Activists charge seed companies, mainly Monsanto, with monopoly
Protests marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton in the country. Angry farmers urged parliamentarians to hold a special session to discuss the issue and ban the technology.
Charging a few seed companies, particularly Monsanto, with monopolising the seed industry and setting the agenda for the government, social activists urged policy-makers and farmers to reject the hype around Bt cotton and demanded a comprehensive review. “The crisis in the cotton belt should be closely examined and critically re-assessed,” they said.
The Delhi Alliance for Safe Food held a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar. Similar protests were held in the cotton belts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
A technology that was meant for irrigated areas was pushed in all cotton-growing States, including rain-fed ones resulting in higher rate of suicides of cotton growers — particularly in Maharashtra. The protests, therefore, were intense and widespread in the State where farmers burnt Bt cotton in several villages according to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. Several wives of farmers who had committed suicides joined the protests.
“Ten years ago, permission was granted to U.S. based Monsanto seed giant for experimental cultivation of [bollworm-resistant] GM Bt cotton in 10,000 hectares in different parts of the country. Today, with the push given to it, the acreage has gone up to over 12 million hectares and [the crop is] sown by 90 per cent growers, especially after Maharashtra permitted commercial cultivation trials of Bt cotton from June 2005,” points Kishor Tiwari of the Andolan.
A Coalition for GM-free India report released on Sunday last said the government’s own data proved that Bt cotton had resulted in stagnant yields, pest resistance and evolution of new pest and disease attacks.
“Yet, its use has spread because the creditors in the informal sector, who double up as seed agents, promote the Bt seed and deprive farmers of the traditional variety,” the activists said.
In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the State government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71 per cent of the area). The State government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 crore.
In Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as in Madhya Pradesh, Bt cotton is considered the reason for “deep agrarian crisis.”
The protesters demanded that the government rejuvenate the production of conventional cotton seeds and pro-actively advise farmers about the risks of Bt cotton. There should be strict action against false claims and misleading advertising by seed companies.
CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu has set an ambitious foodgrains production target of 120 lakh tonnes for the coming financial year despite the damage to crops due to the Cyclone Thane and floods this year. The budget estimates that foodgrains production will be 105 lakh tonnes during 2011-12 as against a projected 115 lakh tonnes.
However, former Union revenue secretary and finance secretary to the Madhya Pradesh government, M R Sivaraman told TOI that the projected 15% jump in foodgrains production would be a tall order.
While the budget has provided 500 crore for the system of Serial Rice Intensification (SRI) to cover an extended area of 27.55 lakh acres, there is a problem as a large workforce would be required to work in the fields, he pointed out.
This is because many of these farm hands may prefer to take up work under the more remunerative MNREGA scheme and marginal farmers would find it tough to get labour. Carrying this logic further, a similar problem could dog the measure to improve production of pulses under the system of Serial Pulses Intensification ( SPI) proposed to be implemented in 1.6 lakh acres based on the ‘Whole Village Concept’.
Armed with a vision of chief minister J Jayalalithaa to usher in a second green revolution, the budget has made highest ever allocation of 3,804.96 crore for agriculture. An Agri-Market Intelligence and Business Promotion Centre is to be established at Trichy during 2012-13 to disseminate information on prices and render crop and market advisory services to farmers. The budget has set a target of 10 lakh farmers to be covered under agricultural insurance and 200 crore is allocated to ensure that farmers get more remuneration over and above the minimum support price. The government is providing 100% subsidy for small and marginal farmers and 75% subsidy for others for installing micro-irrigation systems. The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative Programme will be implemented in 15,000 acres.
An enhanced area of 1,73,000 acres would be covered during 2012-13 under micro-irrigation for which 75 crore is granted as subsidy. A new system of disbursing subsidy directly to farmers will be introduced.
Farmers would continue to be exempted from VAT on fertilizers and the present interest-free loan to Tamil Nadu Cooperative Marketing Federation Ltd (TANFED) to procure and distribute fertilizers would be enhanced to 150 crore.
“The budget is silent on establishing an organic mission for Tamil Nadu which will encourage best agricultural practices to safeguard the interests of small and marginal farmers,” said V R Ananthoo of Safe Food Alliance.
In the last decade, cotton prices have seen lots of volatility. However, earnings and margins for cotton farmers in the state have been continuously shrinking in last four to five years.
