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Forest Workers, Coffee Farmers to Join SKM’s Rural Bandh on Feb 16

Ravi Kaushal |
The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan expressed concern over attacks on livelihoods and on labour and forest rights.
The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan expressed concern over attacks on livelihoods and on labour and forest rights.

New Delhi: The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, a collective of different organisations working for land and forest rights, on Tuesday announced that it would participate in the rural strike called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions on February 16.

Addressing a press conference at All India Kisan Sabha headquarters in New Delhi, the leaders of organisations said that forest rights of the indigenous communities had been compromised through the new Forest Conservation Act, adding that they share the concern of farmers and workers bodies on attack on livelihoods.

While the SKM has accused the Union government of betraying it on the question of Minimum Support Price as per Swaminathan Commission formula and one-time waiver of all types of loans post suspension of their historic struggle at the borders of Delhi, the trade unions have been demanding scrapping of the four labour codes and a minimum wage of Rs 26,000/month for workers.

Roma Malik from All India Union of Forest Working People told mediapersons that the trajectory of this government’s policies in the past 10 years clearly suggested that it was more inclined toward creating cheap labour through robbing their livelihoods.

“Our first fight under this government began against the Land Acquisition Act. Then, we saw several legislations weakened, be it labour codes that have done away with many rights which workers gained through a century- long fight or farm laws aimed at handing over the agriculture sector to the corporate sector. Now they are eying precious forest land. They may not have touched the Forest Right Act but brought several changes to the Forest Conservation Act, which essentially will lead to uprooting of indigenous communities from their ancestral land,” she said addressing the press conference.

She added: “We are fighting a common struggle to get the Forest Rights Act and Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 implemented in letter and spirit. We also demand that changes in the Forest Conservation Act be reversed. We will try our best to mobilise forest communities to be part of the rural strike called by Samyukta Kisan Morcha and Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions.”

Activists also alleged that the changes in the Forest Conservation Act would lead to mass destruction of forests, as it enabled construction for eco-tourism facilities, defence, railway and highway projects. “It will also intensify man-animal conflict,” they added.

Satyawan from All India Krishak Khet Mazdoor Sangathan said that the corporates knew very well that the purchasing capacity of much of the population of this country had saturated and there was very little demand for industrial goods.

“Yet, its greed is not dying. It is now eyeing key resources like forests, land and education to maximise its profits. Similarly, farmers' families are facing acute joblessness. In Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the farmers are demanding work but very less work has been given. Those who have already worked have not been paid. West Bengal is the latest example. We understand very much that narrow mindedness will not resolve this crisis. Thus, we are appealing to all groups, be it students, teachers or young people, to be part of this historic strike,” he added.

Coffee Workers Support ‘Grameen Bandh’

The Coffee Farmers Federation of India (CFFI) has also extended its support to the strike and decided to mobilise all its units to take part in it.

In a statement, P K Abdul Lateef, president, CFFI, said that the “pro-big business position of the Modi regime was very clear in its drive to pass the pro-corporate Coffee (Promotion and Development) Bill, 2022.

In the name of “modernisation”, the Union government is making all commodity boards, including the Coffee Board of India, irrelevant from the perspective of the farmers and is converting the existing structure to suit the mantra of “ease of doing business”.

“While the Union government is trying to create a narrative that the new Bill would help small farmers, it is primarily designed to serve the commercial needs of Big Business,” he added.

Lateef said, apart from the Tatas, which had a considerable clout in the coffee business globally, other aggressive domestic monopolies, such as the Ambanis had entered the coffee business. Starbucks India, a joint venture between Tata and Starbucks registered a three-fold spike in its revenue in the financial year ending March 2023 when compared to the 2020-2021 fiscal.

“Nestle India, another major global player in coffee, also recorded high profit in the last fiscal. Grasping the possibilities of huge profit in coffee, Ambani’s Reliance Brands Ltd (RBL) has announced a strategic partnership with Pret A Manger, a British monopoly with considerable stake in fresh food and organic coffee. There is a tremendous interest by venture capital to invest in speciality coffee in India because of the huge margins. This trend was very visible in 2023 and is creating a conducive atmosphere for speculative manoeuvring that would harm the class interests of primary producers,” he added.

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