2011 LAND BILL MILITATES AGAINST ‘PUBLIC PURPOSE’ says NAPM

For Immediate Release Date: 30th July, 2011

2011 LAND BILL MILITATES AGAINST ‘PUBLIC PURPOSE’

Favours Companies, Legitimises Private Acquisitions
and Ignores Community Concerns

Movements Demand Democratic, Development Planning Act

New Delhi, July 30: The much awaited comprehensive draft of the land acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill promised by Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh was put in public domain for comments yesterday. It is commendable that the Ministry has now agreed to reopen the whole process and focus on the pre-legislative consultations and not introduce such an important legislation in hurry in this Monsoon session of the Parliament. However, the proposed draft is NOT a comprehensive draft but mere combination of the earlier proposed Two Bills and fails to take in account the concerns raised by the millions of project affected people. The Bill focuses on only one concern which is to facilitate land acquisition and serve the land needs of private and public corporations and facilitate urbanization as ‘inevitable’. There is no concerted attempt to fulfill the task of land reforms and protect the land and livelihood rights of the communities across the country. Nor does the Bill realize the gravity of urban displacement and its linkages with the enormous corruption of the land sharks builder mafia.

NAPM and many grassroots movements across the country have been struggling to protect the land rights of the farmers, forest dwellers and other nature-based communities and ensure their control over natural resources through the Gram Sabha and Basti / Area Sabhas, deciding the development plans for public purpose in their area. Proposed provision of consent of the 80% project affected people is only required wherever the private entities are involved in the process of acquisition whereas all the acquisitions for the government requires no such consent, keeping intact the ‘eminent domain’ principle of the state. This will mean that the proposed projects like Jaitapur, Fatehabad or dams, thermal power plants, airports etc. to be built by the government will not require any consent of the people. The Bill provides the much needed legitimacy for the acquisitions for the private companies since today only by violating the existing LAA 1894 state governments could acquire land in POSCO, Noida or many other places for the private entities.

This Bill is regressive that way, since the definition of public purpose covers almost everything from building educational institutions to airports to mining, where a large number of private companies are involved. These companies are not there for the public purpose but for making profit and it is in their private interest. Housing for any income group and by private entities will mean legitimising the real estate activities in all its forms. The broad definition of public purpose reduces the process of deciding the public purpose by a committee full of bureaucrats to a farce; it will be reduced to a mere rubber-stamp authority. The Bill also does not satisfactorily take into account the decades’ long experience and progressive inputs by the displaced communities on land and livelihood based rehabilitation. The provision that R&R shall be provided only when more than 100 families are displaced is unreasonable.

The proposed Bill goes back on the significant debates around the concept of public purpose in last two decades and fails to take in account the provisions mentioned in the Draft Development Policy of NAC – I, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development recommendations in 2008 and submissions made by many social movements. The land struggles in Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, AP, Narmada Valley or even in urban centres like Mumbai and Chennai are not just for fair rehabilitation and appropriate compensation, but more fundamentally for communities’ control over the resources – land, water, forest, minerals – and their right to decide the kind and process of development they need or what constitutes public purpose. Unless and until the Bill tries to address these concerns and take in account the Constitutional status of gram sabhas, basti sabhas / municipalities under the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which mandate the formulation of district and metropolitan level development plans for public purpose by them, the Bill itself will serve no real ‘public purpose’.

The Bill is high on rhetoric but low on content and is many steps backward in the overall debate over the land conflicts in the country today. It will in no way quell the ongoing conflicts across the country, armed or otherwise; but will surely facilitate acquisitions in the areas like Haryana, UP and other plain areas, promote real estate and make corporations rich, happy and unruly. However, the communities will have to continue their struggle to save their resources from being taken over by the public and private corporations in the name of public corporations. Although the Bill contains some necessary provisions such as “under no circumstances should multi-cropped, irrigated land be acquired”, it does not address the challenge of large scale diversion of agricultural land across the country for non-agricultural purposes and the consequent impact on the nation’s food security and pauperization of communities.

INDIA is not NOIDA, the architects of the Bill doesn’t seem to recognize the diverse realities of the country and are only concerned about the nine percent growth, creation of infrastructure and urbanization; extremely unfortunate for a Bill drafted by the Ministry of RURAL DEVLOPMENT which is obsessed with the ambitions of the URBAN DEVELOPMENT.

To oppose these draconian provisions being pushed by the government in the name of ‘protecting farmers’ interest’ and legitimizing the acquisitions by the private entities for their profit ventures, NAPM, along with many other social movements of the country from 15 states will be assembling at the Jantar Mantar from August 3rd till 5th under the banner of ‘SANGHARSH’. We continue to demand enactment of a COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT PLANNING ACT which will protect the land, resource and livelihood rights of the communities and ensure democratic participation of the people in deciding developmental plans for public purpose.

Medha Patkar Prafulla Samantara Anand Mazgaonkar Dr. Sunilam

Rajendra Ravi Akhil Gogoi Madhuresh Kumar D. Gabriele

Sr. Celia Ramakrishna Raju Vimalbhai Shrikanth

National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Office: Room No. 29-30, 1st floor, ‘A’ Wing, Haji Habib Bldg, Naigaon Cross Road, Dadar (E), Mumbai – 400 014;
Ph: 022-24150529

6/6, Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110014
Phone : 011 26241167 / 24354737 Mobile : 09818905316

E-mail: napmindia@gmail.com | napm@napm-india.org
Web : www.napm-india.org

Draft Land Acquisition Bill

Final land acquisition bill
The UPA government sought to address the politically sensitive issues of land acquisition and rehabilitation of affected people by shrinking the role of the state in acquisitions and offering compensation packages that reflect market rates to the dispossessed.

Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday released the draft national land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement bill, making the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy a part of the land acquisition bill. Two separate pieces of legislation were originally planned.

“Acquisition and rehabilitation are two sides of the same coin. Not combining the two risks the neglect of R&R. This has been the experience thus far,” Ramesh said.

Protests by dispossessed people have become a volatile political issue in many parts of the country in recent times. The judiciary has increased interventions to protect the interests of farmers, whose lands were taken over under the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894, often at a pittance and through arbitrary procedures.

By making the consent of 80% of the affected people mandatory before their land can be acquired, the proposed law will restrict the government’s role in the process and make it cumbersome.

The proposed legislation also brings into effect a comprehensive scheme for resettling affected people by assuring them house sites, employment with the project, apart from paying six times the market value of farmland.

However, since the way government calculates market prices based on recorded prices, even after the hike, the compensation would barely reflect the actual market prices.

