Survey of Indian Agriculture 2012: The Hindu


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The Hindu – Survey of Indian Agriculture (2012)

Though prices of many agri commodities have increased the plight of the small and marginal farmers remains the same. The Govt. has recommended a minimum support price (MSP) for almost all produces that a farmer grows, except for sugarcane. Farmers growing other crops are not able to get a remunerative price. The reason being MSP is not being strictly implemented, it often remains on paper.The Indian agricultural sector is dominated by several middlemen. And today the entry of many private players in marketing agri produces also throws more marketing avenues open. Are the farmers getting a fair deal?

  • Is rural India really shining or is it just a poster image by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman MSSRF, The future of agriculture and food security will depend upon the attention we pay to soil conservation and enhancement, water harvesting and careful use, conservation of agro-biodiversityand anticipatory action for meeting the challenges of global warming resulting in unfavourable shifts in temperature, precipitation and sea level rise (page no. 7)

  • Are subsidies responsible for destroying agriculture? by K. Ramasamy, Vice Chancellor, TNAU, Coimbatore, The biggest problem in agricultural subsidy is that it has failed to distinguish between the needy and non-needy (page no. 10)

  • Need to learn from past experiences by M.J. Prabhu, Agriculture Correspondent, The Hindu, The lessons learned from the past when there were problems to face the drought must serve as guiding factor for preparedness to help the farmers to overcome the vagaries of weather (page no. 14)

  • Feasibility of farming for a small farmer today by V. Joseph Satish, Research Associate, Knowledge in Civil Society (KICS), Secunderabad, There has been a revival of traditional farming and organic food crops like millets and pulses (page no. 16)

  • Why are small farmers so vulnerable in the country? by Satyapal Malik, former Union Minister, Prabhari Kissan Marcha, BJP, New Delhi, When the farmers goes to sell, there is hardly any agency to buy his crop, he has to leave it at the middle man’s shop (page No. 20)

  • Why is production not matching international levels? by V. Rajagopal, former Director CPCRI, Kasaragod, The yield levels of some crops are lower than international level, still India ranks high in other crops. Agriculture is a complex enterprise with several ‘gaps’ which need attention, he feels (page no. 24)

  • Some reasons for why farming is not viable today by K. Kumaraswamy, Sol and Crop Management Scientist, Coimbatore, Small farmers are unable to transform the farming as a commercial venture due to resource constraints (page no. 26)

  • Official statement and ground reality don’t seem to match by A.P. Fernandez, former Director, MYRADA and currently Chairperson NABARD Financial Services, Loans for construction of warehouses for agri commodities should be considered as priority sector lending eligible for subsidized interest rate at part with the crop loan (page no. 29)

  • Many practical difficulties plague a farmer today by Suresh Pal and Alka Singh, Division of Agricultural Economics, IARI, New Delhi, A large majority of small farmers would be living below the poverty line if they depend only on agriculture as their source of livelihood (page no. 35)

  • Successful economic in aquaculture growing by M. Krishnan, Ananthan P.S and S. Pavithra, Head and Scientists, SocialSciences Division, CIFE, Mumbai, Policy driven, professionally companies that make huge investments ensure that the culture remains pristine like it was on day one day (page no. 38)

  • Loss: gain ratio for a small farmer by V.C. Mathur and G.K. Jha, Professor and Senior Scientist, Division of Agricultural Economics, IARI, New Delhi, Modern production technology underlines the use of chemical fertilizers and plant protection chemicals to realize the yield potential of modern varieties (page no. 42)

  • Continuing to grow without choice or chance by Uthara, organic farmer, water management expert and grassroot knowledge worker on sustainable farming, Kerala, The price of being a farmer gradually faded and the title slowly started gaining the burden of shameful humiliation of many dimensions (page no. 46)

  • Involve farmers as partners to achieve growth by S. Prabhu Kumar, Zonal VIII, Bangalore, About 630 KVKs a popular name among the farming community is functioning under ICAR (page no. 49)

