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Kisan Incorporated

Posted by Ramoo on August 28, 2009

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/op-ed/kisan-incorporated-414

 

August 28th, 2009

By G.V. Ramanjaneyulu & Kavitha Kuruganti

Some recent developments in India’s agri-related laws might make former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s infamous dream of seeing “only 15 per cent of Indians in villages” come true much faster than anyone thought possible. Moves are afoot to ensure large-scale displacement of farmers and agricultural workers — the most blatant move is already underway in Andhra Pradesh, under Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. An experiment under the garb of “farmers cooperative” was approved by the state Cabinet recently, not very different from what his rival N. Chandrababu Naidu attempted some years ago. The arguments too are old: Small holdings lead to low productivity, low income, low investments and, this vicious cycle goes on.

This argument ignores the fact that more than 900 scientists from 110 countries have recently concluded an international process, called the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), pointing out that small-holding ecological farming is the way forward. We are also familiar with the subsidies that prop up intensive, large-scale models of farming elsewhere, despite claims of efficiency. Numerous studies have confirmed the inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per unit.

A study from Turkey shows that farms less than a hectare are 20 times more productive than farms that are over 10 hectares! But why should anyone be looking at such data when the sizes of land holdings and their alleged low productivity is used as an excuse to grab land?

This is what the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is proposing: Get farmers to pool their land into a cooperative/society/company. Farmers sell their land to the new entity in return for some shares, which will then take up all agricultural operations and pay dividends. Farmers can exit by selling their share to existing members and, if there are no takers, government will buy the shares at a pre-determined market price. Land cannot be obtained back. Though many questions remain unanswered — what will happen to the farmers and how will they take part in any decision-making? What will tenant farmers and agricultural workers do? Why will land not be returned to the farmers? — the state Cabinet has decided to take up a pilot project in 50 villages by investing Rs 5,000 crore and there are moves to introduce a new legislation along these lines.

To begin with, the entire reasoning that bashes small holdings is faulty. Two, an experiment taken up by Mr Naidu some years ago along these lines (“Kuppam Project”) failed in delivering the promised benefits and had environmental repercussions. Most importantly, this move will take away land permanently from farmers and is truly an exit mechanism.

Incidentally, it is in Andhra Pradesh that the world’s largest ecological farming project is unfolding, supported by the state’s rural development department, which is proving that farming can indeed be made viable through alternative technologies and people’s organisations.

This programme, yielding results on more than 20 lakh acres, all small and marginal holdings, has attracted great attention already. Is it by design that the state government chose to ignore such vastly successful models and set about “to make farming viable” through proven-to-have-failed models?

While this is happening in Andhra Pradesh, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu a bill was introduced in the Assembly and supposedly passed on a day when 30 bills were passed without much discussion. This new legislation, called Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council Act 2009, is about setting up a council that will be empowered to inspect agricultural institutions, courses of study, examinations etcetera, all to ensure that standards are conformed to.

“At present, there is no law to provide for the regulation of agricultural practice… it’s been considered necessary to regulate agricultural practice and registration of agricultural practi-tioners…” states the object of the legislation. Sounds inane enough? However, the law says that no one can render agricultural services unless his/her name is registered in the “Tamil Nadu Agricultural Practitioners Register” with a formal agricultural qualification from Tamil Nadu (outsiders can register within 90 days of their entry!).
In a country which has always had a rich tradition of farming based on an oral and experiential knowledge and in a state where paddy productivity levels are recorded to have been up to 13 tonnes per hectare (in 1807 in Coimbatore) without qualified agriculture scientists, this move is an outright rejection of the vast untapped knowledge of our farm women and men.

Worse, in the name of regulating agricultural services, this seems to be a way of controlling the farmer-to-farmer spread of ecological farming in the state, which is led by farmers themselves, their networks and other civil society groups. Tamil Nadu is also the state where the anti-genetically modified protests against Tamil Nadu Agriculture University’s unthinking capitulation to agro-MNCs like Monsanto are running at a high-pitched level. A connection between the resistance movement and this new law cannot be ruled out.