Apex industrial bodies like CII and FICCI welcomed the draft bill. “The bill is forward looking and addresses long pending concerns on land acquisition,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of CII.

“We are pleased to know the draft bill does not envisage acquisition of land by the government for private companies. The government should provide the enabling framework for facilitating the process of acquisition and rehabilitation,” said Rajiv Kumar, secretary general of FICCI.

However, political parties reacted cautiously. “We have to study the new draft. But two issues need to be addressed in the bill — the issue of future value escalation and farmers’ share in it and the mechanism to protect farmers from land sharks,” said Sitaram Yechury, CPM politburo member and Rajya Sabha member.

But with suggestions invited till the end of August and Parliament’s monsoon session ending on September 8, it is highly unlikely that the bill will be introduced in the session starting on Monday.

“I am yet to study the new draft but our basic issue is why should the government act like a real estate agent and get into the issue of buying land?” said Ajit Singh, chief of the Rashtriya Lok Dal.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/726999.aspx

We need to get into mission mode on promoting cooperatives in right spirit: Interview with Shashi Rajagopalan

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/interviews/we-need-to-get-into-mission-mode-on-promoting-co-operatives-in-right-spirit-shashi-rajagopalan-board-member-rbi-and-nabard/articleshow/9355597.cms

25 JUL, 2011, 10.45AM IST, M RAJSHEKHAR,ET BUREAU
We need to get into mission mode on promoting co-operatives in right spirit: Shashi Rajagopalan

With the growing recognition that much more needs to be done to encourage the emergence of self-reliant farmer organisations, reviving India’sco-operatives is back on the agenda. Shashi Rajagopalan, till recently on the board of the RBI, gained hands-on experience in promoting credit cooperatives and farmers’ agri-processing units during a two-decade stint working on the creation of co-operatives. In this interview, Rajagopalan illustrates why India needs co-operatives and discusses how they should be revived. The interview is also a fascinating look into a newly independent India’s early attempts to extending finance to all.

Dr KC Chakrabarty was talking about the need to revive co-ops as a way to pushfinancial inclusion. At that time, he said that while he knows how to push banks into rural areas, he is not so conversant on how to revive the coops…
First, we need to realise that some businesses are so badly off they need to be folded up. Does every cooperative have to be revived? No, if there are such gone cases, please let them go. Across the country, across 6 lakh villages, you have about 100,000 primary agricultural credit cooperatives (PACs), and you have Co-op Central Banks and you have State Co-op Banks.

Now, these PACs were started in 1904 to be pure thrift and credit co-ops. They were supposed to save regularly and lend to members from their own savings. Over a period of time, they became very strong financial institutions. Which is what happened the world over. In Europe, in North America, in Canada, in Germany, France, you have the most wonderful rural and urban credit unions. All based primarily on member savings and lending to members. These co-ops continue to flourish. In some areas, they have become like banks in more recent years. They were allowed to take the savings of the public at large. They participate in clearning house, their debit cards are accepted, and so on. So, even though, they are very much member-driven organisations, they have linked up with the larger financial system.

Given that in economically advanced countries, there is a need for such organisations, it is obvious that in India, there is even more reason why we need such institutions. After all, if you are talking about a place where everyone is literate, has access to banks, and yet chooses to have an institution of their own, there must be something to it.

And there must also be that play in the marketplace. All other businesses in the system are capital-controlled, capital-sensitive and capital-rewarding. All other businesses are formed on the basis that the person who puts in the capital is a risk-taker and must be rewarded. Here, you say, there is another way of conducting business where those who have common needs come together and fulfill those needs through a joint enterprise. In these businesses, while the members put in capital, capital must not be rewarded. It is a necessary part of the business but it is not the reason why the business succeeded. The business succeeded because the members came together and serviced yourself through that enterprise. Therefore, any returns from the business will go to each member in proportion with the business they did with that enterprise.

Plus, unlike the other form of business, where you have one share one vote, here you have one person one vote, saying that, be it a small farmer or a 20 acre farmer, the stakes are equal. So the concept of stake is understood differently. And co-ops are very clear that they are not the only form of business — they respect the fact that there are also capital owned businesses. But believe that unless user-owned businesses are also given the same space in the marketplace, capital owned businesses will be irresponsible. That is the basic theory. If the market is to behave, there must be enough user-owned institutions in the marketplace using different paradigms and therefore forcing the market to think differently.

Now, what has happened in India is that till the 1960s, there were these PACs. Even if there were just 20,000 or 30,000 of them, they were vibrant. They were only member-dependent, thrift-dependent. A Co-op Central bank was set up in Vishakapatnam district. Its leaders went village to village in an open cart saying, ‘Look, we want to set up aCooperative Central Bank, will you put in some money in as share capital?’ And there are stories of women coming out with their jewels, ten rupees, twenty rupees. People would come forward and give that and that is how many of these banks were set up across the country.

What was their scale? Village level? Tehsil level?
The co-ops were all village level. In the good old days, one village, one cooperative. And then, over time, they began to federate and become one co-op for 3/4 villages. And then, at district levels, banks began to be created saying let us federate…

Tell me about viability…
Co-ops will be viable because the members run them, through part-time services of members, through full-time services of members, and members get paid for the services they do. So, you only pay from what you earn. And you only pay local costs. There is no cost of capital (apart from servicing the capital through interest). The difference between a SHG and this is that a SHG is not a body corporate. If you are not a body corporate, you are liable jointly and individually.

When you are liable severally, you cannot own property, you cannot get into contracts, you cannot get into court cases against defaulters, etc, etc. In the case of bodies corporate, you can. I think this SHG movement has done a lot for rural women. I think she has become visible socially, politically, economically. However, I also think there is a conspiracy deliberately to say that for women, we will give groups, unregistered groups, so that, just as they cannot hold property individually, jointly also they cannot hold property, or enter into contracts, whereas the men can. And I am absolutely convinced that this is a subconscious conspiracy, which is probably not even understood by most people.

Back to the mid-60s, a committee came up saying these co-ops are a great idea and we should have government share capital participation in them. And that government should promote more and more such co-ops. And right across the country, state co-op laws were changed to say that, first, the government can become a member of a co-op by putting in some share capital. Now, the ownership was always at a state level or the district. It was almost never at the primary co-op level. However, controls were brought in for the entire structure. Second, it said that, henceforth, co-ops cannot appoint their own staff. They had to write to the registrar and the registrar would approve. Third, audit used to be a free service available to any co-op that wanted it.

