EVEN as the Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil announced to institute judicial probe into the firing incident at Mawal near Pune and Mowad near Nagpur, the Opposition BJP and other parties tried to derive political mileage out of it. And that was quite obvious. The Opposition parties led by the BJP in the State Legislature Assembly forced the adjournment of the House on this issue of unprovoked firing on agitating farmers in Mawal who were opposing diverting the waters of Pawna project to Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation for drinking purposes.
The farmers protesting this decision of the state government came out in the open and blocked the Pune-Mumbai Expressway at various places. They were agitating in a very peaceful manner and there was absolutely no provocation from their end which would warrant use of force including firing by the security agencies.
The Leader of Opposition Ekanath Khadse of BJP raised this issue in the House alleging that the police had opened fire at the farmers at the behest of the Deputy Chief Minister and Guardian Minister of Pune district Ajit Pawar who has ‘special interests’ in Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation area. A good number of MLAs also raised anti-Ajit Pawar slogans carrying placards and banners. They equated the Deputy Chief Minister with General Dyre of the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre.
Three of the agitating farmers succumbed to police bullets while scores injured to save themselves. The television clippings showed cops firing at the agitating farmers with definite aim. They even rained lathi blows on standing vehicles smashing glass panes of the cars and damaging two-wheelers.
The state government already beleaguered with the internal bickering in the ruling dispensation of Cong-NCP, has utterly failed to handle this sensitive issue of farmers in Mawal area of the state. This along with the inept handling of public upsurge in Mowad near Nagpur last week, indicated that the Cong-NCP government was not in a position to contain law and order situation in the state effectively. The recent attack of Naxalites on Children’s Right Protection Force in Gadchiroli district of Vidarbha only further exposed this helplessness of the Prithviraj Chavan Government.
The Mowad public upsurge was the result of police refusal to register a complaint of the rape victim. People gathered to protest peacefully but had to face the wrath of the cops who fired at them taking a precious life of one person. The State Home Minister R R alias Aba Patil tried to defend the police sheepishly by stating that 2010 witnessed the lesser number of police firing in the last 50 years. Leader of the Opposition Ekanath Khadse visited Mowad and interacted with the people and raised this issue in the State Assembly on August 8 forcing the Home Minister to announce judicial probe into the incident.
The local people have been opposing supplying Pawana project water to Pimpri-Chinchwad people depriving the farmers of the area. The opposition began soon after Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar inaugurated this project in 2008. But the government ignored the popular sentiments and pushed the project through at the behest of Pawar who was then Water Resources Minister.
It would be wrong to look at these incidents in an isolated manner. The greed of the politicians and their alleged nexus with the protagonists of urbanisation has been the root cause of this conflict witnessed in various parts of the country. It may be in Bhatta-Parsol of Noida in UP, acquiring farmlands in the name of SEZs, constructing large dams without caring for the rehabilitation of affected people, and so on. The basic approach of the politicians, planners and social thinkers needs a complete rethinking and re-orientation to eliminate such ugly situations in the present social milieu.
People of Amaravati, a premier town in Vidarbha, the home town of President Pratibhatai Patil also witnessed similar agitation over the decision to make available waters of Upper Wardha Project to private power generation project depriving the legitimate right of the farmers of the area.
The Mawal incident also points to the stark reality of future wars on water. Today over 40 per cent population of the world faces problems arising out of scarcity of potable water. According to environment experts the demand for potable water is expected to go up worldwide by 40 per cent in the coming 20 years. If the water meant for irrigation purposes is diverted for urban areas, then such conflicts are sure to confront the government of the day. To avoid this, the government must amend its policy of urbanisation and modernisation or westernisation of the cities.
Another angle of this controversy lies in the priority accorded by the government to the use of water. The World Bank and other international finance institutions are pressurising the governments of the developing countries for privatisation of water resources since last two decades. The incidents in Chhattisgarh over privatisation of Sheonath river and opposition to bottling plant of Coca Cola in Kerala can be cited to prove this point. The leaders instead of learning lessons from such incidents seem to have wrongly placed their priorities. Unfortunately, the leaders of ‘progressive’ Maharashtra have not given a thought to this ground reality and instead have indulged in debate over supplying water to industries at the cost of agriculture. The Mawal incident is an eye-opener for such politicians. Are they listening?