Women Hold Militant Actions For Food Security in Maharashtra

9 November, 2003 Mariam Dhawale
FOR the past few years, the Maharashtra state committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has been leading a sustained struggle on the issue of right to food, universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS), expansion of the Antyodaya scheme and provision of work under the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS). To highlight these and other related issues, the AIDWA state committee decided to intensify the agitation and a call for militant actions was given last month, on the eve of the festival season.
Around 15,000 women in 12 districts of Maharashtra organised rasta roko, demonstrations, gheraos, and courted arrest. In Talasari tehsil of Thane district, despite heavy downpour, around 4,000 women blocked the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway No 8 at five places for four hours, creating serpentine queues of vehicles reaching the borders of Gujarat. The rasta roko began at 7 a m at the inner roads and at 11 a m on the National Highway, bringing the entire traffic in the tehsil to a standstill. Finally, the rasta roko ended with the women being arrested at around 3 p m. A delegation of 70 main leaders of the AIDWA’s Thane district unit submitted a memorandum to the subdivisional officer.
In Nasik district, protest actions were held in five talukas, namely Dindori, Peth, Malegaon, Surgana, Chandwad, and in Nashik city too, with more than 1,500 women participating in the rasta roko, gherao and demonstration. In Pune, more than 300 women broke the ban orders on morchas and courted arrest outside the district magistrate’s office. In Uran tehsil of Raigad district, around 500 to 600 women blocked the main road leading to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Karalphata, despite threats by the police and SRP of dire consequences.
Mumbai witnessed a militant demonstration right outside the entrance of the State Secretariat building. Raising militant slogans, women blocked the entrance to Mantralaya. They were arrested. In Wardha, 400 women sat in a dharna outside the district collector's office. In Solapur, 300 women staged a rasta roko on the Akkalkot Road, which is the main road in the city, and were later arrested.
Ichalkaranji in Kolhapur district witnessed a 2,000 strong morcha led jointly by the CPI(M) and the AIDWA, while a delegation of 50 women submitted a memorandum in Kolhapur city.
In Hingoli district, a massive morcha of thousands of women was jointly organised by the Kisan Sabha and AIDWA in Kalamnuri taluka. Action programmes were organised in Satara, Nagpur and Gondia districts too.
In Parbhani, 150 women gheraoed the union minister of state for finance, Anandrao Adsul.
In Thane district, there has been large scale diversion of thousands of quintals of grain, allotted for distribution under the food-for-work Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), into the black market. Half the wages under this scheme are paid in the form of grains, for which coupons are distributed to those employed. But women have been running from pillar to post to get their hard earned share of grains. Many of them did not receive their grains for as many as six months. Around 700 women in Talasari then gheraoed the tehsildar, forcing him to immediately send some stocks to some ration shops.
Subsequently, the CPI(M) sarpanch Vishnu Bhelka of Savroli village in Talasari taluka caught red-handed a truck belonging to one Vijay Gupta, a known black-marketeer of food grains, while it was being loaded with sacks of EGS and rationed food grains from a government tempo. This criminal act was also photographed by some CPI(M) activists. These photographs were shown to the chief minister when a delegation of AIDWA met him last month. As a result, the tehsildar Pimple and food supply officer Wade were arrested and suspended, and an inquiry into what happened to the EGS grains was instituted.
Similarly, in Pune, the AIDWA has been pursuing the theft of grain from the government godowns. This is alleged to be the reason why BPL grain is not being distributed to many families in the city. This large scale corruption depriving many poor families of their right to cheap food was also one of the issues raised by the AIDWA in its statewide actions.
Since the implementation of the targeted public distribution system (TPDS), the central and state governments have guaranteed the distribution of 35 kg of cheap food grains to the below poverty line (BPL) card holders. But even the small section of BPL card holders, including the Antyodaya and Annapurna beneficiaries, are not being given their quotas of food grains regularly. In some districts, ration grains have not been supplied for 4 to 6 months. Some ration shop owners sell a part of the BPL grains at higher prices. Women demanded strict action against food authorities who are siphoning off subsidised food grains into the black market.
A large section of the Adivasis, small and poor farmers, landless labourers, the growing urban poor and the unorganised labour have been eliminated from the PDS as they have not been categorised as BPL. They cannot afford to buy the grains meant for the above poverty line (APL) sections, as the price of this grain is higher even than the market prices. The AIDWA has been demanding that the state government supply grains to all the ration card holders at the BPL prices. The state government must increase the coverage of cheap food grains to at least 55 per cent of the population in order to tackle the increasing malnutrition, starvation deaths and infant mortality.
The situation of kerosene availability under the PDS is also worsening throughout the state. Arbitrary undeclared cuts in kerosene quotas are being implemented by the state government. These shortages are fueling rampant black marketing and diversion, causing great hardships to women. The AIDWA has been demanding that the full quotas as per the government norms be supplied in the ration shops at the PDS price. The state government must ensure 100 per cent supply of PDS kerosene and immediately halt the cut in quotas.
As a result of these district level militant actions, the state government was forced to take notice of the issues raised. An AIDWA delegation led by veteran leader Ahilya Rangnekar and comprising Kiran Moghe, Mariam Dhawale, Sonia Gill, Sugandhi Francis, Saraswati Bhandirge, Suman Patil and Hemlata Patil met the chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde last month and the food and civil supplies secretary later. All the above issues were brought to their notice through a detailed memorandum. Follow-up actions at the state and district levels are continuing.