In Dhule the yatra visited a very historical school managed by Harijan Sevak Sangh. Harijan Sevak Sangh was started in 1932 after the Pune pact between Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. As you may know these two great leaders often disagreed about means—while they both struggled to achieve the end of ‘uplift’ in the Dalit community. This historic school shows that it is possible to unify the movements begun by Gandhiji and Dr. Ambedkar. The objective of the school was to provide quality education to dalit and adivasi students as a way to address inequalities in Hindu society. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first president of this school. Today the school’s policy is that only an alumni of the school can be a president of the board that governs the school. Several students who have passed out of this school have become IAS officers, joined the armed forces, have found well-paying jobs in the industry.
Members of the yatra also met with a very unique organisation–Lok Sangharsh Morcha–which is responsible for coordinating the yatra in the region and about the issues in the region. Lok Sangharsh Morcha emerged out of student activist of 1980s and 1990s. Today they work in 718 villages in the 5 districts of Nandurbar, Nasik, Dhule, Jalgaon and Buldana work on the issue of displacement due to land-acquisition, implementation of Forest Rights Act. Most of the tribes in this region are either Bhil or Powar. Lok Sangharsh Manch adopts a twin approach of engaging in struggle and constructive programs. They have about 32 full-time workers who receive travel and communication support. The workers are nominated by the community and the villages support them by taking care of their farming and the sanghatan supports them by giving them seeds. Every 3 years the workers are evaluated by the villages for continued support. The villages where Lok Sangharsh Morcha works contribute Rs 100 per family per year as membership fees. A Social Gratitude Fund of 3 crores has been established with support of theater groups and powerful sections of society in these 5 districts to support social workers and movement activities.
There are several major land acquisitions which are being carried out in the area about which the members of the yatra learned.
The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor passes through Dhule district in Northern Maharashtra. Land is being acquired by Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation from 26 villages in the district for the expansion of his highway. Highly fertile irrigated land is being acquired from around 11,000 families. MIDC does not have a publicly available document that clearly outlines how much land will be needed for this corridor and from which villages will land be acquired. Land is being acquired in phases and because the acquisition is being carried out by MIDC, farmers get lower compensation.
In Shindakheda tehsil of Dhule district, land is being acquired from 8 villages for a thermal power plant. Instead of acquiring land 50 kilometers away from the current location where there is a lot of land that is barren and is being unused highly fertile land is being acquired. The reason for this is the proximity to railway lines, availability of water in these villages and the availability of labour. The two villages Methi and Kamrodh have succeeded through their struggle in getting their villages exempted from land-acquisition for the thermal power plant.
Finally, Suzlon wind power plant has acquired approximately 25000 acres land for very low price of 20000/acre. Reserve forest land has also been occupied without appropriate permissions. Land that was tilled by Bhil adivasis in Sakri tehsil for several centries has been acquired. The people’s demand is “Allow us to retain the ownership of land, and give us a share in profits.” The wind mills – dig several borewells drawing the entire water from the water table. This affects agriculture in the entire region. Wind mills get 50% subsidy and the government is compelled to buy the power that is generated. The cost of this power is also high. The demand is that the government gives interest-free loan to farmers to enable them to become partners of the wind-mill project.