ASHA statement on IB’s report on ‘Impact of NGOs on Development’

IB’S REPORT ON “IMPACT OF NGOs ON DEVELOPMENT” (dated June 3rd 2014) and THE GMO-FREE MOVEMENT IN INDIA: Statement from ASHA

 An Intelligence Bureau report dated June 3rd 2014 that is seen by many to have been deliberately leaked to select media houses, is creating a public sentiment in India at this point of time on civil society movements coming in the way of India’s economic development. The said report summarily concludes that the negative impact on GDP growth [from “concerted efforts by select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects” which is the subject of the 21-page report] is assessed to be 2-3% p.a.

This is a note from ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) on this IB report, as the said IB report makes a mention of Kavitha Kuruganti (one of the Convenors of ASHA) as an individual activist and about ASHA and IFSF (India For Safe Food, a campaign for pesticide-free/GMO-free farming and food systems) as two of the NGOs listed under its anti-GMF section (Section 3 – Anti Genetically Modified Organisms activism).

About ASHA:

ASHA is an alliance/coalition of hundreds of organizations and individuals, including numerous farmers groups, from more than 20 states of India and works on promoting sustainable agriculture and sustainable farm livelihoods. It refers to its work as that of protecting our Food, Farmers and Freedom (seed and food sovereignty (please visit www.kisanswaraj.in for more information).

From the dialogues that emerged during the Kisan Swaraj Yatra undertaken by more than 220 individuals and nearly 400 organisations in 2010 when ASHA was created and subsequent work, ASHA articulates a 4-pillared Kisan Swaraj Neeti and calls on governments to adopt the same. This policy articulation provides a framework for a forward-looking agricultural policy approach for India. The four pillars of Kisan Swaraj are (1) income security for farm households; (2) ecological sustainability of agriculture; (3) people’s control over agricultural resources like land, water and seed; and (4) access to safe, healthy, nutritious and sufficient food for all.

The work of ASHA is centred around (1) setting up ecological farming alternatives, (2) ensuring seed diversity revival and secure seed self reliance, (3) highlighting any negative unsustainable approaches in farming – for eg., the UPA government’s BGREI (Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India) programme based on corporatisation of seed resources, chemicalisation of eastern Indian agriculture, water use intensification etc., (4) seeking minimum living incomes for farm households to enable them to continue a dignified life in agriculture, (5) understanding and advocating a different dispensation to adivasi agriculture and food security, and (6) campaigning against hazardous agri-chemicals including pesticides and fertilizers through the India For Safe Food platform (7) creating an informed debate on risky technologies in agriculture like GM crops, especially centered around the issues of biosafety and seed sovereignty.

ASHA’s stance on GMOs in our environment, and its work on creating an informed public debate on the matter comes out of its understanding that transgenics are unsustainable and incompatible with agro-ecological, organic farming, apart from being potentially detrimental to consumer health and conservation of biodiversity as one of the bedrocks of economic and ecological sustainability. Experiences across the world and in India have shown that GM crops also facilitate the control of our seeds into the monopolistic hands of a few multinational seed corporations, which is not just a threat to livelihoods of our farmers but our nation’s sovereignty itself. It is an established fact that one US company Monsanto now controls more than 95% of the cotton seed market in our country through its proprietary Bt cotton. In fact, even the Planning Commission in the 12th Five Year Plan document points this out as a worrisome scenario.

ASHA is a coalition and associated organizations and individuals raise their own respective resources, foreign or Indian, for the cause of sustainable farm livelihoods and safe food.  Some organizations indeed receive foreign funds for setting up ecological farming alternatives, for agro-diversity conservation, for creating awareness on GMOs, for taking up relevant research etc. These organizations and individuals comply with prevalent laws. Greenpeace India, Navdanya, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, INSAF and Gene Campaign are only a few of the hundreds of organizations and lakhs of Indians who subscribe to healthy GM-free food and farming. This is neither an anti-national or anti-development agenda except perhaps in the eyes of corporations and those who are unaware that GM in agriculture is a technology rejected by most countries around the world.

ASHA’s contribution or the contribution of organizations and individuals associated with ASHA towards building sustainable rural livelihoods and to reduce agrarian distress is a constructive and transparent agenda on record, on its website and in the public domain.

The (non-) accusations of the IB report:

On Page 9 of this secret IB report called “Impact of NGOs on Development”, the accusations against the GM Free India activists are that they received “free-funding” (this is a new coinage by India’s Intelligence officials). It accuses ASHA and its IFSF campaign to be headquartered in one address in Katwaria Sarai in New Delhi, along with 4 other NGOs. Yes, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture is headquartered there from where INSAF operates, and yes we run a campaign against pesticides called India For Safe Food. It is not clear however what is illegal or objectionable to this, to have several outfits share a space within their meager resources.

