Rs. 117 crore loan to stem grim harvest for Maharashtra

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1930858,000…
Satyajit Joshi

Pune, February 17
In another attempt to stem the bleak tide of farmer suicides in the state, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has sanctioned a loan of Rs 117.17 crore to the state government for small irrigation projects in Vidarbha.

This is part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s package for debt-ridden farmers in Vidarbha announced in July last year.

With this loan, sanctioned under the Centre’s Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (IRDF), 26 small irrigation projects in Vidarbha, which have been delayed due to lack of funds, are expected to be completed – translating into irrigation of over 15,000 hectares of land.

Chief General Manager of NABARD, N Shrinivasan, told HT that the Centre took the decision last week. Irrigation projects in areas where farmer suicides were rampant – Yavatmal, Vasim, Wardha, Amravati, Buldhana and Akola – would be the focus of the loan, he said.

NABARD has asked the state government to complete these projects by the end of 2009.

Sources in NABARD said agriculture production in the six districts of Vidarbha was expected to increase by an equivalent of Rs 600 crore once the projects were completed. “This will certainly help reduce the number of suicides by debt-ridden farmers,” a NABARD official said.

Sources added that NABARD had sought loan for 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha but funds were allocated only to 26 projects – including eight districts each in Yavatmal and Vashim and two irrigation projects in Akola, Buldhana and Wardha. 

Email Satyajit Joshi: satyajit.joshi@hindustantimes.com

No government on earth can subsidize 60 % farmers

http://farmdebt.blogspot.com/2007/02/no-government…

Dr Sudhir Kumar Goyal, Divisional Commissioner, Relief, Amravati, in an interview, has said that immediate relief had been given to farmers where interest worth Rs 782 cores had been waived off. But the entire loan cannot be waived. “Subsidies are given. But no government on earth can give subsidy to 60% of its farmers.”

The Vidarbha farmers have been given fresh loans, which Dr Goel said was three times more than in the past.

This is called “singing a tune as per the ears of the listener“. This is a sure indication that Congress political bigwigs are beginning to wake up to the rural crisis in Vidarbha and are being given instructions to dirty their white cotton linen kurtas and designer goggles. Politicians are now instructing bureaucrats to begin to appear reasonable and avoid the image of apathy and callous behaviour towards farmers.

After years of hiding the facts, then cautiously being forced to admit it, in the face of rising media pressure, local government officials have begun to sing a different from the tune that is being sung by the Indian Prime Minister, the Sensex Minister and the Cricket Ministers.

Let us see in which direction, the issue of Indian farm suicides heads now. Congress cannot risk an electoral rout in Vidarbha. It is now a matter of time before top Congress think tanks begin to look at the issue of agrarian suicides. And yes, they will first ask the Indian bureaucracy to shoulder the blame rather than take the blame on faulty agricultural prescriptions of last six decades which skim rural surplus for industrial subsidization.

Attempts will now be made to blame the plight of Vidarbha farmers, on faulty implementation of the Vidarbha package announced by the Prime Minister.

The real question not being asked is why, when the richest consumers on earth are shifting to wearing cotton, cotton growers in India are committing suicides.

Linen suits retail for Rs 8000, and cotton trousers are retailing in Western markets for Rs 2500.

The WTO Multi Fibre Agreement is rolled out and yet the Vidarbha cotton growers are suffering.

Should they not have been the richest farmers in the world by now ?

Is the Divisional Commissioner of Amravati not still talking on behalf of his masters and trying to sell a new story to the cotton farmers of Vidarbha ?

We will now hear many different perspectives on why farmers are committing suicides but people are still not ready to do a stock taking of the last six decades of New Delhi and Mumbai backed plunder of Indian rural areas.

Sorrow tale of Jajjal: the village cursed by cancer

http://www.countercurrents.org/en-dutt140207.htm

By Umendra Dutt

14 February, 2007
Countercurrents.org

It is going to be five years that Jajjal village earned fame in media and administration. In 2002 when for the first time a retired government teacher Jarnail Singh bring out the issue of abnormally high incidences of cancer deaths in Jajjal and some adjoining villages. Till then village has witnessed about 20 cancer deaths and several new cancer cases. This small village has 500 odd households with population of 3500. There is no respite for the Jajjal residents. During last five years several experts and study teams from across the country visited the village, the surveys was done and stories were appeared in news papers or aired in news channels. But the sufferer villagers got nothing. If ask villagers about what they got in last five years, you will get an answer with anguish – nothing, accept some visiting cards of media persons, government officials and doctors. We only become infamous for cancer, it is becoming all most a stigma for most of us, says a villager Jaswinder Singh.

It was unfortunate that the Jajjal village and villagers were at the brink of collapse as the high debts, unfit water, dwindling social structures, different types of cancer, male and female reproductive problems, neurological problems, huge expenditures on the treatments, deaths and suicides are all common things. One after the other deaths has wrecked the villagers. Majority of the people do not want to talk about the cancer. Even cancer patients do not talk about the disease but simply say that they went to the ” Bikaner’ which is self explanatory and every body knows the meaning. There is no governmental or other wise good cancer treatment facility in the area like one in Bikaner. People fear that the treatment cost shall be very high once the cancer is declared and they don’t go for a cancer checkup, as they think that the family members shall become worried about the expanses.

Punjab government has made several declarations about cancer, but practically very little was done so far. Take the case of financial relief to the cancer patients. Despite all assurances and declarations only three families got financial relief of Rs 22,500 /- each. Where as village have at least 55 cancer deaths on record. The pathetic condition is so worst that in some families, cancer has ruined the entire family and money. Cancer has taken away our near and dear ones along with our money and savings we had done in decades. We had lost our relatives as well as our prosperity, says a young man. According to a snap survey by a team of Kheti Virasat Mission, 48 cancer cases were reported. 36 persons were died due to cancer where as 10 others are still battling for their life.

The cancer victims in Jajjal are facing multiple crises. Every cancer affected family owns debt of one to three lakh at least. But some are worst victims. Cancer does not make difference between rich and poor, land owner and land less laborer. The death is knocking the doors after door, ruining the families, social system and economy of the Jajjal.

The doom is very cruel as it is coming in many ways and is not sparing the elders or new born. Take the case of Kartar Kaur, this 90 plus years old mother lost her three sons one by one due to cancer in front of her eyes. The deadly cancer had snatched her son Choota Singh (45 years) in 2002, Balbir Singh (60 years) in 2003 and then Jalore Singh (45 years) in 2005. The family has taken debt of Rs Nine lakhs for treatment, and after losing three brothers, now family owns debt of Rs six lakhs. It is despite the fact that the family has sold its tractor and some other moveable things. Ironically till date this family got Rs 22,000 as aid and relief from the Government. Today Kartar Kaur is living with her grand sons and three widowed daughter in laws. This is the orphaned childhood due to the violence of environmental toxicity. Who is going to take responsibility for this?

