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Ecological News

Drought, forest fires and heat wave ... blame the government policies

Ground Reality - Thu, 05/05/2016 - 17:35
Forests on fire in Uttarakhand --NDTV pic
At a time when 60 per cent of Maharashtra villages are grappling with a severe drought, quite a significant proportion of people living with drought for the third year in a row, news reports say Maharashtra has fast-tracked key infrastructure projects worth Rs 50,000-crore, most of them in rural areas. Much of the financial outlay is for Mumbai-Nagpur super communication expressway and expansion of the Mumbai-Goa national highway.In another news report, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has served a notice to Punjab government for axing 96,000 trees for widening the 20-km stretch of Zirakpur-Bathinda highway. As many as 50 per cent of these trees belonging to the species – Sheesham, Neem, Arjuna, Brahma Drek, Melia, Keekar and Eucalyptus – were planted under a Rs 450-crore afforestation project about a decade ago.These two examples illustrate the absence of environmental protection in the model of economic growth that is being overzealously pursued. I have never understood why policy makers should not be insisting on integrating environment with economic growth. After all, much of the environmental crisis that the country is faced with – a severe drought leading to an acute water shortage afflicting 54-crore people in 10 States, a devastating forest fire in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and a record-breaking heat wave that is already leading to 6 to 8 degree higher temperature than the normal – is man made.But still I don’t find the Ministry of Surface Transport for example and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change showing any signs of coming together before planning an infrastructure project. If only the speed at which the roads are being dug is accompanied by environmental parameters that do not allow cutting down of a large number of trees beyond a limit probably a significant proportion of the 96,000 trees being axed in Punjab could have been saved. If only the highways and expressways were planned in such a manner that the natural drainage system was least impacted probably flash floods wouldn’t be so rampant.I don't think the governments care. At a time when wetlands are under severe threat, and the MoEF will publicly convince the nation on the dire need to preserve the water bodies, privately the ministry will not spare any opportunity to dilute the provisions. Business Standard (May 6, 2016) has in a report stated: "In November 2015, the environment ministry drafted rules that would de-link the forest clearance process from the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. The ministry sought exemption from seeking tribal consent for underground mining as well. The tribal affairs ministry, the documents showed, again re-iterated in a meeting in December 2015 that clearance cannot not be given without tribal consent. It noted that in cases where the government had tried to de-link clearance from tribal consent, the projects had landed up in court."

This is happening across the board. Why only blame MoEF, look at how Maharashtra government is trying to usurp tribal's rights over forests. Business Standard (Mar 12, 2016) reports: "The Maharashtra government has finalised regulations to allow it to wrest from tribals the control of the forest trade in goods such as bamboo and tendu leaves, worth thousands of crore annually. This means the government will also manage potentially 80 per cent of community forestlands in the state. The regulations came after the Union tribal affairs ministry’s volte-face on interpreting the Forest Rights Act (FRA)." 

In other words, concerned citizens may go on saying what they want to say, the governments will not learn.   The compartmentalization of the process of development, wherein the performance of a Ministry is judged by the speed with which it is able to exhaust its budgeted financial allocations with utter disregard for preserving the environment as well as to ensure that minimal damage is done to the ecology and eco-systems is what has primarily led to the present environment debacle. The fast track green clearance being provided by the MoEF for infrastructure projects for instance immediately needs a review. If the objective is to provide speedy clearances with processing for over 2,200 project proposal being done online, the underlying objective is to ignore environmental consequences. I wonder how is it possible for example to review online an infrastructure project proposal that is coming up in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand without having a detailed environmental study.After the Himalayan Tsunami that struck Uttarakhand in July 2013, I had thought the nation would sit back and draw some lessons. If it were the flash floods of 2013 in Uttarakhand, it is now the forest fires in 2016. That Uttarakhand should be subjected to two harrowing disasters in a short period of time shows how unplanned the process of development has been. The moment you raise the issue of unplanned development, a chorus rises accusing you of being anti-development. Those who stand up to warn are blamed for holding India’s growth story. The MoEF is actually applauded for giving a go-bye to cumbersome environmental clearances. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said when it comes to environmental clearances his Ministry’s green light is always on.Coming back to the prevailing drought, the India growth story had simply eclipsed the harrowing build-up of drought conditions in Marathwada and Bundelkhand regions. If it were not for the Mumbai High Court’s decision on IPL, the national media wouldn’t have woken up to the tragedy in our own backyards. Unlike floods, drought does not happen suddenly. It has been building up over the years. And yet the media, except for a few honorable exceptions, ignored it. Parliamentarians, as well as the policy makers, only were jolted out of sleep when the Supreme Court came up with a strong indictment. But all this while, as drought had swelled up to epic proportions, India’s growth story had remained intact. It is as if the drought-affected areas were in Africa.In Bundelkhand, it is the 13th drought year in the past 15 years. In Karnataka, 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought. In Jharkhand, it is the fifth drought year in a row. In Marathwada too, several areas are languishing under drought for the fourth consecutive year. In other words, it has been building up over the years. But still, the economic growth story had remained exclusive. I don’t understand the economic logic of having a network of expressways in Maharashtra when more than 60 per cent of the villages are somehow struggling to survive. Why should infrastructure development only come to mean constructing highways and malls?Rebuilding a network of traditional water sources, ponds and tanks is also infrastructure development. Recharging ground water in the parched Marathwada and Vidharbha regions is in fact sustainable development. Turning the 64,000 sq kms Marathwada region drought proof is perhaps the biggest infrastructure development that is possible. Changing the sugarcane-based cropping system in Maharashtra, knowing that the 4 per cent area under sugarcane guzzles 71.5 per cent groundwater, to crops which require less water is also development, perhaps more sustainable than what is perceived so far. All this may not immediately enhance raise the GDP numbers but would certainly add on to the well-being of the society at large without inflicting environmental damages. That in true sense is Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #

Part of this article appeared in my ABPLive.in blog. May 6, 2016
Drought, forest fires, heat wave....need to integrate environment with economic growth.
http://www.abplive.in/blog/drought-forest-fires-heat-wave-need-to-integrate-economic-growth-with-environment
Categories: Ecological News

Punjab is the new hotspot for farmer suicides

Ground Reality - Thu, 04/28/2016 - 19:59
The shocking incident of an alleged suicide by a farmer, along with that of his mother, when a moneylender along with a police posse arrived at his door to take passion of 2-acres of land he had mortgaged has come at a time when Punjab has gained the dubious distinction of emerging as a farm suicide hotspot.
The recurring tragedy on the farm is happening at a time when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has urged the Supreme Court not to reveal the names of defaulting companies, which have defaulted in repaying loans of at least Rs 500-crore each. “We believe that any act of default without understanding the severity of the issues and if it is put out for public to consume, it may create both a loss of business as well as undue anxiety and panic and therefore, chill business activity,” the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said.
While the Supreme Court has still not made public the list of the rich and the bold, a roaster of defaulting farmers is routinely put on the walls of tehsil premises. Harpal Singh, President of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, and based at Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, says that the farmers list not only carries the names but also a loud warning saying ‘do you know them’ and ‘have you seen them’ as if these farmers who have been unable to pay loans are terrorists.
The deceased farmer from Barnala in Punjab, who ended his life on Monday, was a second generation farmer. His father, who has since expired, had taken a loan of Rs 1.8 lakh from the commission agent in 2002. Like the benefit of doubt shown to the big defaulters, shouldn’t the farmer’s inability to repay the loan amount be similarly ascertained considering the severity of the issue before their names are made public? How is that we have two sets of laws – one for the rich and powerful and another for the poor farmers? How many more farmers need to die before the revenue laws are made uniform?
In Punjab, the food bowl of the country, agrarian distress has been mounting with each passing year. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) debt of private moneylenders and commission agents has witnessed a significant hike in the past 10 years. A survey by Punjabi University, Patiala, published in Jan 2016, has put the outstanding debt at Rs 69,355-crores. Considering the mounting indebtedness and without evaluating the complex reasons for it, I fail to understand how the banks and administration can be so cruel towards the farming community. Most farmers commit suicide unable to bear the humiliation that comes along when public sector banks and arhtiyasseize their assets when they fail to pay back outstanding loan.
This anomaly has not even been addressed in the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2016 – passed by the Punjab Assembly recently.
This brings me to the moot question. After all, why should farmers in the country’s food bowl commit suicide? As per information placed in Parliament on Monday, as many as 56 farmers in Punjab have ended their lives this year, till the date ending Mar 11. The alarming rate of farm suicides has placed Punjab at the second position in the country. Trailing drought-ridden Maharashtra by a whisker, considering that 116 farmers had committed suicide across the country in the same period, the Punjab debacle certainly needs serious re-thinking.
In 2015, 449 farmers had ended their lives. 2015 was a bad agricultural year but the death toll on the farm is in fact worsening with each passing month. This month alone, between April 1 and April 26, 39 farmers have reportedly taken to the gallows. At this rate, I will not be surprised if the death toll this year overtakes last year’s figures. That such a tragic serial death dance is being enacted in a state which is considered to be the most prosperous as far as agriculture is concerned speaks volumes of the neglect, apathy and indifference. The entire fault cannot be passed to the State government. Agricultural scientists and economists too have to admit that they have somehow failed to keep a finger on the dark underbelly of Punjab agriculture. Needless to say there is something terribly going wrong.
I have heard agricultural economists and policy makers often shift the blame to low crop productivity, failure to go for crop diversification and lack of irrigation. In a State which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the per hectare yields of wheat and paddy match international levels I see no reason why then farmers should be dying. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat in Punjab stands at 4,500Kg/hectare which matches the wheat yields in United States. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000Kg/hectare, quite close to the paddy productivity levels in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation available why farmers should be dying?

If you are still not convinced, here is a little more insight into how progressive Punjab farmers are. In a study, Prof H S Shergill, emeritus professor at Panjab University, has compared the Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanisation, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity. The number of tractors per 1,000 hectares is 122 in Punjab compared to 26 in US, 76 in UK, 65 in Germany; fertiliser use is 449Kg/hectare per year which fares rather favourably with 103 Kg in US, 208 Kg in UK, 278 Kg in Japan; irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab compared to 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, 35.0 per cent in Japan; and the cereal yield per hecatre and per year is 7,633 Kg in Punjab, 7,238 Kg in US, 7,460 Kg in France, 7,008 in UK and 5,920 Kg in Japan. Now with such a high level of intensive farming, which is what economists have been asking for, than why are Punjab farmers committing suicide?   
The real question that needs to be asked is whether the economists have failed the farmers? #

Punjab is the new hotspot of farmer suicides. ABPLive.in April 27, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/punjab-is-the-new-hotspot-of-farmer-suicides
Categories: Ecological News

India is on the boil, literally

Ground Reality - Tue, 04/26/2016 - 17:30


It has now become even more obvious than before that the world we are living in has changed profoundly in the last five years. Every passing year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. It is just the middle of April but vast tracts of India are reeling under scorching heat with temperatures
zipping past the 40 degrees mark. In 13 States, April temperature is higher by 8 degrees from the average. This will only intensify, as the season warms up.

India is on the boil, literally.

This is just the beginning of the summer months. In the next three months, before the monsoons set in, the heat wave is going to deadly. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that the summer months this year will be warmer than normal across the country in all meteorological sub-divisions of the country. This year, unlike in the past, heat wave conditions are likely to hit more of central and northwestern parts of the country. In fact, this is becoming quite visible with the hills facing very high temperatures.

I don’t know why the IMD uses the word ‘warmer’ to describe sweltering heat conditions but shooting mercury has already taken a death toll of 130. If this is ‘warmer’ by IMD definition, I shudder to think what it would mean if it were to use the word ‘hotter’ instead?

Last year, 1,500 deaths from heat wave were reported from Andhra Pradesh alone.

Now, let us look at the rising graph of mercury. According to NASA, 2015 was the warmest year ever since it began to keep record. But a year earlier, in 2014, the world also lived through the warmest year till then. In other words, mercury has been rising with each passing year. And now, meteorological predictions globally point to a still warmer 2016. Let me add, India is not going to be an exception. The IMD too points to a deadly heat wave in the months ahead. Its predictions shows that “all temperatures – maximum, minimum and mean – for most sub-divisions from northwest India, Kerala from south India and Vidharbha from central India are likely to be above 1 degree C.”

If you thought January was unusually warm this year, let it be known that February was still warmer. Globally, February 2016 was the hottest month known based on the long-term averages drawn. NASA had used the word ‘shocker’ to describe the unprecedented warming it measured for the month of February and warned of a ‘climate emergency’. The average global temperatures in February were higher by 1.35 degree C. In India too, February was unusually warm this year with average temperature hike fluctuating between 1.5 degree and 2 degree.

But March has now turned to be the hottest. As per the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) March has ‘smashed’ all previous records. Data compiled by Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that the March temperature was higher by 1.07 degree, based on an average since 1891. Data released by NASA also shows that March temperatures has beaten the past 100-years record.

We are now in mid-April and I can already feel the average temperatures creeping up. While we can survive, my thoughts go out to the 700 million people reeling under two consecutive years of drought. With wells almost dry and walking on a parched land they will now have to confront an unkindly hot sun. Some reports say wells have dried to a level in Marathwada not seen in past 100 years. Another report tells us that 133 rivers have dried in Jharkhand. To make matters worse, a BBC reports indicated that the government mioght pipe Himalayan water and carry it all the way to the parched lands. After all, this is the surest way to add to GDP !

The relatively well-off in the cities, towns and suburbs have the facility to switch on an air-conditioner or an air-cooler but imagine the plight of majority population who have no other option but to survive under shade, be it at home or under the tree.

Water bodies have dried up. Many studies point to a steep fall in water levels in major reservoirs to the levels that are lowest in a decade. Reports of several rivers drying up are also pouring in, Tungbhadra in Andhra Pradesh being one of them. But while the media remained embroiled in the controversy surrounding IPL matches following the Mumbai High Court directive to shift them outside Maharashtra, the nation has failed to focus on what is clearly a ‘climate emergency’. Even if you are living in a city, you cannot escape the fury of heat wave. In Bangalore, the city broke a 85-year-old record when the temperature crossed 39.2 degrees (on April 25). And as I said earlier, we are still not into May.

