Food As Toxin: a new book from CSE

Modern food regulation is about  determining what is that right dose in our daily diet.  We know pesticides are toxins, chemicals designed to kill insects and other creatures at low doses. Unless human exposure to toxins is regulated and minimised, there are serious health implications. Therefore, it is critical to determine the amount of pesticides we can be exposed to over a lifetime and to regulate the registration and use oftoxins in our agriculture and in food.
In the past 10 years, the debate over the use of pesticides and its implications for human health has been fought over strenuously in India. The country has learnt about the cases of pesticide abuse and there have been calls for stringent bans on its use.
This means that the food we eat is, by and large, unsafe for consumption. Or in other words, regulation is designed to ensure that food is unsafe for humans.


It is for this reason that we urgently need a complete revamp of the entire regulatory system so that human health is not compromised.


Read about all these and more on the various food items we eat and how to cope with the issues that these bring along.


How To Order

Please send cheque/DD AT PAR for Rs.450/- (USD35) drawn in favour of “Centre for Science and Environment”, and mail it back to us for instant supply.


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The politics of food for the hungry


The 28th of May, marked as “World Hunger Day,” has come and gone but for Pannu Bai Bhil, every day is hunger day. How does someone dealing with chronic hunger view a day marking her plight? Let those of us who overeat at least take stock of a hungry India pitted against bumper crops, number crunching, technologies for profit, markets, and growth rates. The solution for hunger lies in proper distribution of grain, and not in bringing technology as the Prime Minster avers when talking of GM crops. If this government cannot prevent the huge stocks from rotting by distributing food grain adequately and equitably, other questions remain mere rhetoric.

Whenever issues of deprivation, hunger and social security are raised, the government deliberately talks of the declining Sensex, the rupee exchange, growth rates, and balanced budgets. Most innocent readers and viewers of news blame the demands of the marginalised for pulling down a rising India. Nationalist India will have to make a choice. Can we shift from fighting the ‘foreign hand’ to fight the biggest enemy within — the hunger of millions? India has not addressed the unpardonable sin of letting bumper crops and huge dumps of grain rot, when millions of Indians battle with endemic hunger and lack of access to food.

Since it is a global event, a quick overview of international standards would be useful. The World Food Summit (1996) defined food security as “access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” The Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India 66th among 88 vulnerable countries. Ironically farmers are amongst the millions who go hungry. A principal reason is that the economy has neglected agriculture, continuously discriminated against and exploited to subsidise the manufacturing and service sectors.

How to lie with statistics : The first method to downplay the issue is to crunch numbers, and reduce the statistics of hungry people. There are many contradictory reports and studies commissioned by the government. Conclusive figures vary. For example, according to the Planning Commission’s contentious Tendulkar Committee Report, calorie consumption is calculated at 1776 calories per person per day for urban areas, 1999 for rural areas. This is much below the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) norms for the average person in India which is 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. Having already restricted the supply of subsidised food grains to BPL families, the government brought down the BPL figures from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10. In one stroke, the government absolved itself of the responsibility of providing affordable food grain to those who, by medical standards, needed them. Yet while releasing the ‘Hungama’ report (2012), the Prime Minister was shocked to find 42 per cent of children malnourished, calling it a “national shame”.

The technology fix : “The country cannot feed its hungry millions, unless there is high tech Corporate agriculture!” According to the figures of the Ministry of Agriculture, in the last three years of 2009-10, 2010-2011 and 2011-12 food grain production broke records. The country produced approximately 240 million tonnes of cereals and 17 million tonnes of pulses last year. If this is procured and distributed efficiently, it should be enough to provide the stipulated calories for the entire population of the country. Instead, there is poor procurement, and potential wastage of millions of tonnes of food grain that will rot in railway yards, mandies , FCI godowns across the country. The population that will and has benefited most from this stark inability to deal with distribution are rats! Exporting food now, far from being a solution, will only aggravate hunger further.