Now it become a compulsory drill whereby they could not appoint their own auditors any more. Instead, the registrar would appoint an auditor from the goverbnment’s staff and the co-op would have to pay for him. So, a, I lost the right to appoint my own auditor. And b, I had pay for the audit. Also, it was no longer necessary for the auditor to finish the audit before the end of the year. Plus, the auditor did not report to the society. He reported to the registrar. As a result, all the audits began to go years behind schedule.

Then, elections used to be conducted by each co-op on whichever day they chose. Some had a three year term. Others had a two year term. Some had nine members on the board. Others had ten members on the board. Some had chairmen by a direct election on the board. Others chose the chairman through an indirect election. Each co-op had its own thing. Now, suddenly, you had the government saying it will conduct all elections for all co-ops, and all would have a three year term, and all would have 12 members on the board, etc, etc.

The reason why political parties bought into the report so well is that this was one way to scuttle local leadership. And also patronage. The primary thing here is that these are farmer votebanks and come from contiguous areas. Also, in the name of promoting co-ops, parties could have access to treasury funds of an institution that is outside the state’s control. Given that the conduct of elections, and the right to supersede a committee, was in the politicians’ hands, and given that the auditor was accountable to them and not the general body, they could play havoc with the funds.

Now, people who did not get their MLA tickets or defeated MLAs, all could all be accommodated in the co-ops. Similarly, if you wanted to misuse some of the funds of that co-operative, audit was in your hands. It was a great source of financing.

The impact on members? Mr Mahalingam of Shakti Sugars. He was a great co-operatives man and he walked out in disgust leaving all that he had built over decades to set up Shakti Sugars. Because he could not fight on a daily basis on this political front. Like him, across India, you had the most wonderful entrepreneurs who chose to use their skills for the larger community rather than for themselves. But we made things so difficult for them that they could not get on with the business of servicing members. There were enquiries against them all the time. There were inspections against them all the time. And they said, this is just too much. They walked out. And when they walked out, members began saying why am I saving so much money in this co-op for? I do not get to decide who is going to head it.

So from vibrant thrift and credit co-ops, they all became over a period of time, multipurpose channels of subsidised credit and members began to see themselves are beenficiaries of state largesse. And whatever came their way, they took it. And over a period of time, they withdrew their deposits from the coop.

What about elite capture? Did Co-operatives run the risk of the local elite running them as a fiefdom?
Well, these were local institutions. Even if there was mismanagement, the co-op would fold up, but the person running it would have to live in the same area. Many years later, when I worked for the revival of PACs, I discovered that no amount of member education and other things helped. What helped was increasing the percentage of members’ financial stake. Once their stake is significant, the members almost always chose the right person. Otherwise, they would choose the person who spoke the best, etc. Most of the presidents were fairly non-charismatic in terms of their ability to speak, to project themselves. But most of them were also strict disciplinarians. And they were not these charming flamboyant personalities at all. Whereas, in these times, where you have largely external funding coming in, you need brokers, you need people who know how to liaise. There is a huge difference between these two. Your question was on how to revive PACs.

We have to make them thrift-oriented where every member must save x rupees every month instead of waiting for banks to refinance or forNabard to step in. That may continue but that cannot be a longterm plan. The longterm plan has to be your own funding. When you have thrift in an organisation, not only do you have a stronger co-op, but wealth retention also takes place at the local level. The profits of that enterprise stay at the local level. Your own savings stay with you. They get invested locally. Plus the profits from the entire enterprise also stay locally — the profits of any third party leave the area.

And the fact that a large number of people have access to credit on a regular basis means there is purchasing power in the hands of a large number of people at the large, contiguous area year after year. You automatically have a large, domestic, service sector emerging which is sustainable because it is not falsely supported from outside. And almost everywhere we see, we see liquor, some entertainment, flour mill, tea shops, workshops, mason, and transport coming in first into the village. And wherever you have good co-ops, sooner or later, you see the housing going up in the area.

And that is a story by itself. It has not been reported anywhere so far. But, my goodness, look what we can do. Instead of going on crying that agriculture cannot support so many people.

The question is why people would put money into the PACs today? What about the comparative rates of returns? And how do they know their deposits are safe?
Yes. So the laws have to change. In the mid-80s, even with these bad laws, we did a campaign — i was the chief executive of a federation of 100 PACs from 17 districts in AP and we found that thrift is the way to do it. The first thing we had to do is ensure accounts are audited. Now, we could not get blessed auditors to have undated accounts because they wanted bribes. So what we did is we simultaneously got CAs to audit the accounts. Now, these were not accepted by the department and so, statutorily, we could not announce dividends but what we could do was offer interest on thrift.

So, the first time, we had annual reports prepared and presented to all the members. The accounts were fully read. There was time for the members to raise questions and so on. And then, the resolutions were proposed. We did all that. But every three years, we had to fight with the government to get our elections conducted. In 1984, 1987, we went to court. Apart from PACs, meanwhile, in AP, thrift coops began to come up. First unregistered, which were 100% member-financed. When the Taskforce on Farmer Indebtedness (its report was released last year) was going around, we saw their average age is about 10 years.

On savings of Rs 25-40 a month, the men’s thrift co-ops, had an average loan outstanding of Rs 5,000. The very fact is that the thrift and credit co-ops have shown that from day one they are profitable, that within 10-20 years, they are giving Rs 10,000-20,000 loans to tenant farmers and marginal farmers and oral lessees. Others won’t even be willing to lend to them.

It tells you that you can reach these levels in ten years. What are we waiting for? How much longer before we get into a mission mode on promoting co-ops in the right spirit?

So why the reluctance to revive them? Do state governments think Co-ops are an idea that failed?
No. Every state government knows co-ops are something that must be contained. There is no state govt which feels they failed. A prime case is that of AP where out of 13-14 district milk co-ops, nine moved into the new liberal co-operative law. And there was such opposition to their move! The government had employee unions go to court. But, once they shifted, within 2-3 years, profits doubled, members got better prices, and such umbrage the state government showed. The co-op minister and the animal husbandry minister brought in an ordinance saying dairy co-ops will not be under the new law. One of the complaints against the new law is that no one files returns. But the new law says, if they do not file returns, you can write to then and cancel their registration. If they are not functioning, cancel their registration. On the political side, there is a fear of new rivals emerging from the co-operatives.

You had told me earlier that the union government has drafted a Constitutional amendment for cooperatives confirming that they are part of governance and not businesses. And that, since cooperatives are in the State list, the only way to get states to enact good cooperative laws is to have a Constitutional amendment. This is something you oppose strenuously. Why?
This is an absurd idea. 14/15 years ago, I thought we needed a constitutional amendment. But, this amednment says that “The preparation of electoral rolls for and the conduct of elections shall vest in such an authority as may be provided by the legislature of the state, provided that the legislature might also lay down the procedures for the conduct of such elections.” Would you do that for companies? The audacity that, when it comes to farmers, that I will continue to control them through this process.

