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Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
Friday, 02 June 2017 09:05

Kerala: CPI(M)-Led LDF Government and Land Question - Observer

WHILE the land question is central issue for Dalits, Adivasis, Jhuggi Dwellers and Fisher people and the agricultural workers in general, who constitute more than 40% of the population, like Congress and BJP, the CPI(M) depicts it as a non-issue or post- truth!

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the state secretary of CPI(M), in an article in his party’s Central Organ, “People’s Democracy”, writes under the title, Munnar: The Post-Truth Politics : “TODAY, Munnar is not merely the name of a region in the state of Kerala. It has evolved into a political-social-media matter. This shift has a devious political objective. This objective has not appeared all of a sudden. It had begun much earlier and displayed its potential on an earlier occasion as well. The publishers of the Oxford Dictionary have selected ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year 2016. The word depicts a situation where truths are campaigned as non-truths or vice versa. The socio-political campaign on Munnar will certainly fall in that category. This has been used as a tool to create communalism and antagonism towards the CPI (M). With this end in view, the BJP and the Congress front have come together in a macro alliance to play out their resentment against the CPI (M)...”

His fairly long note starting with this introduction explains away the vital land question in Kerala first in to a question of Munnar specific one and proceed to term it as a non-issue or post-truth utilized by Congress and BJP to beat the CPI (M)-led LDF govt with! But what is the truth? For the dalits, adivasis, hut dwellers, fisher people and landless agricultural workers who constitute more than 40% of the population, the land question is the central issue affecting their life. It is not just a matter of Idukki district alone, or of Munnar alone as he tries to belittle. Like the UDF leaders he is also trying to divert attention from the key factors concerning the land question in the state.

During previous UDF government when the question of continuing illegal occupation of 5.25 lakh acres of pre-1947 British plantation lands by Tatas and Goenkas came up as a serious question, it appointed an IAS officer Dr. Raja Manikkam to study the matter. He has submitted the report in June 2016 categorically stating that these corporates are illegal benamies who have no right on these lands which can be easily taken over through a notification of the government. But like the consecutive governments in the state during last six decades, the present LDF government also refuses to take action on it even after this report. All the governments during these decades, in which almost half the time CPI(M) led governments were in power, acted like agents of these corporates and allowed them to continue their illegal possession. The present LDF govt also wants to continue this policy.

Besides these lands, as per the land ceiling act adopted in 1970s, though there were about 7.5 lakh acres of surplus land, hardly 10% of it was taken over by consecutive governments. Remaining land is illegally occupied by earlier landlords or by land mafias as in many other states. Though the Adivasi Land Protection Act was adopted in 1975, like in other states in Kerala also no action was taken to take back more than 5 lakh acres of adivasi land illegally held by big landlords and religious institutions and to give back to its real owners. After large scale land encroachments, through a consensus among the political parties it was agreed that all land occupations till 1977 shall be legalized and all encroachments after that will be taken over by the government. In areas around Munnar, a hill resort, itself tens of thousands of acres are encroached by the real estate mafias. All over the state these encroachments amounts to more than 12 lakh acres.

Though the VS Achuthanandan led LDF government started few steps to take over these lands under these four heads, he was strongly blocked by the real estate mafias and leaders of CPI (M) and CPI from doing it. Soon he stopped all these efforts. Under the five years of UDF govt nothing was done on this question; instead more encroachments took place. Though the present LDF’s election manifesto had called for taking over these lands, as soon as the present CPI land revenue minister took some actions to throw out few land encroachers, a CPI (M) minister himself came out as the champion of the land mafias, blocking all actions. The aforesaid article is written by the CPI (M) state secretary to give a political justification for putting an end to all actions against all these illegal occupations.

The Tatas are controlling more than one lakh acre around Munnar which was under the old British plantations, Finlays, while more than the same extent by Harrisons spread out in 8 districts are under Goenkas. Both these corporate have influenced all the main parties, bureaucrats and courts so much that they continue their illegal possession. CPI (ML) Red Star and dalit, adivasi organizations have challenged them. They have led many land struggles to occupy these lands. In Wayanad district, Red Star led land struggle committee occupied 100 acres of land in Harrisons’ Meppadi estate in 1977. Dalit organizations with support of progressive forces occupied Chengara estate in Pathanamthitta district and distributed it among them. Such struggles are continuing.

Significance of Munnar Movement for Land and Livelihood in Kerala!

What is happening at Munnar in Kerala is a political drama played by the leaders of the AITUC, CITU and INTUC along with the district leaders of Congress led UDF parties and CPI(M) led LDF parties along with BJP to once again stop all efforts to throw out the land mafias including Tatas, Goenkas, Travancore Rubber and Tea Company, Pobson, Hope Plantations, AVT and so on who are in possession of lakhs of acres of plantation and other Western Ghat lands, denying land and livelihood for the people and destroying the environment of Western Ghats as pointed out in the Gadgil Commission Report. On 22nd April when the Pompilai Orumai (Women’s Unity), the struggling union of the women plantation workers, whose struggle for land and better livelihood was suppressed by the UDF government two years ago, tried to organize a public meeting to denounce the land mafia, to demand distribution of one acre each land to all plantation workers and Rs 600 daily wages which is prevalent in the state, police refused permission. On 23 April, CPI (M) minister Mani came out with vulgar attacks on the women as well as all those who demanded eviction of the land mafias. This is the same thing that happened in 2007 when the then chief minister VS Achuthanandan tried to evict the mafias. The same Mani, who was then the CPI (M) district secretary, and his associates threatened the CM saying his hands will be chopped off, and thus all evictions were stopped.

