Sindh govt urged to withdraw appeal filed in SC against pro-peasant SHC judgement

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Agricultural workers thresh wheat crop in Tando Allahyar in this file picture.—Photo by Umair Ali
Agricultural workers thresh wheat crop in Tando Allahyar in this file picture.—Photo by Umair Ali

KARACHI: On the occasion of International Day of Peasants, the Hari Welfare Association (HWA), which is a farmers and peasants welfare organisation, has expressed its disappointment with the government of Sindh and the province’s bureaucratic system and held them responsible for the “unending suffering and miseries of peasants and rural workers in Sindh”.

In a press statement issued on Friday, the HWA said that if the government at the provincial and district levels was unable to organise any activity on peasants’ rights day during the Covid-19 lockdown, it should have at least shared a policy brief to address the problems of peasants and rural workers affected due to the current pandemic.

According to the HWA, many peasants, rural workers and peasants’ rights activists had gathered at the HWA head office to express their concerns about no improvement in the government’s attitude towards peasants and rural workers since the last peasants’ rights day marked in April 2019.

Peasant leaders include Punhal Sario, president of the Hari Welfare Association Akram Khaskheli, peasant activists Salih Bilo and Hussain Bux Chutto attended the meeting.

The HWA said that peasants, rural workers and peasants’ rights activists were getting desperate “over the government’s anti-peasant rights move”.

They said the move was exposed when in December 2019 the government appealed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against a pro-peasant rights landmark judgement by the Sindh High Court Hyderabad bench in October 2019.

The bench had struck down Section-6 of the Sindh Tenancy (Amendment) Act, 2013, whereby Section 24-C of the Sindh Tenancy Act, 1950, was amended to omit prohibition of begaar (unpaid work).

However, instead of complying with the high court’s decision and protecting rights of peasants in the brutal feudal system and structure, the government sided with feudal lords to curb and violate fundamental rights of peasants in the province.

Agriculture and bonded labourers surveys

The HWA also claimed that the government’s “lack of seriousness towards peasants’ rights is also reflected from the fact that it is not conducting agriculture and bonded labourers surveys”.

The federal government had conducted an agriculture survey in 2010. In the same year, through the 18th constitutional amendment, the subject of agriculture was transfer to the provincial authority.

The government did not conduct any bonded labour survey to assess the gravity of the problem in the province.

The HWA said that in 2012, some 7.74 million people were directly or indirectly involved in the agriculture sector. And a majority of them were peasants.

In 2000, the ILO estimated that 1.8m peasants were suffering as bonded labourers, and an estimated 6.8m peasants were executing caste-based labour in Sindh.

Laws that needed to be implemented

The HWA said that to receive applause from the quarters concerned, the government of Sindh had often introduced laws to protect vulnerable groups, but it did not implement those laws.

The Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (SBLSAA) of 2015, the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (SIRA) of 2013 and the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) of 2019 were introduced.

“Still, these are never implemented by creating relevant structures and allocating funds.”

As per SBLSAA, district vigilance committees should be formed in each district of the province, but neither are these formed in all districts nor are they provided funds. Thus, the law is completely dormant.

Also, SIRA recognises peasants, rural workers and fishermen as industrial workers. Therefore they would have the right to form associations, but the government took no measures to enable rural workers, peasants and fishermen to form their associations.

Like any other law, the SWAWA has become dormant legislation.

The HWA said like any other law, implementation of the SWAWA was indispensable to protect rural peasant and worker women from abuse, exploitation, marginalisation and discrimination under the patriarchal, feudal and tribal society.

The HWA also added that a large number of women were living in slavery in rural areas in the agriculture and brick kiln sectors.

The HWA urged the government to implement all existing peasants’ rights laws especially the SWAWA and the STA in light of the SHC’s judgement in October 2019 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

In 2018, Pakistan had endorsed the adoption of the declaration and committed to protecting the rights of peasants and rural workers.

The HWA urged the government to withdraw the appeal filed in the Supreme Court and amend the STA in light of the UN declaration and SHC’s judgement, and also take necessary measures ordered under the same judgement. The HWA also urged that government’s land should be distributed among landless peasants and rural workers and in it special preference should be given to women.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2020