In 2002-03, when BT cotton was introduced, prices of Shankar 6 variety, also known as Gujarat cotton, shot up from around Rs17,000 per candy (350 kg each), to Rs60,000 last year. While this year, prices tumbled down to around Rs37,000 per candy. “Due to rise in inflation rate, the cost of fertilizers, seeds and labour has increased more than double. On other side, the cotton yield in some regions of Gujarat has declined by 30%. In certain areas of North Gujarat, where I belong to, the yield of cotton five to six years back was 730 kg per hectare which is now come down to 510 kg per hectare. This has further resulted in shrinking of earnings of the farmers,” said former president of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Praful Senjalia.
Agreeing to the fact, the cotton farmer from North Gujarat, Niranjan Patel too has witnessed fall in earnings this year. “Last year, we got around Rs5,500 per quintal but in this year, the prices have slashed to Rs3,700 per quintal. On other side, the cost of raw material and labour charges has gone up.
The cost of labour till last year was around Rs120 per day is up to Rs200 per day this year. So for next year, I have decided to change the crop, which does not have any labour. If I stick to cotton, I may get into debt trap,” said Patel.
Let your garden go green…no, not in colour but environmentally. Use organic pesticides instead of the chemical ones, as these are more beneficial in the long run.
We all love playing in the garden, digging the soil, playing in dirt, watering plants, making scarecrows and so on.
Well, you must have noticed how vexed your mom or dad gets when they notice insects and pests thriving on plants and in soil. You could make some soil-friendly pesticide for your garden.
Wondering what that is — well, normal pesticides are chemical based. Chemical pesticides kill the pests no doubt, but leave harmful residues in the soil which are not good for plants.
So what are soil-friendly pesticides? They are made from natural ingredients, and do not harm or disturb the natural soil system. Your science teacher would have told you in class that soil is a living system and it requires to be handled carefully for plants to grow naturally.
According to the experts at Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, there are many simple ways to make home based natural pesticides. Here are some natural remedies they advocate:
Cow urine can be sprayed on plants to prevent insect infestation. So how do you get cow urine? That should not be difficult if you are in suburbs or villages, but if you are in a city, there are cow shelters run by government — called ‘Gowshalas’. Check for one in your city, go there one Saturday afternoon, with a couple of large pet bottles and ask for cow urine. They may give it to you for free but you can even give them a nominal ten rupee or so from your pocket money.
Fix a spray cap on the bottle and spray on the plants. Cow urine has a strong smell ( might gross out your mom so be prepared). Plain cow urine keeps insects away from plan.
For insects in soil:
Take your parent’s help with this one and wear gloves before you start.
Two tbsp red chilli powder,
two tbsp of garlic paste.
Mix it in one litre of water.
Add a little of the mixture to the soil in each pot.
After a few days turn the soil over with small hoe you won’t find any insects.
They would have died from the severe burning sensation caused by the chilli.
For leaf spray:
Black tulsi leaves: 50gm
Two glasses of water
Half tsp of detergent
Boil tulsi in water for 30 minutesLet it cool. Add detergent powder to it. Stir well. Fill your spray can or bottle with the mixture and spray on plants to keep away leaf pests. Try out these eco friendly ideas in your garden. Not only will you surprise your parents but you will also be doing Mother Nature a good turn.
A group of farmers’ associations and non-governmental organisations have asked the Government to conduct a comprehensive, independent review of 10 years of Bt cotton in India. This study is very important as efforts are on to bring biotechnology in other crops in the country.
They have termed the claims made by seed firms and agri-biotechnology firms on purported benefits of Bt cotton as false hype.
“Government agencies should stop promoting Bt cotton and revive non-Bt seed production to make traditional seed available for farmers The Government should clearly educate farmers about the unsuitability and problems of Bt cotton particularly in rain-fed areas,” Mr G V Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) and Mr Kiran Vissa of Rythu Swarjya Vedika, said.
Addressing a round table on 10 years of Bt cotton here on Monday, they wanted Government to promote more sustainable solutions such as non-pesticide management, crop diversity and sustainable agriculture. They called for more funds for agriculture research in public sector.
“We should ensure freedom for institutions from big corporations in setting the research priorities,” they said.
Gains from bio-technology were short term. Technology is not the only solution for the problems being faced by agriculture. There is a spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12. This is more accentuated in cotton farmers. In Andhra Pradesh, out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during the last kharif, crop in 33.73 lakh acres failed.
