HYDERABAD: During the local government elections held in June and July 2022, peasants and rural workers were entirely overlooked and not included in the party-based electoral process in Sindh, these and many other facts were pointed out by the speakers at the launching ceremony of the eighth report, titled “The State of Peasants’ Rights in Sindh in 2022” at the HWA office Nawabshah.

“The report is produced by Hari Welfare Association which sheds light on the challenging circumstances faced by peasants and rural workers in Sindh and the entirely indifferent attitude of the governments towards addressing their concerns.

HWA President Akram Ali Khaskheli highlighted that in 2022, the plight of peasants and rural laborers remained dire, with little to no positive initiatives taken to improve their situation.

This report comprehensively reviews the legislative, policy, and administrative frameworks in place and highlights the challenges faced by peasants and rural workers.

Khaskheli said that the report underscores that in 2022, no significant progress was made in favor of peasants and rural workers. One particularly negative development was the failure of the Government of Sindh (GoS) to withdraw its petition filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against a landmark verdict by the Sindh High Court in October 2019, while federal and provincial laws include legal and policy initiatives by the government, women’s access to and control of land continued to be hindered by the prevailing social structure.

The Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA), a significant law passed in 2019, saw no efforts towards implementation in 2022. The SWAWA covers a wide range of provisions that, if enforced diligently, would benefit rural women in Sindh. These provisions remained largely unimplemented.

The report highlights the need for enforcement of laws such as the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950, the Sindh Tenancy Amendment Act 2013, the Sindh Bonded Labor (Abolition) System Act 2015, and the Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013.

Unfortunately, the GoS failed to allocate budgets, human resources, or public awareness campaigns for the implementation of these laws.

In the fiscal year 2022-2023, the GoS allocated Rs16.6 billion for the agriculture sector, which was higher than the previous budget. However, this budget was deemed insufficient for the changing ground realities and increased cost of production.

The report points out that while the GoS announced subsidies for small farmers in 2021, there was no news about the distribution of subsidies to small-scale peasants in 2022; leaving these vulnerable groups without the support they were promised.

Following heavy rains and floods in August 2022, the GoS introduced the Sindh Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy (2022). However, this policy fell short of adequately addressing the needs and rights of peasants, especially the poor landless peasants who were severely affected by the floods. Social protection measures for peasants and rural workers were notably absent from this policy.

The heavy rains and floods in August and September 2022 had a devastating impact on the entire Sindh economy. Landless peasants, sharecroppers, and rural workers were the most severely affected, losing their livelihoods, livestock, and shelters. Unfortunately, the GoS’s measures were inadequate to compensate for these losses, and the response to the devastation faced by these groups was weak.

The report highlights that the devastation caused by rains and floods in 2022 had the most significant impact on farmers and laborers.

Due to the lack of compensation for losses of homes, lands, and livestock, their suffering continued in the following year. The report was presented at a ceremony attended by senior journalists including Muhammad Sadiq Mangi, Zulfikar Khaskheli, Hosh Muhammad Mangi, Advocate Dr. Ashothama, Ahmed Khayam, and Mir Hasan Brohi, women farmer Haleema Mai and Basran among others.

They emphasized that the violation of farmers’ and laborers’ rights directly affected them in 2022. The report’s contents have far-reaching implications, sparking debates and policymaking on a global scale.

It is now the responsibility of the state to ensure the effective implementation of these policies. The dire economic conditions of farmers and laborers necessitate a worldwide awakening and concerted efforts to uplift their conditions.

Dr. Ashothama expressed sorrow over the dire circumstances of farmers and laborers, highlighting that they lack access to education, health, and basic amenities. The plight of these marginalized individuals calls for urgent global attention.

The report notes the significant influence of landlords and individuals associated with agriculture in provincial and national parliaments. This influence was evident in the absence of any specific legislative measures addressing the rights of peasants and rural workers in 2022.

Additionally, the budget speech for 2022-23 did not allocate funds for the functioning and activities of the District Vigilance Committees (DVCs).

While DVCs play a crucial role in identifying latent forms of slavery, their formation has been slow and inconsistent. By the end of December 2022, DVCs were formed in 19 out of the total 29 districts in Sindh.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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