West Bengal degenerates sign deal with firm whose account books are still dripping with the blood of millions of communists claughtered in Indonesia

By Ajay Prakash
25 August 2006
Last month, West Bengal’s Left Front government signed India’s biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) deal with the Salim Goup, an Indonesian conglomerate closely linked to the former Indonesian dictator General Suharto.
The founder of the Salim Group is Liem Sioe Liong. Reportedly the richest man in Indonesia, Liem owes much of his fortune to privileges granted him by Suharto, whom he befriended in the 1940s.
Suharto was responsible for the bloody purge of Indonesian Communist Party members and sympathisers between 1965 and 1966 that resulted in more than a million deaths. But this has not stopped Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI [M]) West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee promoting the deal and brushing aside criticisms:
“Why should we rake up the past? They [the Salim Group] have invested in China, too. Our stand is clear. For the development of the state we need capital. We are not concerned about the character of the investor. To me capital has no colour.”

SEZs are set up by state governments, usually in collaboration with the private sector, as self-contained areas with their own water- and power-supply systems. Their great value to the bourgeoisie is that taxes, and labour standards and other regulations are waived.
According to India together, “To woo investors to the zones, the central government has been offering a number of fiscal incentives and concessions. For instance, the zones are deemed as foreign territories as far as trade operations, duties and tariffs are concerned. The units (100 percent export oriented) also have full flexibility in operations. They are exempt from all direct and indirect taxes. No export and import duties, no excise duty, no central or state sales tax and no service tax. The units do not require license for importing capital goods and raw material. 100 percent FDI is allowed in the zones. Repatriation of export profits is also allowed.”
The SEZs also offer investors cheap labour without any legal restrictions or interference from government bodies. Whether workers are blue collar or professional, they face similar working conditions, labouring for 10-12 hours a day for low wages, usually without paid overtime, holiday pay or retirement benefits. These are the sort of conditions that the CPI (M) is introducing into West Bengal as it woos foreign capital and Indian big business.


CPM cadres raid Nandigram

8 dead; TMC, Cong call for bandh today
Subhrangshu Gupta
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, January 7
A group of CPM cadres, armed with automatic rifles and other weapons and wearing police uniforms, raided Nandigram village last night and gunned down at least six farmers in accordance to the party’s suddenly adopted policy of applying force against the Krishi Bachaoo Committee, opposing the land transfer to Indonesia’s Salim group.

In the clashes that followed between the two groups, two CPM workers were also killed. Over 12 were severely injured either by gunshots or blasts and they had been admitted to different hospitals in Midnapore town and Kharagpur, where the condition of seven was stated to be critical.

The villagers killed included Biswajit Maiti, Bhudeb Mondal, Sk. Salim, Bharat Mondal, Sankar Samanta and Bishnu Maiti.

According to official reports, the CPM workers encircled Nandigram village around midnight and attacked the farmers assembled in the Garchakraberia, Sonachura and Tekhali bazaar areas. The attacks were retaliated and soon followed an armed clash between the two groups.

Oddly enough, there was no police force posted around the place at the time of the incident as it had been withdrawn earlier following the decision of the all-party meeting in the morning.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), Congress, SUCI and several other parties have givev a call for Bangla bandh tomorrow demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the imposition of President’s rule in the state.

Meanwhile, Mr Bhattacharjee, who was busy today negotiating with a Dubai-based industrialist, Sheikh Suleman, for an investment proposal at Kulpi in the Sunderbans where some 640 acres would be needed for the project, regretted the incident at Nandigram but reiterated that the industrial expansion programme would continue.

The incident was an outcome of a provocation call to the party cadres by Mr Benoy Konar, senior central committee member, who is also a prominent leader of the party’s Kishan Front, for confronting the unwilling farmers and their supporters with force for ensuring an easy transferring of 10,000 acres there to Salim industries.

He said their policy would now be “gun for gun and lathis for lathis”, alleging that some Naxalites and the branded criminals had been behind the farmers’ agitations who needed to be firmly tackled. Mr Konar had asked the Left front partners like the CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc either to support the government or quit.

Leaders of the three major front partners, namely the CPI, RSP and the FB demanded that the government should immediately stop “land grabbing policy” and hold all-party talks and adopt a decision on the future land acquiring for industries.

Ms Mamata Banerjee, who has been recuperating at a nursing home, and Mr Pradip Bhattacharyya, working WBPCC president, squarely blamed the chief minister for acting as an agent of the capitalists and held him responsible for the innocent killing in the Nandigram village.

Farmers suicides

From Vandana Shiva

The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, today faces a crisis of extinction.

Two thirds of India makes its living from the land. The earth is the most generous employer in this country of a billion, that has farmed this land for more than 5000 years.

However, as farming is delinked from the earth, the soil, the biodiversity, and the climate, and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity of the earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.

1997 witnessed the first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid increase in indebtedness, was at the root of farmers taking their lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy, a loosing economy. Two factors have transformed the positive economy of agriculture into a negative economy for peasants – the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalisation.

In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved.

As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness.

As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.

The shift from farm saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millet, and oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance of millions of products of nature’s evolution and farmer’s breeding.

Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000 / acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre.

In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto’s hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and increased poverty for already desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies.

And the crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with the seed monopolies of global corporations.

The second pressure Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in prices of farm produce as a result of free trade policies of the W.T.O. The WTO rules for trade in agriculture are essentially rules for dumping. They have allowed an increase in agribusiness subsidies while preventing countries from protecting their farmers from the dumping of artificially cheap produce.

High subsidies of $ 400 billion combined with forced removal of import restrictions is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicides. Global prices have dropped from $ 216 / ton in 1995 to $ 133 / ton in 2001 for wheat, $ 98.2 / ton in 1995 to $ 49.1 / ton in 2001 for cotton, $ 273 / ton in 1995 to $ 178 / ton for soybean. This reduction to half the price is not due to a doubling in productivity but due to an increase in subsidies and an increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations.

Thus the U.S government pays $ 193 per ton to US Soya farmers, which artificially lowers the rice of soya. Due to removal of Quantitative Restrictions and lowering of tariffs, cheap soya has destroyed the livelihoods of coconut growers, mustard farmers, producers of sesame, groundnut and soya.

Similarly, 25000 cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $ 4 billion annually. This has brought cotton prices down artificially, allowing the U.S to capture world markets which were earlier accessible to poor African countries such as Burkina, Faso, Benin, Mali. The subsidy of $ 230 per acre in the U.S is genocidal for the African farmers. African cotton farmers are loosing $ 250 million every year. That is why small African countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to the collapse of the W.T.O ministerial.

The rigged prices of globally traded agriculture commodities are stealing incomes from poor peasants of the south. Analysis carried out by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology shows that due to falling farm prices, Indian peasants are loosing $ 26 billion or Rs. 1.2 trillion annually. This is a burden their poverty does not allow them to bear. Hence the epidemic of farmer suicides.

India was among the countries that questioned the unfair rules of W.T.O in agriculture and led the G-22 alliance along with with Brazil and China. India with other southern countries addressed the need to safeguard the livelihoods of small farmers from the injustice of free trade based on high subsidies and dumping. Yet at the domestic level, official agencies in India are in deep denial of any links between free trade and farmers survival.

An example of this denial is a Government of Karnataka report on “Farmers suicide in Karnataka – A scientific analysis”. The report while claiming to be “scientific”, makes unscientific reductionist claims that the farm suicides have only psychological causes, not economic ones, and identifies alcoholism as the root cause of suicides. Therefore, instead of proposing changes in agricultural policy, the report recommends that farmers be required to boost up their self respect (swabhiman) and self-reliance (swavalambam).

And ironically, its recommendations for farmer self-reliance are changes in the Karnataka Land Reforms Act to allow larger land holdings and leasing. These are steps towards the further decimation of small farmers who have been protected by land “ceilings” (an upper limit on land ownership) and policies that only allow peasants and agriculturalists to own agricultural land (part of the land to the tiller policies of the Devraj Urs government).

While the “expert committee” report identified “alcoholism” as the main cause for suicides, the figures of this “scientific” claim are inconsistent and do not reflect the survey. On page 10, the report states in one place that 68 percent of the suicide victims were alcoholics. Five lines later it states that 17 percent were “alcohol and illicit drinkers”.

It also states that the majority of suicide victims were small and marginal farmers and the majority had high levels of indebtedness. Yet debt is not identified as a factor leading to suicide. On page 32 of the report it is stated that of the 105 cases studied among the 3544 suicides which had occurred in five districts during 2000 – 2001, 93 had debts, 54 percent had borrowed from private sources and money lenders.

More than 90% of suicide victims were in debt. Yet a table on page 63 has mysteriously reduced debt as a reason for suicide to 2.6%, and equally m
ysteriously, “suicide victims having a bad habit” has emerged as the primary cause of farmers suicides.

