Corruption behind farm crisis by Devinder Sharma

Corruption has not only hindered development of India but its role in creating and aggravating farm crisis is no less critical. Corrupt scientists, bank officials and policy makers have pushed farmers to the brink.


Farmers are at the receiving end of corrupt scientists and officials

I haven’t forgotten that night. Sitting with a group of farmers in a village in Ludhiana district in Punjab, at the height of the Green Revolution, a farmer showed me a bag of fertiliser that he brought from the market.

“Why are you showing me this bag”, I asked. “Wait”, he said, and began to open the bag. It was only when he crushed the granules with his hands that I realised why he wanted me to see the fertiliser bag. The fertiliser was spurious. The jute bag, neatly packed and branded, contained mud granules.

Several years later I was travelling in the villages of Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh to understand the reasons behind the spate of farm suicides that had first rocked the nation. This was in 1997 when 37 farmers committed suicide in this district alone. While everyone blamed the weather gods for inflicting a terrible blow to farmers, I found spurious pesticides to be the reason for the failure of the cotton crop.

More than 80 per cent of pesticides sold in Warangal district that year were later found to be fake.

Two and a half decades later, agriculture is in ruins. The story of slow death of agriculture across the country is the same. Dying crop fields, and crying farmers. With degraded soils, depleting groundwater, and chemical pesticides playing havoc with the environment, agriculture is in terrible distress. With farming becoming a losing proposition, and with the entire equation going wrong, agriculture is witnessing a mass exodus.

Fake and sub-standard inputs – seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery is only one part of the story. With quality control in complete shambles, and with many testing laboratories known to have a fixed price tag for approving samples, farmers are always on the receiving end.

While academicians, economists and policy makers are ascribing several complex reasons for the decline of agriculture, the dark underbelly has somehow remained unexposed. What has actually eaten into the vitals of agriculture over the years is rampant corruption. It is like the vultures swarming around a dead animal carcase. Believe it or not, the despicable farm scenario is no less gory.

Fake and sub-standard inputs – seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery is only one part of the story. With quality control in complete shambles, and with many testing laboratories known to have a fixed price tag for approving samples, farmers are always on the receiving end. No wonder, the post of plant protection officers as well as quality control is one of the most sought after in the State Departments of Agriculture.

Massive public outlays under the National Horticulture Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, and the National Food Security Mission are in fact being used as grants. When I see the misuse of these outlays, often going into the pockets of senior farm officials, I have always wondered why the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has refrained from focusing on the flagrant misuse of resources in the name of food security.

Agricultural officials and input suppliers have always maintained a cosy relationship. Even where upright officials have blacklisted erring firms, it isn’t difficult to pull down the shutters and then float a new company. Over the years, I have seen the business growing for those who were once known to be selling sub-standard products.

If you think scientific research, agricultural development and policy framing is devoid of corruption you are grossly mistaken. Much of what hits the farmer is the result of wrong policies.

Fly-by-night operators adorn the seed industry, and despite seed laws spelling out stringent punishment for marketing fake seeds, the market is full of spurious seeds. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had recently said that a big seed company had supplied inferior maize hybrid seed, and had refused to account for the losses. Ultimately, Bihar government had to pay for the Rs 60-crore loss.

Post harvest, the travails of a farmer take a different turn. In areas where procurement centres and mandis exist (mainly in the Green Revolution belt of Punjab, Haryana, western UP and some parts of Madhya Pradesh), invariably farmers are at the mercy of the arhtiyas and the mandi agents. In rest of the country, the farmer is exploited, fleeced and ends up selling his produce in distress. It will not be wrong to say that it is a nightmare for a farmer to get a fair price for his produce and that too after putting in so much of hard labour.

Banks, money lenders and micro-credit agencies have been perpetual suckers. Several studies have pointed to the mismanagement (and corruption) in distribution of bank credit to be the primary reason for the agrarian crisis. Usurping interest charged by micro-finance institutions, often exceeding 24 per cent and that too to be repaid at weekly intervals, as well as the dependence on private money lenders has been the bane of farming.

A recent study by NABARD shows how farmers are being duped by nationalised banks. Farmers are being charged double the interest rate for subsidised credit as announced in the annual budget last year. Against the provision of a maximum of 7 per cent interest, banks have included the contingency expenses and other costs, which in reality means the farmer has to shell out an interest of 14 per cent.

