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Ecological News

How about an honorarium for post-graduate unemployed rural youth?

Ground Reality - Thu, 12/01/2016 - 13:33

Growing unemployment in rural India -- Pic YourArticleLibrary.com
On Tuesday, Nov 1, 2016, Haryana launched an ambitious scheme for post-graduate unemployed youth. Celebrating the golden jubilee of its foundation day, Haryana government announced an honorarium of Rs 9,000 per month for them if they put in 100 hours of work.
This is an excellent social security initiative. Growing unemployment is turning into a major socio-economic crisis and State government will have to come up with innovative ideas and plans to gainfully engage the younger generation. An estimated 30,000 post-graduate unemployed youth in Haryana will benefit from this scheme.
Coming two months after the Central Government revised the minimum wage for non-farm workers by 42 per cent, from the existing Rs 246 to Rs 351 a day, bringing it to a minimum of Rs 9,100 for a month, I think the policy makers and planners are getting to understand that every household needs a minimum living wage. At a time when inequality is widening at a phenomenal rate, and with the rich becoming rich and the poor being driven to the wall, any effort to provide gainful employment to the poor and marginalized has to be appreciated.
But the problem is that the policy makers’ vision remains by and large limited to the urban society. Their gaze is restricted and therefore they are unable to see beyond the expanse of the cities and towns. Whether it is the unemployment allowance for the youth or the rise in wages for the non-farm workers, you will observe the beneficiaries of the State’s largesse are invariably from the urban areas. The estimated 70 per cent majority population, which lives in the rural areas, is somehow left to fend for itself. Such a restricted economic thinking has steadily widened the gulf between the rural and urban areas.
Let me explain. The Haryana Agricultural University (HAU) has in a study worked out the net income of farming household cultivating wheat at Rs 4,799 per acre. Since wheat is sown in October and harvested in April, it is primarily a six-month crop. The net return from cultivating wheat therefore comes to Rs 800 per month from an acre. Considering that majority farmers have a land holding not exceeding three acres, their net income would be around Rs 2,400 per month. Surely these farmers and their family members put in more than 100 hours a month in the farm operations, and many of these farming households do have educated unemployed youth who fall back upon agriculture in the absence of job opportunities.
What it means in reality is that the farmers are not gainfully employed. If only agriculture was a remunerative profession it would have attracted a huge population of youth who are otherwise going from pillar to post in the cities searching for menial jobs. If only the policy makers had thought of ensuring a monthly average income of Rs 9,000 per hectare (which is roughly 2.5 acres) for a rural household I am sure the demographics would have changed for the better, and the pressure to create daily wage employment in cities would have lessened. Haryana has set aside Rs 324-crore for providing unemployment honorarium to 30,000 post-graduate unemployed. How about putting aside twice the amount, an additional Rs 648-crore, to help 60,000 educated but unemployed youth engaged in farming?
After all, if Haryana can make a budgetary provision for Rs 1,700-crore for the year long celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of its creation, I don’t see any reason for a financial constraint if it were to make a foray by reaching out to the rural unemployed. I am not saying that this amount will suffice to address the huge problem of unemployment and under-employment in the rural areas. But it will certainly mark a beginning. Wouldn’t this be in true sense Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas that the Prime Minister has been strongly advocating? 
The HAU study has in fact worked out the levels of net return from wheat cultivation for 11 districts. The Rs 800 per acre net return that I quoted earlier is the average for the state. The districts of Panipat, Rohtak, Karnal are faring much worse. In Panipat, the average monthly income per acre comes to a paltry Rs 223; in Rohtak Rs 291; and Rs 612 in Karnal. The better performing districts are Jhajjar (Rs 1620); Mahendragarh (Rs 1473) and Bhiwani (Rs 1070). However, going by the minimum income levels that should provide an economic security for a family, I don’t think even the best performing districts will be able to bail out a farming family from the trap of mounting indebtedness.
The continuing caste based reservation demanded by Jats in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, is primarily a pointer to the agrarian distress that prevails. In Haryana we have seen the destruction caused by the Jat agitation recently which was rather unfortunate. But the basic point that should be understood is that the dominant caste groups engaged in farming, and which includes Marathasin Maharashtra and Gurjar in Rajasthan, are enraged because over the past few decades’ agriculture has turned into a losing proposition. This is primarily because agriculture has been deliberately turned uneconomical so as to keep the economic reforms alive. As I have said time and again farmers are being knowingly kept impoverished.
This is corroborated also by the first-ever socio economic survey for rural India, released in 2015. Accordingly, the highest incomes of an earning member in 75 per cent of the rural households do not exceed Rs 5,000 a month. For 51 per cent households, manual labour including MNREGA is necessary for survival. That a progressive state like Haryana also falls in this category brings out the serious flaws in policy planning. I am therefore hoping that the Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, will make an effort to correct the prevailing bias against agriculture in policy planning. All he needs is to revive and overhaul the Haryana State Farmers Commission with a distinct mandate to come out with economic proposals to make farming attracting. It’s time to move beyond the usual clichés of raising productivity and lowering the cost of cultivation. Bringing income parity with other sectors of the society – bureaucrats, defense personnel, teachers, professors and government servants – is the crying need of the times. #   

पीजी छात्रों की तरह ही खेती में लगे शिक्षित बेरोज़गारों के लिए भी भत्ता निर्धारित करे हरियाणा सरकार. Gaon Connection, Nov 4, 2016. http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/proven-hollow-with-all-development-for-all-claims
Categories: Ecological News

If like rich defaulters, farmers debt too was 'written-off' (and not waived), more than 50 per cent of farmer lives could have been saved

Ground Reality - Sat, 11/19/2016 - 11:12

Family members of the farmers who had committed suicide in Bathinda District in Punjab -- Daily Mail pic
Wrapped in a blanket, many of you have been queuing up before bank as early as 4 am. Some have even lined up as early as 2 am, and waited endlessly standing for getting just Rs 2,000 of your own money back. I am aware that in the villages people had to walk quite a stretch and stand in the queues again and again for a couple of days.
I have been flooded with phone calls from villages across the country. People have called me to share their dismay, their anger, and their frustration. Some of course have been seeking advice, wanting to know how the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes will impact farming, and some were eager to know how demonetization will help the economy. But hearing the stories of agony and cries for help – wanting me to raise their voice for asking the governments to direct APMC to start trading, to find out where they can go and sell their potato, onion, and even paddy. Many told me, and sometimes burst out crying, telling me how they are unable to sow the rabi crop.
The pain and agony rural India is undergoing has largely failed to find space in the media, both print as well as electronic. I was appalled when I heard a senior economist say on a TV channel that farmers had no reason to complain since they have sold their paddy in the market for which they have got their minimum support price (MSP). It only shows how ill-informed they are. Only 6 per cent farmers in India get the benefit of MSP. What is not being realized is the distress sale that much of the remaining 94 per cent farmers have to undergo, and that too year after year.
Nevertheless, I want to draw your attention to another important issue that is being talked about in the media but will not be pursued for long. On Tuesday, while millions of people were standing in serpentine queues all across the country, a newspaper reported that the State Bank of India (SBI) had written-off Rs 7,016-crore of 63 willful defaulters. This includes Rs 1,201-crore of Vijay Mallya of Kingfischer Airlines, who has been on the run for quite some time now. An article in Business Standard (Feb 24, 2016) defines willful defaulters as: “truant borrowers – corporate and individuals – who, despite having the capability to repay money, do not cough up money. They are alleged to be doing it willfully. For lending banks, getting money from them is often a long legal battle.”In simple words, these are habitual offenders. They knowingly draw money from the bank with the clear objective of not repaying it back. And what shocks me is that the SBI has actually written-off the outstanding loans of these habitual offenders. I am sure you will agree the banks should have found a way by now to put them behind bars.
Instead, what baffles me is the explanation given by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on Wednesday. According to a report in Hindustan Times (Nov 17) Finance Minister asked opposition members in Rajya Sabha not to go by the literal meaning of write-off. “There is a little bit of malapropism involved in this. Don’t go by the literal meaning. Write-off does not mean loan waiver. Loan still remains. You still continue to pursue.”
The SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya later tried to downplay the entire saga of writing-off the loans of 63 willful defaulters. These loans are not waived off but have been put under a separate head called Accounts Under Collection. Accordingly, the bank will continue to follow up with the recovery process.
I find this explanation to be a very simple cover-up being provided to protect the willful defaulters. If the banks have failed to recover all these years the outstanding loan with interest from these defaulters, I wonder what special recovery mechanism they have now to get the money back. What is still worse is that this cover up is being enacted at a time when the entire nation is standing in long lines hoping that the black money will be unearthed.
This ‘write-off’ business is a privilege extended only to the rich borrowers. As if this is not enough, the government also tries to protect their identity. If you recall, the government had earlier refused to divulge the names of 57 borrowers who owed Rs 85,000-crore to the banks. “Who are these people who have borrowed money and are not paying back? Why this fact that the person has borrowed money and not paying back be not known to the public”, asked a bench headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur.
Let us make an effort to understand why I think ‘write-offs’ is a privilege for the rich. There is hardly a day when newspapers do not carry reports of farmers committing suicide in one part of the country or the other. In the past 20 years, an estimated 3.20 lakh farmers have ended their own lives. A majority of these suicides are because of the outstanding loans that farmers are unable to repay.  I know of farmers who took their own life for inability pay back an outstanding loan of as low an amount as Rs 1.5 lakh. The other day a Punjab farmer tied up his 5-year old son to his chest and then jumped into a canal. He owed Rs 10 lakh to banks and the reason why he took his son along in the journey to death was because he felt even his son would not be able to repay the loan throughout his life.
On the contrary, I don’t find any rich defaulter committing suicide. They either run away from the country or are clubbed into the category of ‘willful’ defaulters or even defaulters which provides them immunity. These defaulters are first put under a separate head Accounts Under Collection, and after some time the performing assets in bank books become non-performing assets and are eventually written-off. Between 2012-15, Rs 1.14 lakh crore of non-performing assets (which is another name for rich defaulters) have been written-off. The Public accounts Committee informed Parliament in July 2015, that another Rs 6- lakh crore of NPAs have piled up.
This makes me wonder why the outstanding loans of farmers and for that matter the aam aadmiare not put under a separate head of Accounts Under Collection. Let the banks continue with their effort to recover the basic loan amount, but like the way SBI did to 63 defaulters farmers should also be told that their loan has been ‘written-off’. I am sure this step alone could have saved the lives of 50 per cent of the 3.2 lakh farmers who have committed suicide in the past 20 years.
Secondly, I see no reason why the names of defaulting farmers along with their picture be pasted on the notice boars in tehsil headquarters. They seem like petty criminals. And it is primarily because of the humiliation that defaulting farmers have to undergo that they commit suicide. If the names of rich defaulters are to be kept secret I don’t understand why the name of defaulting farmers should be made public. #
Categories: Ecological News