Technology or political will : Facts and figures proclaim surplus despite accusations that the agriculture sector pulls down growth. But, the government has been making hunger and low production the reason to push a series of techno-fix solutions. It is part of a mindset that sees the solution in Northern style Agro-Business Corporations. The balance sheet of a technological solution can now be better measured in the cradles of the Green revolution — Punjab and Haryana — where the costs to the land and water table, and dependent relationship on the financiers and agro companies were never factored in. This model, propagated across the country, spelt rapid depletion of the natural capital for farming — soil, water and biodiversity. It also resulted in indebted farmers. It is inexplicable that a set of market economy policymakers, with a commitment to cost benefit analysis, should ignore depletion of basic capital — land that produces, and the (in)security of farmers in the market. There is also the wider national impact of these agrochemicals on health.

The latest addition to this treadmill of technologies being sold to farmers is Genetically Modified (GM) crops. It represents a paradigm shift in agriculture, with the potential to affect the consumers (food safety) and farmers (livelihood) security.

GM crops are controversial all over the world. Questions have been repeatedly raised against this technology being introduced in food and farming. When Bt Brinjal was introduced, it was the first GM food crop proposed for commercial cultivation. There was public opposition from all sections of society, including the fact that the bio-safety assessment on Bt Brinjal was not satisfactory. Jairam Ramesh, then Union Minister for Environment and Forests, concluded a series of public consultations on this contested policy, with a decision to enforce an indefinite moratorium on the proposal.

Alarm bells

In fact, the assessment of Bt cotton, the only commercially approved GM crop in the country, should ring alarm bells for policymakers obsessed with the idea of increased food production through GM technology. While the area under Bt cotton cultivation has certainly gone up over the last decade, data analysis shows productivity has not significantly increased, nor has pesticide use markedly decreased. In fact, cotton productivity has been on the decline in the last five years — a period when Bt cotton covered the majority of the cotton cultivated area in the country. Far from being a technological solution to rural poverty, Bt cotton has only increased the distress of those dependent on farming, and acutely so in the semi-arid cotton belt. Costs have increased due to the appearance of new pests and others developing Bt resistance, higher water and fertilizer requirements, and no major benefit in the output. The main beneficiaries of this transfer to Bt Cotton seem to be multinational seed companies like Monsanto which have profited through patents and royalty.

Attempts to flood agriculture with GM crops — around 71 at different stages of development in the pipeline — in fact pose a threat to long-term food security. The government seems unconcerned that this technology will further shift the control of agriculture to seed companies and corporate intermediaries. There is a growing body of science that points to the risk that GM food might pose to human health and environment. What insures us against the potential disaster to life and environment when side-effects emerge a few decades later?

While hasty techno-fixes to deal with the crisis in the farming community are afoot, malnutrition and genuine problems in the agricultural sector in the country fail to be seriously addressed. Farmers committing suicide are linked to the commercial pressures of tech dependent agriculture, along with the controls of companies, the market, and credit agencies. Increasing production is not the only solution to hunger in an unequal society. The debates around the National Food Security Bill reveal the lack of political intent to use food stocks to help remove malnutrition and address inequity. While talking of food security (a much larger right than just PDS), policymakers are reluctant to grant universal entitlements of even food grain to eradicate hunger.

India is, and will be, an agricultural economy. Communities dependent on farming have tremendously difficult jobs and very low incomes. In shifting to intensive mono cropping during the Green Revolution, farmers stopped cultivating diverse and subsistence crops, undermining their own basic food security. We need to ensure that people in agriculture lead economically secure lives. A rationally calculated Minimum Support Price is non-negotiable. Agricultural workers and farmers must have the purchasing power, for their own food security needs.

If we take “hunger day” seriously, every Indian who feeds more than twice a day, wasting food, and critiquing food entitlements, should feel contrite and join the campaign for a universal entitlement through the PDS. We should take a serious look at the politics of food, and not be taken in by potentially dangerous technological solutions like GM foods. The Indian government must move from platitudes to action. Undistributed grains must be moved immediately to people through the PDS and increased universal allocations under the proposed Right to Food Bill. Can we afford to wait for Parliament debates in the monsoon session as rains soak and rot open food stocks, and farmers struggle to find the money for inputs to sow their next crop?