What should certainly be more worrying is that each year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. Quoting JMA, a report in The Guardian says: “every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.” The way the temperature is climbing every month, it seems the records will go on tumbling as we step into the future. Is this because of the climate change or not is something for the scientists and policy makers to conclude but as far as I am concerned the climate is already changing.

Can we do something? Yes, we can. There are already a number of stories of hope – of how ordinary people have made efforts and demonstrated the will to make a difference. Just to illustrate. From Anna Hazare’s water harvesting techniques in the famed village of Ralegon Siddhi in Maharashtra to the tiny but forgotten village of Sukho-Majri tucked away in the Shivalik hills in Haryana, such examples are aplenty. This is just one way to minimize the impact. Several other alternatives and solutions have also been prescribed.

It’s therefore high time to take a fresh look at what development means. Policy planning must shift to address the emerging issues linked to human survival at times of worsening climate. I am not sure whether the two-years of back-to- back drought followed by an unprecedented heat wave have given any jolt to policy planners. We seem to be simply waiting for a normal monsoon to provide a succor, and wash away the dark realities. #

India is on a boil, literally. ABPLive.in April 16, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/india-is-on-the-boil-literally
Categories: Ecological News

If Surge Pricing is right what's wrong with Food Inflation?

Ground Reality - Fri, 04/22/2016 - 10:53
I like this word Surge Pricing. I don’t know who coined it but I admire the intent behind it. After all, it requires a lot of creativity to provide a phrase that provides a neat cover for what appears to be an economic wrong. To put it simply, as The Economic Times defines it -- Surge Pricing is when consumers have to shell out higher prices at certain times of higher demand.
Obviously, most business and industry will love it. Protagonists of the market economy call it a free market practice based on demand and supply. So when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal came down heavily on Surge Pricing being adopted by Uber and Ola taxi operators at the start of the second phase of Odd-Even, the companies were upset. Despite the hue and cry raised by many Indian companies and also their brand of economic writers, Kejriwal declared that overcharging and blackmailing by taxi aggregators will not be allowed even after Odd-Even period is over.
This has fanned a debate, especially in the pink media, on how relevant Surge Pricing is.
The debate comes at a time when rising dal prices have drummed up the heat against Government’s failure to control food inflation. Retail prices of common man’s dal have surged by at least 25 to 35 per cent in the past two weeks necessitating the government to come out with a set of measures, including a clamp down against hoarders and black marketers, and arranging for more imports in the next few months. Already prices of popular dal has reached close to Rs 180/Kg, raising fears that as summer progresses the dal prices will beat last year’s record price of Rs 200/Kg.
The rise in prices of pulses is also related to demand and supply. You must have heard several analysts on the TV channels arguing that it is because of low domestic production that dal prices are on an upswing. Prices of dal have remained beyond the reach of the common man for the past two years and that was also attributed to low production. If you discount black-marketing, hoarding and speculative prices, business analysts invariably have the simple answer – it is all a play of demand and supply. With rising incomes, people have started to eat more of nutritious dal and therefore the prices are up.
Let’s therefore try to understand. It is often said that Dal prices are zooming because supply is unable to match the ever growing demand for pulses. In other words, knowing that the demand is growing for pulses, your local kiryana trader is actually resorting to Surge Pricing. And that makes me wonder, if Surge Pricing is actually a dynamic pricing mechanism when it comes to taxi operators, Airlines and hotels, by providing an avenue to seek competitive prices, why should there be so much of hue and cry over rising food inflation? Doesn’t food inflation also provide an opportunity for farm trade to seek competitive prices at times of shortages? Isn’t this how the principle of Surge Pricing works?
Prof Kartik Hosanagar of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as quoted in The Economic Times, says that supply and demand are not always perfectly balanced and therefore justifies companies resorting to dynamic pricing. In other words, companies have the license to loot at times of scarcity. And if Surge Pricing is not loot, I need to know what loot actually connotes. By charging as much as 6-7 times higher price isn’t this exactly what the taxi operators are doing? Using catch phrases like dynamic pricing or surging prices cannot cover up the hideous exploitation. To say that customers always have the option to reject increased fares speaks of the heightened arrogance that comes along with the freedom to exploit.
To use the same argument, consumers too have the option not to buy pulses at higher prices. People can stop consuming dal if the prices go beyond their reach. After all, they will not die if they stop eating dal. So why are people always protesting when food inflation inches up? Why have the Governments to resort to several measures to bring down the prices? The tragedy is that those who justify Surge Pricing are invariably quiet when it comes to food inflation. And you know why.
To take this debate a little further. Just try to get an airline ticket in an hour of emergency. I know of an instance when airlines priced the one way ticket between Mumbai and New Delhi at Rs 27,000. Last week, a New Delhi journalist was trying to send a member of his family to Patna to attend a cremation, and he couldn’t get one way ticket below Rs 20,000 at the last hour. Finally, he managed to pack his family member on a long distance train and that too against a waiting ticket. If this is what is called dynamic pricing, please tell me how you define loot. In any case, when an auto rickshaw driver overcharges everyone calls it a loot. So why do we not call it loot when a taxi operator or an airline or a hotel overcharges? Or is it just because they are on the internet and use What's App that our perception of loot changes??
If Surge Pricing is right than what's wrong with Food Inflation? ABPLive.in April 21, 2016http://www.abplive.in/blog/if-surge-pricing-is-right-than-whats-wrong-with-food-inflation 
Categories: Ecological News

Water Crisis: If Lal Bahadur Shashtri were alive today ...

Ground Reality - Mon, 04/18/2016 - 11:29


The story is forgotten. At a time when much of India was faced with a food shortage, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri had urged the nation to fast on Mondays. The year was 1965. It was a year of drought and India was largely dependent on food imports.
It wasn’t as if everyone in the country at that time was sleeping hungry. But Shashtri’s call for fasting on Mondays was primarily an expression of solidarity with the hungry millions. I don’t think the food saved was enough to even feed a fraction of the hungry population but the underlying message was loud and clear – the nation cared for its people and was willing to sacrifice its one day food so that it could be shared with those who were living in hunger.
Fifty years later, it actually required a directive from the Bombay High Court to shift 13 IPL cricket matches from a drought-hit Maharashtra for the “larger cause of the people”. The High Court certainly knew that the water saved from maintaining the cricket pitch would not even meet the daily requirement of people living in just one city – Latur – but the objective was primarily to give a strong message to the government that it “could not turn a blind eye to the plight of people”.
Picking up a cue, the Association of Hotels and Restaurants in Mumbai announced that it would henceforth appeal to customers not to expect their glasses to be filled up when they sit down in restaurant. They can simply pour water as much as they need from a jug kept on the table. This will ensure that they do not leave behind a half-filled glass which goes waste. Again, this step will not be enough to meet the thirst of people living in parched Maharashtra but is a reflection of the sensitivity towards the hardship being faced by fellow citizens.
That it required the Supreme Court to actually wake up the government to the plight and suffering of the people living in the drought-prone areas shows how insensitive the administration has become. An estimated 700 million people are reeling under a severe drought – the second in a row – and the government, as well as the mainline media, had remained oblivious to the grave crisis in the country’s hinterland. A significant proportion of 10 States was reeling under a back-to-back drought. Continuous dry spell had withered crops, forcing farmers to first abandon animals and then migrate as the misery compounded.
Several regions, including Marathwada in Maharashtra, were hit by drought for the third year in a row. Maharashtra had declared drought in 14,708 villages of the States 43,000 villages in October 2015 itself. As many as 127 talukasin 27 out of 30 districts of Karnataka were declared drought-hit in Sept 2015. In Andhra Pradesh, 196 mandals were declared drought-hit. The drought situation in some areas is still worse. Palamu district in Jharkhand has been faced with five drought years in a six year period. In Bundelkhand too, the story has been the same. The misery is lit large on the faces of the people reeling under drought.
At least for past four years, news reports of drought have been pouring in from Bundelkhand region – which falls in both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. When dry spell accentuates, cattle are the first to be affected. With women putting a tilakon the forehead of cows, touching their feet, and letting them free is the usual practice that I have seen. After the cattle are gone, and with dry spell worsening, the sources of drinking water dry. Women and men spend most of their time walking distances to collect bucket-full of drinking water. And when the crops wither away, migration is the only option left for farmers.
Reports of Section 144 imposed in areas where water is being supplied by tankers in Latur in Maharashtra have only shown how precarious is the situation arising from non-availability of drinking water. Requirement of water for daily chores like washing of clothes and bathing almost dries up putting people to tremendous hardship. People living in cities, who get water whenever they open the tap or fetch cold water from the refrigerators at will, have no inkling how severe is the crisis and how difficult it becomes to survive when there is no water available for days at length. I remember in one of my recent travels in the Bundelkhand region to visit a farmer’s family I expressed desire to take a bath. The lady of the house politely told me to eat another ladoo but not to talk of bathing ! 
Travelling through most of the drought-affected states in the last few months I am appalled to find the disconnect that prevails. Bangalore, Karnataka’s state headquarter, does not give any indication of a severe drought that afflicts more than 80 per cent of the state’s area. Similarly, travelling through Mumbai you do not get even the slightest indication of a grave water crisis that prevails for the past two years in the state. People in cities have no inkling of the miserable conditions in their own backyard. They believe that the drought reports they read in the newspapers are stories of sufferings in Ethiopia.
At this time of acute hardship, the nation must stand in solidarity with bulk of the population crying for every single drop of water. Like the Mumbai restaurants, I expect the hotels, including five-star hotels, to announce immediate measures to reduce water consumption. At least they can request customers to stop using bath tubs and rely only on showers for bathing purposes. Similarly, golf clubs can also be shut for at least three days a week, with the managements announcing launch of mandatory water harvesting structures in golf courses. Swimming pools too should be kept closed during the crisis period. Washing of cars and watering of gardens should come under restriction.
Several other steps are needed to be taken by schools, colleges, government establishments etc to conserve water as much as possible. Drought is a natural calamity and the nation must stand with those who are living with it. Obscene usage of water must be curbed at any cost. But I wonder what would have Lal Bahadur Shashtri done to drum up compassion in an otherwise insensitive nation towards the grave water crisis if he were alive today. 

Categories: Ecological News

Punjab's farm indebtedness bill is a non-starter.

Ground Reality - Wed, 04/06/2016 - 12:40
A 40-year-old farmer, Pargat Singh, from Mansa in Punjab had committed suicide a week ago. According to news reports he owned 1.5 acres of land and had taken another 7 acres of land on lease and was allegedly under a debt of Rs 14-lakh. When asked the reason for his death, his wife Narinder Kaur said he was could “no longer bear the humiliation”. 
Pargat Singh is among the 3 to 4 farmers on an average in Punjab who end up committing suicide every day. I therefore wonder whether the long-awaited bill – Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2016 – passed by the Punjab Assembly recently without any hiccups will help farmers find an amicable way to settle their dues without leaving any reason that drives them to take their own lives.
I therefore looked at the indebtedness bill very carefully. Expected to provide a one stop solution to the worsening agrarian crisis, plagued by rising indebtedness, the bill fails to nip the evil in the bud.
The expectations from this bill were huge. Considering that it has taken 15 years for the policy makers to come up with a law that was expected to regulate the non-institutional agricultural debt, and provide a speedier settlement of debt-related disputes, the bill is a big disappointment. Effectively all it has managed to do is to pass on the burden from the civil courts to district-level debt settlement forums and a state-level agricultural debt settlement tribunal for settlement of non-institutional debt up to a limit of Rs 15 lakh.
Once the new bill becomes an Act the pending cases in civil courts will be transferred to the forums thereby lessening the burden of the courts.
With the extent of farm indebtedness doubling in the past 10 years, quite a significant proportion of it being non-institutional, the focus on a regulatory mechanism that provides for a fair credit structure for farmers, tenant farmers and farm labourers was the crying need. In Punjab, where arhtiyasnormally double as private money-lenders, the challenge is twofold. First, the entire credit business has to be brought under a regulatory framework that does not allow money-lenders to operate as loan sharks. Although, many private money-lenders swear that the interest they charge is a maximum of 18 per cent, this is often disputed by farmers. I have often met farmers and tenant farmers who have outstanding loans pending required to be paid back with an interest of 36 to 50 per cent.
To ensure that farmers are not overtly exploited by the moneylenders, there has to be a cap on the maximum rate of interest that can be charged. For a short term crop loan, the interest should not be allowed to exceed 18 per cent. For loans required for non-agricultural purposes, a ceiling of 24 per cent should have been imposed. But under the new bill, the government has evaded any such responsibility and has very cleverly announced that the interest rate will be announced annually and would be linked to repo rate that RBI announces from time to time. Considering that the repo rate is periodically revised every six months or so, sometimes by as many as four times a year, how will the interest rate be fixed annually remains a question. In any case, the floating rate of interest like in an EMI cannot be expected to work for non-institutional farm loans.
I see no reason why the arhtiyas should complain. After all, as per a study done by Punjab Agricultural University, the 20,000-odd arhtiyasin Punjab annually get roughly Rs 1,000-crores for practically doing nothing. They are paid a commission of almost two per cent for undertaking procurement operations on behalf of FCI. The SAD government had lobbied hard with the centre for not allowing the FCI to make direct payment to farmers instead.
To say that the lender will issue a passbook to the loanee, which has to be duly filled to enable the debt forums to speedily decide a case is easier said than done. Since most transactions are in an informal format, it is futile to expect that the passbook will contain genuine details. Farmers, tenant farmers and farm labourers have a very close working relationship with arhtiyas and it will be practically difficult for them to disrupt the association by making a counter-claim before the forums.
Secondly, the bill is quiet on the recovery mechanism. To state: “recovery of the loan will be on a par with the decree passed by civil courts” is a simple attempt to bypass the most contentious of the recovery provisions. A majority of the farmers take to suicides not because of their inability to pay back in time but are unable to withstand the humiliation that comes in the name of loan recovery. 
Like the much publicized recent Tamil Nadu case where police thrashed a farmer and snatched his tractor by way of recovery, such instances are aplenty in Punjab. In many cases, moneylenders have taken control of land belonging to a farmer failing his inability to repay loan. Confiscating movable property, including tractor and farm equipment, is a usual practice.
I see no reason why the bill couldn’t have made it illegal for the creditors to seize movable and immovable assets belonging to a farmer. It should only be left to the state tribunal to take a final call on that. After all, till the time Vijay Mallya was declared a willful defaulter, the banks did not auction his mortgaged property. In the case of farm recovery also, till the time the state tribunal declares a loanee a willful defaulter his property/assets should not be seized. I have seen even the Micro-finance Institutions (MFIs) recovering loans (or seizing assets) literally over dead bodies. In Andhra Pradesh, many widows whose husband had committed suicide gave horrifying details of how the MFI agents had forced them not to cremate the dead body till the weekly installment was paid. 
Making it illegal for the creditors to seize the assets of a farmer who has defaulted will be a significant step in reducing the spate of farm suicides being witnessed. This step alone is the single most important reform required for non-institutional as well as institutional loans. 
Big Disappointment. Orissa Post. Mar 29, 2016http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/290316/p8.htm

Make seizure of farmers' assets illegal. Deccan Herald. April 5, 2016
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/538631/make-seizure-farmers-assets-illegal.html
Categories: Ecological News

Monsanto vs Indian Farmers

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 00:15

By Dr Vandana Shiva, 27 March 2016


Source: http://vandanashiva.com/?p=402

If we believe in democracy, it is imperative that we have the right to choose which technologies are best for our communities, rather than having unaccountable institutions like Monsanto decide for us. Rather than technologies designed for the continued enrichment of a few, we can ground our technology in a hope of a greater harmony between our human communities and the natural world. Our health, our food and the future of life on Earth truly lie in the balance.
Monsanto: A Checkered History by Brian Tokar,
The Ecologist, Vol. 28, No. 5, September/October 1998

Seed is the basis of agriculture; the means of production and the basis of farmers’ livelihoods. In less than two decades, cotton seed has been snatched from the hands of Indian farmers by Monsanto, displacing local varieties, introducing GMO Bt cotton seeds and coercing extravagant royalties from farmers. Since Monsanto’s entry into India in 1998, the price of cotton seeds has increased by almost 80,000% (from ₹5 – ₹9/KG to ₹ 1600 for 450 gms). 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, trapped in vicious cycles of debt and crop failures, 84% of these suicides are attributed directly to Monsanto’s Bt cotton.

