Press Release


New Delhi, May 11, 2011: Representatives of five organizations and networks made a strong presentation to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in its 109th meeting here today demanding that all field trials of GMOs in the country be suspended immediately, given the intrinsic uncontrollable nature of GM technology in addition to the amply-demonstrated incapability of our regulatory system to address issues of biosafety and beyond when it comes to GMOs.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India; Dr Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture; Aruna Rodrigues, SC PIL lead petitioner; Rajesh Krishnan, Manager, Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, Greenpeace India and Kavitha Kuruganti, Convenor, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) made presentations on various issues pertaining to regulation of GMOs in India. They touched upon Bt cotton experience in the country over the past ten years, Bt brinjal risk assessment and issues therewith, open air deliberate releases of GMOs in the form of field trials and concerns therewith and countering industry’s lobbying effort around “delays in product development and commercialization”.

GEAC assured the civil society representatives that the issues raised would be discussed in detail in one of the subsequent meetings and that these would be addressed as appropriate.

Civil society was prompted to make these presentations to the GEAC in response to some latest developments on the Bt brinjal front and some proposals made by the industry associations in January 2011.

In today’s GEAC meeting, groups showcased repeated regulatory failures, incapability, apathy and lack of independence of the regulators as reflected in the case of GM cotton, Bt brinjal and field trials of nearly 14 crops in India and made the following immediate demands:

  1. Industry proposals for faster-track approvals of GMOs in our food and farming to be rejected in toto; GEAC not to entertain such proposals since it is not a clearing house for GMOs but has been created to protect our environment, Nature and health.
  2. A comprehensive, participatory review of GM cotton experience in this country to be taken up before proceeding any further with GMO approvals in this country, to glean lessons collectively as a nation and to revamp the regulatory regime.
  3. In the case of Bt brinjal, given the evidence from independent analyses of the problems with various tests that have been done as part of the biosafety dossier, it is time to reject the Bt brinjal dossier; any further assessment on the subject should begin with a need assessment and like mentioned above, should be governed by policy directives in place. Any further assessments should be independent without drawing in the same set of people representing conflicting interests time and again.
  4. Given the fact that field trials are right now riddled with numerous problems which are amply demonstrated by regular violations and malpractices, all field trials to be immediately suspended until all fundamental issues with regard to GMOs and such open air field trials are resolved.

For more information, contact:

  1. Sridhar Radhakrishnan: 09995358205
  2. Dr Ramanjaneyulu: 09000699602
  3. Kavitha Kuruganti: 09393001550
  4. Aruna Rodrigues: 09826396033
  5. Rajesh Krishnan: 09845650032

Indian scientists: missing in action, Sunita Narain

Sunita Narain / New Delhi March 14, 2011, 0:57 IST

I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to some nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song. The government, already scam-bruised, hastily scrapped the contract.

Since then there has been dead silence among the powerful scientific leaders of the country, with one exception. Kiran Karnik, a former employee of ISRO and board member of Devas, spoke out and explained it is wrong to equate this deal with the scam of mobile telephony. The cost calculations done for terrestrial spectrum cannot be used to estimate the loss to the exchequer in the ISRO-Devas contract, which involves S-band spectrum.

Clearly, there is much more to this story. But when the scientists who understand the issue are not prepared to engage with the public, there can be little informed discussion. The cynical public, which sees scams tumble out each day, believes easily that everybody is a crook. But, as I said, the country’s top scientists have withdrawn further into their comfort holes, their opinion frozen in contempt that Indian society is scientifically illiterate. I can assure you in the future there will be even less conversation between scientists and all of us in the public sphere.

This is not good. Science is about everyday policy. It needs to be understood and for this it needs to be discussed and deliberated openly and strenuously. But how will this happen if one side — the one with information, knowledge and power — will not engage in public discourse?

Take the issue of genetically-modified (GM) crops. For long this matter has been decided inside closed-door committee rooms, where scientists are comforted by the fact that their decisions will not be challenged. Their defence is “sound science” and “superior knowledge”. It is interesting that the same scientists will accept data produced by private companies pushing the product. Issues of conflict of interest will be brushed aside as integrity cannot be questioned behind closed doors. Silence is the best insurance. This is what happened inside a stuffy committee room, where scientists sat to give permission to Mahyco-Monsanto to grow genetically-modified brinjal.

This case involved a vegetable we all eat. This was a matter of science we had the right to know about and to decide upon. The issue made headlines. The reaction of the scientific fraternity was predictable and obnoxious. They resented the questions. They did not want a public debate.

As the controversy raged and more people got involved, the scientists ran for cover. They wanted none of this messy street fight. They were meant to advise prime ministers and the likes, not to answer simple questions of people. Finally, when environment minister Jairam Ramesh took the decision on the side of the ordinary vegetable eater, unconvinced by the validity of the scientific data to justify no-harm, scientists were missing in their public reactions. Instead, they whispered about lack of “sound science” in the decision inside committees.

The matter did not end there. The minister commissioned an inter-academy inquiry — six top scientific institutions looked into GM crops and Bt-brinjal — expecting a rigorous examination of the technical issues and data gaps. The report released by this committee was shoddy to say the least. It contained no references or attributions and not a single citation. It made sweeping statements and lifted passages from a government newsletter and even from global biotech industry. The report was thrashed. Scientists again withdrew into offended silence.

The final report of this apex-science group is marginally better in that it includes citations but it reeks of scientific arrogance cloaked in jargon. The committee did not find it fit to review the matter, which had reached public scrutiny. The report is only a cover for their established opinion about the ‘truth’ of Bt-brinjal. Science for them is certainly not a matter of enquiry, critique or even dissent.

But the world has changed. No longer is this report meant only for top political and policy leaders, who would be overwhelmed by the weight of the matter, the language and the expert knowledge of the writer. The report will be subjected to public scrutiny. Its lack of rigour will be deliberated, its unquestioned assertion challenged.

This is the difference between the manufactured comfortable world of science behind closed doors and the noisy messy world outside. It is clear to me that Indian scientists need confidence to creatively engage in public concerns. The task to build scientific literacy will not happen without their engagement and their tolerance for dissent. The role of science in Indian democracy is being revisited with a new intensity. The only problem is that the key players are missing in action.


THE GM CROPS DEBATE By Dr.S.G.Vombatkere**

In response to the below sited article, Dr. SG Vombatkere wrote a wonderfully argued and articulated article, please read on:

GM crops debate: consensual versus adversarial approaches by D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Source: http://www.hindu.com/seta/2011/03/10/stories/2011031052301700.htm

Dr.J.Gowrishankar, Director, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad (“JG” hereinafter) has raised an issue regarding the debates and disputes around genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. [“GM crops debate: consensual versus adversarial approaches”; The Hindu, March 10, 2011; Science and Technology, page 17]. He has attempted to justify the “consensual” approach of scientists to the issue as being the only civilized one, and decry the alternate “adversarial” approach of activists. In doing so, he appears to assume that scientists are all honest persons who are so intensely engrossed in their “task of pursuing knowledge at the frontiers” that “any diversion comes at the cost of the pursuit itself”. He also avers that “peer review represents the epitome of a consensual approach in scientific discourse”, and that “the establishment of viewpoints in science occurs not adversarial approach (sic) but consensual”.
To begin with JG’s statement about viewpoints in science, scientific knowledge advances only through being subjected to questioning and arguments based upon existing knowledge, probabilities and possibilities. The word “adversary” means “opponent”. Thus, questioning can be “adversarial” in the sense of opposing or disputing the basis of scientific facts and methods, based upon scientific arguments. The word “consensus” means “general agreement”. Thus, while there can be consensus in scientific work (agreement in a general sense with differences in details), it should always be preceded by the process of questioning the basis and details of the work. But without prior questioning and examination, there can be no element of consensus in science except among mutual back-scratching scientists or scientists with a common, extra-scientific agenda. Consensus is a political tool, not a scientific tool. Sadly, government scientific establishments and those in most Indian universities are run more on political than on scientific lines, and this is probably reflected in JG’s opinion on consensus in science.
Next, JG claims that peer review is the “epitome of the consensual approach”. However the purpose of peer review is not to arrive at a consensus, but rather to critically examine and question the assumptions, methods and findings of research in detail. It is nothing more than a critical examination of an idea or a result by peers (persons of similar scientific status) who have no stake in the outcome, or interest in the person whose research is being reviewed. In all walks of life, examination is never done by an interested party – this is simply commonsense. Thus JG’s assumption that peer review is “largely unknown to the general public” is not only erroneous but somewhat presumptuous.
In the GM context, many scientists who speak in favour of GM methods, foods and products are employees of the multi-national corporations (MNCs) which propagate GM technology and its products, or they occupy research positions (in science and agricultural universities, for example) that are partially or wholly funded by such MNCs. It is precisely the absence of peer review of the work of such scientists which is being vociferously objected to by many scientists and activists. This is doubtless adversarial, but this opposition is no more in the scientific field. When there is an agenda to scientific research, it becomes a political issue and opposition to it from scientists and others who would be affected by that research and its product outcomes, is not only natural but necessary. Mention of respected scientists like Arpad Pusztai, Seralini and P.M.Bhargava or activists like Shiv Chopra or Jeffrey Smith should ring a bell to any alert scientist. Thus JG would be well advised to make a google-search on these names, to see how they have been hounded or sidelined for speaking scientific and legal truths by fellow scientists, scientific establishments and regulatory authorities under the influence of MNCs.
JG assumes that scientists are all honest persons who are engrossed in their “task of pursuing knowledge at the frontiers”. Such near-sainthood may be present in a very few scientists, but the run-of-the-mill scientist is far from this ideal. He/she is a political creature who is not uninterested in promotion or recognition or earning more money. Even if not corrupt in the conventional sense, a scientist cannot produce impartial scientific results when he/she is beholden to a company which is funding his research or paying his salary. Such science is likely to be consensual science which has little real value.
There is an abundance of scientific literature that shows how GM crops, foods and products can be harmful or pose serious risks, but all this is brushed aside by MNCs which influence scientists and others in the regulatory bodies. JG reveals innocence and touching faith in the regulatory authorities in USA when he says, “It is hard to imagine that the regulatory authorities of the country would have an agenda other than that of the health of its citizens”. It may surprise him to know that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have had scientists, lawyers, influential persons and corporate honchos from MNCs in a “revolving door” policy to overcome the objections to GM from honest scientists within the FDA and EPA. (For details of names, please see the list at the end). As may be verified by a simple Google-search, these MNCs have been indicted and fined millions of dollars in USA for unethical practices in promoting their own transgenic products. It is amazing that JG has no knowledge of these matters. India’s GEAC and central and state Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) are not unlike their US counterparts regarding being open to corporate influence.
When JG accuses activists of “deliberate muddling of issues” such as health and environmental risks of GM crops with exploitation of farmers and enrichment of MNCs, he fails to see the connection between these issues. In the real world outside of the sterile laboratory, science translates to technology and this impacts on lives of people who are directly involved like farmers and indirectly involved like the consumers of farm produce. It is well recognized that MNCs develop and push their GM technology primarily for profit, and use the arguments of benefit to agriculture or the economy or humankind to market it. They also regularly influence government officials and regulatory authorities in various ways to clear their technology or products. Scientists who cannot understand the connection between these real-life issues either live in a fools paradise or are pursuing an agenda.
Section 63 of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill says that persons misleading the public about the bio-safety of GE crops without scientific evidence can be imprisoned for 6 months or fined 2 lakh rupees or both. Here, clearly, the consensual approach is being forced upon the public, because what constitutes scientific evidence will not be decided through peer review but by a body of three persons on the NBRA. What is the need for such draconian measures in matters scientific? Is this not a political measure to force consensus? Does this indicate openness in questioning scientific matters and admitting peer review, or a MNC-driven political agenda to silence dissent so that GM can be forced upon the public?
The fact that an article such as JG has written appears in the mainstream media and responses such as this do not, is a measure of corporate power in the media. Nevertheless, this response is being sent to The Hindu, where JG’s article (reproduced by D.Balasubramanian) appears.
Your call, Dr.J.Gowrishankar.
Michael Taylor – Senior Counsel, Monsanto, was between FDA and Monsanto twice.
Linda Fisher – Was three times between EPA and Monsanto.
Mickey Kantor – Member of Board of Directors, Monsanto, was also Secretary of Commerce, US Administration.
Lidia Watrud – Biotech researcher in Monsanto, was also in EPA.
Anne Veneman – Member of Board of Directors of Calgene (purchased by Monsanto), was also Secretary of Agriculture, US Administration.
Michael Friedman – Senior Vice President of G.D.Searle (a Division of Monsanto), was also Acting Commissioner of FDA.
William Ruckelshaus – Member of Board of Directors, Monsanto, was also Chief Administrator of EPA.
Donald Rumsfeld – President of G.D.Searle (a Division of Monsanto), was also Secretary of Defense, US Administration.
Clarence Thomas – Judge of the Supreme Court, was earlier Monsanto lawyer for Regulatory affairs.
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotechnology food; our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job”, said Mr.Phil Angell, Director of Corporate Communication, Monsanto. Quoted from the New York Times, October 25, 1998. [Emphasis added].
**Dr.S.G.Vombatkere holds a PhD degree in civil structural dynamics from I.I.T., Madras. He may be contacted at:
475, 7th Main Road // Vijayanagar 1st Stage // Mysore-570017
Tel: 0821-2515187
E-mail: <sg9kere@live.com>