This new regulation of “agriculture services” will effectively provide more and more markets for particular kinds of technologies at the expense of farmers, as the advisories will be driven by the mindsets that prevail in the agriculture education/ research system in the country and the commercial interests of the agri-services to be set up. This route of a “qualified” advisory system will obviously facilitate conflicting interests and help in improving exclusivity of “markets” by reducing competition, while ignoring the causes for the current agrarian crisis. While a law of this kind should regulate services provided by agricultural research and agri-business bodies to ensure accountability for their services, especially in relation to economic, environmental and social viability and sustainability of farming, it should not be used as a weapon to penalise farmers and civil society

groups which are trying to promote sustainable farming.

These two initiatives in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are not to be seen as isolated attempts to create more markets for agri-businesses, but as an orchestrated move towards an unwritten “exit policy” for farmers.

These two moves will set a bad precedent for the rest of the country.

Given that agriculture is contributing a lower and lower share in the country’s gross domestic product, its importance in the mainstream economic development model might be diminishing for many policymakers. However, this is a question of livelihood for millions of Indians — without ensuring access and control over basic productive resources and without moving towards sustainable production technologies, the current saga of agrarian distress, including suicides, will only increase.

Such legislations and programmes cannot be brought in without comprehensive debates and without the government clearly stating its vision for farming livelihoods and how they would be liable when things go wrong.

* Dr G.V. Ramanjaneyulu is the executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, and Kavitha Kuruganti is a trustee of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab.

Posted in Agri-Science, Agroecological farming, Andhra Pradesh, Govt. Initiatives, Land question, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

Campaign against ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ on Agrarian Crisis

Posted by Ramoo on February 17, 2009

India – smugly described to be the largest democracy on earth is witnessing increasing demise of villages and the hapless people who happen to be farmers. With villages getting desolate and farmers compelled to opt for noose to terminate life that has become an everyday disgrace, contemporary India presents a picture of orchestrated silences on the part of government and corporate governors. Today the only largesse farmers get are a death trap, debt, and utter callousness at the hands of our much-hyped democratic establishment. One must be alert to the fact that the destruction of farmer is an organized act. All through the six decades of independence our democratic dispensation has persistently kept silent on the fundamental questions determining the fate of the huge populace dependent on agriculture and allied activities. In its quest to oust agriculture from national economy, the establishment has
continuously resorted to manufacture false definitions. Thus the category of ‘common man’ has been emptied of a farmer eventually leading to the exit of farming as a source and mode of livelihood.
One would do well to look at how farming has fared in the over all national economy. In 1947,according to official statistics, agriculture and allied activities accounted for 67 percent in the gross domestic product, however down the years it has plummeted to as low as 17 percent in 2008. The phenomenon is that agricultural production during this period has become fourfold. Thus valuation of this fourfold produce has nose-dived to one-fourth in relative terms
or one-sixteenth in absolute terms. How could one explain the anomaly that while the actual agricultural production has witnessed a four-fold increase, the price, to the contrary, has registered as much fall?
The fall in prices of agricultural produces has to do with the definition that governments have thrust upon it. It could not have been otherwise unless the governments struck at the very root of it by fixing up Agriculture as an unskilled vocation. It is precisely this enlightened conspiracy that has forced agriculture into a strait jacket. Thus it is not surprising to see that a farmer can earn only 30-35 rupees a day while as per the sixth pay commission fourth class government employee gets away with as much as 400 rupees for a day’s remuneration. And instead of any concern about this gross injustice, the vision document of UPA and NDA, projects with pride the share of agriculture and allied sectors at 6% in 2020. The share of `Top 10′ in the country that stands at 60 % in 2008 and may easily move up to 70% in 2020. 
But now the farmers cannot take the drubbing anymore. No matter if political parties refuse to take cognizance of the plight of them. Farmers have woken up to the challenge: now they will interrogate leaders and send directives to political parties from Village Assemblies. This is the sentiment that has emerged from a two-day meeting of National Campaign for Eradication of Inequality.
Deliberating various issues that might be included in a common programme of action, the participants focused on issues like 