The cruelty of cancer is really heart frightening. Now meet Manish an infant of only two years who is suffering from cancer by birth. His father Tarsem is a daily wager. The abnormally enlarged head of Manish is telling that, some thing is seriously wrong, the boy can not move on his own. His father has already taken loan of Rs 25,000. Tarsem and his wife both are laborers; they had to go for work in near by town of Rama Mandi. This dalit couple is spending hard earned money to save their only child. Manish is called to be future of his poor parents, at the age of two he does not know what has happened with him. He cannot even imagine what hardship his parents are facing. The poor child cannot move, not even toddle. He cannot play with toys. His father knows that Manish’s life is limited he want to give his child more better treatment but he can’t afford. Even he cannot borrow more because no body will give him loan beyond a limit, as he has no land to mortgage. After all money lender want to confirm that from where this labourer return the loan money. Manish cannot treat properly with this limitation. There are many more Tarsem and Manish in whole of Malwa.

Jagdev Singh age 14 was a healthy boy upto the age of 9, but gradually he become handicap and now he is on wheel chair, he can not speak nor does he do any thing on his own. His father Bholla Singh has done best of his efforts but Jagdev remain on wheel chair only. The cancer has snatched smile from the villagers. One daily wager whose 22 year old wife is suffering from cancer is not willing to tell her the truth, of fear that she might loose heart. If a family member suffers from the deadly dieses others tries to hide this heartless fact.

Cancer has ruined the prosperity of even those, who got their cancer cured with expensive treatment. Now 70 year old Mukhtiyar Singh, who got his cancer affected kidney operated, was forced to sell tractor and piece of land to meet expenditure of treatment. But he still owns debt of Rs two lakhs. Mukhtiyar Singh says we are just curtailing our needs, we cook vegetable once a day and take the meals thrice a day with that only. This is the condition of the so called state number one.

Cancer is only one aspect of Jajjal’s eclipsed fate. Today Jajjal is also facing very severe problem of reproductive health. KVM volunteers also came across numerous incidents those are quite upsetting. Then you can find large number of youth having grey hairs. Joint pain and spinal problems are making youths of village older then their age. Skin disease is another blot. These environmental health problems have become so usual that now villagers had accepted it as their fate. However the politicians and bureaucrats do not pay the requisite attention to the problem. Though Punjab government had done a study by PGIMER but after nothing was happened. No high official ever visited since the report is out. No government effort is visible not even a simple early detection of cancer

and its documentation. Neither the Punjab Pollution Control Board after spending more then Rs 15 lakh takes any follows up step nor does the health department taken any initiative for remedial measures. Jajjal is still awaiting a full-fledged environmental epidemiological study and house to house surveillance to tackle the crisis. In this government apathy and darkness there is ray of light also Jarnail Singh is running a Vatavaran Chetna Kendra established by Kheti Virasat Mission in the village. He has also taken step to make Jajjal pesticide free as he has started pesticide free natural farming and he is also motivating other farmers to join this community initiative.

But on the other hand the Agriculture Department and Punjab Agriculture University does not show any kind of interest in village accepts promoting Bt. cotton. Both have regional centers at Bathinda only 32 Kilometers away. Irony is that officials of department and PAU are prescribing Bt cot
ton as a remedy to this environmental health crisis. More painful is that the politicians from both camps are also singing the same chorus. They should know that Bt cotton is here from last four years and still the children like Manish are taking birth.

Then another dark side is mounting debt and rising number of farmers’ suicides. It is irony of Jajjal that it has also witnessed about 20 farmer’s suicides in last ten years and there are several others who had moved out of agriculture after selling their land. Now they are land less labourer. Jajjal is in deed a village in acute crisis.

Jajjal needs a new start for life. Let us hope the new government in Punjab takes care of this and evolve a strategy and action plan for cancer free, toxicity free, debt free and suicide free Jajjal. That should be light of hope for thousand of other villages facing the same doom. So, that there should no more Manish and Kartar Kaurs not only in Jajjal but whole of Malwa region. But there is a question – Who has time for this?

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: umendradutt@gmail.com)

SEZs: Lessons from China

http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/feb/opi-sezschin…

While single-minded pursuit of exports has helped China touch record growth figures, millions have been left behind, besides incurring huge environmental costs. And without even the limited dose of welfare that China offers its poor farmers, India must wary of copying China’s SEZ-approach, writes Bhaskar Goswami.

9 February 2007 – China’s record economic growth rate fuelled by the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is often advocated as the reason for India to adopt this approach. Since the 1980s, China implemented a series of measures and policies with the sole purpose of achieving rapid economic growth. As evidence over the years has shown, this single-minded pursuit of growth has lowered the efficiency and effectiveness of economic policies, besides incurring huge resource and environmental costs. The Chinese experience offers a valuable lesson for India.

Cost of Export-driven Growth

China has to feed 22 percent of the world’s population on only 7 percent of land. In July 2005, China’s countryside had over 26.1 million people living in absolute poverty and was home to 18 percent of the world’s poor, according to Chinese Minister Li Xuju quoted in the People’s Daily. Every year, an additional 10 million people have to be fed. Despite this daunting target, between 1996-2005, “development” caused diversion of more than 21 percent of arable land to non-agricultural uses, chiefly highways, industries and SEZs. Per capita land holding now stands at a meager 0.094 hectares. In just thirteen years, between 1992 and 2005, twenty million farmers were laid off agriculture due to land acquisition.

As more arable land is taken over for urbanization and industrialisation, issues related to changes in land use have become a major source of dispute between the public and the government. Protests against land acquisition and deprivation have become a common feature of rural life in China, especially in the provinces of Guangdong (south), Sichuan, Hebei (north), and Henan province. Guangdong has been worst affected. Social instability has become an issue of concern. In 2004, the government admitted to 74,000 riots in the countryside, a seven-fold jump in ten years. Whereas a few years ago, excessive and arbitrary taxation was the peasants’ foremost complaint, resentment over the loss of farmland, corruption, worsening pollution and arbitrary evictions by property developers are the main reasons for farmers’ unrest now.

UNEP worked with Google to produce before-and-after satellite images of a hundred ‘hotspots’ and integrate them into Google Earth.

Titled UNEP: Atlas of Our Changing World, Shenzen’s before and after pics are for the period between 1979 and 2004 are available through this program. (See: the UNEP site for more.)

While rural China is up in arms against acquisition of land, SEZs like Shenzen in Guangdong showcasing the economic miracle of China, are beset with problems. After growing at a phenomenal rate of around 28 percent for the last 25 years, Shenzen is now paying a huge cost in terms of environment destruction, soaring crime rate and exploitation of its working class, mainly migrants. Foreign investors were lured to Shenzen by cheap land, compliant labour laws and lax or ineffective environmental rules. In 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme designated Shenzen as a ‘global environmental hotspot’, meaning a region that had suffered rapid environmental destruction.