The government is desperate to delink farm suicides from economic processes linked to globalisation such as rise in indebtedness and increased frequency of crop failure due to higher ecologic vulnerability arising from climate change and drought and higher economic risks due to introduction of untested, unadopted seeds.

This is evident in recommendation no. “The government should launch prosecution on the responsible persons involved in misleading the public and government by providing false information about farmers suicide as crop failure or indebtedness” (page 113 of expert committee report).

However, farmers suicides cannot be delinked from indebtedness and the economic distress small farmers are facing. Indebtedness is not new. Farmers have always organised for freedom from debt.

In the nineteenth century the so call “Deccan Riots” were farmers protests against the debt trap into which they had been pushed to supply cheap cotton to the textile mills in Britain. In the eighties they formed peasant organisations to fight for debt relief from public debt linked to Green Revolution inputs.

However, under globalisation, the farmer is loosing her / his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a “consumer” of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.

This combination is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane, brutal and exploitative convergence of global corporate capitalism and local feudalism, in the face of which the farmer as an individual victim feels helpless. The bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state are coming to the rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the victim.

It is necessary to stop this war against small farmers. It is necessary to re-write the rules of trade in agriculture. It is necessary to change our paradigms of food production. Feeding humanity should not depend on the extinction of farmers and extinction of species. Another agriculture is possible and necessary – an agriculture that protects farmers livelihoods, the earth and its biodiversity and public health.

Organic agriculture to me is the movement for peace, the deepest movement for peace, because it creates peace at that fundamental level where it rests on ecological security, creates economic and political and social security, the therefore doesn’t have any place for wars and violence and arms.

But there is another dimension to the peace making through organic agriculture, that it is by its very nature democratic. You cannot be an organic farmer and have Monsanto tell you exactly what to do: The earth tells you what to do. You cannot be an organic producer and not have relationships of a decentralized economy. It is that decentralized economy that creates conditions of peace.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) dangles better land deal

Express News Service

SAS Nagar, January 8: Former Punjab Finance Minister and general secretary of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Capt Kanwaljit Singh today said that if voted to power in the coming assembly elections, his party would change the land acquisition policy to bring respite for the state farmers.

While addressing the farmers of different villages of Kharar constituency, who are directly affected by the present acquisition policy and are on a chain hunger strike for the last 965 days, Capt Singh appealed to the Kisan Hit Bachao Committee to extend their whole-hearted support to the SAD candidate from Kharar and his son, Jasjit Singh. The farmer leaders announced in the rally that they would fully support the Akali candidate from Kharar constituency.

Capt Kanwaljit Singh said that under the new policy, the concerned farmers’ consent would be taken before acquiring their land and the rate of land would be decided by a committee comprising local MP, MLA, deputy commissioner and sarpanch of the area.

He said that Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab had proved to be the worst-ever for the farmers. He said that instead of waiving off Rs 25,000 crore of debt of farmers, the government spent its time in forcing the farmers to give up their land at prices determined by itself, instead of market price. He said that there was not a single place in Punjab where farmers, employees and other sections of the society were not facing the wrath of the Congress government. “This government has adopted repressive policies and it is forcing people to commit suicides and there is no one to listen to voice of common people,” the former minister said.

He said that the rate of unemployment was much more as compared to growth rate of state economy. He said that farming was no longer viable as while input expenditure had increased many-fold the profits were dwindling. He said that every sector of the economy was facing a crisis. Citing poor power management as reason behind the state’s poor economic growth, he said that the present government had not initiated a single project to generate more power. Speaking on the occasion, SAD candidate Jasjit Singh said that he would take up the issue of farmers with the government after formation of SAD government.

WSF 2007- Green Revolution? A Warning from India with Dr. Vandana Shiva

Africa Biodiversity Network, Centre for Development Initiatives (Uganda) & Navdanya (India)

An initiative funded by US billionaire Bill Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation is pouring millions of dollars into research to bring a “New Green Revolution for Africa” as a solution to hunger and poverty. But will this initiative, bringing more fertilizers, pesticides and Genetically Modified crops, really address the causes of hunger in Africa, or will it only serve to exacerbate the continent’s problems?

Renowned Indian Activist Dr Vandana Shiva (Watch Video) will be at the World Social Forum to share the experience of Indian farmers who have suffered under India’s Green Revolution. Genetically Modified crops, expensive agrochemicals and hybrids have taken their toll on farmers, land and food security, and have increased the levels of hunger and poverty. Farmer suicides have reached epidemic rates. The failure and problems caused by the Green Revolution in India should serve as a stark warning to African countries against this new initiative driven by the West.

The world cannot continue to rely on industrial agriculture based on expensive inputs made from petroleum oil and which contribute to climate change. The Gates/ Rockefeller initiative will reinforce this type of agriculture, which increases use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. The only solution to climate change is to draw from local knowledge, local cultures and traditions, local seeds and local inputs.

From within Africa, however, a movement for “Seed Diverse and GE Free Zones” is doing exactly this, starting with Gambella regional government in Ethiopia, declared a “Seed Diverse and GE Free Zone” in 2005. Farmers and local governments in other parts of the country are also taking similar initiatives.

This movement recognises the importance of rebuilding locally-adapted seed diversity, farmers’ varieties and traditional seed saving knowledge. Seed diversity brings food security, and will enhance communities’ ability to adapt in the face of climate change. In the face of pressure from seed companies to accept GM crops, the declaration of African Seed Diverse and GE Free Zones aims to protect and enhance African genetic diversity and sustainable agriculture from the threat of patented and polluting GM crops. This movement is an important signal that Africa is defining its own solutions that return food sovereignty into the hands of African farmers.

The Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN), with Centre for Development Initiatives (CDI) Uganda and Navdanya (India) invite you to join this event on the 21st January. The following day, a second workshop on “Building a Movement for Seed Diverse and GE Free Zones in Africa” will invite African organisations working on food security and sustainable agriculture to join the discussion for strategising to strengthen an African movement.

For more information, please contact

Davis Ddamulira, Centre for Development Initiatives, Uganda
+256 775 88252
+256 751 339933

Development or Developmental Terrorism

By Prof Amit Bhaduri

07 January, 2007

It has become a cliché, even a politically correct cliché these days, to say that there are two Indias: the India that shines with its fancy apartments and houses in rich neighbourhoods, corporate houses of breath taking size, glittering shopping malls, and high-tech flyovers over which flows a procession of new model cars. These are the images from a globalized India on the verge of entering the first world. And then there is the other India. India of helpless peasants committing suicides, dalits lynched regularly in not- so- distant villages, tribals dispossessed of their forest land and livelihood, and children too small to walk properly, yet begging on the streets of shining cities. Something stalks the air.The rage of the poor from this other India is palpable; it has engulfed some 120-160 out of 607 districts of this country in the so called extremist Naxalite movements. The India of glitter and privilege, it seems is bent on turning its back, and seceding fast from the other India of despair, rage and inhuman poverty. This is not just a matter of growing relative inequality between the two Indias. A more brutal process is at work, with the connivance of governments at the Central and at the state level which is not only widening this divide between the two Indias, it is deepening consciously the absolute poverty and misery of poor India.

The unprecedented high economic growth on which privileged India prides itself is a measure of the high speed at which India of privilege is distancing itself from the India of crushing poverty. The higher the rate of economic growth along this pattern becomes, the greater would be the underdevelopment of India. We first need to understand this paradox which counter-poses growth against development, and challenge this dangerous obsession with growth.

Globalisation is the context in which growth is taking place.the accompanying processes of economic liberalization and privatization are tilting the balance in favour of the market against the nation state. However, the game is no longer what it used to be. Nineteenth century capitalism developed through a complex process of conflict and cooperation between the state and the market. The state furthered the interest of the market, but at times also regulated it. For instance, it regulated the hours of work, abolished child labour or legalised trade unionism at different points in time. Karl Polyani, the perceptive commentator on the nineteenth century capitalism described this as a process of “great transformation” driven by the “double movement” of the market and the state, a process in which the rules for the market were set mostly by the state. When the state fails to play this role, the result is not a freer market and more freedom, but growing desperate rage of the poor,which must engulf all sooner or later.
It is a badly kept secret of economic theory that it cannot explain how the market gets organized and rules get set. The reason is the free market metaphor which avoids assigning the state an explicit economic role. For instance economists talk of prices rising or falling in response to excess of demand or supply in the market, but are at a loss to explain who sets the price in a market of many players, if no one has the power to dictate price? Like Voltaire’s god they then invent ‘the auctioneer’, the metaphor of the invisible hand of the price mechanism and other tales, trying to pretend that the market operates in isolation like a self- regulating system. High theory verges on idiocy by rejecting history. What is left unsaid is that, the situation is far worse when the rules of the market are set by the state on behalf of the large corporations. This indeed is what is being carried out under globalization, also in India . The conventional Left is willingly or unwillingly as much a party to it as the neo-liberal Right. Increasingly rhetoric and not substance divides them. We are living in barren times The Left is left without any sense of economic direction, any ideas, and ends up following the Right which is not right. As a result a many pronged merciless onslaught has been let loose on the poor of India in the name of faster economic growth.