For 8 million cotton farmers awaiting the Kharif 2016 sowing season, access and availability to fairly priced seeds is a matter of survival. Any situation that threatens the livelihoods of 8 million Indians is a national emergency. The issue of Seed Price impinges directly on farmers rights. And since the high prices with the high royalty component has driven farmers to suicide, State Governments and the Central Government have acted to bring down the seed prices.

There are 3 issues related to the state of seed and the current conflicts related to Monsanto, Indian farmers and the Govt of India. First is the farmers rights to reliable and affordable seed and with it the duty of the government to protect farmers right to livelihood and right to life . It is the government’s duty under Art 21 of the constitution to protect the life of all its citizens. The Cotton Seed Price Control Order issued by the Government of India needs to be seen in the context of farmers rights.

Second is the issue of IPRs, patents, royalty ,technology fees in the context of false claims and a failing technology, and the duty of Government to act to revoke a patent according to Article 64 and Article 66 of the Indian Patent Act. There is a show cause notice served to Monsanto by the Central Government regarding the patent.

The third is the issue of monopoly on seed. The Government has a duty to prevent monopolies being established . This is why we had the MRTP commission earlier, and now the competition commission .

The issue of monopoly is before the Competition Commission of India which has stated that Monsanto has violated Competition laws and there is Prima Facie evidence of monopoly.

Just as Monsanto is forum shopping by going to different courts at the same time, it is also issue-shopping. First it is trying to reduce the contest over seed price as only between Monsanto and Indian companies which are its licensees, thus attempting to totally erase farmers and the fundamental rights of farmers from the case. Second, Monsanto is hiding the two other Government actions against it on the issue of Bt Cotton, the show cause notice on revocation of the Bt cotton patent, and the Competition Commission of India case.

All aspects impact farmers rights and farmers livelihoods.

Farmers Rights to Seed = Right to Life

In the case of farmers, the right to seed is the basis of the right to life. Farmers are being trapped in debt and being driven to suicide because seed is too costly and the seed available is also unreliable. Since at the end of the day, royalty is paid by farmers, Monsanto’s royalties are violating the affordability criteria and are responsible for farmers debt, distress and suicides. First Bt I and now Bt II are failing to control pests and the pink bollworm has become resistant, Bt is failing the test of reliability.

Monsanto has collected royalty for its Bt I cotton since 2002 without having a patent for it. Instead it created a new category called “Technology Trait” for which it charged a “Trait Fee”. But it was royalty under a new name.

Monsanto could not sign individual contracts with farmers, as it does in the US, in India because a) there would be far too many contracts, and b) Monsanto did not have a patent for the intellectual property the contract would cover, i.e. the Bt gene (MON 531 event of Cry1Ac). So Monsanto locked in 28 Indian seed companies through one-sided license agreements to collect royalties on its behalf – very much like the British arbitrarily appointed zamindars to collect taxes and revenues from peasants in colonial times, ruining a rich and prosperous land and leaving us in poverty. The hefty royalty is collected from small farmers, even if it is routed through an Indian licensee, just as the peasant paid the lagaan to the British, even though it went through collectors and zamindars. Indian seed companies are feeling the squeeze, finding themselves between the price control measures exercised in the interest of the farmers and Monsanto demanding nine times more in illegal royalty and unilaterally terminating some of the license agreements.

The price, including the technology fee, was reduced in 2006 because of case brought before the MRTPC by the Government of AP, in which the Research Foundation intervened. The AP government also negotiated with the seed companies to set the prices of hybrid Bt cotton seed at $18/packet (of 450 grams) inclusive of technology fee which is much lower than the $29/packet that MMB had been selling it at. Soon other state governments adopted the same pricing policy.

At present a 450g packet of Bt cotton is sold at around Rs.830 in Maharashtra, while in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu it is sold at Rs.930. In the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan etc. It is priced at Rs.1,000. MMB currently charges trait fees of Rs.122.96 and Rs.183.46 per packet of Bt Bollgard-I and Bt Bollgard II seeds, respectively.

On March 8th, the Central Government issue a seed price control order slashing Monsanto’s royalty on Bt cotton seeds by 74% since the technology has lost its efficacy in resisting certain pest attacks and royalty fees on failed technology has to be reduced.

Governments regulating seed prices thus has a precedence, and Monsanto challenging the Centre’s Price control order is a desperate act.

Monsanto approached the High Court of Delhi to challenge the order . The Delhi High Court refused to put a stay on the Central Government order for regulating seed prices and the royalty component. Monsanto also approached the High Court of Karnataka through its lobby group ABLE.

According to the interim order, the Karnataka High Court says the Centre cannot fix royalties because they are based on agreements between companies. It allowed the government to fix the Maximum Sale Price (MSP) of Bt cotton seeds for the benefit of farmers.

Bt is a gene, not a technology :The Bt gene is part of the Bt cotton seed, the “trait value” of the Bt gene is part of the Seed Price

Unlike other technologies, where the technology of production and the product are separable, in the case of genetically modified seed (GMO) like Bt cotton, the Bt gene, once introduced into the seed becomes part of the seed. The Bt gene, which Monsanto misleadingly calls “technology” and the “technology trait “ becomes part of the Bt cotton seed. It is not separable from it. On the same scientific basis, the “technology fees” charged for the “technology trait” of Bt is intrinsic to the price of seed that the farmer pays. The technology fees and seed price that includes that fees are not separable.

The mischievous use of “technology” for a gene introduced into the plant hides two important facts. First, that Monsanto is not licensing to Indian seed companies the use of tools of genetic engineering (used for introducing non related genes into a plant). These tools are only two: A gene gun, or an agrobacterium. What Monsanto is transferring to Indian companies is not the technology for creating transgenic plants, but the Bt cotton seed, which includes the genes within the seed, to multiply, hybridise, sell under their monopoly. So the mystification through the use of the term “technology trait” and “technology fees “ is hiding the fact that the case is about Seed, and the price of Seed. And the price of seed has become a life and death issue for Indian farmers.

Secondly, Monsanto changes its Technology trait value every season, showing again that the issue is seed price.

As the CCI records:

As per the information and documents contained in Reference, many Indian seed companies including the Informants entered into sub-license agreement with MMBL for procuring its Bt cotton technology in consideration of an upfront one time non–refundable fee of Rs. 50 lakhs and recurring fee called as, i.e. ‘Trait Value’. The ‘Trait Value’ is the estimated value for the trait of insect resistance conferred by the Bt gene technology. It forms a significant portion of the Bt cotton seed prices. It is stated that the trait value is determined by MMBL on the basis of Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of 450 gm seed packet (hereinafter ‘per packet’), in advance for each crop season. It is also stated that out of this trait value, some amount is disbursed as royalty to MIU and the royalty paid to Monsanto US by MMBL is a small portion (between 15-20%) of the Trait Value it collects.

Once an upfront fees has been paid for seeds with a Bt toxin trait, the “technology fees “ is an unfair, greedy means of increasing seed prices to increase profits in a monopoly market. The MRTPC had also made this observation forcing Monsanto to concoct “Trait Fees”.

In the meanwhile, MRTPC vide its interim order dated 11th May, 2006, observed that “There is a basic difference between royalty and trait value …and are not synonymous… In any case the lumpsum payment of Rs.50 lakhs may be considered as royalty for the same, but the future payments on sale cannot be termed as royalty” and held that “… by temporary injunction the MMBL is directed during the pendency of this case not to charge trait value of Rs.900/- for a packet of 450 gm of Bt cotton seeds and to fix a reasonable trait value that is being charged by the parent company in the neighboring countries like China”.

The Karnataka High Court arguing that the matter of seed royalty being “between (companies)… based on agreements entered into amongst themselves” and is beyond the jurisdiction of the Government of India suggests that any inhuman, unjust commercial activity can be allowed if corporations sign agreement with other businesses. And it ignores the governments duty to protect its citizens under the constitution.

Indian farmers are paying for Monsanto’s superprofits with their very lives. The State must intervene to regulate seed prices to end the emergency of farmers suicides.

Bt cotton is a failed technology and Monsanto’s patent should be revoked

The Karnataka High Court interim Stay Order ignores two facts Firstly because of the failure of Bt II to control the pink bollworm, the government has sent a notice to Monsanto asking why its patent should not be revoked. The Government can revoke patents under section 64 and section 66 of the Patent Act.

Second, Monsanto through its patents which are based on false claims, is creating monopolies, raising seed prices and destroying more affordable and reliable alternatives for farmers. This is at the root of the crisis of farmers suicides in cotton areas.

The Government has a duty to not grant patents, or revoke patents if they violate the public interest or their claims are false.

Make believe “innovation”

Monsanto has two patents on Bt II: IN 214436 (Methods for transforming plants to express Bacillus thuringiensis delta endotoxins) and Patent No. 232681 which provides IPR protection to Bollgard-II technology.

The granted patent is in violation of the Indian patent act, 1970, specifically to the section 3(J) relating to non-patentability of plants, seeds and essential biological processes and 3(h) relating to non-patentability of methods of horticulture and agriculture.

Art 3 (j ) was used by the Indian Patent office to reject Monsanto’s patent on climate resilience.

The patent which covers all crop plants does not consider “position” effects of the gene integration, pleiotropy or epigenetic interactions and grants perpetual rights for all descendant plants.

Articles 64 and Art 66 of the patent Act allow for the revocation of patents. The Bt cotton patent should be revoked under the following clauses of Art 64:

64. Revocation of patents.

(1) Subject to the provisions contained in this Act, a patent, whether granted before or after the commencement of this Act, may, be revoked on a petition of any person interested or of the Central Government by the Appellate Board or on a counter-claim in a suit for infringement of the patent by the High Court on any of the following grounds that is to say –

(d) that the subject of any claim of the complete specification is not an invention within the meaning of this Act;

Art 3(j) and 3(h) (above) disallow the patent

(f) that the invention so far as claimed in any claim of the complete specification is obvious or does not involve any inventive step, having regard to what was publicly known or publicly used in India or what was published in India or elsewhere before the priority data of the claim; (g) that the invention, so far as claimed in any claim of the complete specification, is not useful;

The introduction of Bt genes through genetic engineering was known in India both in the Cotton Research Institute of India and in Dharwad Agriculture University. Adding two Bt genes is obvious to anyone skilled in the art of genetic engineering.The so called invention of introducing Bt genes in cotton has proved to be not useful in controlling pests.

(j) that the patent was obtained on a false suggestion or representation;

The patent was obtained under the false suggestion that Bt cotton will control pests, specially the bollworm.
Article 66 allows Revocation of patent in public interest.

Where the Central Government is of opinion that a patent or the mode in which it is exercised is mischievous to the State or generally prejudicial to the public, it may, after giving the patentee an opportunity to be heard, make a declaration to that effect in the Official Gazette and thereupon the patent shall be deemed to be revoked.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers being driven to suicide because of high costs of seed, and false promises is enough ground for the government to revoke Monsanto’s Bt cotton. Why are farmers being made to pay such a high price for a failed technology ? And why are lobby groups defining Monsanto imposing a failed technology as “innovation”?

In an article titled Heading Backwards in the Indian Express of March 14th 2016, Ashok Gulati wrote: “If Monsanto decides to quit India, Bollgard III may not come, and Bollgard II will wear off its potency in the next 3 to 5 years”.

Bollgard I failed, Bollgard II is failing, and we are supposed to give up our rights and sovereignty so that Monsanto can bring Bollgard III, which will fail in a few years? Each time it stacks more toxic genes, it raises its royalty. Einstein had said , “A clear sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome”. Are we now calling insanity “Innovation”?

It is built into the technology of Bt cotton that the plant will become vulnerable to non target insects, and bollworm- the target pest – will evolve resistance. Greater evolutionary pressure via more toxic genes results in faster emergence of resistance. Those who constantly refer to “science” to illegally impose GMOs ignore the basic science of evolution which is determining the non-ffectiveness and non-sustainability of GMO technology, whether it be the creation of superpests with resistance to Bt cotton in India, or superweeds with resistance to Roundup in the US.

For Monsanto, introducing GMO Bt cotton, and tying up Indian companies in unfair one-way agreements is a means to establish a monopoly in the seed market, period.