The IB report also makes a mention of INSAF’s FCRA registration being frozen in 2013 but does not reveal that the Delhi High Court, after hearing INSAF’s petition against this action, has subsequently ordered a de-freezing of the account on procedural grounds, allowing INSAF to function with its resources, foreign or otherwise.

Page 10 continues its accusations against ASHA thus: “the above NGOs were active facilitators of news articles, liaison with other activists and social media activism, which contributed to the three-year-old moratorium on Bt brinjal and the ban/moratorium regimes recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee (August 9 2012) and the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court (October 7, 2012).

Indeed, ASHA does bring information and news with regard to GMOs into the public domain, so that an informed debate is created on the subject. And yes, liaisoning with other activists and using social media are part of what we do. This is part of spreading awareness on a technology which ASHA has sound evidence to believe is not in the interest of farmers, consumers, environment, national seed or food sovereignty – it is unclear once again what is illegal or objectionable about this.

It appears that the IB has nothing to note or object to, about foreign MNCs like American seed giant Monsanto spending their vast resources to take up their aggressive PR work, including advertisements that have been found to be baseless and the corporation pulled up for the same, inserting “paid news” in leading national dailies and taking journalists on junket trips including to the USA. These are incidentally corporations that have been convicted of various crimes and offences.

The informed public debate contributing to the Government of India putting a moratorium by ‘being responsive to society and responsible to science’ is something to be welcomed. However, to believe that the Government of India which placed a moratorium on Bt brinjal, and various institutions and panels like the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (which included UPA members as well as NDA members in its unanimous report) or the SC’s TEC can be influenced only by our ‘facilitation of news articles, liaisoning with other activists and social media activism’ is a serious insult to these credible and democratic bodies. Is the IB employed by the Government of India accusing its Ministers and elected Parliamentarians of being incapable in their work?

Like stated earlier, foreign corporations, foreign funded industry bodies, foreign funded public sector bodies are also ‘facilitating news articles, liaisoning with each other other and active on social media’. When the PSC and the TEC have given their independent analysis and recommendations on the subject, it would be an insult to credible individuals, experts and people’s representatives to claim that they have been swayed by activism alone and not by the substantive scientific and socio-economic evidence on the negative impact of GMOs across the world. Such evidence was provided by leading biotech and agricultural experts, amongst others, who debunked the claims made by biotechnology corporations and fully foreign-funded NGOs and industry associations that promote GM in Indian agriculture.

On Page 11, the IB report accuses INSAF of transferring FCRA NGO funds to non-FCRA NGOs, and that there are individual recipients of such funds too. But as mentioned earlier, it is this accusation with which MHA froze INSAF’s FCRA account. However, the Delhi High Court ordered the de-freezing of INSAF’s account subsequently. And if individuals have received some funding, there is nothing illegal about it.

Para 11 further accuses that “pro-GM researchers, biotech companies and other field enquiries have not been able to verify any such deaths, raising questions on the credibility and integrity of reports generated by these activists”, citing the case of sheep and cattle dying after ingesting Bt cotton leaves in Warangal district.

 

It is laughable that the IB expects pro-GM researchers and biotech companies to verify such deaths and bring to light the facts. There have indeed been field enquiries including by government departments in AP which have supported the NGO reportage. Further, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture points out to a scientific study which reinforces the NGO findings. NGOs do a national service when they flag such problems for investigation in the interest of sustainable development, and it is not for the IB to decide what is appropriate ‘development’.

In fact, what the IB overlooked is the tremendous contribution that civil society organizations/NGOs working in the field of sustainable agriculture have made in helping our farm communities come out of the input-intensive corporate-controlled paradigm of agriculture which catapulted them into the current agrarian distress, into one that is an ecologically-sustainable, economically-viable and socially-just paradigm. One of the many examples of that is the Non Pesticide Management (NPM) Programme in Andhra Pradesh which has spread to more than 30 lakh acres in the state over the last 9 years and which is now being promoted by other states like Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc. This has not only helped farmers get out of the debt and suicide cycles but also is ensuring poison food for our citizens.

All of this brings us to a question on how intelligent is this IB report, actually.

How intelligent is the IB report?

This is important to debate since the government is expected to take cognizance of such reports.

The IB report appears to be shoddy with no actual content to project.

This is a report that has unnecessarily stamped itself “Secret” for no good reason, since the organizations and activists named in the report (and ones not named) have not garnered and mobilized so much support by disguising their intent: they have expressly shown their commitment to social and environmental justice, and citizens of the country have responded. In fact, it is citizens’ own causes that have been picked up by many activists to ensure that marginalised voices are heard in a democracy. Similarly, the plans of these organizations are in the open, and the IB report just picks some bits and pieces here and there, and makes it look sinister.