  • Why does even a 10 acre farmer languish in poverty? by P. Ramasundaram and Lakshmi Prasanna, Principal and Senior Scientists, NCAEPR, DPS, Marg, Pusa, New Delhi, The lives of smallholding families can be improved by higher per acre productivity, and horizontal and vertical diversification (page no. 52)

  • Our farmers can learn from Chinese model by T. Ravisankar, Senior Scientist (Agri. Economics), CIBA, Chennai, The consumer preference for chilled fish is slowly improved but frozen fish is rarely accepted even in city fish markets in India (page no. 54)

  • Does dry land agriculture mean the end for a farmer? by C.A. Ramarao and B. Venkateswarlu, Principal Scientist (Agri. Economics) and Director, respectively at CRIDA, Hyderabad, It should be adequately recognized that the critical problems at rainfed agriculture are different from those of irrigated agriculture (page no. 57)

  • Three measures to reduce gap in farm income by Ramesh Chand, Director, National Centre for agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi, The shift of cultivators from agriculture to non agriculture has been lower than growth rate in their population (page no. 60)

  • Government alone cannot address all the challenges by Suresh Chandra Babu, Senior Fellow, IFPRI and Prasanna Rajasekaran, Scholar on public poilcy, One way to put Indian agriculture back on track is to increase public investment on agriculture research and extension (page no. 63)

  • Government claim of being pro-farmer is just an eye wash by N. Mahalingam, Chairman, Sakth Group of Companies, Chennai, The government has to introduce agriculture in higher secondary school at plus two and at degree level in regional language in rural areas (page no. 66)

  • Who is to be held responsible for the suffering of farmers? by G. Nammalwar, Nammalvar Ecological Foundation, Surumanpatti, Karuru, Tamil nadu, An understanding of the roots of agrarian crisis may help the planners to reconsider what do they mean by “second green revolution” (page no. 69)

  • Is privatizing marketing a feasible solution? by L. Narayana Reddy, Doddaballapur taluk, Bangalore Rural district, big supermarket or a mall has displaced hundreds of small traders from their age old profession and put them and their dependents into a sad state of leading their lives (page no. 72)

  • FDI is not reform but an investment policy by Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak, Samaj, New Delhi, For years, farmers have been suffering at the hands of those who have a monopoly on purchasing and selling of agriculture produce, (page no. 75)

  • Commissions and kickbacks are ruining productivity by S. Durairaj, enterpreneur, Green energy generation and poultry manure production, Tamil nadu, UNDP has selected this as one of the 11 projects in the world. Further, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UNFCCC has registered this as a green project (page no. 78)

  • What do farmers want from the government? by Thooran Nambi, Coordinator Tamil nadu Farmers Association, Tirupur, Commodity based mono-cropping for exploiting the basic natural resources has to be stopped and to maintain bio-diversity, multi cropping system is to be worked out (page no. 81)

  • Do away with middlemen for food security by Suman Sahai, Convenor, Gene Campaign, Sainik farms, Khanpur, New Delhi, Middlemen are able to exploit the farmers largely because of the failure of the formal credit system which is practically non existent (page no. 83)

  • Can a finance bill exclusively for agriculture help? by L.N. Manjunath, Executive Director, SKDRDP, Dharmasthala, Karnataka, An exclusive farm budget instead of being treated as yet another election year budget, should micro manage the available resources in the country (page no. 86)

  • Need to change policies to suit present day requirements by Yashawantha Dongre, Registrar, Vijayanagara, Sri Krishnadevaraya University, Bellary, Even if the agricultural sector grows at the present rate for the next decade, reduction of population pressure would enhance its productivity levels many fold (page No. 88)

  • Confidence building measures to bail out agriculture by Vijoo Krishnan, Joint Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, New Delhi, Farmers’ cooperatives and SHGs must be given institutional credit at low interest rates (page no. 90)

  • Suffering farmers and an oblivious government by A.K. Ghosh, Director, CED, Jadavpur University, Can any farmer easily access seeds from National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NPBGR) holding more than 70,000 varieties run by tax-payers’s money? Or do they even know it exists? (page no. 92)