“In Maharashtra, the bad performance of cotton crop has led to lowering of production estimates significantly in spite of increase in area of cotton cultivation,” they said.
Stating that this was just a wake-up call for farmers, Parliamentarians, policy-makers and the media, they said the cotton crisis needed to be examined and reassessed critically in the context of a decade of introduction of biotechnology.
They said the propaganda on yield increase was a myth. In the pre-Bt cotton era beginning 2000-01, yield increase was put at 69 per cent. In the post-Bt cotton era, yield went up by 17 per cent in the first three years and declined in the subsequent two years.
“The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint a hectare for the past seven years,” they said, quoting a paper.
Rytu Swarajya Vedika & Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)
Roundtable meeting demands comprehensive review of Bt Cotton
On the 10th anniversary of introduction of Bt cotton in India, the Roundtable meeting and press conference organized by Rytu Swarajya Vedika and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture exposed the false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton. The Roundtable, which was attended by farmer union leaders, scientists and representatives of people’s organizations, came out with a consensus that “the Government, legislators, policy-makers, farmer organizations and media should reject the false hype about Bt cotton, closely examine the crisis in the cotton belt and critically re-assess the 10 years of Bt cotton. A few companies, particularly Monsanto, are controlling the seed industry and also setting the agenda for the government. The government should stop acting as an agent for the seed companies and act independently in the interests of farmers against the monopolistic exploitation by companies pushing technologies like Genetically Modified crops.” The prominent attendees included Mr. Kodand Reddy, President of A.P. Kisan Congress, Mr. Nallamala Venkateswara Rao, Secretary of Telugu Rythu, Dr. A.Prasad Rao, advisor to A.P. Rythu Sangham (CPM), Prof. Satya Prasad, President of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. N.Venugopala Rao, well-known agricultural scientist and leader of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. Ramana Murthy, agricultural economist from Hyderabad Central University, Dr.Narasimha Reddy from Chetana Society, Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective, K.Ravi, assoc. editor of Tolakari magazine, Kiran Vissa from Rytu Swarajya Vedika, and Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Rytu Swarajya Vedika and CSA released a Telugu report on 10 years of Bt cotton, using data from government institutions, which highlighted that the hype around Bt cotton as revolutionizing the cotton production in India is clearly wrong. Closer examination of the data from the last 10 years negates the two important claims of dramatic yield increase and significant fall in pesticide usage. The report clearly exposes the dark side of the Bt cotton story – stagnant yields, pest resistance, new pest and disease attacks, the need for high levels of expensive farm inputs and the spate of tragic farmer suicides in the cotton belt.
The organizers said, “The aggressive PR campaign by the biotechnology industry is being uncritically accepted by the government and regulators. The government should stop promoting Bt cotton and pro-actively advise farmers about its unsuitability and risks.”
The cotton farmers are in deep crisis after ten years of Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. The extensive crop failure has exposed the false hype and advertising, often repeated by policymakers and regulators. In Andhra Pradesh, state government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71% of the area). The state government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 cr.
Presenting some of the analysis, Kiran Vissa of Rytu Swarajya Vedika said, “The real yield gains in the past decade (from 278 kg/ha to 470 kg/ha) happened from 2000-01 to 2004-05, i.e. when Bt cotton area reached only 5.6% of the total cotton area. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, when the Bt cotton area grew to exceed 90% of the total cotton area, there is no sustained yield gain – only going from 470 kg/ha to 481 kg/ha. It is the pre-Bt cotton yield gains that have proved to be stable, resulting from various factors including fresh land brought under cotton cultivation, expansion of irrigation and use of high-yielding hybrids. In A.P. state, in the period from 2001-02 to 2007-08 when the Bt cotton area had not fully expanded, the yield went from 454 kg/ha to 690 kg/ha, but by 2010-11 it had fallen to 505 kg/ha and in 2011-12 reports indicate it is as low as 320 kg/ha.” The report also refers to the statement of Dr. K.R. Kranthi, Director of Central Institute for Cotton Research(CICR), “The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010.”
Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective said, “We have been working for six years with farmer suicides in 3 districts of A.P. We find that the farmer suicides are maximum in areas of Bt cotton – for example, the Parakala area in Warangal district. This technology showed some temporary gains but has trapped the farmers in debt cycle. At the farmer level, pesticide spraying quickly went back to pre-Bt levels after the first two years.”