The Bt. Brinjal goes politicking


The Bt. Brinjal goes politicking

MORATORIUMS are a kind of stop-time one needs to get used to. They reflect a decision to accept the liminal, to state that truth is difficult to decide. One then isolates the issues discussed and creates a middle world, a betwixt and between, where the subject waits for acceptance or rejection. Moratoriums freeze the rituals of acceptance halfway, preventing a catharsis for any side. The waiting period is not a period of inertia. It becomes a period of intense agitation, a Brownian movement where ideas collide in happy anarchy.

Waiting is not an easy prelude in life or politics. But waiting, like prison life, often produces an intensity of reflection, including passionate arguments for and against, where the battle is replayed for new acts of reflection. One such piece is C. Kameswara Rao’s essay, ‘The Moratorium on Bt. Brinjal’.1 In reviewing Jairam Ramesh’s decision to impose the moratorium, Rao produces a powerful text that needs to be read and reread.

One could condemn and cast it aside as a one-sided argument for Bt. Brinjal, but that would be unfair. It needs to be confronted and recognized for the wonderful ethnography of Brinjal it produces. It is both an ethnography of the Brinjal and an ethnography of the decisions around Bt. Brinjal. It also goes beyond thick descriptions of Brinjal to produce a powerful critique of MOEF’s decision. To dismiss it as a biased document or to merely protest against its defiance of the moratorium will not do. As a text, it is important both as a contribution to the scientific imagination and its understanding of democracy. It is a mindset that needs to be understood and confronted. In that sense, it is a public good and needs to be deciphered as one.

By keeping open the public debate, it becomes a powerful lens to the nature and complexity of decision making in modern society. The document has deep biases, but these are biases we must acknowledge, appreciate and understand. A critique in that sense is an acknowledgement of the gift of the adversary. It is not just a salute to a worthy opponent but an understanding that truths today may be many-sided. It is not a mere question of the variety of interests which transforms into that many ideologies, but a reflection of the diversity of interpretations, the complexity that science allows for.

This essay seeks to explain why each position must be open-ended and provide a nuanced complexity, which does not allow for the earlier simplistic drama of protest and ideology. With these preliminary remarks, one must now proceed to the elaboration of arguments. Maybe one should add one more caveat. Rao’s essay is not an exercise in table manners. It often has a delicacy of detail but rarely a delicacy of attitudes. It is accusatory, combative, and often pre-emptive in its suspicions but it creates a canvas whose texture and colours demand respect, including the courtesy of rebuttal. It is a worthy act of hermeneutics, a reading of the moratorium, as text of nineteen pages and an annexure of five hundred thirty two pages.

It begins with an admission. It reminds one of a statement made by James G. March, co-author of the monumental work, Organizations.2March claimed he might have been the only one to have read the entire book, convinced that most people would only sample or mine it for what was personally useful.

Rao begins with a similar observation about his Herculean labour by noting that, ‘Except for a few who are compelled by the force of responsibility to scan through the material, the massiveness of the document is forbidding.’ His analysis in that sense is a summary, an exercise in accessibility, and a commentary on the text. He confesses the text is a bit tedious, often repetitive and adds almost tiredly, ‘often different issues are dealt with in the same paragraph.’ His reading is an attempt to bring order to the text. The effort is almost a disciplinary exercise.

Rao’s essay begins by examining the decision itself. He sees it as a pre-emptive act of appropriation, instigated partly by the weakness of the GEAC. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee is a statutory body authorized to grant approval for large-scale trials and the environmental release of genetically modified organisms. It can be a law unto itself. Rao claims that in a moment of weakness, it forwarded its recommendations to the government for a final view of the matter. It was a moment of vacillation that opened the floodgates. The GEAC could have passed the order and closed the issue. However, under the pretext or proviso of national interest, it sent its recommendations to the MOEF. For Rao, one committee’s weakness becomes another minister’s opportunism. He laments the fact that when statutory power lay with the GEAC, it ceded its decision to the minister. He notes that given the statutory nature of the GEAC, the moratorium on Bt. Brinjal may not be legally binding. Protocol dictated that minister could have given his comments and returned it to the committee. The review adds the minister’s decision was not couched in the format of a government order, thereby suggesting that it may not be legally binding. It argues that national decisions should be taken by the Cabinet and adds that the, ‘MOEF is not a cabinet minister.’ All this makes Rao wonder a bit loudly that there was ‘a good case for aggrieved parties’ to take it court and adds, ‘but no one wanted to complicate the issue further.’

The biases of the review are clear. It is a clarion call to delegitimate the MOEF decision, which the document sees as a blatant attempt ‘to insult the scientific and technical expertise of the GEAC.’ It sees the minister’s act as political and populist gesture, a symbolic statement that ‘the Bt. Brinjal’s regulatory process is not above board’, demanding that it be scrapped.

There is a politics of suspicion and a suspicion of politics that we must separate and confront. The document sees the MOEF as a Houdini full of pre-emptive acts who helps foil more correct but sedate processes. It notes that the minister had declared that ‘his decision…will be announced at 12.30 pm on February 10th’ but he surprisingly advanced it to 4.30 pm on February 9th. It cites the Indian Express as stating that he did so on hearing about an application in the Supreme Court seeking to restrain the government from announcing the decision. Ramesh almost appears like a wise pig in the old story, ‘The three little pigs’ who kept the wolf at bay by arriving earlier than expected. He is portrayed as a skilful opportunist, the trickster understanding the politics of the fait accompli.

To the document, the sins of the MOEF, however, go beyond such tactics. The review states that he opened the floodgates of activism by embarking on a seven city consultation between 13 January and 6 February 2010. It sniffs suspiciously at such a consultative process, observing that the choice of the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) is ‘a little odd’ as it has no track record of credentials in crop genetic engineering or in handling public consultations on science issues.3 It admits somewhat reluctantly that CEE was correct in its conduct but still asks why ICAR or agricultural experts were not summoned instead for the task. It seems to suggest that the minister is bypassing experts in his rush to populism, that he is committing the double sin of bypassing expertise and also sadly the farmer, the real stakeholder in the game. It sees the consequences of this public debate as an act of bias, an accumulation of ‘negative information on GE crops, extrapolating it to cast Bt. Brinjal in bad light.’ By this time, you almost feel that if the Bt. Brinjal had feelings, it might have sued the MOEF for libel.

The document then laments ‘the regulatory uncertainty’ the moratorium has created. The tactics are clear. It creates a spirit of countervailing suspicion to match what it considers the minister’s attempt to belittle or de-legitimize the GEAC. The complaints are predictable. It warns against the slowing of research and development of GE crops, a withering of the investment climate. Even advanced projects get condemned to the backburner. With no research projects and zero investment, the cornucopia of ‘employment, education and training in GE technology’ stands doomed.

To this Cassandra cry in a realist garb, it adds that the decision was not quite democratic. In a constitutional sense, agriculture in federal India is a state subject. The document observes that the Indian Union has twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The document challenges the MOEF contention that ‘all states which have written to me expressed apprehension on Bt. Brinjal.’ The document points out that only nine states had objected and four conveyed no decision. The document argues that the pre-emptive politics of Jairam Ramesh was accomplished or made possible by the indifference or default of states, anchored on illiteracy about the rituals of bio-security evaluation. The states have been indifferent to the mandatory provisions of the EPA. It adds that GEAC has reminded the state government of the lapse but with little effect. It points to a failure of the federal imagination here. While the decision to commercialize Bt. Brinjal is the prerogative of the Union government, the decision to approve it in the respective states is the responsibility of state governments.

What one sees in the document is a critique of the politics of pre-emption and the politics of default. But it moves a step further into a suspicion of politics itself where objection to Bt. Brinjal is seen as a populist attempt to capture vote banks. There is split-level mind operating here, a preferred dualism between the world of expertise and the domain of politics. The former is cognitively defined, ritualized and possesses the integrity of professional skill, while the latter is seen as anarchic, populist, subject to the vagaries of populism and emotionalism. When science as a club faces the worlds of politics, it retreats claiming that expertise as the domain of the few is unable to cope with politics as the world of many.

The scepticism about politics extends to the scientific claims of the activists and the minister. There is a core, or at least a grain of truth, in some of them. For example, the document contends that non-pesticide management is a digression from the main issue. It is the ritual of dismissal that is interesting. NPM, it argues, is another name for organic farming and holds that both are cultivation practices, not technologies. They are classified as local practice, as recipes not yet initiated and legitimized in the Valhalla of science. For the document, practices do not quite smell of science. By recommending them, the document argues, the MOEF is playing into the hands of the organic lobby, the arch agent of the anti-GM tirade. It holds such practices are basically local and have not acquired the replicability of scale.

To be fair, advocates of NPM realize the issue of scalability and Julia Quartz’s study of NPM shows that the practitioners and advocates of NPM are less sanguine about it than the MOEF. But the hierarchies the document upholds are clear. Ethnoscience and practice are not quite science and entry into this club is not feasible for populist gatecrashers. The dualism of expert science and lay knowledge underlies the document and fossilizes its perception of politics. The acts of NGOs challenging science are seen as a form of illiteracy, or bad manners in politics. It also suggests that dissenting scientists produce bad science or mere populism. What they and the ministry need is a lecture on the technical and scientific aspects of the Bt. Brinjal, which it proceeds to provide.

The scientific elaborations of toxicity are fascinating. The Brinjal in its traditional and Bt. form almost becomes the hero of the story. Its evolution and diversity becomes a master narrative of a science which stands imperially aloof from the science and politics that NGOs might nurture. One wishes that its forays into policy were as enlightened as its asides into science.

The review challenges the alleged toxicity of Bt. Brinjal as ‘borrowed wisdom from The Gene Campaign’, which it sees as a smear campaign to perpetuate the toxicity of the Bt. Brinjal. The new temptation of state science is the susceptibility to NGO view of science. There is a tacit longing for a perspective where NGOs are mere extension counters of science, rather than forms of counter-expertise.

The document then proceeds to argue that ‘allegations of toxicity and allegenicity of Bt. Brinjal have no scientific basis.’ It contends that every plant family that includes commonly used foods also contains some toxic species. This, however, does not make the commonly used vegetables dangerous. It appeals to the wisdom of the cook and the farmer arguing that the potato, brinjals, tomato, bell pepper and chilies all belong to the solanaceae family. In none of these do we use the green vegetative parts. These contain large concentrations of anti-nutritional alkaloids. In that sense, it is the concentration and dosage that makes substances safe or toxic. The wisdom of cooking recognizes that. It possesses and demands this knowledge and the sense of discrimination.

