According to the plan, the survival reports of seedlings planted between July 1 and September 30 last year were to be uploaded to the portal launched by the state Forest department to monitor the drive.
FIVE months after the erstwhile government headed by Devendra Fadnavis announced achieving its goal of planting 33 crore saplings in the state within three months, 38 out of total 59 government agencies that were involved in the drive have not submitted sapling survival reports.
According to the programme, the survival reports of seedlings planted between July 1 and September 30 last year were to be uploaded to the portal launched by the state Forest department to monitor the drive. These 38 agencies had reported to have planted 5.5 crore saplings during the drive but were silent on whether these survived.
In case of 14 other departments, survival reports have come from only three out of the total 36 districts.
Only Social Forestry, Forest department (Territorial), Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra and Forest Wildlife Department have diligently reported survival numbers on the portal. According to the portal, a total of 34.47 crore saplings were planted as part of the Green Maharashtra drive last year, of which 15.68 crore have been reported to have survived. Most of these were those planted by forest agencies.
The non-Forest agencies — mostly state government, central government and local body offices, which had planted a total of 16.97 crore saplings — have submitted survival reports for only 3.41 lakh saplings, leaving the fate of the rest (16.94 core) to imagination.
In 2016, the state government had launched the ‘Green Maharashtra’ drive under the leadership of then forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, with an aim to plant 50 crore trees across the state. The previous government claimed it planted 19 crore saplings between 2016 and 2018 and then additional 33 crore between July 1 and September 30, 2019.
To monitor planning and implementation of the campaign, a special portal was created to upload plantation numbers, photographic and videographic evidence of plantation drive as well as survival reports after conducting inspection in October and May every year.
As The Indian Express earlier reported, the non-forest agencies, which were reluctant to take part in the humongous drive stating they neither had expertise nor financial resources to do so, had claimed to have achieved plantation targets, but in a majority of instances had not uploaded the photographic evidence.
The portal shows that although gram panchayats reportedly planted 8.64 crore saplings during the drive, survival reports have been submitted only for 2,46,226 in Chandrapur district. Gram panchayats from no other district have submitted their reports. Similarly, the state Agriculture department had claimed to have planted 1.9 crore saplings. But positive survival reports have been submitted only by one gram panchayat (Mhatroli) in Alibaug taluka of Raigad District for 340 saplings.
While Vivek Khandekar, chief conservator of forest (Pune), did not comment on the issue, other officials said the forest department had no mandate to force compliance from non-forest agencies. “You would see that most of non-compliance is from non-forest agencies and we can’t do anything about it,” said an official.
One way to get answers to these questions is to leaf through the communications shared between key actors discussing the issue of rehabilitation of refugees.
AS the imbroglio over Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) continues, claims and counter-claims made in support and opposition to the Act have caused a great amount of confusion and polarisation in Indian society. The episode has raised some fundamental questions about the nature of Indian state, its commitment to secularism and its relationship with religious identity.
Notwithstanding the extent of confusion caused by CAA debate, the crisis of the present moment cannot be greater than the one faced by the Indian government and people in the immediate aftermath of partition that cleaved a country into two on the basis of religion.
In that period of unprecedented chaos and communal ebb, the nascent government was faced with the responsibility of rehabilitating Hindus and Sikhs who came to India from Pakistan; and a large section of Muslims who decided to stay back in India but were pushed out of their houses due to violence.
Although India had decided to build a secular polity under the leadership of its founding fathers, could it observe that principle in practice as it was taking baby steps as an independent nation born amid the mayhem of partition? Could it look at its Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims with the same eye and address their issues with same urgency? Was the treatment of Muslim minority in India contingent on how Hindus and Sikhs were being treated in Pakistan?
One way to get answers to these questions is to leaf through the communications shared between key actors discussing the issue of rehabilitation of refugees.
Let’s start with a letter written by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to then Chief Minister of Assam Gopinath Bardoloi that Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited earlier this month (February 6) while justifying his government’s decision to enact the CAA. According to Modi, in this letter (written one year prior to Nehru-Liaquat Pact) Nehru clearly asked Bardoloi to differentiate between a ‘refugee’ and a ‘Muslim immigrant’ while dealing with them.
“This is for those who say we are doing Hindu-Muslim and dividing the country,” said Modi while ‘quoting’ the letter. “Remember what Nehru had said – aapko sharanarthiyon aur Muslim immigrants, inke beech farq karna hi hoga and desh ko in sharnarthiyon ki jimmedari leni hi padegi. (…You will have to make a distinction between refugees and Muslim immigrants and the country will have to take the responsibility of rehabilitating the refugees),” Modi said in his speech.