A massive land grab by large corporations is going on in various guises, aided and abated by the land acquisition policies of both the federal and state governments. Destruction of livelihoods and displacement of the poor in the name of industrialization, big dams for power generation and irrigation, corporatization of agriculture despite farmers’ suicides, modernization and beautification of our cities by demolishing slums are showing everyday how development can turn perverse. Until September, 2006, the Board of Approvals committee of the Ministry of Commerce had approved 267 Special Economic Zones(SEZ) projects all over India. Land area for each of these projects ‘deemed foreign territories’ ranges from 1000 to 14,000 hectares. So far for only 67 multipruduct Sez 1,34,000 hectares have been acquired mostly by State Industrial Development Corporations. Similarly, mining rights are being granted to the corporations mostly over tribal lands. State governments, aided and emboldened by federal government policies, are acquiring land to give away to corporations. Recall that the year 2006 had begun with the shooting down in cold blood by the police of twelve tribals in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa, when they resisted their land being handed over to the Tatas for mining. The year is about to end as the Marxist chief minister in neighbouring west Bengal is prepared to unleash state terror on behalf of the Tatas. The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas or PESA Act of 1996 requires Gram Sabhas to be consulted for land acquisition. And yet, in Jharkhand, in Orissa this has either been been ignored systematically or, as a recent field report documents, the police surrounds threateningly the ordinary members in the Gram Sabha meetings , forcing them to agree to the proposals of giving up their lands at throw away prices( Down to Earth, 31 October, 2006). Land acquisition in Singur in west Bengal for the Tatas, or for Anil Ambani in Dadri in UP repeat a pattern that is becoming menacingly familiar. We are told ‘trade secrets’ about land use can not be revealed to the public under the right to information act. Yet a local TV channel reported, uncontested so far by the government, that west Bengal government gave Rs.140 crores in compensation, while the the Tatass will give only 20 crores after five years for the land according to the deal, without stamp duty and with provision of free water. The fact that public money worth 120 crore or more is handed over to a corporation must indeed remain a trade secret. Another report claims on May 31, 2006 the west Bengal state cabinet gave the nod for acquisition of 36,325 acre of land for various similar national and multinational corporate led projects. With more proposals coming in, the figure might have crossed 70,000 acres with Howrah marked for the Salem group, and Barasat also to be handed over to the same group for Barasat Raichowk Express Way.

What we are witnessing is deliberate connivance on the part of the conventional Left in West Bengal with the interests of large corporations against the poor, perhaps in the hope that the corporations will bring about a miraculous transformation of the State, which they are incapable of doing with sate power. It is an abject surrender to the conventional wisdom of our time that There Is No Alternative to corporate led capitalism, and the type of globalization it signifies, in short the TINA syndrome in the development discourse.

This TINA syndrome maintains that the corporations will deliver us from poverty by raising the rate of economic growth. The IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank propagate tirelessly this ideology in various guises. Now we have a group of Marxist politicians propagating the same.And yet, this
model of development that is so widely agreed upon, is fatally flawed. The model has already been rejected in the last general election in 2004, especially in Andhra. Even earlier economic reforms won neither the Congress Party nor its chief architect Dr. Monmohan Singh personally a favourable verdict in the election in 1996. There is no reason to believe that this corporate-led growth ideology will not be rejected again by our democratic polity either in west Bengal or elsewhere.

There are two variants of this ideology relevant for India. In the first variant massive commercial borrowing from international banks is done by our willing national government for development, encouraged and coordinated by the IMF and the World Bank by engaging multinational corporations leading to various expensive, ambitious giant projects especially in the area of infrastructure. Typically rules of consultancy and contract are fixed by the World Bank. Almost inevitably the country subsequently gets caught in a debt trap. Most countries of Central and Latin America were examples of this variant of the development model until recently. Now country after country in a rising wave, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Equador, Venezuela,have rejected this path of debt-dependent (non-) development. Our Left has nothing to learn from them?

The other variant is characterized by a strong presence of the state. State-led or state- sponsored corporations are created and nurtured to compete with multinationals under active government support especially in the world market, while the government tries also to attract direct foreign investment especially in areas where, for some reason the government corporations are not the preferred option. Nevertheless, the government becomes a ruthless promoter of the corporate entities in search of higher growth, irrespective of how it affects the interests of the ordinary people. This is a case of state-led corporatism, and today’s China seems to fit reasonably well this description, while South Korea, despite the obvious differences in the political and geo-political situations and debt dependence at an earlier stage might have traversed a similar path. Not only our one time China hater Rightists, but our Marxists, who not so long ago ridiculed the slogan” China’s path is our path’, seem to have turned the full circle in admiration of the Chinese way of corporate- led development. The case of China is particularly misleading in this respect in two ways. First, because the nature and extent of support the Chinese government can give to its state-sponsored corporations or to particular foreign investors, and differentiate among them, if necessary even in terms of a malleable legal system, is not possible for a government, particularly when it intends following the path of borrowing heavily under IMF World Bank supervision. They have to comply largely with the interests of those agencies. Second, the single minded ruthlessness with which the Chinese system can follow its objective of corporate led growth, at times by changing laws or suppressing the rights of the ordinary people, is fortunately not yet possible in our system.
However, what China or any other country does is no justification. The reliance on developmental terrorism by the state on behalf of the corporations against the poor is unacceptable anywhere, no matter what political label is attached. The Indian case could have been restrained by the political compulsions of coalition governments in the centre as well as in several states. However, this has not happened because of a remarkable degree of political convergence on the model of development between the Right and the Left.The challenge facing us is twofold. We must oppose high growth that justifies developmental terrorism by the state on behalf of the corporations. This is the significance of Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar. At the same time we must chart out an alternative path of development. Although limited, possibilities exist even in the present situation , and we must exploit them fully. The potentials of the National Employment Gurantee Act, strengthening of Panchayats through their financial autonomy for implementing it, and full control by Gram Sabhas of the use of their land, and transparency and accountability in governance at all level through the Right to Information need to be pushed as far as possible. Pro- people growth in India has to be employment driven, and energized by a genuinely decentralized structure of governance. With that vision of development, it is time we judge the actions of political parties and governments in power by this criterion, and not by their fiery rhetoric.

Headline Singur

Report by Amitadyuti Kumar (28 December 2006)

It was the 3rd week of May, 2006 – the 18th day to be
exact. The Left Front
Government was sworn in for the 7th time in a row.
Almost immediately Singur, an otherwise non-descript
rural area in the Hooghly District, suddenly made the
headlines. On that afternoon, the Chief Minister Mr.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharyee, sitting alongside Mr Ratan
Tata, the chief of a dominant Indian capitalist group
– the TATA’s, announced in a press conference that
Tata Motors had made an agreement with the state
government to set up a factory for small cars at
Singur. In the press conference  it was
also made public that the state government would hand
over 1000 acres of land in Singur. It cleverly
remained silent on whether any Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) had been signed.

Towards the evening the news spread in Singur and so
did the people’s anger.
The next day marked the beginning of public outrage.
It did not wait for any organizational strength,
political leadership. The fear of unemployment
and starvation was so palpable that it broke all the
barriers of age, gender and what’s more their
political identities. It is not the first time that
farmers’ land is taken away. Haldia, Bakreshwar or
Rajarhat have their own sordid tales of how the
government had given away their land to the
industrialists or promoters, all in the name of
development and industrialization. There were
resentments and protests in those areas too.

But the administration strengthened by the muscle
-urbanisation and
the eventual eviction and destruction of farmland.

It gave rise to more serious questions about the
efficacy of development projects that keep 96% of the
population of the area outside its ambit.

The intelligentsia, economists politicians and
sociologists came  forward to find solutions of such
riddles and have tried to deal with the issues. Their
overwhelming opinions supported by facts and figures,
expert opinions, and past experiences in home and
abroad conclusively point to the fact that the
government is erring.

Questions are raised whether such projects are
necessary to solve its basic problem of industrial
stagnation and unemployment?  If that be so, then by
whom, when and on what basis has this approach been
decided upon? Questions were also raised about
how to select the land necessary for ndustrialization,
about the long term as well as immediate effects on
environment as a result of conversion of
farmland to industrial plot, whether alternative sites
can be found without disturbing agricultural land and
so on. Comparisons are made to find out whether there
will be any real employment generation if industries
are set up on agricultural land. People became
concerned about the future of those who are going to
loss the roofs over their heads and their daily bread,
whether justice is being meted out to them or not. The
imminent uncertainty in the availability of food and
the likely food crisis resulting from wanton
destruction of farmland are also making people


\’Singur\’ is a name new to the present day political
“,1] ); //–>power of the ruling party CPI (M) chose to ignore the
popular sentiment. While struggling for their right to
life and a dignified livelihood Singur people has
brought to the fore certain basic and important issues
regarding development-industralsation-urbanisation and
the eventual eviction and destruction of farmland.