(Aruna Roy is a social activist. Email:, Neha Saigal is Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India)


Policymakers talk of food security

but are reluctant to give universal

entitlements to eradicate hunger

Backyard solution for composting

by PRINCE FREDERICK, The Hindu | May 26, 2012
ENVIRONMENT Septuagenarian Balakrishnan shows it takes just a little effort to convert kitchen waste into organic manure.GOING GREENV. Balakrishnan

V. Balakrishnan has shown that gargantuan global problems can be effectively tackled by dealing with them at home and in the neighbourhood. A retired mechanical engineer of Southern Railways, 76-year-old Balakrishnan has devised a simple instrument and an accompanying process that aerobically composts kitchen waste into organic manure. Besides churning out green fertilizer for the coconut trees encircling his house in Kalakshetra Colony, he speaks about his method at meetings of resident welfare associations in and around Adyar. Finding him through his website — — groups beyond his neighbourhood too occasionally invite him for a talk.

Cost-effective alternatives

He installed his invention on October 2, 2008 in the backyard of his house — where it still stands. Over the years, the device has shed certain features for sleeker and cost-effective alternatives. These modifications — explained with illustrations in a section of the website — were dictated by the logic that the instrument should be affordable for most people.

The one currently in use consists of three concrete borewell rings that give it the shape of a drum. A fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) sheet serves as a shutter for an oblong cut in the bottom-most ring that serves as the opening through which the manure is shovelled out. Jammed between the first and the second rings is a wide-gapped nylon mesh.

The three-ring concrete cylinder is covered with a circular FRP sheet, which has a hole in the centre through which is inserted a PVC pipe with an elbow. The two openings of the elbow are covered with soft, tiny-holed nylon nets to keep insects out. The hidden end of the PVC pipe has thin slits to facilitate easy air flow.

“Kitchen waste and dry leaves are mixed at the ratio of 1:4. As the mixture is dropped into the cylinder, it lands on the nylon mesh. The microbes are sustained by the carbon emitted by dry leaves. Where dry leaves are not available, shredded newspaper — not glazed ones — can be substituted. A measly addition of cottonseed oil cake powder serves as a catalyst for speeding up the composting process. To keep insects at bay, I spray a bit of lemon grass oil mixed with water. I keep loading the cylinder with the mixture daily, but it does not get filled up — which points to the fact that huge amounts of waste are required to make small quantities of manure. Every month, powdery manure is collected through the opening in the bottom-most ring,” explains Balakrishnan.

“Being aerobic, this composting method does not cause any foul odour.”

The septuagenarian has continually rejected suggestions that he commercialise the model and crank out instruments. “It takes only a plumber to create this simple device. I’ll stop at offering people technical advice.”

Like Balakrishnan, a handful of other people — including P.G. Ramanath in Nungambakkam and Shobha V. Manickam in Anna Nagar — are making a difference in their neighbourhoods by showing people how to put waste to good use.

Balakrishnan can be contacted on 93810-38369.

I keep loading the cylinder with the mixture daily, but it does not get filled up — which points to the fact that huge amounts of waste are required to make small quantities of manure

The Secret Suicide Pact: Farmer Suicides in Chhattisgarh

Tehelka Magazine, May 26, 2012 

Vidarbha claims an occasional burst of attention, but unknown to most, Chhattisgarh has become India’s largest farmer graveyard, writes 

Loss beyond words Hemram Yadav’s children refuse to reveal why their father killed himself in 2006

CHHATTISGARH HAS for long been in the national eye for its Naxal threat. But few know of its other grave crisis that has been kept carefully under wraps – that its farmers have been silently killing themselves for nearly a decade now. Five states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — account for just a third of the country’s population but twothirds of the India’s farmers’ suicides. The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 1,82,936 according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a wing of the Union home ministry. When Chhattisgarh became an independent state in 2001, for the first time NCRB compiled data for it separately, recording an alarming 1,452 farmer suicides in the state in that year. For every one lakh people, seven farmers killed themselves. In comparison, Maharashtra saw four farmer suicides for every one lakh of its population in the same year. To offer an even better comparison, take Maharashtra’s farmer suicide capital, Vidarbha, with 1.5 lakh fewer people and roughly the size of Chhattisgarh. While Vidarbha saw the most farmer suicides in 2006, with 1,065 farmers killing themselves, Chhattisgarh saw 1,483 the same year and 1,593 the next year. Yet, while Vidarbha’s suicides made national headlines, Chhattisgarh is in denial till date.