There’s more. According to Howard French, the New York Times bureau chief, most of the year, the Shenzen sky is thick with choking smoke, while the crime rate is almost nine-fold higher than Shanghai. The working class earns US$ 80 every month in the sweatshops and the turnover rate is 10 percent – many turn to prostitution after being laid off. Further, real-estate sharks have stockpiled houses which have caused prices to spiral and have created a new generation of people French calls “mortgage slaves” in an article in the International Herald Tribune on 17 December 2006.

The mindless pursuit of growth following the mode of high input, high consumption and low output has seriously impacted the environment. In 2004, China consumed 4.3 times as much coal and electricity as the United States and 11.5 times as much as Japan to generate each US$1 worth of GNP, according to the The Taipei Times. Some 20 per cent of the population lives in severely polluted areas (Science in Society) and 70 percent of the rivers and lakes are in a grim shape (People’s Daily). Around 60 per cent of companies that have set up industries in the country violate emission rules. According to the World Bank, environmental problems are the cause of some 300,000 people dying each year. The Chinese government has admitted that pollution costs the country a staggering $200 billion a year – about 10 per cent of its GDP.

While export-driven policy for economic growth has helped China touch record growth figures, the income gap is widening and rapidly approaching the levels of some Latin American countries. Going by a recent report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s Gini coefficient – a measure of income distribution where zero means perfect equality and 1 is maximum inequality – touched 0.496 in the year 2006. In comparison, income inequality figures are 0.33 in India, 0.41 in the US and 0.54 in Brazil. Further, the rural-urban income divide is staggering – annual income of city dwellers in China is around US $1,000 which is more than three times that of their rural counterparts.

In certain areas such as asset distribution or years of schooling China’s levels of inequity are lower (i.e., more favourable) than India. However, when one looks at it at the aggregate level, the picture is different.

The levels of inequity in China have been rising through the last three decades, whether between rural and urban, within them, or on an aggregate basis.

According to Zhu Ling, between 1978 and 1995, the Gini coefficient of rural income increased from 0.21 to 0.34 and that of the urban from 0.16 to 0.28.

With the economy opening up rapidly post-1995 and also due the massive concessions that China was forced to make in order to join the WTO, the trend continues and the aggregate Gini coefficient in 2006 was around 0.5.

It is in this backdrop that India’s SEZ thrust must be seen. Following China, India is replicating a similar model where vast tracts of agricultural land are being acquired for creating SEZs and other industries. The September 2005 notification on Environment Impact Assessment is lax for industrial estates, including SEZs, and apprehensions of dirty industries coming up in these zones are quite real. Further, with drastic changes in labour laws favouring industry being considered, the plight of workers in these SEZs will be similar to those in China. Such a mode of development is environmentally unsustainable and socially undesirable.

Further, it is now widely acknowledged that Chinese exports have also been boosted by its undervalued currency, something which Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, terms as an “effective subsidy”. This is a luxury that Indian exporters do not enjoy. The argument for setting up SEZs to emulate China’s export-led growth is therefore questionable.

Is export-driven growth through SEZs desirable for India?

There is no doubt that exports play a significant role in boosting GDP. However in the case of a country with a sizeable domestic market, the choice lies with the producer to either export or supply to the domestic market. Ila Patnaik of the National Institute for Pub
lic Finance and Policy wrote in the The Indian Express in December 2006 that household consumption in India at 68 percent of the GDP is much higher that that of China at 38 percent, Europe at 58 percent and Japan at 55 percent. This is an important source of strength for the domestic manufacturing industry of India.

Given the high level of consumption of Indian households, it is quite possible that this rush is fuelled not by the desire to export out of the country but by the possibility of exporting from SEZs into the Domestic Tariff Area (DTA). The SEZ Act is also designed to facilitate this. Any unit within the SEZ can export to the DTA, after paying the prevailing duty, as long as it is a net foreign exchange earner for three years. It is therefore a win-win situation for these units.

The sops in a SEZ will reduce the cost of capital while labour reforms will ensure trouble-free operations. Further, given the considerable international pressure to reduce industrial tariffs, SEZs will be able to export to the DTA at highly competitive prices. This does not augur well for units outside the SEZs who will now face unfair competition. As cheaper imports have already played havoc with the livelihoods of artisan sector of the economy, cheaper imports into DTA from SEZs will also adversely affect the domestic industry. No wonder many of them now want to migrate into SEZs.

In a country with 65 percent of the population depending on agriculture as a means of livelihood, industry ought to be complementary to agriculture. Through SEZs however, industry is being promoted at the cost of agriculture. Valuable resources spent to create SEZs will be at the cost of building better infrastructure for the rest of the country, something that will affect both the domestic industry as well as agriculture.

Other lessons India could learn from China: Welfare

While the Chinese experience with export-driven economic growth definitely offers many sobering lessons, there are many other areas where India can learn from China. China has initiated a series of measures to arrest social tensions and rising inequality in rural areas. In April 2004, the State Council, China’s cabinet, halted the ratification of farmland for other uses and started to rectify the national land market. The Minister of Agriculture, Du Quinglin, promised “not to reduce acreage of basic farmland, change its purpose or downgrade its quality”.

China also abolished agricultural tax in 2006 and increased subsidy for food grain production by 10 percent. To boost rural income, the selling price of grain was increased by 60 percent in 2005. In 2004, out of a total 900 million farmers in China, 600 million received US$ 1.5 billion (Rs.6,630 crores approximately) as direct subsidies. 52 million of the Chinese farmers have joined in the rural old-age insurance system and 2.2 million received pensions in 2005. More than 80 million farmers had participated in the rural cooperative medical service system by the end of 2004, and 12.57 million rural needy people had drawn allowances guaranteeing the minimum living standard by the end of 2005.

India, on the other hand, either does not have any of these safety nets or is in the process of dismantling the few that exist. There is much to learn as well as unlearn from the Chinese experience. Until that is done, millions of poor across the country will be made to pay an even higher price than the Chinese did for following this flawed approach.

Bhaskar Goswami
9 Feb 2007

The writer is with the New Delhi based Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

Farmers have no hope from this budget too

http://www.business-standard.com/economy/storypage…

Q&A: Kishor Tiwari

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi February 09, 2007

Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti discusses the government’s apathy towards farmer suicides in an interview with Sreelatha Menon

You were in Delhi to meet the finance minister?

I did not get an appointment. I am told no one is serious in the government. There is also nothing in this Union Budget to stop farmers from dying. It is just rural infrastructure and not agriculture that the Budget is looking at.

What brought you into this work?

I am a professional. I did engineering in 1981 followed by an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and then MTech. We are now working in a remote part of Vidarbha in Pandher Kowda in Yavatmal. Journalists have come there from all parts of the world. Time magazine had a cover story.