If you think scientific research, agricultural development and policy framing is devoid of corruption you are grossly mistaken. Much of what hits the farmer is the result of wrong policies. These policies are framed keeping the interest of service providers before farmers. But then, it is topic for another day.

Baba Ramdev’s plan for reviving agriculture

Tens of thousands of people had come to Delhi to support the fast of Swami Ramdev that began on June 4. In the early hours of June 5 (the midnight of June 4/5) Delhi police backed by Rapid Action Force sweeped on sleeping protestors using teargas and lathi-charge to evicted them.

Devinder Sharma

Standing on the dais and looking at the sea of humanity that braved the heat of the peak summer season in New Delhi, I wondered what these millions were here for. It had been almost ten hours since the indefinite fast that Swami Ramdev launched and I was trying to read the faces of some of those who I could see clearly from where I was sitting. This was in the afternoon of June 4.

The turn of events in the next few hours have put a permanent blot on the face of Indian democracy.

These were poor people. A majority of them came from the lower strata of the society. They were drenched in sweat. They had poured in from distant parts of the country. Some came in trains, some in public buses, some came as part of better organised bus loads. With their bags on their heads or slung on their shoulders, and quite a large number coming with their families, including small children, they thronged to Ramlila grounds in the heart of Delhi with a great sense of hope and determination which was clearly visible on their faces. Victim of continuous apathy, neglect and discrimination, they were born in misery and will probably live all through in misery. Treated like cattle, and shunned by the perfumed class who are more or less beneficiaries of the corrupt system, they had demonstrated their willingness to walk the extra mile knowing well it was going to be really hard and tough.

As I sat there on the stage, I could see clearly the mired expressions on some the faces I tried to scan. The Incredulous India, as the Shining India brigade would normally refer the million to, had arrived.

Besides the contentious issue of getting back the black money stashed in safe havens outside the country, Swami Ramdev had struck a common cord with the masses. Here is one person with whom I have interacted in recent times who I find has a finger on the real nerve of the nation. Rooted firmly on the ground, he has relentlessly called for changes in a manner that would have direct bearing on the deprived millions. He talked of providing technical and professional education in regional languages, he talked of repealing the draconian land acquisition provisions and also understood how dangerous it would be for not only country’s food security but also the national sovereignty by allowing indiscriminate transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.

At a time when the perfumed class chanted the mantra of development — by usurping the natural resources and by displacing the millions — Swami Ramdev talked of empowering the masses. And that is why Shining India in reality hated him, and in lot many ways feared him. Ever since the time I fist sat down with him to discuss what is going wrong with agriculture I found in him someone who was not only receptive but also wanting to understand the complexities and look for viable solutions. To me — and also for him — reviving agriculture and thereby empowering the masses is the key to true economic growth, progress and happiness. I could therefore see in him as an amplifier, someone who could carry the message loudly and clearly. He had the strength to demonstrate that another India is possible. He was keen to help provide viable alternatives.

At a time when the State was colluding with the Corporates to take over agriculture and push farmers out of farming, Swami Ramdev emerged as a strong voice in favour of self-reliance. The charter of demands that HRD Minister Kapil Sibal now frowns at actually had a number of such positive elements for transforming agriculture thereby effectively ensuring household food security and minimising hunger and poverty. It was after a lot of deliberations that Swami ji had narrowed down a vast plethora of issues to some salient features that needed immediate attention. These set of interventions were included in the list of demands that Swami Ramdev had sent to the Prime Minister.

The first set of demands pertained to land aacquisitions. Primarily, the demand was for not allowing agricultural land — whether it is mono-cropped or multi-cropped — to be diverted for non-farm purposes. Even where it is to be definitely acquired given the nature of public utility, permission has to be sought from the Gram Sabhas. It was pointed out very clearly that already the country is in the throes of a crisis given that the demand for food is requiring more area to be maintained under agriculture. For instance, it was pointed out that if India was to grow domestically the quantity of pulses and oilseeds (in the form of edible oil) that are presently imported, an additional 20 million hectares would be required.

Preserving productive agricultural land for cultivation therefore assumes utmost importance. In the United States, the US government is providing US $ 750 million for the the period 2008-13 under the Farm Bill 2008 to farmers to conserve and improve their farm and grazing lands so as to ensure they do not divert it for industrial and private use. On the contrary, India is in a hurry to divest its farm lands and turn them into concrete jungles in the name of development.

