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Ecological News

Kisan Ekta -- The Voice of the Voiceless Farmers. My interview

Ground Reality - Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:47

At the recently concluded 3rd National Convention of Farmer Organisations that was held at Shimla, June 18-20, I was interviewed, among other media, also by TV Down to Earth. In this interview I have tried to explain the reasons behind bringing all the major farmer unions of the country onto one platform. It wasn't an easy exercise considering that the farmer movement has remained divided for various reasons. Political parties have kept the house divided, keeping them at an arms length. As a result the voice of the farmers had diminished over the years. Farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen of the country. 

The idea to bring all the major farming unions face-to-face around a table was initiated in August 2015 with the 1st National Convention at Chandigarh. This was the first time that farmer unions had come together cutting across party lines, egos and ideologies. In this Convention, some 40 major farmer unions were represented. They made a loud plea to stay together or perish. They all decided to stay under a banner -- Kisan Ekta (Farmers Unity). Consequently, the 2nd National Convention was held at Bangalore in November 2015, in which close to 60 farmer leaders participated. At the 3rd Convention at Shimla, two fishermen organisations too joined. This was for the first time that an effort was made to bring farmer and fisherfolk unions onto one platform. 

This interview gave me an opportunity to dwell at length on some of the complex issues that remains unexplained and also to focus on what the farmer organisations plan for the future. It details out how the farming organisations intend to address the serious issue of agrarian crisis, and also about the thinking to influence the 2019 Parliamentary elections. I hope you find it useful. 
Categories: Ecological News

