India’s Dam Shame

• Polavaram Dam is economically unviable.

• It will adversely affect the Andhra Pradesh budget for decades.
• The dam will take resources from other vitally needed infrastructure.
• The supposed benefits of the dam will be reality only to a few people in Andhra pradesh.
• Politicians and bureaucrats who do not want to tackle the tougher issues of failing infrastructure and inadequate services hope the dam project will make people feel they are doing something about water problems in Andhra Pradesh.
• Polavaram Dam will dislocate the lives of at least one million people.
• The proposed compensation package is inadequate and will not be delivered effectively.
• Historically, the building of large dams has not helped India.
• Large dams have contributed less than 10 per cent to providing food security.
• Large dams are costly ‘white elephants’ with a history of cost overruns, non-completion, and inefficiency.
• Large dams have changed more peoples’ lives for the worse than for the better.

Failure in Irrigation


Business Standard / New Delhi February 21, 2007

Farmer suicides and distress in the countryside have taken on the dimensions of a national scandal. What farmers need most of all is assured water for irrigating their crops; indeed, many suicides by farmers have been traced to the disastrous drilling of bore wells that turn out to be dry or to crop failure because the rains did not come. That is why the rapid expansion of irrigation was made one of the six components of the ambitious Bharat Nirman project. So it is a tragedy that the objective has been lost sight of when it comes to budgets and programme execution. The harsh fact today is that there is no noticeable increase in the pace of irrigation development. Even the accelerated irrigation benefit programme, launched over a decade ago with the well-conceived idea of focusing resources on easy-to-complete projects, seems to have failed to deliver results. Despite all the ambitious planning, no more than 1.4 million hectares of additional irrigation potential is reported to have been created in the 10th five-year Plan, due to end next month. If this is indeed the case, it shows a sharp drop in the speed with which new irrigation potential is being created. For more than half a century, the country has added close to a million hectares of irrigation potential annually. Compared to that, the 10th Plan’s record is dismal.

It is easy to forecast now that the Bharat Nirman programme’s ambitious goal of extending irrigation to 10 million additional hectares by 2008-09, is not going to be met. Indeed, the evidence now available suggests that the large sums of money being annually pumped into the accelerated programme are probably not being well utilised. All of this translates into wasted agricultural potential and a low-income trap for farmers who cannot get assured water. The net result is that a sizable part of the country’s total irrigation potential—reckoned at 139.9 million hectares, against the earlier assessment of 113 million hectares—will continue to lie unexploited for a long time to come.

One reason for the problem is that irrigation is on the state list of the Constitution, and most states are unable to raise the resources required to be invested in irrigation. Work under even the accelerated irrigation programme has got stuck because of the states’ failure to put in their share of resources—usually a half to a third of the Centre’s allocation. But there are other issues as well. The populist approach towards water and power charges has converted irrigation works from generators of revenue (as they were in pre-Independence days) to a financial burden. This has affected not only the maintenance and operation of irrigation projects but also command area development work so as to make use of the irrigation capacity that has been created. The result is water-logging and soil salinity, which makes irrigation a curse rather than a life-saver. What the country needs urgently are major water sector reforms, including the setting of realistic user charges and creation of water users’ bodies for maintaining and operating irrigation works. It is only when irrigation is made a commercially viable sector that the states will be prompted to invest in the expansion of irrigation.

India Not Shining?


There have been a lot of dissapointing news for the nation in the past month or so:
1. Farmer suicides -> Despite government interventions, farmers in Vidarbha and elsewhere continue to kill themselves. Reasons? Governments not doing enough to solve their problems. Aam admi’s party no longer cares for the poor. Solutions? Eliminate private money lending. Do away with BT Cotton and similar sinister schemes. Waive farmer loans in a manner similar to that of waiving industrial loans.
2. Inflation -> Spiralling costs of essential commodities. Reasons? Might be out of the control of the government. Solutions? No short term remedy in sight. Medium and long term controls already in place. Effects? The poor keeps getting poorer. Who is responsible? Of course the government, they must have a vision to foresee such damaging scenarios and mitigation plans for quick fixes.
3. Energy Shortage -> Power cuts and load shedding hours increase to alarming levels – more so – in the rural areas. Effects? Unemployment, Lack of infrastructure leading to slowdown in the fast growing economy. Reasons? Lack of long term planning by past governments. Solutions? Continuous long term planning and immediate shift to re-usable energy resources wherever possible.
4. Terror attack on the most sensitive train the country. If this is the condition for the train which is supposed to be the most secure, then what is the status of all other trains? India continues to be the softest terror target in the world. Reasons? No control on infiltration. No effective anti terror central law. Minority appeasement policies of central and UP government with an eye towards cheap electoral gains in the coming elections.
Tough times…