Its plagiarized portions or unconnected, illogical arguments or even absence of any sound accusations are apparent. In the anti-GMO section too, it shows itself for very poor research and analysis. The IB’s lack of knowledge and information of current scientific research across the world that has led to many bans and restrictions, including recently by China in the case of its army rations, is visible in this report.

The IB cannot be expected to understand the scientific issues here. Just as it cannot be expected to arrive in any rigorous fashion at its conclusions related to how much GDP growth got affected by the NGOs it named. As media articles indicate, even the most liberal pro-market analysts are scoffing at the IB’s ability to assess such impacts and are asserting that NGOs can do very little economic damage. The Intelligence Bureau of India has no business coming up with such a report when the best of econometric analysis cannot make such definitive cause and effect correlations related to GDP growth rate. More importantly, the IB cannot be expected to arrive at conclusions about what is good development.

The report also has factual errors. There is no Karuna Raina who is an anti-GM campaigner, for instance. Kavitha Kuruganti did not join this campaign from 2010 onwards, as another example. Activists named have not received increasing support and resources from Greenpeace International in the last four years as stated in the report, as yet another instance.

When the IB prepares such reports, what is also of importance is to check the magnitude of such funds and be able to assess whether a few lakh rupees of foreign funds, countered by crores of foreign corporations’ PR funds, would have indeed created the impact of the kind that the IB makes a bogey of as the impact on India’s development and whether it believes that all legitimate concerns should be muzzled in a democracy. Some analysts have already done so in popular media articles from the time the debate has been created on the subject a few days ago, and the IB analysis has indeed become a laughing stock there.

Just one glance at the report is enough to note the extremely shoddy way in which certain pre-decided narrative was laid out, without any basis or logic. It is shocking that India’s government is expected to act on such poor quality “intelligence”.

Foreign Hand/Funding:

The foreign hand bogey is not new. It is well known that this was used by the Indira Gandhi regime and that the Manmohan Singh government used it too, as an intimidation tactic and as a tactic to dilute public support on particular issues. It is apparent that this IB report was prepared for the UPA government and was for some mysterious reasons shoddily put together now and presented to the current government.

However, this argument around foreign funding ignores the fact that it is not just NGOs, foreign funded or otherwise, which are creating public debates on particular issues. Governments themselves are foreign-funded. Government policies are being directed or influenced heavily by foreign agencies including by large charitable foundations that promote the larger agendas of their governments and corporations in their countries.

What about the fact that political parties have been found to have violated FCRA rules by receiving funds from foreign corporations (High Court of Delhi WP ©131/2013, with judgement delivered on March 28th 2014?)? How is it that the IB does not find any relevance to this fact in its analysis?

In the GMO debate in India, more foreign funds are being spent by foreign MNCs than any NGO. It is reported that just one American biotech major has recruited the services of at least eight PR agencies in Delhi alone for its pro-GM work. If this is about foreign forces influencing domestic decisions in India, why is it that the IB does not think that it is objectionable that biotech industry led by these foreign MNCs is into heavy lobbying, PR and influencing? Incidentally the whole project through which Bt Brinjal was created under a project called Agri-Biotechnology Support Programme (ABSP II) is initiated by foreign agencies like USAID and Cornell University with active funding from Multinational corporations like Monsanto.

It appears that the mandate given to the IB, probably by the UPA government, does not include any investigation into these aspects.

As ASHA, our loyalty is towards Indians, both farmers and consumers. Our commitment is to India’s interests and India’s sustainable development. However, can this be said of various foreign agencies that seem to wield a lot of clout in this country, with their accountability to their shareholders and their allegiance to their (super) profits alone? Their loyalty is not to India and its people – it is to their own ‘development’ agenda supported by the agendas of the developed world they are based in.

We also want to point out that in India’s independence struggle also, the Father of the Nation Gandhi ji, has received foreign funding. In nation-building, foreign funding has played a part and will continue to do so and this cannot be used as a bogey to silence genuine debates on matters of national interest by Indian citizens. The question that needs to be asked and answered is whether such initiatives lead to keeping our country the sovereign, socialist, secular republic that our Constitution envisages.

Muzzling of Debate and Dissent:

What is objectionable is that the IB report is not just about foreign-funded NGOs. It is about quelling of dissent and opposition, including of groups which are not NGOs, or funded or foreign-funded; this is apparent from some of the details included in the Report of some non-funded outfits.