'Punjab's drug problem is a symptom of a deeper malaise' -- An Interview

Ground Reality - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 17:49

Abhishek Chaubey's crime thriller has had its share of pre-release controversy. Though much of the discussion on the film has been on the drug menace in Punjab and its possible impact on the electoral fortunes of the political parties in the coming assembly elections, the reality is that the problem is a symptom of a bigger malaise. 
In an interview with KumKum Dasgupta, Chandigarh-based food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma unpacks for our readers Punjab's real problems.   
Q: Udta Punjab is about drugs and Punjab. But is that the real problem or a symptom of a deeper malaise (agricultural distress/governance issues/unemployment)? 
The easy availability of drugs has certainly played a big role in the drug addiction of Punjab. But the point being missed is that the drug menace in Punjab is a symptom of a deeper malaise that has afflicted rural Punjab for several decades, the cumulative impact clearly visible now with alcohol and drug abuse becoming too pronounced. It all began with agriculture turning unremunerative. Over the past few decades, worsening agrarian distress coupled with growing unemployment had led to frustration among the rural youth. Once the seat of Green Revolution, Punjab's agriculture was deteriorating. Fragmentation of land holdings, and the breakdown of joint family structures that acted as a social cushion had added to the decline in farm incomes turning agriculture into a loss making proposition. With employment opportunities outside agriculture very limited, this prompted many a farmers to sell off a major chunk of their meagre land holdings to ensure that their children are sent abroad, legally or illegally, in search of jobs. The trade in illegal migration activities has proliferated in the bargain. With many a popular Punjabi singers glorifying alcohol and drug use, in lot many ways alcohol and drug abuse became the easy means to overcome frustration. You just have to see the long queues before the liquor shops in the early morning hours to get an idea of the extent of alcoholism that prevails.         
Q: What are the reasons behind agrarian distress in the state and how has it been impacting Punjab’s society? 
That the frontline agricultural state should now turn into a hotbed of farmer suicides gives a loud message. While policy makers have been emphasisng on the need to increase crop productivity as the means to increase farm income, Punjab has demonstrated that the prescription is faulty. With 98 per cent assured irrigation, and with crop productivity higher than that in America, Japan, France and Germany the kind of agrarian crisis that prevails in Punjab defies every scientific logic. And this is where policy makers and agricultural economists have failed the farmers. It is basically the denial of a right and legitimate income to farmers, through the mechanism of Minimum Support Price (MSP), that has acerbated the farm crisis. As a result 98 per cent of the rural households are in debt. With not much scope for alternate means of employment or income generation, rural youth took to drugs and alcohol as the means to seek solace.    
According to the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP), the net returns from wheat and rice in Punjab averages Rs 36,000 per hectare. In other words, the average monthly return from cultivating wheat-rice is a paltry Rs 3,000 per hectare. This is less than what a housemaid on an average earns. With cost of production multiplying and with output price remaining almost stagnant, the indebtedness grew manifold. The total debt Punjab farmers carry is almost 50 per cent higher than the State's GDP from agriculture. According to another study by Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), farm debt has multiplied 22 times in Punjab in the past decade. The average debt is 96 per cent of the income a household receives. Such high levels of rural indebtedness has led to an increasing number of farmers to commit suicide. 72 farmers suicides were reported in a 43-day period between April 1 and May 13 this year. Last year, in 2015, 449 farmers had officially committed suicide.  
Q: Across India, agrarian societies are facing tough times. Young people want to leave farm work but there is no employment. Is the situation in Punjab a timely reminder of the effects of economic distress on farming communities?
Yes, unless of course the government wants to ignore the warning signals. What is happening in Punjab, a progressive society, should serve as a lesson before the agrarian distress worsens in the rest of the country. Already the crisis on the farm is too severe. The two years of back-to-back drought in 13 States has pushed farmers further to the margins. Several years back, a NSSO study had shown that 42 per cent farmers wanted to quit agriculture if given a choice. This was primarily because farming had been deliberately turned into a losing proposition. But in the past 12 years, after 2004-05, the economy has been able to add only 1.6 crore jobs despite a high GDP growth. The jobless growth the country is witnessing is happening at a time when an estimated 1.25 crore people join the employment queue every year. Last year, in 2015, Labour Bureau tells us that only 1.35 lakh jobs were created, not even a drop in the ocean. In such a depressing scenario, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. If only the government was to create gainful employment in agriculture, by providing a higher income into the hands of the farmers, more demand could be created thereby leading a revival of the industrial and manufacturing sectors. On the contrary, we have heard Confederation of India Industry (CII) say that 300 million jobs will be created by 2025. What has not been told is that 300 million jobs were not created since Independence. A senior minister has often said that more road network being built creates more job opportunities, which means the focus is on creating dehari mazdoors. I don't think dehari mazdoor is what the rural youth have in mind when they look for jobs in urban areas. 
Q: Successive governments have been aware of Punjab’s internal crisis but looked the other way. Your comments 
Punjab's depressing farm scenario is actually the worst in the areas which are represented by the leadership of both the SAD and the Congress governments. The Badals hail from the Bathinda region, the cotton belt of Punjab, and Capt Amarinder Singh comes from Patiala, another region faced with agrarian distress. Patiala is adjoining to Sangrur which is a hotbed of farmer suicides. The Badal's will find it difficult to explain how in their tenure the region they represent turned into an area of high farm suicides, worsening water crisis, increasing cancer belt, and also has the dubious distinction of highest number of farmers quitting agriculture. The phenomenon of putting village for sale also began from Bathinda district. Both the SAD as well as the Congress certainly knew of the internal crisis but focused more on real estate and industry. Even the growing drug menace was widely known, but was kept under wraps. While it was known all these years, it has only flared up as a major issue in the run up for elections.      
Q: How much will this drug issue and the agrarian problems impact the coming polls?
It is too early to say whether the drug issue will impact the forthcoming elections. Although the prevailing agrarian distress is on the radar for each of the major political parties, but none of the parties have been able to spell out a corrective course of action so far. The effort certainly is to woo the rural electorate with promises of putting agriculture on track but only time will tell how sincere the promises turn out to be.  
Source: 'Punjab's drug problem is a symptom of a deeper malaise'. Hindustan Times, June 17, 2016http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/punjab-s-drug-problem-is-a-symptom-of-a-deeper-malaise/story-QdgGPqAot4HDF9PqaH4j9K.html
Categories: Ecological News

Going by the income parity norms, paddy MSP should be Rs 5,100 per quintal.

