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The Maval Land Struggle

The police firing on unarmed protesting farmers in Maval tehsil of Pune in late July was of a pattern where the ruling politician-land mafia nexus uses the police to violently put down any opposition to their usurping agricultural land for urban development. Despite this instance of protest, the peasants of Maval are yet to build an organised resistance strong enough to hold back the State.

FROM THE STATES
The Maval Land Struggle Siddharthya Swapan Roy Though this situation is not new, the elections scheduled for next year seems to have worsened matters. This municipal corporation is a stronghold of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad

The police firing on unarmed protesting farmers in Maval tehsil of Pune in late July was of a pattern where the ruling politician-land mafia nexus uses the police to violently put down any opposition to their usurping agricultural land for urban development. Despite this instance of protest, the peasants of Maval are yet to build an organised resistance strong enough to hold back the State.

The following narrative is based on the writer’s visit, along with a fact-finding team of reporters and left activists from Pune, Mumbai and Nashik, to the affected villages and the families of the firing victims.

Siddharthya Swapan Roy (siddharthyaroy@ gmail.com) is an activist based in Pune.

O
n Tuesday, 9 August, the Pune rural police opened fire on a gathering of farmers and farmhands protesting a water pipeline project which intends to take the waters of the Pavana river to the industrial township of Pimpri-Chinchwad in a closed conduit. As a result of the police’s violent actions three protesters died and scores were injured and hospitalised.

The Background

Garlanded by the low Sahyadri hills, Maval tehsil is blessed by the Pavana river and plentiful rain, making the adjoining lands fertile and rich. The residents are overwhelmingly farmers or farmhands; land is relatively expensive and landholdings small. According to Kisan Sathe, member of Shivane Sadavli Gram Sabha, the largest individual landholding is less than five acres.

Maval is not new to land acquisitions. In 1971, the Pavana dam was built across the river and the farmers were promised a compensation of three to four thousand square feet of land for every earning male member of the household at other locations. Also, there was a promise of government jobs and monetary compensation. Then there was major land acquisition for building the Pune-Mumbai Expressway in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In almost all the cases the final compensation paid was inadequate and in all cases far less than what was promised.

The current water pipeline project aims to lay a nine feet diameter conduit from the Pavana dam and take the water into the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC).

The PCMC has innumerable small to big industries and is very well funded.1 Despite these bounties, the PCMC has till date not implemented its water filtration projects. The industrial units divert drinking water for their use, while the increasing residential population grows restive due to inadequate water supply.

august 27, 2011

Pawar and has been crucial to the Pawar family’s growth in Maharashtra politics. Thus, the party cannot afford to lose the coming municipal elections and tapping of the waters of the Pavana is the only quick fix solution for the water-related quagmire the NCP finds itself in.

It must also be noted that Maval has been an exception to the Pawar family’s story of growth and political influence in Maharashtra. While Pune district is dominated by the Pawar family, Maval tehsil has not elected the NCP to any position. The people here remain outspoken critics of Ajit and Sharad Pawar.

Run-Up to the Protests

The opposition to the land acquisition is near unanimous in Maval. While most of the gram panchayats (village councils) have openly opposed the move to lift water, even the few which have not been opposed to it have till date not collected the compensation allotted by the state government. The movement against land acquisition, in its current form, has been around for nearly three years now and is being conducted under the banner of the All Party Agitation Committee of Maval.

The agitators and the administrators had been negotiating over their differences for a long time but had failed to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. With the election deadline looming, the administration decided to press ahead and proceeded with the work. Shockingly, there is no attempt to even hide the fact that the administration has acted unilaterally and against the wishes of the people. The district collector of Pune, Vikas Deshmukh says “Once the award (of land) is declared, there is no question of any opposition” (Indian Express, Pune edition, 13 August 2011). The divisional commissioner of Pune, Dilip Band was even more blasé, “I did it as the government had cleared the project”. Quoting relevant sections of the Land Acquisition Act he added, “There

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EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

FROM THE STATES

is no need to take permission for laying a pipeline”.

Quite understandably the agitators felt cheated and insulted and resorted to declaring a Maval bandh and a rasta roko. It must be noted however that even under such agitated conditions, the Maval farmers had submitted prior intimation to the police and district authorities about their programme of agitation.