If you calculate farmer suicides as a percentage of the total population of a state, Chhattisgarh has ranked the highest in the country for six years in a row. But what hits home the hardest is that while India’s national average for farmer suicides is 14 per one lakh people, Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund district alone is a staggering 83!

When TEHELKA traveled to the suicide- hit areas in Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund district, it was puzzling to find that the families listed in NCRB’s data were not willing to disclose any information about their deceased family members. In Ghodari Village, Mahasamund, Santosh Nishad’s house is dark and empty, but for his father, Bahadur Singh, who is partially paralysed. Nishad’s wife is a daily wage labourer and was yet to return from work. His three children have all dropped out of school to work as wage labourers to keep themselves alive. It’s been a year since Nishad was found sprawled near his field, an empty bottle of insecticide by his side.

Andhra Pradesh
( Prepared by Dr Yuvraj Gajpal based on data from the National Crime Records Bureau )

“Please leave us alone and don’t ask me about my dead son. I don’t know why he died. How can I say what was in his head?” comes an automatic reaction as Bahadur Singh sees us. The anger is sharp, but justified. “We haven’t gotten any relief from the government. We don’t have a ration card or Below Poverty Line (BPL) card and are struggling to buy food grains from the market to feed our hungry stomachs. Why should I speak to you when nothing here changes for us?” he says. Five years ago, Santosh sold most of his land bit by bit for his father’s medical treatment and today his family is left with just half an acre. According to his family, he was in no debt. But neighbours say his crops failed around the time he died. The reason for Santosh’s death, like most others, is listed in police records as ‘Economic difficulty’. Is this a farmer suicide then?



P. Sainath, award-winning development journalist and author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, says “Several factors get discounted while tabulating farmer suicides. For instance, women farmers are considered just ‘farmers’ wives’ (by custom, land is almost never in their names). This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides.” Other categories commonly excluded from the calculations are those farmers owning land in a family member’s name and those who farm on leased land. All these factors make the numbers reflect only a small ratio of the actual numbers.

According to Sanket Thakur, an agricultural scientist in Chhattisgarh, the core problems of Chhattisgarh is irrigation. Paddy, the main crop, needs a fair amount of water and only a fourth of agricultural land is irrigated. 75 per cent of farmers are small and marginal ones who own less than five acres of land. The uneven rainfall and the unaffordability of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides combine to make many farmers unable to sustain themselves agriculturally. “They consider poor productivity their destiny,” says Thakur, explaining that six quintals of rice per acre is considered normal in Chhattisgarh, when states like Punjab grow four times that on a regular basis.

WHEN THE SP of Mahasamund, Anand Chabre was asked to comment on the issue, he said, “I haven’t heard of farmer suicides in this area. There might be suicides, but not specific to farmers.” DN Tewari, the Vice Chairman, State Planning Commission, Chhattisgarh is furious. “Why would a farmer here commit suicide? Chhattisgarh produces a surplus of everything. Not a single farmer is in debt!” he says. When quizzed about the NCRB data, Tewari says, “Probably the NCRB has taken the information from some unreliable source. I even wrote a letter to them asking them to revisit us and look at the situation in a new light. I told them, ‘When we are supplying rice and pulses to the world, why would people here be committing suicide?’”

When Vidarbha saw 1,065 farmer suicides in 2006, Chhattisgarh saw 1,483 the same year

So what then explains the horrific figures? Visiting a few more families on the list gave similar responses to Nishad’s. So TEHELKA decided to explore and understand an average farmer’s life in Mahasamund. Shatruhan, a 40-year-old farmer lives with his wife and five children in Baaghbara. Shatruhan had sowed paddy and pulses (urad dal) in the seven acres of land he had. When one of his daughters was to be married last year, he sold three acres of his pulse fields for Rs 2.5 lakhs. “The dal we grew was only for our consumption. There was nothing left to sell. Now, we don’t eat dal anymore because we can’t afford to buy it in the market,” says Shatruhan. Shatruhan’s story resonates with other food-producing farmers who suffer major nutritional losses when they sell their land. Shatruhan has four more children to be married off. What happens after he sells all his land?