Ground Reality - Mon, 06/06/2016 - 11:13

The Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy for the 2016-17 cropping season should have been Rs 5,100 per quintal (100kg). Now don’t get startled. This is what their legitimate due is. It is however a different matter that after all the hard work they put in, despite two years of back-to-back drought, all that farmers have been promised by way of paddy price is a paltry Rs 1,470 per quintal for the common grade paddy they cultivate.Indian farmers have been short-changed all these years.At Rs 1,470 per quintal, the increase in paddy price is merely Rs 60 over the previous year’s price. The nominal increase in paddy price, which equals to a raise of 4.25 per cent, is less than the rate of food inflation. This is certainly a gross discrimination. At a time when the government employees get a steady increase in DA allowances every 6 months, even when wholesale prices have remained stagnant, and on top of it the DA they get is merged with the basic salary, I don’t understand the economic rationale of keeping farmers deliberately impoverished.
Denial of a legitimate income to farmers is the single most important reason behind the terrible agrarian crisis that continues to prevail. While the farmers seek a higher price, the fact remains that successive governments have ensured that the farmers alone carry the economic burden of keeping food inflation low. Forget about profit, farmers are actually being penalized to grow food.This is a classic example of how Peter is being robbed to pay Paul.Let me explain. In 1970, the MSP for paddy was Rs 51 per quintal. Forty-six years later, in 2016, the MSP for paddy has been fixed at Rs 1,470 per quintal. This is an increase of 28.82 times or let us says 29 times in roundabout figures. In the same period, the monthly salary government employees has gone up by 120 to 150 times; that of college teachers/professors by 150 to 170 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; and that of middle level corporate employees by 300 times. I am counting only the basic salary plus the DA that was prevalent in 1970 and have analysed the corresponding increase in the next 25 years.Although the jump in monthly salary of various organized sections of the society ranges between 120 to 300 times in the 25 year period, for the sake of an easy assessment let us take 100 times increase in the basic salary structure to be the benchmark. If the income of a farmer had increased in the same proportion, and farmer’s income is measured through the MSP he receives, the paddy MSP should have been Rs 5,100 per quintal. Yes, you heard it right: Rs 5,100 per quintal. Farmers therefore are being short-changed to the tune of at least Rs 3,630 per quintal.Denying income parity with other sections of the society is what has made farming a losing proposition. In the absence of a living income, farmers have been pushed into a mounting spiral of indebtedness. The serial death dance being witnessed for the past 20 years, taking a heavy toll of more than 3.2-lakh farmers, is a reflection of the economic hardship that farmers are being made to undergo for no fault of theirs.In the 7th Pay Commission report, the basic salary of a chaprasi has been increased from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000 per month, an increase of roughly 260 per cent. In addition, the 7th Pay Commission has pruned the list of allowances that the employees get, from the existing 196 to 108. In other words, employees get 108 allowances, while I agree not all of them get all allowances. But the MSP for farmers does not include even a single allowance. This is where the farmers are overtly discriminated against. If the MSP calculations were to include just four allowances – housing, DA, health and education – the face of Indian agriculture would have changed for the better. Indian agriculture would have turned into a pivot of development, with farming turning predominantly prosperous.But the moment you talk of a higher MSP, economists rise in chorus warning of a higher food inflation, which in turn feed into the consumer price index (CPI). Since the guaranteed rural wages are linked to CPI it will also trigger a wage-spiral. While this is true, the question that needs to be asked is why should farmers be penalized for keeping food inflation under control for people who in any case get DA allowance linked to inflation? Why can’t the average consumer also share the burden of keeping food prices low? What economists have failed to realize is that farmer is the only community in the country which is being deprived of its legitimate income.
Producing food has turned out to be a punishment.A 0.5 per cent service tax in the name of kisan kalyan is not what farmers need. What they need is a higher MSP in resonance with other organized sections of the society. If not, then let the Finance Ministry reject the report of 7th Pay Commission. Instead have another 0.5 per cent cess for the welfare of government employees. And, why not? Let there be parity when it comes to income distribution. One small section cannot be pampered at the cost of another, a gigantic one. Having a cess for the sake of farmers and implement the 7th Pay Commission report for government employees smacks of disparity. It’s time also to set up a Farmers Income Commission.So what’s the way out. Well, my suggestion is that the government should procure paddy at the MSP it has announced — Rs 1,470 per quintal. The remaining difference between the legitimate price that is due to a farmer and the MSP announced, which comes to Rs 3,630 per quintal, should be deposited directly in the bank accounts of paddy growers. Since every farmer has a bank account underJan Dhan Yoyna, it shouldn’t be difficult any more. Such an approach will keep food inflation under check and at the same time address the bigger issue of income insecurity for farmers.I see no reason why it can’t be done. If the government is willing to incur an additional Rs 1.02-lakh crore every year for about 45 lakh central government employees and approximately 50 lakh pensioners by way of  implementation cost of 7th Pay Commission report, please tell me why a similar amount cannot be provided to millions of paddy growers to begin with. The more the money in the hands of farmers, the more will be the generation of demand. This is the pre-requisite for industrial and manufacturing growth, which is lagging behind now in the absence of adequate domestic demand. In my understanding such a policy imperative in true sense will deliver what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has envisioned: Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.http://www.abplive.in/blog/going-by-income-parity-norms-msp-for-paddy-should-be-rs-5100-per-quintal ABPLive.in June 3, 2016
Categories: Ecological News