Burden of credit for Punjab farmers

Arijit Barman



Posted Tuesday , February 20, 2007 at 20:03

Updated Tuesday , February 20, 2007 at 20:41

Stats show an average farming family in Punjab has more to repay than families anywhere else in India.

LOAN MOAN: Stats show an average farming family in Punjab has more to repay than families anywhere else in India.

Punjab: Naseeb Kaur is a widow. Her husband committed suicide almost a decade ago, to escape the Rs 7 lakh debt burden.

Kaur managed to marry off three of her daughters, but in the bargain, she had to part with the one hectare acre land she owned for she had to give that as dowry.

Today, her daily existence is a continuous struggle and the debt the last thing on her mind.

“There is no help from the government and the elections do not hold any meaning for me,” says she.

The fruits of India’s growing economy are yet to reach her family and also many other families in Punjab. But why is this happening?

Says CRRID’s Dr S Singh, “This is happening because these people first take loans and then when they cannot repay them, they take more loans. It becomes a vicious cycle and then they cannot get out of it. The money that they receive is not enough.”

Apart from this, the loan money is often used for purposes other than farming and the Punjab Farmer’s Commission is worried to say the least.

Says member Punjab Farmer’s Commission, Dr Kalkat, “The farmers spend the money on weddings etc. which needs to be stopped at once.”

Punjab for many, may be the poster boy of the Green revolution, but government data shows that an average farming family in that state has more to repay than any other family anywhere else in India.

  • For farmers with land holdings less than 0.1 hectare, the average outstanding amount is around Rs 6,000. In Punjab, the average is around Rs 9,000.
  • For those who own between one and two hectares of land, this figure is Rs 14,000 for rest of India and Rs 28,000 for Punjab.
  • For farmers with more than 10 hectares of land, rest of India’s debt stands at Rs 77,000 while in Punjab, it’s more than Rs 2.5 lakh.

The aam admi’s Government is keen on providing economic relief to the farmers by giving them credit through rural banks, but for the farmer stuck in a vicious cycle, the path to a virtuous cycle is almost an impossibility and suicides are often the only way out.

So there might be a package to serve credit needs, especially of small and marginal farmers, but the burden of debt continues to be oppressive and in the hinterland of Punjab it’s just another day for Naseeb Kaur.

Cotton prices wrecking Indian Farmers



Special to The Japan Times

MADRAS, India — The western Indian state of Maharashtra, whose capital is the nation’s financial capital Bombay, has made great strides in lifting cotton production. Land dedicated to growing cotton increased from 92,000 hectares in 2003 to 480,000 hectares in 2004, according to government sources.

As more and more land continues to be planted in cotton, India has now joined the list of “biotech” mega-nations (those growing at least 50,000 hectares of biotech crop) — along with the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay and South Africa.

Yet there is no sign of farmer suicides abating. In January alone, 62 farmers took their lives, and the state government says some 3,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past three years.

Maharashtra’s farmers underscore the most painful example of India’s agrarian crisis. Underlying this tragedy is an irony: India heads a group of more than 40 poor countries represented in the now stalled Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, and New Delhi has been trying very hard to protect its farmers from foreign competition.

Studies conducted in India reveal that the plight of the cotton farmers has worsened because they have been forced into an unfair global trading system. Hoping that “modern” farming techniques would help them integrate better with globalization, farmers bought expensive “biotech” cotton seeds that were ill-suited for their small plots, traditionally irrigated with rainwater. Most farmers in Maharashtra have small holdings.

