Every 8 hours a farmer commits suicide in Madhya Pradesh

Every 8 hours a farmer commits suicide in Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal: Every day, three farmers committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh — that is one death every eight hours — during the past five years, the state’s home minister told the Assembly.

Home Minister Uma Shankar Gupta said as many as 5,838 farmers ended their lives during the period from 2006 to 2010.

Surprisingly, the minister maintained that only six of the 5,838 farmers killed themselves due to being overburdened with debt.

Prior to this, replying to Congress legislator Ramnivas Rawat’s query, the home minister said that 89 farmers had committed suicide in 87 days since Nov 6, 2010.

However, Gupta added that only three of them took the extreme step due to debt.

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government faced violent protests in December last year when thousands of farmers converged on state capital Bhopal to protest against the lack of irrigation and power in rural areas and accused the government of ignoring their problems.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India



Dipankar Paul

The numbers are stark and in your face: According to The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2009, more than 2,16, 000 farmers have killed themselves since 1997. Add the figures for 1995, 1996 and 2010 and the total crosses 2,50,000. That is, two farmers a day for the past 15 years.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

The numbers are stark and in your face: According to The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2009, more than 2,16, 000 farmers have killed themselves since 1997. Add the figures for 1995, 1996 and 2010 and the total crosses, 50,000. That is, two farmers a day for the past 15 years.

Veteran journalist and The Hindu Rural Affairs editor P Sainath says: “We have been undergoing the largest catastrophe of our independent history – the suicides of nearly a quarter of a million farmers since 1995. We are talking of the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history.

Sainath was speaking at the Third Michael Sprinker Lecture on ‘Death on the Farm: Agrarian crisis and inequality’ at the Institute of Development Studies in Kolkata.

Bringing to light several stark contrasts in India, where the average CEO earns 30,000 times more than the average worker, Sainath said “While labour productivity rose 84%, real wages of labourers dropped 22%. The country imports
wheat from Australia, which was importing wheat nine years ago from Punjab. It exports 20 million tonnes of grain at Rs 5.45/kg, whereas the same grain is sold to the poor at Rs 6.15/kg.”

And there lies the problem, which UPA 2 calls systemic. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, whose state has the worst figures for the 10th consecutive year, has stopped quoting NCRB figures since 2007.

In 2009, more than 17,000 farmers committed suicide in 2009, the worst count since 2004.

But the figures could be worse, says Sainath, who first published the story. He explains the actual numbers could be beyond a quarter million people.

“The numbers are from the annual report of the Government of India’s own National Crime Records Bureau. Their yearly total for farmer suicide from 1995 to 2009 bring us to a total of 2,40,000. So even if we assume that 2010 saw far
fewer suicides than the average of the last decade, it still takes the figure past 2,50,000 or a quarter of a million farmer suicides,” says P Sainath.

If you haven’t woken up yet, now is the time.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

For the 10th year on the trot, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s home state has had the worst record with 2,872 farmers committing suicide, despite the much-hyped Prime Minister’s relief package. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh
and Chhattisgarh follow, with two thirds of farmer suicides being reported from these states.

In fact, according to a written reply on Wednesday, MP’s Home Minister, Uma Shankar Gupta, as many as 5,838 farmers ended their lives during the period from 2006 to 2010. Surprisingly, the minister maintained that only six of the 5,838
farmers killed themselves due to being overburdened with debt. Prior to this, replying to Congress legislator Ramnivas Rawat’s query, the home minister said that 89 farmers had committed suicide in 87 days since Nov 6, 2010. However,
Gupta added that only three of them took the extreme step due to debt.

Sainath emphasises: “Farmer suicide is not the crisis, it is the outcome of the crisis.”

And here’s how it all started.

In the 1990s India woke up to a spate of farmers suicides. The first state where suicides were reported was Maharashtra. Soon newspapers began to report similar occurrences from Andhra Pradesh. The government appointed a number of
inquiries to look into the causes of farmers suicide and farm-related distress in general. Subsequently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha and promised a package of Rs.110 billion (about $2.4 billion) to be spent by the
government in Vidarbha.