When artists stand up for the cause of farmers

Ground Reality - Tue, 05/31/2016 - 13:26

"Art cannot change the future, but it can touch the present" -- Liu Bolin, TED Talks 

I still remember an advertisement on the radio which was quite regular at a time when I was a child. It was an advertisement for a desi ghee brand called Mohan Ghee. "Mohan Ghee kya khaya gaon se nata hi too gaya." (Translated, it meant: After I started consuming Mohan Ghee, my link with the village has gone). At a time when Dalda ghee was easily available in the urban markets, one had to look to the rural areas to get a regular supply of desi ghee.

Mohan ghee is no longer available. But I find the moment a village lad gets educated and lands a job in a mofussil town, his/her connection with the rural areas gets snapped. Over the years I have seen many of them, not all of course, develop a kind of contempt for anything rural. I have heard many successful people blame the rural folk for not being able to emerge out of poverty. They lack the entrepreneurial spirit, are dependent on government doles, and have to blame themselves. This is a common refrain. So when news reports appear about some farmer committing suicide in some part of the country, you can see the urban educated frowning. I receive quite a lot of absurd and stupid reactions when I tweet about a farmer committing suicide. Many feel offended to even talk about it.

Over the years, the disconnect is widening. The back-to-back drought that a large part of India witnessed in 2014-15 and 2015-16 is a classic example of how severe the disconnect is. In my travel to Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, where 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought, you don't get any inkling of how tough it is in the countryside when you walk through Bangalore. If it was not for a court case filed by an activist against the IPL cricket matches in drought-affected Maharashtra, I am sure the mainline media would have simply ignored the drought. The worsening plight of farmers, who inhabit these drought affected regions, has not evoked much sympathy. People generally believe as if it is happening some where far, perhaps in Africa.

Re-establishing the connect is therefore very important. It is time people in the cities are sensatised about the rural life, about the farm crisis, farm suicides and lack of development in the rural areas in general. It is with this objective, Dialogue Highway, a registered trust, organised an #ArtistsForFarmers painting workshop in Chandigarh on a Sunday afternoon (May 29, 2016). The basic objective, as I said earlier, was to bring the tragedy of the farm closer to the people in the cities. The event was therefore organised in a public place, and Chandigarh's famed Sukhna lake is an appropriate location considering a huge turnout expected on the weekends. Seventeen artists from Chandigarh/Punjab/Delhi came together for a painting workshop on the theme of farm crisis. They painted for some 4 to 5 hours, and during this time the crowd mingled with them, and a strong contingent of Punjab farmers was at hand as an act of solidarity. The interest and curiosity that ordinary people demonstrated showed that art is perhaps one powerful tool to provide the missing link. The response was overwhelming indeed.