Is demonetization aimed at rescuing the banking sector?

Ground Reality - Wed, 11/16/2016 - 12:24

Long queues before banks -- Hindustan Times pic
While millions have been literally driven out of their homes, offices, shops and farms to queue up for exchanging the outlawed currency notes or getting their hard earned money from the banks, the demonetization exercise is possibly aimed at saving the banking system from a near collapse.
What appears to be an assault on black money is essentially a collateral advantage. There is no example that I know where black money has been unearthed using demonetization. This was of course known.
How important are the banks when it comes to maintaining economic balance? Well, if you have not forgotten, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global bank in the US considered too big to fail, triggered the financial crisis, which ultimately led to the global economic meltdown of 2008-09. I can therefore see the desperation to rescue the Indian banking system from an unmanageable credit crunch which can lead to financial downturn.
“A combination of negative interest rates (adjusted for inflation) and a boom in real estate and gold induced savers to increase investments in property and gold and cut down on their exposure to bank deposits and equity markets. This choked the flow of funds to banks and the capital market, making it tough for firms to raise capital,” Devendra Patil, head economist at India Ratings, was quoted as saying (Business Standard, May 31, 2014).
This was in 2014. Two years later, in 2016, the situation had only worsened with the bad loans in Indian banks continuously rising to a panicking level. With weak bank assets of Public Sector banks rising in a year, from 4-lakh crore in Mar 2015 to Rs 7.10-lakh crore in Mar 2016, which is 11.3 per cent of the loan book, the international rating agency CRISIL had downgraded rating of the debt instruments of eight PSU banks. Rising bad debts and declining profits had multiplied the risks in the banking sector. “In the face of mounting potential losses, an early clearance of the proposed Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill will also play an important role to protect bank assets,” the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had said.
Weak corporates with lower debt-servicing capacity had further worsened the situation. In another report, India Ratings had identified 240 of the 500 largest corporate borrowers reeling under stress as a result of which they may not be able to pay back loans taken from the banks. Accordingly, while Rs 5-lakh crore of debt falls under the stressed category, another Rs 6.7-lakh crore is under the ‘elevated risk of refinancing’ (ERR) for the financial year 2017. Knowing that the net bank debt of the top borrowers is roughly about 25-30 per cent of the total bank advances, the banks certainly are over-stressed.
India Ratings had concluded that for the overleveraged corporates, Rs 3.65-lakh crore debt is either in default or on the verge of default. An estimated Rs 7.04-lakh crore of equity infusion is required to defuse the precarious situation. Even such a huge amount will address only 4 to 6 per cent of the total outstanding debt (Indian Express, April 16, 2015).
But all that the government had promised by way of equity capital support under the ‘Indradhanush’ revamp plan was Rs 70,000-crore in the next four years. In addition, banks are expected to further raise Rs 1.1-lakh core from the markets to meet their capital requirement in line with global risk norms Basel III. Considering the piling of non-performing assets (NPAs), growing corporate debt restructuring, and the expected equity infusion to restore the health of the banking sector, the policy makers opted for the difficult route of demonetization. They couldn’t afford to allow the banking sector to go bankrupt, a gigantic mistake that happened with Lehman Brothers. 
Before I take you to the implications, let’s also look at the burgeoning bank NPAs. The 27 PSU banks had written-off a whopping Rs 1.14 lakh crore in the past three years (2012-15). The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) subsequently informed Parliament on July 21, 2015 that banks had in addition accumulated Rs 6-lakh crore of NPAs.
Protecting bank assets has therefore become the top priority. To save the banks from a virtual collapse, the only option left was the draw from the household savings. According to a report in Business Standard (May 31, 2014), households are India’s biggest contributor of savings, accounting for nearly three-fourth of all savings (72.7 per cent) in 2012-13. But the problem is that two-third of the household savings is invested in physical assets like property and gold thereby depriving the financial markets of required capital. It was therefore important to divert household savings to capital formation, and this could be done only by a decree.
Household savings by the end of financial year 2013 stood at Rs 22,124.14 billion.
Stating that he understood the inconvenience being faced by people due to demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “My decision is a little harsh. When I was young, poor people used to ask for kadak chai (strong tea) but it spoils the mood of the rich.” The tough decision to demonetize the bigger currency notes, forming 86 per cent of the total currency in circulation, therefore seems primarily aimed at drawing out the household savings. As I said earlier, the impact it will have on eradicating black money is in reality a collateral advantage. This surely is welcome. But it appears as if demonetisation has been done to launch an unfettered assault on black money. It is the other way around. Fortunately, the thrust on removing black money provides a strong political advantage. This has been largely welcomed. It has of course to be followed up with a series of tough measures, including a tab on benamiproperties that the Prime Minister has rightly announced.
In lot many ways it is like killing two birds with one stone.
It seems a benchmark for household savings has now been set. Keeping the upper limit of Rs 2.5 lakh that can be deposited in a bank account without attracting any income tax scrutiny in reality sends a very powerful message. In future, it becomes abundantly clear for ordinary people that they should not keep more than Rs 2.5 lakh cash in their homes. Even now, in the first three days after demonetization was announced on Nov 8, the State Bank of India chief told a news channel that banks have received deposits of Rs 3-lakh crore. By Nov 24, when exemptions expire to use the old currency notes expire, the government expects bank deposits to exceed Rs 10-lakh crore. This would not only meet their ‘Indradhanush’ target of raising Rs 1.1-lakh crore from the market but would also provide enough capital to infuse equity as the means to deleverage over-stressed corporate, primarily in productive sectors like infrastructure, oil and gas, minerals and mining, and telecommunication etc. At the same time, it will helps banks to clean up the balance sheets. 
As is being feared, the nationalized banks, saddled with capital after this exercise, will find it easy to reduce the lending rates. In other words, peoples’ savings will be used to provide cheaper loans to the corporate, which will use it for debt-servicing. I don’t understand why should this be the only route to ensure financial viability of investments when the government already has given huge tax concessions to the tune of Rs 42-lakh crore in the past 12 years (between 2004 and 2016). If only these taxes, good enough to wipe out poverty for 96 years, were collected there would have been no financial crisis in the first instance.  
A week before demonetization, a RBI report showed how Rs 17 trillion returns from the exports done from India in the past 44 years is not reflected in the financial books. It is feared that this huge amount is parked in tax havens. Moreover, the monthly outward remittances in the first four months of 2015 had increased to $769 million. This makes me wonder if the financial position of the corporate is so attractive why cheap public finance should be made available to them on a platter. Why can’t the government instead ensure fiscal discipline? Why can’t the banks be made more responsible and accountable?
The poor as well as the middle class is being made to cough out its household savings, not all of which is black money, and that too at a low interest rate. Again, it serves two purposes. First, the household savings are coming in cheaper for the bold and the beautiful, the rich class that Prime Minister says is taking sleeping pills. At the same time, discouraging household savings will force people to save less and spend more on consumer goods. This will eventually raise demand. The more the people incur on consumerism, mostly unwanted, the more will be the contribution to GDP. This will keep the economic growth high. #
Categories: Ecological News

Don't blame farmers for Delhi's smog

Ground Reality - Mon, 11/07/2016 - 12:26

Pic: Hindustan Times An interesting study by #IndiaSpend tells us that New Delhi's air quality prior to Diwali, October 30, was better this year than what it was in 2015. The morning after Diwali, Delhi's air quality worsened 29 times. This conclusively proves that stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana was not responsible for choking Delhi. In any case, the peak period of stubble burning was prior to Diwali when air quality was rated better than last year. If stubble burning was the reason, the air quality before Diwali too should have deteriorated. So far, more than 60 per cent of wheat sowing is complete, so Delhi people cannot simply pass on the blame to farmers. Delhi didn't turn into a 'Gas Chamber' overnight but has been a 'Gas Chamber' for more than 15 years now. Stubble burning lasts for about 15-20 days. Is Delhi's air quality clean for the remaining days of the year? Come on, lets accept it. People of Delhi are responsible for the worsening pollution. They must take the blame and do something to solve a problem which is primarily their creation. This is not to justify stubble burning. But what needs to be understood is that stubble burning is a problem created by Combine-Harvesters. It is a problem created by a technology. Going by the Polluter Pays principle they should be asked to clean up. With the application of Combines increasing over the years, the problem of stubble burning is multiplying. Combine machines cut the spike of the paddy plant leaving the stem intact. Since cattle do not feed on paddy straw, farmers find it difficult to replough as the stubble doesn't decompose. Farmers have no time to remove the stubble from the fields due to paucity of time since they have to prepare the land for wheat sowing. Moreover, it involves costs, something around Rs 5,000 per acre extra, which the Govts are reluctant to pay.