India is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis. The serial death dance across the country, with over 2.5 lakh farmers already committing suicide, shows no signs of ending. Much of the crisis is because of the unsustainable farming practices that have turned the Green Revolution to a Gray revolution. Reviving agriculture and restoring the pride in farming form the two most important planks of any nationwide strategy to revitalise the rural economy. The following are some of the key elements of the farm strategy and the immediate approach that needs to be followed:

a) Knowing that GM crops/foods pose serious environmental and health hazards, Swami Ramdev had asked for a 10-year moratorium on Bt-Brinjal and all field trials and commercial release of GM crops. The basic purpose is to ensure that the biotech industry is not allowed to contaminate the environment and thereby destroy the biodiversity that is available. He had also demanded that facilities for 29-biosafety tests that the Supreme Court nominee on the Genetic Engineering Assessment Committee (GEAC) Dr Pushpa Bhargava had called for be first ensured before any GM crop/food is allowed for commercial release.

b) Seed is emerging a major issue of contention for farmers. Over the years, the government has facilitated the takeover by private industry of the seed supply and trade. This has taken away the control of farmers over their seed. Although there were a number of suggestions and approaches that we discussed, finally Swami Ramdev included two major areas of focus in relation to seed. First was the need to regulate seed price considering that industry continues to fleece farmers by charging exorbitantly. Secondly, every district should have a community-controlled seed centre with a gene bank for traditional seeds. The local available seed diversity needs to be protected and conserved at any cost.

c) The use and abuse of chemical pesticides has played havoc with human health, the food chain and also resulted in an unbalanced biological equilibrium in nature. It is now being realised that agriculture can perform much better without the use of chemical pesticides which are not only a drain on the farmers pockets but also is harmful for human health and environment. Following the decision to phase out dreaded chemical pesticide Endusulfan under the Stockholm Convention, the demand was to also ban 67 pesticides which are being used in India but are banned for use elsewhere.

d) A beginning could also be made by ensuring that in the proposed 12th Five Year Plan at least a target to convert 25 per cent of the total agriculture area be fixed for converting to zero pesticides use. Already 40 lakh acres in Andhra Pradesh has been brought under non-pesticidal management by under a government programme and this could be replicated across the country.

e) A National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) survey had concluded that the average monthly income of a farming family in India does not exceed Rs 2400. No wonder, more than 40 per cent farmers have expressed the desire to quit farming if given an alternative. Because of the dwinling farm incomes more and more agrarian distress is becoming visible. A Farmers Income Commission therefore needs to be setup and income guaranteed to the farmer under a Farmers Income Guarantee Act (FIGA)

f) It is strange paradox that while 32 crore people go to bed hungry every night foodgrains continue to rot in storage. A centralised procurement and distribution network has failed to ensure that food reaches those who need it most. Suggesting for local production, local procurement and local distribution, community grain storage banks need to be established in every panchayat. This will not only minimise grain wastage but also ensure that food reaches the hungry.

g) Education in the Agriculture, Health and Engineering Sectors should also be in Hindi and other State languages.

I don’t think any political party or the common minimum programme of the successive coalitions that ran the country have ever projected such a comprehensive agricultural and rural economy plan. Unfortunately, amidst the din and noise created over black money and corruption, the proposals to revitalise the rural economy by strengthening agriculture were simply ignored. The nation therefore lost a historic opportunity to debate and deliberate on some worthwhile approaches that could usher in self-reliance in agriculture and put an end to farmer suicides. #

Government’s response to Ramdev’s Demands

response to baba ramdev’s demands down load

Govt’s response as put up on the PIB home page. The very last paragraph is on Agriculture.

The govt is claiming that already many programmes are underway to promote organic farming, bio-pesticides and bio-fertilisers – they name RKVY, NPOP/NCOF, NHM amongst these. They claim that organic farming has reached 10.8 lakh hectares from 42000 hectares in 2004-05 because of all of this. “All these will be strengthened and expanded”.

On pricing support, the govt defends CACP and how things are based on cost data.

Government rolls out red carpet to pacify Baba Ramdev

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Rattled-government-s-VIP-welcome-to-placate-Baba-Ramdev/Article1-704637.aspx

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled out all the stops on Wednesday to persuade Baba Ramdev to abandon his indefinite fast from Saturday to demand an end to corruption and black money. But the yoga guru appeared in no mood to soften his stand. Singh took the unusual step of deputing four senior ministers — Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, PK Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahay — as well as cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar to talk to Ramdev at the Delhi airport on his arrival from Ujjain in a chartered plane.
The gesture went beyond the niceties accorded to visiting heads of state and annoyed many party leaders who, however, did not want to be quoted.