The review adds that there are enough toxicity tests in the regulatory regime to ensure safety of GE foods. What is clear is that safety is a word that experts pronounce on. Safety is accessible only to expertise. The ordinary person’s ideas of safety, his or her questions of anxiety, are only met with an experts answer. The expert here is the immaculate conception. Safety becomes a technical answer to a technical question. All it seems to say is that when substantial equivalence was established between isogenic and transgenic, there is no need for any further concern. Examine the last four words. Why should the ordinary person, the layman rest easy merely because the experts say so? Why are his fears irrational or his questions intrusive? It is this insistence that democracy cede to expertise issues and questions within its domain that one finds irritating about the text. It smacks of a complete dismissal of common sense as defining a layperson’s concern or responsibility that one objects to. For the document, a layman venturing into the stables of expertise is treated as congenitally suspect.

Yet evidence shows that tests on Brinjal were not conducted in independent laboratories. The text bristles with anger at the prospect of this credibility crisis. It finds provocative the simple contention that the scientist may represent particular interests, that there is nothing to guarantee the purity of science in today’s commercialized structure. The scientist could represent a private interest or have a personalized stake in the development of a technology. Let us not forget that even a scientist as formidable as James Watson, one of the discoverers of the DNA, was forced to resign his job at NIH out of conflict of interest. A healthy scepticism about science might be a healthy part of democracy. To scream that such a view implies a state of perpetual guilt is to show contempt or ignorance of democratic processes.

To bell the cat, one must state that some issues are too precious to be left to experts alone. The hysteria of some scientists before public questions is a trifle disturbing. A ritual of expert committees is not the only guarantee of truth. To say this does not make one unscientific. It is to apply one of the norms of science ‘organized skepticism’ back to science itself. What makes this document valuable is not only its arguments about Bt. Brinjal but a mindset about science and democracy that must be flushed into the open and challenged. Democracy needs its pedagogic exercises and thought experiments as much as science.

Let me admit some of its clarifications are heartening. Its warning that often populism can threaten both democracy and science is welcome. One such exercise is about the origin of Bt. Brinjal. Is India the home of Brinjal, the Vavilov zone for it? The essay first reveals that the great Russian scientist himself believed so. Vavilov, in his last papers, listed two sources of origin, an Indian centre of origin including Burma and Assam and Punjab and a Chinese centre for a special smaller fruited group. The review argues that Vavilov provided no evidence for his contention and argues that ‘the world has moved forward even in botany.’ Ironically, it is an advance that even scientists like M.S. Swaminathan do not recognize when they still echo Vavilov in calling India the home of Brinjal. The minister for environment reflects that same opinion. The document argues that Vavilov’s opinion was based on circumstantial evidence, that Vavilov did not have the advantage of later genetic evidence.

When folklore and science merge, opinions are not easy to dislodge. In fact, they can become popular sentiments which often turn populist. The presence of a plant becomes a source of identity, heritage and pride. Indians, the document suggests, could be hurt if told that new evidence suggest that the real home of the tamarind is Central Africa and that our precious coconut originated in the Pacific Islands. Between heritage and intellectual property, a people can get sentimental when the origin of a plant is displaced elsewhere. Sadly, the centre of origin for the genus Solarium is Central America. The exact origin of the Solarium Melongenge is uncertain but available literature indicates it is Africa. India is one of the centres for the domestication of Brinjal but not a centre of origin. As a lesson in biology, the evidence is chastening and welcome.

While questions about origin might be acceptable, questions about trust are more formidably complex. There are questions which go beyond science and cannot be decided by scientists alone. For example, what is a reliable evaluation? Is it one done in an independent laboratory? If so, what constitutes an independent laboratory? Is a reliance on independent laboratories feasible or is their establishment a time-consuming proposition? Is the scientist the ultimate arbiter? Can private laboratories offer evidence for public benefit? Can the scientist be derisive of the NGOs lack of trust and facilely dub them anti-technological? The document raises the question of trust and renders it more problematic by contending Alice-like that trust and evidence is what the scientist claims it is. No wonder this world falls like a pack of cards.

The document argues that drug testing is a question of protocols and methods that private laboratories routinely provide data as product developers. The writer finds NGO suspicions polluting and insulting. Yet, beyond the clarity about methodology, the reviewer is not able to answer what maintains the sanctity of data in a multiverse of interests. How does one confront competing data originating from public, private and civil society groups? To suggest that all interests are alike, or that all laboratories are equally trustworthy is to add naiveté to the world of trust. One does not solve a festering problem by foreclosing it. One admits science as method has it models of anti-pollution, but it does not always work. There are two reasons for it. First, a major part of science is commoditized and therefore in the control of private interests. Second, the old model of science as publicly available scientifically certain knowledge does not work for the domain of risk. But let us understand this by unravelling the document’s understanding of science.

For the document, science is expert knowledge. It claims that, ‘It is only the scientists who know the species and those who work with the crop (who) understand its reproductive behaviour and not, all and sundry, however eminent they are in other fields, even in other areas of biology for that matter.’ It reveals that even the great Einstein had once erroneously predicted that if bees disappeared, man would have only four years of life left. But Einstein’s ode to the bee failed to realize that only five to six crops are dependent on bees, while the rest are pollinated by self-pollination or by other means. The message is clear. Science as truth is sustained by specialized experts and does not welcome trespassers, no matter what their reputation. The ‘no-trespassing’ signs are addressed not just to activists and NGOs but to dissenting scientists as well. It is the latter who, while understanding the protocols of science, violated its taboo. Good fences, as Robert Frost once said, make good neighbours, at least for the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education.

Two scientists in particular have to face the document’s ire. Both are outstanding scientists whose opinions it seeks to neutralize. The tactics are startling different. The first target is M.S. Swaminathan, the second Pushpa Bhargava. Both have formidable reputations; each is formidable, but as Tolstoy would say, in his own way. The rituals of delegitimation have to be very different.

M.S. Swaminathan is the Father of the Green Revolution, the impresario of half the global projects in agriculture from organic farming to sustainability. The sheer longevity of the man and his impact is stunning. He continues writing and reflecting about science and agriculture long after his contemporaries have faded to anonymity. The document laments that it was Swaminathan who ‘dealt the hardest blow against Bt. Brinjal.’ It almost waxes poetic in its descriptions. ‘The sixer that smashed the scoreboard came from Dr. M.S. Swaminathan…Through this simplest of all letters… Dr. Swaminathan dealt the hardest blow against Bt. Brinjal. The scientists are now on a “sticky wicket” for Dr. Swaminathan’s opinion sidelines every other view in places where it really matters.’ Swaminathan is what semioticians would call a shifting signifier. His contentions change with context. He advocates biotechnology, organic farming, NPM and is a patron of ISAAA, ‘seen as an industry front’.4 He is a happy fraternity of different ideas. One is never clear whether he is a statesman balancing perspectives establishing connectivity in diversity, or a tactician bestowing a conditional approval on things.

The tactics the foundation employs to counter him are tentative. It treats him with forceps. It attributes to him an absentmindedness given the fact he speaks extensively on a wide variety of topics. It suggests the possibility of mutually contradictory statements, often even in the same article or lecture. In fact, by citing chapter and verse from a wide variety of seminars, it shows that, chameleon like, Swaminathan has been an advocate of a whole range of contradictory positions, each advocated with stunning clarity, at different points of time. Almost tacitly, the document asks the real Swaminathan to stand up. It argues that before the moratorium, Swaminathan was a different avatarfrom the Swaminathan who triggered the moratorium. Meanwhile, it wonders what happened to the man who did his post-graduate thesis on the Brinjal.

There is something interesting about the way the document constructs and responds to his multifarious positions. In fact, Dr. Swaminathan often begins reminding one of a character in Joseph Heller’s novel, Good as Gold. Heller’s character acquires the properties of the person he is with. If he is with a person who limps, he begins to acquire a hint of a limp. If he is with a visitor who lisps, he starts lisping. His wife immediately knows who he has been with since her husband is a creature of context. The document suggests that Swaminathan wears the garb of the conference he is attending, providing inspiration and certificates to a variety of diverse arguments and contexts. Yet, for all its disappointment with Swaminathan, it tries not to alienate him.

This gingerliness however disappears when it confronts Pushpa Bhargava. For all his vacillations, Swaminathan is seen as a professional. Bhargava, for all his professional competence, is treated as a political intruder who has overstated his scientific claims. The document refuses to accept all of Bhargava’s self-definitions of himself, questioning his claims to be among the ‘earliest people to coin the very term genetic engineering.’ The reviewer bristles at Bhargava’s advertisement for himself, including his claim to have brought the Department of Biotechnology into being. The review trashes both claims by attributing the invention of the word to a Danish biologist, and then adds that describing Dr. Bhargava as the father of Indian molecular biology ‘is an insult to dozens of Indian molecular biologists who made pioneering and lasting contributions to the field.’ Having belittled his claims to science and restricted his contribution to the establishment of CCMB, it proceeds to tear apart his role in various committees. The document has no hesitation about belittling an outstanding scientist, whatever his exaggerated or nostalgic perception of himself. Yet in the very attack, bordering on libel, it makes him a larger than life character, a politically sensitive scientist who stands by his positions. It calls Bhargava, ‘the science face of anti-GE activism in India’ and a bitter critic who called for the moratorium on ‘GE crops as early as 1999.’

Bhargava argued that we must resist any conspiracy by multinationals like Monsanto, who could use unprincipled and unethical scientists for its benefit. If Swaminathan is turned into an absent-minded statesman with contradictory memories, Bhargava is read as a nuisance for his consistent attack on multinationals. Contaminating both these scientists is the Gene Campaign, ‘a committed anti-GE NGO.’ The assault on the GE opposition is no longer a violation of table manners. It has almost become a form of scientific Macarthyism insisting that anyone not for GE must be professionally and ethically suspect. To add insult to injury, it sees Bhargava as a court jester, someone eased out of the Knowledge Commission for being ‘a big time trouble maker.’ The report makes Bhargava formidable in his effectiveness.

It then tries to construct him as an intruder, an imposition, an invitee to the GEAC deliberation who went beyond his observer status. It cannot forgive him for questioning the validity and integrity of the regulatory system in India. It bestows him with a turncoat status for joining the NGOs.

The reader is amazed by the apoplexy the document displays to dissenting scientists of a high calibre. All they seem to be doing is to question publicly the value of GE crops as a public good in a public debate. That is their right as citizens and scientists. The question one wants to ask is what happens to scientific detachment in these debates. Is science a civility available only to a select inner club? Why do scientists like Rao and the foundation turn witch hunters, become inquisitorial when it comes to dissenters, whistle-blowers and NGOs who claim that science is too important an activity to be left to scientists? One is tempted to ask whether these documents represent the work of powerful private groups that operate in the name of science.

There is a deeper question here. One recognizes that markets are a part of democracy. The question one wants to ask is how market groups should behave in questions of science and democracy. If one were to accept the market in terms of the rules of its game, will the market accept the logic of science and the rules of democracy? One is left with a queasy feeling in this regard. One hopes one does not have to meet the new variant of the old slogan. Alfred Sloan once said what is good for General Motors (GM) is good for America. Are we hearing an echo of that in the cry in, what is good for Genetically Engineered Crops (GEC) is good for India. Let us not forget that no institution is sacrosanct. The once legendary organization we call GM now lies in shambles.

While the essay’s tactics are often cantankerous and shrill, its demand that one recognize the fluid and dynamic nature of the debate on GEC is worth considering. It is right in pointing out that the European Union (EU) cannot be seen as frozen in its attitude to GM crops. There has been an undercurrent of change, a sense that EU governments handled the early debates badly. The list of approvals for GE crops in EU countries is on the rise. But there is no denying that EU countries might be more sceptical of GE crops and much more demanding of their regulatory systems.

What leaves one a bit anxious is the document’s sense of science as a community and its perspective on the growing need to democratize science. Democratizing science is a very crucial part of democratizing democracy. But the document’s illiteracy or anxiety about democracy is obvious. The reviewer’s understanding of democracy is a trifle dated. It is anchored on the old pollution ritual which separated the expert from the layman. The layman was a consumer of science and an object of scienticization. S/he was at the receiving end of science, good or bad. Yet, the politics of knowledge is today a part of the emerging politics of democracy. Science is no longer black-boxed as the domain of experts by a citizenry content to be passive receivers. Reassessing science is a part of citizenship. The debates around Bhopal, the Green Revolution, the Narmada dam, Balliapal are a part of the chain of debates of which the discussions on GE crops is a later addition. Our social movements, our NGOs and our dissenting scientists have added to the imagination of both science and democracy. It is precisely this process to which Jairam Ramesh, Suman Sahai and Kavitha Kuruganti are contributing. Attacking them reflects an inadequacy of faith in democracy.