It gave rise to more serious questions about the
efficacy of development projects that keep 96% of the
population of the area outside its ambit.

The intelligentsia, economists politicians and
sociologists came  forward to find solutions of such
riddles and have tried to deal with the issues. Their
overwhelming opinions supported by facts and figures,
expert opinions, and past experiences in home and
abroad conclusively point to the fact that the
government is erring.

Questions are raised whether such projects are
necessary to solve its basic problem of industrial
stagnation and unemployment?  If that be so, then by
whom, when and on what basis has this approach been
decided upon? Questions were also raised about
how to select the land necessary for ndustrialization,
about the long term as well as immediate effects on
environment as a result of conversion of
farmland to industrial plot, whether alternative sites
can be found without disturbing agricultural land and
so on. Comparisons are made to find out whether there
will be any real employment generation if industries
are set up on agricultural land. People became
concerned about the future of those who are going to
loss the roofs over their heads and their daily bread,
whether justice is being meted out to them or not. The
imminent uncertainty in the availability of food and
the likely food crisis resulting from wanton
destruction of farmland are also making people


‘Singur’ is a name new to the present day political
workers. A few decades ago, the area remained mostly
inundated during rainy season by the two overflowing
rivulets, the Kanakunti, the Zulkia, and the discharge
from DVC dams. The last 24 years have seen the
execution of only half of the planned Ghia-Kunti
Drainage Scheme under the Lower Damodar Basin project.
This alone has substantially reduced the fury of
flood. Three major national highways run through or
by Singur area. Bowbazar and Sheoraphuli Hat, the two
of the biggest  wholesale South Bengal markets for
fruits and vegetables are in the range of 8/10

The famous Ratanpur potato market is in Singur. One of
the biggest Multipurpose Cold storages of the state,
meant for storing vegetables as well as potato is
situated in the area. As the fury of flood has been
tamed to a certain extent, the farmers  have
been making a modest earning thanks to the harmonious
blend of fertile loamy soil and labour. Besides paddy
and jute, potato and vegetables are the  main
cash crops here. Even the young graduates or the
masters of these poor and the middle class families
have engaged themselves in farming once the prospect
of getting a JOB proves to be an illusion.

Because of improved farming techniques, application of
fertilizers and pesticides, Singur two-thirds of
Singur flood plain has by and large become a
multi-crop land.

According to the statistics provided in a state
government booklet the block uses a whopping 10, 001
metric tonnes of fertilisers and 3061.5
metric tonnes of insecticides and other plant
medicines every year. To cater the needs there are 303
agricultural inputs trading centers in the
Block, whose 83% (8830 Hectares out of 10,526 Hectares
agricultural land) is irrigated. The crop density of
the Block is 220%, a step higher than the
district average of  215%.

Why Singur?

This is the Singur that the  Government chose for
Tata’s small car project, About 27% of the five mouzas
(out of 16) of the Block has been finally selected
‘acquired’ and fenced off with a massive police action
for the purpose. The process of selection of the site
is quite unprecedented  and queer. From the statements
of the Chief Minister, only this much could be
ascertained that the Tatas opted for it and the
government accepted readily.

Even as late as on 26 December, the CM was reported
to have said that the government had no option but to
accept Tatas’ proposal. The Government’s
avowed policy is to consult with the affected and
local people on all programmes of development. The
74th Constitutional amendment also calls for
such consultations. There was not a semblance of a
consultation or a discussion. The people first learnt
from the media that the plots of  land
that has sustained them generations after generations,
despite odds of floods and draughts were going to be
taken away by the government.

These are the plots of land around which they have
weaved the dreams of their future taking it for
granted that these plots of land were going to be the
only means for the future sustenance of their children
who will not be able  to find a better living in the
scheme of development of the country. They could
not believe their ears, when they first heard it.

Not only the people going to be affected, even the
functionaries of the local government viz., BDO, the
head of the Panchayet and even the local CPI (M)
bosses were kept in dark too. But the laws of the
land, the declared state policy all say in unison that
all projects should be planned at the grass roots that
are at Panchayet level. One can not but wonders-what
are the compulsions that leave the government without
any option but to accept Tatas’ proposal?

Why Singur?

Avijit Mukherjee, the BDO of the block said-it is
Singur because the official records show this area is
marked as ‘single-cropped’, non-irrigated
or ‘barren’. These records were based on surveys
dating back to 1990. During the last 15 years, in the
proposed Tata Motors site, the peasants have got
installed 35 shallow pumps, 28 of which with their own
money. In addition, there are three deep-tube wells.
The two rivulets, the Zulkia and the Kunti – flowing
along the either sides provide a substantial
Irrigational facility. In the dry season these
rivulets and the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation’s
dams) release irrigate the fields. How can such land
be called single-cropped, barren or non-irrigated?

Even a lay man is aware that a single crop land in
this part of Bengal means that the land has no
Irrigational facility; only the rain dependant
cultivation is possible.

A blatant lie

The farmers made appeal before the government pointing
to the mischief in Government records; they took part
in demonstration against the DM to highlight the
incorrect records. It was expected that  the
government  would relent once the truth is known. But
the Chief Minister made his stand clear.

The Tata’s have asked for that particular land, and
that’s final. The Government, the Industry Minister,
the Land Minister only echoed their leader’s view.

The statistics cited earlier in this dispatch quoting
state government sources, the fact that the whole
Singur block has an average crop density of 220% and
the fact that the proposed Tata Motors site is most
well irrigated and the most fertile in the block and
scores of photographs and video clippings in the print
and electronic media showing the fields of the
area nails her lies. Here is a tale told by the Singur
BDO in presence of the local Panchayet boss Ranjt
Mandal recorded on 15 June–Singur is a
40 minutes’ drive from the airport along the newly
built Expressway via the new Vivekananda Setu under
construction. So the Tatas or their top brass
flying from other metros will have to waste little
time to reach their destination.

Whoever expected to hear such a far-fetched excuse and
that too from an avowedly pro-poor government and it
comes at the expense of a  15000-strong
agricultural work-force!

This control of the industrialists over the
government, this ‘as you said sir’ attitude of the
government is potentially dangerous for democracy
and democratic values. The question naturally
arose–is the government being run by the Tatas or for
that matter other industrialists and capitalists?

The government’s helpless and repeated admission that
it has no option but to accept Tatas’ proposal, and
the fact that the proposal of Tata Motors small
car project was not discussed, approved or  not even
heard of in any discussion regarding the government’s
industrial policy or any other forum or a
constitutional body before the fateful day of swearing
in of 7th LF government, hints at the danger and dark
days ahead for democracy.

Reagan regime in the US diverted Govt resources for
the benefit of the industrialists who were facing
serious challenges from Japan; Clinton’s rule
saw to it that the oil giants consolidate their hold
on the Government and state machinery. This hold in
turn drove US under Bush administration  to
invade and occupy Iraq or Afghanistan, violate the
civil and democratic rights of the US citizens or to
go against civilization, Noam Chomsky has
shown in ‘Propaganda and the Public Mind’.

Some facts and figures

The WB Land & Land Reforms Minister had gone on record
to say in the state assembly that about 120,000 acres
of farmland has become casualty in the
government’s ‘urbanization’ and industrialisation
programmes in the last five years. He declared further
that in the next 5 years, the government is going to
transfer another 1 lakh acre or more farmland to the
industrialists and promoters – for the sake of
industrialization and urbanization.

He did not conceal his concern for a resultant
food-crisis on the floor of the House. The state
agricultural minister was of the same view. But the
big brother CPM and the senior cabinet members ruled
out the possibility of any food crisis. The dissenting
ministers had to fall in line. They parroted the
rhetoric that Bengal is self-sufficient in food and
leads in agricultural production. So it’s the time to
use farmland for industry.

Whether West Bengal is Self-sufficient in Food

As per the latest figures available from the Bureau of
Applied Economics and Statistics of the West Bengal
Government, the availability of food grains
(considering both the domestic production and imports)
is 177 kg per head per year for the period year
2001-05. According to the Planning Commission
an adult requires an intake of 193 kg of food grains
for subsistence.

It is to be kept in mind that in those aforesaid
years, there was no significant loss of food grains
because of flood, draught or natural disaster.
Despite this, the state faces a shortage of food
grains @ 16 kg per head per year that is, approx 16
million tonnes (assuming the state population to be
around 10 cores). This crisis would worsen by a
further 10% if the next 5 years see shrinkage of
another 1 lakh acre of farmland. This will
totally upset the  somewhat self sufficiency achieved
in food grains and will totally jeopardize any
prospect to achieve food self sufficiency and hamper
food security of the people of lower income groups and
the poor. This will lengthen the lines of starvation
deaths-from Amlasole to Jalangi and elsewhere.