The families of farmers who had committed suicide were also offered an ex gratia grant to the tune of Rs.100,000 (about $2,000) by the government. This figure kept varying, depending on how much criticism the government was facing
from the media and the opposition parties for being uncaring towards the farmers’ plight. But the suicides kept happening.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

Initially, the suicides that began to be reported out of Vidharbha (a cotton-growing region) were attributed to the farmers’ indebtedness to money lenders because of the shift to the of Bt Cotton. Farmers had to borrow money to buy the more expensive seeds. And committed suicide when they could not pay back the money.

However, the Bt Cotton theory was soon sidelined. The major causes that were identified were this: India was transforming rapidly into a primarily urban, industrial society with industry as its main source of income; the government and society had begun to be unconcerned about the condition of the countryside; moreover, a downturn in the urban economy was pushing a large number of distressed non-farmers to try their hand at cultivation; in the absence of any responsible counselling either from the government or society there were many farmers who did not know how to survive in the changing economy. Such stresses pushed many into a corner where suicide became the only option for them.

The problems that plagued the farmers 15 years ago are still glaringly present today: There is little credit available. What is available is very expensive. There is no advice on how best to conduct agriculture operations. Income through farming is not enough to meet even the minimum needs of a farming family. Support systems like free health facilities from the government are virtually non-existent.

Traditionally, support systems in the villages of India have been provided for by the government. However, due to a variety of reasons best known to Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and the rest of our leaders, the government has either withdrawn itself from its supportive role or plain simple misgovernance has allowed facilities in the villages to wither away.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

The despair has deepened over the past year with 18 of the 28 states reporting more suicides. The farmer suicide graph has been steadily rising.

“I believe the issue is more systemic. Because if you are talking about 15 years, you are talking about one and a half decades. There is a need to hold our horses, study the report and then comment,” said Congress spokesperson Manish

In 2007, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha, had said that there were more than 1,49,000 farmer suicides between 1997 and 2005. However, he has not quoted NCRB numbers ever since. Nor has he openly acknowledged the distress.

But the first step towards resolving a crisis is conceding that one exists.


Indian scientists: missing in action, Sunita Narain

Sunita Narain / New Delhi March 14, 2011, 0:57 IST

I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to some nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song. The government, already scam-bruised, hastily scrapped the contract.

Since then there has been dead silence among the powerful scientific leaders of the country, with one exception. Kiran Karnik, a former employee of ISRO and board member of Devas, spoke out and explained it is wrong to equate this deal with the scam of mobile telephony. The cost calculations done for terrestrial spectrum cannot be used to estimate the loss to the exchequer in the ISRO-Devas contract, which involves S-band spectrum.

Clearly, there is much more to this story. But when the scientists who understand the issue are not prepared to engage with the public, there can be little informed discussion. The cynical public, which sees scams tumble out each day, believes easily that everybody is a crook. But, as I said, the country’s top scientists have withdrawn further into their comfort holes, their opinion frozen in contempt that Indian society is scientifically illiterate. I can assure you in the future there will be even less conversation between scientists and all of us in the public sphere.

This is not good. Science is about everyday policy. It needs to be understood and for this it needs to be discussed and deliberated openly and strenuously. But how will this happen if one side — the one with information, knowledge and power — will not engage in public discourse?

Take the issue of genetically-modified (GM) crops. For long this matter has been decided inside closed-door committee rooms, where scientists are comforted by the fact that their decisions will not be challenged. Their defence is “sound science” and “superior knowledge”. It is interesting that the same scientists will accept data produced by private companies pushing the product. Issues of conflict of interest will be brushed aside as integrity cannot be questioned behind closed doors. Silence is the best insurance. This is what happened inside a stuffy committee room, where scientists sat to give permission to Mahyco-Monsanto to grow genetically-modified brinjal.

This case involved a vegetable we all eat. This was a matter of science we had the right to know about and to decide upon. The issue made headlines. The reaction of the scientific fraternity was predictable and obnoxious. They resented the questions. They did not want a public debate.

As the controversy raged and more people got involved, the scientists ran for cover. They wanted none of this messy street fight. They were meant to advise prime ministers and the likes, not to answer simple questions of people. Finally, when environment minister Jairam Ramesh took the decision on the side of the ordinary vegetable eater, unconvinced by the validity of the scientific data to justify no-harm, scientists were missing in their public reactions. Instead, they whispered about lack of “sound science” in the decision inside committees.