The document is right in arguing that one needs institutions of governance with established norms, committed to transparency. Yet, to reduce governance in science to the dominance of experts is to create an ignorance of democracy and management that is unforgivable. To treat every critique of science or even doubts about it as anti-technological violates the very norms of science. To see protest as organized naiveté or populism is not convincing.

The very limitations of the encounter and the antagonism of the two groups to each other shows the limits of debate and the need for a more pluralistic frame. There are reasons of text and context for this. First, science has changed facing a level of complexity and uncertainty that has created new paradigms of risk, where the nature of knowledge is seen as different. Knowledge in the domains of biology and society does not quite allow for the predictability and orthodoxy that an earlier vision of science claimed. By not being open to dissent, the document sounds outdated and parochial, a work of a fragmented interest group rather than an open work. It fails to recognize that NGOs have access to science and a professional understanding of knowledge that can match that of the academics.

The knowledge revolution that democracy demands is more far-reaching than the information revolution. It is in this context that we must emphasize that context is crucial in India. Scientific decisions challenge ways of life, livelihoods, especially of small holdings, and values about food and nature which cannot be dismissed as intrusive. These perspectives may be articulated in ordinary languages but they can be as rational and systematic as a paper in a scientific journal. For instance, the documents presented by Kavitha Kuruganti or Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign are well thought and cogently presented. Sahai, in fact, is a Ph.D in science. To brush these individuals aside as shadowy influences or parvenus in science smacks of a residual patriarchy. It will be sad if scientists behave like a boys club, as the army often does. In fact, these citizen scientists deserve to be honoured and many NGOs recognized not only as voices of protest but as knowledge producing centres providing valuable feedback to the policy-maker and the scientist in the laboratory.

There is also a more important question. Groups like the Gene Campaign and advocates like Kavitha Kuruganti, represent the possibilities of difference. The latter is in fact raising an important issue in terms of the possibilities of alternative imagination. Kameswara Rao behaves as if science is a corset and as a result refuses Kuruganti’s invitation to join the diverse dramas of agriculture.

There is a question of language, of translation we must recognize. Democracy, and particularly democracy in science, needs not just translation across descriptions but cultures, and across the variety of knowledge systems. This makes pluralism such a difficult cognitive phenomenon to handle. Scientism, overt or tacit, only becomes another form of fundamentalism. It behooves science not to behave like a Ku Klux Clan of defeated and debate-sore experts. One can understand its angst about Swaminathan’s Hamlet-like movements, but it might be that Swaminathan is more agile in confronting the dynamism of science and its pluralism of perspectives, where a science on the side of the small holder, the NPM man, might have different answers than the science spoken by the biotech industry. The very multifariousness of Swaminathan might be his great contribution to the opening up of these debates. The moratorium is not a mechanical stop-time, it is an attempt to rework the varieties of spaces and places traversed by the debate.

In fact, it might be fruitful to examine the EU approach to debates in biotechnology, health and nanotechnology more systematically. They reveal a healthier, more open process, where science is more self-reflective. It shows a nuanced sense of debates where science need not be either a Pandora’s box or a black box, where a gradient of knowledge is created. In some the expert as expert is recognized and accepted. In other wider issues of complexity and knowledge, societal impacts become more central. Here the expert becomes part of a bigger team, realizing both the strengths and limits of his competence. The world is many-sided, matter of fact and non-manichean. The emphasis is not on scoring points but creating institutions, methods, heuristics which allow for dynamism of science and democracy as it moves from tolerance to pluralism. It shows that compromise, reputation, pluralism, multiplicity are not dirty words but forms of civility in the world of knowledge which eliminates zero-sum games, guaranteeing not shareholder stocks but also stakeholder freedom. To keep lashing out at ‘activist pressure’ is to play the scientific ostrich in an era where science studies have altered the understanding of science.

Let us examine how the document looks at exemplars and paradigms in science. Its classic scientist is a legend who had improved 300 varieties of rice, Gurudev Khush. Khush is an advocate of Golden Rice and GM crops. He sees them as a more than reasonable answer to the problem of hunger. Khush sees no ‘single report in adverse affects on BT proteins on human health.’ Khush’s integrity or his competence is not in question. What is problematic, however, is that the battle over GM might be a battle of right against right. There are powerful stalwarts on both sides. The question is how does one construct a controversy in public space? Is science only a technical answer to a technical question? More significantly, is science value free or is a value free science constructed on the immaculateness of expertise, a myth? The document sees its opponents as weeds. Dissenting scientists are professionals who have lost their way. Activists are intellectual rabble rousers who have got the ear of the ministry. The minister, despite his degrees from IIT and MIT, is a politician playing to populist demands. The entire construction of science is dated. It is like a Victorian prude looking at sexuality after Freud. A return to the old days of clarity where peer review exhausted the world of judgment is not quite possible.

There is a lot of critical understanding that the document adds to the Brinjal as a plant. Technical details are absolutely crucial. But even this text recognizes that the technical can have political consequences. Reading the EU decisions, it claims that an invidious division of labour is being created. India is seen as a cheap exporter of organic food at the cost of acquiring expensive GE technology. We are literally shooting ourselves by not acquiring Golden Rice, with its high beta-carotene content. In fact, the technology is free. It argues that our political biases are depriving us of a great technology. It argues that in a few years the Philippines will have commercialized Bt. Brinjal and Golden Rice. There is a further stroke of irony here as the Philippino government has decided to borrow our tests and regulatory system for the Philippines. We have refused the Golden bullet and opted instead for a mix of practices like reducing fertilizer application, using selective farm machinery appropriate for each task, managing soil conservation, muddling through a bundle of alternate practices when the solution to hunger stares us in the face. The romanticism of regimes and political activists might create huge social costs.

The document seeks to alter the current weight-ages in the debate. In this context, its reading of the problem of diversity reveals both its strength and weaknesses, its theory of science, agriculture, governance, culture, politics and democracy. One must confess that sometimes its sense of detail is more intriguing than the overall logic of argument. It reflects both an act of denial and what it could dub as exorcism of current biases about diversity and innovation.

It begins as one has already mentioned by demolishing the myth of origin of Bt. Brinjal, convinced that not all the individuals like Vavilov, Swaminathan and Ramesh can put the Humpty Dumpty of Brinjal’s origin together again. India is only a major site for the domestication of the plant.

It also suggests that given the advances in molecular biology, where the gene of any organism can be isolated and inserted into any other organism, the architectonic of centres of origin is ‘only’ of academic interest. Two assumptions are built into it. The laboratory obtains primacy over the field. Also the cornucopia of scientific inventions can outdo natural heritage and legacy of nature. Given this, farmers’ practice is not as critical as laboratory science and, therefore, there is no need for rabble-rousing activists crying foul. They are now extraneous to the problem.

The essay also shows that Brinjal does not occur in the wild, nor does it hybridize in nature with any other supposed relative. It argues that the existence of diversity in Brinjal is exaggerated by a confusion between accessions and cultivars. The activists’ fear that India has over four thousand varieties of Brinjal which Bt. Brinjal would destroy is seen as baseless. If one looks at statistics, between 1975 and 2008, sixty-eight varieties of open pollinated brinjals and twenty-eight hybrid, cultivated varieties (CV) were released. There was a matter-of-fact acceptance of them. Farmers discarded Land Races and locally favoured CV when it was required. The farmer is practical, pragmatic. ‘More than 75% of the brinjals on the Indian market are high yielding.’ The paper reads the market as a form of distributive justice. It argues that romanticization of diversity imposes invidious rules on the farmer where he is being museumized into a ‘Keeper of the Field Museum of Brinjal’ by continuing cultivation of the unprofitable varieties. It is time, it argues, for agriculture to be seen as a profit seeking activity so that the farmer can make a living. To force the farmer to maintain field musea at high cost merely caters ‘to the pseudo-intellectual fancies of thebhadralok.’ The battle between diversity as tool box for innovation in the instrumental sense and diversity as an alternative idea of livelihood maintenance, of ideas of life and culture is in the open.

The paper seems to suggest that the choices of the market are wide enough. One does not need the romanticism of alternative practices, which adds little to food security in a hard-headed sense. The review argues that technically, practically, science as a tool box can handle the diversity problem. Unfortunately, it feels the debate has escaped the laboratory and acquired epidemic proportions in the political domain. To the document, viruses might be a fact of nature and manageable, but politics has become an infestation which is slowing down the progressive impetus on science.

The problem, it argues, is exaggerated further by the bias against multinationals and private industry. The evidence that Brinjal is largely a cross-pollinated crop is false and the allegations of toxicity and allegenecity of Bt. Brinjal have no scientific basis. There is no threat to wild brinjal germ plasm ‘as cultivated brinjal varieties do not cross in nature with any of the wild relatives to produce fertile offspring.’

Unfortunately, according to the document, the pollution of the problem comes mainly from activists imposing their paranoia on the issue. Such anti-technology NGOs, the document argues, rely on a mélange of evidence, a mixture, a ragbag of folklore, farmers, literati, activists and professionals whose evidence would hardly qualify in a refereed scientific journal. The review argues that if they wanted pure brinjal, the farmers could easily grow it in small quantities. For this limited use, one does not have to contaminate the market.

One must list these arguments sympathetically as we expand the drama. One has to ask why is there such a fear of politics? The scientist needs to recognize that many of the critiques of science and technology come from the cultural and political domain. To expect that they will be domesticated into a scientific paper is naïve and exclusionary. There is failure of trust, where reliance on the market or science in India are not quite the answer. In fact, in this new battle of institutions, the market, science, the bureaucracy, law and politics are all being questioned and reworked. Paradigms are no longer internalist. The nature of risk has made science realize the epistemological and ontological risks of knowledge. It is also slowly realizing that other forms of community, tribal, peasant, civil society, are also knowledge inventors. Indigenous knowledge reflects IPRs of a level that science is yet to understand.

One has to rework a whole set of questions. How does diversity mediate the politics of culture and the logic of the market? Can regulation go beyond a code of experts and represent the interest of different stakeholders? Or do we need ecological and normative filters beyond regulation? Can we niche to the expert so he does not become iatrogenic? How do democracy and science handle varieties of time from evolutionary time to market time? Is the logic of a subsistence society of small holdings different from the logic of market as visualized by biotechnology firms? How do politics and science mediate not merely the diversity of interests but the varieties of knowledge in a society? Is bureaucratic rationality adequate for risk technologies? Can we invent principles beyond the precautionary principle? What new notions of responsibility and justice do the new innovations in science need?

That is the new canvas of democracy. It demands the drama of a new reciprocity where citizens need to be trustees and critics of science, while sciences in turn need to recognize the power of the social. Its official claims to expertise and innocence are brittle. The beauty is that politics becomes a site for this debate. The choreography of public spaces may be one of the great contributions of the debate around brinjals. For this much, this document, biased, passionate, personal, aggressive in calling a spade a shovel, needs to be understood, respected and then put in its place. This much scholarship and politics can rightly do.

Shiv Visvanathan


1. C. Kameswara Rao, Moratorium on Bt. Brinjal: A review of the order of the Minister of Environment and Forests. Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), Bangalore, 2010.

2. James G March and Herbert Simon, Organizations. Blackwell, USA, 1958.

3. Centre for Environment Education (CEE) and Ministry of Environment & Forests, National Consultations on Bt. Brinjal, Nehru Foundation for Development, Ahmedabad, 2010.

4. See Bhagirath Chowdhary and Kadambiri Gaur, The Development and Regeneration of Bt. Brinjal in India. International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications, ISAAA Briefs no. 38-2009, Cornell University, 2009.

Games the Centre plays


States used Essential Commodities Act to lower the price of Bt cotton And states fight back

For the past five years, the Centre and the states have been fighting a battle over seed pricing with Delhi frequently changing the rules to outsmart state governments that had decided to clamp down on predatory pricing.