In addition to issue of Bt cotton not working, and hence the grounds for revoking the patent, there is also the issue of monopoly related to patents. Monsanto knows that only through a patent can it collect huge royalties for unreliable technology from farmers. If Indian companies have the freedom to bring lower cost and more reliable seeds to the farmers, and Indian farmers have the freedom to produce their own organic seeds, no one will buy Monsanto’s Bt cotton. Therefore Monsanto uses the patent to both collect unreasonable royalties and lock Indian companies into licensing agreements to only sell Bt cotton seeds. This issue is before the Competition Commission of India.

Learn how Monsanto wrote and broke laws here

Additional Information:

Monsanto

Licensees

Monsanto has taken 9 Indian Seed companies to court for “non-payment of trait fee” Demanding ₹ 163.28 on every seed packet attracting a maximum retail price (MRP) up to ₹ 930. (Higher trait value if MRP is higher) 9 “defaulting companies” account for over 60 per cent of the estimated 5 crore seed packets sold in 2015-16Unable to pay the unreasonable royalty demanded by Monsanto Cost incurred in seed production None BreedingSeed production DistributionMarketing and extensionSalaries and overheads Indian Seed Companies file Counter Affidavit – Want Back Extra Royalty Paid to Monsanto/MMB Accused of taking advantage of it’s technology monopoly.₹ 5,000 crore collected from farmers via “Trait Fee”MMB has already received ₹ 1,300 crore since 2010 in accordance with state price control measures Overpaid Monsanto/MMB ₹ 1,300 crore since 2010, Demanding refund

Monsanto’s India Timeline

24th April 1998

Mahyco files to Department of Biotechnology for field trials

May 1998

Joint venture between Mahyco and Monsanto formed

13th July 1998

Letter of Intent issued by DBT without involving Gentic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

15th July 1998

Mahyco agrees to conditions in letter of intent

27th July 1998

Impugned permission by DBT for trials at 25 locations granted.

5th August 1998

Permission for second set of trials at 15 locations granted.

6th January 1999

PIL filed by Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology in the Supreme Court of India

8th February 1999

RCGM expresses satisfaction over the trial results at 40 locations.

12th April 1999

RCGM directs Mahyco to submit application for trials at 10 locations before Monitoring and Evaluation Committee.

25th May 1999

Revised proposal to RCGM submitted by Mahyco.

June–Nov 1999

Permission granted for different trial fields

Oct–Nov 1999

Field visits

May 2000

Mahyco’s letter to GEAC seeking approval for “release for large scale commercial field trials and hybrid seed production of indigenously developed Bt cotton hybrids”

July 2000

GEAC clears for large scale field trials on 85 hectares and seed production on 150 hectares and notifies through press release.

October 2000

RFSTE filed an application for amendment in the petition challenging the fresh GEAC clearance.

18th October 2001

GEAC orders uprooting of “Navbharat-15”, which was found to contain transgenic Bt.

26th March 2002

32nd Meeting of the GEAC was held to examine the issue of commercial release of Bt Cotton. Members of GEAC from ICHR, Health Ministry, Commerce Ministry, CSIR, ICAR did not attend the meeting. Inspite of the absence of important members of the GEAC, approval was granted to three out of four of Monsanto – Mahyco’s transgenic hybrids.

5th April 2002

Formal approval granted to mach-12, Mach – 162 and Mach 184 by A.M. Gokhale, Chair of GEAC. Order of 05.04.2002 is a conditional clearance valid for three years. The stipulated conditions/restrictions are a clear implied admission on the part of the government that the tests are far from complete. In effect, the commercialisation was an experiment. Monsanto-Mahyco

http://www.livemint.com/Politics/LTlUVoQ79yFGh6XbG9nESI/Karnataka-HC-stays-centres-order-fixing-Bt-cotton-royalty.html

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/why-should-we-not-revoke-bollgard-ii-patent-centre-asks-mahyco-monsanto/article8337510.ece

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/why-should-we-not-revoke-bollgard-ii-patent-centre-asks-mahyco-monsanto/article8337510.ece

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/wily-pink-bollworm-survives-monsantos-bollgardii/article7814810.ece

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Is India being pushed back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence?

Ground Reality - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 08:28


Fifty years after Green Revolution was launched, India is getting ready to let the walls of protection against cheaper and highly subsidized agricultural commodities be washed away. Flood of cheaper imports is sure to dismantle the gains of food self-sufficiency achieved so assiduously over the past five decades. 
The import lobby is strong. Aided and abetted by mainline economists and policy makers who are always keen to seek reduction in import duty to enable cheaper and highly subsidized food and agricultural commodities to come in, the demand for lifting import tariffs is always rife. So when the industry lobby group – Assocham (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) -- released a report estimating lower wheat production thereby calling for reduction in import duties I wasn’t surprised. This has been the usual pressure tactic that the agri-business industry has always applied.
I am glad Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh was quick to see through the ploy and rubbished the Assocham claims. He is so right when he says: “Lower import duty would lead to a fall in wheat price in the domestic market and farmers will incur heavy losses while traders will purchase from farmers at lowered price.” While the minister had rightly seen through the design of the trade, the fact remains that the demand for lowering the import tariffs is always in the pretext of an expected rise in food inflation.
Let it be known that the cheaper imported wheat from US/EU is highly subsidised. This subsidy is actually a dumping price. 
In fact, such is the power of lobby groups that a news agency went a step ahead. In a report on the wheat import controversy, it called the import tariff of 10 per cent (which is nominal by international standards) as wheat import tax. To term import tariffs as an import tax is a deliberate effort to misguide the policy makers to seek its removal. If the import tariff is a tax then I see no reason why EU should come up with a trade proposal under WTO rules for only the least developing countries (LDCs) for allowing ‘anything but arms’ and not allow developing countries to do so. EU knows that LDCs have hardly anything to export that it should be wary of but from developing countries like India, no way.
Wheat production last year had slumped to 86.53 million tonnes, from an actual harvest of 95.85 million tonnes the previous year. This year, production is unlikely to meet the target of 93.8 million given the weather anomalies but according to the minister ‘production of wheat in the country would still be around 92-93 million tonnes’.
I am not sure what the final estimate would be but one thing is for sure – the government has to blame itself for initiating policy measures that discourage farmers from cultivating wheat. Forcing the State governments not to provide any bonus over and above the minimum support price (MSP) and to pressurize the wheat growing States to dismantle the procurement system does not assuage well with its own claims.
Not only in case of wheat, it is the reduction in import tariffs over the years that has turned India into the world’s second biggest importer of edible oils and the biggest importer of pulses. I remember in 1993-94 India had become almost self-sufficient in edible oils, importing only 3 per cent of its domestic needs. And then began the imports, necessitated to bring down the domestic prices. India gradually began to lower the import tariffs (from the bound levels of 300 per cent) and eventually brought it down to zero per cent for raw edible oil imports and 7.5 per cent for processed edible oils. Reducing the import tariffs brought in a flood of cheaper imports from US, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. India imports edible oils worth Rs 60,000-crores not because it can’t produce oilseeds within the country but simply because it bowed before the commercial interests of the import lobby.
I have always said that if India is keen to grow more pulses domestically then all it has to do is to raise the import tariffs to at least 25 per cent (from the prevailing 5 per cent) and provide farmers with a better price and an assured procurement. But instead the import lobby is so powerful that it has managed to convince the government that growing pulses outside the country – in Africa and Burma – and importing from there is a better option. Not realizing that while Indian farmers commit suicide, India is willing to pay a higher price to farmers in Africa and Burma.
Meanwhile, the import lobby has managed to get the imports of apples through from all ports and also get an approval for airlifting import consignments. Apple import, coming with 50 per cent import tariffs, has been opposed for long by apple growers in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. The tragedy is that while cheaper imports are pouring in from China, US and even as far away as from Chile and Fiji, domestically produced apples are going abegging.
The demand for lowering import tariffs for fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, from the European Union, and to allow the import chicken legs (a byproduct in the US) is next on the cards. And be sure, the demand is going to be louder with a battery of mainline economists already upping the argument seeking imports.
If the import surge continues, India will soon return to the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence when food came directly from the ships into the hungry mouths. 
Wheat imports: Getting back to 'ship-to-mouth' existence ABPLive. March 23, 2016http://www.abplive.in/blog/wheat-imports-getting-back-to-ship-to-mouth-existence
Is India being pushed back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence? Linkedin. Mar 24, 2016https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/india-being-pushed-back-days-ship-to-mouth-existence-devinder-sharma?trk=pulse_spock-articles
Categories: Ecological News

Seed swaraj

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 05:34

By Dr Vandana Shiva, The Asian Age, 22 March 2016

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/seed-swaraj-626

“When ordered to reduce Bt cotton seed prices by 74 per cent, Monsanto’s immediate response was to threaten to quit India, confirming that it cannot respect the law or farmers’ rights”

On the anniversary of Quit India, August 9, 1998, we launched the “Monsanto Quit India” campaign. Monsanto had illegally introduced its Bt cotton seeds in the country without approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in violation of and with complete disregard for our biosafety laws.

For a genetically modified organism (GMO) to be legal in India, its import needs to be approved by the GEAC — Monsanto did not have approval when it imported its Bt cotton seed in 1995. Open field trials also need to be approved by the GEAC — Monsanto did not have GEAC approval for the trials it carried out in 1998.

We sued Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Private Limited (MMB), the joint venture company Monsanto created to enter the Indian market, for its illegal trials in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto was unable to sell Bt cotton seeds commercially until April 2002.

By the time Monsanto received commercial approval, it had locked 28 Indian seed companies into licensing agreements, restricting their sales to Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds (marketed as Bollgard) only, stifling “innovation” and “competition” — words the company otherwise loves to throw around. These Indian seed companies have had no “choice” in what they sell and at what price, and our cotton farmers have had no choice in what they pay. The skewed market also provided Monsanto’s PR machinery the opportunity to falsely project its monopoly in the cotton sector as farmers “choosing” Bt cotton, when in fact all alternatives were actively being destroyed.

In the US, where Monsanto has a patent on biotechnology, it signs contracts directly with farmers. It could not sign agreements with Indian farmers on royalties due to the lack of intellectual property rights (IPR). To sell Bollgard seeds, Monsanto signed contracts with Indian companies that had built a relationship of trust with farmers over decades, and used these Indian companies to collect royalties from small farmers. The royalties were built into high seed prices. It is this unjust and illegal collection of royalties from farmers that has been challenged by state governments repeatedly, and now by the Central government.

Since 2002, Monsanto has collected royalty from Indian farmers — 80 per cent of the Rs 1,600 price of each 450 gram packet of Bollgard I Bt cotton seed. On May 10, 2006, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC), following a complaint filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh against MMB for overpricing genetically modified Bt cotton seeds, directed MMB to reduce the trait value it was unfairly charging the farmers of Andhra Pradesh — nine times more than the farmers in the United States. On May 29, 2006, Andhra Pradesh’s commissioner for agriculture fixed the price of Bt cotton seeds at Rs 750 for a 450-gram packet, and directed MMB and its sub-licensees to comply with its order. Monsanto challenged the Andhra Pradesh government and the MRTPC’s decision in the Supreme Court as “illegal and arbitrary”. To Monsanto’s dismay, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and now Maharashtra as well followed Andhra Pradesh’s lead and asked MMB to reduce the price of Bt cotton seed.

MMB said the royalty it charged (admitting it charged royalty without a patent) reflected its research and development costs for Bt cotton. Since Bollgard I was already failing, Monsanto used its failure to introduce Bollgard II, side-stepping the price control measures imposed by the MRTPC on Bollgard I, continuing its monopoly unregulated, charging whatever it wanted for seeds that have consistently failed (stagnant yield, increased pesticide use and the boll-worm’s resistance to their patented Bt technology), without any accountability.

Monsanto charged $900 million from Indian farmers for failed technology. A refund is surely in order.

On March 8, 2016, the Government of India ordered Monsanto to reduce Bt cotton seed prices by 74 per cent. Monsanto’s immediate response was to threaten to quit India, confirming that the company can only operate by exploiting farmers and subverting laws and regulations. They cannot respect the law or farmers’ rights.

All corporations and businesses should operate according to the laws of a sovereign nation, not violate, manipulate, twist or subvert them. Monsanto’s current threat of quitting India is based on the assumption that violating India’s laws is their right.

Minister of state for agriculture and food processing, Sanjeev Balyan, in response to Monsanto’s threat, stated, “It’s now upon Monsanto to decide whether they want to accept this rate or not… If they don’t find it feasible, then they are free to take a call. The greed (of charging) a premium has to end… We’re not scared if Monsanto leaves the country, because our team of scientists are working to develop (an) indigenous variety of (GM) seeds.”

The main reason corporations like Monsanto push GMOs like Bt cotton on us is to make super profits through the collection of royalties. This is the arrangement that fell apart because Bt cotton has failed in controlling pests, and Bt cotton yields are falling every year, increasing the use of fertilisers and pesticides as farmers struggle to maintain output. Bt cotton was advertised by Monsanto as a crop that would make huge profits for farmers because it would reduce their input costs by slashing their pesticide use and be a boon for the environment. Monsanto’s technology is failing across the world. Early adopters, like Burkina Faso, are abandoning Monsanto’s seeds.