The matter did not end there. The minister commissioned an inter-academy inquiry — six top scientific institutions looked into GM crops and Bt-brinjal — expecting a rigorous examination of the technical issues and data gaps. The report released by this committee was shoddy to say the least. It contained no references or attributions and not a single citation. It made sweeping statements and lifted passages from a government newsletter and even from global biotech industry. The report was thrashed. Scientists again withdrew into offended silence.

The final report of this apex-science group is marginally better in that it includes citations but it reeks of scientific arrogance cloaked in jargon. The committee did not find it fit to review the matter, which had reached public scrutiny. The report is only a cover for their established opinion about the ‘truth’ of Bt-brinjal. Science for them is certainly not a matter of enquiry, critique or even dissent.

But the world has changed. No longer is this report meant only for top political and policy leaders, who would be overwhelmed by the weight of the matter, the language and the expert knowledge of the writer. The report will be subjected to public scrutiny. Its lack of rigour will be deliberated, its unquestioned assertion challenged.

This is the difference between the manufactured comfortable world of science behind closed doors and the noisy messy world outside. It is clear to me that Indian scientists need confidence to creatively engage in public concerns. The task to build scientific literacy will not happen without their engagement and their tolerance for dissent. The role of science in Indian democracy is being revisited with a new intensity. The only problem is that the key players are missing in action.


THE GM CROPS DEBATE By Dr.S.G.Vombatkere**

In response to the below sited article, Dr. SG Vombatkere wrote a wonderfully argued and articulated article, please read on:

GM crops debate: consensual versus adversarial approaches by D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Source: http://www.hindu.com/seta/2011/03/10/stories/2011031052301700.htm