Next door, Bhagirath, a daily wage labourer has just taken a Rs 50,000 loan to get his daughter married. Landless for generations, Bhagirath’s family members work for Rs 40 a day, ploughing fields or working on construction sites in nearby areas. Every year, he cultivates paddy on two acres of leased land. The landowner extracts eight quintals of the produce as fee for the leased land, leaving barely four quintals for Bhagirath to feed his family of six for a few months. And if the weather gods decide to toy with his fate, farmers like Bhagirath often become indebted to the landowner and have to pay their cumulative debts in either cash or grains over the following years. Bhagirath’s total family income in a year amounts to a little under Rs 30,000. “No one lends Rs 50,000 in a lump sum because I have no collateral, so I borrow small amounts from several money lenders at an interest of 5 percent per month,” he says seriously.

Every year Bhagirath takes to repay his loan, the interest itself is what he earns all year

FOR A MOMENT you don’t know how to react. That is an interest of 60 per cent per annum! For every year he takes to pay his loan, the interest alone is Rs 30,000 — what his family earns in an entire year. It doesn’t take much to realise he can never pull himself out of debt. The next year he will be trying to find a whole new set of moneylenders to repay his loans. But how far can he run? Bhagirath and Shatruhan display the spectrum of Chhattisgarh’s farmers – the land owner who is selling his only asset to sustain himself, and the landless farmer, who is debt- ridden and crumbling under pressure.

If thousands of farmers in Chhattisgarh are committing suicide every year, how come no one is talking about it? Shubhranshu Choudhary, a freelance journalist writing actively on the issue says, “As Chhattisgarh’s local media cannot do without revenue from government advertisements, journalists are discouraged from taking positions critical of the state. The hopelessness of the situation also can be seen by the lack of farmers’ movements, unlike Vidarbha’s shetkari sanghatans, which have active farmer leaders.” The NCRB is a month away from releasing its 2008 figures of farmer suicides, which, experts say, will keep rising if the state refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis.

Bob Dylan once sang, “How many deaths does it take to be known that too many people have died?” An apt question for Chhattisgarh.

(With inputs from Shubhranshu Choudhary)


A hungry nation exports food. It can happen only in a democracy

Devender Sharma

At a time when the total food stocks are likely to swell to a record 75 million tonnes by June 1, out of which nearly 30 million tonnes of the stocks will be piled up in the open for lack of storage space, the demand for allowing exports is already growing. Ministry of Commerce has already started an exercise to know how much quantity of wheat can be allowed for exports.

It is a strange paradox of plenty. While on the one hand India is overladen with mounting food stocks, on the other nearly 320 million people go to bed hungry. The number of hungry and malnourished in India almost equals the entire population of America. When it comes to malnutrition, several studies have pointed out that nearly 50 per cent of children are malnourished. India fares worst than even sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2011 Global Hunger Index India ranks 67 among 81 countries, sliding below Rwanda.
With the per capita availability of foodgrains – including cereals and pulses – sliding to 441 grams per day in 2010, from a high of 480 grams in 1991 when the economic reforms began, it is quite evident that the extent of hunger is growing. Although an impression is being given that as incomes are seeing a rising trend, more people have shifted from cereals to nutritious foods like eggs, meat and fruits. This is however not correct. According to a 2010 report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the consumption of cereals as well as nutritious foods like fruits, milk and eggs too is falling in urban and rural areas.
Continuously rising food inflation over the past several years has certainly widened the gap between the haves and have nots. Experts agree that for a large section of the population, buying two square meals a day is now becoming more difficult. In other words, hunger is becoming more acute. More and more people are going to bed hungry. I therefore don’t understand the logic of exporting food at a time when millions are living in hunger.
The mounting food surplus is essentially because the poor and needy are unable to buy foodgrains even at below the poverty line prices. Ironically, while the poor live in hunger, India is contemplating exports. In 2011-12, with India’s rice exports touching 7 million tonnes, it has emerged as the biggest exporter of rice in the world. Opening up the export of wheat (it is banned at present) India will certainly join the ranks of the major food exporters, and in the process earn some foreign exchange. But the bigger question remains as to who will feed the hungry living within the country?
There can be nothing more criminal for any hungry nation to export its staple food. It is the primary responsibility of the government, as enshrined in the Directive Principles, to ensure that every citizen is well-fed. Unfortunately what is not being realised is the declining fall in per capita availability of foodgrains matches the availability at the time of Bengal famine in 1943. Isn’t it sad that even after 70 years of Bengal famine, we still live in the shadow of hunger and starvation? How can any sensible nation therefore justify food exports?
Food management essentially means distributing the available foodgrains among the poor and hungry. Export of staple foods therefore must be immediately stopped, and all out efforts have to be made to take the foodgrains to the doors of the hungry millions. This is the primary responsibility of every government. #

Genetic wealth belongs to people

The Government of India has been vocal at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people.