Regarding pest protection, scientific studies and the company statements show that the target pest bollworm has developed tolerance to Bt cotton, whereas secondary pests like mealy bugs and whiteflies which were hitherto unseen are causing major damage. Data from Directorate of Plant Protection that in five out of six major cotton-growing states there is an increase in pesticide usage during the period 2005-06 to 2009-10 when the Bt cotton cultivation expanded in a big way. This is despite the heavy increase in use of more powerful low-volume pesticides during the same period, which should have reduced the total volumes. This shows that Bt technology is a false solution to the pesticide problem – the NPM methods which eliminate pesticide usage completely have been successfully demonstrated A.P. in various crops in the large-scale CMSA program (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) in 30 lakh acres while the Bt technology with all its risks, at best reduces pesticide usage temporarily for a given target pest.
Farmer leader Mr.Kodand Reddy from A.P.Kisan Congress said, “My experience as a farmer, as well as official information shows that Bt cotton requires more inputs in terms of fertilizers and irrigation, and is particularly susceptible to rainfall shortage at peak bolling period. The costs of cultivation have gone up significantly after the introduction of Bt cotton, leading to increased risk and debt for small farmers. Based on the experience of Bt cotton, the government should be extremely careful with promoting any other Genetically Modified crops, and the state government rightly took a stand in 2010 that Bt Brinjal should not be allowed.”
Dr. Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said, “The fact is that the crisis of cotton farmers in A.P. has only become deeper after the adoption of Bt cotton. A large number of farmer suicides in A.P. have happened with cotton farmers. Though studies have shown that Bt cotton is not suitable for rain-fed regions which form majority of the cotton cultivation area, it is promoted aggressively with farmers through misleading advertising. Even the government institutions do not have non-Bt seed available for the farmers. Farmers who were frustrated with one unsustainable technology of chemical pesticides were asked to adopt another unsustainable technology promoted by the same companies which sold the pesticides.”
Prof.N.Venugopal Rao, entomology professor at the Agricultural University (ANGRAU- Hyderabad) and leader of the people’s science movement Jana Vigyana Vedika, said, “As believers in true science and people-friendly science, we can say clearly that the Bt cotton technology is a temporary unsustainable solution that doesn’t address the problem of the farmers. Jana Vigyana Vedika will take up public programs with farmers in four cotton-growing districts along with Rytu Swarajya Vedika to raise awareness about pitfalls of Bt cotton.”
Prof. A. Prasada Rao, retired soil scientist from Agricultural University (ANGRAU-Hyderabad) said, “Farmers around the state need to be more aware of the dangers of the technology and the manipulations and monopolistic control of these corporations. As with any technology, we should look at the sustainability, impact on environment and the question of who controls the technology. Bt cotton is not an appropriate technology on any of these counts.”
Demands emerging from the participants of roundtable:
- The government, political parties and scientists should reject the false hype about Bt cotton.
- Government should perform a comprehensive, independent review of 10 years of Bt cotton.
- Government agencies should stop promoting Bt cotton, and revive non-Bt seed production to make it available for farmers. Especially in rainfed areas, government should clearly educate farmers about the unsuitability and problems of Bt cotton.
- Strict action should be taken against false advertising and penalties imposed for sub-quality seed
- Lessons from the false propaganda of Bt cotton should be learnt, and policy-makers should reject the false hype about GM crops being the inevitable way forward for increasing productivity.
- Promote more sustainable solutions such as NPM, crop diversity and sustainable agriculture.
- More public funding should go into agricultural research and our institutions should be freed from the heavy influence of big corporations such as Monsanto setting the research priorities.
Dr.G.V.Ramanjaneyulu Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 09000699702, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy Chetana Society, 09010205742, email@example.com
Prof. N.Venugopala Rao Jana Vigyana Vedika, 09490098905, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ahmedabad: Are genetically modified (GM) seeds the real culprit behind the fall in yield of cotton crops? Farmers and economists seem to think so. It has been 10 years since genetically-modified Bt cotton was first introduced in the country. The yield of cotton rose to a peak in the first four years of the last decade but declined later.
On Monday, Bt cotton will complete 10 years in this country as it was on March 26, 2002, that the central government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved three Bt cotton hybrids for use by Indian farmers.