According to latest National Sample Survey data (NSS
Report No.471), 15% of the state’s population can
avail less than 70% of required daily calorie intake
(2700 Cal per day) and.64% of them gets less than
the required amount. In terms of daily intake West
Bengal lags behind six states including Bihar and
Orisa. According to a state government publication
(Advancement in Agriculture: History of
Success-Krishir Agragati-Dharabahik Saphalyer
Itibritta)  monthly per capita intake of food grains
in the
state fell to 13.27 Kg in 1993-94 (latest available
data) from 15.25 Kg in 1972-73.

According to the findings of the UN  Special
Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, who
presented his report on Extent of Chronic Hunger and
Malnutrition in India before the UN Human Rights
Council in Geneva on 22 September, 2006, food grain
availability in rural India has fall to 152 kg
per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s.  Ziegler’s
report was based on his visit to India from August 20
to September 2, 2005,”motivated by the fact that India
has the largest number of undernourished people in the
world and one of the highest levels of child
malnutrition”.  The report, which  reviews “the
situation of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity
in India” and whether the theory of “hunger amidst
plenty” stands, has made some startling revelations.

He observed that falling agricultural wages,
landlessness and rising food prices have severely
undermined the right to food. Over half of India’s
women and children are  suffering from severe
malnutrition and chronic undernourishment. Over 47
percent children are underweight and 46 percent
stunted in their growth figures higher than most
countries in poverty stricken sub-Saharan Africa.  The
poorest 30 percent of households eat less than 1700
kilocalories per day per person, well  below
the international minimum standard of 2100
kilocalories per day, even if they spend 70 percent of
their income on food.  (Times of India 24 September,

But this is what the masters of the world, the
imperialists long for. Food deficiency will
necessitate import and that is not so easy. The global

food market is controlled by a handful of
transnational food cartels. By virtue of the
prevailing system of ‘forward trading’ these cartels
are already the owners of the food grains that are to
be produced in the next few years. No doubt import
will depend on their sweet will and we  will have no
option but to agree to their terms and rates.

One may not be totally wrong to read that Tata’s motor
car at Singur is not a sudden, isolated and
ill-conceived decision, rather a part of a larger
conspiracy of neocolonialism.

Is it not possible to build a factory at an
alternative non-agricultural site in WB?

The ministers, industrialists, and their political
parties keep on saying that industrialization is not
possible in this state without using agricultural
land. Without industrialization, development will just
be a distant dream. So destruction of farmland is a
must for W Bengal’s progress.

Do the facts say so? The latest edition (2004) of the
Statistical  Handbook of the Government of WB reveals
the following:

Total land area excluding Kolkata Metropolitan

8687521 Hectares

Area not available for Cultivation
1636038 Hectares

Net Sown Area
5427672 Hectares

Current fallows
333372 Hectares

Other Uncultivable land excluding Current fallows
119146 Hectares

Forest Area
1171293 Hectares

Those who travel across the state know it well that
not only Bankura, Purulia, Midnapore, but the entire
North Bengal too is provided with thousands of acres
of barren and uncultivable land. As per the adopted
policy of the centre and what’s more, the view of the
five left parties expressed in their memorandum before
the Centre on 6 October 2006 is that no agricultural
land should be used for SEZs.

This apart,  West Bengal has the distinction of its
cities and urban areas being adorned by the rusting
dilapipated sheds of thousands of closed factories –
official figures alone put it at 65000.  40000 acres
of prime industrial land is kept locked there for
decades. The CPI (M) MP Santashri Chatterjee and the
President of the Hooghly District CITU submitted a
memorandum to the District Magistrate demanding use of
such premises for setting up of new industrial units.
The memorandum also mentioned that the Birlas were
given 744 acres at the Hind Motors at throw away
prices for setting up the Hindusthan Motors n 1948.
The factory, which once employed 22,000 workers, used
only 252 acres of the land given. The rest, about
500 acres was lying unused for the last 58 years. The
memorandum suggested that this land can be used for
industrialization. In an article in the CPI (M)
daily Ganashakti, he reiterated the same  demands. The
government replied late next month. The state cabinet
cleared the land for use by the Birlas for an IT park,
thus enriching the Birla coffers by at least 1500
crores in one stroke. If the premises of closed Beni
Engineering in Kolkata can be unlocked (though
illegally) for real estate business, why could the 500
acres of land, kept unused for the last 58 years, at
Hindmotors not be used for the purpose of a new

Trade (or State?) secret – a white lie?

Even seven months after the movement started or three
months after completion of ‘land acquisition’ process
as claimed by the administration, no body knows
whether the Tatas have paid the price for the land as
per rules or whether the land is being forcibly
‘acquired’ from the poor peasants at the tax-payers
expense to make a gift to the ‘Left-friend’ Tatas? The
Land Acquisition Act 1894 and the procedures lad down
to implement the  act requires that the requiring
authority (here the Tatas)must deposit the full cost
of the land before acquisition procedures begin.
After several enquires under RTI act 2005, in all the
concerned Government Departments as to whether the
Tatas have deposited any amount towards the
cost of the land, the West Bengal Industrial
Development Corporation, in its letter No
Adm/141/2006/3113, dated 4 Dec., 2006 replied that
‘disclosure of
information sought cannot be allowed under section
8(d) of the RTI Act 2005’. This section does not allow
disclosure if the competitive position of a third
party is harmed and unless it is necessary for greater
public interest.

All major aspects of the proposed project have been
kept under wraps. No body, even the cabinet ministers
and left front partners know whether a MOU
(Memorandum of Understanding) had been signed, or what
are the understandings or agreements  between the
Government and the Tatas.  Senior cabinet ministers
belonging to non CPI (M) parties publicly aired their
grievances for keeping them in the dark. All enquiries
in this regard also faced the same black stone wall of
secrecy. A similar formal exercise as above to illicit
information on whether any MOU was reached with the
company on the project and if so, a copy of the MOU,
if  no, a copy or the salient points of the draft of
such MOU being discussed  was carried out. The
only reply to these queries was that ‘disclosure of
information sought cannot be allowed under section
8(d) of the RTI Act 2005’.

A similar stonewall of secrecy is built around the
incentives offered to the Tatas. Newspaper reports
quoting ‘reliable sources’ suggest that the
monetary value of the incentives offered to the Tatas
for their Rs 1000 Crores investment may run up to 1500
Crores, if the cost of  land,
infrastructure and concessions are taken into account.
Perhaps it is needless to say again that the
governments reply to the queries on incentives  under
the West Bengal Incentive Scheme 2004 (No. 134
CI/O/Incentive/17/03/1 dated 24 March, 2004) or under
any other scheme/proposal claimed by the Tata Motors
for the project,  offered/agreed
to be offered by the government to the Tata Motors for
the project, proposals/claims for incentives under
consideration of the WBIDC or any other Government
agency, received the same reply citing section 8(d) of

the RTI Act 2005′.

It is strange that the Government is makng deals  with
a profit making concern at the cost of tax payers’
expense and nobody has the right to  know
anything. This attitude makes mockery of all
principles of transparency  and the Left Fronts
commitment to ‘do everything by informing people
beforehand and with their concurrence.’

Fighting Unemployment?

>From all available information including Tata Motors
press releases, it transpires that 800-odd employments
may be generated initially which may go
up to 2000 if and when the company attains the full
production capacity of 5,00,000 cars per year. Even
conservative estimates suggest that about 15000
people including sharecroppers, agricultural
labourers, and small farmers artisans are going to be
evicted from their profession. Among them are
those, who do not own the agricultural land or water
bodies but still make a living out of them, those who
earn their living as trolley pullers, collies,
fertilizer and other agricultural input dealers and
their employees etc. How creating employment for 2000
over the years by immediately ousting 15000
from their livelihood may help in fighting
unemployment is anybody’s guess.

The tale of ancillary industries was proved to
be a fairy-tale in case of Haldia. And 800
employments at the cost of 100 crores nvestments (plus

state incentives valued at around 1500 crores) That
means ten million crores investment (plus incentives
from state exchequer) for 80 lakh registered
unemployeds. It is beyond even any lunatics
imagination !