Although agriculture is a state subject, the power to fix prices had remained with the Centre—until the states decided to take matters into their own hands. They passed enabling legislation that allowed them to regulate prices as and when required. Andhra Pradesh has been most tenacious in safeguarding its farmers from what it terms the exploitative and monopolistic pricing by seed companies.

In 2006, it used the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) to slash the price of the genetically engineered Bt cotton seeds by more than half, after first going to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, followed Andhra Pradesh’s example and used the ECA to slash the royalty rates which accounted for as much as twothirds of the seed cost, to bring prices down sharply. As a result, farmers in these states could buy the Bt cotton (marketed as Bollgard and Bollgard II) at `750 for a 450 gramme packet compared with `1,800 in 2002-03.

However, in December 2006, the Union government quietly amended the ECA to exclude cotton seeds from the list of essential commodities. This, according to some analysts, enabled Mahyco and the All India Crop Biotech Association (AICBA), the association of multinational seed companies, to challenge the states on their jurisdiction in fixing cotton seed prices. Most state governments got around the legal hump by passing special laws that gave them the power to do so. In 2007, Andhra Pradesh passed Act 29 to regulate the sale and prices of cotton seeds because cotton seed was not covered either by the Seeds Act, the Seeds Control Order, the ECA or the Environmental Protection Act.

This has resulted in a cat and mouse game between the states and the Union government. For instance, when AICBA challenged Gujarat’s ordinance which was on the same lines as that of Andhra Pradesh’s, the Ministry of Agriculture came to the rescue of the multinationals. It sent an affidavit to the Gujarat High Court in January 2009 that cotton seeds were out of the “purview of any regulatory and quality control mechanism”. As such, “no administered control system should be introduced in the sale of seeds”. Even more curious was that in November 2009 the Union Cabinet decided to re-include cotton seeds in the list of essential commodities for six months. It said that once the Seeds Bill, 2004, was passed cotton seeds would cease to be under ECA.

The stakes are high in the seeds business. A 2009 study estimates the market at `6,000 crore, with massive potential for growth since farmers are switching over increasingly to hybrids (seeds which cannot be reused). Traditionally farmers in India have reused their seeds and as much as 70 percent of the seed requirement of Indian agriculture is met from seeds bred and sold, or exchanged, by farmers among themselves. Growth rate is buoyant at an annual 12-13 per cent, making the prospects for private seeds companies extremely lucrative since most of the state sector seed companies have almost withered away.

The Andhra Pradesh government is insisting on a standard formula for royalty rate in the bill: not more than 20 per cent of the cost of the bare seed for the first three years and 5 per cent for the subsequent period.


Prices under the scanner in US


Did Monsanto abuse its market power?

Seeds have turned into a hotbed of political conflict worldwide. As multinational companies increase their grip on the seed market, governments in developed countries are beginning to take a closer look at how the lack of competition is hurting farmers at home and abroad.

The most significant development is the investigation by the US administration into the steep rise in prices of major food crop seeds at a time when the recession had brought down the prices of most goods. Last year, corn seed prices were reported to have shot up 32 per cent and that of soybean seeds by 24 per cent. While the Justice Department has launched an antitrust investigation of the seed industry, at least seven US states are investigating whether Monsanto has abused its market power to lock out competitors and raise prices.

Monsanto controls the biggest chunk of the market for GM seeds (see table) that are designed to make crops resistant to pests and herbicides. In the US, its Roundup Ready gene was in 93 per cent of the soybean crop and in 82 per cent of the corn produced last year.

Christine Varney, who heads the antitrust division in President Barack Obama’s administration, announced in March this year that the Justice Department is investigating whether biotech-seed patents are being abused to extend or maintain companies’ dominance in the industry. A more recent report says that the investigators in the West Virginia attorney general’s office have reviewed several studies by agriculture experts showing that Monsanto’s advertised claims of higher yields for its high-priced new soybean seed, Roundup Ready 2 Yield, have not been realised.

Industry analysts say the sharp escalation in seed prices began a little over a decade ago with emergence of GM crops and the swift consolidation of the seed industry that accompanied it.

Of more significance to India, perhaps, is a heated debate in the Canadian Parliament over a bill that seeks to amend the Seeds Regulations “to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new GM seed is permitted”.

India up for sale to MNCs

Pushpa M Bhargava

First Published : 15 Mar 2010 12:14:00 AM IST

The recent historic moratorium on Bt brinjal by Jairam Ramesh, minister of environment and forests, has created a network of citizens’ organisations around the country that have risen spontaneously from the ground, and have prevented the country’s agriculture becoming devoid of its diversity and moving in the direction of control by multinational corporations (MNCs). These corporations have strong links with the government of the United States of America US, and their sole objectives are (a) to make as much money as possible by any means, and (b) to eventually have total control over Indian agriculture, using every ruse known to the world of conmen. Unlike the government of India, they are fully aware that whosoever controls seed and agrochemical business in India, controls its agriculture. And whosoever controls our agriculture, controls India and its food security, for 62 per cent Indians derive their total sustenance from agriculture and, in our country, food security, food sovereignty, agriculture security, farmers security, and security of the rural sector, are synonymous and important components of national security and autonomy. If Bt brinjal had been approved, India would have, in course of time, ceased to be, de facto, an independent country and we, its citizens, would have had to start fighting the third war of independence which we would have eventually won, for truth always wins in the long run.

It is unfortunate that our government — our politicians and bureaucrats (exception granted) — and the rich and the powerful in the country, seem to be siding with the MNCs (read US), in their attempt to acquire control over our agriculture. This is reminiscent of India being ruled by the British through a class of Indians. Only the structure, colour and strategy of this class seem to have changed, while Britain has been replaced by the US plus the MNCs. Let us look at the evidence:

* We signed the India-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture during the first UPA government. Following this — and, perhaps, in preparation of this — our research and extension work in agriculture seems to have totally discounted our strengths and needs. Let me give some examples: The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has developed integrated pest management (IPM) and biopesticides for some 85 crops, including cotton and brinjal. Why have we not used these technologies instead of peddling Monsanto’s Bt crops?

Organic agriculture has been India’s forte. It brings better price for the produce. Andhra Pradesh already has two million acres under organic agriculture and has plans to take this area to 10 million in the next two or three years. Why are our Krishi Vigyan Kendras (I believe there is one in each district) not encouraging organic agriculture? Why does not ICAR have an institute devoted to organic agriculture?

Given today’s knowledge of molecular biology, why are our agriculture research scientists not developing varieties which would have the advantages of hybrids? The farmers can then have their own seeds and would not have to depend on seed companies. At a meeting that the director general of ICAR and I had co-chaired when I was the vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, nine energy saving steps for agriculture were identified. Why have they not been taken?

The ICAR has published in several volumes, details of over 4000 traditional agriculture practices, many of which have been validated and cross-validated. We have many more documented by the National Innovation Foundation. Why are we not using the validated ones and taking steps to examine the remaining? Why are we not using our horticulture potential? For example, all the technology exists in the State Forest Research Laboratory of Arunachal Pradesh to grow over 600 orchids through tissue culture. These orchids can capture the world orchid market, replacing Thailand (for our orchids are far more beautiful and the world is tired of Thai orchids) and bring to Arunachal Pradesh a revenue of over Rs 10,000 crore a year. Why are we not pursuing the possibility?

Why is our department of agriculture not using the outstanding capabilities that our National Remote Sensing Agency has to, for example, identify diseased plants in a field so that one can prevent the spread of the disease?

* Ten of our leading CEOs signed the Indo-US CEO agreement (available on Planning Commission’s website) in which the Indian CEOs (led by Ratan Tata) agreed to put the lid on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, promised not to give any trouble to Coca Cola and Pepsi irrespective of the quality and quantity of their misdeeds, and open our retail market to the US. There is already a US demand that India cuts down its subsidies to agriculture which are a pittance in comparison to what the US provides to its agriculturists.

* We recently signed secretly, an MoU on ‘Agriculture Cooperation and Food Security’ with the US, even though all the inputs we require — scientific, technological, managerial or social — to improve our agriculture to meet national demands (present or future) are available within the country. The MoU (The Hindu, February 24, 2010), for all practical purposes, appears to have handed over our food security and sovereignty, farmers security, agriculture security and security of the rural sector comprising 70 per cent of our population, to the US.

* The government has been supporting introduction of GM food and other crops in the country, which will eventually give control of our agriculture to US-based MNCs. Jairam Ramesh, taking into account overwhelming public opinion and unbiased scientific opinion has, rightly and courageously, in a statesman-like manner, put an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal; he has gone on record to say that he has only two supporters in the government and the ruling party: the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi.

* Our surrender to the US seems to be total. If we buy nuclear reactors from the US (which we would be obliged to buy), we will pay most of the compensation in case of a nuclear accident, not the vendor of the reactor. And on the March 6, V K Saraswat, scientific adviser to our defence minister, said that the US is still denying us technology (Deccan Chronicle, March 7, 2010).

On November 10, 1698, Charles Eyre bought three fishing villages — Sutanuti, Govindpore and Dihi-Koikata — from a Bengali landlord for Rs1,300, and laid the foundation of  today’s Kolkata. We are now trying to sell our entire country for a pittance (if for anything at all) to MNCs and the US. Those who are involved in this effort must understand that the citizens of this country are well-equipped to fight the third war of independence if that happens.

About the author:

Pushpa M Bhargava

is the former vice chairman of the National Knowledge Commission

Sweeping powers, glaring omissions The biotech regulatory Bill gags dissent and takes away the power of states without providing any safeguards to farmers and consumers