Monsanto has extorted super profits from Indian farmers and seed companies illegally. The pirated funds need to be returned to India, India’s seed companies and, most importantly, to India’s farmers. India can be a world leader by protecting its farmers and food from situations like these by supporting organic agriculture and banning GMOs, which only exist for the extraction of royalties.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

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Navdanya Campaign in support of farmers victims of BT Cotton failure in Punjab

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Categories: Ecological News

First, the unprecedented warm temperatures and then the unusually heavy rains followed by strong winds and hailstorm, the damage to crops is extensive

Ground Reality - Tue, 03/15/2016 - 16:23


First, the unexpectedly warm temperatures that prevailed in January and early February, and then the widespread unseasonal rains, strong winds and hailstorm (in certain pockets) that lashed eight States – Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Vidharba and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra, eastern Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand -- have left farmers bruised and battered.
There can be nothing more devastating for a farmer then to see his crop at the ripening stage lying flat on the ground.
For four years in a row, beginning with the rabi season of 2013, farmers in north and central parts of the country have faced the brunt of an abnormal weather pattern in the winter months. In addition, the back to back drought that prevailed for two consecutive years in 2014 and 2015 has hit farmers very hard.
I remember an insensitive statement made by the former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar a few years back when he had remarked that unusual rains and hailstorm continue to happen and asked farmers to be strong enough to bear the loss. He however never had the same word of advice for the sugar industry for which he was always standing with an empty bowl seeking more donations from the government. 
Anyway, the loss to standing crops like wheat, mustard, chickpea, rapeseed and dhaniais still to be ascertained but preliminary reports indicate damage to be in the range of 5-10 per cent. Unless the region is once again lashed by torrential rains and strong winds (followed by hailstorm), crop loss is expected to remain low. Last year, the fury of unseasonal rains was unprecedented, with western Uttar Pradesh alone getting more than the average of 100 years, leading to hundreds of farmers committing and some even collapsing from heart attack after seeing the extent of damage.
The heavy damage caused last year was instrumental in lowering wheat production, from an expected 95.76 million tonnes to 86.53 million tonnes, a drop of almost 10 million tonnes. Only a month back, the Agriculture Ministry had forecasted wheat output for 2016 to be at 93. 82 million tonnes. I am sure it will have to be revised downwards as and when the ground reports pour in.
It is not only the unusual rains and hailstorm that have done the damage, the unusually hot and dry winters this rabi season has also taken a heavy toll. While the flattened crops and flooded crop fields are a visible sign of the destruction wrought by unseasonal rains accompanied by strong winds, the loss inflicted by unusually warm winter season is not that clearly discernible. Winter plantings have been reduced this year, with Telengana alone showing a drop of 6-lakh hectares in area sown. 
Overall, three million hectares is the shortfall in rabi sowing this year. Meanwhile, Karnataka has become the first State to assess in advance the loss to the standing winter crops. It has sought central assistance of Rs 1,417-crore to make up for a crop loss of 70 per cent in the ongoing rabi season.In Karnataka, rabicrops have been affected in 24.64-lakh hectares. This comes after a dry kharif season when Karnataka declared a drought in August for 27 of its 37 districts. By December 2015, 10 more States had declared droughts.
Although the Ministry of Agriculture has assured financial assistance to all the affected farmers, and has promised to provide all help from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) once the damage reports come in, the ad-hoc manner in which the recurrence of weather-induced crop damages for the seventh cropping season in a row are being dealt with shows how casual the challenge is taken. A failed or a reduced harvest only aggravates the continuing agrarian distress and pushes farmers still deeper into indebtedness, with many of them unable to bear the shock.
At the same time, a significant drop in foodgrain production puts additional burden on the carryover stocks necessary to meet the requirements of the National Food Security Act. This year, wheat stocks in the central pool are already at a low of 16.8 million tones, lowest in seven years. No wonder, I see the demand for allowing wheat imports growing with every passing day. Many news agencies are predicting sizable wheat imports to follow if domestic production slumps for the second consecutive year.
Although immediate disaster relief is certainly a welcome step, and the need is to hasten the loss assessment and relief distribution, past experience shows that this alone is not enough. The continuous battering that farmers have received over the years, especially coming in the wake of deliberately kept low farm prices, has only worsened farm distress. If the government can rescue the export sector with a financial package (includes draw backs) and also repeatedly bailout the industries for the continuing slump in industrial output, I see no reason why the farm sector cannot be provided with a substantial economic bailout package.
Farmers need to be given an economic bailout package of at least Rs 3-lakh crore. This is exactly what the domestic industry was provided with at the time of global economic meltdown in 2008-09.Many economists have time and again vouched for low foodgrain stocks. According to them, the bigger the food stocks in the central pool, the greater is the economic burden. This made the government indicate that it will only limit procurement to meet the nutritional needs of the people.This is a flawed policy decision, and needs to be immediately reversed. Perhaps the falling food stocks level after a series of bad agricultural years will force the government to rethink.
And finally, agricultural research must be directed to search for ways and means to minimize the crop damages from unseasonal weather patterns that are becoming more or less a norm. A cadre of trained youth in assessing crop damages has also to be built to help in girdawari operations. This cadre will be also required in the enhanced crop cutting experiments expected when the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna comes into effect. # 
Categories: Ecological News

Marathwada is faced with an agricultural emergency

Ground Reality - Sun, 03/13/2016 - 11:44
    

Marathwada is faced with an agricultural emergency -- pic by Down to Earth 

This is a brief interview I gave on the continuing farm crisis in Marathwada in particular, and in the overarching context of the agrarian crisis that the country is faced with for several decades now. Here it goes: 
          

           How bad is the plight of farmers in places such as Marathwada, where problem of farmers' suicide is acute?

Marathwada is faced with an agricultural emergency. With 25-35 farmers committing suicide every week, the eight districts of Marathwada require immediate action for disaster mitigation. Some parts of Marathwada are reeling under continuous drought conditions for four years in a row, and with the plight of farmers worsening with each passing day, the prevailing rural distress in Marathwada is no less than an epic disaster -- a combination of both man-made and natural factors. It is therefore high time Maharashtra government wakes up to the harsh reality, and swings into immediate action. Immediate emergency relief measures are absolutely essential. This must be followed by laying down a long-term plan to revive sustainable agriculture in the both – Marathwada as well as the Vidharba -- regions. An extraordinary crisis requires extraordinary solutions.

What are the causes of the conditions farmers have to face year after year?

Although continuous drought conditions, and also seasons of freak weather conditions when hailstorm and high winds damage standingcrops, accentuate the prevailing agrarian crisis, agriculture in India is in reality a victim of economic insecurity. Over the years, agriculture has been deliberately kept starved of public investments. In 2015, which in my understanding was the worst year in farming for over two decades, budget outlay for agriculture was less than the total bill for importing pulses in the same year. The outlay for agriculture has been less than that of MNREGA. At the same time, farmers have been denied their legitimate income from farming. Several studies of Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth for instance have shown how the farmers’ expenditure is more than the incomes they receive by way of minimum support price. The net returns compiled by the commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for different crops too shows how meager are the farm incomes. Farmers are being denied a higher price, which is their legitimate due, simply to keep food inflation under check. While incomes of all sections of the society are on the rise, farm incomes are stagnating. By keeping the farm gate prices almost frozen over the years, farmers are in reality being penalized for producing food.

Do you think that in view of distressed situation farmers are in, most of them want their children to not follow the same profession?


If a father's income is between Rs 2000 to Rs 3000 a month why the children should be taking up the same job? This is exactly what is happening in agriculture. As per NSSO 2013, the average income of a farming family, and that includes five members, is only Rs 3,078 from farming operations. He has to engage in non-agricultural activities like MNREGA to sustain the family. The situation in reality is still worse. According to Economic Survey 2016, the average income of a farming family from agricultural activities in 17 States is Rs 20,000 a year, which means Rs 1,666 per month. In such a depressing scenario, why should their children take up the same profession which does not even ensure two square meals.

And as I said earlier, the farm incomes are low because successive governments have deliberately kept them low. Agriculture can turn profitable if the government starts paying the farmers the right price for their produce. 
     There are reports that the percent on population engaged in farming is decreasing. In that case, where do you think that the excess population would go?
The mainline economic thinking, highly flawed in my understanding, is to move people out of agriculture into the cities. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had sometimes back said that the real reforms would be when we are able to move people out of agriculture. This is what the World Bank/IMF have been telling India for long. We just blindly follow the directive. We are creating conditions that force people to migrate from the rural areas. The Confederation of Indian industry (CII) has already said that they would be able to generate 300 million jobs by 2020. Unfortunately, no one has asked them as to how they will create 300 million jobs when such a large number of jobs in organised sector were not even created since Independence. The fact is that the industry needs cheap labour. The 300 million jobs it talks about would be mainly of dehari mazdoor. Indian farmers therefore have a new job awaiting them in the cities -- dehari mazdoor.

Is this the reason feeding into the mobilization of farming communities such as Jats, Patels and Marathas for reservations?

The demand for reservation is linked to economic depravity. It is no longer the OBC who are deprived but even the land owners feel outraged. Not only Patels in Gujarat, a majority of the Gurjars in Rajasthan and Jats in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, who have also been agitating for reservation in government services, are also from the farming community. With farming becoming economically unviable, and with hardly any jobs available for the younger generation, seeking reservation on caste basis is the only plausible option.

In the name of economic growth, agriculture is being systematically killed all over the country. Over the years, agriculture has been deliberately starved of financial support, and now with their land being snatched away, farmers are looking for any and every possibility that provides them a glimmer of hope. Farmers are increasingly turning to reservation on caste basis which provides them a little bit of hope, in desperation looking for anything that can provide economic security that they can latch on. #
Categories: Ecological News

It is the denial of a legitimate income that is killing farmers

Ground Reality - Wed, 03/09/2016 - 10:57
Two days after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting Budget 2016, promised to double farmers’ income in the next five years, three farmers in Punjab – the food bowl of the country -- committed suicide. The moment I read this news report the very first thought that came to my mind was: “Oh God! Couldn’t they have waited for another five years?”
For several decades now, Indian agriculture has been in the throes of a terrible crisis. With every passing year, the agrarian crisis has been worsening. In Punjab, as per official estimates, 449 farmers had taken their own lives in 2015. In Marathwada, the spiral death dance on the farm continues unabated. With 124 suicide already recorded between January and February 15 this year, there appears to be no respite from the continuing tragedy on the farm. The grim scenario is no different elsewhere in the country.
The year that passed by – 2015 –was perhaps the worst as far as I can remember. The rate of farm suicides per day, which was hovering around 42 in the past five years, has now jumped to 52. Knowing the existing grim realities I was therefore hoping for a paradigm shift in economic thinking that brings a smile on the face of 600 million farmers, including their families. I waited with abated breath.
Last year too, while presenting the 2015-16 budget, Arun Jaitley had listed ‘Raising Farm Incomes’ as his top most challenge. And yet farm incomes did not figure anywhere in his budget speech. In fact, the total outlay on agriculture was later reduced to 15,809-crore in the revised estimates. In reality, the budget provisions for the year that just passed by was even less than the Rs 18,000-crore that the country spent on importing pulses. No wonder, agriculture continues to be in dire straits.
Over the years, agriculture had been systematically starved of funds. The total public sector investments in agriculture for the 12th Plan period are a modest Rs 1.5-lakh crores. In the 11th Plan, the total outlay for agriculture was around Rs 1-lakh crore. This is peanuts considering that agriculture is the biggest employer, with nearly 52 per cent population engaged in farming or related activities. Compare this with the investments made for Delhi airport alone. CAG had pointed to Rs 1.63-lakh crore scam in Delhi airport deal. This is more than the total outlay for agriculture in the entire 12th Plan period. 
So this year, when the Finance Minister said: “We need to think beyond ‘food security’ and give farmers a sense of ‘income security’,” I was certainly elated. But when he announced his intention of doubling farmers’ income in the next five years, I was greatly disappointed. I am sure if Arun Jaitley had carefully gone through the Economic Survey that was presented two days before the budget, he would have known how severe the economic crisis in agriculture was. The average income of farmers from agricultural operations in 17 States was Rs 20,000 a year. In other words, with a paltry Rs 1,666 as monthly income in these 17 States, what should the farmers be doing? Wait for another five years? 
Perhaps going by the Economic Survey recommendations, which makes a very good diagnosis of the existing farm crisis, but comes out with a faulty prognosis terming the central challenge of Indian agriculture as low productivity, Arun Jaitley too emphasized on raising farm productivity to enhance incomes. This is a faulty prescription. Take the case of Punjab. Farmers produce 4,500 Kg/hectare of wheat and 6,000 Kg/hectare of paddy in a region which has 99 per cent assured irrigation. And yet, five farmers are committing suicide every two days. Let’s be therefore clear. It is not productivity or irrigation but it is the denial of a legitimate income that is killing farmers.
Nevertheless, a careful perusal of the budget proposals for agriculture shows that there is nominal increase in the allocations. The total budget provision of Rs 35,983-crore looks a quantum jump but when you look carefully you realize that it’s all a game of statistical jugglery. Rs 15,000-crore of interest subvention on the farm credit, which is part of the Financial Ministry allocations, has been shifted to agriculture thereby giving the impression as if a lot of public sector investment is being made in farming. Even the investment for irrigation under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna has in reality come down.
Expanding irrigation is certainly a welcome move, but it needs more than a cosmetic infusion. According to the Economic Survey, only 33.9 per cent of the total cropped area is irrigated. Instead of investing on river linking, which is likely to be a wasteful expenditure considering the receding glaciers and multitude of hydroelectric dams is reducing the water flow, the emphasis should be on reviving ponds, wells and investing in watersheds. I see MNREGA being utilized for this purpose, which is a positive step. But more needs to be done. Similarly, there are some right kinds of initiatives like bringing 5-lakh acres under organic farming etc but these have hardly any possibility of doubling farm incomes.
Doubling incomes is certainly possible, and the farmers do not have to necessarily wait for five years, provided there is an economic rethinking. An increase in farm incomes will have a multiple impact on the country’s economic growth. More income in the hand of farmers’ means more domestic demand will be created. Increase in demand would push the wheels of industrial growth which have been stagnating for quite some time. This is the paradigm shift that the country needs for boosting economic growth. Agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the Indian economy. Give farmers the right income and they will do the rest.
Farmers have been systematically kept impoverished all these years. Let me illustrate. In 1970, the minimum support price for wheat was Rs 76 per quintal. In 2015, wheat MSP was fixed at Rs 1,450 per quintal, an increase by 19 times. In the same period, the basic salary (plus DA) of the government employees was raised by 120 to 150 times; of college/university lecturers by 150 to 170 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; and of corporate employees by 300 to 1,000 times. If the farmers’ income (measured through MSP he gets) was also raised in the same proportion in the past 45 years, rural India would been a vibrant and progressive economy. In other words, farming has deliberately been rendered uneconomical.
A new dawn for rural India needs bold policy decisions. I have two suggestions: 
1) Provide farmers with Rs 3-lakh crore economic bailout package. And don’t be startled. If India Inc can be given Rs 3-lakh crore economic packages when faced with an economic meltdown in 2008-09, agriculture too needs a similar bailout package after two consecutive back to back droughts. Let’s not forget, in Punjab alone, rural indebtedness has grown 20 times in past 10 years. They can’t wait for five years. They need a bailout package now.
2) Since only 6 per cent farmers get the benefit of MSP, and 94 per cent are dependent on markets, which are largely exploitative, it is time to move from ‘price support’ to ‘income support’ for farmers. The need therefore is to provide a guaranteed income support to farmers, which is possible by setting up a National Farmers Income Commission. If the salaries of government employees can double every five years, I see no reason why a similar income structure cannot be established for farmers. 
Will Bharat Reap? The Asian age. Mar 6, 2016http://www.asianage.com/columnists/will-bharat-reap-771
Categories: Ecological News

An income not exceeding Rs 300 a day, and still educating two college-going children ...

