CPM farm union becomes Kuttanad’s new feudal lord

via Pioneer News Service | Alappuzha published on March 17, 2008

Feudalism had left the paddy fields of Kerala early in the second half of the last century, but the same forces which had pushed the feudalists away from the fields have become the new lords there. The Communists’ armed and unarmed fights had made the feudal lords give up the practice of persecuting workers and tenants and flee the fields. But the Reds themselves are allegedly the new lords who decide on how the farmers should sow and reap.

This rule by the fist by the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (KSKTU), the farmers’ front of the CPI(M), has now reportedly made farmers of Kuttanad lose crores of rupees in crop damage after the union disallowed them from using machines to reap and thresh ripe paddy at the right time. The loss of food grains, caused by heavy downpours at a time when the food-deficit State was experiencing a near famine in the rice front, would amount to more than Rs 10 crore.

While the CPI(M) bosses are trying to argue that the rains were unexpected natural phenomenon and was no political issue, farmers say that the loss was indeed due to political interventions. Even the CPI(M)-led Government had said in the Assembly that mechanisation in the rice farm front was inevitable in Kerala due to shortage of workers, but the KSKTU in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of the State, sees it in a different way.

As the paddy crop in Kuttanad became ripe and as there were not enough farm hands available for reaping and threshing, several farmers had brought rented reap-and-thresh machines from other places, including Tamil Nadu. But KSKTU, which has been the ultimate authority in Kuttanad for the past several decades, objected to the use of these machines despite the fact that the union was unable to provide enough workers for reaping and threshing the crop.

“We asked the union to provide us with workers so that we could avoid using the machines. We said we should be allowed to use machines if they could not give us workers. The union was not ready to agree to either of the demands. Instead, they demanded Rs 175 to Rs 200 per acre for using the machines,” said Chandran Pillai, a farmer in Upper Kuttanad.

The tragic result of this intransigent attitude of the KSKTU was that paddy crop in more than 1,500 hectares of farmland was submerged in rainwaters in Kuttanad alone. If machines had been engaged in the fields in time, more than 90 per cent of the paddy could have been reaped and safely stored even before the first week of March. The tragedy is still looming. Another moderate-to-strong shower could ensure the loss of ripe paddy in more than 7,000 hectares with monetary loss amounting to more than Rs 30 crore. This is happening under a Communist regime, which had pledged to protect paddy fields and farmers at any cost.

The story of rule by unionised force of the KSKTU in the sprawling rice fields of Kuttanad end there. When the farmers wanted to press the machines into service for reaping and threshing to save their crops in time, the CPI(M) union came up with new and unheard condition that only parallel Governments could speak of.

“The union wanted the farmers who needed to use the machines to reach the local KSKTU offices, submit applications for permission to use them and register their names with the union. The union office-bearers would then rule whether use of machine in the fields of the particular farmer could be allowed. And if the union ruled that machine could be allowed, the farmer should make a ‘contribution’ of Rs 175 per acre for using it. The joke is that the agriculture office, the labour office, the local administration body or even the police does not have any role in this,” said Samuel

Kunju, a Changanassery-based farmer with land in Kuttanad’s Ramankari.

When Opposition leader Oommen Chandy brought some of these facts to the attention of the State Assembly on Monday, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who is accused of protecting Marxist killers in his home constituency of Thalassery, generously asked him to present proof for this.

Farmers vouch that they would not have suffered such huge losses if the KSKTU had not adopted this intransigent attitude. “Of course you can’t control rains and storms. But I could have saved at least 90 per cent of my grains, as I would have completed harvest in a major part of my fields in the first week of March itself. The rains would not have affected my fields. I had taken a loan of Rs 1,75,000 from bank for cultivation. How am I going to repay the money? May be, I should ask the KSKTU,” Samuel Kunju said.

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