What did Nehru’s letter say?
The letter was written by Nehru to Bardoloi on 4 June 1948 after the Assam government expressed its unwillingness to accommodate refugees pouring in from East Pakistan. Although Nehru did not use the exact phrasing used by Modi while quoting him, it appears from the following two paragraphs that the government adopted different approaches towards the two groups – Muslims who were trying to return to their homes in India and Hindus from East Pakistan coming to Assam.
“I’m surprised to learn that you feel yourself helpless in dealing with the influx of Muslims into Assam. As you know, we have a permit system as between Western Pakistan and India. I do not think there is a permit system in regard to Eastern Bengal and Western Bengal and possibly no such system exists in regard to Assam either. I think you should discuss this matter with Mr Gopalswami Ayyangar…”
“About the influx of Hindus from East Bengal, this is a different matter entirely. I am told that your government or some of your ministers have openly stated that they prefer Muslims of East Bengal to Hindus from East Bengal. While I, for one, always like any indication of a lack of communal feeling in dealing with public matters, I must confess that this strong objection to Hindu refugees coming from East Bengal is a little difficult for me to understand. I am afraid Assam is getting a bad name for its narrow-minded policy.”
This is not the only such communication that hints at or overtly displays a differential attitude towards these two groups of refugees. There are scores of letters shared between ministries which shows that while there was no official policy to favour rehabilitation of Hindu, Sikh refugees over ‘displaced’ Muslims, the contingencies created by large inflow of refugees from Pakistan and communal upheaval caused by partition manifested itself in a situation where taking active interest in rehabilitation of displaced Muslim families became unpalatable to many within and outside the government – especially after Mahatma Gandhi’s death barely five months after the independence.
Shortage of houses and properties to allot to incoming Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab was one major topical reason for the eruption of violence against Muslims in various areas in north India as refugees from Pakistan getting accommodation became contingent on Muslims vacating their houses and migrating to Pakistan. Similarly ‘stories of violence’ brought in by refugees and resulting ‘reaction’ against local Muslims made it impossible for them to continue to live peacefully in their houses or to return to their homes if they had shifted to camps. This, in-turn, pushed the government to unofficially adopt a policy to discourage Muslims who wished to return to their homes in India – especially if they had migrated to Pakistan during the violent months.
Learning lessons from the past Partition Shortage of houses and properties to allot to incoming Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab was one major topical reason for the eruption of violence against Muslims in various areas in north India.
‘The Housing Problem’
How the government’s inability to provide roofs over the heads of the refugees became a cause for violence against local Muslims can be elucidated with the example of the situation in Delhi.
As per numbers cited in various contemporary reports, within a week of the Independence an estimated 130,000 refugees had arrived in Delhi from West Pakistan. (The total Hindu, Sikh refugees which came to Delhi after partition has been estimated at 5 lakh).
In his fortnightly report (submitted in September 1947), the then Delhi Commissioner Sahibzada Khurshid pointed out that the rains of Hindus and Sikh refugees which came to Delhi brought with them “harrowing tales of loot, rape and arson”, “gained the sympathy of co-religionists in Delhi” and started “retaliatory” attacks against Delhi’s Muslims. The report has been quoted in The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia by author Vazira Zamindar.
It was estimated that about 20,000 Muslims were killed in the violence in August-September 1947 in Delhi. This caused panic among the Muslims who shifted out of the houses and started gathering in places such as Purana Qila, Nizamuddin, Humayun’s Tomb and Jama Masjid to find safety among fellow Muslims. These camps, which by all accounts held refugees in abject conditions, were guarded by ‘special police’ squads made out of Muslim civilians. From here, a big chunk left to Pakistan – some with the intention to settle there and others hoping to return after the situation became calm enough to come back to their houses in Delhi.
Empty houses left behind by the departing Muslims – those who went to Pakistan as well as those who shifted to camps within the city – became a point of contention. The Hindu and Sikh refugees felt that the houses should be allotted to them as they had left behind all they owned in Pakistan and in many cases tried to occupy the homes with force. In some cases where security personnel provided protection to the houses, the communications sent by local authorities show, the mobs would come in hundreds and tried to encroach the houses. This continued for several months after the arrival of refugees had thinned down. Details of how these attacks would happen and how it was becoming difficult for security agencies to guard the vacant houses can be gauged from a report sent to Sardar Patel by Superintendent of Police, Delhi City about once such incident that happened on January 4, 1948 when a group of about ‘100 women supported by thousands of refugee men backing them” tried to occupy vacant houses near Phatak Habash Khan. The police had to use tear gas and lathi-charge to disperse the men and women.