Ground Reality - Mon, 03/07/2016 - 16:13

Srinivas at his home-cum-micro enterprise in Pochampally 
The next time you buy the famous Pochampally sari just think of the hard labour that has gone into weaving the masterpiece. I was therefore curious to meet some weavers whose work is so well appreciated and recognised when I got an opportunity a few days back to visit the Pochampally village in Telengana, about 40 kms from Hyderabad. 

I met a 40-year-old weaver Srinivas at his home-cum-micro enterprise where two handlooms were operative, one by him and the other by his wife. I call it a home-cum-micro enterprise because in the small two room structure he not only has his equipment (I mean the handlooms) installed but also doubles it as a bedroom, a study room for his children and of course uses a portion of the second room as a kitchen. Sitting bare chested, Srinivas told me that he on an average (with help from his family) is able to complete seven saris in a month. "This is possible only with help from my wife. Otherwise I alone cannot do it," he told me. All that he earns in a month is Rs 9,000, which means Rs 300 a day. "This is still better. Till a year back, I was getting only Rs 200 a day."

He has two grown-up children, the elder daughter studying in BA Part II and his son in Inter Part I. Both of them help their parents but of course are not willing to take forward the family tradition. I asked them why, and they shied to reply. In Rs 200/day till last year that he was getting, Srinivas could manage to educate his children. Against all hardships, he was able to provide them with education. Certainly he deserves my salute.  

Later, I walked to the Pochampally Handloom Weavers Coop Society to get a broader picture. I was told by the Manager that with every passing year the number of weavers was dwindling. From 900-odd some years ago only about 550 families are engaged in weaving now. The proliferation of power-looms have taken away most jobs. But also the low wages have forced people to move out looking for menial jobs in the city. This is corroborated by the owner of a company, who I met later, which specialises in providing maids, guards, and care takers. He told me that in Hyderabad alone there are about 3,000 such companies/employers, which provide security guards, maids etc. I asked how much must be the employment potential for such jobs, and the answer I got was anything around "10,000-20,000 a day"

Coming back to the cooperative, the Manager suggested the government should tax the power-looms and provide more subsidy to the dying handlooms. At present, they get only a yarn subsidy of 10 per cent. A lot of cheaper silk yarn is coming from China which is being used by the powerlooms. Why doesn't the Govt ban import of Chinese yarn, he asked. There may be many other reasons but this certainly is an area that the governments need to look into more seriously. 

While walking out of the coop I was only left wondering as to how was Srinivas surviving in Rs 300 a day, including the cost of affording two college going children? Wouldn't his children too be aspiring to be successful entrepreneurs? Don't they feel the urge to talk/gossip freely on mobile phone like other city-bred youngsters? Perhaps they can't afford the mobile bill. But what about their higher education? Wouldn't they also like to study in a trendy private university set up by the likes of Mohandas Pai? Can they ever afford it unless these are subsidised? 

And we are still debating the need to shut down the public supported institutes of higher learning like the Jawaharlal Nehru University??
Categories: Ecological News

Hoping against hope. No signs of doubling farmers' income in the next five years

Ground Reality - Wed, 03/02/2016 - 11:18



The average income a farmer gets from farming activities, including what he keeps for his family consumption at home, in 17 States of India is Rs 20,000 a year. In other words, the monthly income of a farmer in these States is a paltry Rs 1,666.

Yes, you got it right. Rs 1,666 only.

Now, put yourself in this picture frame. If you were a farmer and able to make only Rs 1,666 per month what would you like to do? Wait for another five years? Live on hope, thinking woh subah kabhi to aayegi ..

So when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting the budget 2016, yesterday in Parliament said: “We need to think beyond 'food security' and give back to farmers a sense of 'income security'” I waited with an abated breath. But when all that he promised was to double farmers' income by 2022, still good five years away, all my hopes came tumbling down.

Five years, the Finance Minister wants the farmers to wait. After five years, and even if the promise is realised, the income of farmers in these 17 States will go up to Rs 3,332 a month. I can imagine the Economic Survey, to be presented in 2022, proudly stating that because of the continuous efforts, the government has succeeded in doubling farmers income. Certainly, what an 'achievement' economists would say. But by that time, adjusting for inflation, even the Rs 3,332 would be equivalent to Rs 1,666 that a farmer is able to make now.

This surely is a sense of 'income security' that the government has promised.

At a time when agriculture is in deep crisis, with agrarian distress lomming large over the past several years, something that even the Economic Survey 2016 brings out quite in detail, I was expecting the government to perform an immediate surgical operation. Considerting that the spate of farmer suicides has jumped from the existing nationwide average of 42 a day, to 52 a day in 2015, agriculture required an urgent attention. Just mentioning agriculture some 50 times in the budget speech provides no succour to a sector which is languising in neglect and apathy.

Prevailing farm crisis is not an outcome of low agricultural productivity. It is not as if the farmers do not know how to increase crop productivity as a reult of which his income continues to stagnate. Productivity is important but if it is not backed by remunerative price, a farmer will continue to suffer. Take the case of Punjab, India's frontline agricultural State. Punjab farmers produce 4,500 Kg/hecatre of wheat and 6,000 kg/hectare of paddy – a very high crop productivity indeed – in an area that has 99 per cent assured irrigation. All the development indices that the government is projecting in this year's budget , including expanding irrigation, are already existing in Punjab. And yet, according to the calculations of the Commission for Agricultuiral Costs and Prices (CACP) the net income from a hectare of cultivating wheat and paddy (the usual cropping pattern followed in a year) is about Rs 36,000, which comes to a monthly realisation of Rs 3,000 only. Compare this with the basic monthly salary of Rs 18,000 a chaprasi will get after the 7th pay Commission is implemented. I will not be surprised if a newly-appointed chaprasi also becomes eligible to pay income tax soon after he joins service.

Economic Survey 2016 therefore is wrong when it says that the central challenge to Indian agriculture is low productivity. The primary challenge, let me make it clear, is what the Finance Minister spelled out, and rightly so, is – 'income security'.

Talk of farmers income and mainline economists as well as the mainline media spare no effort to brand you a leftist. On several TV channels yesterday I was appaled to see how panelists were visibly disappointed even at the emphasis on the word 'agriculture' in the budget speech. What is not being understood is that agriculture has turned unviable not because it is unproductive or is not paying enough but has been deliberately kept impoverished all these years. Let me explain. In 1970, the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat that the farmers received was Rs 76 per quintal (100 Kgs) In 2015, 45 years later, the MSP for wheat was raised to Rs 1,450 per quintal, an increase by 19 times.

In the same period, the basic salary (plus Dearness Allowance) of government employees has gone up by 120-150 times; of college teachers and university propfessors by 150 to 170 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; and of top executives of India Inc by a whopping 1,000 times. While the salaries of employees were raised phenomenally in the past 45 years, farmers were starved of their legitimate dues. If only the wheat price had been raised by the same yardstick, hiking it 100 times at least, the MSP for wheat should have been at least Rs 7,600 per quintal. The arguement is that if wheat prices go up, food inflational will skyrocket. It is therefore obvious that farmers had been penalised all these years merely to keep food inflation in control.

This is the reason why the NDA government has backtracked on its promise of providing 50 per cent profit over the cost of production. Farmers income, seen through the hike in MSP, has only been raised by a nominal 3.2 to 3.6 per cent every year. So while every else in the organised sector gets a hefty pay hike, farmers are being deliberately ignored.

I thought it was an appropriate moment for the government to make up for its 'anti-farmer' image. The enhanced public sector investment in agriculture has to be accompanied by steps that can boost farm income. If only the government had announced a Rs 3-lakh crore economic bailout package for the farming community, and followed it up by setting up a National Farmers Income Commission to ensure that farmers get a guaranteed monthly take home income package, the wheels of economic growth would have spiralled. More income into the hands of 60-crore farmers would have not only provided them with 'income security' but also created a huge domestic demand thereby leading to the revival of industrial growth.

This in reality is the only prescription for Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #

Hopes Comes Crashing Down. Orissa Post. Mar 3, 2016http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/020316/p8.htm
Don't Believe the Budget Hype, Farmers Have Been Short-Changed Again. The Wire. Mar 1, 2016 http://thewire.in/2016/03/01/agriculture-sector-needs-more-than-just-income-security-for-farmers-23273/
जरूरी है किसानों की आय बढ़ाना Prabhat Khabar Mar 2, 2016http://www.prabhatkhabar.com/news/big-story/story/733495.html
Categories: Ecological News

Agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy.

Ground Reality - Wed, 02/24/2016 - 16:05


At a time when the global economy shows no signs of revival, and with Russia and Japan faced with recession, emerging economies like Brazil and South Africa in dire straits; and with no silver lining visible as far as domestic industrial growth is concerned, all eyes are on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on how he plans to sustain economic growth that eventually leads to a job-led growth.
Growth without jobs is meaningless. For the past 12 years, despite a high growth rate, it has largely been a jobless growth with only 15 million jobs created during the 10-years of the UPA regime. With employment per factory declining steeply over the years, the chances for a revival seems difficult. This is indicative from the data published by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). Investment proposals received by DIPP for new projects to be set up in 2014-15 showed a possibility of creating a maximum of 4.11 lakh jobs.
Although Arun Jaitley’s agenda revolves around pushing reforms to lift growth, so as to create jobs but what is not being realized is that agriculture, the neglect sector all these years, alone has the potential to create massive gainful employment, build up domestic demand and thereby revitalize the sluggish economy. Whether we like it or not, the only pathway to reboot the economy passes through agriculture.
This assumes importance given the fact that 153 million youth in the age bracket of 15-29 years were looking for jobs in 2015-16. With only a fraction of the jobs available, and knowing that new projects in FY15 employed only half the number of workers compared to new projects a few years ago, creating ample and suitable employment opportunities remains a Herculean task. Considering that the young people expected to enter the job market by 2020 is likely to further swell to 156 million, the challenge to create additional employment opportunities appear to be limited, not only in India, but across the globe.
More of the same therefore is not the answer.
Budget 2016 provides an opportunity to break through the shackles. The potential of growth economics to create jobs has reached saturation, and the growing protests, often accompanied by violence, for job reservation -- by Jats in Haryana, UP, Delhi, Rajasthan; Patidars in Gujarat; Marathas in Maharashtra; Lingayat in Karnataka – seeking job quotas for the communities is clearly indicative of the failure of the trickle-down theory. It also reflects on the continuing neglect of agriculture that has turned farming into a loss making enterprise. Farm incomes are now at the lowest level thereby forcing the huge farm workforce to abandon agriculture in search of menial jobs in the cities.
This trend has to be reversed. In my opinion, there is no other alternative.
As per Census 2011, 52 per cent of the country’s workforce is engaged in agriculture. In other words, agriculture sector is the biggest employer. But over the past few decades, agriculture has been systematically starved of financial resources, and the continuing neglect and apathy has turned farming highly uneconomical. The spate of farm suicides, which has now increased to 52 deaths on an average every day, and reports of farmers selling their blood to make a living in the drought-hit Bundelkhand region, shows the severity of the agrarian crisis, worsening with every passing year.
Presenting the budget last year, Arun Jaitley had listed increasing farm incomes as the top most challenge. But somehow by the time he ended his speech he had probably forgotten to rescue the farming community from economic distress. NSSO 2014 had computed the income of an average farm household at about Rs 6,000 per month, of which only Rs 3,000 came from farming. Rest of it came from non-farm activities, including MNREGA. Studies by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) have shown that the net income per hectare from cultivating wheat and rice even in the frontline agricultural state of Punjab is about Rs 3,000 per hectare. If this is the situation in Punjab, the economic distress prevailing in the rest of the country can be imagined.
If Rs 6,000 is the income of a farm household – comprising five members – it is quite natural that the young would swarm into the cities looking for menial jobs. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan as well as the deputy chairman of Niti Ayog Arvind Panagariya have repeatedly said that the best reform is to move farmers out of agriculture so as to provide cheaper labour force for the industry. This is based on the economic prescription doled out by World Bank and pursued by the global financial markets. However, Arun Jaitley needs to ensure that at a time when jobs are scarce and farm incomes are plunging, his focus should be on reviving agriculture instead of creating an army of dehari mazdoor. This will provide gainful employment to those who are already engaged in farming, and in turn will create more domestic demand.
Here are five thrust areas that I think need immediate attention:
      After two years of back-to-back drought, and with an unprecedented spurt in farmer suicides in 2015, I expect the government to provide an economic bailout package of Rs 3-lakh-crore to the agriculture sector. Remember, a similar economic bailout package of Rs 3-lakh-crore was provided to the industry after the economic meltdown of 2008-9. An economic bailout package for agriculture would benefit roughly 10-crore farm families.
      Public sector investments in agriculture must be increased to Rs 1-lakh crore for 2016-17. Allocations for agriculture should be enhanced by 25 per cent in every budget to make any meaningful contribution. Not many are aware that the budgetary allocations for MNREGA at present exceed that of agriculture, which employs 52 per cent of the population. In 2014-15, the budget allocation for agriculture was Rs 15,267-crore. A year earlier, in 2013-14, it was 12,006 crore.
      Since the NDA government has through an affidavit in Supreme Court made it clear that it has no intention of providing farmers with 50 per cent profit over and above the cost of production as recommended by the Swaminathan committee, as it will distort markets, the government should announce setting up of a National Farmers Income Commission, which will work out the minimum assured monthly income package a farming family must get. The 7th Pay Commission provides a basic monthly salary of Rs 18,000 to a chaprasi whereas the average monthly income for a farm family does not exceed Rs 6,000. This anomaly must be corrected.
      Focus of infrastructure investment must shift to agriculture and rural development. Adequate investment must be made available for building market yards or mandis. If a market yard has to be provided in a radius of 5 kms from a village, India will need 42,000 such mandis. At present, only 7,000 APMC regulated mandis exist. Along with the mandis, the emphasis should also be on building a network of rural godowns and rural link roads. 
      Rural enterprise too needs encouragement. Start-Ups have been given a three year tax holiday with several other concessions. The same benefits should also be given to Farmer Producer companies, which continue to pay 30 per cent tax every year. Similar tax concessions should also be given to small and medium entrepreneurs who are linked to Mudra Bank.      
      More than make in India, Jaitley needs to focus on Farm in India. The Wire. Feb 24, 2016      http://thewire.in/2016/02/24/budgeting-for-agriculture-and-revitalising-the-economy-22520/
Categories: Ecological News

Make Monsanto pay

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 02/24/2016 - 05:11

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 23 February 2016

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/make-monsanto-pay-668

While the Centre is suing Monsanto, Maharashtra has signed an MoU with it to set up the biggest seed hub in India… How can a corporation taking lives be rewarded with the ‘Make in India’ label?