Dr.J.Gowrishankar, Director, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad (“JG” hereinafter) has raised an issue regarding the debates and disputes around genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. [“GM crops debate: consensual versus adversarial approaches”; The Hindu, March 10, 2011; Science and Technology, page 17]. He has attempted to justify the “consensual” approach of scientists to the issue as being the only civilized one, and decry the alternate “adversarial” approach of activists. In doing so, he appears to assume that scientists are all honest persons who are so intensely engrossed in their “task of pursuing knowledge at the frontiers” that “any diversion comes at the cost of the pursuit itself”. He also avers that “peer review represents the epitome of a consensual approach in scientific discourse”, and that “the establishment of viewpoints in science occurs not adversarial approach (sic) but consensual”.
To begin with JG’s statement about viewpoints in science, scientific knowledge advances only through being subjected to questioning and arguments based upon existing knowledge, probabilities and possibilities. The word “adversary” means “opponent”. Thus, questioning can be “adversarial” in the sense of opposing or disputing the basis of scientific facts and methods, based upon scientific arguments. The word “consensus” means “general agreement”. Thus, while there can be consensus in scientific work (agreement in a general sense with differences in details), it should always be preceded by the process of questioning the basis and details of the work. But without prior questioning and examination, there can be no element of consensus in science except among mutual back-scratching scientists or scientists with a common, extra-scientific agenda. Consensus is a political tool, not a scientific tool. Sadly, government scientific establishments and those in most Indian universities are run more on political than on scientific lines, and this is probably reflected in JG’s opinion on consensus in science.
Next, JG claims that peer review is the “epitome of the consensual approach”. However the purpose of peer review is not to arrive at a consensus, but rather to critically examine and question the assumptions, methods and findings of research in detail. It is nothing more than a critical examination of an idea or a result by peers (persons of similar scientific status) who have no stake in the outcome, or interest in the person whose research is being reviewed. In all walks of life, examination is never done by an interested party – this is simply commonsense. Thus JG’s assumption that peer review is “largely unknown to the general public” is not only erroneous but somewhat presumptuous.
In the GM context, many scientists who speak in favour of GM methods, foods and products are employees of the multi-national corporations (MNCs) which propagate GM technology and its products, or they occupy research positions (in science and agricultural universities, for example) that are partially or wholly funded by such MNCs. It is precisely the absence of peer review of the work of such scientists which is being vociferously objected to by many scientists and activists. This is doubtless adversarial, but this opposition is no more in the scientific field. When there is an agenda to scientific research, it becomes a political issue and opposition to it from scientists and others who would be affected by that research and its product outcomes, is not only natural but necessary. Mention of respected scientists like Arpad Pusztai, Seralini and P.M.Bhargava or activists like Shiv Chopra or Jeffrey Smith should ring a bell to any alert scientist. Thus JG would be well advised to make a google-search on these names, to see how they have been hounded or sidelined for speaking scientific and legal truths by fellow scientists, scientific establishments and regulatory authorities under the influence of MNCs.
JG assumes that scientists are all honest persons who are engrossed in their “task of pursuing knowledge at the frontiers”. Such near-sainthood may be present in a very few scientists, but the run-of-the-mill scientist is far from this ideal. He/she is a political creature who is not uninterested in promotion or recognition or earning more money. Even if not corrupt in the conventional sense, a scientist cannot produce impartial scientific results when he/she is beholden to a company which is funding his research or paying his salary. Such science is likely to be consensual science which has little real value.
There is an abundance of scientific literature that shows how GM crops, foods and products can be harmful or pose serious risks, but all this is brushed aside by MNCs which influence scientists and others in the regulatory bodies. JG reveals innocence and touching faith in the regulatory authorities in USA when he says, “It is hard to imagine that the regulatory authorities of the country would have an agenda other than that of the health of its citizens”. It may surprise him to know that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have had scientists, lawyers, influential persons and corporate honchos from MNCs in a “revolving door” policy to overcome the objections to GM from honest scientists within the FDA and EPA. (For details of names, please see the list at the end). As may be verified by a simple Google-search, these MNCs have been indicted and fined millions of dollars in USA for unethical practices in promoting their own transgenic products. It is amazing that JG has no knowledge of these matters. India’s GEAC and central and state Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) are not unlike their US counterparts regarding being open to corporate influence.
When JG accuses activists of “deliberate muddling of issues” such as health and environmental risks of GM crops with exploitation of farmers and enrichment of MNCs, he fails to see the connection between these issues. In the real world outside of the sterile laboratory, science translates to technology and this impacts on lives of people who are directly involved like farmers and indirectly involved like the consumers of farm produce. It is well recognized that MNCs develop and push their GM technology primarily for profit, and use the arguments of benefit to agriculture or the economy or humankind to market it. They also regularly influence government officials and regulatory authorities in various ways to clear their technology or products. Scientists who cannot understand the connection between these real-life issues either live in a fools paradise or are pursuing an agenda.
Section 63 of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill says that persons misleading the public about the bio-safety of GE crops without scientific evidence can be imprisoned for 6 months or fined 2 lakh rupees or both. Here, clearly, the consensual approach is being forced upon the public, because what constitutes scientific evidence will not be decided through peer review but by a body of three persons on the NBRA. What is the need for such draconian measures in matters scientific? Is this not a political measure to force consensus? Does this indicate openness in questioning scientific matters and admitting peer review, or a MNC-driven political agenda to silence dissent so that GM can be forced upon the public?
The fact that an article such as JG has written appears in the mainstream media and responses such as this do not, is a measure of corporate power in the media. Nevertheless, this response is being sent to The Hindu, where JG’s article (reproduced by D.Balasubramanian) appears.
Your call, Dr.J.Gowrishankar.
Michael Taylor – Senior Counsel, Monsanto, was between FDA and Monsanto twice.
Linda Fisher – Was three times between EPA and Monsanto.
Mickey Kantor – Member of Board of Directors, Monsanto, was also Secretary of Commerce, US Administration.
Lidia Watrud – Biotech researcher in Monsanto, was also in EPA.
Anne Veneman – Member of Board of Directors of Calgene (purchased by Monsanto), was also Secretary of Agriculture, US Administration.
Michael Friedman – Senior Vice President of G.D.Searle (a Division of Monsanto), was also Acting Commissioner of FDA.
William Ruckelshaus – Member of Board of Directors, Monsanto, was also Chief Administrator of EPA.
Donald Rumsfeld – President of G.D.Searle (a Division of Monsanto), was also Secretary of Defense, US Administration.
Clarence Thomas – Judge of the Supreme Court, was earlier Monsanto lawyer for Regulatory affairs.
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotechnology food; our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job”, said Mr.Phil Angell, Director of Corporate Communication, Monsanto. Quoted from the New York Times, October 25, 1998. [Emphasis added].
**Dr.S.G.Vombatkere holds a PhD degree in civil structural dynamics from I.I.T., Madras. He may be contacted at:
475, 7th Main Road // Vijayanagar 1st Stage // Mysore-570017
Tel: 0821-2515187
E-mail: <sg9kere@live.com>