The padyatra becomes a main tool of social action
This period saw Ekta Parishad grow from a localized grassroots movement into a force that spanned all of Madhya Pradesh.
Bhu Adhikar Satyagraha Padyatra 1999
A six months march beginning in December 1999 in Sheopurkalan and ending in June 2000 in Raigarh mobilized more than 10,000 villages and 300,000 people. Despite the challenges posed by marching in remote areas, the spirit of the people carried them through 5 regions (Chambal, Bundelkhand, Baghelkhand, Mahakoshal and Chhattisgarh, which is a state since 2001) of Madhya Pradesh, covering 8,000 villages and more than 3,800 kilometers. The results were the following:
- 24,000 grievances were submitted to the state government that dealt with hundreds of issues raised by the public.
- The state government announced the formation of a two-tiered task force; the state level task force was responsible for land redistribution policies and the district level task force dealt with the land redistribution process.
- For the next four years Ekta Parishad worked to establish task forces in each district of the state, and saw the distribution of about 350,000 land entitlements. 558,000 charges for forest-violations were dropped by the Forest Department against tribal people, significantly impacting the focus of the state’s pro-poor agenda.
- It helped to increase the pressure from village to district to state levels, with task forces acting as a monitoring mechanism. The padyatra forced the state government to work with Ekta Parishad in 30 districts of Madhya Pradesh and this success brought the strength of other states into the organizational fold. People sought Ekta Parishad strength across the country, including Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
The development of task forces became a priority in 2 other states (Orissa and Chhattisgarh) in order to monitor the work of district collectors and revenue officers. Ekta Parishad activists held a number of seats in each task force, helping to counter the highly lethargic and corrupt Revenue Department officials and to promote land re-distribution, as well as the redress of disputes between the Forest and Revenue Departments by exerting pressure at the state level.
Conflicts over whether land should be classified as Forest or Revenue land was a major stumbling block and is still an issue today. These disputed lands, or orange lands, became an issue for the courts when Ekta Parishad took the problem to the Supreme Court (PV Rajagopal vs. the State of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, 2003-04). Ekta Parishad argued that the Forest Department had a huge quantity of “orange” land without actual tree cover that they had not de-notified to allow for redistribution as Revenue Land.