State nod for GM crop trial hits research, says Biotech body

Sandip Das Posted online: 2011-07-28 02:15:28+05:30 New DelhiWith the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) making it mandatory for the agri bio-tech companies to get no-objection certificate (NOC) from the states prior to the launch of any trial of GM crops has been termed as ‘regressive’ by a consortium Association of Bio-tech Led Enterprises – Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) consisting of 12 companies has also said that getting nod from the states has put back research in genetically modified (GM) crops by many years. “There is no way we can conduct any field trial this kharif season and because of ambiguity on the part of the government on GM crops, the research has come to a standstill for the last 13 months,” VR Kaundinya, Chairman, ABLE-AG said. The government has put an indefinite moratorium on the commercial introduction BT brinjal. However, Kaundinya said that the association has approached many state governments regarding trial of GM crops. “Andhra Pradesh has agreed to discuss the issue of field trial of GM crops with us besides Punjab and Haryana and other states,” he noted. M Vinod Kumar, Manager, Regulatory Affairs with syngenta said there is no provision on the environmental laws which allows states governments to issue NOC for trial of GM crops. Karnataka agriculture minister Umesh Katti recently stated that the government would not allow further trials of GM crops in the state after the allegation that Bt maize and Bt paddy trials was being conducted in Bijapur and Koppal. Chief Secretary S V Ranganath cancelled a meeting he had convened on July 20 at Vidhana Soudha to discuss requests from University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur, ABLE-AG and other agencies seeking NOC from the state government for undertaking trial and research on biosafety evaluation of GM crops. Former union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh in March had asked the GEAC to immediately withdraw its permission to Monsanto for field trials of Bt maize in Bihar. Ramesh’s move came after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told him that he was opposed to field trials of Bt maize.Jairam had asked the GEAC to give state government at least one month to agree or disagree on field trials for GM crops, given the fact that agriculture is a State subject. “In fact, ideally, prior approval of the State concerned should be taken before allowing such trials,”he had stated. Bt brinjal was the first and maize is the second food crop for which the GEAC had given permission for field trials. As many as eight GM crops (maize, rice, vegetables etc) are under trials.

Safety of Monsanto’s Synthetic-Toxin maize to be re-examined

Testbiotech and GeneWatch UK formally request withdrawal of EU market authorisation of Monsanto´s genetically engineered maize Genuity VT Triple PRO Corn with synthetic toxins.
28 July 2011. The non-profit organisations Testbiotech (Germany) and GeneWatch UK have submitted a formal request to the European Commission re-examine market authorisation of a genetically engineered maize produced by Monsanto sold under brand Genuity VT Triple PRO Corn (event MON89034 x MON 88017) that produces a synthetic toxin, intended to kill insect pests. This maize was approved for usage in food and feed by the EU Commission on 17th of June. It produces a combination of three different insecticidal toxins, one of which is synthesised artificially. Further, the plants are made tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate (known as Roundup).
The organisations are filing a formal request for internal review of the EU Commission´s decision according Article 10 of Regulation (EC) No. 1367/2006 because the legally required high level of protection for consumers, farm animals and the environment are not met and legal requirements for monitoring of health effects have been ignored completely. They argue that the authorisation should be withdrawn.
“This maize produces a unique combination of insecticidal proteins. In the parts of this plant, a synthetic Bt toxin is produced. Its toxicity might affect a much wider spectrum of species than expected. Further combined effects have to be expected with the other toxins and the residues from spraying with the herbicide. These risks can impact both on health and the environment,” said Helen Wallace from GeneWatch UK. “But none of these risks were properly examined before approval was granted.”
The plants were not tested for health effects in feeding studies. Only a short term trial for its nutritional quality was performed in poultry. The residues from spraying with glyphosate formulations were also not considered by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA. There are further legal requirements for monitoring of potential health effects that were ignored by the EU Commission:
“No plan for monitoring as required by European regulation was made available that would allow identification of particular health impacts that might be related to the use of these genetically engineered plants in food and feed. There is not even a reliable method to measure the level of toxins produced in the maize and to trace the products within the market,” said Christoph Then from Testbiotech.
According the request prepared by the two organisations, this case is also of general relevance for the setting of risk assessment standards by EFSA that are currently under discussion before being adopted as EU regulations. This case shows that in general much more effort is needed to ensure the high level of protection for human health and the environment required by the framework of the EU regulations. Since this case is a precedent, the NGOs have the option of considering further legal steps such as a case at the European Court of Justice if the EU Commission reject their request for internal review
Currently, genetically engineered crops mainly enter the EU from North and South America as soya or maize for use in animal feed. Maize containing a single Bt toxin is also grown for use in animal feed in Spain. Numerous “stacked events” containing multiple Bt toxins and/or resistence to one or more herbicides are awaiting regulatory approval in the EU. Herbicide resistant “superweeds” are becoming a major problem for American farmers growing herbicide tolerant GM crops and pests are also developing resistance to the Bt toxins included in many GM crops. A recent Canadian study suggested that the assumption made by regulators that Bt toxins do not survive in the human gut may be incorrect.

Link to Testbiotech and the request as filed to the EU Commission: http://www.testbiotech.de/node/526

Link to GeneWatch UK: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/Document_Request_for_internal_review_MON89034xMON88017.pdf
Contact:
Helen Wallace, + 44 7903 311584, helen.wallace@genewatch.org
Christoph Then, + 49 151 54638040, info@testbiotech.org.,

ASSURING FOOD SECURITY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: CONTINUING WITH BUSINESS AS USUAL APPROACHES IS NOT AN OPTION

Small integrated farms with off-grid renewable energy may be the perfect solution to the food and financial crisis while mitigating and adapting to climate change
sustainable energy
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