 Latha Jishnu / New Delhi March 11, 2010, 0:42 


 Shortcuts always lead to problems, and nowhere is this more evident than in the biotechnology sector. Research in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) crops was permitted, both in the public and private sectors, even before a clear policy was in place and before any guidelines had been formulated on the priority areas for Indian agriculture. Nor was any socio-economic survey, vital for understanding the implications of introducing such high-tech crops, ever conducted before releasing the first GM crop, the Bt cotton. And the regulatory system, manned mostly by bureaucrats till recently, was clearly not up to the task of tackling the complex issues related to the sector because of their limited understanding of the technicalities. The result: A host of concerns about the environmental and health effects of GM crops that have not been addressed clearly. However, the remedy that the government is proposing in the form of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2009, promises to compound the problems. What the government wants to set up in place of the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body with representation from several ministries, is a three-member regulator that will act as single-window clearing house for all GM commercial applications. With the processing of such applications as its primary mandate, the Bill, scheduled to be introduced in the current Budget session of Parliament, ignores the basic premise for biotech regulation. REVIEWING RISK MANAGEMENT CRITICAL OMISSIONS DANGEROUS PROVISIONS Not a broad-based body representing diverse fields Act to have overriding effect on other laws No participation of state governments, stakeholders (farmers & consumers groups) or public interest groups Jail and stiff fines for those who mislead the public about the safety of GMOs* and products Risk management neglected No disclosure of confidential commercial information but this information not defined No provision for liability, redressal or recall of products Union government can give directions to the Authority No clear provision for revocation of approval to prevent harm to public or environment Union government can amend Schedule I (list of specified organisms and products) Post-marketing surveillance and monitoring absent Permits delegation of authority to the chairman Statutory Bioethics Commission * Genetically modified organisms ** Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India No legal action allowed against the Union government, BRAI** and other bodies or officials functioning under this Act This was articulated clearly in the 2004 Task Force Report on Agricultural Biotechnology, which was accepted by the Union government in 2005. The task force, headed by M S Swaminathan, the grey eminence of Indian agriculture, had said: “The bottom line of our national agricultural biotechnology policy should be the economic well-being of farm families, food security of the nation, health security of the consumer, protection of the environment and the security of our national and international trade in farm commodities.” In keeping with this guiding principle, the task force had recommended a statutory and autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) with two wings: One for agricultural and food biotechnology and the other for medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had promised then that the NBRA would be set up within a year. The primary reason for the delay in setting up NBRA, which has morphed into BRAI, is the turf war. While the GEAC, which the BRAI replaces, is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which come under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has formulated the Bill while the Ministry of Agriculture is nowhere in the picture. This, in fact, is the biggest sticking point and critics of the Bill say there would be a serious conflict of interest if BRAI is housed under the Ministry of Science and Technology. The recent controversy over the Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan quoting large tracts from a report prepared by the global GM seeds and biotech industry to make the case for the introduction of Bt brinjal has not helped inspire confidence in the DBT-sponsored Bill. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who describes the provisions of the proposed regulation as “unacceptable”, claims that his ministry or the Ministry of Health is better suited to be the nodal department for the autonomous authority. Experts, however, say this is a deflection from the core concerns over the Bill. Plant geneticist Suman Sahai, who was on the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for the XIth Plan, says the problem with the regulatory system is that “it lacks technical competence, transparency and stringency”, and that new Bill does nothing to set right these shortcomings. Worse, “there is utter confusion in the way the different bodies are constructed in the new Bill with no understanding of their different functions and responsibilities”. Sifting through the expert views on the issue, a key concern appears to be the lack of guidelines in the BRAI Bill — the principles that will shape the functioning of the regulatory authority in deciding the biosafety of GM crops. In short, the nuts and bolts are missing from this structure. Instead, the Bill attempts to impose an undemocratic, secretive system that cannot be challenged under the laws of the country. The most egregious of these provisions is Section 63 which allows for imprisonment and hefty fines for “whoever, without any evidence or scientific record, misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products in Schedule I”. Besides, the proposed law will override other statutes like the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the Environment Protection Act. In sum, details of BRAI’s decisions cannot be sought by the public, nor can these be legally challenged. In all other spheres of government and regulatory activity, it is the Central Information Commission that decides what information can or cannot be disclosed, and even its ruling can be challenged in the courts. In fact, there is no provision for public participation in the regulatory process, which is expressly mandated under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to which India is a signatory under the Convention on Biosafety. According to this global treaty, any statutes on biotech issue must include a systemic mechanism to ensure public participation in decision-making by representatives of farmers’ lobbies and consumer groups. Equally undemocratic and violative of the Constitution is the fact that states have been kept out of the regulatory process although agriculture — and health, for that matter — is a state subject. The Bill envisages only an advisory role through the State Biotechnology Regulatory Advisory Committee. Apart from hitting at the federal structure on agriculture and health issues, the BRAI will impinge on, if not override, other laws like the better designed Biological Diversity Act which gives equal play to the states and Union government. Official sources are not forthcoming on the reasons for the draconian provisions on stifling public dissent or on the sidelining of states. “The regulations have been in the making since 2008 and everyone was aware of the provisions,” is the explanation from one source. That hardly justifies the reasons for the flawed architecture of the legislation, where some of the provisions are in seeming conflict with one or the other regulation. Take, for instance, Sections 24 and 26 which relate to the procedure for risk assessment for the research, transport, import, organism and product and the procedure for grant of authorisation for manufacture or use of organism and products, respectively. It is not clear whether the Product Rulings Committee will be the final arbiter of risk assessment or whether its reports will form the basis for such evaluation by the risk assessment unit. But, of more concern is the fact that independence, impartiality or autonomy of this three-member body can be easily undermined. Under Section 75, the Central government is allowed to give directions to the regulatory authority, allowing it to “interfere with matters that are scientific and technical in nature.” Sahai, who is convener of the farmers’ rights group Gene Campaign, has been fighting a long battle in the Supreme Court — her PIL was filed in 2004 — to ensure stringent and transparent regulations for GM crops, and she says it’s high time a credible authority was in place. The larger issue with the BRAI is that risk management is almost absent from its agenda. Not only is there is no stipulation for revocation of approval by the authority to prevent any possible harm to the environment or public health, there is also no strong provisions for liability. Missing here are express clauses for redressal or compensation and measures for remediation and clean up in the event of an ecological disaster, says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission, a civil society organisation working for sustainable agriculture. The general verdict is that BRAI is the wrong Bill drafted by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Given the old saw that no good product can came out of a bad system, the Bill spells bad news for the GM industry — and the country.

రైతుపై నిర్లక్ష్యం దేశద్రోహం

navya. రైతుకు కష్టం వస్తే ఆయన మరుక్షణం అక్కడ ప్రత్యక్షం అవుతారు. రైతు సంతోషంలోనే దేశ ప్రగతి ఉందని బలంగా నమ్ముతారాయన. అందుకోసం ఐ.ఆర్.ఎస్.సెలక్షన్‌ను వదులుకున్నారు. లక్ష జీతం వచ్చే సైంటిస్ట్ ఉద్యోగాన్ని గడ్డిపోచకింద తీసిపారేశారు. జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటలు, బిటి వంకాయలపై సాగిన పోరాటాన్ని ఆయన ముందుండి నడిపించారు.
ఎరువులు, క్రిమి సంహారకాలు లేకుండా, సేంద్రీయ పద్ధతుల్లో పంటలు పండించే ఉద్యమాన్ని చేపట్టి దేశంలోనే మన రాష్ట్రాన్ని అదర్శంగా నిలిపారు. దేశంలో అపారంగా ఉన్న వనరులను చేజేతులా దుర్వినియోగం చేసుకుంటున్నాం.. అంతకు మించిన దేశద్రోహం లేదంటారు డాక్టర్ జి.వి. రామాంజనేయులు. రైతులకు అండగా ఉంటూ, వాళ్లను పీడించే వర్గాలకు కంటిమీద కునుకులేకుండా చేసే ఆయన అంతరంగం ఇది.

ఢిల్లీోని వ్యవసాయ పరిశోధనా సంస్థలో డాక్టరేట్ చేస్తున్న రోజులవి. ఐ.ఏ.ఎస్. చదివి దేశానికి సేవ చేయాలనుకున్నాను. అందుకు ప్రిపేర్ అవుతూ భారత ఆర్థిక రంగాన్ని అధ్యయనం చేశాను. ప్రపంచంలో మరే దేశంలో లేని అపారమైన సహజ వనరులు, మానవ వనరులు మనకున్నాయి. అయినా మనం ఎందుకు వెనకబడి ఉన్నాం? మనందరికీ అన్నం పెట్టే రైతు అడుగడుగునా మోసపోతున్నాడు.

ఆర్థిక వ్యవస్థ మొత్తం రైతు మీద ఆధారపడి ఉంది కానీ రైతు మాత్రం అనాథగా మిగిలిపోతున్నాడు. రేయింబవళ్లు కష్టపడి రైతు పంట పండిస్తాడు. దాన్ని దళారులు దోచుకుపోతుంటే రైతు నిస్సహాయంగా మిగిలిపోతున్నాడు. ఇదీ సమస్యకు మూలం అనిపించింది. రైతు ఆనందంగా ఉంటేనే దేశం పచ్చగా ఉంటుందనుకున్నాను. ఆ సమయంలో ఐ.ఆర్.ఎస్.కు ఎంపికయ్యాను.

ఓ అధికారిగా దేశానికి సేవచేసే బదులు వ్యవసాయాన్ని సుసంపన్నం చేసేందుకు శాస్త్రవేత్తగా కృషి చేద్దాం అనుకొని ఐ.ఆర్.ఎస్. వదులుకున్నాను. పిహెచ్.డి. పూర్తి చేసి హైదరాబాద్‌లోని నూనె గింజల పరిశోధనా సంస్థలో సైంటిస్ట్‌గా చేరాను. రైతులతో నిత్యం కలిసే వాడిని. వాళ్ల కష్టాలు… కన్నీళ్లు చూసే వాడిని. రైతులు, రైతు సంఘాల చుట్టూ తిరుగుతున్న నన్ను చూసి “శాస్త్రవేత్తగా ఎదిగి… బాగా సంపాదించక ఈ రైతుల జపం ఏంటని” మా బాస్‌లు, సహచరులు అవహేళన చేసేవాళ్లు. అయినా నా దారి నాదే. అక్కడ పనిచేసిన పదేళ్ల కాలంలో రైతులతో అనుబంధం బాగా పెరిగింది. మన దేశంలో రైతులకు ఉన్న పరిజ్ఞానం ముందు శాస్త్రవేత్తలు దిగదుడుపే అని అర్థం అయింది. నిజంగా రైతులకు సేవ చే సేందుకు నేనెంచుకున్న మార్గం సరైంది కాదనిపించింది.

కదిలించిన ఆత్మహత్యలు
మన రాష్ట్రంలోని పలు జిల్లాల్లో జరిగిన రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యలు నన్ను కదిలించి వేశాయి. మనకు అన్నం పెట్టే రైతు ఆత్మహత్య చేసుకోవడం ఏమిటి? ఏదో ఒకటి చేయాలి… రైతును ఆదుకోవాలనుకున్నాను. నిజానికి నేనేమీ వ్యవసాయ కుటుంబం నుంచి రాలేదు. కర్నూలు జిల్లా డోన్‌లో పుట్టాను. నాన్నగారు రైల్వే ఉద్యోగి. బాపట్లలో అగ్రికల్చర్‌లో డిగ్రీ, పి.జీ చేశాను. అప్పటి నుంచే నాకు రైతులు, వాళ్ల సమస్యలతో సాన్నిహిత్యం ఏర్పడిందనుకుంటాను. ఉద్యోగం వదిలేసి పూర్తిగా రైతు సంక్షేమం కోసం పని చేయాలని నిర్ణయించుకున్నాను.

శాస్త్రవేత్తలుగా అప్పటి నా కొలీగ్స్ ఈ రోజున లక్ష రూపాయల వరకు జీతం సంపాదిస్తున్నారు. నాకు జీతంతో సంతృప్తి రాదనిపించింది. చాలామంది రిటైరయ్యాక ఏదో ఒక ఎన్.జి.వో పెట్టి సేవచేద్దాం అనుకుంటారు. ఒంట్లో ఓపిక అయిపోయాక ఏంసేవ చేస్తాం? అని ప్రశ్నించుకున్నాను.

ఉద్యోగం వదిలేశాను. కార్యరంగంలోకి దిగాను. విత్తనాలు, సేంద్రీయ ఎరువులు, నీటివనరులు, మద్దతు ధర.. ఇలా రైతు ఎదుర్కొంటున్న ఏదో ఒక సమస్యను తీసుకొని చాలా స్వచ్ఛంద సంస్థలు పనిచేస్తున్నాయి. వ్యవస్థలో మార్పు తెచ్చేందుకు కాకుండా ఆత్మసంతృప్తి కోసం పనిచేసే ఎన్.జి.ఓ.లు కూడా ఉన్నాయి. అలా కాకుండా రైతు సంక్షేమంపై సమగ్రంగా దృష్టి సారించే లక్ష్యంతో 2004లో సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం (సిఎస్ఎ)లో చేరాను.

టెక్నాలజీ భూతం
రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యలపై సంస్థ తరపున అధ్యయనం ప్రారంభించాం. వాళ్ల ఆత్మహత్యలకు కారణం వాళ్లు అప్పుల ఊబిలో కూరుకుపోవడం కాదు.. టెక్నాలజీ వైఫల్యం అని తేలింది. సైన్స్, టెక్నాలజీలు రెండువైపులా పదునున్న కత్తి వంటివి అంటారు. నిజానికి టెక్నాలజీ అనేదానికి ఒక నిర్ధిష్ట ప్రయోజనం ఉంటుంది. ఆ టెక్నాలజీని తయారు చేసే వారి ప్రయోజనాలు కూడా అందులో ఇమిడి ఉంటాయి. వ్యవసాయ యంత్రాల విషయంలో అదే జరిగింది. మన రైతులకు ఏమాత్రం తెలియని, మన పరిస్థితులకు ఏ మాత్రం సరిపడని యంత్రాలను బలవంతంగా వారి మీద రుద్దారు.

ఉన్న కష్టాలకు తోడుగా సాంకేతిక పరిజ్ఞానం భూతం వచ్చి మీదపడడంతో కలవర పడిన రైతులు ఆత్మహత్యలు చేసుకుంటున్నారని నిర్థారించాం. ఆ వివరాలతో ‘పత్తి విషాద కథ’ పేరిట ఓ పుస్తకాన్ని కూడా ప్రచురించాం. చిన్నచిన్న కమతాలున్న మన పొలాలకు అంత పెద్ద పెద్ద యంత్రాలు ఎందుకని ప్రశ్నించాం. మేం చెప్పిన దాన్ని మొదట చాలామంది అంగీకరించలేదు.