The same drama is repeated now. The CPI (ML) Red Star along with the class/mass organizations have extended full support to the struggle of the Pompilai Orumei in the struggle for land, livelihood, housing and hike in wages to the level of minimum wages. Besides, the Party has called for taking over all illegally held plantation land and its distribution to the plantation workers and landless oppressed people.

The real struggle is to recapture around five-an-a-half lakh acres of land now illegally occupied by corporate plantation/land mafias. The Party is demanding the confiscation of these lands and their distribution to plantation workers, landless peasants and all tillers, majority of them belonging to dalits and adivasis and other oppressed sections. All ruling class parties are indulging on petty issues to divert attention from this core issue and hiding Dr Rajamanikyam report and the legal challenges raised by Adv Susheela Bhatt when she was the public prosecutor. All the forces of reaction and the revisionists are working overtime for Tata, Goenka/Harrison, etc. by playing dramas to hoodwink the masses.

The ruling system with UDF, LDF and BJP serving it very obediently along with the all powerful corporate media is so strong in Kerala that even burning issues like Jisha murder, sexual abuses by the Catholic establishment, Jishnus’s murder by the education mafia and now the Munnar question, which is just the tip of ice berg of serious of land mafia aggressions, etc are covered up as soon as they come up. The cultural degeneration compared to earlier struggling decades of the renaissance phase is shocking. Rescuing Kerala from these vultures calls for a people’s upsurge raising these and other basic questions. The significance of the land struggle proposed to be launched by the Party on 2nd May Thiruvananthapuram Convention should be seen in this context as a new beginning..

Discussions are held with Pompilai Orumai comrades, and other leaders of dalit and adivasi organizations, while extending support to their struggles. At the same time, the conspiracy hatched by LDF, UDF, BJP like forces and the land mafia including Tata and Harrisons to divert the struggle from the basic question of confiscating the 5.5 lakh acres of plantation land illegally occupied by them and the lakhs of acres of land occupied by the land mafias. This struggle calls for the need for a united movement of all oppressed classes and sections under the leadership of the progressive sections of the plantation workers for capturing these lands, so that these plantations can be made workers’ cooperatives, all the land vested with the government can be distributed to dalits, adivasis and other landless sections, and the ecology can be protected by driving out all land and real estate mafias.

Declaration of Trivendrum Convention

It is in this background that political significance of the Land Struggle Convention and the Resolution adopted at Thiruvananthapuram held on 2nd May should be seen. Inaugurating the Convention com. KNR explained that as per the report of Dr Rajamanikkam presented to the state government around 5.5 lakh acres of plantation land is illegally held by Tata, Goenka, TR & T, AVT as benamis of foreign plantation companies and called for confiscating them with immediate effect. Surplus land in possession in excess of the land ceiling as par the Land Reform Act comes to around 7 lakh acres of land. The land grabbed by encroachers from the adivasis which can be taken over as per the Adivasi Land Rights Act also forms vast tracts of land, especially in Western Ghats. Besides these, the land mafias have encroached or taken possession of govt land in one pretext or other.

It is now generally accepted that out of the total 35 lakh acres of agricultural land, around 20 lakh acres are in the possession of mafias or those sections who have nothing to do with agriculture. This comes to almost 57 % of the total revenue land in the tiny state of Kerala where land concentration is the highest among all Indian states. But no action is taken by successive governments to stop encroachments or to take the land illegally held by corporate land mafias. A powerful movement should be launched to take over this land, to bring these plantations under workers cooperatives and to distribute remaining land to plantation workers, dalits, adivasis and other landless people. Comrades Salimkumar, KKS Das, Adv Pushpa, Omana, PJ James, MP Kunjikanaran, Ajayan, Anil, Sivaraman and MK Dasan analyzed different aspects of the question and emphasized the importance of launching land struggle soon. The Convention concluded by adopting a resolution calling for launching a Munnar march and other campaigns and struggles to capture these lands.

As such, it has been decided to start struggle centres for land and shelter in different parts of the state. To start with three hot spots- namely Erumeli in Kottayam district where Harrison had already sold large chunk of its illegal possession to the notorious Gospel Asia mafia Yohannan and where the Pinarayi govt. is planning to construct an airport, Muply Valley estate in Trichur, and Vythiri in Wayanad — for land struggles are being identified. Along with this, it is decided to have intense political campaign in Munnar joining with like-minded forces. As part of this, a two-day political campaign among plantation workers jointly organised by Party comrades from both Kerala and Tamil Nadu were held on May 16 and 17 in Munnar. The party has also decided to organize a “Munnar March” in the first week of July as part of intensifying the struggle to resolve Kerala’s land question which is fundamental to fulfill the democratization task in Kerala. 

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