In a ripple effect, farmers thought they could sink deep wells and depend less on the monsoon for water. But when the price of diesel fuel to operating well pumps shot up, many farmers found themselves deep in the hole.

Added to this, farmers had taken out high-interest loans to sink the wells and buy the pumps and biotech seeds in the first place. They have struggled just to pay the interest on these loans.

More misery was to be found in the “global village” as the price of cotton fell. It has dropped by more than a third since 1994. Last year, the Maharashtra government cut the minimum support price for 100 kg of cotton from 2,000 to 1,750 rupees. World prices are falling because cotton is heavily subsidized by rich nations, especially the U.S.

According to the World Bank: “The Doha round aims to cut these handouts ambitiously and expeditiously. If they were cut completely, it might add about 13 percent to world prices. But the Doha round is unlikely to reach such an accord soon. A more likely scenario, in which cotton subsidies are cut by a third (and export subsidies eliminated), would add less than 5 percent to the price.”

India’s textile mills are happy with the decline in cotton prices. They are making hay amid the farmers’ misery. In fact, the prices of cotton garments and related goods have not come down at all.

At one time, British colonizers forced Indian cotton farmers to sell their produce at nonviable prices to feed the Lancashire cotton mills. This ruined the farmers as it did many weavers left without yarn to work with. Everything was being shipped to Britain.

In what seems like a stopgap measure to tackle the contemporary crisis, the Maharashtra government has delivered a relief package that includes 50 billion rupees (more than $ 1 billion) in direct aid. But this is chicken feed in light of the number farmers in debt: 1.2 million, along with their families, are considered in bad shape. Sadly, many see no choice but to hang themselves — this in what is still largely an agrarian country.

B. Gautam writes for a leading Indian newspaper.

The Japan Times

(C) All rights reserved

India-the land of contradictions

From Alternative Perspective by Madhukar Shukla
NOTE: 1 crore = 10mn; 1 lac = 0.1mn; $1 = about Rs.45
India is world’s 2nd largest exporter of rice, and world’s 5th largest exporter of wheat
Over past 5 years, on average 15,000 farmers have committed suicide every year (i.e., 4-5/day) due to poverty and indebtness. An Indian farmer household has an average debt of Rs 12,585 – 82% farmer households in Andhra Pradesh, 74.5% in Tamil Nadu, 65.4% in Punjab, 61.1% in Karnataka, 54.8% in Maharashtra, etc. live in debt.
India is world’s 2nd largest fruit and vegetables producer, and the largest producer of milk
One third of India’s population goes hungry to bed everyday.
India is world’s largest producer of tea accounting for 30% of global produce, and 25% of spices produced globally.
1/3rd of world’s population without adequate water-supply lives in India.
Agriculture accounts for 14-15% of country’s exports
600mn Indians depend on agriculture for subsistence. 60% of farmers are small/medium farmers with holdings of up to 4 hectare plot. The average farm holding in India is 1.4 hectare, and only 15% farmers have plots larger than 10 hectare. Of the 455mn acre cultivable land, less than 5mn is with rural poor.
India is world’s largest producer of mica, 3rd largest producer of coal lignite, 2nd largest producer of cement.
India has around 400-410mn employable workforce, of which about 377mn are employed. Only 7% of India’s employed work in “organised” sector.
44% of India’s workforce is illiterate, and 23% has education up to primary level. More than 90% rural workforce, and more than 80% of urban workforce has no “marketable” skill (e.g, typing, brick-laying, fishing, driving, basket-making, carpentry, tailoring, etc.).
India is among the 3 countries (US and Japan being the other two), who have built its own indigenous 4th generation super computer.
80% of India’s public health problems are due to water-borne diseases; 1 in 4 persons dying from a water-borne disease is an Indian.
India is among the 6 countries worldwide, who have developed its own space technology (23 satellite in orbit and 14 geo-stationary satellites). It has not only launched its own satellite, but also for countries like Germany, Korea and Belgium. ISRO/Antrix Corp.’s clientele include the European Commission (for agriculture and forestry), Japan (volcanic activity), US (telephone network mapping, rail alignments, Wal-Mart, airlines) and Thailand (information). Its images are distributed by Space Imaging Inc and Euromap.
The official definition of poverty in India is: a monthly income of less than Rs.329(or $7)/month (rural) and Rs.457(or $10)/month (urban); 33.6% (rural) and 28.5% (urban) of Indian population – i.e., around 280mn Indians – lives below poverty line. Of India’s poor, 40% are landless labours, 45% small/marginal farmers, and 7.5% rural artisans.
India has one of the world’s largest technically qualified manpower, comprising of 15mn doctors, engineers and scientists. There are about 30mn graduates, post-graduates and doctorates in India.
India has around 0.6mn primary schools – out of which around 60% have a single teacher (for class I-V), 59% have no drinking water, and 85% have no toilets. As for teaching aids, 26% have no blackboard, 59% have no access to maps and charts, and 77% have no library.
India is world’s largest producer of sponge iron.
India hosts 1/3rd of world’s leprosy patients
India’s real estate investment market is estimated to be $50bn, and is predicted to grow to $180bn by 2020. During last 4 years, the average return on investment has been of around 50%.
India is estimated to have 50mn DIDs (Development-Induced-Displaced “oustees”) – excluding the displaced landless labours, fishermen, and the rural artisans, who are not counted for compensation and rehabilitation.
There are close to 0.8mn HNWIs (“high net worth individuals”) in India, whose net worth is more than $1mn. The number of HNWIs in India is growing twice the global rate, and their cumulative liquid wealth is moe than $200bn.
Between 1951-90, 26mn were DIDs due to development of dams and canals, mining, new industries, etc.; According to Govt of India, in 1995, 75% of them were still “awaiting rehabilitation”. 40% of DIDs are tribal who constitute 8% of India’s population.
Indian pharmaceutical industry ranks 4th in the world in terms of volumes, and 13th in terms of value. Indian Pharma industry has the highest number of plants approved by US FDA outside US. Indian drug companies also topped the drug filing with FDA, accounting for 20% of all drugs coming into US market.
For a country with 3/4th of population in villages, India has 20% hospital beds in villages.
India is world’s largest center for diamond cutting and polishing. 9 out of 10 diamonds sold anywhere in the world pass through India.
In rural India (comprising of 3/4th of population), only 7.3% have a monthly income of more than Rs.775/month; In urban India, only 7.8% earn of more than Rs.1500/month. Only 15% of India’s 190mn households have an family income of more than Rs.2.5 lacs/ annum; only 4% of India’s population earns more than Rs.4 lacs/annum.
Moser Baer is the world’s 3rd largest optical media manufacturer and lowest cost manufacturer of CD-recorders. It supplies to 7 of the world’s top 10 CD-R manufacturers.
About 0.5mn people in India die from TB every year
Bharat Forge is world’s 2nd largest maker of forged vehicle component, and has the world’s largest single-location facilility of 1.2 lkh tonnes/annum. Its client list includes Toyota, Honda, Volvo, Cummins, Daimler Chrysler. Exports account for 3/4 of its earnings.
1.5mn infants die from diarrhoea in India every year – i.e., 1 out of every 4 infants worldwide. 68/1,000 Indian babies die before their first birthday.
Hero Honda is the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles (annual production 1.7mn)
There are about 3crore legal cases pending in Indian courts, and there is a shortage of about 3,000 judges.
Asian Paints has production facilities in 22 countries spread across five continents. Acquisition of Berger International gave it access to 11 countries; it also acquired SCIB Chemical SAE in Egypt. Asian Paints is the market leader in 11 of the 22 countries in which it is present, including India.
About 285-290mn Indians live in urban India. Of these, 21% live in slums, and 60% work in unorganised sector without any social security.
Hindustan Inks has the world’s largest single stream, fully integrated ink plant, of 1 lakh tonnes per annum capacity, at Vapi, Gujarat. It has a manufacturing plant and a 100 per cent subsidiary in the US. It has another 100 per cent subsidiary in Austria.
About 66% of India’s 640,000 villages have a population of less than 1,000 – and without connectivity to the rest of the world; only 2.3% have a population of more than 5,000.
Essel Propack is the world’s largest laminated tube manufacturer. It has a manufacturing presence in 11 countries including China, a global manufacturing share of 25 per cent, and caters to all of P&G’s laminated tube requirements in the US, and 40 per cent of Unilever’s.
For every 100 girls enrolled in rural India, only 40 reach class IV, 9 reach class IX and only 1 reaches class XII.
Ajanta is the world’s largest clocks manufacturer, which exports to more than 60 countries.
India, as the cliché goes, is a land of contrasts!

Desparate Indian Farmers Kill themselves in ‘Free’ Market Economy


Siliconeer, News Feature, Siliconeer Report, Posted: Feb 19, 2007

You watch “I Want My Father Back,” Suma Josson’s poignant documentary film on the misery of small-scale farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, and it breaks your heart.
Academics may argue about economic statistics, ideologues can engage in polemical debates, but Suma Josson has actually been there, and documented the suffering first hand.
I Want My Father Back was screened recently in the Bay Area at the University of California at Berkeley, Fremont and Santa Clara in association with the India Relief and Education Fund (http://iref.homestead.com), a 12-year-old Bay Area organization, which works towards increasing awareness about social justice issues in India.
Whether it’s an inconsolable father sadly going over the modest belongings of his daughter who committed suicide, or a son crying his heart out as he reminisces about his father’s suicide while his grandfather’s creased face is immobile in stoic silence, you realize that the policies that can do this to ordinary, decent people is nothing short of criminal.
Step back and think about it for a moment, and your disquiet is even greater. There are many questions but no answers. Why is the Indian media AWOL on this issue? Where is the public outrage?
The statistics are staggering. From 1998 to 2006, over 100,000 farmers have committed suicides. In Vidarbha, 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the 1999-2006 period. Since June 2005, 2-3 farmers have been committing suicides every day.
Yet you wouldn’t know that from the Indian media. Reports of farmer suicides and protests do appear in fits and spurts, but most of the media appears focused on the glitzy malls, the phoren fast-food chains, the luxury cars, the call centers and the hip lifestyles o the rich and famous.
So what’s going on here?
The farming crisis did not happen in a day, the film argues. It is the result of decades of wrong policies.
It all began with the Green Revolution in the 1960s, says environmental activist Vandana Shiva. “The Green Revolution is neither green nor a revolution,” she says in the film. “It was a means to open new markets for fertilizers.”
Fertilizers, pesticides and now genetically modified seeds have transformed Indian farming. In the traditional farming method, farmers used to plant multiple crops, food along with cash crops.
Now it’s different: it’s about capital intensive farming and monocrop, and buying seeds from pesticide sellers. The upshot of all this is that small-scale farmers are obliged to borrow heavily from moneylenders to grow cash crops.
If you think that’s bad, you don’t even know the half of it. The real fun begins when the farmer takes his crops to the market to sell it. Thanks to the arm-twisting of the U.S. dominated multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization — and if truth be told, the appalling spinelessness of the Indian political masters — Indian farmers are locked in a bizarre, unequal battle.
While subsidies for inputs and government procurement programs for the Indian farmer are jettisoned, he is pitted against the farmers of the affluent West who are formidably fortified by generous government support. Some free market, this.
Take cotton. The 25,000 cotton farmers in the U.S. get a subsidy $230 per acre. It should come as no surprise that in this kind of “free” market, from being a traditional exporter of cotton, India has become the world’s third largest importer of cotton.
What happens to the cotton farmer is shown in harrowing detail in the film. Up to their neck in debt, facing plummeting prices for their crops, they are committing suicide in droves.
According to UNICEF, one third of the world’s hungry children live in India. “Our leaders who talk about Shining India, Superpower India, they should be drowned in a palmful of water along with this figures,” fumes Shiva. “(We are a nation of) 70 percent farmers, (with) plenty of sun and water. The soil is good. In such a nation farmers are committing suicide. Children are dying of hunger. This is totally unacceptable.”
Kishor Bhoer, a farmer in Vidarbha, is more blunt: “It’s either suicide or the Naxalites (militant Leftists).”