An emerging scientific consensus that a shift to small scale sustainable agriculture and localized food systems will address most, if not all the underlying causes of deteriorating agricultural productivity as well as the conservation of natural soil and water resources while saving the climate
To substantially improve living standards, access to modern energy is also crucial. Small agro-ecological farms are known to be highly productive, and are ideally served by new renewable energies that can be generated and used on site, and in off-grid situations most often encountered in developing countries
A model that explicitly integrates sustainable farming and renewable energies in a circular economy patterned after nature could compensate, in the best case scenario, for the carbon emissions and energy consumption of the entire nation while revitalising and stimulating local economies and employment opportunities
Food crisis, global economic instability, and political unrest
Soaring food prices were a major trigger for the riots that destabilized North Africa and the Middle East, and have since spread to many other African countries [1, 2]. The UN Food Price Index hit its all-time high in February 2011, and the May 2011 average was 37 percent above a year ago [3]. This is happening as the global economy is still staggering from the 2008 financial (and food) crisis, with public debt expanding and unemployment sky high [4].
Lester Brown, venerated veteran world-watcher, says food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics [5], and food crises are going to become increasingly common. “Scarcity is the new norm.” The world is facing increasing demand for food as population increases while food crops and land are being diverted to produce biofuels; in 2010, the United States alone turned 126 million tons of its 400 million tons corn harvest into ethanol. At the same time, the world’s ability to produce food is diminishing. Aquifers are running dry in the major food producing countries where half of the world population live. There is widespread soil erosion and desertification; and global warming temperatures and weather extremes are already reducing crop yields [6-9], hitting the most vulnerable people in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia the hardest.
“We are now so close to the edge that a breakdown in the food system could come at any time.” Brown warns [5]. “At issue now is whether the world can go beyond focusing on the symptoms of the deteriorating food situation and instead attack the underlying causes. If we cannot produce higher crop yields with less water and conserve fertile soils, many agricultural areas will cease to be viable…..If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices….The time to act is now — before the food crisis of 2011 becomes the new normal.”
The importance of small family farms
There is an emerging scientific consensus that a shift to small scale sustainable agriculture and localized food systems will address most, if not all the underlying causes of deteriorating agricultural productivity as well as the conservation of natural soil and water resources while saving the climate [10-13].
Small, family farming is the dominant form of agriculture in the world, especially in the developing world of Africa and Asia. Approximately 3 billion people live in rural areas in developing countries, which also include 80 percent of the poor in the developing world. Around 2.5 billion are involved in agriculture as farmers or workers, and at least 75 percent of farms in the majority of Asian and African countries are 2 ha or less [14]. As Ulrich Hoffmann points out [12], MDG (Millennium Development Goal) 1 aims at eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; and one of the most effective ways of halving both the number of hungry and poor by 2015 is to make the transition towards more sustainable forms of agriculture “that nourish the land and people and provide an opportunity for decent, financially rewarding and gender equal jobs.” It would at the same time meet health targets from MDG 3 and 6 in providing a more diverse, safe, nutritious and affordable diet (see also [10]).
Notably, small farms generally produce more per hectare than large farm; so much so that economists have long observed and debated this apparently paradoxical inverse relationship between farm size and productivity [14]. Small farms are 2 to 10 times as productive and much more profitable; and not just in the developing world [15]. A US Agricultural Census in 1992 found a sharp decline of net income from $1 400/acre to $12/acre as farm size increased from 4 to 6709 acres [16].
Small farms are associated with [14] “intensive use of household and community labour, high levels of motivation and much lower supervision and transaction costs”, which may well account for the economic advantages, but not the actual productivity. Small farms are highly productive because they are typically biodiverse systems integrating multiple crops and livestock that enable them to maximise synergetic relationships while minimizing wastes; turning wastes such as farmyard manure into fertilizer resources. In effect, they embody the circular economy of nature [10] where energy and nutrients are recycled within the ecosystem for maximum productivity and carbon sequestration both above and below ground. This ‘thermodynamics of organisms and sustainable systems’ is derived and explained in detail elsewhere [17].
The importance of renewable energy
To substantially improve living standards, sustainable farming is not enough, access to modern energy is also crucial. Lack of access to modern energy is generally recognized as the biggest obstacle to sustainable development. The International Energy Agency 2010 report on energy poverty stated [18]: “Lack of access to modern energy services is a serious hindrance to economic and social development and must be overcome if the UN Millennium Development goals (MDGs) are to be achieved.” This view is echoed in the report of the 6th Annual Meeting of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI) [19]: “Access to modern energy services, defined as electricity and clean cooking fuels, is central to a country’s development.”
Worldwide, 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, 85 percent in rural areas, and 2.7 billion still rely on traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating [18]. The greatest challenge is sub-Saharan Africa, where only 31 percent of the population has access to electricity, the lowest level in the world. If South Africa is excluded, the share declines to 28 percent.
There is close correlation between income levels and access to modern energy. Countries with a large proportion of the population living on an income of less than $2 per day tend to have low electrification rates and a high proportion of the population relying on traditional biomass.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.45 million people die prematurely each year from household air pollution due to inefficient biomass combustion; a significant proportion young children. This is greater than premature deaths from malaria or tuberculosis.
Small agro-ecological farms are ideally served by new renewable energies that can be generated and used on site, and in off-grid situations most often encountered in developing countries [20, 21]. The renewable energies generated can also serve local businesses, stimulate local economies and create plenty of employment opportunities.
Off-grid renewable power systems entering mainstream worldwide
Within the past few years, off-grid power systems have entered the mainstream, driven by the ready availability of renewable energy options that can cost less than grid connections.
A UK company advertises on its website [22]: “Homes across the UK and Europe are looking at the potential benefits of supplying some, if not all their domestic power requirement from off-grid sources” for a variety of reasons: connection to the grid is too expensive, reducing energy bills, protect from power cuts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Solar panels, wind turbines, and small generators are suitable for most homes, and a system with a battery connected to a battery charger/inverter is the most convenient.
The UK government Office of Fair Trading has launched an investigation into the off-grid market for renewables and mainstream energy in January 2011, following energy price hikes and supply issue over the winter [23].
Examples of small scale off-grid renewables are found across Scotland [24], such as remote ferry waiting rooms on the Western Iles and the Charles Inglis Clark Memorial hut on Ben Nevis using small wind turbrines. Photovoltaic (PV) installations integrated with battery are often used where only a small amount of power is required, as for lighting, maintaining power for monitoring equipment or maintaining water treatment facilities.
However, it is in developing countries where power requirements are generally low, and where rapidly improving electronic lighting and telecommunication equipment that have low power requirements and perform reliably with little or no maintenance that off-grid renewable energy is coming to its own [21].
Three examples of large scale off-grid renewable energy use with varying degrees of success are the Grameen Shakti f or renewables of Bangladesh [25], Lighting Africa [26] and Biogas for China’s Socialist Countryside [27].
Grameen Shakti is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to promote, develop, and supply renewable energy to the rural poor of Bangladesh. It has become one of the world’s largest and fastest growing renewable energy companies through a system of microfinancing, training of technicians (mainly women) for installation, maintenance and repair, provision of services including buy-back. It runs technology centres for training throughout the country (see [25] for details). At the end of May 2011, Grameen Shakti had installed 636 322 solar home systems, 18 046 biogas plants and 304 414 improved cooking stoves. It also trained a total of 28 932 technicians in 46 technology centres nationwide, covering all districts. Its beneficiaries are 40 000 villages and around 4 million people [28].
What began as a grassroots endeavour to provide solar light for the rural population has now attracted the backing of the World Bank. It started by training “barefoot women engineers” for installing, maintaining and repairing solar panels, lights, telephone charging, batteries and other accessories.
Lighting Africa is now a joint World Bank and International Finance Corporation programme that aims to help develop commercial off-grid lighting markets in sub-Saharan Africa as part of the World Bank Group’s wider efforts to improve access to energy [29]. It aims to provide safe, affordable, and modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million in Africa by 2012 and to 250 million by 2030. The market for off-grid lighting products is projected to grow at 40 to 50 percent annually. In 2010 alone, the sales of solar portable lanterns that have passed Lighting Africa’s quality tests grew by 70 percent in Africa, resulting in more than 672 000 people with cleaner, safer, reliable lighting and improved energy access (see [26] for details)
Provision of biogas is an important part of China’s New Socialist Countryside programme launched in 2006 to improve the welfare of those living outside booming cities, which include the country’s 130 million migrant workers and the rural poor. China is one of the first countries in the world to use biogas technology and it has been revived in successive campaigns by the current government to provide domestic sanitation and energy off-grid and to modernize agriculture (see [27, 30] for details). The anaerobic digester producing biogas is typically combined with a greenhouse for growing vegetables and other crops with a pigsty, so that pig and human manure can be digested while carbon dioxide generated by the pigs boosts plant growth in the greenhouse. The biogas produced (typically 60 percent methane and 40 percent carbon dioxide with traces of other gases) can be used as cooking fuel and to generate electricity, while the residue is a rich fertilizer for crops. It is an example of the circular economy that has served Chinese peasants well in traditional Chinese agriculture [31]. More elaborate models include orchards and solar panels. According to the latest update from China’s Ministry of Agriculture [32], 35 million household biogas tanks have been installed by the end of 2009 in 56 500 biogas projects. This exponential growth phase that started around 2001 is set to continue, along with medium and big digesters for community and industrial use. Anaerobic digestion of organic wastes is a key renewable energy technology for a truly green circular economy off-grid that could make a real difference for improving the lives of the rural poor (See [12] for a complete list of the benefits of biogas).
Integrating sustainable farming and renewable energies in a circular economy
A model that explicitly integrates sustainable farming and renewable energies is ‘Dream Farm 2’ that operates according to circular economy principles (see final chapter in [10]). It is patterned after environmental engineer George Chan and the dyke-pond system of Pearl River Delta [31] that Chinese peasants have perfected over thousands of years, a system so productive that it supported 17 people per hectare in its heyday. An ideal Dream Farm 2 is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1 An integrated food and energy Dream Farm 2 that optimises the sustainable use of resources and minimises wastes in accordance with the circular economy of nature
The diagram ( see attachment) is colour-coded. Pink is for energy, green for agricultural produce, blue is for water conservation and flood control, black is waste in the ordinary sense of the word, which soon gets converted into food and energy resources. Purple is for education and research into new science and technologies. This ideal Dream Farm is complete with laboratory facilities for education, as well as a restaurant to take advantage of all the fresh produce. It is a perfect setting for developing cottage industries such as food preservation, processing, wine and cheese making, bread-making, not to mention electronic workshops, battery charging, retailers of renewable energy components and electronic devices. The synergies between agriculture and industries are obvious especially in the case of food industries, as they are close to the source of production. Moreover, the organic wastes from these industries can go right back into anaerobic digestion to be converted into energy and nutrients for agriculture.
Some preliminary estimates, based on data and statistics made available by the Chinese government and academics, on the energy and carbon savings involved, are presented in Tables 1 and 2 [33].