Has that helped reduce the number of suicides there?

No. The suicides happen every sixth hour. My phone number is flashed in the local cable channel and every death is reported to me. Even the government goes by my figures.

Has government relief reached the villagers?

The prime minister’s package was a hoax. Some money was to be given to widows. Collectors were given Rs 50 lakh each. But there is a 75 per cent rejection rate of applications of widows.

What was the package?

They were to get Rs 30,000 each in cash and Rs 70,000 each as a fixed deposit amount. But I tell the government that I will save the 3,000 widows provided it saves the 30,000 farmers.

What do you blame for the continuing deaths?

Monsanto and other Bt cotton companies have played a major role in killing farmers. According to the survey of the Maharashtra government in June 2006, 7 lakh of 17 lakh farmers want organic farming. It means cost of inputs has been unbearable. Again, yield of cotton crop has come down from 500 quintal an acre in 1995 to 2 quintal an acre. The price of inputs has gone up from Rs 1,600 per acre to Rs 8,000 per acre since 2002.

Why do you blame Bt?

Sharad Pawar forced the Maharashtra government to tie up with Monsanto to market cotton. ICAR was involved in promoting it. In Andhra Pradesh, the government banned Monsanto but after five days, the Maharashtra government tied up with Monsanto. The crop has been affected by disease every year. While Andhra fought to get compensation from Mahyco, our agriculture minister is an agent of the company and is paying compensation out of tax payers’ money.The irony is that both are Congress governments.

Has the government changed its stance on cotton?

Yes. Now government is saying the Bt crop has failed.

What has been the number of deaths?

The media says only 3 million died, only 400 villages affected. I am saying that cotton farming has been unprofitable. And the Indian government is promoting Bt cotton.

Do you see a solution in the given circumstances?

Karnataka has shown the solution. It lies in zero budget farming. I am taking farmers to Karnataka to teach them how farmers there got out of debts and distress. There, suicides have decreased.

Struture of SEZ unlikely to be changed

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Structure_of_SE…

MUMBAI: The Union Government on Thursday said it was unlikely that the basic structure of the SEZ policy would be changed and the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) would meet after the Budget to bring more clarity to the existing policy.
“The EGoM is going to meet again after the Budget. They may bring in some clarification. But, I don’t think that the basic structure of the rule is going to be changed,” Union Commerce Secretary G K Pillai, who is also the Chairman of the SEZ Board of Approval said.
The UPA government has put a halt on agricultural land acquisition for industrial purposes following protests from different quarters.
Pillai said that so far 235 SEZ applications have got formal approval, while 162 have bagged in-principle nod from the Board of Approvals.
The Union Commerce secretary said that these 235 proposed SEZs, being set up across 17 states and three Union Territories would require “only 34,510 hectares of land” but bring in 8.9 lakh jobs and an investment of Rs 59,000 crore.
So far 63 SEZs have been notified out of which 23 are operational. These 23 have created 15,800 jobs and brought in Rs 11,000 crore investment in one year, Pillai said.
He said that both the Union Finance and Commerce Ministries were working on a report to judge the socio-economic benefits of SEZs.
“We expect these reports will come out in the next three months,” Pillai said.

Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for SEZs

Dear friends

As we all know the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for SEZs have in this month put a hold on SEZ approvals and are now considering reviewing/ammending the SEZ Act 2005. This is an opportunity for all people’s groups, NGOs, civil society members to come together and in one voice demand that this monsterous policy and law be scrapped immediately. Attached here is a Draft Memorandum to the Chairperson of the EGoM – SEZs demanding that

·        the SEZ Act 2005 be repealed to ensure industrial and economic development which is fair and democratic

·        the approved and notified SEZs be cancelled and land acquisitions already made be annulled

·        an immediate dialogue or consultation be initiated with people’s groups, communities and Panchayat representatives to seek opinion on strengthening the development of local economies

Annexed with the memorandum is a detailed critique of Special Economic Zones that we have prepared. We have tried to cover all the major issues in this but if any one wants to add or comment please go ahead and send us your suggestions so that the changes can be made.

WE APPEAL TO ALL CONCERNED INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS TO PLEASE SIGN ON AND ENDORSE THIS MEMORANDUM. WE HOPE TO SEND THIS LETTER BY THE 5TH OF FEBRUARY SO WE REQUEST THAT ALL SIGNATURES/ENDORSEMENTS BE SENT BEFORE THAT to manshi.asher@gmail.com or campaign@ncasindia.org

In Solidarity

Manshi and Rifat

To 1st February 2007

Shri Pranab Mukherjee

The Chairperson

Empowered Group of Ministers –SEZs

Union of India

Dear Shri Mukherjee

We, the undersigned, would like to acknowledge that the Group of Ministers’ SEZs has taken a positive step by bringing to halt the approvals of Special Economic Zone projects and considering the need to review the Special Economic Zone Policy and Act 2005. This decision was the need of the hour in response to the wide scale opposition and rising discontentment among communities across India for forced acquisition of their resources and also among the civil society and people’s groups in general for not opening the issue of SEZs for dialogue or discussion.

We, as members of the civil society, have consistently been raising several concerns in the matter of establishment of SEZs. The key issues that have been raised by us include

1. Large scale forced acquisition of land and promotion of real estate businesses

2. Loss of local agriculture, fisheries based and other traditional livelihoods

3. Lack of equal and non-exploitative employment opportunities for local communities in SEZs

4. Increasing burden on natural resources like land, water, forests and environmental destruction

5. Revenue losses and lack of real economic development of the country and people

6. Breakdown of governance systems especially of the local self governments with the creation of foreign enclaves

7. No effort by the government to initiate or open public consultation on the matter

The detailed presentation on some of these issues is enclosed in the annexure. The above mentioned issues were raised at meetings with the Union Minister of Commerce, the Special Secretary MoC, Minister of State (MoC) in September 2006 by a delegation of civil society members. The following demands were put forth by the delegation

· Immediate stopping of land acquisition for SEZ projects

· Halting of approvals for SEZs by the BOA

· Immediate dialogue with people’s groups and panchayat representatives on the matter

· Repealment of the SEZ Act 2005

The Special Secretary, Mr. G.K.Pillai and Minister of State (MoC), Mr. Jairam Ramesh had acknowledged the concerns raised and had made the following prosmises

· That consultations with NGOs and people’s groups would be organized by the government to understand the concerns of the people’s

· That a separate meeting of Chief Secretaries of States’ with Peoples’ groups would be organised

However, both these promises have been unfulfilled and the demands put forth have been completely overlooked by the Ministry of Commerce. Moreover, the BoA of the MoC went ahead with clearing more than 100 odd SEZ proposals in the months that followed.

We once again reiterate that the SEZ Act 2005 is anti democratic and unconstitutional as it completely violates the right to life and livelihood of people, who are being forcefully displaced for the implementation of these projects. The Act promotes large scale privatization and monopolization of resources into the hands of a few private developers at huge costs to the state exchequer as well as the economy and environment of this country.

We once again firmly demand that

· the SEZ Act 2005 be repealed to ensure industrial and economic development which is fair and democratic

· the approved and notified SEZs be cancelled and land acquisitions already made be annulled

· an immediate dialogue or consultation be initiated with people’s groups, communities and Panchayat representatives to seek opinion on strengthening the development of local economies

We hope that being representatives of the people, you stand united with us for a just and democratic society that ensures equitable development for all.

Thank you,

Cc

1. Shri Murli Manohar Joshi, Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce

2. Shri GK Pillai, Special Secretary, Ministry of Commerce

3. Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State, Ministry of Commerce

4. Sonia Gandhi, All India Congress Party President

ANNEXURE – Key Issues raised in arguments against Special Economic Zones

Issue of Land and Displacement of livelihoods

In countries like India the issue of large scale acquisition of farm land leading to dispossessed farmers and loss of farm based livelihoods across the country side has been dominant in creation of SEZs. In India, as of now the total amount of land for the 400 projects (both formally and in-principle approved) comes up to 1,25,000 hectares according to a news report The government however, claims that most of this land is available with the State Industrial Development Corporations which is indeed untrue. Farmer’s protests against acquisition of their lands in Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu. Orissa and Gujurat are evidence enough to prove that.

The fact is that before the opposition started the government was completely unprepared to deal with the issue of land acquisition and the subsequent fallouts on farmers.

  • The Central SEZ Act 2005, for instance, is silent on land acquisition for SEZs. Further, land is a state subject and State governments are being expected to take the lead in establishing SEZs and, in characteristic fashion, the policy on land acquisition and potential displacement has been left unattended.
  • The SEZ rules do mention that the land can be acquired by the developer only after BoA approval. However, in Haryana and Maharshtra we have seen that the state government and developers have started acquisition before receiving a nod from the MoC.
  • Further , while there is a lower limit to the amount of land that can be acquired for an SEZ, there is no upper limit. Chapt2 Sec4 of the central act infact says that the central government after notifying the SEZ, if it considers appropriate, can subsequently notify, any additional area under the SEZ.
  • What is also ironic is the government’s position that state should stay out of the land acquisition process and that it should be between the two parties (Private party and the land owner) in case of private land. This is rather unfortunate considering that the state is supposed to protect interests of the marginalsied sections of the society rather than let the big sharks free to eat the small fish. Unless we move with the assumptio
    ns that farmers and rural communities in India are no longer marginalized this is a bit hard to understand
  • Another statement that “wastelands and single crop lands” can be acquired for SEZs is also adhoc and irrelevant. Any one who has an understanding of the rural areas would know that land use in India is not confined to cultivation but also extends to collective use for day-to-day survival. Fuel, fodder, other non-timber forest produce requirements are met from land, which could be categorised as ‘common property resource’ or charagah, gaucher, padit bhoomi in local languages but is referred to as “wasteland” by the government. Another critical issue is that in many states these “waste” lands are also either already under cultivation where the farmers are yet to get legal titles. In Raigarh district, where Reliance is planning to build a massive SEZ, almost 12,000 hectares of what are known as Dali Lands have been under cultivation by the tribals for decades now. Most families though are still awaiting regularization of these lands since they fall under the category of Forest land. Similar is the case for Orissa. For example, in Jagatsinghpur district the area where the Multinational Pohang Steel Company is planning its Special Economic Zone, almost 300 families are yet to be allotted legal titles. In the absence of pattas or titles, the villagers have virtually no bargaining power and get displaced without adequate or any compensation. Rehabilitation in such cases is not even considered by the government.

Also, considering the size of many of the special economic zones – they would be spread over an area of hundreds of hectares. It would be rather difficult to find contiguous “wastelands” spread over large areas, especially in many of the states like Tamil Nadu, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra, where these zones are coming up. So it would be virtually impossible to locate them “only on wastelands”. In its myopic view of the problem of “Land” in SEZ projects the Ministry has failed completely in considering these complexities and dynamics which will have serious consequences for rural communities and the last of the common property resources in our country.

  • The principle of “eminent domain” which is the basis of our colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894) is being clearly misused and even given priority over the principles in the 73 rd and 74th amendment of the constitution , which give primacy to gramsabhas as autonomous decision making entities.
  • Now, in a rush to facilitate the setting up of these zones the Government is also pushing a National Rehabilitation Policy based on a 2006 draft circulated by the Ministry of Rural Development. This draft has been extensively critised by people’s groups for being sketchy and inadequate. Further, this draft completely overlooks the earlier draft prepared in 2005 by the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the UPA in extensive consultation with people’s groups. The 2006 draft does not draw from the principles of the 2005 draft version but infact ignores them. Inspite of detailed people’s opposition to the new draft the government is pushing for its passage.
    In a scenario where new mega-projects like Special Economic Zones are coming up at a fast pace within the legislative framework of the SEZ Act 2005, such a Rehabilitation policy in combination with the colonial Land acquisition act would do little to address the issues that arise out of development induced displacement.
Labour Exploitation Issues

It is a well known fact that all over the world trade and export zones have reported instances of labour exploitation as a characteristic feature. India is not very different.

  • Prior to the SEZ Act 2005, and the introduction of the SEZ policy, theoretically, all labour and factory legislation were fully applicable in the EPZs. However, even in the EPZs, trade unions were practically absent and rare despite attempts of trade unions to organise. The key reason being the restriction to entry into the EPZs, which is limited to the employees who are transported directly to and from the factory door. Workers have also reported fear of victimisation by management if they become part of union activities. In the Noida EPZ, workers have been sacked for demanding that labour laws should be implemented.
  • The government had restricted the right to strike in two of India’s export processing zones (EPZs) – the Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) near Bombay and the Kandla Free Trade Zone – by giving them “Public Utility” status under the Industrial Disputes Act. This makes strikes illegal unless they are preceded by specified reconciliation procedures involving the Labour Commissioners’ Office
  • In the current SEZ regime, the labour laws have been significantly watered down. Chapter 2 Clause 5(g) of the SEZ rules hands over the power to the Development Commissioner to declare the SEZ as a “Public Utility Service”. Clause 5(f) delaegates powers to the Development Commissioner to handle workmen-employer relations. Functions of the labour commissioner are also handed over to the Development Commissioner.
  • As in other parts of the world in Indian EPZs it is the women who constitute the bulk of the work force in the EPZs, employed in establishments such as ready-made garments and electronics-based and software industries In an All India Convention of EPZ/ SEZ workers organized by CITU in 2002 it was discussed that women workers are exploited in these zones, Women are made to work in night shifts without providing proper conveyance to their residences. They are not given maternity leave. On the other hand, women found to be pregnant are removed from service. Crèches are not provided. Young and unmarried women are only preferred. The use of toilets is controlled by issuing tokens. Sexual harassment is very common.
  • In the Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) near Bombay, ninety per cent of the workers are women who are generally young and too frightened to form unions. Working conditions are bad and overtime is compulsory. The same is the case in the Cochin SEZ. The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970 specifically prohibits employing contract workers in activities which are “permanent and perpetual” in nature. We have example of many SEZ/EPZs where almost all the activities conducted by the units in are permanent and perpetual in nature and yet the practice of employing contract workers goes unabated

In the time to come the issue of labour is going to emerge as a major concern in these zones.

Environmental Issues in SEZs

While it would be very premature to talk about the environmental impacts of the large number of SEZ projects that are coming up, we have the Chinese example to imagine the extent of the environmental losses involved. India is already going through a crisis in terms of water scarcity as well as loss of forests and biodiversity. The point is that in the current framework for economic development costs of loss of forest and other common lands; large scale exploitation of water resources; coastal lands and lines; pollution – air and water; generation of e-waste etc; are not even being computed.

The environmental governance mechanisms have only seen weakening since the past five years. We have the following points to consider

  • It was way back in 2001 that the 1994 Environment Impact Assessment notification an amendment was made in 2001 that exempted SEZs from Public hearings, which was a critical part of the Environment Clearance procedure
  • The EIA notification 1994 was amended in a major way and a new notification was introduced in 2006 in order to issue fast track clearances for all projects
  • Schedule 1of the EIA notification, 2006 issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, under item 7c covers industrial estates/parks/c
    omplexes/areas, export processing zones (EPZs), Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Biotech Parks, Leather Complexes. The above categories continue to be exempted from the requirement of a public consultation even in the new notification
  • The EIA Notification, 2006 divides industries, projects and activities into Category A and Category B where projects under Category A have to be cleared by the Central Government, and Projects under Category B are to be cleared by the State Government.
  • Under Category A slated for Central Clearance ” if at least one industry in the proposed industrial estate (SEZ) falls under Category A, the entire industrial area shall be treated as Category A irrespective of area”, and “industrial estates with area greater than 500 ha. and housing at least one Category B industry” will be considered Category A and will require Central clearance. 
  • Under Category B, with “industrial estates housing at least one Category B industry and area < 500 ha” ; and “industrial estates of area > 500 ha and not housing any industry belonging to Category A or B”, require an EIA report to be cleared at the State Level. 
  • An industrial estate that is less than 500 ha and does not house an industry of either Category A or B is exempt from Environmental Clearance. 
  • While it seems fairly clear that units operating within SEZs largely require an Environmental Clearance at either the Central or State Level, on the basis of an E.I.A, but without a public consultation, a broad-based, sweeping “Special Condition” undermines even this basic requirement.  The condition states-

If any zone with homogeneous type of industries (under sections of chemical and petrochemical/bulk drug industries), or those Industrial estates with pre –defined set of activities (not necessarily homogeneous), obtains prior environmental clearance, individual industries including proposed industrial housing within such estates /complexes will not be required to take prior environmental clearance , so long as the Terms and Conditions for the industrial estate/complex are complied with

  • Construction projects are out of the purview of the EIA notification 2006

The SEZ Act and rules also leave the following ambiguities

  • No mention is made of regulatory mechanisms for Multi-product, single product zones, tourism zones as well as clearance for entire SEZ clearance vs. clearance for units
  • Guidelines for notification of SEZs are silent on environmental and ecological concerns
  • Single window clearances and roles of the approval committee are over arching. It is the development commissioner and later the SEZ Authority that would
  • The single window clearance feature makes the Approval committee at the state level under the DC responsible for approval of all SEZ units and even compliance to conditions of approval if any are to be monitored by the AC
  • There is no mention of the role of the Pollution Control Board
  • There is mention of Coastal Regulation related provisions in the sez rules and act. CRZ Notifications make space for SEZ’s with almost no conditions and regulation

These issues become even graver with provisions like the one restricting entry into the SEZs , which will be open to authorised persons only. This would obviously make it difficult for independent researchers to enter the area to carry out any environmental impact assessments or studies.

Issues of Governance and sovereignty of self governments

The most antidemocratic aspects of the SEZ Act which hit out at the sovereignty of governance systems

· Special Economic Zones have been given the status of industrial townships as per provisions of clause (1) of Article 243Q of the Indian Constitution and defined in Section 3.2 of SEZ Act, 2005. The State Government will declare the SEZs as Industrial Township Areas to function as self-governing, autonomous municipal bodies. Once an SEZ is declared as an Industrial Township Area, it will cease to be under the jurisdiction of any other local body like- Municipal Corporation and gram panchayat. Moreover, the SEZ Developer and Units would also be exempted from taxes levied by the local bodies because of its self-contained local body.

This clearly undermines the constitutional status given to Urban local Governance and Panchayats under 74 th and 73rd amendment. The present need is to improve financial powers given to the Panchayats to enable them to invest in physical and social infrastructure as a means of promoting growth and equity. And unregulated excessive industrial exploitation of land, water and other natural resources would only worsen the life of rural poor when Panchayats do not have any control of decision and taxing SEZs.

  • The status of “deemed foreign territory” to SEZs will snatch the sovereignty of locals from their lands, and natural resources which is the backbone of local economy and sustenance and also their fundamental right to movement as Indian citizens will be violated.
  • What is really going to challenge the governance system is the creation and concentration of power in the hands of the Development Commissioner at the state level and the Board of approvals in the Centre.
  • Further, the SEZ Act provides that grievances related to the SEZ can only be filed with courts designated by the state governments which will only be for trials related to civil and other matters of Special Economic Zones. No other courts can try a case unless it goes through the designated court first.
  • Building of a physical boundary around the SEZ and restricting entry to authorsied persons’ only means that it would be difficult for any individual or civil society groups and independent agencies to enter the area without prior approval of the Development Commissioner.
  • Creating foreign territories as SEZs within the national boundary will challenge the sovereignty of the country and undermine the constitutional right to freedom and liberty. This will enhance the internal conflicts led by economic and infrastructural disparity.

The act is completely silent as to the mechanisms for accountability of these (SEZ authority/ Approvals’ Authority) bodies to the people of the country.

Countering the Economic Logic

There are several questions that have been raised by economists and intellectuals challenging the arguments being offered in favour of SEZs as “engines of economic growth”. Some of these are

  1. Revenue losses from tax exemptions

According to an internal assessment of the Union Finance Ministry in 2005, the government had to forgo about Rs. 90,000 crore in direct and indirect taxes over a period of four years on account of the SEZs.

The 1998 Comptroller and Auditor-General Report on EPZs, stated that “customs duty amounting to Rs.7, 500 crore was forgone for achieving net foreign exchange earnings of Rs. 4,700 crore and the government does not seem to have made any cost benefit analysis.”.

The RBI has estimated that till 2010 the country exchequer would lose 1,60,000 on account of the tax subsidies to SEZ projects. The other concern is of SEZs turning into real estate businesses considering that 65% of the area within a zone can be a non industrial set-up.

  1. Domination of IT and Software projects

In the developing countries, the optimism generated by the boom in IT services allows the government to ignore the fact that growth of employment in the commodity producing sectors has not merely decelerated sharply but is increasingly less responsive to increases in output – the jobless growth syndrome. The optimism that IT services generate is only because this is the only segment where employment is increasing significantly. But that growth may be inadequate for most of the population except the middle class minority.

In Bangalore and Pune, both cities that have witnessed IT driven growth in the
past five years, issues of widening class disparities within the city leading to several social problems have emerged. Between July 2005 and 06, the Consumer Price Index escalated by about 8% in Pune, and 7% in Bangalore. This is further driving the real estate market – and cities like Pune have seen a whopping ascent in property prices as well as new construction. The ultimate load is on the city infrastructure – problems that both these aspiring to be metro-cities are facing. The states where these cities are located also are the toppers in the list of approved SEZ projects.

  1. Poor export performance of EPZs

There has been a comparison between SEZs and EPZs and the prediction of performance of SEZs in export production based on the EPZ experience in India

Lets take a look at some figures that will throw a light on the performance of EPZs

  • EPZs contributed to 4% of the exports in the country (2002)
  • As per an MoC report the exports from the Special Economic Zones during 2004-05 were of the order of US$ 4 billion, representing an annual growth of over 36%. During April-December, 2005, the exports from the SEZs stood at about US$ 3.5 billion.
  • During the five year period ending 1996-97 the foreign exchange outgo on imports made by the units and the customs duty forgone amounted to Rs.16461.58 crore against which exports of only Rs.13563.87 crore were reported.
  • An appraisal of the seven EPZs was undertaken during August 1996 to July 1997. Out of 2333 units granted letters of Approval, 513 units were functional as on 31 March 1997.
  • The Ministry of Commerce stated that 1351 projects/LOAs had been cancelled or lapsed on account of non-implementation indicating 58 per cent mortality in the units approved.

While the zoning concept remains the same as far as EPzs and SEZs are concerned, there are certain differences here –

  • 100% Export oriented units were essential in the EPZ policy and the conditions to get concessions and taxes were more difficult
  • The SEZ policy relaxes the conditions by allowing sale of products to domestic market by the Units in SEZ

The doubt that is being raised is that if SEZs are not able to attract EoUs then would they become hubs for domestic market production, which inturn would affect domestic producers in non SEZ areas (or domestic tariff areas)

Under all circumstances, in SEZ, the main beneficiaries would not be the units but the developers who would be getting land at cheap rates from the state along with huge concessions on infrastructure, maintenance and tax breaks. Even if they fail in attracting EOUs, their success will depend upon the set of activities (entertainment and township) that they can carry out for generating profits in the non industrial area of the SEZ.

  1. Regional Imbalances

The state wise break up of the number of projects below shows the dominance of SEZ projects in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. As in the case of China many of these zones are to be located in coastal areas. They also seem to be clustering around urban and already developed areas due to easy access to infrastructural facilities for transport and communication. The question that is being raised is of creation and further accentuation of already existing regional imbalances. Further, there is a concern about concentration of these zones in areas that are already over burdened and running short as far as supply of water and power are concerned.

The question that is being repeatedly raised is that are these zones relevant in the current economic context of India?

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——————————————————————-
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Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
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ph.91(40)27017735, 27014302
www.csa-india.org, www.indiagminfo.org, gvramanjaneyulu@gmail.com

Pushed to suicide

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/feb52007/…

By Devinder Sharma

Despite their contribution to the textile industry and the nation’s economy, cotton farmers have been betrayed.

It is turning out to be as unreliable as the marriage vow: Till death do us apart. The new buzz on the economic horizon — public-private partnership — too is a marriage of convenience. The moment the dominant partner — private sector, in this case — finds the going tough, it leaves the public in a lurch.
Genuine public-private partnership is not a new phenomenon. It actually began when the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), then known as Agricultural Prices Commission (APC), drew up a unique model to enable the domestic textile industry to turn competitive. For an industry, which was in the doldrums ever since the British left shores, the only way to create a new level of thrust and growth was to subsidise the price of cotton for the textile mills.
Under pressure to bail out the textile industry, and not knowing what else to do, the APC did exactly what it is known for. It reduced cotton prices. This quiet and little-known manoeuvring succeeded because policy makers and economists have always treated farmers as a national burden, ready to be offloaded at any given time. I still remember a CACP report in the late 1980s that clearly stated that cotton farmers were being deliberately paid 20 per cent less than the market price. The pricing system continues.

For 40 years, cotton farmers have actually been subsidising the textile industry. I had thought this was a classic case of public-private partnership. The textile industry would remain eternally grateful to the toiling cotton farmers. They would always ensure that cotton farmers were a happy lot. But I was completely wrong. None of the textile majors have even made a cursory move or effort to share even a fraction of their booty with the struggling cotton farmers. The textile industry has very conveniently dumped the cotton farmers.
The textile industry knew that farmers lived in penury and hardship for its sake. But the moment an opportunity arose to payback its gratitude to crisis-ridden farming community, the industry fled seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
Since 1993, nearly 75 per cent of the 1,50,000 farmers who have committed suicide unable to face the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness, were cotton growers. These farmers died because they were unable to bear the brunt of rising cost of cultivation and the static output prices. They didn’t even know that they were victims of an economic policy that was aimed at benefiting the textile industry. They are the unsung heroes of India’s textile revolution, which claims to be the second biggest employer in the country.
If only these farmers had got the right price for the cotton they produced, the number of suicides would have been far less. In fact, cotton prices have been on a steady decline thereby acerbating the prevailing farm crisis. The industry is clamouring for still lower prices.
Unmindful of the serial death dance being enacted in the cotton belt, the textile industry instead forced the government to allow cheaper imports. During the period 1990-2005, the import of cotton lint increased at a compound growth rate of over 75 per cent. This was despite the customs duty being increased from zero to 5 per cent in 2000. The industry was therefore visibly happy at the availability of low-cost cotton, even if it meant biking cotton farmers.
The industry continued to grow. With a turnover of Rs 1,50,000 crore, including export earnings, the textile industry is now poised to take advantage of the phase out of the multi-fibre agreement under WTO. It grew not only at the cost of farmers’ sweat and blood, but also the state exchequer. Just to give you an example, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recently cleared four more textile parks bringing the total to 30.
Some say that it was only before 1991 that infrastructure was the headache of the state. But the clearance for the textile parks came only on Jan 18. Development of textile parks is aimed at facilitating additional investment, generate employment and increase textile production. To make this possible, it is the textile ministry that is expected to provide infrastructure facilities, such as roads, electricity supply — including captive power plants — and telecom lines to firms willing to set up textile units. The private share in the “development” is missing.
Despite all the talk of creating models of public-private partnership based on transparency and commitment, the cotton debacle provides an important lesson in economic exploitation. Cotton farmers were duped for four decades. They still are being fleeced by crony capitalism. What could have turned public-private partnership between the textile industry and the cotton growers into a replicable global model has in reality turned out to be a national shame. It demonstrates clearly the insensitivity the industry has towards its lesser and deprived partners in growth.
Social inclusiveness does not only mean setting up village schools and hospitals to demonstrate corporate responsibility. Public-private partnership can only turn into a “win-win” situation when both partners measure up at the time of need. Textile industry must take responsibility for farmer’s suicides in the cotton belt. The government must step in and ensure that farmers get their legitimate dues. After all, it is the cotton farmers, who continue to subsidise the textile industry.

India's poor law

http://www.isvarmurti.com/2007/02/01/india’s-poor-…

India’s poor politics, Hinders economic development.

The Economist magazine, true to its verbal gymnastics, had called India’s much talked about employement guarantee programme (or just a promise on date?) as India’s poor law! In the same typical imperial mindset the magazine goes on to elaborate its wisdom as it see it. Of course what the Singh government is promising seems everyday becoming just hope! The budget’s first impression seems quite positive. On closer look there are some disquieting questions. The critics have ranged from known critics like S.Gurumurhty and theTN CM and some others. The budget doesnt give a specific agriculture development focus.
What it gives as rural India development focus hinges on the employment guarantee scheme that has transformed now as an all-encompassing umbrella programme. The food for work programme (launched in 2004) now converted into Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. The budget speech doesnt spell out the sources of funds for this programme, merely promises to”find the money for the programme” “Livelihood security for crores of poor families”. Elsewhere one crore rural jobs promised under the Bharat Nirman vision,”without a single rupee as budget provision for it” as Gurumurthy puts it. Promises are too many without any specific binding targets for even this year! The1000-odd pages of the budget papers no one reads. More and more TV and print media gushes with announcements of so many fringe tax benefits. Gurumurthy saracastically puts, this budget” deceives even the intelligent”. The budget seems obsessed with managing the budget deficit and here again, as pointed out by critics, the States are burdened with the responsibility to “borrow from the market Rs.29,003 crores for financing their plans. There are too many bureaucrats and economic experts around! As far as agriculture is concerned it is a big disappointing budget.

Yes, horticulture gets a boost but some of the crucial questions like revamping the agri credit, write-off of farmers debts haven’t been given any thought. While the sugar industry’s heavy debt burdens are taken care off by 2% debt reduction package, why not the very farmers, sugarcane farmers included, other farmers producing foodgrains, farmers in Punjab to TN, are reeling under debt burdens and farmers in AP are in deep debts? No one seems to have given a thought to the farm sector’s accumulated burdens. Banks and the agri credit subject needs a more radical policy package. As for the big picture, what happens to the inter-State river links? Or, even the NH development? The budget speech concludes with a quotation with Amartya Sen. Poor Sen! He is now a convenient mascot for everyone who dont want to do a practical job! Prof.Amartya Sen descened at the right time and he held forthe in Kokatta on the four areas where he sees light. They are delivery of healthcare system, land reforms and its completion, basic education and microcredit. Who can fault his priorities? Then of course there is the redoubtable M.S.Swaminathan with his own pet themes. Now, he warns of ecocides, ecological suicides, as farmers’ones!

He points to Punjab too where there are farmers suicides. So, what is his alternative? Not any clear path. Except villages as knowledge centres and of course improved farm practices. Nothing to quarrel about. Of course we have the veterans who sit pretty in Delhi’s various dingy and airy corridors, as you can see their importance or non-importance! So, in sum agriculture is going get the boost this time, right? Finance Minister visited Krishi Bhavan. This is news. Horticulture, irrigation, wet/dryland farming, insurance, employment guarantee. As for Prof Amartya Sen, with due respect we say : he is totally out of touch with ground level realities in Indian countryside. He advocates land reforms and its completion! There is an acute farm labour shortage even in Kerala. So in other states. The farm labour is now migrating to neighbouring states, even distant states, where the farm wages are high. The villages are now faced with farm labour shortage. So, what chance there is for land reforms? One can buy any amount of land today for throwaway prices in any states!

Sen advocates healthcare delivery system. He is here again mistaken. In his own West Bengal state the healthcare system is in shambles. First let him help to put the system in one state in place. The problems are quite complex. So too basic education, Sen may be a great advocate for education. But there is 53 percent of heavy dropout!

We are not a serious people. Mr.A.B.Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister the other day in Mumbai released a book on the state’s PWD minister Mr.Gadkari who in record time constructed the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Vajpayee did say that he got his inspiration for his national highway project from Gadkari’s experience. Vajpayee in one stroke launched the NH project and today he is admired the world over what the NH project triggered off. Every NH is dotted with multiplier developments, petrol bunks construction and other developments. The point is that one need not talk too much,one need not be an expert, Vajpayee was certainly not an expert in any sphere. It is a vision and some resultant boldness to launch something imaginative is all needed. So, we say : speed up more NHs. Agricultre, rural hinterland, communications etc. would create the multip-lier effects on an unprecedented scale. E-governance, telecommunication networks are some of the technological backups we need today.

We conclude : agriculture hadn’t benefitted much by this government so far. So we can’t expect much for agriculture. Do your job in other spheres. Agriculture will dictate its own dynamic responses! The very market forces will force changes to bring about needed mindset change!

Pawar reviews implementation of farmer suicide package

http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/0152007020218…

New Delhi, Feb. 2 (PTI): In the backdrop of continuing reports of farmers suicides, Government today held detailed discussions on implementation of the Rs 16,000 crore package for states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which were hit by drought and floods last year.

With the farmer suicides in Vidharbha still being reported, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar during the meeting sought to know the progress of the package for farmers that included rescheduling of loans and low interest credit.

The huge financial package, to be spread over a three year period, would include 31 most affected districts of the four states.

The meeting expressed deep concern over the tardy progress in carrying out the work on irrigation and water shed development projects.

“It was observed that the project approval and disbursal of money has not been done speedily by the ministry of water resources and NABARD”, a top government official said.

However, the meeting chaired by Pawar, expressed satisfaction over the credit disbursal to the needy farmers and felt the situation had improved.

Ministry officials apprised Pawar of the progress in horticulture sector and expressed happiness over the results achieved so far.