మెల్లగా మా వాదనను సమర్థించే వారి సంఖ్య పెరిగింది. మన దేశ ఆర్థిక, సామాజిక, పర్యావరణ పరిస్థితులకు అనుగుణమైన పరిజ్ఞానంతో వ్యవసాయం చేస్తే ఖర్చు తక్కువ. ఫలితం ఎక్కువగా ఉంటుంది. వేల సంవత్సరాల వ్యవసాయ పరిజ్ఞానం, అద్భుత వనరులున్న మన దేశ రైతులకు మిడిమిడి జ్ఞానంతో తయారైన విదేశీ యంత్రాలు, వంగడాలు ఎందుకనే ఆలోచన మన నేతలు, అధికారులు, శాస్త్రవేత్తలు, అధికారులకు ఎవరికీ రాకపోవడం విచారకరం. మన రైతులు ఎదుర్కొంటున్న సమస్యలకు మూలం ఇదే.

తిండి.. గాలి అన్నీ కలుషితం
అసాధారణ రీతిలో ఎరువులు, క్రిమి సంహారక మందులు వాడక తప్పని వంగడాలను రైతులకు అందిస్తున్నారు. ఎరువులు, క్రిమిసంహారకాల వల్ల దిగుబడి పెరగడం మాటేమో కానీ భూసారం నాశనం అవుతోంది. రైతులు, కూలీలు వ్యాధుల బారిన పడుతున్నారు. పండే పంట రసాయనాలమయం అవుతున్నది. ఫలితంగా ప్రజలు జబ్బుల పాలవుతున్నారు. ప్రభుత్వాలు, శాస్త్రవేత్తలకు వాటిని ఉత్పత్తి చేసే కంపెనీల మీద ఉన్న అవ్యాజమైన ప్రేమే ఇంతటి అనర్థానికి కారణం.

వ్యవసాయ రంగానికి లక్షకోట్లకు పైగా సబ్సిడీలు ఇస్తున్నాం అని ప్రభుత్వం గొప్పలు చెప్పుకుంటున్నా అందులో అధిక శాతం ఎరువులు, విత్తనాల కంపెనీల పాలవుతోంది. అన్ని కోట్ల రూపాయలు పెట్టి వాళ్లను పోషించే బదులు, ఆ డబ్బునే నేరుగా రైతు సంక్షేమానికి ఉపయోగిస్తే మన రైతు మహరాజులా బతుకుతాడు.

మనం తినే తిండిని, పీల్చే గాలిని నాశనం చేసే ఎరువులు, క్రిమిసంహారకాలు లేని పంటలు పండిస్తేనే రైతుకు, జాతికి కూడా భద్రత అని స్పష్టమయింది. మెల్లిగా రైతులకు నచ్చచెప్పడం మొదలుపెట్టాం. 2004లో 220 ఎకరాల్లో పురుగుల మందులు వాడకుండా సేంద్రీయ ఎరువులు ఉపయోగించి వ్యవసాయం చేసే విధంగా రైతులను ప్రోత్సహించాం.

మంచి ఫలితాలు రావడంతో 2005లో 25వే ల ఎకరాల్లో సేంద్రీయ ఎరువులతో పంటలు పండించాం. ప్రస్తుతం 3 వేలకు పైగా గ్రామాల్లో లక్షలాది ఎకరాల్లో సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయం జరుగుతున్నది. సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయం చేస్తున్న గ్రామాల్లో ఇప్పటి వరకు ఒక్కరైతు కూడా ఆత్మహత్య చేసుకోకపోవడం ఈ విధానం సాధించిన విజయానికి సంకేతం.

సేంద్రీయ అద్భుతం
ఖమ్మం జిల్లా పునుకుల గ్రామంలో వెయ్యి ఎకరాల్లో మేం చేపట్టిన సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయాన్ని మంత్రి రఘువీరారెడ్డి స్వయంగా పరిశీలించారు. నామమాత్రపు ఖర్చుతో అధికదిగుబడి సాధించ డంతో పాటు పర్యావరణాన్ని కాపాడే విధంగా ఉన్న సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయం ఆయనకు బాగా నచ్చింది. సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయాన్ని రాష్ట్రమంతా విస్తరిస్తాం అని హామీ ఇచ్చారు. కానీ షరామామూలే కొందరు అధికారులు, శాస్త్రవేత్తలు అడ్డుపుల్ల వేశారని వినికిడి. అయినా మా పోరాటం ఆపలేదు.

రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యలను ఆపేందుకు మార్గాలు ఏమిటని ఓ సమీక్షలో ప్రధాని శాస్త్రవేత్తలను ప్రశ్నించినప్పుడు దశాబ్దాలుగా పాడిన పాటనే వాళ్లు పాడారు. అప్పుడు మా సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయ పద్ధతులను ఆయనకు వివరించాం. ” మీరు నిధులివ్వండి… దేశవ్యాప్తంగా చేసి చూపిస్తాం” అనేసరికి ఆయన 182 కోట్ల నిధులు మంజూరు చేశారు. 2014 నాటికి దేశవ్యాప్తంగా 25లక్షల ఎకరాల్లో సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయం చేయాలని మా అందరి లక్ష్యం.

అంతకు ముందుగానే ఆ లక్ష్యాన్ని చేరుకోగలమనే విశ్వాసంతో స్వచ్ఛంద కార్యకర్తలు, రైతులు కృషి చేస్తున్నారు. సేంద్రీయ పద్ధతుల్లో పండించిన పంటను ప్రత్యేక దుకాణాల ద్వారా లేదా విక్రయకేంద్రాల ద్వారా రైతులే దగ్గరలోని పట్టణాల్లో విక్రయిస్తున్నారు. ఎరువుల వాడని ఆహార ఉత్పత్తులను ప్రజలు చక్కగా ఆదరిస్తున్నారు.

జన్యుమార్పిడి శాపం
సహజసిద్ధమైన ఆహారం తింటే మనం, మనతో పాటు సమాజం కూడా ఆరోగ్యంగా ఉంటుంది. కానీ మనకు తెలియకుండానే, చాపకింద నీరులా జన్యుమార్పిడి జరిగిన వంగడాలను మనపై రుద్దారు నేతలు, శాస్త్రవేత్తలు. ఏం వంగడాలు వేసుకోవాలో, ఏం ఎరువులు, పురుగుల మందులు వాడాలో, ఎవరికి, ఎంతకు ఆమ్మాలో అన్నీ ప్రభుత్వమే నిర్ణయిస్తుంది.

అయినా ప్రభుత్వ నిర్వాకానికి రైతు బలైతే మాత్రం ఎవరూ బాధ్యత వహించరు. మన రాష్ట్రంలో ఎందరు రైతులు ఆత్మహత్యలు చేసుకున్నారనే ఖచ్చితమైన సమాచారం ప్రభుత్వం దగ్గర లేనేలేదంటే పరిస్థితి అర్థం చేసుకోవచ్చు. వేల సంవత్సరాలుగా సహజసిద్ధంగా మనం పంటలు పండించుకుంటుంటే ఈ జన్యు మార్పిడి చేసిన పత్తి, మిరప, టమాటో పంటలు ఎందుకంటూ రైతుల్లో అవగాహన కల్పించే పని మొదలుపెట్టాం.

జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల వల్ల ఎన్నో అనర్ధాలు మొదలయ్యాయి. ఆ పంటలు మంచివా? కాదా? వాటి ఫలితాలను పరీక్షించకుండానే మనమీద రుద్దుతున్నారు. తాను ఏ గింజలు నాటుకోవాలో నిర్ణయించుకొనే అధికారం రైతుకు లేకపోవడం బాధాకరం. జి.ఎం. పంటలపై మెల్లిగా దేశవ్యాప్తంగా ఉద్యమం మొదలైంది. దేశవ్యాప్తంగా 150 సంస్థలతో జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటలు లేని భారత దేశం కోసం ఒక సమాఖ్యగా ఏర్పడి పోరాటం ప్రారంభించాం. దాంతో ప్రభుత్వం ఆలోచనలో పడింది.

ఒక పోరాటం..విజయం
తాజాగా బిటి వంకాయపై సాగించిన సమరం ఓ అద్భుతం. సమాజంలోని అన్ని వర్గాలు సర్కారు నిర్ణయంపై సమరశంఖం పూరించాయి. వంకాయకు పురుగు ఎక్కువ పడుతుంది కాబట్టి పురుగును చంపే పదార్థాన్ని జోడించిన వంగడం తయారు చేశాం.. మీరంతా నెత్తికెత్తుకోండనడం విడ్డూరం. వంగడంలోనే విషం ఉంటే మనల్ని నేరుగా విషం తినమనేగా అర్థం. దీనిపై శాస్త్రవేత్తలు, మేధావులు, అధికారులు చివరకు సామాన్య ప్రజలు కూడా యుద్ధం ప్రకటించారు.

వ్యవసాయ విధానాల విషయంలో ప్రభుత్వం ఏకపక్షంగా కాకుండా ప్రజాస్వామ్య పద్ధతిలో వ్యవహరించాలనే వాదనతో మంత్రి జైరాంరమేష్ ఏకీభవించారు. సమాజంలోని అన్ని వర్గాల నుంచి వచ్చిన వ్యతిరేకతకు తలొగ్గి బిటి వంకాయతో పాటు, జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటల వాడకాన్ని ప్రభుత్వం ప్రస్తుతానికి నిషేధించింది. ఇది ప్రజలు సాధించిన గొప్ప విజయం.

ఆదాయ కమిషన్ అవశ్యం
ఒక ఉద్యోగి జీవితం పెద్దగా ఒడిదుడుకులు లేకుండా సాగిపోతుంది. ప్రభుత్వ ఉద్యోగులకు ఐదేళ్లకోసారి కమిటీలు వేసి జీతాలు పెంచుతారు కానీ దేశానికి పట్టెడన్నం పెట్టే రైతుకు మాత్రం ఎలాంటి భద్రత లేదు. శ్రమకు తగిన ఆదాయం వస్తుందన్న గ్యారెంటీ లేదు. అతని తిండికి కానీ, బతుకుకు కానీ భరోసా లేదు. పైగా ఎరువులు, విత్తనాల కోసం వీధి పోరాటాలు చేయాలి. దళారుల చేతిలో మోసపోవాలి. ఇలా ఎప్పుడూ ఏదో ఒక ఉపద్రవం రైతును వెంటాడుతూనే ఉంటుంది.

అందుకే గడిచిన పదేళ్లలో కోటి మందికి పైగా రైతులు వ్యవసాయానికి దూరమయ్యారు. వాళ్లకు ఏదైనా ప్రత్యామ్నాయ ఆదాయ మార్గం ఉందా అంటే అదీ లేదు. ఎరువులు, పురుగుమందుల పుణ్యమా అని వ్యవసాయ భూములు నిస్సారం అయిపోతున్నాయి. పంటచేలు ప్లాట్లుగా మారిపోతున్నాయి. వ్యవసాయం చేయలేక, భూమి లేక రైతులు వ్యవసాయానికి దూరం అయితే మన భవిష్యత్తు ఎలా ఉంటుందనే ఆలోచన ఎవరూ చేయరు. ఒక ఉద్యోగి జీతం పదేళ్లలో కనీసం రెట్టింపు అవుతుంది.

దేశంలోని ఏ రైతు ఆదాయం అయినా రెట్టింపు అయిందేమో చూడండి. ఎంపీలు, ఎమ్మెల్యేల జీతాలు భారీగా పెరిగాయి. మరి మనకు ఓట్లు వేసి గెలిపించిన రైతుల జీవన ప్రమాణాలు ఎందుకు పెరగడం లేదని ఏ ఒక్క రాజకీయ నాయకుడూ ఆలోచించడెందుకని? అందుకే రైతులకు స్థిరమైన ఆదాయం కల్పించేందుకు ప్రభుత్వం అదాయ కమిషన్ వెయ్యాలి. వ్యవసాయ రంగ ప్రాధాన్యతను ప్రభుత్వం గుర్తించాలి. అలా జరిగి రైతు ముఖంలో ఆనందం నిండే వరకు నా పోరాటం సాగుతూనే ఉంటుంది.