There is no perfect solutions for stubble burning. All the solutions being advocated to stop the stubble burning are very expensive, involve a number of machines, and are time consuming. Happy seeder machine, which actually is meant for zero tillage, is not helpful as the stubble collects making it difficult for the machine to operate. Farmers using Happy Seeder machines to do wheat sowing actually burn the stubble in most cases before using the machine. Using Straw reaper, Chopper, Reverse plough, Rotavator, is a very expensive option, requiring more time. It also needs the use of a heavy duty tractor, exceeding 60 HP.Penalising farmers by imposing a penalty is not correct. NGT must review its decision in the light of the difficulties the farmers are encountering.My suggestion: 1) Provide an incentive of Rs 5,000 per acre to the farmers for taking care of the stubble. 2) Govt can impose fine for stubble burning only after it meets the additional cost a farmer would incur. 3) Direct the Combine-Harvester manufacturers to make a technology intervention/improvement which enables bundling of the straw like a Baler does. In fact, it must be made compulsory for the Combines to have a Baler attached. 4)Propagate a technology developed by the National Institute for Organic Farming which makes use of the straw for compost. Punjab soils need organic matter desperately and the effort should be to add as much organic content in the soil as possible.
Categories: Ecological News

What's wrong with Crop Insurance? How to make it farmer friendly?

Ground Reality - Tue, 11/01/2016 - 12:56

Launched with much fanfare, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY) seems to have run into rough weather.
Sample this. Unseasonal rains have damaged standing crops in Nagaur district in Rajasthan. Hundreds of farmers had been running from pillar to post to bring the damage to the notice of concerned authorities. Farmers complained that with toll free number, email id being faulty and unreachable, they had no idea whom to get in touch with. In neighboring Haryana, the standing paddy crop was affected by a disease in Gohana district. More than 700 complaints were filed seeking immediate damage assessment by the revenue officials. Farmers had to resort to a serial hunger strike for 7 days before the administration promised to get a special girdwariconducted to assess the loss suffered.
While the tussle between farmers and administration continues, agricultural officials in Haryana had refused to conduct crop cutting experiments. Although the Haryana government had prohibited any strike by farm officials revoking Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) for a period of six months beginning September, agricultural officials had said that at a time when Kharifcrops had started reaching the markets, any crop cutting at this stage would be unreliable and therefore would go against the farmer’s claim for settlement.
Reports coming from Madhya Pradesh say that farmers had protested at numerous places wanting officials to assess the crop damage. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had promised action within 15 days and compensation to be paid within a month when crops are hit by unseasonal rains or hailstorm. In Maharashtra too, newspaper are full of reports of the failure of crop insurance companies to assess the crop damage.
Take this particular case. According to a news report in Rajasthan Patrika, crops like moong, moth, til, bajra, cotton, chaula, groundnut, guar and jawar were included for crop insurance under PMFBY. The maximum claim that would be applicable in moong had been worked out to Rs 16,130, which is roughly 40 per cent of the total value of the crop. If we look at the estimates prepared by the State Agriculture Department, seven quintals is the average output of moong per hectare. Going by the Minimum Support Price for moong, the total output in terms of value comes to about Rs 40,000 per hectare. So if the crop loss is 60 per cent, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay for the entire loss. Farmers have complained that the State Government had been dilly-dallying in its replies in the State Assembly on the questions being faced on crop insurance.
The reports that I have cited above are simply to give you an idea that probably the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna was launched without even assessing the problems it would throw up if not implemented properly. The government either did not visualize that there were serious problems in its implementation the way the scheme was designed or probably had too much of faith on the private insurance companies. But what I have been reading and analyzing so far, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna seems to be an insurance against any possible loss that the private sector insurance companies would incur rather than aimed at providing an insurance cover for the crop losses for the farmers.
Why I feel like saying so is because I find the crop losses and claims that are being worked out are based on open bidding. I haven’t seen crop insurance companies anywhere in the world getting into an open bidding process select areas where they would like to operate. There are roughly 12 insurance companies, including the public sector Agriculture Insurance Company Ltd (AICL), and they are quoting the premiums they are able to offer for each district. Such an exercise determines what the government subsidy is going to be since it has become mandatory for states to share the premium jointly with the Centre. Farmers have to only pay 2 per cent in case of Kharif crops, 1.5 per cent in case of Rabi crops and 5 per cent for horticultural crops.
The difficult areas, which are known to face severe weather fluctuations, are therefore left to the government agency. Even for other districts, I find the variation in the premium limits quoted by the private companies to be not based on risk-based premiums but simply based on their commercial gains. This shouldn’t have been allowed in the first instance. This clearly shows that the government’s intention is to provide an open field to the private sector companies to maximize their profits without any accountability. Take the case of Rajasthan, for instance. News reports say Rajasthan will have to provide roughly 35 per cent of its agricultural budget to implement PMFBY. This is because the insurance companies are quoting a higher premium and the government has no mechanism to force them to reduce it.
Crop insurance is also turning out to be an excellent busine3ss proposition for the private companies since they do not have to make initial investment for creating adequate infrastructure, including employing the manpower required into loss assessment and crop cutting. Agricultural officials in Haryana, who had threatened to go on strike, were justified when they said the task of crop cutting should be undertaken by the private companies. Since 24 crop cutting experiments are mandated for a district, the country will need 40 lakh crop cutting experiments to be conducted. Why shouldn’t this be paid for by the private companies?
The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna is going to be a roughly Rs 18,000-crore business activity, a jump of nearly Rs 12,000-crore from last year’s crop insurance performance. Isn’t it surprising that for getting a scooter or car insured, insurance companies employ agents across the country. But for crop insurance, they forcefully get the premium deducted through banks, and in addition do not have to make any investment for measuring crop losses. I don’t know whether this is being done to make it easy to do business or out of ignorance.
My suggestions to make this scheme more meaningful would be: 
1) Stop the deduction of premiums from the bank accounts of loanee farmers. The insurance companies do not even know what crop they have insured for the premiums are collected straight from banks. 
2) Stop the bidding process for assessing the insurance premiums. Instead, set up an independent body that provides a weather-based crop profile and also what the premium should be for each district. 
3) Make insurance companies build up a skilled workforce for crop cutting experiments. This will help generate employment among the educated and unskilled youth. 
4) Make it mandatory for the insurance companies to take a farmer’s field as a basic unit for assessing crop loss and claims. Losses cannot be estimated on the basis of the damage incurred in a block.
To begin with, since 60 per cent of the crop insurance is done in 50 risk-prone districts I see no reason why the government cannot direct each of the 12 insurance companies to implement the insurance policy on a per farm unit basis in these districts as a pilot. #     
प्रधानमंत्री फसल बीमा योजना कहीं बीमा कंपनियों को फायदा पहुंचाने की तरकीब तो नहीं. Gaon Connection. Oct 28, 2016. http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/pm-crop-insurance-policy-if-for-farmers-or-for-insurance-companies     
Categories: Ecological News

It will take more than a loan waiver for Punjab's farmers to stop killing themselves