The state government has no rehabilitation policy. A
study shows that only 9% of those evicted during the
post 1950 period got some sort of relief,
however meager may it be. No body knows how the
evictees will be rehabilitated or compensated. The
government dubs the whole process as ‘trade secret’ to
seek a safe escape route. Or sometimes, pretends to
be a little bit more transparent -‘will be told in the
appropriate time.’ A common sense suggests that there
are other hidden agenda behind all these exercises
declaredly for the benefit of ‘ignorant idiotic
masses’. The spontaneous opposition to the
machinations and its rapid spread show
that the government has erred in assuming people’s
concurrence for granted. Meanwhile 200 people staging
a peaceful demonstration were wounded in the
police lathicharge 25 September. Rajkumar Bhul, a 24
year old agitator succumbed to the injures sustained
during the police attack. About a hundred
including 28 women were been arrested. Many were
molested by the drunken police force. The prosecution
admitted that barring some womenfolk who were
carrying brooms in their hands as symbols for their

“,1] ); D([“mb”,”

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

“,0] ); D([“ce”]); //–>resolve to broom out the Tatas, none have any weapon
or any other thing. The seizure list mentioned
seizure of 10 brooms apart from their festoon. Yet the
hapless people were booked under sections of Explosive
Act and on charges of attempt to  murder
(under sec 307 IPC). This is in line with the state
government’s policy  of persecution of all opposition
and to ensure  that these poor people rot behind the
bars or harassed by the police or in the courts before
they could be proved innocent. Thus the government
will get the precious requisite time to hand over
their land to the Tatas.

Amitadyuti Kumar

The rich got richer, the poor took their lives

MUMBAI: If India vs Bharat clash is for real, then Maharashtra was unmistakably its epicentre in 2006. The year saw the industrially progressive Maharashtra regain its leadership position by bagging a slew of big-ticket investment commitments, including a record number of SEZs, whereas its rural underbelly kept bleeding.

When urban Maharashtra was chanting the makeover mantra, its rural hinterlands were in the throes of an agrarian crisis. And all this, notwithstanding the Union agriculture minister representing the state.

The worst-hit was the cotton belt of Vidarbha-Marathwada-Khandesh, which reported more than 1,500 suicides in 2006. In relatively prosperous western Maharashtra, sugar-cane growers fought a losing battle for better prices from sugar mills owned by political biggies. Onion farmers in north Maharashtra, too, had a similar tale to tell.

They took to killing themselves when messy policies led to crippling price fluctuations. Floods damaged cash crops like paddy, soybean, and jowar, while bird flu in north Maharashtra gave such a scare that the poultry industry ran up heavy losses. In 2006, rural Maharashtra was in ruins, virtually.

Numbers tell the morbid story. Half of the 1,100-plus farm suicides in 2006 in Vidarbha were reported after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doled out a Rs 3,750-crore relief package.

In December 2005 when the Vilasrao Deshmukh government rolled out a Rs 1,075-crore relief module, more than 200 farmers had taken their lives. An alarmed Congress government in the state did almost everything that it could in the first half of 2006 to curb the suicide rate.

The state rescheduled crop loans, waived off interest on outstanding debt, banned illegal money-lending, encouraged diversified crop pattern and ancillary activities, and gave direct monetary assistance to widows of farmers. Towards the end of the year, the government even came up with an aid of Rs 1,500 per hectare for cotton growers.

The suicides sparked off politics in the state as well as in Delhi. The Congress subtly tried to blame it all on NCP head honcho and Union agriculture minister, but failed in its efforts, thanks to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s intervention.

At the state level, the moribund Opposition, BJP-Shiv Sena failed to cash in on the crisis, and the Congress won handsomely in the recently-held polls to municipal councils and Assembly bye-polls also.

The relief measures did make some difference, but suicides continued unabated. In July, an alarmed prime minister flew into the killing fields of Vidarbha and announced the Centre’s package.

The Centre also announced interest waiver, moratorium on loan recovery, and allocation for long-term measures like completion of pending irrigation projects. Post-July, suicides started showing a slight decline, but the larger crisis, which apparently runs deeper than what the suicide numbers convey, just refuses to go away.

The only purple patch in Maharashtra’s farm story for 2006 has been a record cultivation of Bt cotton and projections of a bumper yield. The state hopes to better its record of 25 million quintals yield in 2004, thanks to Bt cotton and other related factors.

The chief minister hopes that the situation in 2007 would offer a different story. “Long-term measures like completion of irrigation projects, institutionalised agriculture credit at 6% rate of interest, and diversified crop pattern would show positive results,” Mr Deshmukh predicts. Sceptics, however, may have a word of caution on the CM’s optimism.


The Great Gene Robbery

The Great Gene Robbery
(First published by the Illustrated Weekly of India in its issue dated March 23, 1986
By Claude Alvares
In 1982, Dr M S Swaminathan withdrew from his position as Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SACC) and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission – he was also earlier secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture – and defected to join the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based at Los Banos in the Philippines as Director-General. The word ‘defected’ is used here on purpose: in no other country of the world, would a scientist in such a strategically important position, privy to all the country’s scientific secrets particularly of those related to food, be permitted to leave and overnight become the employee of an institution controlled by two private foundations so closely allied to American capitalism and US foreign policy interests.
IRRI had been set up in 1960 as part of America’s efforts to control and direct rice research in Asia, even though American is hardly a rice eating country.
A famous plant-breeder had once said, in regard to rice: ‘He who controls the supply of rice will control the destiny of the entire Asiatic orbit. The most important thing to the majority of the Asia is not capitalism or socialism or any other political ideology but food which means life itself, and in most of Asia, food is rice.’
Earl Butz, a former US Secretary of Agriculture, is notorious for one sentence that he uttered in a course of an otherwise utterly insignificant life: ‘If food can be used as a weapon we would be happy to use it.’
And today, as we near the end of the twentieth century, we have to admit that the research concerning the two major cereals that rule our lives – wheat and rice – is wholly directed and controlled by institutions set up under American imperialism.
In many ways Dr Swaminathan’s appointment to IRRI would have been considered a demotion. While in India, he had lorded it over a scientific establishment that employed thousands of scientists, in the Philippines he would have not more than 200 scientists under him. The principal compensation, however, was the money, income tax free.
Already this international institute, always run by American directors, was facing the collapse of its High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) strategy, as seed after seed fell victim to waves of pest epidemics. Urgently required was a massive expansion of IRRI’s rice germplasm, genes from which were essential for passing on resistance to the HYVs. The largest collection of rice varieties, of rice germplasm, remained in the Indian sub continent. Swaminathan’s appointment was critical to this quest.
The IRRI is not a premier institute of science. It is a privately-controlled agricultural research centre. Even so, it is difficult to conceive of a man with Swaminathan’s record becoming its director general. Unless of course the person being appointed is known more for his ability to get things done than for his scientific work. Certainly no scientist with an equivalent scientific record would have found an appointment as director of, say, the Max Planck Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), or the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). I ask knowledgeable people in the Philippines how Swaminathan could have been appointed to the post of director general of IRRI. The most plausible answer was also the funniest.
There were apparently three applicants for the post. The first, a vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation, insisted on coming to the institute with both his wife and his mistress, if he got the job. The second candidate, from West Germany, was found, upon examination, not to have a degree that he had stitched on to his name. In comparison, Dr M S Swaminathan whom an article in the 1979 Yearbook of Science and the Future, published by the Encyclopedia Britannica, put in the company of Paul Kammerer and Cyril Burt, two of the leading scientific frauds of the twentieth century, appeared white as snow.
India is rice country. Rice is a critical component of a complex eco-system, tied to legends, used as symbol, essential witness at religious ceremonies and rituals. Such an immense preoccupation with rice would, which is to be expected, call forth its own brand of competence to grow it; so we find a bewildering number of techniques, some of which even today, place Indian rice farmers, some Adivasis, in a class far ahead of international science (see box).