Table 1 Green potential of organic agriculture and anaerobic digestion for China

CO2e savings (% National) Energy savings (% National)
Organic agriculture
N fertilizers saving 179.5 Mt (2.38%) 2.608 EJ (3.61%)
N2O prevented 92.7 Mt (1.23%)
Carbon sequestration 682.9 Mt (9.07%)

Total for org. agri. 955.1 Mt (12.69%) 2.608 EJ (3.61%)

Anaerobic digestion
Livestock manure ghg saving 70.3 Mt (0.09%)
methane produced 215.5 Mt (2.86%) 3.124 EJ (4.33%)
Hum manure methane 7.7 Mt (0.10%) 0.112 EJ (0.16%)
Straw methane 292.5 Mt (3.93%) 4.234 EJ (5.86%)
Total for AD 586.0 Mt (7.79%) 7.470 EJ (10.35%)
Total overall 1 491.1 Mt (20.48%) 10.078 EJ (13.96%)

Table 2 Green potential of Dream Farm 2

CO2e savings (% National) Energy savings (% National)
Organic agriculture 955.1 Mt (12.69%) 2.608 EJ (3.61%)
Anaerobic digestion 586.0 Mt (7.79%) 7.470 EJ (10.35%)
Energy savings local gen. 1 287.1 Mt (17.10%) 21.660 EJ (30.00%)
Total 2 828.2 Mt (37.58%) 31.738 EJ (43.96%)

As can be seen from Table 1, the combination of organic agriculture and anaerobic digestion in China has the potential to mitigate at least 20 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions and save 14 percent of energy consumption. If Dream Farm 2 were to be universally adopted, China would mitigate 38 percent of its greenhouse emissions, and save 44 percent of energy consumption, only counting anaerobic digestion, basically because of efficiency savings arising from the possibility of using ‘waste’ heat in combined heat and power generation, and avoiding the loss in long distance transmission of electricity. A conservative allowance of 30 percent efficiency saving (out of a maximum of about 60 percent) gives the net carbon and energy savings in Table 2, which, again, is from anaerobic digestion only. The savings could be far greater as low power consuming LED lighting and other electronic devices replace conventional high power consuming models.
With the addition of solar, wind or micro-hydroelectric as appropriate, and batteries to store and maintain a steady power supply, such farms could compensate, in the best case scenario, for the carbon emissions and energy consumption of the entire nation. Surplus energy from the farm can go to supply homes and businesses in the vicinity through a ‘mini-grid’ that could eventually link up to the national grid, if necessary or desirable. This could be a model for the natural evolution of connectivity and power sharing. At the very least, such integrated food and energy farms will give food security while playing its part along with other sectors of the circular economy in cutting its own carbon footprint. Furthermore, such small scale agro-ecological farming and local renewable power generation are much more resistant and resilient to weather extremes, and indeed to earthquakes and sabotage.