Ground Reality - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 18:05
Punjab farming is in crisis -- Tribune pic 
Nirmal Singh, a Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta) leader from Sangrur district in Punjab committed suicide last week. He was known to be among the few farmer leaders who campaigned against the emerging trend of farm suicides, which has turned Punjab into a hot bed of farmer suicides.
Nirmal Singh could not wait for a few months more knowing very well that the Congress party has promised to waive off the entire farm loans if voted to power. While the catchy slogan Karza Kurki Khatam, Fasal Ki Poori Rakm is drawing a huge number of farmers to fill the form that the volunteers of Congress party are distributing among farmers. According to news reports, 22 lakh forms have been filled so far.
At the same time, the spate of farm suicides continues unabated. There is hardly a day when three to four suicides are not reported from somewhere in Punjab. The recurring tragedy on the farm is also happening at a time when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too has announced a farm waiver if it comes into power. In a Kisan Manifesto released a few weeks back, AAP has also promised to pay 50 per cent profit over the cost of production as per the recommendation of the Swaminathan Committee. Picking up from Congress party’s drive to get loan forms filled by farmers, AAPtoo has launched a similar campaign.
With two political parties promising to waive off the outstanding farm loans, I thought the farmers would have preferred to wait and see before ending their own lives. After all, it is a matter of few months only. But this is not happening. The reason why farmers do not believe the political parties can be either they have no faith in what the political parties promise going by the past experience or they know for sure that they will as usual be treated nothing more than a vote bank.
Whatever be the reason, the fact that a progressive agricultural state like Punjab is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis, and if my assessment is correct, Punjab’s devastated farming system has virtually turned into a powder keg waiting for a trigger. In other words, the agrarian crisis that Punjab is faced today is in many ways the reason for the growing drug menace. No political party can afford to turn a blind eye anymore to the severity of the crisis that has been swept under the carpet for long. Nor do they seem to know how to tame the prevailing crisis. 
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. Government estimates point to Rs 36,000-crore of loan to be waived off.
Most farmers commit suicide unable to bear the humiliation that comes along when public sector banks and arhtiyas seize their assets when they fail to pay back outstanding loan.
This brings me to the moot question. After all, why should farmers in the country’s food bowl commit suicide? 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. 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. In fact, unofficial estimates have already exceeded last year’s toll. 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. Punjab Agricultural University and the Punjab Farmers’ Commission 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?
Waiving off the loans therefore is not the only solution that can address the crisis at large. It has to be accompanied by appropriate policies that bring back the smile on the face of farmers. Unfortunately, none of the political parties have a roadmap that can point towards restoring the prosperity back into Punjab villages. This is because the political leadership faces a drought of ideas on how to resurrect agriculture. Nor do they have the vision to look ahead, at least 20 years ahead, to significantly plan for a revival of farming. Writing off the outstanding loans, even if it actually happens, does not mean that the loans will not once again pile up in the next four to five years.
Punjab needs a reform package that looks at agriculture holistically. A few political announcements without coming out with a roadmap for reviving Punjab’s agriculture will only end up exacerbating the prevailing crisis. The country’s food bowl faces twin problems of economic viability and long-term sustainability. Intensive farming has played havoc with the soil fertility necessitating more application of chemical fertilizers; excessive use and abuse of chemical pesticides has contamination the food chain as well as the environment; and lack of adequate income by way of stagnating minimum support prices has pushed farmers into a spiral web of indebtedness, mounting with every cropping season.
To begin with, Punjab needs to move away from the intensive cropping system that it has been following since the days of Green Revolution. It has to move towards an ecological sustainable farming system, implemented in a time bound manner. It requires a shift in the research mandate of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) accompanied by policies and programmes that encourages farmers to shift without suffering any economic loss. Addressing the sustainability crisis without providing an assured monthly income will be meaningless. Punjab must take the lead by setting up a Punjab State Farmers Income Commission, which has a mandate to work out a mechanism to provide a guaranteed monthly package depending upon the farm size and the production attained. #   
It will take more than a loan waiver for Punjab's farmers to stop killing themselves. The Wire. Oct 24, 2016. http://thewire.in/75526/long-term-reforms-not-loan-waiver-farmers-can-resolve-punjabs-agrarian-crisis/
Categories: Ecological News

Varun Gandhi's efforts to help debt-ridden farmers is laudable indeed.

Ground Reality - Sat, 10/22/2016 - 13:54

I have never met him. But what I read in the newspapers gives me a lot of hope. Varun Gandhi, the young BJP MP from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh has already created quite a stir with his honest efforts to rescue farmers who are somehow surviving on the edges.
“Varun Gandhi’s fund for farmers now a movement in Uttar Pradesh” screams a headline in The Economic Times. “Varun Gandhi’s farmer-funding initiative is the wake-up call India needs,” writes Firstpost. The more I read about his trendsetting initiative, the more curious I became to know about his continuous engagement with a dying community. I am talking of the 60-crore farmers, who have been deliberately kept impoverished by successive governments, and who continue to silently bear the brunt of economic reforms.
At a time when farmers have been pushed to the margins, it is heartening to see a young parliamentarian stepping out to help the marginalized. I am told it all began a few months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when Varun Gandhi began to provide financial support to families of debt-strapped farmers. He identified farming families, whose bread-earning member had already committed suicide or looked for those families which were on the verge of starvation. Initially, he began supporting them with Rs 50,000 for each family thereby putting in Rs 1.4-crore from his own resources.
Normally such election-linked initiatives end once the elections are over. But the mere fact that Varun Gandhi continued to rescue the debt-trapped families, and subsequently reached out to local businessmen and well-to-do professionals like doctors, lawyers and traders to chip in, shows his untiring commitment towards the poor farmers. The local elite contributed Rs 16.2-crore which helped pull out more than 3,500 farming families from the debt-trap. As a newspaper reported, what began as a simple financial support initiative has now virtually grown into a movement that has spread to 20 districts.
And last week, he also donated 100 one-room houses with attached toilet and a tinned roof painted in “sunshine yellow” to farmers who otherwise were living in thatched huts. Costing about Rs 1.5 lakh each, he plans to provide 2,000 such single room houses across the state.
This is certainly remarkable by any standards. In my understanding Varun Gandhi demonstrates what an ex-US President John F Kennedy had penned it as a “Courage of Conviction”.
“While it remains a limited exercise with limited resources, I want to transform it into a mass movement by increasing its scale. We will now take to crowd funding for the next phase in which we aim to help 10,000 families in agrarian distress,” he told a newspaper. To another journalist he explained how he identifies the farming families in distress, and how tough it is to make the donors understand the dire need to bail out these families who otherwise are on the brink of committing suicide. “Typically, if a farmer defaults on a loan for three cycles in a row, combined with adverse weather conditions, the chances of suicide rise to almost 50 per cent. The cases that are chosen all fall in the extreme category.” 
Hats off to you, Varun Gandhi. This is exactly what I meant by saying “Courage of Conviction”. Your conviction speaks louder than anything else I have seen. More power to your efforts.
Varun Gandhi’s initiative to help farmers living in abject poverty also echoes a similar kind of humanitarian task undertaken by two Bollywood stalwarts – Nana Patekar and Akshey Kumar. They too have been raising funds to bail out farming families who have faced farm suicides. I admire their initiative also, and as I have said earlier they too have shown remarkable courage not only by stepping out of their cozy confines but in the process also drawing the nation’s attention to the serial death dance being enacted on the farm. I wonder whether at some stage, the three of them – Varun Gandhi, Nana Patekar and Akshey Kumar can come together. I think if they do, they will be able to wake up the country to the silent plight the farmers are undergoing simply because they have the responsibility to provide cheaper food on our tables.
Bailing out farming families in distress is a great task, let there be no doubt about it. But I have a worry. The chances are that a majority of those who have been pulled out of the debt trap will again slide back with the passage of time. This has happened time and again. Let me illustrate. Uttar Pradesh is among the 17 States in India where the average income of farming household has been computed at Rs 20,000 per year. This comes to a paltry Rs 1,667 a month. And if you think farmers in a progressive state like Haryana are any better, think again. According to a Haryana Agricultural University study, the net average return from cultivating wheat in Haryana comes to Rs 800 per month.
You can therefore bail out these families once or twice but eventually they will slide back into distress, the outstanding credit will pile up.
My appeal therefore to Varun Gandhi is to compliment the one-time write-off of outstanding loans with demand for policy changes that ensures an income parity for farmers, an income level that enables a farmer to send his son/daughter for college education or provides him enough to take care of medical expenses to say the least. I see no reason why a chaprasi should be able to get a monthly basic salary of Rs 18,000 whereas a farmer fails to make even Rs 2,000 a month. This is because, as I said earlier, a farmer is in reality being penalized to grow food. He is being denied his legitimate income. #  
कर्ज़मुक्त कराने के साथ किसानों की आय बढ़ाने की ओर भी उठें ठोस कदम Gaon Connection. Oct 21, 2016. https://goo.gl/6mMp4N
Categories: Ecological News

Outsourcing Pulses and Oilseeds Production to BRICS Partners. Forgetting that Importing Food is like Importing Unemployment.