In the Jagannath Temple at Puri in Orissa, I was told, freshly harvested rice is presented to the deity everyday, and various varieties of rice, placed in pots, one on top of the other, with a single flame beneath the lowermost, still cook simultaneously. In Chattisgarh region there is a rice variety called Bora, which can be ground directly into flour and made into rotis. Other varieties have fascinating names, like the kali-mooch of Gwalior, the moti-chur and the khowa; the latter, as its name signifies, tastes like dried milk. The dhokra-dhokri, with its length of grain over 14 mm is the longest rice in the world and the variety Bhimsen has the largest width; there is variety called udan pakheru – because of its long, featherlike structure.
There may have been as many as 1,20,000 varieties of rice in the country, adapted to different environments, and selected and evolved by farmers for specific human needs. These varieties are a product of nature’s desire for diversity, eagerly husbanded by indigenous and non-formal science.
The Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), at Cuttack, had been working on the different problems associated with rice culture ever since it had been set up in the late 1950s. Dr R H Richharia took over as its director in 1959, and a number of competent scientists had come up with interesting work that sooner or later would converge into a strategy to produce more rice. Already in 1963, C. Gangadharan, a CRRI scientist had, for example, produced a mutant variety that was short-statured and produced high yields. The institute had also been working on Taiwanese and Japanese varieties. The work was slow because it takes time to discover which varieties are stable, and resistant to diseases and pests.
Gangadharan has placed the history of rice research in India into three major periods and the developments are highly suggestive. The first phase, from 1912 to the 1950s, concentrated on pure line selections, and by the end of the period, a total of 445 improved rice varieties, mostly the result of pure line methods of selection, were bred.
But what is interesting for our purpose and which starkly illuminates the major schism that would soon develop between indigenous science and ‘international science’ is the broad list of objectives of this early research. Gangadharan lists nine including earliness, deep water and flood resistance, lodging resistance, drought resistance, non-shedding of grain, dormancy of seed, control of wild rice, disease resistance and higher response to heavy manuring. Since pure line selection is itself based on natural selection occurring over centuries, there was no problem of incompatibility between genes and the environment, and therefore no pest problem.
The second phase was less promising. It involved the initially unsuccessful effort at hybridising the Japonica and Indica varieties. The objective, writes Gangadharan, ‘was to transfer the high yielding ability and response to fertilisers that characterise the Japonicas into local Indica varieties which are adapted to local conditions of culture and to the prevalent diseases and pests. Japan had used chemical fertilisers from the beginning of this century and Japonicas showed a response under Japanese conditions whereas the Indicas had not been cultivated under high fertility conditions.’
Only four successes were reported from this programme. The problem was that the Japonicas were both photo-period and temperature sensitive and additionally the seed had been brought from some of the coldest regions of Japan. When these varieties were planted in the tropical environment, they not only gave different but negative results. The introduction of the Philippines semi-dwarf varieties put an abrupt end to this line of research. Later the CRRI imported seed from the milder, temperate region of Japan. This time the efforts were successful but IRRI’s control over the rice research programme would effectively keep these efforts out of circulation, and science.
Which brings us to the third phase inaugurated by IRRI, and also the subject of this investigation.
IRRI was established on the basis of a note written by a Rockefeller official in 1959. Both the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations put up the money to start the institute, which was established formally in 1960 and began functioning fully in 1962. From start to finish, the CRRI would be no match in an unequal battle all the way. The IRRI officials would literally buy rice scientists from different parts of Asia, and take over most of the outstanding talent simply because of IRRI’s ability to offer them salaries not only in dollars, but out of proportion to what they received in their own countries, and its ability to provide accommodation, and opportunities for educating staff children anywhere in the world.