  • How far is the Govts. claim on being food secure true? by Alok Sinha, IAS (Retd), Former Chairman and Managing Director, Food Corporation of India, Food security can be introduced through an executive order. Later it can be given the cover of a Parliamentary mandate, and no party would then oppose such an egalitarian and sensible policy (page no. 95)

  • Removing imperfections to facilitate better marketing by N. Ajjan, Director, Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development Studies, TNAU, Coimbatore, To protect the rights of the farmers as well as sponsors of contract farming, a dispute settlement mechanism should be set up (page no. 97)

  • Is present credit facility squeezing life out of farmers? by C.V. Sairam, Principal Scientist, Agricultural Economics, ICAR, New Delhi, During extreme conditions such as drought, flood, cyclones, etc., farmers expect better and timely empathetic measures from the financial institutions and hence the existing norms in this regard may be fine-tuned (page no. 100)

  • Result of flawed policy paradigm by D.S. Bhupal, Senior fellow, Agricultural Economics Research Centre, University of Delhi, Delhi, Wrong choice of flood irrigation method and cropping pattern are leading to huge water wastage (page no. 102)

  • Need for more stringent measures to save groundwater by K. Palanisami, Principal Researcher, IWMI, Hyderabad, Among the top 10 groundwater-abstracting countries as of 2010, India ranks first (page no. 106)

  • Whether farmers are benefiting from Bt cotton by Kavitha Kuruganthi, ASHA, Bangalore, How is it that Bt cotton in other countries had not resulted in the kind of cotton yield increases that India has seen for a few years in the last decade? (page no. 108)

  • A decade of successful Bt cotton cultivation in Gujarat by V. Kumar, Research Scientist (Cotton), Main Cotton Research Station, Navsari Agricultural Unviersity, Athwa Farm, Surat, Due to Bt cotton, farmers harvest more yield, better assured of returns, incur less expenses on pesticides, efficient use of water, nutrients and other inputs (page no. 110)

  • Direct marketing can ease woes to an extent by M.J. Prabhu, Agriculture Correspondent, The Hindu, Chennai,The self-sufficiency that the country claims to have achieved is not real – as one-third of our present population do not have the purchasing power for three meals a day (page no. 112)

How we feed us will go to American hands by Shalini Bhutani

Pacts favourable to the US may be signed, posing a threat to Indian farmers

THE BUZZ has been growing about US President Barack Obama’s visit to India next month. And yet again before the visit, news is about the possible arms deal, joint military exercises, bilateral trade and investment, rather than what it would mean for India’s food and farming. When George Bush came calling, the nuclear deal hogged the limelight, and the agriculture-related aspects, which have consequences for something as basic as food, didn’t make the headlines.

Farmville Hillary Clinton visits the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa, in 2009


This cycle of events sounds like a cruel joke. But the situation is far from funny when it comes to our agriculture. Several laws and policies related to seed, food and farming in India have in the past been made to either facilitate American entry in these sectors or forge so-called US-India ‘partnerships’ in agri R&D and trade. Control over these sectors in other countries has strategically been core to American foreign policies. Also, agri exports are a big part of Obama’s economic recovery plan. So, his visit will yet again be marked by decisions, which will have implications for Indian agriculture.

It is useful to recall history here. In 1960, it was by an Act of Parliament that India’s first agricultural university, Pantnagar University (now the Gobind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture), was set up with US assistance. It is here that the so-called Green Revolution was started, the ill-effects of which are only being fully understood now. And ever since, right up to the introduction of American company Monsanto’s now infamous Bt brinjal, public sector agriculture research institutes are being used as base stations from which the American interests springboard into the Indian landscape. And in the process — from seed, to tractors, to processing, to retailing — American companies such as Cargill, Walmart and Monsanto have got more than a foothold in India.

India’s agriculture legislations are also beginning to mirror elements from the US. Some come in via the route of the US-led multilateral system, the World Trade Organisation (WTO). On Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), the US took India to the dispute settlement body of the WTO for non-compliance of IPR obligations. Yet, despite amendments to the Indian patent law, it is still not good enough for the US-India Business Council and American lifescience corporations. Bilateral trade relations also come with prescriptions for legal and policy changes. The legal makeover of India continues.