Monsanto is in the news again. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), the country’s antitrust regulator, has recently said that it suspects a Monsanto joint venture abused its dominant position as a supplier of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds in India and has issued an order citing prima facie violation of Sections 3(4) and 4 of the Competition Act, to be investigated by CCI’s director-general.

Monsanto also faces cases brought by state governments and domestic seed manufacturers, for the astronomical royalty it charges. In previous cases, Monsanto defended itself by saying that it was “trait fees” (for using its technology in cotton hybrids) and not royalty.

Fact is that Monsanto has viewed the laws of our land as mere hurdles in its way to swindle India and our farmers. On March 10, 1995, Mahyco (Monsanto-Mahyco) brought 100 grams of cotton seeds, containing the MON531-Bt gene, into India without the approval of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

Eager to establish a monopoly in India based on the smuggled MON531 gene, Monsanto-Mahyco started large scale, multi-centric, open field trials of Bt cotton in 40 locations spread across nine states, again without GEAC approval.

Article (7) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, states: “No person shall import, export, transport, manufacture, process, use or sell any hazardous microorganisms or genetically engineered organisms/substances or cells except with the approval of the GEAC.” GMO traits, once released into the environment, cannot be contained or recalled.

Genetically engineered cotton from the trials was sold in open markets. In some states, the trial fields were replanted the very next season with wheat, turmeric and groundnut, violating Para-9 of the Biosafety Guidelines (1994) on “post-harvest handling of the transgenic plants” according to which the fields on which GMO trials were conducted should have been left fallow for at least one year.

In face of these blatant violations of Indian laws and the risks of genetic pollution India faced, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India against Monsanto and Mahyco in 1999, for their violations of the 1989 rules for the use of GMOs under the Environmental Protection Act.

India’s laws, rightly, do not permit patents on seeds and in agriculture. This has always been a problem for Monsanto and, through the US administration, it has attempted to pressure India into changing her robust intellectual property regime since the World Trade Organisation came into existence, and continues to do so today.

Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech (MMB) Ltd collected royalties for Bt cotton by going outside the law and charging “technology fees” and “trait fee” to the tune of $900 million from marginal Indian farmers, crushing them with debt.

In 2006, out of the Rs 1,600 per 450 gram package of Bt cotton seed (Rs 3,555.55/kg), almost 80 per cent (Rs 1,250) was charged by MMB as “trait fee”. In stark contrast, before Monsanto destroyed alternative sources of seed (including local hybrid seed supply) through unfair business practices, local seeds used to cost farmers Rs 5-9/kg.

In response to the unfair pricing, the government of Andhra Pradesh filed a complaint with the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) against MMB, pointing out that Monsanto was charging Andhra Pradesh farmers nine times what it was charging US farmers for the same seeds. MMB said the royalty it charged reflected its research and development costs for Bt cotton, admitting that they were charging royalty to Indian farmers.

Monsanto’s ruthlessness is central to the crisis Indian farmers are facing. Farmers leveraged their land holdings to buy Bt cotton seeds and the chemicals it demanded, but the golden promise of higher yield and reduced pesticide use failed to deliver.

Of the 300,000 farmer suicides in India since Monsanto smuggled the Bt gene into India in 1995, 84 per cent, almost 252,000, are directly attributed to Monsanto’s Bt cotton.

While the Government of India is suing Monsanto, the government of Maharashtra has signed an MoU with Monsanto to set up the biggest seed hub in the country in Buldana, announced at “Make in India Week”. How can a corporation breaking India, taking the lives of Indian farmers, destroying our agriculture and food security, and violating our laws be rewarded with the “Make in India” label?

For arrogantly breaking Indian laws and corrupting our regulatory systems, Monsanto must be held accountable. For the failure of Bt cotton, Monsanto must be made to pay damages to the farmers and seed companies that have had to pay “technology fees” for a failed technology.

The land that our farmers have lost to the agents selling Monsanto seeds and chemicals must be returned to the farmers’ families. All the illegal royalty collected from our farmers and India’s seed companies must be returned to India.

With its flagship product failing across the country year after year, and the dimming prospects of the super-profits the company has become used to, why would Monsanto make a large investment in Vidarbha unless it is sure of continued monopoly?

The technical expert committee has recommended that Herbicide Tolerance (Ht) and GM varieties of crops for which India is the centre of diversity, not be allowed in India. Is Monsanto counting on the GEAC approving Bayer’s herbicide-tolerant terminator mustard in contempt of the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee? Allowing Bayer’s Ht terminator mustard will open the floodgates for herbicide tolerant crops, worsening India’s agrarian crisis and debilitating India’s food security.

Herbicide tolerance, which goes hand in hand with Monsanto’s Glyphosate based RoundUp herbicide, has failed across the world at controlling weeds, creating super weeds. Glyphosate, classified by the World Health Organisation as a carcinogen, is already being used across India and we are seeing an explosion of cancers in villages where Glyphosate is used. If we allow another failed technology and its associated poisons to further destroy India’s rural economy, and allow extraction of profits from Indian farmers, we will fail our nation and India’s future generations.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Related campaign

Navdanya Campaign in support of farmers victims of BT Cotton failure in Punjab

NEWS TAG: BT COTTON | INDIA

SOCIAL MEDIA STREAM (NEWEST – OLDEST)

#Monsanto debe pagar! https://t.co/BXd6HfUqvP @viaorganica,@ALAIinfo, @GenEngNetwork,@occupytheseed,@SustainablePuls pic.twitter.com/oLKWBqTARr

— #Glyphosate (@ZeroBiocidas) February 27, 2016

#Biotechfail is destroying #India’s rural economy | #MakeMonsantoPay | by @DrVandanaShiva https://t.co/3sCo9hzqBE pic.twitter.com/ojZYB3yyUx

— Seed Freedom (@occupytheseed) February 24, 2016

Research promoting #poisons & #GMOs harms nature & society .
Toxic #MNCs liable for harm . https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61 https://t.co/J16X7QFmQA

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

National Seed Association reflects national interest,not views of global predatory #MNCs who sell toxics & #GMOs https://t.co/J16X7QFmQA

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

"While the Centre is suing #Monsanto, @Dev_Fadnavis has signed an MoU wid it 2 set up the biggest seed hub in India" https://t.co/uk0jutJe4c

— Indra Shekhar Singh (@IndraSsingh) February 24, 2016

Abt 252,000, farmers' suicides r directly attributed to Monsanto’s Bt cotton since '95 https://t.co/8t62dY56GP pic.twitter.com/RyYwAsbTwI

— Navdanya (@NavdanyaBija) February 24, 2016

Take liability for failure of Bt cotton crop, seed industry tells Mahyco-Monsanto#GMOFaledTech#MakeMonsantoPay https://t.co/1fFfNNngah

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

#MakeMonsantoPay
While the Centre is suing the company, Maharashtra signs an MoU for seed hub? https://t.co/nSvWUA5fet

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

Make #Monsanto pay, says @drvandanashiva https://t.co/ydJwUpjWLM #gmo pic.twitter.com/IOYhGJHuji

— GMWatch (@GMWatch) February 24, 2016

#MakeMonsantoPay https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61

Cancel MOU for #Monsanto & #MakeInIndia @PMOIndia @Dev_Fadnavis @ashwani_mahajan

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

#StoptheGMOScam #MakeMonsantoPay https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61@SlowFoodHQ #MonsantoTribunal https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61 https://t.co/mFtkP27YkR

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

#MakeMonsantoPay
We must have the MOU cancelled
And we must make Monsanto pay https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61 https://t.co/gSMZ6skoy5

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

#MonsantoMustPayhttps://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61@ashwani_mahajan #MonsantoTribunal https://t.co/vS38EBoKg5

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 24, 2016

#MakeMonsantoPay for #Btcotton that fails to control pests ,for illegal royalty collection https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61 https://t.co/bdwTycuk71

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 23, 2016

#MakeMonsato pay for illegal #royalty collection ,for trapping farmers in debt and driving them to suicide https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61

— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) February 23, 2016

#Pepsi to set up unit & #Monsanto signs MOU 4 large #SeedHub in Maharashtra https://t.co/RfUd9zjZxZ @drvandanashiva pic.twitter.com/g69TEtJ3Xy

— Seed Freedom (@occupytheseed) February 17, 2016

                          
Categories: Ecological News

India must direct seed companies to withdraw and destroy Bt cotton seed.

Ground Reality - Sun, 02/14/2016 - 12:55




Pic: www.hindubusinessline.com
Nestle, the multinational food giant, was forced to recall and destroy 400 million packets of Maggi noodles when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) found the lead content to be beyond the permissible limits. Later, Indo Nissin Foods was advised to withdraw its instant noodles brand ‘Top Ramen’. Hindustan Unilever too withdrew its Knorr instant noodles pending product approval.
World over food recalls and voluntary withdrawals are a common phenomenon. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been regularly issuing alerts that have forced food companies to withdraw its misbranded and contaminated products. Pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements too have witnessed massive recalls in the past few years. Indian drug maker Ranbaxy was twice forced to withdraw its products from the US market besides being made to pay a penalty of $ 500 million. 
In a first-ever recall of a genetically-modified (GM) food product, the US-based Star Link was forced to recall over 300 of its products that was found to be carrying traces of GM corn which was not approved for human consumption. Taco shells manufactured by Kraft Foods and found to be contaminated with GM corn were also withdrawn with $ 60 million going in settlement. These are only a few of the prominent recalls the world has witnessed. The list is otherwise endless.
More recently, nearly 7 million cars have been recalled in the United States after a defective airbag and propellant device supplied by a Japanese manufacturer Takata, and fitted in cars of nearly two dozen popular brands, were detected. So far there have been two deaths and 139 reported injuries across all brands. According to news reports, some 34 million vehicles in the US are potentially affected. Volkswagen alone had to recall 680,000 vehicles in the US over airbag problems.
In India, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, provides adequate protection to consumers. It does ensure that a manufacturer does not sell a product that suffers from a major defect, ensures proper service and can be hauled up for excessive pricing, unfair trade practices or restrictive trade practices. But when it comes to seeds, the law is not as clear as it is for any other manufactured product. The existing provisions have been used by farmers at several places to get compensation for lack of germination of the seeds but in several cases the seed companies have managed to wriggle out leaving the state governments to take on the liability.
This brings me to the failure of genetically-modified Bt cotton seeds to control the dreaded pink bollworm pests in cotton. In an affidavit filed on Jan 23 before the New Delhi High Court, the Ministry of Agriculture stated: “Pink boll worm, a major pest of the cotton crop, has already developed resistance in the last 2-3 years; farmers are a worried lot having sown Bt cotton seeds purchased at high prices.”
Seeking a reduction in royalty payments to Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech India Pvt Ltd (MMBL), which has a near monopoly on Bt cotton seeds, what the government is merely seeking is the right to regulate prices for farmers at a time when the efficacy of the crop variety goes down. Even if the royalty amount is reduced it would still make the Bt cotton varieties anyway effective to withstand the insect attack against which it was earlier resistant. Since the efficacy of Bt cotton seeds has come down, and this has been established b the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), and admitted by Monsanto, I wonder why are the seed companies not being asked to withdraw and destroy the Bt cotton seeds, which have lost its ability to control pink boll worm insects? After all, if Nestle can be directed to recall and destroy 400 million packet of Maggi noddles, seed companies selling Bollgard-II seeds (and I am told there are 49 such companies) should also be directed to recall and destroy 50 million seed samples that are sold every year.
Why should an inferior seed be allowed to be sold? Are these farmers not consumers?  
In India, reports say more than 8 million farmers are engaged in cotton cultivation. Nearly 97 per cent of the cotton area in India is under Bt cotton.
Perhaps for this reason, but not as categorical, some States have begun to question the seed companies.  Reports The Times of India (Feb 13, 2016): “State governments have begun to issue notices to domestic trade channel partners of American seed giant Monsanto, citing failure of latter’s GM cotton that was supposed to be pest resistant but is now being attacked by the same pests.” Accordingly, these seed companies, which have come together under the banner National Seed Association of India (NSAI) in turn, are questioning Monsanto, which in turn is blaming farmers for not following the correct farm practices. This tug of war will continue while farmers continue to suffer. Blaming farmers for any seed debacle has been the easiest way to escape responsibility.
In 2009, Monsanto had accepted pink boll resistance to its first-generation Bt cotton – containing one Bt gene. This was replaced by the second-generation called Bollgard-II – containing two Bt genes -- and therefore providing more ‘robust’ protection. The Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research meanwhile detected pink bollworm developing resistance to Bollgard-II in October 2015. When confronted, a spokesperson for Monsanto replied: "the resistance is a natural, evolving process."
It took almost four years for the insects to develop resistance to the first generation Bt cotton after it was commercially released in 2006, says a news report in the Hindu Business Line. In another 5-6 years, the second generation Bollgard-II also developed resistance. The failure of Bt cotton to withstand the fury of insect attack against which it was supposed to be resistant has only aggravated the prevailing farm distress. In such a distressing scenario, when we know hundreds of farmers are committing suicide, and majority of them are from the cotton belt, the question that needs to be asked is why shouldn’t the Bt cotton varieties be withdrawn and destroyed? If the seed variety is not able to provide the same service for which it was originally approved, why shouldn’t the Ministry of Agriculture advise the seed companies to recall the product? 