The #ArtistsForFarmers event was the first of its kind in the country. I am very hopeful that it will now become a regular event across the country. Activities like this are very crucial to bridge the gap that exists between rural-urban India. People need to know that how tough it is becoming for the farmer who provides us our basic need -- food. The annadata is in crisis and the nation cannot remain absolved from the kind of economic hardship he is faced with.


Categories: Ecological News

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault too

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/23/2016 - 13:16

Sizzling at 51 degrees celsius, Phalodi, a small town in Rajasthan, has set the country’s new all-time record for hottest temperature. In any case April turns out to be the hottest month ever, 7 th month in a row when temperatures have exceeded what had been the highest recorded so far. This is not a record to be proud of but is an indication of how economic growth has created an atmosphere where chopping a tree does not evoke any concern.

The rise in temperatures is indirectly proportionate to the decimation of green cover. The more the chopping of trees, the higher is the temperature. I have never felt what it is like to be in 51 degrees but have lived in northwest areas which have often exceeded temperature hikes of 47 degrees. Even in such temperature extremes, the moment I pass through a cluster of trees a wave of relatively cold breeze is such a great feeling. The temperature difference is striking. At least, a difference of 2 to 3 degrees between a dense tree shade and what you feel when you are on a highway. Even in a concrete jungle like New Delhi, where the scorching temperature exceeding 47 degrees is biting enough, imagine the soothing effect if an increased green cover had brought the average temperature down by 3 to 4 degrees.

Don’t blame it on global warming; blame yourself for the rising heat. You kept quiet when trees were being chopped mercilessly.

In a desperate race to achieve a higher growth rate, chopping a tree does not anymore evoke any reaction. It is considered an inevitable price that has to be paid for development. Ruthless chopping of trees in metros and elsewhere to pave way for infrastructure projects, expansion of highways from two-lane to four lane, and from four-lane to six-lane, and the disappearing of water bodies and cutting down of trees for residential complexes has led to what is called as urban ‘heat island’ effect. Cities and towns are increasingly becoming ‘heat islands’. The higher the concentration of concrete buildings/structures, the more is the ability to absorb solar radiation.

The National Green Tribunal has recently served a notice to Punjab government for the axing of 96,000 trees to widen a 200-km long road stretch between Zirakpur and Bathinda. But to my dismay I haven’t seen any form of public protests or citizens’ outrage over such a large scale felling of trees. We have quietly accepted that trees have to be axed for the sake of development. As I have often said that if a tree is standing, the GDP does not go up but if you chop down a tree, the GDP goes up. Now it is our choice whether you want a higher GDP by cutting down trees or you want a kind of development where trees become part of sustainable living.

The Neem Foundation tells us that temperature below a fully grown neem tree is often 10 degrees less. I read an interesting article in The New Indian Express (April 24, 2016) where the author tells us the difference in temperature between green patches and the city centre in several cities. In Bangalore for instance the difference in temperature prevailing at the GKVK Agricultural University and just outside the campus is four degrees. Even when the temperature in the Majestic bus stand was 35 to 36 degrees, it was around 32 degrees in a nearby park. 

According to a study by Prof T V Ramchandra and his team of the Energy & Wetlands Research Group Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore city has seen a rapid expansion in urban growth. In 2012, the researchers estimated that the built-up area had grown by a whopping 584 per cent over the preceding four decades. This obviously came at a heavy price. Vegetation cover declined by 66 per cent and 74 per cent of the water bodies disappeared. Bangalore no longer carries the same charm as it used to earlier. I have heard many residents complain of the haphazard growth. But then who cares. After all, it is urbanization that the mainline economists and planners are always pushing for. People are being made to believe that concrete jungles are the future, if they have to develop.

IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism group, has analysed the IISc study in a form that can be easily understood. Accordingly, four major cities in the country have seen a rapid decimation of its green cover. Bhopal tree cover fell from 66 per cent to 22 per cent in the past 22 years. Now this is something too serious to worry about. Instead, by 2018, which means another three years, the green cover in Bhopal will come down to 11 per cent. You can surely call it a sign of growth but don’t complain when the temperatures soar to record breaking levels. Ahmedabad has only 24 per cent of its green cover left, coming down from 46 per cent in the past two decades. But hold your breath. If you are living in Ahmedabad or plan to translocate to this city, think again. By 2030, Ahmedabad will be left with only 3 per cent of its green cover. Kolkata too will be left with a green cover of 3.7 per cent by the year 2030, and Hyderabad will have only 1.84 per cent of its tree cover left by the year 2024, which is not far away. The rate of speedy urbanization is clearly 
leading to a massive erosion of what is called as green lungs of a city. The rise in temperature is therefore a natural outcome.

The combined effect of urbanization is what is leading to soaring temperatures. Considering that urbanization is the easiest way to enhance GDP growth, I see no reason why people should be complaining. You asked for it. #

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault. ABPLive.in May 22, 2016
Categories: Ecological News

When stock markets crash, Finance Minister is on his toes; And when onion/tomato prices crash ....

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 10:18

An angry farmers dumps onions onto a street in Gujarat. 
This is a story which rarely gets to the front page headlines. This is a story which does not bring visibly angry TV anchors shout at the ruling party spokespersons for the government’s failure to bring down the soaring prices. This is a story of dried tears, when farmers in distress are left with
only a Hobson choice – to throw away their produce in anger on the roads.

First the story of tomato. Prices of tomato had crashed across the country – from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra, to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Reports Financial Express (April 2, 2016): “A bumper tomato crop has led to a fall in the prices of tomato across Nashik and Pune districts in Maharashtra leading to despair among farmers who resorted to dumping the commodity on the roads in protest.” The Hans India published from Hyderabad (Feb 16, 2016) said: “Tomato growers in the Nalgonda district are in distress as prices have plummeted to as low as less than Rs 3 per kg due to a glut in arrivals.” If you noticed, the two news reports are spread over a three month period -- February to April – when the tomato crop hits the market in central and south India.

If you think 2016 has been an unusually bad year for tomato farmers when over-production of tomato led to an unprecedented glut, hold your breath. The story is the same in the previous five years – 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Let’s first look at a news report from The Hindu (Aug 13, 2015):
Price drop – angry farmers throw away tomatoes. This report was Chikkamagaluru town in Karnataka. A year earlier, in 2014, The Hindu had reported: Crash in tomato prices comes as a shock to farmers ... while farmers in the villages of Tumkur district (in Karnataka) are getting 60 to 80 paise per kg of tomato, consumers in the city are buying it for around Rs 10 per kg. Another report in The Times of India (Oct 30, 2014) stated: Tomato prices have dropped to Rs 2 per kg from Rs 40 per kg in the Nashik (in Maharashtra) wholesale market over the past few days, triggering speculation of a state-wide cascading effect.

Remember the stock markets crash in August 2015 when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the market nerves by saying the government is keeping a close tab, and attributed the crash to global factors. He held a press conference during the day and set up a group to monitor the developments. But when it comes to farmers, and that too when prices have been crashing year after year, I have never seen the Finance Minister step out to help the farmers in distress.

Coming back to tomato prices, I am aware that tomato is not a crop that has the capability to bring down an elected government but that is no reason to remain indifferent to farmer’s sufferings. The hard work a farmer puts in cultivating tomatoes gets ruined by an unexpected crash in prices. Economists may call it as an outcome of supply and demand situation but the question that needs to be asked is where is the fault of farmers who invested in tomato cultivation? This year, a large number of farmers in the tomato growing belt – extending to 10,000 hectares – in Bemetera district
of Chhattisgarh had reportedly left the tomato crop unharvested as it was not even worth it to spend money on plucking and packaging. The story of tomato price debacle was followed by a crash in the prices of onions.

After three tumultuous years when onion retail prices literally shot through the roof forcing the government, following a media outcry, to take a number of steps to bring down the prices, there is no one this year to wipe the tears of the farming community. Even an overtly alert media, which starts screaming every time onion market prices go up by 25 to 30 per cent remained conspicuously quiet when it came to onion prices dropping to as low as 30 paise a kg. The plight of onion farmers wasn’t enough to shake up the media, which otherwise remains hyper-sensitive to anything related to onion prices.