India is host to mega biological diversity. The Government of India (GoI) is to host a mega gathering of the international convention on this subject – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Hyderabad in October this year. It is at the CBD table that the world community attempts agreements on conservation.

While the CBD affirms that conservation of biological diversity is a ‘common concern of humankind’, it makes clear that biological resources are not global common goods! On the contrary it lays down that States have sovereign rights over their biological resources. Thereby sovereign states are meant to have original authority on biological resources in their territorial jurisdiction. Being in a state of sovereignty implies that the state administers its own governance. At the local level it translates into not being dependent upon, or subject to, either another power or external forces.

This sovereignty principle was required to check the use of local resources sans any acknowledgement of the host country’s people, or without either taking their permission or sharing benefits with the biodiversity-keepers and knowledge-holders – the indigenous and local communities. That is why the member countries of the CBD also negotiated rules under the Convention for access and benefit-sharing (ABS), which spell out the terms and conditions to legalise the ‘give-and-take’.
The Convention on Biological Diversity was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The sovereignty principle of CBD in no way means that governments or any state agencies can unilaterally take decisions about how local resources and related know-how of them ought to be used. Thus national gene banks, agricultural universities and any biodiversity functionaries have to hold and treat the genetic material in trust on behalf of the people. The Convention was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The Indian Parliament passed a law in 2002 – the Biological Diversity (BD) Act, to give effect to the CBD in domestic space. But it does not make any declaration whatsoever on the legal status of people’s resources or their everyday know-how related to the biological world. It ought to have unambiguously spelled out very clearly that the biological resources and related people’s knowledge are all a collective heritage. The CBD principle does not in any way give the Parliament or the Executive the power to define the legal status of these resources. Thus lawmakers, government bureaucrats or for that matter even formal scientists are not to define people’s relations with biological resources and knowledge, but they have to give due recognition to the pre-existing traditional relations of people’s with their local biological world.

The express silence in legal texts and policy statements is giving the public sector too much freeway to do as they please with this treasure. This is misuse of national sovereign power and abuse of representative democracy. Matters are made worse instead by clearly defined legal rules of intellectual property (IP). What IP laws, such as those for patents or plant variety protection (PVP), do is to clearly define the rights of the IP-holder. Therein again is ambiguity about legal freedoms for the original knowledge-holders. The number of PVP applications before the current PVP Authority in India shows maximum number being filed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural universities under it. (See story: “Protecting Oryza in Odisha” ) The PVP-protected varieties become public sector property for the term of the IP. This has also given ICAR the arrogance to treat national collections as their private property. (See story: “India Institute seeks expertise in global seed business” )

The NARES in India races along to fill out such IP claims. The farmers who were the first to invent local varieties, rather than the first to file before the Authority are falling behind. Based on this politics, even the time period within which local small traditional growers can file for such IP protection under the category of ‘farmers’ varieties’ has been restricted for five years (2009-2013). This puts an expiry date on farmers’ creativity! All this also comes in the way of realising people’s sovereignty over their living resources.