The PM asked Sahay to cut short his foreign trip and use his personal equation with Ramdev to urge him to call off his agitation which, the government fears, could slip into the BJP-RSS’s hands. Sources said Ramdev, too, was keen that Sahay be roped in for the negotiations.

 

Although Ramdev is still planning to go ahead with his fast, sources hinted that the talks were moving in the right direction, with the government assuring him that it is taking a series of steps to unearth unaccounted wealth, which have started yielding results.

There were, however, discordant voices within the Congress over the developments. “Fasts cannot end corruption in the country,” said party general secretary Digvijaya Singh. Other party leaders, who were not willing to be quoted, appeared unhappy with the government’s overdrive to placate the yoga guru.

Ramdev, who earlier in the day did a volte-face on his statement that the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India should be kept out of the lokpal’s purview, also told reporters his first round of talks with the government was positive and the dialogue would continue.

“But we will not be satisfied with dialogue or assurances. There should be evidence of bringing back black money from tax havens,” Ramdev said after meeting the ministers.

“Till there is 100% agreement on all issues and a decisive stage is reached, the fast will go on,” Ramdev added. “It is a big war. We have to change the system of 64 years. It is not an easy task. But we will get it done.”

The government agreed that the yoga guru had raised serious national issues and a dialogue with him would continue over the next few days.

“He has raised important issues that impact the future of the country. We responded to them. We are running a responsive government,” Sibal said, without elaborating.

Maintaining that black money and corruption were two sides of the same coin, Ramdev said the main issues he raised with the government were a strong lokpal, a public service delivery guarantee act implemented in all states and setting up of fast-track courts to give judgments in one year with provisions for death sentence for the corrupt.

On a day of hectic consultations at multiple levels, Ramdev met representatives of Anna Hazare’s team on the joint drafting committee for the lokpal bill, and the Prime Minister had a stock-taking session at his 7, Race Course Road residence in the evening to discuss the implications of Ramdev’s fast.

The government’s efforts to dissuade Ramdev from launching his fast is intended to prevent a repeat of the Hazare-led civil society agitation that forced it to agree to form a joint drafting committee for a strong lokpal bill.

 

Baba Ramdev demands a shift to Sustainable Agriculture

Swami Baba Ramdev is calling a fast from 4th June onwards against Corruption and Black Money Hoarding.  Sustainable Agriculture and related matters are in his major demands ( in his main letter to the Prime Minister).  Today, Swami, Acharya Balakrishna and Devinder Sharma along with others in his team was invited for a discussion with Cabinet ministers led by Pranab Mukherjee.  Kapil Sibal, Pawan Bansal and Subhodh Kant sahai and the Cabinet Secretary was also there for the discussion.  Today Swamiji’s team presented the demands.  Devinder presented the demands on agriculture.  The following are broadly the demands on agriculture

Land Acquistion

1. No Agriculture Land should be acquired for non-agri purposes
2. No Land should be acquired without the permission of the Grama Sabhas

GM and Seeds
3. A 10-year moratorium on Bt-Brinjal and all field trials and commercial release of all GM crops
4. Price regulation on Seeds
5. Every district to have a Community Controlled Seed Centre with a gene bank for traditional seeds

6. Liability in case of contamination of non-GM crops

7. BRAI Bill to be jointly drafted in consultation with civil society
8. Ban on import of all GM food products and allow imports only if they carry a GM free label

 

Pesticides
6. A ban on all the 67 pesticides that have been banned in other countries but still used in India.

Sustainable Agriculture
7. 12th Five Year Plan to have 25% of total agriculture area brought under Non-Pesticidal Management as in the CMSA in Andhra Pradesh (the NPM has been repeated in 3 places in the demand annexes)
8. A Land Conservation fund for farmers to the tune of Rs. 5000 crore to be allocated each year

Other farmers issues
9. A Farmers Income Commission to be setup and income guaranteed to the farmer through a Farmers Income Guarantee Act (FIGA)
10. MSP to incorporate the farmers contribution as a Skilled Labour and not as General Labour and the MSP be calculated after fixing at 50% higher that the C2 Cost.
11. 24-hr water and electricity supply to be given to farmers
12. Community grain banks in every panchayath

Education in the Agriculture, Health and Engineering Sectors to be in Hindi and other State languages.