The Police Story

The police version of the event hinges on two main points. First, they were caught off guard by the rasta roko and they did not expect such a huge turnout and hence were unprepared. Second, the agitation turned violent and hence they fired in retaliation.

Both these claims have been proven false almost as soon as they were presented. As noted above, the farmers had notified the authorities well in advance and the local MLA himself arranged for the vehicles to transport agitators to the venue. So there is no way the police could be caught off guard.

As per the narrations of the villagers, the scenario appears to be unambiguously one of pre-planned action by the police.

  • The police tried to drag away the agitation leader Eknath Tile when the programme was about to end and the crowds were getting ready to disperse.
  • Moreshwar Sathe, a labourer was hauled to the police van and shot next to it in full public view. This is narrated with complete clarity by every eyewitness. This incident caused an uproar in the legislative assembly, after which the Pune police showed videos to claim that Sathe went on a ransacking spree forcing the police to shoot him. But the man in the video is bearded while Sathe is seen as clean-shaven in photo graphs taken by the media and bystanders minutes before he was shot.
  • Kantabai Thakar was shot in the chest from a distance of under six feet. Sathe too was shot in three places the neck – the chest and the abdomen.
  • The police fired only two canisters of tear gas and that too after they had fired live bullets.
  • The police and the authorities have also been engaged in creating a trail of misleading paperwork. The primary

    Economic & Political Weekly

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    august 27, 2011

    post-mortem reports (of which the villagers have only been given photocopies and not originals) have been signed by the tehsildar of Bhor and not of Maval (the latter’s name has been scribbled out). The police have also been caught on camera smashing windscreens and mirrors and damaging vehicles standing by in a fit of rage. The damaged vehicles were then impounded by the police, and after looking up records, they have booked the owners for rioting and causing damage to property!

    The Land Acquisition Pattern

    Maval is not an isolated case nor are the happenings an exception. Landownership has been at the heart of Maharashtra’s politics for a long time and the nexus of politicians, realtors and the land mafia are anything but new.

    In Maval the pipeline project is aimed at achieving two targets. Besides the immediate aim of getting the waters of the Pavana, the resultant decreased supply for farming will affect the agricultural yield, thus leading to a lowering of land prices. At that opportune time the realtor lobby aided by the land mafia will have a field day buying out bulk stretches of land from financially weakened farmers – only to be resold to the urban rich at premium prices. Kamshet, the spot where the firing took place, is not new to farmhouses and holiday home projects. In fact, holiday home projects in Kamshet predate the infamous Lavasa and Amby Valley projects as well. Other examples that follow the same pattern of taking away land using an array of methods ranging from direct repression to harassments and false documentation (including declaring people who are alive as dead) include Mulshi,2 Vella, Mangaon and many others.

    The handling by the NCP-Congress of these cases also follows a pattern. In the case of Jaitapur, the government was negotiating with the agitating locals when police firing killed one. On 25 July the police fired upon warkaris when they were agitating against a private container mowing down 14 of their fellow pilgrims. In both these cases, the firing was on completely unarmed groups of people who could pose little physical danger to the police or the admi ni stration.

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    In all these cases, the standard operating procedures of firing below the waistline or preceding firing with non- lethal action were violated.

    Conclusions

    Even though these patterns are evident, their resolution appears, at best, distant. There is a near absence of political options in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance is little more than a technical opposition to the NCP-Congress alliance. The sprawling realty and business empire of the Pawar family in Maharashtra has many prominent leaders eating out of their hands. The Maval case brings this out like none other. While Gopinath Munde, BJP leader, visited the affected villages in the days following the firing, the party has not even issued a strong press release. The once powerful dalit movement of Maharashtra has only one visible face in electoral politics, that of Ramdas Athavle, and even his has been an insipid response.

    Some of the left parties have tried to intervene in Maval building on their Jaitapur experience. The local union of anganwadi workers in Maval are providing legal and organisational help, but they do not have enough of a political presence to make a significant impact. The absence of an organised and committed opposition which can steer the agitation to success is being sorely felt.

    Notes

    1 The budget for 2011-12 is nearly Rs 3,000 crore and the PCMC is set to get more than Rs 1,000 crore by way of JNNURM funds.

    2 The Mulshi dam is a private project owned by Tata Power. Ajit Pawar and his wife Sunetra Pawar have been named accused as directed by a Pune court in April this year, following a petition filed by Chandrakant Dattatraya Gundgal alleging land-grabbing.

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