“This lawlessness will never abate unless necessary arrangements are made for the allotment of the vacant houses. If this lawlessness prevails, there’s every possibility of a general flare-up in the city. Refugee men and women are very desperate and are bent upon occupying the vacant houses at any cost,” reads the report by Superintendent of Police, Delhi city.
To deal with this issue, the government extended the evacuee property legislation, which was originally formulated to deal with population exchange in Punjab. According to this legislation, the ‘property’ remained in ownership of ‘evacuee’ – say, Muslims who left the houses during violence – but a custodian was appointed to look after them who had powers to temporarily allot the houses to refugees to provide immediate housing. Later on, the government adopted a policy that no ‘non-Muslim’ occupier would be evicted from the temporary accommodation until an alternate house is provided to them.
“In effect, Muslims who had taken shelter in camps could not return to their house if they had been occupied, even after the riots and murders had stopped,” write Vazira Zamindar in The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia.
In such a situation, the government functionaries thought that it was best to discourage Muslims who had travelled to Pakistan during the violence and wished to return to India, from making the journey for fear of inviting the ire of the refugees and general Hindu, Sikh population. This worry was clearly articulated by Sardar Patel in a letter that he wrote to PM Nehru on May 2, 1948 while discussing the recrudescence of activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“The return of these Muslims, while we are not yet able to rehabilitate Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and are unable to return any of them back to Pakistan, would create considerable discontent and dissatisfaction not only amongst the refugees, but also amongst the general public, and it would be this discontent which would again be the breeding ground of communal poison, on which activities of organisations like the RSS thrive,” wrote Patel in this letter. To regulate the movement of Muslims wanting to return to India, the Indian Government had started a stringent permit system in July 1948.
‘Relief system not conditioned to look after Muslims’ The communication between PM Nehru and officials with the Relief and Rehabilitation Ministry also points to the difference of opinion among national leaders on the issue of rehabilitation of Muslim refugees and if the matter deserved any special attention of the Indian government.
This is apparent from the following letter that Nehru wrote to Mohanlal Saxena, who was the Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation at the time, on May 19, 1948 requesting him to appoint a special officer to look after rehabilitation of Muslim refugees.
“Who is responsible for the Muslim refugees in Delhi, Ajmer, Bhopal etc, that’s to say, the Muslims who went away temporarily and came back, often finding that their houses had been occupied by others or allotted to others?… Somebody should be responsible for all this as well as for actually helping such Muslim refugees as require help. We cannot confine our help to non-Muslims only. Obviously, it is the business of the Relief and Rehabilitation Ministry. I am told that there is no financial provision for this. I think there should be some provision, whatever it might be. I think also that a special officer of your Ministry should be in charge of this Muslim refugee problem,” wrote Nehru.
In another letter to Saxena on May 31, 1948, Nehru said that each case of a Muslim refugee “is kind of a test case for us about our bona fide” although, conceding that there may not be too much sympathy for these Muslims among government officials.
“The fact is that our whole organisation has been built up with the view to helping the vast mass of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan. It’s not conditioned to look after Muslims whose cases stand on a somewhat different footing. It may even be that there is not too much sympathy for these Muslims among government departments or outside. We, as a government, however, have to pay some special attention to such cases because each one is a kind of a test case for us about our bona fide,” wrote Nehru.
These attempts by Nehru to give special attention to Muslim refugees were opposed by the Relief and Rehabilitation Ministry. Saxena responded by saying that this would amount to “short-circuiting” the judicious process which may expose the government to “severe criticism from the displaced persons”. Mehr Chand Khanna who was an advisor to the Ministry (and himself a refugee from Peshawar) also objected to the proposal saying India was dealing with Muslim refugees and their properties “too leniently” and that appointing a special officer for them would be “circumventing the law”.
Although India has avowedly decided to walk on a secular path, the contingencies created by partition and the resultant migration complicated the situation. Uditi Sen writes in Citizen Refugee: Forging the Indian Nation after Partition that the Indian leadership had to walk a tightrope between various contradictory notions of national belonging. According to her, underneath the ‘secular polity’ announced publicly, the primacy of Hindu belonging took roots aided by lack of clearly defined citizenship legislation in the initial years.
“When public policy is read in conjunction with private correspondence, it becomes clear that the refusal to clearly define the contours of the partition refugee allowed the government of India to rest or to various bureaucratic means to prevent Muslim migrants from entering ranks of the refugees. … This allowed a pragmatic validation of the primacy of Hindu belonging in India to flourish beneath public assertions of a secular polity that did not discriminate between Hindu and Muslim citizens.”