Subsequently, Bt seeds were used during the cotton season (Oct-Sept) of 2002-03. In that year, cotton was cultivated in 16.34 lakh hectares and 30.50 lakh bales (1 bale=170 kg) were produced. This came to 317 kg cotton per hectare.
The introduction of genetically-modified Bt cotton transformed Gujarat’s cotton landscape. During the four years from 2002-03 to 2005-06, cotton yield jumped by an impressive 150per cent to 794 kg per hectare. This led to a quantum leap in total production which rose to 89 lakh bales, a jump of 191per cent.
However, the honeymoon with Bt cotton proved short-lived as production began to decline after 2005-2006. Farmers were not amused. They felt that it was Bt cotton that was responsible for the decline in yields.
“Thanks to Bt cotton, yields began to decline post 2005-06, though the fall in yield has been only 18.50per cent till today. Cotton growing land has started losing its fertility which is a cause of concern,” said Magan Patel, president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) in Gujarat.
With a long list of drawbacks, the farmers of a small village, Khoraj, near Sanand are giving up Bt cotton and tilting towards crops like paddy, castor, jowar and others. This small village has made a major shift from cotton to paddy, due to easy availability of water. For the past many years, Gujarat has seen a rise in area under cotton cultivation.
It is estimated that cotton sowing is being carried out in around 30 lakh hectares of land this year, which translates into more than one-third of the total land where kharif sowing is normally undertaken.
But in Khoraj almost 90per cent sowing has shifted to paddy in the past couple of years. This year, farmers are expecting good profit from paddy instead of cotton. Farmers in Khoraj said that Narmada canal and good rains have increased water availability.
“Earlier, we went for Bt cotton but it needs lots of pesticide and water. This in turn hardened the soil. So around three to four years ago, farmers of Khoraj shifted from Bt cotton to Kalyan cotton,” said Raghu Jadav. He said now they are moving to paddy. Farmers said that the easy availability of water has made them look at other crops for better profits. Now, of the total 5,000 bigha under cultivation, over 90per cent is used for paddy production. Gambhir Jadav who has around 200 bigha of land in Khoraj said earlier rains were normal and labour was easily available which made cotton a viable option. “Now rains are good but very uncertain and last longer which spoils the standing cotton crop. So we mainly sow paddy and castor,” he said.
“Cotton being a cash crop gives more profit. But past experience has taught us that the crop is often lost due to unseasonal rains, disease or limited availability of water,” said Hitesh Chavda. He has around 100 bigha of agricultural land, said that between 2008 and 2010, over 50per cent of his cotton crop failed due to unseasonal rains and various diseases.
“In case of cotton, the crop cycle takes eight months and if it fails a farmer cannot sow anything else as water is not available,” he said.
Jamsangh Umarsangh, who owns 150 bigha of land said good rain for the past many years has made them shift to paddy. “The arrival time for paddy is three to four months. By Diwali, we will be enchasing paddy and, post-Diwali we will start sowing the second kharif crop. Similarly, in summers too we can go for jowar, castor or any other crop,” said Umarsangh. The farmers of Khoraj believe that if rains remain bountiful, their counterparts across the state will have to shift to other crops as cotton will not be feasible any more.
It may appear paradoxical that even as productivity has taken a hit, total production has constantly grown over the years. But it is not as big a puzzle as it may seem. “Production figures seem impressive but that is because the total area under cotton cultivation in the state has gone up. The area under cotton farming in Gujarat is now 30 lakh hectares, the highest ever in the state. However, this is also likely to come down from next year,” said Patel. Agriculture expert and vice-chancellor of Junagadh Agriculture University, Dr NC Patel, believes that cultivation of Bt cotton may be one reason for the decline in productivity.
“It is not that the gene of GM cotton seeds has changed. Due to continuous cultivation of Bt cotton, there is a possibility that the land has become less fertile. Apart from this, there are other reasons for the decline in yield in the state. If the cotton yield peaked in a year, it is possible that rain and weather were good for the crop that year,” said Dr Patel. The state government, however, rules out the possibility of GM crops affecting fertility of the land. “If the yield has come down, GM technology can’t be blamed. There are other factors such as seasonal and unseasonal rain and climatic changes which could have played a role,” said Dr BR Shah, director of agriculture, Gujarat government
One Tendulkar makes the big scores. The other wrecks the averages. The Planning Commission clearly prefers Suresh to Sachin. Using Professor Tendulkar’s methodology, it declares that there’s been another massive fall in poverty. Yes, another (“more dramatic in the rural areas”). “Record Fall in Poverty” reads one headline. The record is in how many times you’ve seen the same headline over the years. And how many times poverty has collapsed, only to bounce back when the math is done differently.