As early as in February, reports of onion prices on the downslide had started appearing. In Feb, The Times of India reported: “The average wholesale onion prices fell to a two-year low of Rs 700 a quintal at the markets of Nashik due to excess production. Prices had been steadily falling for a week now, heightening worries of farmers who cannot hold on to this perishable commodity till prices stabilize.” On April 13, India Today stated that onion prices had crashed to 30 paise a kg in Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. And a few days back, on May 13, this Time of India had a more heart touching report: “Ravindra Madhikar is yet to get over the shock of earning only Rs 175 after selling 450 kg of small onions in the Lasur wholesale market. “I used to wonder why farmers take the drastic decision of ending their lives. But after Wednesday’s deal, I am also feeling suicidal.” Madhikar is an onion producer in his early thirties from Gangapur taluka of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra.

I can understand that this year onion is not bringing tears in the eyes of urban consumers but is that what the supply demand equation is all about? If the consumers get hit the media goes on an overdrive but when onion farmers suffer the media remains quiet. While this urban media bias is worrying the resulting indifference by the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs remains baffling. A year before, in May 2015, the government had provided a corpus of Rs 500-crore for setting up a Price Stabilization Fund to support market interventions for price control of perishable agri-horticultural commodities during 2015-2017, I didn’t see any initiative to help the farmers in distress.

Since the Price Stabilization Fund is initially aimed at undertaking price control operations for onions and potatoes, I thought the crash in onion prices was a fit case to help onion farmers to be paid the difference between the selling price and the market price. But I soon realized this is not the intended objective of the Price Stabilization Fund. It’s only objective is to procure onions directly from farmers or farmers organizations at the farm gate or mandi levels at the time when inflation is inching upwards so as to make it available cheaper to the consumers. And what about the organised retail trade like Reliance Fresh and Easy Day? Didn't they promise to remove middlemen? If this was true, Reliance Fresh should have been selling onions at Re 1 to Rs 2 in their stores. After all, with middlemen gone, and farmers selling at 50 paise per kg, the proce advantage should have been passed on to consumers. But it didn't happen. Only to show what i have been saying for long. The organised retail only replaces one set of middlemen with another.

Whether it is the organised retail or the indifferent government, when the prices crash, farmers are left alone so as to allow them to quietly wipe their tears. #

Let the farmers cry. No one is willing to wipe their tears. ABPLve.in May 15, 2016

Categories: Ecological News

Farmer suicides: Have the economists failed farmers?