Ground Reality - Fri, 10/21/2016 - 17:33

At a time when the country is faced with a massive unemployment crisis, the decision to invite BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – to cultivate pulses and oilseeds and ship it to India will only end up pushing more and more farmers out of agriculture.
Agriculture scientist Dr M S Swaminathan had once remarked: ‘Importing food is like importing unemployment.’ I had thought this was a loud enough warning and government would at least be careful in not deliberately destroying the tremendous potential agriculture has in creating gainful employment. With a minus 0.43 per cent drop in job creation in the last quarter April-June 2016, India continues to be in the grip of what is called jobless growth.
But agriculture doesn’t seem to be an area of concern for the government. Only a fortnight back, addressing the BRICS farm ministers meeting in New Delhi, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said ministers from these countries have agreed to promote production of pulses and oilseeds in their respective countries after India asked for help in meeting its shortfall in domestic production. This offers huge business opportunities to the BRICS countries, he added. Earlier, the Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had also acknowledged India’s efforts to woo Brazil into cultivation of pulses to meet the growing domestic demand. Since Brazil has not been growing pulses, India even offered to provide improved seeds of pulses varieties.
The move to outsource the production of oilseeds and pulses to the BRICS countries comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had about two months back signed an agreement with Mozambique from where an import of one lakh tonne of pulses will hopefully begin in two years time. He had promised to procure every grain of the legume that farmers would cultivate in Mozambique and at a price which would not be lower than Minimum Support Price (MSP). India had also been searching for a possibility to grow pulses in Myanmar and some other African countries like Ethiopia, Uganda.
As if this is not enough, the government has slashed the import duty on potatoes from 30 to 10 per cent; on wheat from 25 to 10 per cent; on import of crude palm oil from 12.5 to 7.5 per cent and on refined oil from 20 to 15 per cent. Lowering the import duty means opening the floodgates to cheaper imports. Although reduction of import duties is justified in the name of taming food inflation but when cheaper imports come in, it is the small and marginal farmers who are forced to abandon agriculture.
The growing reliance on cheaper (and highly subsidized) imports of agricultural commodities, including pulses, edible oils, wheat, apple, rubber, coconut, silk, fish, a horde of fruit products and juices, are linked primarily to the policy imperative that aims to drive farmers out of agriculture. I have time and again said that this approach follows a directive from the World Bank way back in 1990s wanting India to move 400 million people from the rural to the urban areas by 2015. To achieve this, successive governments have been systematically squeezing public investments in agriculture and by denying farmers a fair and remunerative price kept farming impoverished.
Cultivation of pulses is a classic example. Although the area under pulses cultivation has increased in Kharif by a whopping 29 per cent, and the production in 2016-17 is estimated to go up to a record 20 million tones, there still would be a shortfall by 3 to 4 million tonnes. Although the government has hiked the MSP for some of the pulses, the fact remains that it is the volatility in prices that discourages farmers to take up pulses cultivation. If the government can provide an assurance to farmers in Mozambique and in Brazil that it will procure whatever is produced I fail to understand why the same assurance cannot be given to Indian farmers? It is the lack of assured procurement that is the primary reason why farmers have been reluctant to take up pulses cultivation.
Instead of helping the domestic farmers, the government is now outsourcing pulses production to Africa, Brazil and Russia.
After India lost the WTO dispute with America over the import of chicken legs, the poultry industry should be ready for a hit. The dairy industry too is under pressure to open up to cheap imports from European Union, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, some mainline economists have been openly vouching for it. They even want the sluice gates to be lifted for vegetable and fruit imports, endorsing the demand that European Union is making under the Indo-EU Free Trade Agreement. Already apple imports are coming in from 44 countries.
While on the one hand India is expected to protect its food security concerns as well as farm livelihoods at the international negotiations, the autonomous liberalization that goes unheeded at the domestic policy level is likely to inflict a much bigger blow to the future of Indian agriculture. For a country which has 600 million people dependent upon agriculture, and given that urban employment opportunities are fast drying, the challenge should be on how to make farming economically viable. Contrary to the dominant economic thinking, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. Outsourcing food production to BRICS countries, and opening up to cheaper imports, will not only destroy food self-sufficiency but once again make India to stand with a begging bowl. 
Importing Pulses is a Bad Idea, Even if From India's BRICS Partners. The Wire. Oct 16, 2016http://thewire.in/73335/importing-pulses-bad-idea-even-indias-brics-partners/

Categories: Ecological News

Global Hunger Index: India's dismal performance in combating hunger

Ground Reality - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:43

This has become an annual ritual. The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) releases its Global Hunger Index ranking countries in proportion to its population living faced with hunger and under nutrition. India ranks 97 among the 118 developing nations, faring worse than all its neighbours except for Pakistan.
In the first such index prepared eleven years back in 2006, India had ranked 96 among 119 countries. So this year, when the GDP growth rate is being claimed to be among the highest in the world, India had fared worse than where it stood 11 years back.
I am not surprised. A day or two after the report is released the media performs the ritual of diligently reporting about India’s abysmal ranking in hunger. It’s then all but forgotten, picked up again when the latest report is released. You will see the same kind of editorials; the same kind of commentary pieces. Once the issue fades away, it is back to business as usual. Not only the media, policy makers too forget about hunger and move on to better the economic growth prospects: more six-lane highways, more mega irrigation projects, more airports at mofussil towns, provisioning for infrastructure projects, privatization of forests and natural resources.
Removing hunger has never been on the priority list.
Every Prime Minister has talked of fighting hunger and poverty. To name a few: Indira Gandhi had launched the Garibi Hatao programme; more recently Dr Manmohan Singh had gone to the extent of calling malnourishment “a national shame”; and an emotional Narendra Modi had dedicated his government to the poor when he addressed for the first time the BJP Parliamentary party meeting at the Central Hall. And yet, hunger has remained robustly sustainable. One forth of world’s estimated 800 million hungry continue to live in India. In fact, India’s track-record in fighting hunger and child mortality is worse than that in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For 11 years at least, since the Global Hunger Index was launched in 2006, India has little to show when it comes to elimination of mankind’s worst scourge. I am aware that minimizing hunger quite a complex and challenging task. But it certainly is not impossible. But despite the pious intentions of our successive Prime Ministers, the task of designing appropriate and suitable economic policies is left to the mandarins in the bureaucracy, who unfortunately are in the clutches of corporate economic thinking that views poverty eradication only from the prism of failed ‘trickle down’ theory.
In the public debates at the time when the National Food Security Act was being discussed in 2013, I recall the strong opposition that came from mainline economists who only viewed the expenditure to feed 50 per cent poor in the urban and 75 per cent poor in rural areas to be nothing but wasteful expenditure. They had argued against the proposed outlay saying that it would only add to the country’s huge fiscal deficit. Whether it is the budgetary outlay for MNREGA or for agriculture, the effort has been to restrict it to bare minimum. Dismantling pivotal social security nets like public sector education and health has further added on to rural and urban poverty.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi therefore has a great opportunity at hand to take the bull by the horn, in this case launch a frontal attack on eliminating poverty and hunger. Knowing that all past efforts have failed, the monumental task would need a fresh and holistic approach. If the government can be seen making an effort on month-to-month basis on improving its Ease of Doing Business ranking, I see no reason why India’s ranking in the Global Hunger index cannot be turned upside down. All it requires is a strong political will. # 
Take bull by its horns & launch frontal attack to end hunger games. New Indian Express, Oct 16, 2016. http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2016/oct/16/take-1528283.html
Categories: Ecological News

An overtime for farm workers? California grants it.

Ground Reality - Sun, 10/16/2016 - 12:06

Will these farm workers ever get an overtime? 
An Overtime for farm workers? No, I am not kidding. California has become the first State in the United States to actually grant an overtime allowance to agricultural workers.
Not many in India will believe this. Farm workers too would laugh it off. But for the United Farm Workers of America, which sponsored the overtime bill, the historic legislation that was passed in September this year is a grand victory that came almost after 80-years fight to get the same dignity for farm workers which non-farm workers have been getting over the decades.Farm workers in California are now entitled to overtime after eight hours on the job or after having worked 40 hours in a week. This historic legislation has drawn a lot of appreciation, including the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
It may take some time for farm worker unions in India to understand the economic implications of such legislation. But I personally feel such legislation whenever introduced will be a major step forward in ensuring economic justice, the very foundation of inclusive growth. I have always felt dismayed seeing farm workers slogging for hours together, sometimes even into the night when threshing operations are in full swing, and getting paid literally peanuts in return. The fight for economic justice for these hapless millions has yet to begin.
I am aware that an overtime legislation India will throw up an angry protest from the farming community which already is faced with low availability of farm labour after the MNREGA legislation was implemented. The impact it will have on farmers, the government and the consumer prices will have to be factored in whenever a debate is initiated in this country. Even in America, the overtime bill took 80 long years, and that too after a fierce debate that followed all along.
“This is a historic day,” said Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill in California Assemble, adding: “They are finally going to be treated with the same dignity and respect as every hourly worker.” This is exactly what I have in mind. Why should farm workers, who work equally as hard as an industrial worker, not get the same benefits? Why should farm workers be treated with low dignity? They too need to be accorded the same dignity and respect.
In America, the agricultural community had lobbied hard against the provisions of the bill. They had said that the overtime payments would backfire on farm workers as the farmers who employ them will now be saddled with higher costs, which will eventually increase the food prices thereby hurting the consumers. To quite an extent, farmers are right. We will therefore have to work out mechanisms that make farmers not lose out in the process but be willing to help the farm workers economically. After all, farm workers are among the most vulnerable of the unorganized labour force and deserve a better future.
In India too, I can see a huge protest from the farmer unions. Considering that nearly 82 per cent of the farmers in India fall in the category of small and marginal, and knowing that more than 58 per cent farmers (in some States as much as 68-72 per cent farmers) have to depend on non-farm activities like MNREGA and working on other farms, they too would benefit from an overtime legislation. At the same time, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) which calculates the minimum support prices (MSP) for crops should also be directed to factor in the additional costs on account of the overtime charges a farmer has to pay.
Even in America, overtime for farm workers has been introduced in a phased manner. According to the Los Angeles Times it was in 1938 that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act first announced minimum wages and overtime for workers but kept farm workers out. In 1941, another legislation in California kept farm workers out of the provisions of an overtime. But it was only in 1976 that the State Industrial Welfare Commission allowed overtime for farm workers. The entitlement was only applicable if the farm workers put in more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week. But for other non-farm workers, the overtime entitlement was for 8 hours a day. It has taken 40 years for the anomaly to be removed.
Any provisioning for introducing overtime for farm workers has to be accompanied by setting up of a Farmers Income Commission, which should also work out the minimum daily wage that needs to be ensured to a farm worker. I see no reason why a farm worker should not be entitled to a minimum daily wage of Rs 9,100 per month that has been made obligatory for non-farm workers. Raising the farm workers wages has to be accompanied by raising farm prices. This becomes imperative considering that over 52 per cent of the farming community in India comprise of landless farm workers. In essence, this alone will ensure in reality what the Prime Minister desires when he says Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #   
विदेश में खेतिहर मजदूरों को मिलेगा ओवरटाइम, ये सच्चाई है व भारत के लिए सीख भी. Gaon Connection, Oct 14, 2016.   
Categories: Ecological News

Prices Commission should be rechristened as: "Commission for Farmers Income & Welfare'