New varieties, old foundations: Small farmers in IPR regime

By Shalini Bhutani

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which was founded
after Independence in 1947, was preceded by the Imperial Council of
Agricultural Research set up in 1929.

Ironically ICAR celebrated its 83rd foundation day last weekend on July
16, rather than its 64th! The European legacy continues. Our country may
have got independence, but our agriculture and our farmers are still
struggling for that.

Another foundation of a European idea was literally laid this month. On
July 8 the foundation stone of the new office buildings of India’s
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA)
was laid in the Pusa Campus of ICAR. More than the buildings, it is
intellectual property rights (IPR) that have been institutionalised in
agriculture in the country. This in itself manifests the big change in
the national agricultural research landscape since the ICAR was first
set up.

The history of agriculture in India is believed to go back to 9,000 BC.
In fact this is also the history of free exchange of crop varieties
amongst farmers. This made possible the many crop innovations on the
field. Sharing not only gave free access to diverse planting materials
but also allowed for the exchange of know-how, giving the farmers enough
to select from for the production of plants with desirable traits.

Such informal breeding of new crop varieties is the foundation on which
formal research has been built. And in fact national and global gene
banks would not have been filled with traditional varieties for free, if
farmers had refused to share the crops they have developed.

Yet small farmers have never asked for IPR for their innovation. But
formal breeders in developed countries did! In Europe, in the ’60s they
asked for IPR in the form of plant breeder rights. This was to be an
exclusive right to sell and produce the new plant variety. The
foundation for limiting free sharing was cemented then.

The first laws on plant variety protection (PVP) were passed in European
countries—The Netherlands, Germany, etc. in the early ’60s. The PVP laws
granted breeders control over the planting material. It also gave them
the right to make money from the use of ‘their’ variety for a certain
number of years. The first legal instrument for international
recognition of ‘rights’ of breeders was also a Europe-led UPOV – The
International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants dated
1961. Its 1991 version as it stands today allows breeders to even claim
royalties for the produce harvested from PVP-‘protected’ varieties,
while restricting farmers’ rights and researcher access.

Transplanted concept
This European concept was transplanted into India after the World Trade
Organisation (WTO). The Indian law—Protection of Plant Varieties and
Farmers Rights Act was issued in 2001 and the Authority set up in 2005.
While the officialdom takes pains to explain that the Indian version is
a unique variety of PVP law in itself. Yet the fact of the matter is, it
plants IPR on crops nonetheless. Today professional plant breeders be it
in the government research institutions or in private seed corporations
are the ones going after PVP-type IPR ‘protection.’

The name of the law misleads the lay person and unsuspecting farmers
into believing that this law is both about conservation, farmer welfare
and benefit sharing. On the occasion of the foundation day of ICAR, the
first of the Plant Genome Saviour Awards (2009-2010) were given out to
two local communities. One from Odisha for conserving rice and the other
from Karnataka for medicinal plants.

The awards have been instituted by the PPVFRA. While, it is the first
official attempt to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of
individual farmers and farming communities in conserving
agro-biodiversity, it does so in an IPR frame. The law says to these
seed keepers: you save and give us, but we ‘develop’ and sell ‘new’
varieties (back to you).

For the farmers’ rights provision in the same law comes with a proviso.
It allows them to sell only to the extent that their seed is not branded
seed of a variety which has the PVP certificate under the law. The
message to farmers is clear, keep out of the formal research and seed
markets. And it’s important to recall that when the Government of India
through its ministry of agriculture first mooted this Act in the 90s, it
did not have any chapter or provisions on Farmers Rights.

That the law allows for ‘farmers varieties’ to be registered is a step
to woo them into the IPR system. No amount of award money from the
National Gene Fund or citations and shawls will make good for the loss
of farmer freedoms when they have to buy PVP-protected seeds to continue
to be…farmers.

Awardee communities such as these are the only islands of hope and
diversity in a sea of disasters. But the wave of IPR could break into
the very foundations of their small farm agriculture.

(The writer works on issues of trade, agriculture and biological diversity)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/179296/varieties-old-foundations-small-farmers.html

NAC, Govt differ over Food Bill

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 25, 2011, 0:43 IST
In the wake of Dreze quitting NAC, Mander vows to fight for changes.

Differences between the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the government have come out in the open over the Food Security Bill, which was approved by a Group of Ministers this month.

While Jean Dreze, who had earlier quit the working group on food security after recommendations by the members were diluted by the NAC itself, chose to quit the NAC itself last month, another member Harsh Mander has vowed to keep fighting at all levels for changes in the Bill.
WHY NAC MEMBERS ANGRY
1- NAC defines malnutrition, starvation, nutrition rehabilitation centres
Govt drops these terms
2- NAC defines grains as rice, wheat, millets, sorghum, maize
Govt definition includes rice, wheat, nutri cereals
3- NAC refers to public distribution system
Govt corrects it to ‘targeted PDS’
4- NAC favours 4 kilos per person in general category
Govt provides three kilos
5- NAC provides for prevention and treatment of mal nutrition
Govt drops it
6- NAC for public nomination of food commissioner
Govt leaves this out
7- NAC lists out functions of commissioner
Govt provides no functions
8- NAC allows commissioner to give penalties and powers of a civil court
Govt drops this
9- NAC provides system of grievance redressal
Govt drops it
10- NAC provides three times cash equivalent of food entitlement as compensation
Govt drops compensation, PDS, homeless persons restricted by govt draft
N C Saxena and M S Swaminathan, two other NAC members, have also expressed differences with the government’s draft. Saxena said there were differences with the Bill but it was not certain whether it could be taken up in NAC again.

Dreze told NAC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi that he did not wish to renew his tenure of one year, citing preoccupation with academic work. He had raised concern over the way the draft of the food security Bill had been diluted. While Dreze has been bitter on the refusal of the NAC to go for a uniform public distribution system (PDS), he has been more upset by the now government’s approved draft which provides for cash transfer in place of food grains.

Dreze last week sent out findings of a survey by 40 researchers, including him, on PDS and views of the people on cash transfer to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The survey, conducted among 1,220 households in nine states, found only 18 per cent people wanted cash transfer as proposed in the food security Bill.

Mander, another co-author of the NAC version of the food security Bill, was more vocal. He told Business Standard that the draft Bill approved by GoM was too diluted and almost negated the purpose of the food security Bill. “We will all fight at our individual level till the Bill becomes a law to see that changes are made.”