India must direct companies to withdraw Bt cotton seed. ABPLive.in Feb 13, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/india-must-direct-cos-to-withdraw-bt-cotton-seeds
Categories: Ecological News

Not much hope from the new Crop Insurance scheme

Ground Reality - Wed, 02/10/2016 - 15:54


 Photo: www.skymetweather.com
I had a lot of expectations from the newly introduced Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna. Coming after a series of climatic aberrations in 2015 that saw unseasonal rains and hailstorm lash the standing crops in the northwestern States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, resulting in an unprecedented spurt in farmer suicides, the farming community awaited eagerly for a silver lining to emerge from the otherwise dark skies that continue to prevail.
After the media had painted a bright picture, terming the new crop insurance scheme as ‘path-breaking’ and the government even going to the extent of calling it a ‘game changer’, I found the devil actually lies in the detail. The Pradhan Mantri  Fasal Bima Yojna is certainly a big bonanza for the insurance companies but when seen from the point of view of farmers, it is yet another damp squib. But first let us look at how the insurance companies are going to gain. In 2015, the insurance companies earned a premium of Rs 1,500 from the farmers, and in addition got a premium subsidy of Rs 5,500-crore from the Centre as well as from the States, both contributing 50 per cent. In total, insurance companies got around Rs 7,000-crores. Under the new PMFBY scheme, which will come into effect from April, the direct premium amount from farmers is expected to increase to Rs 2,000-crores. In addition, the Centre will provide Rs 8,800-crores, with the States expected to provide another Rs 8,800-crore. This totals to Rs 19,600-crore. From Rs 7,000-crore to Rs 19,600-core is quite a significant jump for any business. If not for farmers, certainly it is path-breaking for the insurance companies.
Now let us look at how the insurance scheme will work out for farmers. Under the new scheme, farmers will pay an uniform premium of 1.5 per cent for the rabi crops, 2 per cent for the kharif crops, and 5 per cent for horticultural crops. In the earlier National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) farmers were paying a premium of 1.5 per cent for wheat and 2 per cent for other rabi crops. For the kharif crops, which are cultivated in the months of monsoon, it was 2.5 per cent for paddy and pulses but 3.5 per cent for more risky crops like bajraand oilseeds. For the horticultural crops, the premium was worked out on actual basis, which varied with crops and the region.
Although there is not much of a change, but the uniformity in insurance premium is certainly a welcome step. But what was troublesome was that most farmers who earlier enrolled for crop insurance were bank loanees. The premium amount would be automatically cut from their bank accounts and made available to insurance companies. Bankers tell me that the insurance companies only come to the bank once to get their share of premium and return the next season. Insurance companies don’t even know what crop the farmer was sowing nor did they ever care. In other words, Insurance companies often don’t even know what crop had been insured.  
The same system will continue to operate under the new scheme. De-linking crop insurance from bank credit is what was required.
Farmers are not reluctant to go in for crop insurance because of the premium cost. They are not interested because they find the claims that are worked out for the crop loss they actually incur to be completely ridiculous. A news report in a major Hindi daily in Rajasthan for instance has in a survey conducted in four districts covering 200 Assembly segments found that 85 per cent farmers did not get any claim in the past four years. In another reply in Rajasthan Assembly, it was revealed that insurance companies had a net earning of Rs 1,234-crore between 2010 and 2014. Of the 2.14-crore farmers who paid the insurance premium, only 1.84-crore got some part of the claim. Accordingly, 0.30-crore farmers were left high and dry. This problem remains in the new scheme.
The basic fault lies with the way the average crop loss is worked out. In the past, the average loss computed in a block or taluka was considered while assessing the crop loss suffered by a farmer. In the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna too, a village or a village panchayat has been taken as the unit of insurance. It means that irrespective of what the loss an individual farmer suffers from hailstorm or strong winds etc, the compensation he will get will be based on the average loss in crop production in a village. This is primarily the reason why farmers were never enthused to take up crop insurance.
I have always questioned this faulty methodology. After all, if a house in a residential colony catches fire, the owner gets the claim he filed for. Why shouldn’t the same methodology work in the farming sector? After all, 60 per cent of the total insurance is done in 50 risk prone districts across the country. Given that 11 insurance companies are into the business, I see no reason why these companies cannot be directed to assess loss on a per unit farm basis? In these 50 districts to begin with, each company can map each and every farm in five villages each. Why are the insurance companies not being directed to pay the insurance claim based on each farm is baffling indeed.
So for all practical purposes, the new scheme is actually a repackaging of the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme that existed earlier. NAIS scheme still operates in 18 States. Much of the problem was actually compounded with the launch of a Modified National Crop Insurance Scheme a few years back. Many States governments which took up MNAIS have since abandoned it.
Use of technology to assess the crop losses is certainly welcome. But the use of drones and smart phones can only point to a crop field being visibly damaged. The loss has still to be computed on the ground. Crop cutting experiments is perhaps the only plausible way to assess the crop losses. Increasing the number of crop cuttings from the existing 16-lakh a year to about 30-lakh is certainly welcome but how it will be done has not been spelled out. Already the way revenue officials have been undertaking the task has remained under the scanner.
It is here that I think the Crop Insurance scheme drawn up by the Haryana government merits attention. Haryana too had plans to use technology, using satellite imagery in the first stage. In addition, Tehsildar along with concerned officials from the block level will be members of a team that will examine satellite data within 48 hours of a natural disaster. At the second stage, physical verification will be undertaken by two teams simultaneously – one comprising the patwari and nambardar, and the other having Sarpanchand Agricultural Development Officer. This will certainly minimize the chances of corruption that existed in the earlier girdwari exercises. #
Another damp squib, Deccan Herald. Jan 2, 2016
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/525725/another-damp-squib.html
फसल बीमा की बाधाएं Dainik Jagran Feb 4, 2016http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-obstacles-of-crop-insurance-13536701.html?src=HP-EDI-ART
Categories: Ecological News

To kick start Start-Up India, poor entrepreneurs must be encouraged

Ground Reality - Sat, 02/06/2016 - 12:09
These women selling vegetables on the pavement in Leh in Ladakh are also entrepreneurs.


If you had been to Leh in Ladakh you would have surely seen women in traditional attire selling vegetables on the pavements. Closer home, I am sure you encounter the rehriwalaumpteen numbers of times during the day doing the rounds selling vegetables or your daily necessities. Walk into any market, and you will find people swarming around a rehri eating pao-bhaji or gol-gappas or chats.
One thing common about them is that they are all entrepreneurs.
I was reminded of the women in Leh when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a series of sops and tax exemptions as part of the “Start Up India, Stand Up India” campaign for aspirational young Indians. Have an entrepreneurial mindset, improve your efficiency and empower yourself to make a difference goes the underlying refrain. And that makes me wonder, why are the policy makers unable to appreciate the spirit of entrepreneurship that lies largely untapped among the lower strata of the society. True economic growth is only possible if the social divide is bridged, not widened. Given the right kind of policy push, I am sure several million flowers in rural India would have also bloomed by now. Yes, you heard it right, several million. 

A Rs 10,000-crore endowment fund, income tax relief for first three years, exemption from capital gain tax, no labour inspection for three years, credit guarantee fund for startups, easy exit, self certification and a number of sops greet the young Start Up entrepreneurs. Thanks to the state largesse, newspaper reports point to top performers in a number of startups to see their pay packets doubling this season. High performers are expected to get a pay rise of 30-50 per cent.
Despite such massive subsidy support, the number of startups in India is only between 4,200 and 4,400 (third largest in the world) already providing employment for an estimated 80,000 to 85,000 people. An AFP news report (Feb 5) however is indicative of the bubble already showing signs of bursting with hundreds of layoffs at several Indian startups. It quotes Arvind Singhal, chairman of management consulting form Technopak: “The valuation bubble is bursting. The valuation had reached levels where they were ridiculous and could not be justified at any level.”
While what has gone wrong with startups is topic for another day, I take you back to the failure to appreciate and encourage entrepreneurship amongst the poor. Take the case of a poorest of the poor woman in a village. She has no land, works as a daily wage worker, and somehow manages to survive. To make a better living, she decides to buy a goat. By selling milk and raising the goat kids that she can sell off at a later stage she thinks she can make a decent living. She goes to a Micro-Finance Institution (MFI) to get a loan of Rs 7,000-Rs 8,000 to buy a goat. She gets the loan at an interest rate of 24 per cent on an average, and to be paid back at weekly intervals. At weekly repayment schedule, the interest rate effectively comes to 32 per cent.
This is hailed as a significant step in women empowerment. I wonder if a 32 per cent rate of interest can empower a poor woman, how come the well-to-do entrepreneurs in the urban centres need all the tax exemptions and government sops?
Compare this with the classic example of Punjab state’s benevolence bestowed on the steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal. According to a report in Indian Express, Laxmi Mittal was given Rs 1,250-crore by the Punjab government to invest in the Bathinda refinery. This was to be treated as a soft loan for 20 years, to be paid back at 0.1 per cent rate of interest. Film star Hema Malini got a 2,000 square metre plot worth Rs 13.5 crore for a mere Rs 70,000. Gujarat Chief Minister daughter Anar Jayesh Patel's business partners have got 250 acres of land at an official rate of Rs 15 per square metre, says a news report.
I am sure you will agree that if the poor woman too had got a loan at 0.1 per cent rate of interest, she would have been driving a Nano car at the end of the second year. Similarly, if the vegetable vendors in Leh had got bank credit at the same interest rate, and a small piece of land at the rate at which Anar Patel got the land, they too would have set up small pucca shops.
The poor are entrepreneurs too. They would have moved up the ladder in large numbers if suitable and appropriate schemes to encourage entrepreneurship were also carved out for them. They too can be part of ‘Stand Up India’ provided the government focuses on social inclusiveness to build up economic equality. Let us not leave the poor at the mercy of loan sharks – and then consider them suitable only for MNREGA activities. It is time to disband MFIs and use Jan Dhan Yojnato give the poor an easy access to cheaper credit. 
Social equality is at the very foundation for economic growth. We cannot discriminate among entrepreneurs just on the basis of where they come from. 
To kick start Start Up India, poor entrepreneurs must be encouraged. ABPLive. Feb 5, 2016 http://www.abplive.in/blog/to-kick-start-start-up-india-poor-entrepreneurs-must-be-encouraged
Categories: Ecological News

Yes, Mr Prime Minister. Incentives too are subsidies.

Ground Reality - Thu, 02/04/2016 - 11:40


Yes, Mr Prime Minister. You are absolutely right. It is all a game of words. When the poor are given financial support it is called subsidies, a word which has now been demonized. But when the rich are doled out massive freebies like land at a throwaway price, natural resources being made available on a platter, tax exemptions, tax holidays, and the list is endless; it is called incentive for growth.
This clever manipulation of economic thought through a deliberate choice of words – and parroting it to a level that it becomes a part of the popular discourse – in reality is what has actually led to worsening inequality. The choice of right vocabulary to cover up massive subsidise to the rich and the influential, often doled out at an obscene level, is perhaps at the very foundation of the global economic crisis.
The tragedy is that none of the mainline economists have ever questioned this. They knew it but they kept quiet.
When Prime Minister asked: “If the fertilizer subsidy were to be re-named ‘incentive for agricultural production’, I wonder if some experts might view it differently,” he actually hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what I have saying for long. How come an outlay of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for the food security programme, which is expected to feed 67 per cent of India’s population, is decried by economists as a wasteful subsidy but Rs 42-lakh-crore tax concessions (listed as Revenue Foregone in the budget documents) to India Inc since 2004-05 is considered to be an incentive for growth? You would have noticed. Every time I raised this question on various TV panels I was just ignored.
I still remember. In one of the pre-budget meetings with the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley I had specifically made a suggestion to withdraw tax concessions (at that time it stood at Rs 5.24 lakh crore for just one year) which I explained were nothing but a terrible drain on nation’s finances, a mainline economist had gone to the extent of actually asking the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to strike off the ‘revenue foregone’ category from budget documents so that these massive doles remain hidden from public glare. 
Consider this. The LPG subsidy was decried as a wasteful subsidy. Much of it of course goes to affluent section, which should be withdrawn. I remember an economist wrote that every year the country was spending Rs 48-crore for subsidizing LPG cylinders, an amount good enough to wipe out poverty from India for one year. He wanted the entire subsidy to be scrapped. When I responded by saying that if Rs 48-crore subsidy could wipe out poverty for one year, Rs 42-lakh crore subsidy by way of tax exemptions could have removed poverty for 84 years, and surely would have made poverty history, I was told that tax exemptions to corporate India were an ‘incentive for growth’.
These massive tax exemptions, enough to meet the entire budget expenditure for three years, however failed to deliver. India is witnessing jobless growth, employment generation is dismal, industrial growth has remained sluggish, manufacturing has gone into negative, and the exports have failed to pick up. The question that I have been asking and which still remains unanswered is that if the incentives have failed to make any visible impact, then where has all that money gone? But the Niti Ayog never questioned this. Nor did the Chief Economic Advisor ever point it out.
The silence is deafening.
I like it when Narendra Modi says: “Double taxation treaties have in some cases resulted in double non-taxation.” These are also not counted in the tax exemptions that are fished out every year. In other words, the country is suffering a double loss. On the one hand there is a revenue loss from these tax exemptions, and on the other, as the Prime Minister says, “dividends and long-term capital gains on shares traded in stock exchanges are totally exempt from income tax even though it is not the poor who earn them. Since it is exempt, it is not even counted in the tax exemptions.”
He is absolutely right. The country continues to suffer a double blow.
The language game does not end here. If you and I default on a bank loan, we are called defaulters. The bank can seize the car against which the loan is taken or mortgage the property or even use wrong arm tactics to extract the amount. But when the rich and the corporate default a bank, it is called Non-Performing Assets (NPAs). First, the common man on the street does not understand that how cleverly a difference in language hides a bigger crime. Secondly, the banks never seize the physical assets of these companies but instead go for restructuring the bad debts.
Non-Performing Assets of banks have reached a critical level. But watch any TV debate; NPAs rarely feature in prime time discussions. We are time and again reminded of the Rs 74,000-crore loan waiver that was given to farmers in 2008-09 but I have never seen the mainline media (including the business channels) ever question the restructuring of bad loans. The reason is obvious. The rich want to protect their subsidies, and the best way is to dress them in a vocabulary that the masses cannot differentiate. Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. You have stepped in where mainline economists and the mainline media fears to tread.
PM Modi bats for subsidies and rightly so. ABPLive.in  http://www.abplive.in/blog/pm-modi-bats-for-subsidies-and-rightly-so 
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