 

This IB report pre-supposes that we as a nation have decided on a particular development paradigm and GDP growth as the sole agenda, even to the extent of riding roughshod over issues of social, economic and environmental justice, democracy, plurality and sustainability. It is by debate that a nation arrives at its own collective wisdom on such issues and stifling such peaceful and democratic debate is short sighted at best.

 

It is not clear if the IB is saying that evidence and experience that the activism brings to the fore (including of violations of Indian laws, and denial of constitutional rights) should be ignored or worse, stamped out? Is the IB saying that studies cannot be commissioned to research on particular potential impacts, and that public awareness cannot be created?

It should be remembered that most innovations that the nation benefited from in the field of development, came from dissenting NGOs which sought alternatives in various sectors, going against status quo. This is in the field of post-modern agriculture, natural resource conservation management, renewable energy, sanitation, food security etc., in addition to the social themes like human rights, decentralized, accountable and transparent governance etc.

There are a number of movements created and led by local people to protect their lives and livelihoods. As a nation, we need to respect their views, voices and resistance, and their struggle to uphold their own dignity and way of life.

 

Social, economic and environmental justice are at the core of the debates that the IB so facetiously chose to do some sensationalism around. It cannot be a crime to raise issues of environmental and social justice, no matter where the funds come from. If India is not for economic, environmental and social justice, then it is indeed a matter of concern. As a nation, we must encourage debate and allow dissent, to preserve our democracy.

The Movement to keep our farms, food and environment free from GMOs will continue, since the technology does have potential adverse impacts, is based on unproven claims of benefits, and because it is unneeded:

For the Intelligence Bureau’s information, we would like to state once again that transgenic technology in our food and farming systems and in our environment does have adverse impacts, which have been scientifically documented. This has been presented to the Indian government and public by groups like ASHA time and again in the national interest. This has also been brought to the fore by various experts and scientists. It is also apparent that real, lasting solutions lie in agro-ecological approaches to farming and GMOs contaminate and irreversibly destroy the freedom to choose for both farmers and consumers.

The GM-Free India movement cannot be bracketed conveniently into “five activists and six FCRA NGOs who are foreign funded”. The current Home Minister to whom the IB report has been presented has indeed expressed his reservations about GMOs in the past in written statements supporting protest movements. There are hundreds of scientists including current and retired experts from the NARS and public sector scientific establishment who have been expressing their reservation on GMOs and advocating a precautionary approach. There are Ministers in the present and earlier government who have voiced their views and even recorded their decisions against GMOs. There are major farmer unions (including ones who are affiliated to the ruling dispensation) who are against GMOs including for reasons related to seed sovereignty and farmers’ rights. There are several retired Supreme Court judges who have expressed their concern about the right of choice which is destroyed for farmers and consumers once GM is adopted. The movement also has seen spiritual and cultural leaders coming out against such GMOs pointing to the socio-cultural as well as ethical dimensions of the debate.  Last but not the least, there are state governments who are saying NO to environmental releases of GMOs.

In fact, the BJP Manifesto itself in 2009 stated the following about GMOs: “No genetically modified seed will be allowed for cultivation without full scientific data on long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers. All food and food products produced with genetically modified seeds will be branded as ‘GM Food.’ The promise has been repeated by BJP in its 2014 election manifesto again.

It is therefore highly specious that the IB presents a picture of foreign-funded NGOs behind the active efforts to keep our country GM Free.

The GMO debate should and will continue in India, with or without foreign funds and Indian funds. Hasty decisions, citing economic growth arguments without clear evidence of safety and sustainable development, will indeed be resisted by people. The activists and NGOs named in the report will not be intimidated in their efforts to create an informed debate on the subject, keeping the best interests of our farmers, consumers and environment in mind. ASHA is committed to presenting sound evidence and experience on not only GMOS but on sustainable alternatives which create a win-win situation for everyone.

We urge the new government not to follow the practices of the previous government to use the Intelligence Bureau as a tool for promoting interests of large corporations, including foreign corporations. It appears that agents of such vested interests are playing an influential role in the offices of our policy-makers as well as the Intelligence agencies. We hope that the government will shield itself from such influences.

Meanwhile, ASHA urges the Government of India to pro-actively implement pro-people, pro-Nature policies and programmes, and fulfill the many positive commitments made to the people of this country in the BJP manifesto. We attach herewith our earlier letter to Shri Narendra Modi on the subject (http://www.kisanswaraj.in/2014/05/29/asha-letter-to-pm-narendra-modi-fulfilling-the-bjp-promise-of-according-highest-priority-to-agricultural-growth-increase-in-farmers%E2%80%99-income-and-rural-development/).

For more information, contact Kavitha Kuruganti at 09393001550; kavitha.kuruganti@gmail.com