The first IFFI was organised by the Films Division with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s “blessings”, at a paltry budget of Rs 1 lakh.
India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Indian and foreign film personalities after inaugurating the Delhi leg of the first international film festival held in January-February 1952. (credit: National Film Archive of India)
THE International Film Festival of India was born in Bombay in January 1952 but it was conceived six months prior in the Kashmir valley. The idea of organising such a festival of motion pictures, which would be a first for the East, was proposed to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by Films Division’s then Chief Producer Mohan Bhavnani when he was visiting Srinagar for a political event. Bhavnani, a filmmaker trained in Germany who had made several silent films after his return to India and was appointed to head the Films Division after it was established in 1948, had recently returned from a visit to Paris where he had attended a meeting of Film Experts Committee of UNESCO and was toying with the idea to hold India’s own film festival.
In an essay written in 1983, filmmaker K L Khandpur has described how the decision to organise the first film festival came about. As per his account, he was shooting a documentary for Films Division (Facing the Facts, 1951) in Srinagar with his crew when, on a Sunday afternoon, Bhavnani- who was staying in a houseboat at Dal Lake – summoned him. Bhavnani was to meet the then Information and Broadcasting Minister R R Diwakar and Prime Minister Nehru, who was visiting Srinagar to speak at a rally organised by National Conference ahead of the state’s plan to hold elections for the Constituent Assembly in August-September that year, later that day.
Although the initial plan was to hold a ‘competitive film festival’ and the event was publicised such, the idea was later dropped after the International Federation of Motion Pictures Associations (IFMPA) objected to the prospect saying “only Venice and Cannes had been granted permission to hold competitive festivals” in that year. The festival was then categorised as ‘non-competitive representative show’.
Curtains went up on January 24 at the New Empire Cinema. I&B Minister Diwakar chaired the opening ceremony as PM Nehru, who was supposed to attend the event missed it due to some reason. It was a star-studded event with who’s who of the Bombay film industry attending it.
A total of 12 foreign countries had sent in their delegations to participate in the event. The largest among those was from USSR which had sent 13 members headed by Deputy Minister of Cinematography N Semenov, while Chinese had sent one with six members. The American delegation was headed by film director Frank Capra. Notwithstanding the Indo-Pak tension over Kashmir, Pakistan had sent a delegation consisting of actor Swarna Lata, director Shaukat Hussain headed by Sardar A Rehman.
The festival offered a bouquet of 40 international films and over 100 short films that were showcased, In Mumbai, the film shows were held at three open-air theatres that were erected at Azad Maidan apart from four other regular cinema houses namely the New Empire, Excelsior, Strand and Kum Kum. Among the films that proved popular among the audience were the Italian films Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948), Rome Open City (Rosselini, 1945) and Miracle in Milan (De Sica, 1951); Japanese film Yukiwarisoo (Minoru Mtasui, 1951); British short film Dancing Fleece ( Wilson-Reiniger, 1950,) Soviet war film Fall of Berlin (Mikheil Chiaureli, 1950) and Hollywood films The Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille, 1952) and An American in Paris (Minelli, 1951). Indian entries for the festival were Awara (Raj Kapoor, 1951), Babla (Agradoot, 1951), Patala Bhairavi (Ketiri Reddy, 1951), Amar Bhoopali (V Shantaram, 1951) among feature films and Adivasi (National Education and Information Films) and Lest I Forget Thee (Singh Brothers) among documentaries.
In Delhi and Madras huge road parades of Indian film stars and visiting delegates were held that received huge response from the crowd which, in Frank Kapra’s words, made Indian politicians realise for the first time “the power of Indian film stars”. In Madras, a friendly cricket match between film starts was held at Corporation Stadium of Madras where Raj Kapoor’s “deadly bowling” grounded the opposing team to much delight of over 15,000 audience members.
PM Nehru attended the inauguration of the Delhi leg of the festival and President Rajendra Prasad hosted the guests and Indian film fraternity at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Virchandra Dharamsey was a lad of 17 at that time. Now 84 and a well-regarded film historian, he recalls his experience of visiting the festival in Bombay. “In my memories, the first IFFI was like a fair. My interest in cinema has just begun at that time but I knew nothing about international cinema. I can hazily recall watching De Sica’s Miracle in Milan in an open theatre at the Azad Maidan. I also caught glimpses of several other films such as Japanese film Yukiwariso, (Italian) Rome: Open City and Bengali film Babla from the side without having to buy the ticket,” said Dharamsey.