Mander is a food commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court in the Right to Food public interest litigation.

He said lessons learnt from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, and Right to Education and Right to Information Bills had gone into the making of this Bill, too. “So, we provided for a food commissioner to monitor and help beneficiaries actually get their entitlements,” he said. Mander also said NAC’s grievance redressal proposal had been reduced to almost nothing in the Bill from the food ministry and approved by the GoM.

Asked if this would be taken up in NAC again, he said members would now pursue the matter at their individual levels. “The Bill can be changed till the point it is in the standing committee and we are hoping to get those changes in,” Mander said.

The Right to Food campaign, a civil society movement for food rights, would challenge the food law in court if it is made in the current form.

‘The Odisha government wants to bring Bt Cotton to Kalahandi’ P. Sainath

P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu and 2007 Magsaysay award winner, shares with Pradeep Baisakh his views on the POSCO project, Odisha farmers’ suicides and the National Food Security Bill

You have visited Odisha quite often. How, in your view, has it changed in the last 20 years?
Inequalities have increased massively. Earlier, we used to hire jeeps which were falling apart. Today, to go to Kalahandi, you have Innovas, Scorpios, Safaris. And in the same place there are people who have pledged their crop until 2015 to moneylenders.

Kalahandi’s problem is exploitation even today. Odisha’s per capita food production is higher than the national average for last 30-40 years and Kalahandi’s per capita food production is higher than the state, but people do not know that. Now, that very secure and very diverse food base is being destroyed. I hear the Odisha government wants to bring Bt cotton to Kalahandi. Bt will drink up the water. It will be a wonderful bonanza for the seed companies, a few traders and 10-12 big farmers. Everybody else will suffer.

The state has shifted its base – now it is just a depository of raw materials and minerals. The character and richness of the state has been reduced to being the playground of the extractive industries. That is the difference.

You visited the proposed POSCO area in Jagattsingur, then Kalinganagar, then Gopalpur: it’s like a going backward in the history of industrialisation and displacement in Odisha. What did you find?
In 1997, the government first acquired almost 3,800 acres in Gopalpur. It gave people Rs one lakh compensation per acre, said that there will be a steel plant and every family will get a job. Nobody got jobs and there is no steel plant now. The state government has declared it will not even try to make a steel plant, instead it has got ‘in principle’ approval for an SEZ. The land now costs Rs 40 lakh an acre. At the end of the day, there is no obligation to give any jobs! Those villagers there who fought it out and did not give their land are in much better position today than those who were supposed to be helped by the project.

In Kalinganagar, it’s a very, very bad situation. Over so many years of isolation and criminalisation, people have been broken. Every now and then one more family gives in. They are not happy with it nor are they doing it voluntarily, they are not just able to cope any more. Those who had large houses with lots of space for livestock have been shifted to box houses in the rehabilitation colony. The government says that’s what they chose to build, as if this does not depend on how much money has been given for house construction. There is neither factory nor any meaning job except some training given to people.

In the proposed POSCO area is some of the most profitable farming I have seen. Social activist Jagdish Pradhan and I spoke to a lot of farmers and calculated, taking note of the input cost, that one betel farm over one-tenth of an acre earns a profit Rs 1.5-2 lakh. That is actually a stunning return, and these are ordinary people.

One of the farmers we spoke to has three acres. He spent Rs 10 lakh on his four children’s education and is building a house with Rs 9 lakh. Also, in the last 10 years, betel leave prices have shot up—what used to be Rs 15-20 per 1,000 leaves is now about Rs 1,000. So they are doing pretty well. Where is the demand for jobs? Rather, there is a demand for labour. That place, I am willing to assert, has the highest wage rate in Odisha, Rs 200 plus a meal, higher than wages that construction workers get in Bhubaneswar. If you are doing skilled work like manure application, or tying and untying creepers it’s Rs 400-500 rupees a day plus a meal. Put together the average wages is about Rs 250 a day that is twice the MGNRGEA rate in Orissa, which is Rs 125.

So you are going to destroy something that exists, where employment has been created by the people themselves, in exchange for something that Gopalpur and Kalinganagar show might never come.

But if enough compensation is given, are you still against the acquiring of farmland?
Suppose I say, a huge development project involves destruction of Taj Mahal and Gateway of India, but the compensation is adequate. What sort of argument is that? People sometimes want to sell their land, I agree. But you do not make them sell at the point of the gun. You do not beat them, raid them and isolate them in their villages when they refuse to sell. In case of Gopalpur, Tatas will make money renting out plots to other companies in the industrial park. Why could that money not gone to people themselves?

What about the Land Acquisition Bill? You must be closely following developments on that front.
I am not so excited about the Bill. One, is it the job of the state to transfer resources from ordinary people to a handful of private people? By this you are narrowing the base of ownership of resources in this country. Second, it stinks of corruption. You need to check on the assets of every major officer involved.

Talking of resources, why should you give away 600 million tonnes of iron ore to POSCO at a fraction of the international price? Our new royalty law is better, but fixed on the domestic price, not the international price. So you are allowing a loot and plunder of precious resources, mindless of environmental consequences and calling it development! The younger generation does not want to be in agriculture only because we have made agriculture pathetic.

We did not hear of farmers’ suicides in Odisha earlier. What change has occurred in the state to bring them about?
Farmers’ suicide in the eastern belt are considerably less than in other parts which have opted for cash crops fed mostly by chemical fertiliser, hybrid seeds and Bt seeds. In eastern India, the people still are dependent on food crops. But Odisha too is gradually adopting the cash crop model. The situation will worsen, for the planning model is to promote cash crops, mostly for export.

What’s your reaction to the draft legislation prepared by the National Advisory Council (NAC) on National Food Security which does not advocate universal PDS?
I differ. Food, healthcare, education and decent work should be universalised. It’s incorrect to think that universal PDS is not possible or difficult as ‘leakage’ takes place. Kerala has already shown the way. Functioning of PDS improved in Tamil Nadu as it moved towards universalisation.

People say journalists should be impartial, they should not be activists. But when we see you, the journalist and activist merge.
I do not see it that way— I see myself as a reporter. If I were an activist, I would be organising.

In any society, if you go against the dominant ideology, you will be branded. If you write about POSCO, or about any dam or any other project, you will be called an activist if you write about the affected people.

There was this Brazilian priest who said, “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

Pradeep Baisakh is a Freelance Journalist based in Odisha. He has extensively written on issues relating to MGNREGA, Industrialisation and displacement, Forest and environment, Right to Information, migration etc.
2006pradeep@gmail.com