Another American clone under consideration is India’s version of the Bayh-Dole Act — the Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, 2008. This advocates for IPR for agricultural scientists and research institutions. Meanwhile, the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2010, is waiting to resurface in Parliament. This will easily facilitate the clearance of genetic engineering for application on our seed, feed, food and livestock. Through its South Asia Biosafety Programme, the USAID gives funds for biotechnology policy formulation for countries such as India and Bangladesh. The US is the birthplace of biotech giants and American agencies are scouting worldwide to create markets for their products.

So, a visit by an American bigwig almost always leaves Indian agriculture in trouble. It points to more changes before or after the trip. In 2005, before the Bush visit, a US-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) was set up. One of its five sub-divisions is the Agricultural Trade Group whose key objectives include facilitating export of Indian mangoes to the US. Aren’t we better off eating them in Asia, thereby reducing food miles in an already climate- and energy-challenged planet? And what India gets in return, through another Non-Tariff Barriers group under the TPF, are more insecticides manufactured in the US. And, the Indian government agreeing to cut regulations on buying and selling of carbonated drinks, which mean colas. More poison for our land, water and health.

During the Bush visit in 2006, India was signed up for a US-India Knowledge Initiative in agriculture education, teaching, research, service and commercial linkages. It is run by a board including American giants such as ADM, Monsanto and Walmart. In July 2009, Hillary Clinton visited the Indian Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa, where she unequivocally sounded her commitment to see through policy changes in our agriculture sector, which are favourable to American firms. At that time, the countries signed a bilateral pact on agriculture.

The US is the birthplace of biotech giants and American agencies are scouting worldwide to create markets for their products

Philanthrocapitalist Bill Gates, who backs agricultural biotechnology, visited India recently and made headlines by ‘adopting’ a village in Bihar. Soon, there was a report that the Borlaug Institute for South Asia is being set up in Bihar to unleash a second Green Revolution in the region. Could there be any connections there? After all, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds two major global agriculture initiatives: the first is on rice research that pushes GM and hybrid varieties. Second, it has pumped dollars into the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa. This will create a market for US seeds, pesticides and proprietary technologies. It has already spent a lot for India’s ‘poor farmers’ to modernise farming methods and link them to the global market.

AS A run-up to the US-India Strategic Dialogue in June, top officials held a series of meetings, including one on agriculture. But India doesn’t need that level of interaction with the US. In agriculture, a diversity of local alternatives do exist. The current food crisis, despite the grains rotting in FCI godowns, amply shows there is no shortage of foodgrain production. Therefore, there is no justification for new proprietary agricultural technologies to be brought in from the US. The move away from traditional methods of farming to the industrial agriculture and modern food production that the US prescribes, in effect, hugely adds to the climate crisis and creates unequal wealth.

There is no shortage of foodgrain production. Therefore, there is no justification for new technologies to be brought in from the US

There are several local initiatives that point to the way forward. For instance, dryland millet-based mixed farming practices, livestock integrated farming, safeguarding uncultivated agro-biodiversity, non-pesticide management agriculture and the time-tested natural farming or ‘rishi kheti’. Indian farming has its own solutions. The obstacles are not technical but political.

India does not need its food menu to be written by the US. And irrespective of what Obama’s speechwriter pens down for his parliamentary address, any word on democracies will be meaningless if his visit leaves India as a less self-defining nation, which no longer chooses how and what it feeds its own. The link between arms and alms is not as distant as it may seem.

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”.

Seeds of strife

Author(s): Latha Jishnu

Issue: Aug 31, 2010

The Seed Bill takes away states’ power to regulate seed prices, could lead to Centre-state confrontation

Photos: Surya Sen

IT WAS yet another meeting in a series that began six years ago.

On July 28, close to 40 members of Parliament and state leaders met in Room 124 of Krishi Bhavan, the Delhi headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, in what seemed a last-ditch attempt to thrash out the contested points in a proposed law to regulate the seeds trade. The meeting was called by Minister for Agriculture Shared Pawar, who had put together the first draft of the Seed Bill in 2004, and is set on getting it passed during the current session of Parliament.