And so, a mere 29.9 per cent of India’s population is now below the official poverty line (BPL). The figure was 37.2 per cent in 2004-05. The “line” is another story in itself, of course. But on the surface, rural poverty has declined by eight percentage points to log in at 33.8 per cent. That’s down from 41.8 per cent in 2004-05. And urban poverty fell by 4.8 percentage points from 25.7 to 20.9 per cent in the same period. Millions have been dragged above the poverty line, without knowing it.
Undoing bogus methodology
Media amnesia fogs the “lowest-ever” figures, though. These are not the “lowest-ever.”
“Kill me, I say,” said Prof. Madhu Dandavate in 1996, chuckling. “I just doubled poverty in your country today.” What that fine old gentleman had really done, as deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, was to jettison the bogus methodology peddled by that body before he came to head it the same year. Even minor changes in methodology or poverty line can produce dramatically differing estimates.
The fraud he undid was “an exercise” bringing poverty down to 19 per cent in 1993-94. And that, from 25.5 per cent in 1987-88. These were the “preliminary results of a Planning Commission exercise based on National Sample Survey data” (Economic & Political Weekly, January 27, 1996). Now if these figures were true, then poverty has risen ever since. And remember, highlighting that historic fall was an honest Finance Minister. The never-tell-a-lie Dr. Manmohan Singh. One business daily ran a hilarious “exclusive” on this at the time. Poverty falls to record low of 19 per cent, “government officials say.” This was the best news since Independence. But the modest officials remained anonymous, knowing how stupid they’d look. In the present era, they hold press conferences to flaunt their fraud.
The “lowest ever at 19 per cent” fraud was buried in the ruins of the April 1996 polls. So was the government of the day. The “estimate” was not heard of again. Now we have the 29.9 per cent avatar. Surely that’s a rise of 10.9 percentage points in 16 years? Or just another methodological fiddle.
However, the new Planning Commission numbers have achieved one thing. They’ve united most of Parliament on the issue. Members from all parties have blasted the “estimates” and called for explanations.
There’s also the Tendulkar report’s own fiddles. As Dr. Madhura Swaminathan points out, the committee dumped the calorie norms of “2,100 kcal per day for urban areas and 2,400 kcal for rural areas.” It switched to “a single norm of 1,800 kcal per day.” And did so citing an “FAO norm.” As Dr. Swaminathan observed: “the standards set by the Food and Agriculture Organisation for energy requirements are for “minimum dietary energy requirements” or MDER. That is, “the amount of energy needed for light or sedentary activity.” And she cites an FAO example of such activity. “…a male office worker in urban areas who only occasionally engages in physically demanding activities during or outside working hours.”
As Dr. Swaminathan asks: “Can we assume that a head load worker who carries heavy sacks through the day is engaged in light activity?” — The Hindu, February 5, 2010.
The media rarely mention that there are other methodologies for measuring poverty on offer. Also set in motion by this same government. The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) saw BPL Indians as making up 77 per cent of the population. The N.C. Saxena-headed BPL Expert group placed it at around 50 per cent. Like the Tendulkar Committee, these two were also set up by government. While differing wildly, all three pegged rural poverty at a higher level than government did. Meanwhile, we will have many more committees on the same issue until one of them gives this government the report it wants. The one it can get away with. (The many inquiries on farm suicides exemplify this.)
That the Planning Commission thought they could slip the present bunkum by sets a new benchmark for — and marriage of — arrogance and incompetence. First, they sparked outrage with their affidavit in the Supreme Court. There they defended a BPL cut-off line of Rs.26 a day (rural) and Rs.32 (urban). Now they hope to get by with numbers of Rs.22.42 a day (rural) and Rs.28.35 a day (urban).
The same year the government and planning commission shot themselves in both feet in 1996, a leading Delhi think tank joined in. It came up with the “biggest ever study” done on poverty in the country. This covered over 30,000 households and queried respondents across more than 300 parameters. So said its famous chief at a meeting in Bhopal.