Ground Reality - Fri, 10/14/2016 - 12:29

Why shouldn't a farmer expect an assured monthly income package? 
In September, the government raised the minimum wages for non-farm workers by 42 per cent. This enhanced the minimum wages from the existing Rs 246 a day to Rs 351 a day, bringing it to a minimum of Rs 9,100 for a month.
But if you have noticed, the rise in minimum wages the government announced is only for non-agricultural workers. Although the trade unions are not happy, and have been demanding a minimum statutory wage of Rs 18,000 per month for workers in the “C” category, the question that needs to be asked is why the prescribed minimum wages should not apply to farm workers? After all, farm labour works equally hard; often for more than 12 hours a day, and the best what they can earn is a MNREGA wage.
This is certainly not fair. Considering that more than 50 per cent farmers in India, as per Census 2011, are actually landless thereby meaning that they fall in the category of non-farm workers, they will remain deprived of the statutory minimum wage. And that makes me wonder if the average monthly income of farm households in 17 States as per the Economic Survey 2016, is Rs 20,000 a year, or Rs 1,667 per month, what the landless farmers would be getting. Perhaps, less than Rs 50 a day. Is that a living human wage?
This is primarily the reason why I have been demanding a separate Farmers’ Income Commission, which also works out the minimum wages for non-farm workers. I have been often asked to explain the rationale behind the need for a separate income commission for farmers when a price mechanism for providing a minimum support prices (MSP) already exists. More so at a time when farmer leaders across the country are demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report that recommends a 50 per cent profit over the cost of production. Will this not be enough? Why the need for a separate commission then?
While I agree that farmers should definitely get 50 per cent profit as part of the MSP the government announces, the fact remains that only 6 per cent farmers in the country get the benefit of MSP. The remaining 94 per cent farmers remain at the mercy of the market forces. Moreover, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) making it abundantly clear that procurement prices cannot exceed the limit of 10 per cent of the total value of the crop, the option to further raise the MSP is getting restricted. Let’s therefore be clear. The time for ‘price policy’ is over. It has to be replaced by an ‘income policy’.
When I look at the way the procurement prices are calculated, I realize that it barely covers the cost of production plus a ten per cent profit and that too as a managerial cost. On the other hand, the minimum wages for non-agricultural workers are computed as per the recommendation of the Indian Labour Conference, 1957. Accordingly, the minimum wage should be based on the minimum human needs, for which a set of norms have been laid out:
1.  Three consumption units for one earner in a standard working family, with the earnings of women, children and adolescent in the family being disregarded.
2.  Net intake of 2,700 calories for an average Indian adult of moderate activity.
3.  Per capita consumption of cloth of 18 yards per annum, which would mean for the average workers family of 4 a total of 72 yards.
4.  Rent corresponding to the minimum area provided for under the Subsidised Industrial Housing Scheme for low-income groups.
5.  Fuel, lighting and other miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20 per cent of the total minimum wage.
A report in Indian Express further added that a Supreme Court order in 1991 had laid out a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation including festivals, ceremonies, provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25 per cent of the wage. Further, the minimum wage includes a dearness allowance which is revised twice a year and is now being merged with the basic pay. 
I see no reason why the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which recommends the MSP for 23 crops every year, should not be incorporating the six minimum criteria as spelled out by the Supreme Court. When did you hear of farmers being given any of these allowances? Since MSP is the only way a farmer’s income is worked out, I see no reason why farmers should be deprived of these minimum human needs that need to be incorporated in the procurement price? 
I am not asking for 108 allowances that the central government employees will be getting under the 7th Pay Commission, all I am seeking is just four allowances to be given to farmers – educational, medical, housing, and travel. For 50 years in a row, ever since the Green Revolution was launched in 1966, farmers have been deprived of a need-based procurement price that includes the six criteria for a living human wage. No wonder, agrarian distress has been mounting with every passing year pushing more than 3-lakh farmers to the gallows in the past 20 years.
Farmer leaders must understand that demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report will not do justice. First, Swaminathan report will only benefit 6 per cent of country’s farmers who are able to sell their produce at MSP leaving 94 per cent as losers; and secondly, since the MSP cannot be raised beyond the permissible limit laid out by WTO, the government will continue to deny farmers the real price. The need therefore is to set up a Farmers Income Commission that works out the minimum assured monthly income package that a farming family must get. Even Dr Swaminathan himself has been asking for a Farmers Income Commission.
The trade unions are demanding an amendment in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, that also extends the privileges to contract workers. Farmer leaders should learn from the way the ten trade unions have come together to fight for workers rights. They too need to forge a common understanding about the prickly income issues and seek an amendment to change the terms of references of the CACP. The CACP should no longer compute only the cost of production for different crops but should be directed to work out a monthly income package based on the minimum human needs. The name of the CACP should therefore be changed to ‘Commission for Farmers Income & Welfare’. #

इन्हें कीमत नहीं, आय चाहिए Amar Ujala, Oct 13, 2016
Categories: Ecological News

Continuing Agrarian Crisis is Behind the Massive Silent Maratha Rallies in Maharashtra.

Ground Reality - Fri, 10/07/2016 - 18:19

A mammoth silent Maratha rally in Pune, Maharashtra. -- Pic from web
As the series of mega ‘Muk Morcha’ (silent rallies) by Marathas in Maharashtra continue to rattle the political leadership, and like the story of the elephant and the four blind men, policy makers and economists are desperately grappling for reasons that could be ascribed to such a mammoth human outpouring onto the streets. Call it by any name, the silent Maratha uprising has its roots in the continuing agrarian crisis.
It has been a slow and steady demise of agriculture. One way to understand the gravity of farm crisis is to see the rise in numbers of farmer suicides. Ever since I remember it has either been farm suicides in Vidharba or Marathwada region of Maharashtra that have donned the national headlines. Behind these numbers, what was being conveniently overlooked was that these suicides were only a symptom of a bigger malaise that prevailed. The dark underbelly therefore had somehow remained hidden.
The systematic destruction of agriculture is also the reason why the demand for reservation quota in government jobs is so high in priority for the caste-based protests that we have seen in recent times – Patidars in Gujarat, Gurjars in Rajasthan, Jats in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Lingayats in Karnataka/Maharashtra and so on. But what makes the Maratha kranti morcha stand out is that unlike other caste based protests, the Maratha protests have been peaceful, and have so far been faceless. Even though the mobilisation is on caste basis, such mammoth outpouring on the streets cannot happen unless a wave of anger runs through the community. The rape of a Maratha girl at Kopardi in Ahmednagar district on July 13 this year may have been the trigger but the common factor that binds the protestors is the economic despair that prevails.
Since 90 per cent of those who committed suicide in Maharashtra belong to the Maratha community, and knowing that Maharashtra tops the farm suicides chart, let’s try to understand how devastating the economics of agriculture has been. To understand a little better, I looked at the latest report of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) to know of the farm income levels. Sugarcane occupies roughly 4.5 per cent of Maharashtra’s cultivable lands and guzzles roughly 71 per cent ground water; let’s look at how the remaining 96 per cent of the farmers are faring. In the case of paddy, the net return per hectare is Rs 966, which means if worked on a monthly basis it will come to less than Rs 300 a month. For Ragi, Maharashtra farmers actually incur a loss of Rs 10,674 per hectare; for Moong(minus Rs 5,873); for urd (minus Rs 6,663). Even for the much publicised cotton crop for which Vidharbha region is known, the net return is only Rs 2,949 per hectare. Considering that cotton is sown in June and its harvesting begins in October, with the pickings going on to November, December or even January, the average income per month from cultivating cotton comes to a paltry Rs 700 per hectare. With such low income levels, even lower than what MNREGA workers earn, I wonder how the Maharashtra farmers have been surviving all these years.
The Maratha anger therefore is surely justified. What is true for Maharashtra is also true for the rest of the country, including Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, which have recently witnessed mass protests for reservations. The glitter and power exhibited by 1 per cent or a miniscule section of the same Maratha, Jat, Patidar communities controlling politics as well as business, what remains hidden is the fact that a majority of the remaining 99 per cent somehow slogs along. Economic Survey 2016 makes that loud and clear. Accordingly, the average income of farming families in 17 States of India is just Rs 20,000 a year, which means the average monthly incomefor a farming family is a pathetic Rs 1,667.
Considering that 50 per cent of the 130-crore population of the country is directly or indirectly is engaged in agriculture, continuing neglect and apathy had created a simmering discontent. With farming becoming economically unviable, accompanying rural enterprises too remained in gloom. In addition, with public medical, health services and education replaced by the private sector, as a result becoming prohibitively expensive, rural India has silently faced the brunt of economic reforms. Numerous studies show how many reasonably well to do rural families have slid into poverty when someone in the rural family suffers a medical emergency. At a time when public health services are being starved of resources, the biggest financial burden of privatisation of health services is being borne by the poor.
Education too has gone beyond the reach. In a suicide note left behind by a 22-year-old graduate student, Gopal Babarao Rathod, son of a small farmer from Yavatmal in Maharashtra, who died in the last week of August, a question he asked reminds us of the flawed economic policies. In his letter he explained how the rural youth, like their lucky counterparts in the cities, too carry an aspiration. But he asks: “A teacher’s son can easily afford to pay a fee of Rs 1-lkh to become an engineer but tell me how a farmer’s son can afford so much fee?” He then goes on to say “why is it that the salaried employees get dearness allowance without even asking for it whereas farmers are denied adequate compensation for their produce?”
The penetrating questions that the young student left behind cannot be ignored for long. The economic security that a government job provides, whether it is of school teacher or a village patwari, the revenue worker, is what drives the demand for reservation. If a chaprasican get a minimum basic salary of Rs 18,000 per month along with other allowances, a farmer has all the reasons to ask why is he being deprived of parity in income. The Maratha uprising therefore should also be seen as an outcome of the widening inequality that has been knowingly created.
Despite the silent protests, the warning it carries is too loud to be brushed aside. The mass protests witnessed from time to time across the country, including the Maratha uprising, have all the ingredients to snowball into a major socio-economic crisis. We can afford to ignore it at our own peril. # 
मराठा आंदोलन के पीछे छिपी कड़वी हक़ीक़त Dainik Bhaskar, Oct 6, 2016http://www.bhaskar.com/news/ABH-bhaskar-column-news-hindi-5433172-NOR.html
Categories: Ecological News