The amended Seed Bill, 2004, is a critical piece of legislation and could underpin the success—or failure—of Indian farming. The preamble says the bill aims “to provide for regulating the quality of seeds for sale, import and export and to facilitate production and supply of seeds of quality”, but its stated objective has not found favour with farmers, several state governments and the Left parties. The reason is simple: missing in this law is any mention of price regulation. That is the core issue, although there are other concerns, ranging from the amount and method of compensating farmers who incur losses on account of poor quality seeds to the bill’s conflict with other pieces of legislation.

The July 28 meeting addressed most of the ‘other concerns’, with Pawar listing out the various amendments that the government would incorporate in the amended bill to be presented to Parliament. But on the question of price regulation, the minister was unwilling to budge. A note circulated by the agriculture ministry at the meeting is categorical that the bill does not envisage any “provision for price control” and is intended purely to regulate the quality of seeds. According to several invitees to the meeting, the agriculture minister told them that “the prime minister is against any price control”. This leaves a big question mark hanging over the Seed Bill since opposition to it shows no signs of a let-up.

Leading farmers’ organisations accuse the UPA government of Manmohan Singh of selling out the farmer to multinationals. Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president of the Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, believes the bill “is to protect the interests of multinational seed companies like Monsanto”, which, he insists, are trying to capture the seed market in India. There are other outfits like the All India Kisan Sabha which voice similar worries—and accusations.

Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh is the biggest opponent of the bill and its agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy has been campaigning ceaselessly for significant changes in the proposed law. Reddy, who participated in the July meeting, told Down to Earth that “states must have the power to fix the price of seed and trait value (the royalty paid on patented seeds) whenever necessary.”

As he sees it the system should involve both the Centre and the states. “We would like an independent body similar to CERC (the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission fixes tariffs and other issues related to the power sector), which oversees state regulatory commissions. Otherwise, the seed companies will squeeze the farmer.”

Raghuveera Reddy, who has the full backing of his chief minister K Rosiah, points out, “You simply cannot have a free market without a statutory regulator.”

This is the quandary that the UPA government finds itself in. Not only is the farm lobby and the Left against the bill but so is a major state ruled by the Congress. Andhra Pradesh’s role, in fact, is central to the fight for regulated seed prices in the country. Since 2006, it has been taking on the US biotech giant Monsanto on the trait fees it charges for its genetically engineered cotton seeds (sold as Bollgard and Bollgard II). The state says the trait fees charged by Monsanto’s marketing arm in India, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Limited, are predatory and monopolistic.

But it is a course that has led to a long legal challenge—and a new state law to control prices. Gujarat and Maharashtra, apart from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, quickly followed Andhra Pradesh’s example. It was a revolt by the states but the Centre did its best to thwart it by deploying the Essential Commodities Act or ECA strategically (see box: Games the Centre plays).

While this backdrop is essential to understand the politics of the Seed Bill, there is another factor: the differences within the Congress high command on the issue of price regulation. The reser- vations of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi are said to be instrumental in putting the proposed law in cold storage for the past four years. As chairperson of the National Advisory Committee, Gandhi had, in an October 2005 letter, warned, “There is a growing perception that the Seed Bill, 2004, is anti-farmer and that it favours the seed industry and large seed breeders, including MNCs.

Government has no mechanism to control prices… Seed suppliers are under no obligation to ensure reasonable seed supply to farmers.” That concern, however, has not been addressed in India so far, although elsewhere, notably in the US, the runaway price of seeds is inviting judicial scrutiny. Simultaneously, seeds giant Monsanto, a big player in the Indian market, is also being investigated across seven American states for unfair or deceptive practices (see: Prices under the scanner on p12). Sometime back, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had warned that the increasing dependence on commercial seed varieties, “controlled by a handful of very powerful multinational companies”, could have a severe impact on small farmers in developing countries.