By 1966, IRRI had come up with its first success. It is important to emphasise that whereas the CRRI had nine objectives governing its research, IRRI had only one. IR8 was a semi-dwarf rice variety, the result of a cross between an Indonesian tall rice plant and a Taiwanese dwarf variety. Distinctive of the plant was its ability to stand heavy fertilisation, and heavier yields, without lodging. (It also inaugurated a vast market for American fertilisers all over Asia). Without water, fertilisers and pesticides, IR8 did not perform extraordinarily better than the older rices. The disadvantage of the latter was solely that they tended to lodge when given extra nutrients, thus leading to losses.
The CRRI had, as mentioned earlier, been working with identical material and in fact had isolated dwarf varieties from Taiwan that were free from susceptibility to viral attacks. When the news arrived that the Indian government was planning, at the insistence of IRRI experts, to import the new IRRI seed in bulk into India, Dr Richharia, CRRI director, objected.
The government seems to have found Dr Richharia’s advice contradictory: earlier, it had been informed by the CRRI that Taichung varieties could provide a breakthrough in rice production; now Richharia was objecting to their import. The contradiction stemmed from the fact that bureaucrats and politicians have little grounding in genetics: they did not seem to understand that seed tested after numerous adaptive trials over many seasons, and then selected and multiplied, is radically different from seed imported in bulk from abroad. The latter, because of its mixed population, will contain seed carrying disease and which might be susceptible to pests. IRRI at that point of time was too keen to get its seeds grown on a large scale before decisions could be reversed, to subscribe to caution of any kind.
It was also the tremendous leverage that the Americans maintained over the Indian science establishment that enabled IRRI to ride roughshod over the protests of Indian scientists. Though the country was allegedly nonaligned in politics, most of its policies in science and economics were largely under the control of Americans. Thus the community development programme originated with Albert Myers. Douglas Emswinger of the Ford Foundation once boasted that he had better access to Pandit Nehru than any of the latter’s cabinet colleagues. Dr Richharia first came to know of his appointment to the director’s post at the CRRI from an American, Prof Claim. Dr. Robert Chandler, director of IRRI, reported directly to Agriculture Minister, C. Subramanam.
Chandler, in his recent account of the IRRI, An Adventure in Applied Science, has admitted that he had never seen a rice plant when he took over as director of IRRI. Yet, it was at his instigation, and because he had been castigated once by Dr Richharia for bringing rice seed into the country without a quarantine certificate, thus violating the country’s laws, that the government decided to retire Dr Richharia, at that time one of the world’s leading rice specialists.
Once IR8 and TN1 had become fairly established within India and all rice research oriented solely in the direction of semi-dwarfs using these parents, IRRI would naturally retain the lead, with large doses of political clout and advertising to make up for shortfalls in science. Rice scientists from Asia, if they wished to make a career, would have to support the IRRI research direction.
One additional significant factor that seems to have made an impact on the government at the time were the disastrous harvests of 1965 and 1966. What weighed with the Government of India (and also former President Marcos of the Phillipines) in choosing to uncritically deploy IRRI technology, was that the latter, for the first time, offered an almost automatic method of raising food that would place it within the control of the administration, taking it out of the hands of the peasants. If the government concentrated its resources in a few, well-endowed areas, using the HYV package, it could produce a sizeable output of food that would be independent of the whims of the monsoons. Again, the very method of agriculture, based on expensive inputs, required credit, and this assured the government that a good proportion of the grain thus produced would end up in the market, in the hands of government procurement agencies, and could then be used to keep prices stable in the cities.
Two major developments totally ruined the prospect of a promised land overflowing with rice and honey. The first was economic: the oil price hike of 1973 effectively limited a fertiliser-based agricultural strategy. It would make Green Revolution inputs so expensive that they would have to be subsidised by Governments, if farmers were not to give up using them forever. The second major problem, also irreversible, arrived in the form of disease and insects. The growing of varieties with a narrow genetic base (all with the same dwarfing gene, dee-gee-wo-gen), upset insect ecology and invented entire generations of pests. Dr Swaminathan has himself made quite a shameless summary of the fate of IRRI varieties, in a recent issue of Mazingira. He writes:
‘It is difficult to develop a variety that has a useful life of more than five to six years in tropical environments unless genes for horizontal (more stable) resistance are identified and incorporated. Year round rice cultivation causes disease and insect organisms to occur in overlapping generations and increases the chance of new races or biotypes developing; thus new pest problems continuously arise. Variety IR8, released in 1966, suffered from serious attacks of bacterial blight (BB) in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 and 1971, outbreaks of rice tungro virus (RTV) destroyed IR8 yields throughout the Philippines. The IR20 variety, released in 1969, had BB resistance and RTV tolerance, and it replaced IR8 in 1971 and 1972. However, outbreaks of brown plant hopper (BPH) and grassy stunt virus (GSV) in 1973 destroyed IR20 in most Philippine provinces. Variety IR26, with BPH resistance, was released in 1973 and became the dominant Philippine variety in 1974 and 1975. In 1976, a new BPH biotype attacked it and IR36 was released; it had a different gene for resistance to the new BPH biotype and replaced IR26 within one year. It is now the dominant variety in the Philippines. Its resistance to BPH has held till recently, but it is now being threatened by ragged stunt and wilted stunt (both new diseases), as well as by another new biotype of BPH (No. 3).
In India, the situation was equally horrifying. All of Dr Richharia’s predictions had come true. ‘The introduction of high-yielding varieties,’ noted a task force of eminent rice breeders, ‘has brought about a marked change in the status of insect pests like gall midge, brown planthopper, leaf folder, whore maggot, etc. Most of the HYVs released so far are susceptible to major pests with a crop loss of 30 to 100 per cent… Most of the HYVs are the derivatives of TN1 or IR8 and therefore, have the dwarfing gene known as dee-gee-wo-gen. The narrow genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for typical uplands and lowlands which together constitute about 75 per cent of the total rice area of the country.’
The IRRI counter-strategy against the pests involved breeding of varieties, with genes for resistance to such pests, taken from wild relatives of the rice plant and its traditional cultivars. All of a sudden it seemed critical that massive efforts be made to make as complete a collection of the older varieties: many of the traditional Indicas were found to be important donors for resistance. Gene incorporation strategy, in other words, required vast germplasm resources, most of which were to be found in India. The recruitment of Dr M S Swaminathan would be instrumental in the task of collection.
In India, again, Dr Richharia stood in the way.
After he had been retired from service at Chandler’s insistence, Richharia had gone to the Orissa High Court, where for three years, alone, he fought a legal battle that ruined his family, disrupted the education of his children, and brought tremendous strains on his wife’s health. The legal battle was successful, for in 1970, the Court ordered his reinstatement as director of the CRRI. He had redeemed his honour.
In the meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh government had appointed Dr Richharia as an agricultural advisor, and the rice man set about his disrupted rice work once again, with his usual zeal. Within the space of six years, he had built up the infrastructure of a new rice research institute at Raipur. Here, this extraordinarily gifted and imaginative rice scientist maintained over 19,000 varieties of rice in situ on a shoestring budget of Rs. 20,000 per annum, with not even a microscope in his office-cum-laboratory, situated in the neighbourhood of cooperative rice mills. His assistants included two agricultural graduates and six village level workers, the latter drawing a salary of Rs.250 per month. Richharia had created, practically out of nothing, one of the most extraordinary living gene banks in the world, and provided ample proof of what Indian scientists are capable of, if they are given proper encouragement.
An attack of leaf blight that devastated the corn crop of the US in 1970, and which had resulted from the extensive planting of hybrids that shared a single source of cytoplasm, and the continuous attacks on IRRI varieties, impelled IRRI to sponsor a Rice Genetic Conservation Workshop in 1977. Swaminathan attended it as an ‘observer’. The report of that workshop begins with the statement: ‘The founders of IRRI showed great foresight when in 1960-61 they planned the establishment of a rice germplasm bank.’ Nonsense. The certified aims and objects for the institute merely talk of a collection of the world’s literature on rice. The workshop, being held 17 years after the establishment of IRRI, indicated that the germplasm problem was becoming important only now.
After the workshop, IRRI’s covetous gaze fell on Richharia’s 19,000 varieties at the Madhya Pradesh Rice Research Institute (MPRRI). Not only had Richharia now uncovered a fascinating world of traditional rices, some of which produced between 8-9 tonnes per hectare – better than the IRRI varieties – he had also discovered dwarf plants without the susceptible dwarfing gene of the IRRI varieties. His extension work among the farmers would soon begin to pose a direct challenge to IRRI itself.
IRRI staff members journeyed to Raipur and asked for his material. Still moulded in the old scientific tradition, he refused because he had not studied the material himself. He was decidedly against any proposal for ‘exchange’, for this could only mean giving up his uncontaminated varieties for IRRI’s susceptible ones.
So the IRRI did the next best thing: it got the MPRRI shut down!
The ICAR floated a scheme for agricultural development in Madhya Pradesh, particularly for rice. The World Bank contributed Rs.4 crores. The condition laid down was: close down the MPRRI, since it would lead to a ‘duplication of work.’ At a special meeting of the MPRRI Board, Madhya Pradesh’s chief secretary who was not a trustee, was present. He had been earlier connected with the Ford Foundation. A resolution was passed closing down the Institute, and the rice germplasm passed over to the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya (JNKVV), whose vice-chancellor, Sukhdev Singh, also joined the IRRI board of trustees. Scientists were sent to IRRI for training in germplasm transfer, and Richharia’s team was disbanded.
This time too, they locked Dr. Richharia’s rooms and took away all his research papers.
On June 4, 1982, Dr M N Shrivastava, rice breeder, JNKVV, wrote to P S Srinivasan, the IRRI liaison officer, addressed it care of Ford Foundation, New Delhi, enclosing two sets of material as requested by T. T. Chang of IRRI: ‘First set (264 accessions) is from our early duration collection and second set (170 samples) is part of those varieties which were identified to be popular with the farmers of Madhya Pradesh and Dr R H Richharia, former director of MPRRI, purified them and recommended replacing originals with these purified versions.’
But with Richharia out of the fray, nature herself now jumped into the ring. It responded with the necessary mutations, and began to lay low the new pest resistant varieties, rendering even the strategy of gene incorporation, of temporary utility. And then, in a fashion that only those with some respect for nature’s awesome ways would understand, it delivered the coup de grace.
The distinctive success of the HYVs lay in their being short stemmed, able to stand heavy nitrogen applications without lodging, when compared with the older varieties. The incorporation of more and more genes from traditional cultivars not only passed on resistance characters, but also the tendency to lodge. Ergo, modern varieties began to lose their non-lodging character, the main advantage they had against the older cultivars. Research Highlights for 1983, an IRRI publication, observes:
‘Modern rices produce high grain yields with large amounts of applied nitrogen. However, heavy applications increase lodging, which reduces yields. Additionally, as higher levels of insect pest and disease resistance have been bred into modern semi-dwarf varieties, lodging resistance has tended to decline.’
The green revolution in rice had begun to involute.
What then have been the ‘achievements’ of such corrupt and politically naive science? (One set of all IRRI germplasm has been sent to Fort Collins, the maximum security installation in the US, without the permission of the Indian government). Has such science achieved any of its declared aims? Bharat Dogra summed it up:
‘Starting from just five million hectares in 1970-71, over 18 million hectares or nearly half the area of (rice) has now been brought under the HYVs programme till 1982-83… Therefore, this crop must have received a substantial share of the benefit of the overall increase in irrigation and the increase in the overall consumption of NPK fertilisers. However, compared to the increase in the area under HYVs and the increase in fertilisers and irrigation, the production of rice has increased to a lesser extent. During the period mentioned above (1970-71 to 1982-83), the production of rice has gone up from 42.23 million tonnes to 46.48 million tonnes. Assuming the production of non-HYVs did not experience any increase at all and all the difference in rice production was on HYVs land, we get an increase in production of about 4 million tonnes as a result of extension of HYVs programme to nearly 13 million hectares of land. In other words, an increase of 0.31 tonnes was achieved with HYV per hectare. This is a relatively small accomplishment which could have been easily achieved even without the expensive HYV programme and its infrastructure by making better use of village-based resources.’
A 33-member official working group headed by K C S Acharya, additional secretary in the ministry of agriculture, has determined that the growth rate of rice production after the Green Revolution has been less when compared with the pre-Green Revolution period.
Millions of hectares of rice are now routinely devastated by BPH and other pests and no compensation is available to farmers who are induced to take to such ‘modernised’ agriculture. Such pest infestations have been introduced into the Indian environment. The IRRI officials knew what they were doing, and they did it for the cheap objective of wanting to assert IRRI primacy.
The unmonitored, hasty introduction of HYVs of seed has led to genetic erosion of tremendous proportions, as hundreds of priceless traditional varieties have been lost to mankind. It is only in the eighties that the IRRI has begun to acknowledge the true worth of the older varieties. What a curious circle of events!
The IRRI inaugurated the revolution in rice by holding in ridicule the basis of traditional agriculture – the traditional cultivar, itself the result of close trial and error experimentation by farmers over decades – and sought to displace it with its own product, the HYV. However, since the HYV was not closely adapted to any environment, it required extensive support, having attracted pest infestations on a mass scale. Protection could only come from the same traditional cultivars, which at the time of HYV propagation, had been loaded with abuse.
Is there a way out: how can such a state of science exist nearly 40 years after independence? Why does the director of the CRRI continue to remain as a trustee of the IRRI, which he has been since 1979? To continue and deepen the dependence? The IRRI has no future, politically, and also as far as research is concerned. Politically, its future was tied to former President Marcos, and Filipino farmers and scientists had already begun to demand its closure. As far as research is concerned, the IRRI has no new ideas, and is now eagerly visiting China to learn Chinese techniques of growing hybrid rice, the next frontier in rice yield enhancement.
The CRRI has ample talent to match Chinese science. It has still vital access to hundreds of indigenous cultivars (a recent count of rice collection centres indicated that there were about 44,000 varieties, whereas the IRRI has 70,000). What then should be done?
First, the CRRI should be upgraded to international standards, for that is the only sure guarantee of the funds it needs, and which it has been deprived of, ever since Indian politicians decided to back IRRI science. Today, the CRRI germplasm unit does not have even a jeep to operate its collection of rice cultivars.
Second, all further export of rice germplasm to IRRI should be banned, since germplasm is part of our national heritage, and its preservation is enjoined by the Constitution in the chapter on Fundamental Duties. Third, steps should be taken to gradually replace IRRI varieties, and all those having IRRI parents, with productive indigenous varieties in the fields. This is already happening in the Philippines: farmers are exchanging old varieties with each other, disowning IRRI seeds, aptly described as ‘seeds of imperialism’ and ‘seeds of sabotage.’
There seems to have been some awareness at the level of the government that the rice revolution had been grounded, due to environmental and economic factors. The late Prime Minister, Mrs Gandhi, had asked Dr Richharia for a rice production increase plan. After he submitted it, he heard no more about it. After an article by Dom Moraes on Richharia, the M. P. Government hastily set about attempting to find some funds to ask the latter to resume his work. Now that proposal has been scotched by the same forces that once got the MPRRI to close down.

More than 25 years have passed in this costly, wasteful, environmentally unsound, flirtation with the exogene. The sorry and sad record only serves to underline the principle – despite our continuing mesmerisation by western science – that for genuine development of any worthwhile kind, the indigene is still the best gene.