జూ ఇంటర్వ్యూ: టి. కుమార్
ఫోటోలు: ఎం.ఎస్. రాజు

-మనం తినే తిండిలో 51 శాతం రసాయనాల వల్ల కలుషితం అవుతోంది.
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– క్రిమిసంహారకాలు వాడడం వల్ల ఏటా 2లక్షల మంది కూలీలు, రైతులు చనిపోతున్నారు. 2 కోట్ల మంది జబ్బుల పాలవుతున్నారు.
– క్రిమిసంహారకాలు వాడిన తిండి తినడం వల్ల క్యాన్సర్, చర్మవ్యాధులు, కిడ్నీ, లివర్ సమస్యలు, హృద్రోగ సమస్యలు వస్తాయి. రోగ నిరోధక శక్తి తగ్గుతుంది.
-సహజమైన ఆహారం తీసుకోవడం వల్ల మన ఆరోగ్యం, తద్వారా సమాజం బావుంటుంది.

navya. అమ్మకానికో గ్రామం!
2005లో మహారాష్ట్రలోని డోర్లి గ్రామాన్ని అమ్మకానికి పెట్టారు. వ్యవసాయం చేయలేక ఆ గ్రామంలోని రైతులందరూ ఎరువుల వాడకం వల్ల నిస్సారంగా మారిన భూములను వదిలేసి వలస వెళ్లేందుకు సిద్ధం అయ్యారు. మన వ్యవసాయ రంగం దుస్థితికి ఇది నిలువుటద్దం. ఈ సంఘటన ప్రపంచవ్యాప్తంగా సంచలనం సృష్టించింది. మేం అక్కడకు వెళ్లి అతి తక్కువ ఖర్చుతో సేంద్రీయ పద్ధతుల్లో వ్యవసాయం చేయడం ఎలాగో చెప్పాం.

రైతులు కొత్త పరిజ్ఞానాన్ని మరచిపోయి… సేంద్రీయ పద్ధతిలో సాగుచేసేందుకు ముందుకు రావడానికి రెండేళ్లు పట్టింది. ఆ గ్రామం మళ్లీ ఇప్పుడు సేంద్రీయ వ్యవసాయంతో కళకళలాడుతున్నది. మన రైతు మనసు స్ఫటికలా స్వచ్ఛమైనది. ప్రతిఒక్కరినీ నమ్ముతాడు. నమ్మకం ఆధారంగా పెనవేసుకున్న సంబంధాలే మన దేశానికి, రైతుకీ శ్రీరామరక్ష.

UPA neglects Agriculture the most

Submitted by editor on Sat, 10/25/2008 – 18:27

Rajnath Singh
India today is on the brink of a protracted recession. Almost every economic indicator in the country is putting immense pressure on all economic activities in the country and painting a gloomy picture of our economy. Inflation is in high double digits, GDP growth rate is faltering, Industrial growth rate has touched a record low of 1.3 percent and the growth of our agriculture sector has turned bad to worse.

Declining capital formation and steep reduction in public investment in agriculture sector during the UPA rule has led to a complete stagnation of Agricultural growth in India. In other words the UPA Government has proved to be a big disaster on the economic front.

Agriculture is considered a recession proof sector as it does not face decline in demand even in a worsening situation. Being a predominantly agrarian society, India has the potential and resources to deal with any challenge posed by recessionary atmosphere in the world.

Eminent thinkers and economists around the world have started chalking out detailed action plans for agriculture and predicted that food security will be the top agenda of all the Governments in future. It clearly indicates that the world is now awakening to the growing importance of strengthening agriculture sector but the UPA Government’s slumber has deepened further.

By pursuing disoriented and confused economic policies the UPA Government has jeopardized our national food security. No wonder, India’s record on hunger today is worse than that of nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s 2008 Global Hunger Index says that with over 200 million people insecure about their daily bread, Indian scenario is ‘alarming’ in terms of hunger and malnutrition.

According to the World Development Report, “To reduce poverty and hunger, the growth of the agricultural sector is the only solution.” But the higher cost of production without a corresponding increase in prices has made agriculture a non viable profession in India.

In the absence of remunerative prices, coupled with lack of timely, affordable and adequate credit and high interest rates have forced the helpless farmer either to quit farming or to commit suicide. More than five thousand farmers committed suicide in different parts of the country.

The Prime Minister’s ‘Vidarbha Package’ for the farmers has failed to address the key issues. The farmer’s loan waiver scheme also met the same fate as it left majority of the farmers agitated and disgruntled.

Both these schemes have proved to be a cruel joke on farmers and the Congress led UPA Government will have to pay a heavy price for it in forthcoming assembly elections and the General Elections scheduled next year.

The UPA Government has remained unconcerned over the gravity of the situation and adopted a casual approach while dealing with a sensitive subject like Agriculture.

I am happy to note that the BJP ruled states have performed better than the Congress led Governments on the agriculture front.
We have the shining example of Gujarat State before us which registered a remarkable 13 percent growth in agriculture in comparison to meager national agriculture growth of nearly 1.8 percent.

After coming to power the BJP led NDA Government will introduce a paradigm shift in agriculture where it will synthesise the old and the new, and focus on the economics of small land holdings.

The BJP will increase the quantum of public investment in agriculture and mandate banks to earmark 30% of their total loans for credit to the agriculture sector. We will take immediate steps to see that the farmers be given loans at not more than 4% interest for agriculture and allied activities.

The NDA Government at the Centre will implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers and assure the farmer of actual cost of production plus 50% over and above this cost as the MSP for his produce.

BJP led NDA Government will also implement Farm Income Insurance Scheme to ensure guaranteed income to all farmers in the country.

India facing economic terrorism

UPA Government’s soft and weak-kneed approach to deal with terrorist activities is a fact well known. Unfortunately the issue of internal security which warrants national consensus among all political major political parties and other prominent stake holders in our society has become a casualty of UPA Government’s vote bank politics.

During the 42 months of UPA rule terrorists and anti-India forces have galvanised its cadres and gained strength to strike India anywhere, anytime and at will. They have developed a multi-pronged strategy to damage India at every possible level. Recently we have witnessed a big surge in circulation of fake Indian currency notes in the country. It is well thought strategy of anti-India forces to unleash economic terrorism in the country.

Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI has pumped in counterfeit currency worth billions of Rupees into India through Bangladesh and Nepal borders. According to recent estimates by a Government panel, fake currency worth 1 lakh 69 thousand crores Rupees are already in circulation.

Fake currency notes have been recently confiscated in many States. Even at the branches of the Nationalised banks and their ATM’s fake currency notes have been confiscated. Counterfeit currency is being used to fund terrorist operations. I urge the present dispensation at the Centre to take effective steps to plug the supply of fake currency notes in India.

The BJP demands the Government that it should come out with a white paper on circulation of fake currency in India.

Food First Policies needed to tackle hunger in India

Shiva: Food-First Policies Needed to Tackle Hunger in India

Indian activist Vandana Shiva holding a pin that reads 'No thanks to GMO food'

Shiva blames the increase in hunger on the use of genetically engineered seeds

Dramatic price increases have left nearly a billion people hungry worldwide. As World Poverty Day draws attention to the issue, DW’s Dennis Stute speaks with activist Vandana Shiva about India’s huge hunger levels.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist, activist and author. In India she has established Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights. She also directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy.

The UN has declared Oct. 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

DW-WORLD.DE: How has the food crisis affected India?
Vandana Shiva: Very severely. Prices of staples have literally doubled in the last year and that has meant that the poor who were already only eating half of what they should be eating are now eating a quarter of what they should be. Unfortunately, it is the poor who must make a living by working physically and what we’re basically doing is robbing them of their ability to earn a living.

In addition, when children don’t get enough food to eat or when a mother is malnourished and she gives birth to a low birth-weight child, we are creating generations of people deprived of full mental health and full physical health.

According to a new report, there are “alarming” levels of hunger in 12 Indian states and “serious” levels in the remaining five. What, in your view, is the reason for the widespread malnutrition?

There are two very big reasons why India has emerged as the capital of hunger. The first is the “Green Revolution” model of agriculture, which was actually a hunger-creating model proposed as a hunger solution. But when you destroy food sources in pulses, in vegetables, in grains, in oil seeds and create monocultures of rice and wheat, you destroy the millets — the nutritious grains that have 40 times higher level of nutrition — and call them inferior grains and push them to extinction. On the ground, you have less food per unit acre and you have less nutrition access per capita.

Man picking an ear of corn from a stalk GMO crops require more water and provide less nutritional value, says Shiva

The second is related to the new thrust of the 1991 policies of trade liberalization which instead of focusing on food for people focused on exports of luxury cash crops to rich countries, destroying India’s food security base. This was trade-driven and really put food on the back burner then, treated as something you don’t need policy for.

The food situation is particularly bad in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Why is this state doing even worse than the others?
The two reasons Madhya Pradesh is more severely affected than others is that it’s a large forest state and it’s largely a tribal state. The food security of the tribals came from abundant forest products including edible products from the forest’s produce. Mining and industrialization is so rampant that tribals are losing their food resources.

It’s also the state where the drought impact because of climate change has been felt very severely. Bundelkhan has had a drought and rainfall failure for four years — there has been no cultivation at all. And that’s partly because the agricultural model is based on new seeds like hybrid seeds which need chemicals. But that’s the stupidest thing you could do because climate change requires adaption to drought which means planting crops that are resilient to drought — the millets that use only 250 millimeters of rain.

But unfortunately the government, driven by international agencies like the World Bank, has walked on the wrong road for a period of market volatility and climate uncertainty. The combination is a recipe for hunger and famine. We need to shift our focus from global markets and global trades to local food security and away from export crops to growing food and nutrition for our people.

In the past ten years, more than 140,000 farmers in India have committed suicide according to official figures. Why is their situation so desperate?

The first suicide came in 1997. When the impact of the new policies of liberalizing the seed sector started to get felt and corporations like Monsanto, who wanted to sell genetically modified seed, entered the market.

They started to sell non renewable hybrid seeds which meant the farmers had to spent huge amounts of money buying seed every year. These seeds also needed irrigation and were vulnerable to pests to the farmers had to spend more money putting in irrigation systems and buying pesticides. That meant a higher debt burden on farmers. Falling prices of the products and rising costs of production squeezed the farmers even further into debt. And that is what has led to the spate of suicides.

How can you tackle the problem of hunger?

A bowl of rice is being handed from an adult hand to a child's Getting food into the hands of the poor is difficult due to heavy subsidies

I think the most urgent steps to be taken to tackle the problem are to actually develop the farming systems to produce more food per unit acre. Every assumption of industrial agriculture is wrong because it does not produce more food but uses more chemicals and more water per unit acre. It produces more commodities for international trade per unit acre but it does not produce more food or more nutrition per unit acre. Models of farming that can increase food-production fivefold, ten fold, depending on your climatic conditions have evolved through the organic movement. Those models of biodiverse, ecological systems can solve the problem of hunger.

The second thing that needs to be done is to bring back food-first policies. In India after independence we have not had hunger on the scale we are now witnessing. We had a famine in 1942 which killed two million people. We had enough food in the country but the British were extracting every bit of rice from Bengal and exporting it for profit — exporting it to finance the war. We drove that famine away through public policy that put food first through a universal public distribution system that meant everyone has a right to affordable food. That was dismantled by the World Bank and it has to be resurrected.

The poor must have food at affordable price instead of subsidizing global corporations. What the government has to do is to buy, preferably organics, from the Indian farmers and then subsidize the prices for the poor. We would save our financial budgets, we would save our taxes and we would have more food at lower prices. India this year is spending one trillion rupees in subsidies for global corporations to buy chemical fertilizers. That’s the wrong way to go. We can lower costs of production, increase output per acre, increase equity and distribution. That is food sovereignty. That is food security. That is food first.