Farmers will not benefit from new technology if prices are not controlledMany of the recommendations of the Standing Committee of Parliament, which gave its report in 2006, have been incorporated in the 2010 version of the Seed Bill, but price stubbornly stays out of its ambit. The agriculture ministry’s stance is clear. “A free and competitive market environment will spur the growth of the seeds industry. Therefore, price is better left to market forces rather than to artificial controls.”

Noted agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan said: “I hope better counsel will prevail.” Now a member of the Rajya Sabha, Swaminathan, too, has been demanding price regulation in the bill. “I have said there should be price regulation where appropriate, not everywhere. The government should have the authority to use price controls in certain situations, but not to usurp the role of the market.”

The scientist, who is referred to as the Father of India’s Green Revolution, worries that lack of price control could have disastrous consequences for the Indian farmer in accessing new technology. “High seed prices and trait fees,” he warned, “will come in the way of social inclusion on technology access—and social inclusion is fundamental to growth of the sector.”

The government’s point that the earlier law—Seed Control Order, 1983, which the Seed Bill will replace—did not have any provision for price control either is specious, said G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad. “It is clear that the government’s objective now is to encourage private trade.”

There are concerns, too, about the opening of other doors to private companies, local and foreign. For instance, Swaminathan and CPI leader D Raja say that seed certification issued by foreign agencies should be recognised only if the seed is tested on Indian soil. However, the ministry argues that Clause 30, which allows the Centre to authorise any foreign certification agency working outside India, is intended to allow global trade in seeds, and would come within the scope of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

But Ramanjaneyulu says there is a contradiction on the role of foreign agencies. At one level the ministry has assured the Andhra MPs that their demand that “certification should be carried only by government and semigovernment agencies” would be incorporated in the amendments. Yet, in another instance, it said foreign and foreign- based agencies would be allowed to do so under foreign trade pacts.

“In place of truthful labelling of seed, the government is making certification compulsory, but this is geared to letting in private and foreign seed certification agencies into the business,” pointed out Ramanjaneyulu, former ICAR scientist. Besides, it would also permit multi-location trials to be carried out by private agencies on foreign soil. The ministry’s justification is that seed imported into India would be subjected to multi-location trials under the rules to be framed under the seed Act.

As for that most vexing issue of compensation to farmers in case of seed failure, an issue that exercises most critics of the bill, the ministry says the quantum of compensation and the mechanism to recover it will also be prescribed under the rules.

The demand for “a role for panchayats, state and district level committees can be considered at that stage,” according to the official note. Have the opponents of the bill been assuaged by such promises? Raghuveera Reddy, for one, is mobilising more support from the states. Last week, he wrote to all state agriculture ministers inviting them to Hyderabad for talks. “We should rise to the challenge since our farmers’ interests are at stake. I have also asked them to mobilise opinion among their MPs and political leaders.”

Whether this seasoned campaigner succeeds in getting like-minded states on board—like he did on the BT cotton issue in 2006—or not, Pawar and the Centre know that the battle could turn bitter. Agriculture is a state subject, and the passage of the bill, which would repeal all other seed laws, including the applicability of ECA and the special ordinances passed by state governments on price regulation, is bound to ruffle constitutional feathers.

In the latest memorandum sent to the prime minister and the agriculture minister, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has demanded the inclusion of a separate chapter on seed pricing and royalty fees which would give equal powers to the states and the central government. He has also detailed the mechanism for this procedure.

In a telling remark, Andhra Pradesh points out that the power to fix royalty rates is available with member-states of WTO under its TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property issues. It remains to be seen if the Centre can be persuaded by such arguments.

Why dream borrowed dreams?

Shiv Viswanathan

One of the most seductive myths that the Indian middle class and its elite believes in is that the 21st century is the Indian Century. Generously the myth adds that we shall share honours with China. Wishfully it contends that we will have a seat in the United Nations Security Council. Our diaspora certifies this myth because it adds to its brittle dignity in the countries it lives in. Between IT, our youthful population, our comparative advantage in knowledge, we seem set to win the gold medals of globalisation. A panopoly of exemplars from Sam Pitroda to Nandan Nilekani is paraded as testimony to this myth of Indian progress. I want to play spoil sport to this thesis, not because India is going nowhere but because this is not the place to go or the way to do it. My arguments are as follows.