The Film Enquiry Committee Report
Among the factors that led to the organising of the first IFFI including PM Nehru’s own interest in art and culture, an important one was the report of the Film Inquiry Committee that was submitted to the government exactly three months before the Srinagar meeting between Bhavnani, Diwakar and Nehru. The inquiry committee was headed by S K Patil – former member of Constituent Assembly of India and who later become Mayor of Bombay – and was constituted in 1949 to, among other things, suggest “what measures should be adopted to enable films in India to development into an effective instrument for promotion of national culture, education and healthy entertainment”. Among the members of the committee were filmmakers V Shantaram and B N Sircar.
After exhaustive research, interviews with over 300 prominent personalities including filmmakers, educationists, public representatives and journalists and studying memorandums submitted by over 250 important individuals, the committee submitted a report which called for widespread changes to improve its financial management and aesthetic quality of the films. The committee took the view that although the Indian film industry made significant progress on the technical aspects, it was lacking in content and the “medium’s potential for the education of the masses and nation-building” was not being utilised. The committee observed that for the Indian film, “the story remains a secondary consideration”, the play-back system is over-exploited, the dance sequences are used indiscriminately, the comedies “degenerates into the burlesque” and “hilarity and buffoonery is expressed through meaningless grins and gestures”.
In fact, the motive of the government to ‘reform Indian cinema’ by exposing the Indian filmmakers to better cinema traditions elsewhere in the world was evident in the message Prime Minister Nehru sent for the inauguration of the festival. Effectively rebuking the Indian filmmakers, he said in the message: “India, I’m told, is the second biggest film producer in the world, coming only after the United States of America. This quantity production is impressing, but I would like to lay stress on quality. I hope that the Indian film industry, which has made such great progress in the past, will make every effort to improve the quality of films also.”
First IFFI’s influence
Interaction with filmmakers from abroad and exposure to international films coming from Japan, Italy, France and Russia at the first film festival did influence the discourse around cinema in the country and also nudged filmmakers to experiment with the medium. This was especially true with the aesthetic of ‘realism’ as espoused in the neo-realist films that came from Italy and were the most appreciated among the foreign lot.
Among those who were directly and admittedly influenced by Italian films they saw at IFFI 1952, was Bimal Roy who immediately embarked upon making Do Bigha Zamin (1953) promising himself that it would be “as start and austere and will be shot on location” like Bicycle Thieves. For the film, he largely chose his caste from IPTA actors as opposed to well-known film stars and shot a majority of the film in streets of Calcutta and a nearby village. There are many obvious thematic similarities between Do Bigha Zamin and Bicycle Thieves with streets of Calcutta replacing those of Rome and the land-plot standing in for the stolen bicycle in the Italian masterpiece.
It is well known De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves was behind Satyajit Ray quitting his job in the advertisement industry and deciding to make his first film Pather Panchali (1952). (Although he had watched the film during his six-month stay in London in 1951, much before it was shown in Calcutta as part of IFFI).
“Thus within days of the festival, Italian neorealism provided a specific and concrete rallying point around what had been since the early 1930s an endemic Indian disavowal of popular cinema,” says film scholar Neepa Majumdar further arguing that the brush with neo-realism during first IFFI affected both the “parallel cinema movement” which developed in the with Ray, Ghatak and others but affected the thematic and aesthetic concerns of mainstream commercial products such as Booth Polish (Prakash Arora, 1954) and Footpath (Zia Sarhadi, 1953).
The festival also gave a fillip to the film society movement in India – by creating interest for world cinema among the locals and making the job of those who ran the societies easier. “Above all, the first IFFI which sourced films from various diplomatic missions in India, opened up a new avenue of sourcing films, almost free for the fledging film societies,” wrote VK Cherian in his book India’s Film Society Movement: The Journey and Its Impact.
The festival was wound up in Calcutta on March 5 1952. As per a gossip column published in ‘filmindia’ magazine’s April edition, the Films Division had actually earned a profit of Rs 7 lakh from the festival.
As per Dharamsey, the interest in world cinema that festival kindled among local Bombay cine-goers caused regular film theatres to play international hits (outside Hollywood) soon after the first IFFI. “I distinctly remember that months after the festival, Liberty Cinema ran Kurosawa’s Roshomon, De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear as regular shows,” he recalled.
Despite the success of the first festival, Indians would wait for nine years for the IFFI to return with its second edition in 1961.
(This essay was originally published in The Indian Express on November 23, 2019)