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/09/2016 - 10:48

Agricultural economists have always been for raising crop productivity to enhance farm incomes. I have seen mainline economists invariably blaming low crop productivity to be the reason behind the continuing agrarian distress. We are often told that in an era of globalization, farmers can only survive if they become globally competitive. Those who are not able to match the higher crop yields in countries like America or China are left with no option but to commit suicide.For nearly four decades now, I have heard economists repeat the same prescription year after year – use technology to raise productivity, reduce cost of production, go for crop diversification, improve irrigation efficiency – per drop more crop and shift to electronic trading to bypass the hoard of middlemen who squeeze farmers income. Listening to all these suggestions most people genuinely believe that the agrarian crisis is primarily the doing of farmers.There is no denying that all the suggestions to prop up agriculture are definitely required but that's not the end of it. Keeping them deliberately impoverished by denying them their due return and then expect them to provide us cheaper food year after year and still make a decent living has certainly been too much of an imagination. This is in reality a grave injustice with Indian farmers. And let me make it clear. Farmers in United States/European Union are well off not because of higher productivity but because of huge subsidy, including direct income support, they receive. In the US for instance, as per the Farm Bill 2014, agriculture will get a massive federal support of $ 962 billion in the next ten years.In the past 20 years, an estimated 3.2 lakh farmers have committed suicide with 42 suicides on an average in a year. Unseasonal rains, hailstorm in the rabi season followed by a drought in the summer months had exacerbated the farm crisis in 2015 as a result of which an unprecedented spurt in farm suicides was witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra. Consequently, the annual death rate on the farm in 2015 had gone up to 52.Punjab is the latest to emerge as a farming graveyard. In 2015, as many as 449 farmers had committed suicide. This year, till March 11, as per information laid in Parliament, 56 farmers had ended their lives in Punjab, which was just a shade less than Maharashtra. Punjab, the food bowl, has now the second highest rate of farmer suicides in the country. If lack of irrigation and low crop productivity is the reason why farmers are being driven to despair than how come a spate of farm suicides should continue to rock a progressive state like Punjab?This is where the entire prescription being doled out for improving farm incomes goes wrong. Agricultural economists have so far blamed farmers. But I wonder whether it is farmers who have failed or is it agricultural economists who have failed farmers. It is their recommendations/analysis that are eventually taken up by policy makers. Are faulty recommendations responsible for faulty policies? In a state which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the yields match international standards I see no reason why farmers should be committing suicide. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat stands at 4,500 kg/hectare which matches the wheat yield in America. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000 kg/hectare, quite close to paddy productivity in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation why Punjab farmer should be taking to suicide?If you are still not convinced, here is a study undertaken by Prof H S Shergill of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh. He has compared Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanization, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity as the matrix. Accordingly, the number of tractors per 1,000 hectares in Punjab stands at 122 compared to 22 in US, 76 in UK and 65 in Germany. As far as fertilizer use is concerned Punjab tops the chart with 449 kg/hectare per year compared to 103 kg in US, 208 kg in UK and 278 kg in Japan. Irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab which is much above 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, and 35.0 per cent in Japan.Let’s look at the crop yield now. Punjab has the highest annual per hectare productivity of cereal crops (like wheat, rice and maize) with 7,633 kg. With all the crop matrix in its favour, Punjab leads the productivity chart leaving behind US (7,238 kg), UK (7,008 kg), France (7,460 kg) and 5,920 kg in Japan. If raising productivity is the major factor I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be committing suicide. But the fact that economists don’t want to acknowledge is that it is actually the low price that farmers being deliberately paid that is the primary reason for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails.The procurement price of wheat in 1970 was Rs 76/quintal. In 2015, MSP for wheat was fixed at Rs 1,450 per quintal. This is an increase by 19 times over a period of 45 years. Compare this with the increase in incomes of various other sections in the same period. The jump in salaries of government employees (just the basic salary plus DA) in the same period has been 120 to 150 times; the increase in salaries of college/university teachers is 150 to 170 times; of school teachers in the range of 280 to 320 times. So much so, in the 7th Pay Commission, the salary of a chaprasi has been fixed at Rs 18,000 per month.At a time when the monthly wages of contract labour has been fixed at Rs 10,000, and states like Haryana are contemplating a monthly wage of Rs 9,000 for unemployed youth for putting in 100 hours of work every month, the average monthly income for farmers in Punjab, who are no less efficient and productive than farmers anywhere in the developed world, stands much lower. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) the net return for wheat and rice in Punjab, the dominating cropping pattern, is about Rs 3,000 per hectare. Therefore the question that needs to be asked is how come with a productivity level higher than in America, income of Punjab farmers is a pittance?This is in reality not even a living wage. The net return is low because policy makers have intentionally kept the output price low. Looking at the salary jumps for other sections of the society, and if I were to go by the minimum yardstick of a 100 times increase in procurement price for the same period, wheat price should be Rs 7,600 per quintal. This is the legitimate price of wheat, which has been denied to farmers. I agree that such a high price for wheat will push food inflation. But then that's not the farmers fault. Why should a farmer be penalised for producing food? Why not procure wheat at Rs 1450/quintal and transfer the remaining Rs 5,500/quintal to his Jan Dhan bank account?Agricultural economists therefore must acknowledge that the answer lies in correcting the great imbalance in incomes. A parity between farm incomes and incomes of other section of the society has to be maintained. Farmers are dying not because they are in any way less efficient but because they have been denied their legitimate income all these years. 
Categories: 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.
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
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
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
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 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





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

Related campaign

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


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
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