India is a pluralistic assemblage of civilisations and communities. When the West followed the myth of progress, it read the relation between tribe, peasant, industry as a sequence where the tribe evolved into industrialism. This created a legitimation for decimation of what was dubbed the primitive and the tribal. In India, the tribal is not our ancestor but our contemporary. We do not confine him to the museum or the reservation and we should not seek to deculture him. Ours has to be a multiple world with plural futures. To homogenise it is to accept the fact of genocide.

In a civilisation sense India has been a sustainable society. There is, however, one danger. If most of India were to turn middle class with equivalent standards of consumption, we would cannibalise the world and its resources. India as a whole cannot live at the calorific level of the American middle class. That would be the programme of unsustainable society and a short-run view of global responsibility.

India has to construct itself differently, inventing not just a new notion of ecological economies but a new imagination for democracy. The old model of a democracy as a pastiche of rights, electoralism and the vision of a nation state is old hat. Without a sustainable ecology, we cannot be a sustainable democracy. The test of sustainability is not just the survival of the forest, it is the well-being and liveability of our cities. We have to reconstruct the sustainable city as an imagination, think of new theories of space, creative ways of managing waste and rework the nation state which is currently a form of conspicuous consumption. Instead of fighting over carbon credits, let us take the battle the other way and invent new ecological possibilities. The idea of living on less need not be a Protestant theology or a repressive ideology. It can be a celebration of life, a civilisation’s way of reducing violence. It does not require a return to primitivism but a creativity that looks at the complexity of the world and creates a playful scenario of responsibility. We grow more, but not as an economy but as an ecology. We intensify diversity not just of nature but of the varieties of culture, where each culture is an exemplar of problem solving. We sustain ecologies and languages and become a high information society by ways of life, the livelihoods, the forms of knowledge we sustain. Around knowledge, we create an ethics of memory where different theories, memories can talk to each other. We need to remember that the other word for progress is obsolescence, the systematic eradication of our societies. We have to decentralise the “Indian Imagination” and stop seeing differences as pathological. I think it is time we drop the standardised prose of globalisation and tell the world that we are different and that our future is different.

We do not need to be envious of China and its bully boy militarism. The economics of force and the herd is not what we seek. The Chinese cost benefit on violence, uniformity, speed is not what we seek or what we are afraid of. We don’t seek to race or be part of the “B teams” of globalisation. If we are a civilisation, let us think like a civilisation. We have behaved like a second-hand society content to be Charles Lamb of the genius of other cultures. Let us understand the genius of other cultures by living out our dialects, our dreams, our forms of religion, our ideas of myth, ethics, our sense of values worked out as craft, colour or cooking. Why race when we can dance, why talk of the illiteracy of the globe when we have a sense of the cosmos? I want to argue that this is not a retreat from the world, but a return to our own genius. I cannot understand an India which is indifferent to its 50,000 varieties of rice but celebrates some child winning the Spelling Bee in the US.

A globalised India which sees itself as a second US is a secondhand, second-rate society. We become mimic men not of the old colonialism but of new imperialism which demands that we internalise the American way of life. It is time we move playfully away and discard the fetish for development, or the dreariness of millennial goals which has no sense of justice or poetry.

If India secedes from the global standard, I am sure other countries will follow. We dream differently and we do not need the current nightmare of IPRs (intellectual property rights). We do not need to subscribe to the battle of civilisations when any child can show that Huntington is an illiterate and that India is a great Islamic society. We do not have to close ourselves to do it but challenge the world to a debate. We need a wild ethics to challenge the dullness of the global dream. Let China westernise. I think we have the confidence to go our own way, offering hospitality to more sustainable and democratic dreams. China envy like America envy is a futile disease and like most Indian pathologies — self-inflicted. Our democracy is too precious. Our civilisation is much more interesting than the current visions of our time. The present is ethically unsustainable. It is this that we have to confront.

* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist