"King" Bt cotton stumbles

http://www.spot-on.com/archives/kaul/2007/04/india…

On March 9th India celebrated the fact that, according to the latest figures released by Forbes magazine, more billionaires call it home than any other Asian nation, a honor held by Japan for the last two decades.

Being Indian that made me happy, but only so much. March also saw a spate of farmer suicides across the country, something that has been going on for a while in the nation’s rural villages, some worse affected than the others. In India, unfortunately, one becomes immune to the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor, but this contrast was a little too stark for me. The rich had just got richer and more numerous while desperate debt-ridden farmers were killing themselves by drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.

The official figure for the number of suicides in the past five years is about eleven thousand, and alarming as that is, the real figure, it seems, is much higher, closer to twenty thousand. Last July the Prime Minister toured the worst hit regions and announced a relief package of 37.5 billion rupees ($833 million). Out of this, about 22 billion rupees was to be spent on existing irrigation projects, but nine months later that has yet to happen. So the money meant for the farmers has yet to reach them and they continue to kill themselves in droves

The worst affected are the cotton growers, and the reasons for this are many – crop failure, lower price for their product, low import duty, drought, and lack of irrigation facilities – to name a few. But the main culprit, claim farm activist Kishore Tiwari, and others is a crop known as “Bt cotton.” The state government promoted this genetically modified and pricier (nearly double than the ordinary ones) cotton plant claiming that it would yield better results since it was resistant to pests (the “Bt” in the name refers to this attribute). The idea was that planting Bt cotton would reduce the need for harmful chemical pesticides. But that’s not what happened. Cotton crops were affected by disease every year. This sad state of affairs was pointed out back in 2002, but nothing was done. Hearing the promises of a higher return for their crop, many farmers had taken loans from private moneylenders at steep rates to buy seed and were devastated when the crop failed. But Monsanto, that international agriculture conglomerate that manufactured Bt cotton doubled it’s sales.

What happened next was typical: Panels of experts were set up, fingers pointed and causes explored. But all this was of little relief to the farmers who continue to live in wretched poverty even today, caught between the government, private Shylock-like money lenders, crop failure and drought. In one cotton growing state in Western India, Maharashtra; there was a suicide every six hours. As crops have continued to fail, year after year, farmers have no option but to borrow more money and fall deeper into the debt trap, a vicious circle that many are unable to break out of. In many cases, after they’re gone, their widows and children have no money even for their funerals – and they often inherit the debt.

It’s a desperate situation and no one seems to care. It grabs a headline every once in a while, politicians clash over it, committees are sent to the villages, but in the end, even if relief is allocated, it fails to reach the farmers, or to their widows who are left penniless and with no breadwinner for the family. Critics say that the government has not done enough, and more importantly, that it has contributed to the agrarian crisis by promoting a transgenic crop like Bt cotton, which has proved disastrous for the areas where it was grown.

At the crux of it, it’s the age-old scenario: A multinational company lobbies the government to switch to their technology, in the apparent interest of the masses. But in this case the government, for the vested interests of some, does not do it’s homework, it blindly implements a scheme; crops fail; farmers die; non-government agency advocates howl but – at the end – nothing happens.

The Indian government now reluctantly admits that the Bt cotton crop has failed. And some farmers, those who’ve survived, are giving up on cotton. But there are a variety of serious factors that still need to be looked into – higher prices for the produce and drought being two important ones. The ministry of agriculture on it’s website declares that: “Drought is a condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals and man over a sizable area.” It then goes on to add that drought is a management issue and can be avoided, it just fails to mention how this is all to be done. Needless to say, it does not even address the farmers’ issue.

How long this agrarian crisis will continue, is hard to say. The road looks long and hard for many Indian farmers. Even as I write this I wonder how many are contemplating suicide, driven to desperation, neck-deep in dept and abandoned by corrupt government officials. This, I say in sadness, is India too.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:07 PM | Print this article

Vidharbha in flames

http://dionne-bunsha.blogspot.com/2007/03/vidarbha…

A local legislator attempted suicide in the legislative assembly, frustrated by all other methods to alert the state to the farmers suicides
DIONNE BUNSHA
In Vidarbha, Maharashtra
It was time for a reality check. In the safe confines of the legislative assembly, Maharashtra’s politicians witnessed a dose of the real world last week. Gulabrao Gavande, a Shiv Sena legislator, wanted them to wake up to the daily tragedy of the Vidarbha countryside. So, he rushed to the floor of the assembly and poured a bottle of kerosene on himself. Then, he opened a bottle of pesticide and was about to swallow it when other legislators rushed to stop him. Gavande was banned from attending the rest of the session.
His recklessness could have set the entire house on fire – literally. But his shocking suicide attempt ignited a fiery debate about the government’s neglect of the agricultural crisis in the underdeveloped Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise. Everyday, a few more deaths are reported in local newspapers. But so far the state has not addressed this alarming tragedy. A defensive chief minister promised to announce a ‘package’ for Vidarbha’s farmers, but was not willing to say anything more. The opposition too has no creative solutions to offer. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray rushed to Vidarbha and assured farmers his party’s muscle power to bash up moneylenders and bank officials who harass them.
Meanwhile, in his hospital bed, a visibly shaken Gavande told Frontline, “I don’t know what I was thinking when I did this. I’m very troubled seeing so many people kill themselves. Morchas and protests have had no effect on the government. I wanted to awaken the administration to this crisis.”
Gavande, a local MLA from Akola (and also a wrestler), has been brawling with powerful moneylenders who have been snatching land from farmers. “Moneylenders are taking advantage of people’s desperation. They won’t lend until the farmer signs a document handing over land ownership to them. Then, when the farmer can’t repay they take possession of the land. So farmers land worth Rs two lakh for a Rs 20,000 loan. Moneylenders have captured around 5000 acres of land in this way,” explains Gavande.
A son of the soil, Gavande uses the methods he knows best. “Only I have the strength to fight these thugs because I am a wrestler and have an akhada with me,” he smiles. “I told the villagers not to spare anyone who harasses them. Recently, when a moneylender told one farmer to sell his daughter but pay back the loan, the villagers of Dadham got together and flogged him to death.” In the last few months, the government has cracked down on moneylenders, arresting several of them. But that has also led to more distress since they are the only source of funds available to farmers. Since most of them have defaulted on bank loans, that option is not open to them anymore.
Mounting debts are just a symptom of the crisis in agriculture. The crux of the problem is profitability, not only for the cotton crop, but also for others like oranges, soya, wheat, jowar, chillies or paddy. “The prices of all products have risen dramatically over the years. Our input costs have also shot up. But for the last 10 years, the price we get for our crop has remained the same,” says Jitendra Tatte, a large cotton and orange farmer from Lehegaon in Amravati. Input costs for his 60-acre farm have drowned him in debt. The more he cultivates the more his losses. “Everyone is in the same distress. Some have committed suicide. The rest of us live in agony.”

At a cotton farm

Photo: Dionne Bunsha


Tatte rattles off several statistics to prove his point. “In the last ten years, the price of soya oil has increased from Rs 25 per litre to Rs 45. But have been selling soyabean at the same price of Rs 900 per quintal since then. How do you expect us to survive?” he asks. “Why doesn’t inflation apply to our produce? Why do farmers have to starve so that the rest of the country gets cheap food?”
This season, the Maharashtra government has accentuated their dilemma further by reducing the price at which it will procure cotton from approx. Rs 2,200 per quintal to Rs 1,700. The cost of cotton cultivation is Rs 2,200 per quintal, not including the farmer’s own labour and other expenses like bank interest. If the price falls, farmers will suffer major losses of Rs 500 per quintal, no matter how much they produce. This will lead to more distress and more suicides.
At a public meeting in Nagpur recently, deputy chief minister R.R. Patil justified this price fall by arguing, “Last year, the state suffered Rs 1,800 crore losses due to the procurement scheme. Yet, suicides were the highest. This means the money is not going to farmers, but to agents. We will find other ways to make sure the funds reach those who need it.”
“Reducing the price is not going to solve the glitches in the procurement system,” says Vijay Javandhia, farmers activist. “If the government is really interested in making the scheme work for farmers, they should pay the amount up front to farmers, not in installments, that too over a period of one year. And, they should stop deducting loan collections from the payments. Leave it to the banks to recover their loans.”
The procurement scheme is in the red because the international prices of cotton have fallen. Cultivators in western countries receive huge subsidies from their government. They can afford to sell their produce at much lower prices. The Indian government could protect its producers from imports and crashing international prices by hiking the import duty on cotton. At present, it is only 10 per cent, import duty on other products like sugar (60%), rice (80%) and second hand cars (180%) are much higher. “The government is willing to protect sugar farmers and foreign car manufacturers here but not cotton farmers,” says Javandhia.
Maharashtra’s 30 lakh cotton farmers are being told to innovate and diversify. But innovations only increase the burden of debt. And interest is high. Banks charge 12%. But interest for consumer loans are only 7% and a mere 4% to start a sugar factory. Moneylenders, now the main source of credit, charge between 60% to 120%. And, you risk losing your land.
Farm improvements cost Sudhir Tatte his life. He spent more than two lakhs rupees sinking tube wells and installing sprinklers and drip irrigation on his orange orchards and cotton fields in Lehegaon. But nothing seemed to work. The water table had fallen. Finally, he swallowed poison and killed himself in 1998. Seven years later, his family is still burdened by debt. They have given up on agriculture and leased out the fields to others.
Bt cotton is also being promoted as the solution. It costs around 12 times more than other seeds, and has failed to deliver results. “The dealer assured me that I would get 19 quintals per acre from Bt cotton. Not only were the seeds expensive but I also had to spray pesticide. Yet, I got the usual two or three quintals, but I spent so much more. I’m totally ruined,” said Surendra Zane, a farmer in Lehegaon.
“What other crops can we grow?” asks Jitendra Tatte. “The prices of all crops have remained stagnant. We have even experimented with growing herbs, but there is no market to sell them. Moreover, our choice is restricted to only a few crops since we don’t have irrigation.” Only 10 per cent of Vidarbha’s farmland ha
s irrigation. It is difficult to even promote dairy farming as an alternative since it is too dry to grow fodder for livestock.
The chief minister is expected to announce the usual stop gap measures – loan or interest waivers, free power, compensation for families of suicide victims. But these are just band aids. The real issue of pricing and profitability has to be tackled to stop peasants from sliding down further. “Mine will be the last generation of farmers. I don’t want my son to be a farmer and suffer the way I have,” says Jitendra Tatte.
As Vijay Javandhia puts it, “In my next life, I would rather be a cow in Europe than a farmer in India. There, they get two dollars subsidy per day to feed their cattle. Here, our farmers slog in the fields and don’t even get one dollar.”
———————————
A Fate Worse Than Death
It seemed like a normal meagre meal for Dharmi Rathod when suddenly her husband Ramesh started vomiting. He had barely eaten anything. He was choking on the pesticide he swallowed. His friends rushed him to hospital, but he died there on 10th November 2005. Dharmi was left stunned… and without a single paisa with her.
Her village Bongavan in Yavatmal collected money for his funeral. They helped her with food and money. One month later, Dharmi is still reeling from the shock. “I have no idea how much he owed and how many loans he had taken. All I know is that the day before he died, bank officials had come to our hut.” For the last month, the trauma has taken its toll on Dharmi. She is constantly ill and has visited the hospital thrice.

Dharmi Rathod with her children

Photo: Dionne Bunsha


How does Dharmi manage to look after herself and her two children? “My son works as a farm hand every weekend. From that money, we go to the market,” she says. Even when Ramesh was alive, Dharmi and Ramesh both worked as farm labour earning Rs 20 and Rs 40 per day respectively. They could not survive only by tilling their four acre farm. This season, it will yield less than a quintal of cotton. And, Dharmi doesn’t know the first thing about managing a farm. Unable to cope, she has called her relatives to help her sort out her life.
Ramesh seems to have left Dharmi with a fate worse than death.
Frontline, Dec. 17 – 30, 2005 href=”http://www.flonnet.com/fl2226/stories/20051230006313300.htm”> Also available here

Posted by DionneBunsha at 3/31/2007 05:11:00 PM

Some issues on Nandigram

People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXI, No. 13, April 01, 2007

Brinda Karat

THE chief minister of West Bengal and the CPI(M) have expressed their deep distress and regret at the police firings and violence in Nandigram on March 14. Sympathisers, friends of the Left, democratic minded citizens have expressed their strong feelings on the issue. The matter is before the Kolkata High Court which has asked for more details. Once the investigation is over, action will no doubt be taken against those responsible for the excesses. The authorities have also registered FIRs on complaints of rape, made by four women several days after the reported incident. Urgent investigations are required and if found true, exemplary punishment must be meted out to those guilty. Till now two cases of rape have been confirmed by medical reports and both these are prior to the March 14 police action, the victims being CPI(M) supporters. The guilty must be brought to book and punished in these two cases also. 

This is not the only violence that the people of Nandigram have faced. Less known, their stories and tragedies ignored by the national media, around three thousand men, women and children of 12 villages of Nandigram, have been forcibly driven out of their homes and have been living in camps outside Nandigram since January 3 because they are known members or sympathisers of the CPI(M). Those killed or beaten by the police, those injured in hospital, those thousands displaced in camps are almost all poor, agricultural workers, marginal peasants or artisans, a substantial number of them are dalits. The CPI(M)’s opponents speak in terms of “their poor” and “our poor”. When representatives of the displaced sat on dharna in Kolkata, they were mocked at by Mamta Banerjee leader of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) who contemptuously brushed aside their suffering as ‘ CPI(M) drama.” The NGO activists and fact-finding teams who have been to Nandigram have not included the trauma of these families even as a footnote in their reports. This is not our understanding or approach. We stand in solidarity with the families of those killed and the injured in hospital just as we do with the displaced. 

It is necessary to normalise the situation. At present because of the continuing tension and refusal to allow the administration to function in the area, normal life is completely disrupted. Children have been the worst affected. In just one relief camp in Tekhali there are 67 children, 58 of whom have been forced to miss school for the last three months. Mid-day meal schemes have been stopped in 127 centres. 275 women’s self-help groups have stopped functioning. Poor people who have to move out of the area for livelihood purposes are afraid to do so. Who gains from this division of the poor, from their feelings of insecurity, loss of livelihood? Who are the forces responsible for the situation in Nandigram? There is a deep political game afoot in West Bengal which has many layers that need to be laid bare before the people.

RESISTANCE AGAINST WHAT?

It is said that the Nandigram mobilisation has been a great peaceful resistance movement. When I met the injured women in the PG Hospital in Kolkata and asked them the reason for the mobilisation on March 14 they said they had been told that the police were coming in to takeover their land. “We will never give up our land” they said. I asked them whether they had known that the chief minister had said no land is being taken. Their answer was revealing: “The BUPC has told us that the plan for land acquisition has already been made by the CPI(M) and that is why we have to guard our land day and night.” 

Why should the BUPC continue to run a campaign based on utter lies on the threat of land acquisition? Since January 9 the chief minister and government officials have been repeatedly stating that there will be no land acquisition in Nandigram since the farmers do not want it. Indeed he is the only chief minister in the country who has made such a categorical statement that a condition for land acquisition must be farmer consent. This has been a longstanding demand of all those including the CPI(M) who have been opposing the arbitrary takeover of land from farmers in different states. Normally when there is a struggle on a specific demand, in this case against land being taken over, if the demand is accepted it is claimed as a victory of the struggle and naturally the agitation is called off. 

In the huge farmers struggle in Ganganagar and other districts of Rajasthan where the CPI(M) plays an important role, police firing and violence under the BJP government between 2004 and 2006 has taken the lives of 17 farmers including one woman. The deafening silence against those killings of those who claim today to be the main defenders of farmer interests tells its own story. But the point to be made is that in the first phase of the agitation after the government was forced to agree to the demands concerning water sharing, the agitation was called off. Later when the BJP government reneged on its assurance the agitation resumed. It is precisely because the interests of farmers, the rural poor or the issue of saving the land is not the real agenda of the “resistance” in Nandigram that the chief minister’s statement was ignored. It is for this reason that the main parties in the committee, the Trinamool and the Congress have continuously boycotted the over 20 meetings called by the district administration to resolve the issue. The agenda is clearly only one, shared by all the disparate elements of the committee from the right to the extreme Left and including the various assorted foreign funded NGOs, namely, to reverse the massive mandate given to the CPI(M) in the last elections. It is a straight political battle, not to do with bhumi ucched (land displacement) but for CPI(M) “ucched.” 

NOT PEACEFUL, NOT DEMOCRATIC

There was nothing peaceful about the BUPC organised protest on January 3 and subsequently. That was the day a team from the central government was visiting the area as a village was going to be recognised as a “nirmal” district. Using that as a pretext the committee succeeded in whipping up a genuine fear among the local communities, created by the Haldia Development Authority notice that the team had come to finalise the takeover of their land. The fear and concern among a wide section of people in the area was used as a sanction for violence. Two gram panchayat offices were attacked and locked up. The two pradhans, Sameerun Bibi and Lakshman Mandal were driven out of the village. Houses of CPI(M) members and sympathisers were identified in an organised way and attacked. In one day, 34 homes were burnt, 41 houses were broken into and household goods smashed, 47 houses were looted. Thousands were driven out. Sobita Sumanta is one of the many displaced women who had come to meet the various authorities in Kolkata. Her husband Shankar Samanta was an elected gram panchayat member. On January 3 he had tried to reason with the leaders of the committee not to indulge in violence. He resisted attempts to drive out CPI(M) sympathisers from the villages. He paid the price for it. On January 7 he was burnt alive by an armed group of people. Kanika Mandal is also among the displaced. On January 3, her husband and two young sons were forced to flee from their home in Sonachura. She and her younger daughter Sunita, a bright student in Class 9 continued to live in the village under constant threat. On February 10, at around noon mother and daughter were working in the field. Sunita returned early to the house. When her mother came back she found her daughter killed. The medical report confirmed rape. She was warned not to follow up the case with the police. She fled the village and is now in the camp. Kakoli Giri was driven out of her village of Kalcharanpur along with her husband and children. On March 3, she went back to check on her belongings. She was surrounded by a group of men who g
ang raped her. Since she had not returned, her anxious son came in search of her. He found her lying unconscious and somehow brought her back to the camp. Her medical report has confirmed rape. Krishna, an activist of the AIDWA took her to meet the women’s commission. The women’s commission was prevented from following up the report. The police have been unable to follow the investigation leave alone arrest those responsible. Krishna herself received death threats for taking up the case and lives in fear. Earlier a police personnel had been lynched, and his body thrown into the river. Not a single person has been arrested for these murder and rapes. They have all taken shelter behind the “peaceful resistance.” 

The displaced women, each with a personal tragedy to narrate, are bitter when asked why they did not resist. We were unprepared, it was so unexpected, and they were fully prepared and armed. Do you think they drove us out with flowers, they ask, the men were armed with guns and axes. They say that all political activity in the area in opposition to the BUPC is banned literally with arms. On January 29 the CPI(M) and Kisan Sabha had organised a big rally in an area neighbouring Nandigram. The people in the two worst affected panchayats were warned not to attend the rally. But some still did. On the following day, 14 more families were driven out of their village for defying the dictat. There are approximately 7000 women who are members of the AIDWA in the affected area. Today almost one third of them, have been forced to leave their homes. The rest who are in the villages live in fear and terror sending out messages from time to time about their plight. Among those forcibly driven out are 13 panchayat members including women. What about their democratic and human rights? 

BUPC Dictats

After the successful forced displacement of thousands of CPI(M) families, the area was barricaded. Over 116 culverts, bridges and roads were broken and dug up. Four panchayat offices have been attacked. Government officials including teachers and employees have not been allowed to enter. Any other government would have immediately sent in its forces to ensure an end to this lawlessness. The West Bengal government refrained from doing so precisely because it believed that it was essential to start a political process. But this approach was rejected by the opposition. Since there are no elected members in some of the areas, no government officials accountable, there is a kind of dictatorship of the leaders of the BUPC who operate according to their will. Money is being reportedly collected from every household in the name of protection, every house has to send one person to “guard” the village and if they do not do so they have to pay a fine. There were 17 reported criminal offences in the area in this period with no action taken.

Evidence available and reported on some of the Bengali TV channels shows the meticulous planning of the BUPC preceding the incidents of March 14. Recorded conversations of organisers owing allegiance to the TMC clearly indicate the amount of money spent on procuring arms, bombs etc. The date of the administration’s plan to start rebuilding the roads and culverts and the police and administrative move to reestablish the government’s presence in the area was known to the organisers. The main concern expressed in the taped conversations is how to prevent the seizure of weapons by the police. Names of two TMC leaders are also mentioned. The taped conversations reveal that the planning included holding a puja in one area, and mobilising of women and children in school uniform to act as a shield for the armed men who attacked the police. There is also video footage available of the men lurking behind the women with guns. The utter cynicism and criminal callousness of those who deliberately used women and children as a shield while wielding arms is unprecedented. Of those killed, two died due to bomb injuries, one due to injury from a sharp weapon, and a few more due to gunshot injuries which were not police bullets. Who was throwing these bombs and wielding arms? There is a totally false campaign that the CPI(M) men went into the area along with the police. This is being linked to the arrests of ten men reportedly CPI(M) men, who were found in a brick kiln by the CBI team with arms and ammunition. No doubt the investigations will reveal their role and the reason for their presence in Tekhali. This incidentally is the area where a CPI(M) camp for displaced people is set up and which had been brutally attacked on January 5, leading to the deaths of several people. It was once again attacked on March 21 and the camp itself was sought to be burnt down but fortunately there were no casualties because many of the inmates were in Kolkata that day. But to link this up with a so-called joint operation of the police and the CPI(M) in Nandigram on March 14, is a deliberate canard to shield the role of the armed groups in the barricaded area.

No, there is little that is democratic or peaceful about the “resistance.” 

Political Gang-up 

There is a gang-up of political parties ranging from the BJP, the TMC, the Congress, the SUCI and the various naxal outfits. On March 17, the Maoists issued a statement calling for a Bangla bandh on March 20. The secretary of the CPI-Maoist, Soumen also wrote a letter to Mamta Banerjee published by some Bengali newspapers extending full support to her and assuring the backing of the Maoists for “the resistance struggle.” The letter states “We were there in Singur, we are there in Nandigram and we will stay. We will not leave the place.” Such statements should not be dismissed as rhetoric. The geographical location of this belt is crucial for the spread of the Maoists “liberated” belt stretching from areas of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa. Bengal is the big block and barrier in the Maoist thrust to the east. Already there are reports that the sea route through the Bay of Bengal is being used by the Maoists to come into Nandigram. Undoubtedly there are huge arms stockpiles in the area. Neither the CBI team or the local police has been able to go to any of these areas. In fact the police withdrawal from the area after the March 14 has further facilitated the entry of the Maoists.

Surprisingly, the High Court which made an unprecedented intervention ordering a CBI inquiry without so much as hearing the state government has not yet taken note of these developments. The plan of digging up roads and areas and preventing the entry of officials in different parts of Bengal has now been adopted as a strategy by the TMC. In a thinly attended meeting in Deganga on March 25, Mamta Banerjee has given a call to “create areas free from the CPI(M) and the government.” The implications of this are ominous. In the last few days Bengal has witnessed incidents when miscreants armed with bombs and pipeguns have attacked CPI(M) Party offices. Rumours to mislead the peasantry about land acquisition are deliberately spread. The Party has adopted a policy of utter restraint. The challenge will be met with a widespread political campaign approaching all sections of the people with the facts. 

But what however to be noted is the close coordination between the TMC and the group of NGOs functioning under different platforms, but united in the BUPC. In fact the NGOs and some nationally known figures and commentators have provided a cover of so-called impartiality to the reactionary political forces operating. In fact it is they who have more or less taken over the public face of the anti-CPI(M) campaign. 

Concerted Campaign of Misinformation

One part of the campaign is a number of highly exaggerated and sometimes self-contradictory reports from various sources about the incidents of March 14 and subsequent events. Wild allegations have been leveled at the Party from the killing of children, mass rape of women to massacre and burying of dead bodies. Three such investigation reports have been circulating on the net. The first of these is by a team of
the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights which claims to have been ‘deputed by the High Court.’ A perusal of the High Court order makes it clear that there is no such team deputed by the High Court. However the APDR are the petitioners in the High Court case. The second report is that of Medha Patkar and company called the All India fact-finding team report. The third is the CPI-ML team report that was led by its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. On the night of March 14 itself , wild rumours were circulating through SMS and e-mail by NGOs in different states about the violence against children. There is no doubt that the children of Nandigram’s affected areas have been severely traumatised by the violence since January 3 and the complete disruption of their routine. Everything must be done to help the children. But look at the “impartial” reports: The APDR report says ‘ Children were murdered indiscriminately, bodies have been thrown into the nearby Chuniburi river.’ The next sentence reads ‘Eight children of primary schools have been killed by the murderers and then all those children were buried in a particular place in the Bhangabhera area.’ The Patkar report says ” 35 children are missing… children from other villages are also missing. The parents apprehend that they are killed and their bodies abducted. Uniforms of two school children were found in nearby bushes. Incidents of children being killed and torn apart by pulling aside their two legs were also reported.” The ML report says: Women have recounted their children being torn apart…” Yet not a single report of a single missing child has been filed with the police. Why did not these leaders help the mothers register cases with the police? Even an ordinary citizen leave alone such internationally recognised eminent individuals would have considered it their bounden duty to file complaints of “children being torn apart.’ But they did not. Clearly such reports are concocted with the one aim to spread rumours and inflame passions. The situation of women is also highly coloured. The first reports of rape were revealed to the BJP team. The team said that after detailed interviews with women hospitalised, two women said that they were raped by unknown policemen. This was on March 17. The same day the “two women” becomes “women raped and molested” implying a large number of women were affected in the Patkar report but no fresh FIRs were filed. The ML report takes it further “there were gang rapes and brutal assaults of a sexual nature…” But did they meet any of the women? Their report reads “the women we spoke to spoke of six other rape victims who were not examined due to pressure from above.” A report from an NGO calling itself the Medical Service Centre (MSC) which has been the source of information for the media on the charge of “mass rapes” claimed that four of the women in the hospital said they themselves were rape victims. There are further charges made that on the night of March 14, after the firing, there was ” mass rape of the women.” The Patkar report says ” the police and cadres dragged people out and raped and molested the women inside..” The ML report links the rapes with the arrests of the alleged CPI(M) men from Tekhali. It reports the arrests thus ” The CBI sleuths who raided the brick kiln came across.. women’s underclothes.’

This utterly false reporting is reminiscent of the highly motivated campaign several decades ago when the Left front was in its infancy and under severe attack, an incident of a badly managed function in Rabindra Sarobar on April 6, 1969 became the focus of a vicious campaign that under the Left Front, goondas had a field day. A newspaper report of the time is illustrative that described “torn pieces of sarees and a good number of underclothes were found scattered all over the place.” A huge campaign started against the Left and the CPI(M) in particular. Fact finding committees were setup to defend “human rights and a League to be formed for defence as during the nazi regime.” 175 MPs from different parties issued a statement which spoke about “mass scale molestation of women, women being stripped, jumping into the lake to save their honour, several dead bodies of women have been recovered from the lake water..” and so on. The enquiry that was set up established conclusively that this was a huge fabrication. Yet another unfortunate case was that of Champala Sardar. Champala was used to concoct a totally fabricated case of rape against CPI(M) men by the TMC at the time of the 1993 panchayat elections. The CPI(M) men named by Champala were arrested. She was cruelly paraded at meeting after meeting by Mamata Banerjee as a symbol of CPI(M) criminality. The opposition campaign focussed on the issue. Later it was found that the case was fabricated and all the men were acquitted. Champala herself was abandoned soon after the elections were over. 

The plight of women in Nandigram causes deep concern to all those who have worked with women victims of violence. Police action may have involved cases of brutality which may not exclude those of a sexual nature. As has been stated earlier a proper investigation into the complaints is essential and action required against those guilty. But to exaggerate and concoct reports for narrow political ends is insulting to the dignity of the women. It also undermines the hard struggle by women’s organisations to give extra weightage to the statements of the women victims where medical evidence is not available. But if women are used as tools in a politically motivated campaign as in Nandigram by the BUPC it undermines the very credibility of the demand.

Political Context

The immediate aim of the TMC led campaign has been openly stated to be the next round of panchayat elections scheduled for May 2008. The Congress party in the state has even demanded president’s rule. A union minister from the state has made the most intemperate statements against the chief minister. The aim is to continuously provoke incidents in the name of saving the interests of farmers. The CPI(M) will have to face a combined onslaught of all these political forces in the state working in tandem with the ultra Left and being provided a cover by some self-serving NGOs. 

But the implications of the current campaign against the Party are not limited to Bengal alone. In the present national political situation the CPI(M) has been playing a crucial role in defence of the interests of the working classes and the rural poor putting forward a set of alternative policies. This stand has received wide recognition and caused much consternation to the neo-liberalisers. The BJP also knows that the CPI(M) is a big hindrance in what it considers its comeback trail which is why even though it does not have a single MLA in Bengal, it has focused its national campaign against the CPI(M). The cadre of the Party who are being villified today are those who have selflessly fought to defend secularism and the unity of the people and defended the interests of the working people. The effort is to demoralise the Party and villify it, to isolate it and thus weaken the only credible opposition to the exploitative policies of the ruling classes. It is also not a coincidence that US officials in India held an unprecedented meeting with a leader involved in the mobilisations of the minority community in Nandigram. The categorical position the CPI(M) has taken against the strategic partnership with the US being pushed by the Indian ruling classes and a section of the establishment, is reason enough for these interests to lend their support to the anti-CPI(M) platforms.

Some well intentioned commentators have called on the CPI(M) to introspect on the different issues that have arisen. That is a process which is an intrinsic part of the Party’s functioning at all levels. Appropriate lessons are drawn from the collective experience of critically analysing the Party’s work and policies with a view to addressing and removing weaknesses, lapses and gaps whenever and wherever they exist. The most widespread campaign is re
quired throughout the country to explain not only to our friends but also to our critics and to the people in general the context of the Nandigram developments and to launch a strong united campaign to counter the highly motivated campaign against the CPI(M) and the government it heads in West Bengal.

India wants removal of non-tariff barrier in agriculture

SHEILA MATHRANI

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, MARCH 11, 2007 12:20:02 AM]

GENEVA: India has joined the chorus in criticising the EU’s non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and SPS issues, and market access in agriculture at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the EC.
According to the WTO Secretariat report the EC’s agriculture policies were a matter of concern with its protection by a complex tariff structure, high tariffs, tariff quotas of which some were not filled, and high levels of domestic support and export subsidies.
In its intervention India informed the WTO of its steady, significant intensification of strategic partners dialogue and of a proposed agreement on trade and investment between India and the EU. The negotiations of which could commence shortly and “open vast opportunities for businesses on both sides.”
The EC is one of the largest sources of FDI from India. It is not only India’s largest trading partner, it accounts for almost a quarter of India’s exports and imports. In 2005 India-Europe trade was around 40 billion euros, EU’s exports to India grew by 23.8%, and EU imports from India by 16.2% as compared to 2004.
India stated that it has submitted written questions to the EC for clarification on some of its trade policies, however mentioned that Indian agriculture exporters continue to suffer on account of NTBs and SPS issues.
It pointed out that in market access several instances had been brought to the Indian government’s notice by Indian exporters of meat and meat products, marine products, milk products, egg products, Basmati, mushrooms, refrigerators, lack of intra EU harmonisation of standards, which impede exports from India to the EC.
India stated that it seeks dismantling of these non-tariff barriers to enable it increase access to the European markets for Indian exporters. India also focused on the EC restrictive policy on Services which it urged to take urgent stops to address.
India stated that despite its advantage of young population, complemented by a vast network of academic infrastructure and educated, English-speaking talent, India’s opportunities with the EC in trade services sector are hindered by issues relating to Mode 4, the imposition of unclear ENTs, domestic regulations, territorial requirement to set up business, residence requirements, and discriminatory tax treatment.

Agriculture remains wanting

http://www.pr-inside.com/agriculture-remains-wanti…

2007-03-29 08:58:15 – The Standing Committee on Agriculture) 2006-07) is an unhappy committee. One does not have to look far for the reasons for this unhappiness

New Delhi, 29th March, 2007.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture) 2006-07) is an unhappy committee. One does not have to look far for the reasons for this unhappiness – lowering of per hectare growth of produce,, farmers’ rampant suicides, shortage of urea, inadequate water for irrigation, shortage of power for running irrigation pumps and last but certainly not the least,

old unimproved seeds that do nothing to increase productivity of grains.
The 23rd report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav has noted that despite their repeated recommendations in various reports to substantially increase budgetary allocations of the agriculture sector to give required impetus to agricultural development, the allocations in respect of this vital sector continues to be unsatisfactory and much below the requirement.
The Committee has been informed by the representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation that to build and sustain momentum of the agriculture sector it is necessary that both state and central plan outlays are augmented to achieve the required percentage of anticipated growth in the agriculture sector. Keeping that in view, they had proposed a plan outlay of Rs. 5917 crores for 2006-07 but only Rs. 4840 crores had been approved. The Committee noted that plan allocation of Rs. 3920 crores for 2005-06 at revised estimate stage was 6.3% less as compared to budget estimate of Rs. 4209.32 crores of the same year.
The Committee report, tabled in Parliament during the dying days of the first half of the budget session, noted that they are not at all impressed by the rosy picture portrayed by Member Secretary, Planning Commission during evidence where he profoundly declared that Plan allocation in favour of all the three departments of Agriculture put together (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Department of Agricultural Research and Education and Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries) has been doubled within a single plan period from Rs. 3242 crores in 2002-03 to Rs. 6900 crores.
The Committee observed that in view of the inflation and value of money in real terms, the overall allocations are not actually being made from agriculture to carry out activities under its various programmes, although it has been termed as a priority sector. This can also be gauged from the fact that percentage share of agriculture in central plan outlay of Government of India has come down from 2.84 % in 2005-06 to 2.73% in 2006-07, of which share of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation accounts for 1.98% in 2005-06 and 1-89% in 2006-07.
The report said the Committee were of the firm opinion that to meet the challenges faced by agriculture sector, the government has to reprioritize the role of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation to achieve the targeted 4% growth rate envisaged for the agricultural and allied sector and to help the farmers to compete in the WTO regime.
The Committee strongly recommended that the Department should be provides Rs. 5917 crores by Planning Commission and Ministry of Finance at the revised estimates stage, as proposed by them at the budgetary estimates stage, since many of their new initiatives and other programmes are suffering owing to lack of requisite funding. The Committee further recommended that no financial cuts should be imposed on the department at revised estimates stage for smooth implementation of the schemes, as financial cuts imposed now may lead to further addition of miseries to Indian farmers and people engaged in the agricultural sector, in the absence of timely help. The need is to achieve the targeted 4% growth rate in agriculture and allied sectors.

Seek people’s opinion on SEZs

Special Correspondent

Repeal Act, `Action 2007′ team urges Pranab


  • Call for national policy on just rehabilitation of the displaced
  • No gram sabha consultation before land acquisition: says Medha Patkar

    NEW DELHI: A delegation of `Action 2007′, a collective body of people’s organisations from across the country, on Saturday met Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the Empowered Group of Ministers on SEZs,and reiterated the demand for repealing the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005 and stopping all ongoing land acquisitions.

    The team demanded that a national policy on development, planning and just rehabilitation of the displaced persons be worked out. The Government must put on hold the process of approvals of notification of SEZs and initiate a dialogue with people’s groups and communities to seek their opinion whether SEZs would strengthen the development of local economies and what could be other options.

    Approvals to projects

    The delegation said issues on SEZs had been raised since September last with Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath but no attention was paid.

    Instead, “more than 200 projects have received approvals by the Commerce Ministry and 63 projects have been notified,” the delegation said in a memorandum submitted to Mr. Mukherjee.

    Focussing on the process of land acquisition and the role of the State in the Nandigram SEZ, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar submitted a report by an independent fact-finding team of eminent and concerned citizens and the recent police action in the West Bengal village.

    “What we have seen in Maharashtra and West Bengal is that no gram sabha consultation took place before initiating land acquisition for SEZ projects,” she said.

    Growing disparity

    Prof. Arun Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University referred to the growing disparity between agricultural and industrial growth rates.

    Some of the concerns placed before Mr. Mukherjee included the forced land acquisition, loss of local agriculture and fisheries and issues of food security with no guarantee of alternative employment.

    Social activists and representatives of NGOs from Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra narrated their concerns over SEZs in their States.

  • Vidarbha farmer suicides highest in march

    pradipmaitra@hindustantimes.com
    http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/artMailDisp.aspx?

    Despite CM’s claim that suicide rates were going down, 95 farmers ended their lives last month

    2007 March-95, February-88, January-70 
    2006 July-90, August-111, Sept-125, Oct-112, Nov-107, Dec-105

     
    Nagpur April 1st 2007
    WITH EVERY passing month this year, more farmers are killing themselves in Vidarbha – belying Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s claims that the suicide rate has decreased.
    With four more farmers ending their lives in the last 24 hours, the suicide figure in the region has touched 95 this month. It was 88 and 70 in February and January respectively .
    According to reports reaching here on Saturday evening, one farmer each committed suicide from Nagpur, Bhan dara, Wardha and Gadchiroli.
    The victims were identified as Prakash Dadaji Nimborkar of Kharpundi (Gadchiroli), Bhushan Haribhau Dhote, Rampuri (Bhandara), Avinash Lendare of Takli-Darne (Wardha) and Harish Madhukar Thote of Inderwada village in Nagpur district.
    Deshmukh had claimed early this month that there had been a sharp decline in suicide cases due to swift packages for farmers and disbursal of more loans in the region.
    “Any death in Vidarbha, for any reason, is dubbed as suicide, with the media claiming suicides are rising. Unfor tunately, the picture being painted is that nothing (suicide rate) is coming under control,” the chief minister had said.
    Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti chief Kishore Tiwari believes the CM is not aware of the ground reality.
    “He does not know how officials of cotton marketing federation have been ruthlessly deducting over 50 per cent of money cotton growers make to adjust the loans. How will the farmers survive the whole year with this meagre money and start farming afresh in the ensuing kharif season?” Tiwari asked, reiterating that relief packages had not helped the crisis-ridden farmers.
    Tiwari said 80 per cent farmers would not get the loans in the coming kharif season because of failure to repay the earlier amount by the deadline. The government has fixed a deadline of June 30 to repay the amount.
    Meanwhile, Sudhir Goel, divisional commissioner of Amravati, admitted that only 25 per cent of the 10-lakh beneficiaries would be able to repay the loans. “If they fail to repay the amount by the deadline, they will not get the loan benefits,” Goel told Hindustan Times.
    pradipmaitra@hindustantimes.com

    Farmers' suicides growing at 3.9 % a year

    Special Correspondent


  • The rate is the highest in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Goa
  • Some regions of Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry also have high rates

    CHENNAI: Both pesticide-related and non-pesticide suicides among farmers are growing annually at 3.9 per cent, according to a study conducted by Sneha and the Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford, Lakshmi Vijayakumar, founder, Sneha, has said.

    South India’s semi-arid heartland (Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Goa) is the region where the suicides are the highest.

    Furthermore, certain regions of Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have high rates of suicides, Dr. Vijayakumar said. Almost two- thirds of the suicides, and nearly 60 per cent of the suicides by pesticide consumption occurred in the four States.

    She presented these figures at a two-day national review of pesticide suicides here on Friday evening. The figures backed the fact that the practice of using pesticides to commit suicide was gaining ground. She made a case for limiting access to pesticides and promoting an active network of diverse stakeholders to prevent pesticide suicides.

    Keith Hawton, professor of Psychiatry, Oxford University, said decriminalising suicidal behaviour would be an important step forward. The availability of safer products should be increased, local management of poisoning should be improved and easy access to a healthcare centre must be ensured. Farmers must also be educated about the use of pesticides. Though borrowing from private moneylenders was a key reason for the suicides, declining interpersonal relations within the family, health issues and alcohol abuse were contributing factors.

    Health Secretary V.K. Subburaj said pesticides were the most common means of committing suicide because they were easily available.

  • Drowning cotton's lifebouy

    Frontline, Jan 19 – Feb 1, 2002 Also available here

    The Maharashtra government has refused to pay the full cotton procurement price immediately. This has left farmers at the mercy of trader-moneylenders. In a region where farmers suicides are frequent, the state is withdrawing support, pushing farmers closer to the edge.
    DIONNE BUNSHA
    in Vidarbha, Maharashtra
    This season, Nirmala Nehare was thrown to the wolves. Not only did the climate fail Nirmala, a cotton farmer in Wardha, but the state government has also let her down. She was compelled to sell her meagre crop at lower prices to trader-moneylenders because the state refuses to pay farmers the full amount immediately while procuring cotton. This has meant further losses for peasants like Nirmala, already on the brink of bankruptcy.
    After insufficient rain and a vicious pest attack on her crop, Nirmala’s family got only eight quintals of cotton, a fourth of what they normally harvest from their seven acres. They decided to give it to the moneylender at a lower price – Rs 1,800 per quintal- instead of selling it to the cotton federation at Rs 2,175. “Our hands are tied. We had to sell it to the trader. The government would pay in four instalments. Right now, they give only Rs 1,400 per quintal, while the rest of the Rs 2,175 will be paid next August. We can’t wait. Interest keeps accumulating at Rs 1,000 every month for the Rs 10,000 we borrowed,” says Nirmala from Dhamangaon village in Wardha.
    Although she couldn’t sell her crop to the Maharashtra Cotton Federation this year, Nirmala still feels that the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme (MCPS) offers her some security. “Without it, we would be completely at the mercy of the middlemen. They would lower the prices even further. At least now, they cannot offer much less than the state’s guaranteed price,” she says.

    At a procurement centre at Wardha

    Photo: Dionne Bunsha


    Maharashtra’s unique MCPS still seems to be serving its purpose — to protect cotton farmers from being cheated by traders and to ensure them a fair price for their crop by eliminating middlemen. This despite the state’s failure to pay farmers properly this year due to financial problems. Started in 1972, the scheme had been making profits and distributing 75 per cent of this surplus to cotton farmers until 1995. Then, international cotton prices started crashing and the scheme has run into accumulated losses of Rs 2,795 crores. Interest on this liability is Rs 1.35 crore per day. This year, for the first time, the RBI delayed sanctioning the full amount of the Rs 1,700 crore loan required by the state cotton federation to procure this year’s harvest. So far, it has sanctioned only Rs 900 crore.
    A broke Democratic Front government said it would pay only 80 per cent of the central government’s support price for cotton (which is approximately Rs 1,875 per quintal, but depends on the quality of cotton). The balance of the price guaranteed by the state (averaging Rs 2,175 per quintal) is to be paid in three instalments. The opposition was quick to take advantage. It created a ruckus for several days during the assembly session held last month in Nagpur, the heart of Maharashtra’s cotton-growing Vidarbha region. Allying with Shetkari Sanghatana leader Sharad Joshi, who led a rail roko agitation, the BJP demanded that farmers be paid the full support price and the balance of the state guaranteed price later. Ironically, at various points in time, both the free-market proponent Joshi and the trader-funded BJP have demanded the scrapping of the scheme. The Democratic Front government caved in and offered a meek 90 per cent, which Joshi easily relented to and withdrew his agitation.
    Ever since it was introduced, a motley group of traders, bureaucrats, politicians and activists have been demanding the death of Maharashtra’s MCPS, the only one of its kind in the country. But 30 years later, the scheme is still surviving. While many would attribute that to ‘vote bank’ politics, the simple fact remains that the scheme is a major reason why Maharashtra’s 30 lakh cotton farmers have managed to stay afloat.

    At a cotton procurement centre in Wardha. Lakshmanrao Chaudhury (pictured), a small cotton farmer of Waipad village, who works here as a security guard, has not been able to sell his own produce at the centre because he is already in debt to the moneylender

    Photo: Dionne Bunsha


    With globalisation heightening the agricultural crisis in the country, farmers’ profitability has been severely eroded. Production costs have multiplied in the last decade due to cuts in input subsidies. Rural credit and infrastructure investment has shrunk. Bank loans account for only 11.7 per cent of agricultural credit, leaving cultivators at the mercy of moneylenders. Farmers have also been squeezed by the fall in market prices due to imports and price collapses in the international commodity markets. “If the procurement scheme was scrapped, we would all sink. The traders would have a monopoly, like they do for all other crops,” says Rajendra Lone from Jamta village in Wardha. “This year, many people have had to sell to traders because it has been a bad harvest and the government is not paying the full amount immediately. Also, some don’t want the government to deduct their bank loans from the payment. They need money in hand. Otherwise, how will they run their homes?” he says.
    Cotton farmers, not only in Maharashtra but also in AP and Punjab, have been worst hit by the farm crisis. In 1997-98, a severe pest attack destroyed the crop in Vidarbha, leading to a spate of more than 80 suicides. Several thousands of suicides have been reported in AP and Punjab’s cotton belts as well. The suicides continue. A local newspaper reported 35 suicides in Vidarbha from April to November 2001. Even though many left suicide notes and died by swallowing pesticide or jumping into a well, the government still tries hard to cover up the cause of the deaths citing personal or psychological problems. “All of us – rich and poor farmers alike- are in poverty, facing the same hardships. It’s just that some choose to end their misery by taking poison. Even large landowners are trying to sell off their land. But there are no takers,” says Punjaram More from Mahakal village in Wardha.
    Explaining his declining profitability, Rajendra Lone says production costs for his 15-acre plot were Rs 5,000 per acre. But banks provide only Rs 1,500 per acre as crop loans. The rest of the cost has to be met by borrowing from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest varying from 60 to 120 per cent per year. “How are we to manage? Costs keep rising, but the prices have fallen by half for most crops. At least cotton prices offered by the government have been steady over the last five years,” he says.

    At the Wardha procurement centre, cotton being weighed

    Photo: Dionne Bunsha


    Although the scheme is the only assurance farmers have of a fair price, there are many who think it should be scrapped. Some arguments are purely financial — to contain losses. “Maharashtra