawberry.

Now that the government has conceded to your demands, are you convinced of their sincerity?

Yes, this time around the government seems to have understood the seriousness of our demands. It appears to be serious too. They have conceded to the demands, but we will have to wait and see how the implementation takes place.

Do you feel reassured that this time around the implementation will be done?

Well, we will have to give them time for implementation, at least six months. On the last two occasions, they assured us and did not implement, but this time I feel that the chief minister has understood the gravity of the situation. At least this is what I can say on the basis of what he said at the meeting with us. I also find that the system is moving, as I was approached by the district administration in Nashik to seek more information. This makes me believe that the government intends to keep its word. If they don’t, it will be sad and we will have to resort to more severe agitations. However, we are not aggressive people and will not resort to any unlawful means, but will have to then make the government realise with greater clarity. I don’t think that will come. I hope not.

What suggestions have you made towards resolving the demands?

Yes, I have given some suggestions to the government. To begin with, the government has to abolish the old committees. These committees to deal with the forest rights according to the Forest Act were formed in 2008, at the gram panchayat, sub-divisional and district level. However, at all levels, the committee members were government officials and the then elected representatives. The committees did not have any non-governmental representation. We insist that it should be there. The committee needs to be re-constituted also for the fact that some members have been transferred.

Do you feel the government conceded to your demands because we are one year away from the general elections?

We did not play on political grounds nor did we put any pressure. The government was under pressure due to the genuineness of issues.

What did it take to stage such a massive and effective agitation?

It is not easy. This agitation was about tribals standing up for themselves. There was no mobilisation of any kind. They were worried about their pending demands not being met. People came forward with one thought. This kind of involvement needs a strong purpose, one single thought and strong organisation and leadership. Here the leadership was by the people themselves and so was the implementation. They paid for their own expenses of four to five days. We had formed groups of 500 from adjacent villages and they pooled grains to cook on the way.

Someone from the village lent a tractor to carry pooled utensils and everyone contributed for the diesel. This agitation was not sponsored. Also, there was strict discipline. It was made clear that one who did not follow the discipline would be sent back home. This was a people’s movement.

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