India is a key country in the CBD. Not only as host, but also a country that has the capacity to give global leadership on these contentious issues on the strength of the bio-cultural ethos of its people. The GoI has also been a strong voice at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people. The experience in the last eight years of the Act, since the Rules (2004) were notified is that the procedures for even just consultation are rarely followed. The oft mentioned case in this context of an Indian agricultural university passing on genetic material to a US MNC for the development of genetically engineered brinjal, without any due procedure or consultation, elaborates the point. In this way at home the regulatory regime is not fully complying with the CBD that the GoI so loudly defends outside.
Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

Last year in Asia the Republic of Philippines made a first. On 25th May 2011, by a Proclamation No.78, the President of the Philippines declared the years 2011 to 2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines. President Benigno S. Aquino III saw the opportunity to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity and promote actions at the national, provincial, and local levels to conserve and sustainably manage the nation’s rich natural heritage. By the Proclamation “(a)ll branches and agencies of the Government, including, but not limited to, commissions, national government agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges, government-owned and-controlled corporations, in cooperation with the private sectors of society, community organisations, and non-government organisations, are hereby enjoined to initiate activities to promote the Biodiversity Decade”. Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

The term ‘state’ implies the whole body of people who are united under one government, whatever be the form of their government. In other words biological diversity is a collective national heritage. It follows that neither can the government begin to stake its claims on it (just as the NARES in India is doing by seeking plant variety registration over crop varieties developed by public sector breeders), nor can laws of private property and commercial interest (such as patent legislation that permit corporations to in effect own genes and living material).

In another South Asian country – Bangladesh, the draft Biodiversity and Community Knowledge Protection Act, in Article 6 articulates the CBD principle of sovereign rights over biological resources to mean belonging in perpetuity to the people of Bangladesh and held for past, present and future members of the country. That is why perhaps the Act stays as a draft! The ASEAN Framework Agreement was designed to require not only the active involvement of local communities but also insisted respect for their customary laws, practices and protocols. In Costa Rica, while the domestic law describes the content of the PIC. It also requires full discussions with the local indigenous communities prior to any access. When in Brazil there was a proposal for a constitutional amendment to make all genetic resources part of the national and cultural heritage, peoples raised their voice to have that clearly subject to their claims. For governments often hide behind rhetoric of national heritage to do as they please in supposed ‘public interest’. For people the state of being sovereign has to be constantly negotiated, struggled for and practised everyday.

The President is the Head of State of the Republic of India. Executive power of the Union is vested in the President. It implies that the President’s office has all the powers of the Central Government. Therefore, if and when the GoI is not clearing the air on these vital matters, the Head of the State ought to step in. While one part of GoI takes centre-stage on biodiversity and organises celebrations on World Biodiversity Day (22nd May), outside the hall its other functionaries can not be allowed to hold an exhibition-cum-sale of those very resources. The curtain has to fall on this. It is therefore only fitting that a clearly worded declaration of Indian people’s sovereignty over their biological resources, come from that high office. That would be a fitting finale by Her Excellency the President of India to these debates. The nation, rather the nation’s people, needs closure to this high drama by due recognition of people’s biodiversity sovereignty.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Shalini Bhutani  |

Shalini is a lawyer and works on issues of trade, agriculture and biodiversity.

Vakrangee wins Maharashtra RFP, becomes common BC for public sector banks in the state

DELHI: It is official. Vakrangee Finserve has won theSBI RFP to become the common Banking Correspondent company for all public sector banks operating in Maharashtra.

The company won the bid after a two day bidding process where SBI failed to elicit any bids at all on the first day. The second day, however, seems to have seen more spirited bidding after the price was raised to 1.5% for cash management – up from 0.4% and 0.5% in the previous bidding sessions.

On the second day, bidding started at 11 am and stayed open till 5pm or so. At which point, Vakrangee won the 5 year contract, which can be extended by another two years, with a price of 0.48%. The company will now have to appoint BC agents in 4,200 locations in Maharashtra.

If things go as the Finance Ministry wants them to, welfare payments to the rural/poor population will be routed through Vakrangee now. The low value of the final bid took some of the other bidders by surprise.

Said the head of a rival bidder, “This economics is beyond my comprehension.” And added that more than technology, the main cost here would be cash management. He also added that the Maharashtra bid has been good price discovery for the banks, and that it is now fairly easy to predict what will happen when bidding opens for the other clusters.

It is also pertinent to mention that earlier this month, sister company Vakrangee Softwares had bagged a five-year deal worth Rs 750 crore from the Rajasthan government to design, deploy and operate common service centers (CSC) in the state. It now remains to be seen if other states also end up with CSC operators or the Banking Correspondent companies.

Talking to a senior ministry official, ET was told that the ministry favoured the CSC model, but that their spread across the country was far from comprehensive.

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