This stunned the journalists in the audience. Till then, they had been doing what most journalists do at most seminars. Sleeping in a peaceful, non-confrontational manner. The veteran beside me came alive, startled. “Did he mean they asked those households over 300 questions? My God! Thirty years in this line and the biggest interview I ever did had nine. That was with my boss’s best friend. And my last question was ‘may I go now’?” We did suggest to the famous economist that battered with 300 questions, his respondents were more likely to die of fatigue than of poverty. A senior aide of the think tank chief took the mike to explain why we were wrong. We sent two investigators to each household, he said. Which made sense, of course: one to hold the respondent down physically, twisting his arm, while the other asked him 300 questions.
Now to the queue of BPL, APL, IPL, et al., may I add my own modest contribution? This is the CPL, or Corporate Plunder Line. This embraces the corporate world and other very well-off or “high net worth individuals.” We have no money for a universal PDS. Or even for a shrunken food security bill. We’ve cut thousands of crores from net spending on rural employment. We lag horribly in human development indicators, hunger indexes and nutritional surveys. Food prices keep rising and decent jobs get fewer.
Yet, BPL numbers keep shrinking. The CPL numbers, however, keep expanding. The CPL concept is anchored in the “Statement of Revenue Foregone” section of successive union budgets. Since 2005-06, for instance, the union government has written off close to Rs.4 lakh crore in corporate income tax. Over Rs.50,000 crore of that in the present budget. The very one in which it slashes thousands of crores from the MNREGS. Throw in concessions on customs and excise duties and the corporate karza maafi in this year’s budget sneaks up to nearly Rs.5 lakh crore.
True, there are things covered in excise and customs that also affect larger sections, like fuel, for instance. But mostly, they benefit the corporate world and the very rich. In just this budget and the last one, we’ve written off Rs.1 lakh crore for diamonds, gold and jewellery in customs duties. That sort of money buys a lot of food security. But CPL trumps BPL every time. The same is true of write-offs on things like machinery. In theory, there’s a lot that should benefit everybody: like the equipment hospitals import. In practice, most Indians will never enter the five-star hospitals that cash in on these benefits.
The total write-off on these three heads in eight years since 2005-06: Rs. 25.7 lakh crore. (See Table). That’s over half a trillion U.S. dollars. Not far from 15 times the size of your 2G scam. Or over twice the Coal Scam, the latest addition to the CPL. Look at the table and think about BPL estimates working on cut-offs of Rs.22.42 a day rural and Rs.28.35 urban. To fix BPL, nix CPL.
India’s Bt cotton dream is going terribly wrong. For the first time, farmer suicides, including those in 2011-12, have been linked to the declining performance of the much hyped genetically modified (GM) variety adopted by 90% of the country’s cotton-growers since being allowed a decade ago.
Policymakers have hailed Bt cotton as a success story but a January 9 internal advisory, a copy of which is with HT, sent out to cotton-growing states by the agriculture ministry presents a grim scenario.
“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers,” says the advisory.
Bt cotton’s success, it appears, lasted merely five years. Since then, yields have been falling and pest attacks going up. India’s only GM crop has been genetically altered to destroy cotton-eating pests.
For farmers, rising costs —in the form of pesticides — have not matched returns, pushing many to the brink, financially and otherwise. Simply put, Bt cotton is no more as profitable as it used to be.
“In fact cost of cotton cultivation has jumped…due to rising costs of pesticides. Total Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced,” says the advisory.
This could have larger implications for Asia’s third-largest economy where rural prosperity has been a key driver of overall growth.
The note is based on observations from the Indian Council of Agricultural Sciences, which administers farm science, and the Central Cotton Research Institute, the country’s top cotton research facility.
Yet, officials HT spoke to either denied or downplayed the advisory. Swapan Kumar Dutta, India’s deputy director-general of crop science, said he had no knowledge of the note and that Bt cotton continued to drive India’s cotton production.
He could neither “confirm nor deny” that such a note had been sent, said Prabeer Kumar Basu, the agriculture secretary.
Of the nine cotton-growing states, Maharashtra has seen the largest number of farmer suicides. In the state’s Vidarbha region, a cotton-growing belt comprising six districts, 209 farmers committed suicides in 2011 due to “agrarian causes”.
In February 2010, the environment ministry put an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal, India’s first GM food crop, days after the country’s biotech regulator cleared it for cultivation. Among many reasons, the ministry said it was “necessary to review” the performance of Bt cotton first.