To reduce edible oil imports, India needs to relaunch 'Yellow Revolution'

Ground Reality - Fri, 09/30/2016 - 12:54
As India gets closer to the commercial release of its first genetically modified food crop – GM mustard – with the promise that the transgenic mustard will boost production thereby cutting on the huge import bill of edible oils, it has now become clear that the claims are largely unfounded. Five existing hybrid varieties outperform the transgenic variety DMH-11 developed by Delhi University, for which an approval is pending. 
Among the five higher yielding mustard varieties are three in the same DMH series. The productivity of DMH-1 is higher by 11.35 per cent; DMH-4 by 14.70 per cent and DMH-3 by 3.54 per cent (see the chart below). No wonder, civil society groups under the banner of Coalition for GM Free India that made a presentation before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency whose clearance is obligatory, had rubbished the productivity claims of 26 per cent higher yield being claimed for GM Mustard. They had accused the developers of falsifying the data and comparing the yield performance of GM Mustard with some of the useless varieties. 

I therefore can’t understand how will a GM variety with low productivity eventually help in cutting down on edible oil imports? In any case, the reason why India turned into world’s second biggest importer of edible oils over the years is not because of any shortfall in domestic production but because the country had encouraged cheaper imports by lowering the import tariffs.
Thirty years back, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundations of what was later called as Yellow Revolution. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India -- from a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production -- in 1993-94, in less than ten years. In 1993-94, India was producing 97 per cent of its edible oil requirement within the country. Only 3 per cent of its edible oils need was being imported.
And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution. In fact, the demise of the Yellow Revolution is a classic case of how a promising domestic edible oil sector was sacrificed at the altar of economic liberalisation. Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports thereby pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties – from a bound level of 300 per cent were slashed to almost zero – in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseeds crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67 per cent of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000-crore.
Let us therefore be clear. It’s not because of any shortfall in oilseeds production that India imported Rs 66,000-crore of edible oils in 2015. It’s simply because we wanted imports to be encouraged that the country is finally saddled with a huge import bill.
Although the sub-committee of the GEAC has cleared three varieties of GM Mustard (including DMH-11 and two parental lines) as being ‘safe’, the fact remains that the safety data is being kept hidden. This had prompted the Central Information Commission (CIC) to direct the GEAC to share safety data with the public. The safety data has since then been partly uploaded on the GEAC website and people have been asked to travel to New Delhi, seek permission, if they want to view the complete dossier. In addition, public comments are sought in a period of 30 days and too in a truncated manner in a Performa that has been posted on the net.
Interestingly, the GEAC members are not at all perturbed that GM Mustard will increase the usage of chemical herbicides. They agreed that technically speaking DMH-11 is a herbicide tolerant mustard crop which means it will require the application of only one brand of herbicide to eradicate weeds but they feel that herbicide being expensive will not be used by farmers. In fact, what is not being explained is the clever stacking of herbicide tolerant genes in GM Mustard favouring the herbicide being sold by a multinational company, Bayer.
Even Bt cotton had increased the application of chemical pesticides, Regardless of what the industry claims, the fact remains that the usage of pesticides has gone up in India. According to Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), in 2005, Rs. 649- crore worth of chemical pesticides was used on cotton in India. In 2010, when roughly 92 percent of the area under cotton shifted to Bt cotton varieties, the usage in terms of value increased to Rs. 880.40-crore. In China, where Bt cotton was promoted as a silver bullet case, farmers apply 20 times more chemicals to control cotton pests. In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticide usage has gone up by 190 percent in the past decade.
At a time when cotton farmers in India have moved away en bloc from the genetically modified Bt cotton after the 2015 debacle with whitefly attack and the crop becoming susceptible to bollworms, I thought the Ministry of Environment would have learnt a lesson. The harmful impacts of GM food for human health and environment notwithstanding I see no reason why the controversial GM technology be introduced in food. There is no shortage of mustard in the country and if the government is keen to reduce the import bill of edible oils it needs to bring back the policies and approach that helped India launch the Yellow Revolution. Raising import tariffs to at least 70 per cent and providing farmers with an attractive procurement price is what will help India turn the corner.  
To increase oilseed production, relaunch 'Yellow Revolution'. Deccan Herald, Sept 29, 2016http://www.deccanherald.com/content/572990/to-increase-oilseed-production-relaunch.html
जीएम-सरसों की उत्पादकता मौजूदा किस्मों से कम, इसकी आवश्यकता क्यों? Gaon Connection, Sept 15, 2016goo.gl/2ZJlLi
Categories: Ecological News

Indian cattle breeds are also high yielding.

Ground Reality - Fri, 09/23/2016 - 10:13

For quite some time we are being told that Indian desi breeds are unproductive. I always used to question this quoting from M S Randhawa's four volumes of 'History of Indian Agriculture' wherein he tells us how the domestic breeds were revered by Kings in Indian history. What happened after independence that Indian breeds became unproductive and we had to import Jersey and HF to crossbreed? 

After several years of understanding the way political economy works, I find that running down Indian breeds, crop varieties and even products has become a usual practice whenever the imports have to be justified. The import lobbies know that the acceptance among liberals, who think they are highly educated, becomes so strong when they try to give an impression that the particular exotic breed is needed to improve the domestic availability. Pepsico ran down the Indian tomato varieties finding it unsuitable for processing when they were trying to seek entry by way of agriculture, into India. It is however another matter that the tomato varieties they eventually began to use were from a Bangalore-based private company. I can give you several examples to illustrate this. 

I have always said If we had built on our domestic breeds, the Indian cows wouldn't have been roaming on the streets. Take a look at this cow in the picture enclosed. Named BANDEIRA (meaning FLAG), this is a purebred Gir cow in Brazil. Gir as you know is a desi breed originating from the Gujarat region. With a milk yield of 85.16 Kg/day it holds the world record in milk production among Gir cows. No wonder, Brazil has become the biggest exporter of Indian breeds of cows. 

I am not in favour of turning cows into a milch machine. All I am trying to show with this picture is the yield potential that exists in the Indian domestic breeds. Here is one of my earlier articles on how Brazil has turned into the biggest exporter of Indian breeds of cows: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2012/07/brazil-is-biggest-exporter-of-indian.html
Categories: Ecological News

India's major farmer and fisherfolk unions/organisations come together under the banner of Kisan Ekta.

Ground Reality - Sat, 09/17/2016 - 19:03

Farmer leaders at the 4th National Convention of Farmer Organisations, held at Akola, Sept 12-14

In August 2015, we took the initiative of bringing together the major farm unions of the country onto one platform. It was a difficult task and not many believed that this will eventually happen. But I persisted, and so did my colleagues from the farming unions/organisations. Within a year and a half -- Kisan Ekta -- the banner under which the collective has come together, held its 4th National Convention of Farmer Organisations, at Akola, in Maharashtra, Sept 12-14, 2016. 

The three earlier conventions were held at Chandigarh, Bangalore and Shimla.

In my understanding there are some 65 major farmer organisations in the country. I am pleased to inform that 62 are formally members of Kisan Ekta. Together, they represent some 400 million farmers of this country (including their families). Some of the member organisations are: Bharti Kisan Union (Rajewal); BKU (Haryana); BKU (UP); BKU (Asli); Shetkari Sanghatana; Karnataka Rajya Ryotha Sangha (KRRS); Tamilnadu Farmers Association; Bhartiya Kisan Sangh; Bhartiya Kisan Morcha; Gujarat Khedut Samaj; South India Sugarcane Farmers Association (SISFA) Tamil Nadu; Red Gram Growers Association, Gulbargha; Joint Action Committee (JAC) from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Aam Kisan Union, Madhya Pradesh; Fruits, Vegetable & Flowers Growers Association (Himachal Pradesh), Krishak Biradari (Chhattisgarh); Dharthiputar Bachao Sanghatan (Rajasthan); Orissa Nari Samaj, Bhubaneshwar; All India Kisan Sabha (CPI); Indian Sugarcane Farmers Association, Bangalore; Bharat Krishak Samaj and so on. 

In the last convention that was held at Shimla, Kisan Ekta also took the initiative to reach out to the fisherfolk unions/organisations in the country. Two major fishermen unions, from Manipur and Bengal, joined the Shimla convention. I am now hoping that most of the fisherfolk unions will be part of Kisan Ekta as the year 2016 ends. We then plan to reach out to the tribals and finally to the farm workers. 

This coming together of some of the largest but also warring unions of farmers is being watched very keenly by not only the political outfits but also the media and academia. The mere fact that Kisan Ekta was able to hold its 4th Convention and that too within a year and a half, and without getting any external financial support, is indicative of the merit farmer organisations see in this initiative. We are very hopeful that if all goes well, Kisan Ekta will be able to significantly influence the 2019 Parliament elections. 

At present, the Kisan Ekta activities are being coordinated by a team of three -- Devinder Sharma; Chandrasekhar Kodihalli (President, Karnataka Rajya Ryotha Sangha); Balbir Singh Rajewal (President, BKU-Rajewal).


At the Akola conclave, Kisan Ekta passed five resolutions: 1) Implementation of Swaminathan Committee recommendation of 50 per cent profit over cost of production. 2) Ensuring income parity for farmers, fishermen, and farm workers with the central government employees. This means setting up a Farmers Income Commission to provide a guaranteed monthly income to farmers. 3) Redesign import export policy to ensure that cheaper imports do not flood the domestic market driving farmers out of agriculture. Import tariffs of pulses, oilseeds, cotton, apple to be raised to stop unwanted imports. 4) Ban the risky, harmful and unproductive GM Mustard. Instead, the government should provide farmers with a higher support price for oilseeds along with assured procurement to boost domestic oilseeds production 5) Oppose the land acquisition laws being formulated by States on the model of the central land acquisition act forcing hundreds of thousands of farmers out of their fertile land, their only source of livelihood. Demands specifically that Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Maharashtra Governements which are going ahead with large-scale acquisiton and hence displacement of farmers be stopped herewith. Kisan Ekta resolves to stand by all efforts that are underway to oppose the farm land grab that the states are indulging in.

The 4th Convention also worked out a time bound schedule of activities. This includes approaches to reach out to farmers, build stronger alliances at the state level to strengthen farmers movement. By 2019, the farmers movement under the banner of Kisan Ekta should be powerful enough to influence the electoral process.
Categories: Ecological News

A Green Manifesto for Punjab -- Prepared by the people, for the people.

Ground Reality - Sat, 09/10/2016 - 04:24

At a time when the electoral battle is hotting up, and with political leaders engaged in pointing fingers at each other, a citizens' group in Punjab has ensured that the real issues affecting the people at large and the deteriorating environment (not only political environment) are not lost in the din and heat. What could eventually turn out to be trendsetter, a Green Manifesto for Punjab -- an agenda for Punjab's prosperity, food safety. health, happiness and sustainability -- was launched at a media event in Chandigarh on September 6, 2016.

As far as I can recall this is the first time that ordinary people have made an effort to draw the attention of political parties to what they perceive should be the development agenda. This fabulous initiative was launched by 'Vatavaran Ate Samaj Bachao Morch' (translated, it means: a campaign to protect environment and the society), a group of committed individuals and organisations from across the State. A day long session was held at Chandigarh where more than 100 people from different walks of life had come together, brain stormed, and fine tuned the draft agenda. Among those who came were religious leaders, senior journalists, economists, academicians, vice-chancellors, environmentalists, farmers, students and housewives. It was such a heartening experience for me to sit and listen to the wonderful ideas and suggestions that came up. Their collective thinking is what is clearly reflected in the Green Manifesto.

Releasing the Green Manifesto at a press conference in Chandigarh, Sept 6 
The preamble says it all: " 1) Ensuring environmental sustainability and profitability in Punjab's farming. 2) Revival, restoration and conservation of environmental resources including (ground) water and tree cover, and addressing the environmental crisis of the State firmly and urgently. 3) Addressing the environmental health crisis of the State through remedial and rehabilitation measures, and by ensuring food safety and removal of environmental toxins. 4) Lay the ground for medium and long term environmental revival and sustainability by sincere promotion of environmental education in the state.

Once the food bowl of the country, Punjab has not turned in a hotspot of farmer suicides. The water table has plummeted to dangerous levels, soil health stands devastated, chemical contamination has taken a sever toll of not only human lives (a 'cancer train' runs from Punjab to Bikaner in Rajasthan carrying patients), but the environment at large. Punjab is fast heading towards a severe health disaster with reproductive problems being witnessed in both humans and animals, psychiatric disorders, intestine and respiratory diseases, premature births and other disease patterns multiplying over the years. And so on. The need therefore is pull it back from the brink of a disaster.

The controversy before the launch of the film 'Udta Punjab' has highlighted the severe problem of drug abuse. In lot many ways I see alcohol and drug abuse to be an outcome of a bigger malaise that prevails, and the genesis is often overlooked. The reasons are many, and instead of pushing them below the carpet, the challenge is to stand up and be counted. The Green Manifesto should therefore be seen as a roadmap that has been prepared by the people, for the people. It is a people's manifesto, the will of the people, and ignoring it would be like turning a blind eye to the dark period ahead.

The Green Manifesto document is here: http://www.kisanswaraj.in/2016/09/07/green-manifesto-for-punjab-asking-that-all-political-parties-take-note/ 
Categories: Ecological News

Isn't the GM Mustard debate about a junk variety?

Ground Reality - Wed, 09/07/2016 - 13:50
Pic: www.pbase.com
Thirty years back, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation of what was later called as Yellow Revolution. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India -- from a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production -- in 1993-94, in less than ten years. A remarkable achievement, indeed.
And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution. In fact, the demise of the Yellow Revolution is a classic case of how a promising domestic edible oil sector was sacrificed at the altar of economic liberalisation. Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports thereby pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties – from a bound level of 300 per cent were slashed to almost zero – in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseeds crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67 per cent of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000-crore.
So when the new Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said the other day to an international news agency Reuters that India was keen to cut down the huge import bill of edible oils, it certainly was a welcome statement. Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh too has time and again stressed on the need to reduce the dependence on edible oil imports. Ask any educated and concerned citizen and he too would call for cutting down on imports and helping domestic farmers. But I thought the ministers would at least know that India was actually self-sufficient in edible oils, and it’s because of our faulty trade policies that the country has turned into world’s second biggest importer of edible oils.
When I made a presentation before the high-level Shanta Kumar committee on bifurcating Food Corporation of India (FCI) on how trade liberalisation had destroyed the oilseed revolution, he was very understanding. His recommendations include the need to revisit the trade policies so as to protect domestic production from cheaper imports. I wish both Mr Radha Mohan Singh and Mr Anil Dave too had emphasised on the desperate need to raise the import duties to boost domestic production rather than to harp on allowing the commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified mustard (GM Mustard) in the name of increasing productivity.
Let us be clear. It’s not because of any shortfall in oilseeds production that India imported Rs 66,000-crore of edible oils in 2015. It’s simply because we wanted imports to be encouraged that the country is saddled with a huge import bill.
Although the sub-committee of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal inter-ministerial agency whose approval is necessary, has cleared three varieties of GM Mustard (including DMH-11 and two parental lines) as being ‘safe’, the fact remains that the safety data is being kept hidden. This had prompted the Central Information Commission (CIC) to direct the GEAC to share safety data with the public. I am glad minister Anil Dave has promised to put the data on GEAC website and invite public comments. But what shocks me is to know that the GEAC members are not at all perturbed that GM Mustard will increase the usage of chemical herbicides. In fact, the clever stacking of herbicide tolerant genes in GM Mustard favours the herbicide being sold by a multinational company, Bayer.
Even Bt cotton had increased the application of chemical pesticides, Regardless of what the industry claims, the fact remains that the usage of pesticides has gone up in India. According to Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), in 2005, Rs. 649- crore worth of chemical pesticides was used on cotton in India. In 2010, when roughly 92 percent of the area under cotton shifted to Bt cotton varieties, the usage in terms of value increased to Rs. 880.40-crore. In China, where Bt cotton was promoted as a silver bullet case, farmers apply 20 times more chemicals to control cotton pests.In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticide usage has gone up by 190 percent in the past decade.
At a time when cotton farmers in India have moved away en bloc from the genetically modified Bt cotton after the 2015 debacle with whitefly attack and the crop becoming susceptible to bollworms, I thought the Ministry of Environment would have learnt a lesson. I see no reason why GM seed companies are not being held accountable for the whitefly devastation caused last year, including suicides by some 300 cotton farmers in Punjab. Is human life so cheap in India that the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare remain silent on suicides in cotton belt? I thought Farmers Welfare was now a mandate for the Ministry of Agriculture.
Civil society groups under the banner of Coalition for GM Free India have already rubbished the productivity claims of 26 per cent higher yield being claimed for GM Mustard. They have accused the developers of falsifying the data and comparing the yield performance of GM Mustard with some of the useless varieties. In any case, there are five more existing non-GM varieties which yield significantly higher than the transgenic variety DMH-11. I therefore can’t understand how will a GM variety with low productivity eventually help in cutting down on edible oil imports? Isn't the entire debate about GM Mustard therefore only about a junk variety? 

Share of mustard oil is only 10 per cent of the total edible oil consumed. Thrust should be to raise the import duties on edible oil and provide farmers a higher procurement price. They will do the rest. Let’s not use the argument to force controversial and risky GM Mustard as the solution. This is not fair. And if you have seen Baba Ramdev saying in TV ads that the mustard oil we buy is largely contaminated, this is an area needing urgent attention. I thought that the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare join hands with the Food Safety Standards Authority to clean-up the mustard oil market of contamination. That’s what the consumers want. 
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

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

Make Monsanto pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Related campaign

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



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

— #Glyphosate (@ZeroBiocidas) February 27, 2016

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

— Seed Freedom (@occupytheseed) February 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Navdanya (@NavdanyaBija) February 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

— GMWatch (@GMWatch) February 24, 2016

#MakeMonsantoPay https://t.co/nSvWUAmQ61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Seed Freedom (@occupytheseed) February 17, 2016

Categories: Ecological News
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