1. Why work in agriculture has been classified as unskilled? This is a direct attack on farmers’ honour!
2. Why two principles for wage determination are in vogue simultaneously, one for the organized sector, that is one person should be able to earn for the family, the other for the unorganised where no such stipulation is honoured? This duality is a fraud on the people of India.
3. Why compound interest is levied on agricultural credit in total contravention of the spirit of the law in that regard? How were the doors of law courts slammed against farmers in 1984?
4. How is force and even provisions of civil jail used in recovery of credit that abrogates fundamental right of the victim?
The meeting ended on a consensus on a three-point action plan that would comprise the following, to begin with, that may grow with experience of struggle in the field and people’s response there to. Firstly, Village Assemblies in the country would issue directions to the Parliament and State Assemblies to amend the relevant laws. This
may be the beginning of people-centric structural change that has been ignored and now totally dropped by the rulers.
Secondly, the realization of dues based on levy of compound interest would be directly resisted. The banks shall be told that this blasphemy is not acceptable to the people. The 1984 amendment in Companies Act may be challenged in the Court of Law. Lastly, all political parties may be called upon to place before the people their formal stand on these four vital issues. The Campaign is of the view that the entry of members of those political parties who may fail to place their position, positive or negative, on these issues before the people may be politely requested not to enter the
village as members of political parties. They are welcome as ordinary citizens minus their politics. This will be a modest beginning towards fulfilling the constitutional commitment and national resolve to establish an egalitarian social order.
National Campaign for Eradication of Inequality has been initiated by a number of people’s movement groups. The launch meeting organized at Sahyog Pustak Kutir, New Delhi was attended by some of the groups including Bharat Jan Andolan, Kisani Pratishtha Manch, Jan Adhikar Sanghtan, Jan Mukti Sangthan, Bagar Kisan Majdoor Sangthan, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Construction Workers Panchayat Sangam, Jagaran Jan Viaks Samiti, Parivartan etc. Meeting was
presided by former Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Dr. B D Sharma of Bharat Jan Anlodan.
Dr. B D Sharma Gian Singh Pankaj Pushkar (011-24353997) (09416358044) (09868984442)

Posted in Economy, Farmers Suicides, Land question, Peoples struggles | 3 Comments »

Consequences for agriculture and food security

Posted by Ramoo on December 10, 2008

http://www.india-seminar.com/2008/582/582_bhaskar_goswami.htm

BHASKAR GOSWAMI

AROUND 160 years back political economist John Stuart Mill wrote, ‘Land differs from other elements of production, labour and capital in not being susceptible to infinite increase. Its extent is limited and the extent of the more productive kinds of it more limited still. It is also evident that the quantity of produce capable of being raised on any given piece of land is not indefinite. This limited quantity of land, and limited productiveness of it, are the real limits to the increase of production.’1 Never more do his words ring true than today in India.

With the pressure of billion-plus mouths to feed, and returns on agricultural inputs declining, it would seem prudent to protect the area under agriculture, if not bring more area under cultivation. However, what we are witnessing is the reverse. Faced with competing demands for land from the non-agriculture sector and rapid urbanization, large chunks of prime agriculture land are being diverted for non-agricultural purposes. This has serious implications for food security.

A little over 46 per cent of the country’s area is under agriculture. Between 1990 and 2003, the area cultivated went down by around 1.5 per cent. While in percentage terms this may seem insignificant, in absolute terms it translates to more than 21 lakh hectares. If this area was brought under wheat (for the sake of argument), it would amount to a mind-boggling 57 lakh tonnes, which can feed more than 4.3 crore hungry people every year. Had political will to prevent this diversion prevailed, the number of hungry would have gone down substantially. On the other hand, between 1990 and 2004, land under non-agricultural uses has gone up by 34 lakh hectares.

All across the country, agriculture land is shrinking. In Kerala, the area under paddy is around 3.5 lakh hectares as against 10 lakh hectares in 1980. As a result the demand for rice is about five times higher than what is produced by the state. Mineral-rich Orissa is losing agricultural land to mining and power projects. Even in the case of a small state like Himachal Pradesh the net sown area has declined by 33,000 hectares between 1991 and 2001.

In recent years this rate of diversion has gone up. For instance, across 25 mandals in and around Hyderabad, 90,000 hectares of agriculture land has been diverted during the last five years. Real estate major Emaar MGF owns over 4,000 hectares of agricultural land across the country while DLF controls a land bank of around 3,500 hectares more. To sustain the high rate of economic growth, major infrastructure development projects such as construction of new airports, roads, power generation plants etc. are coming up. All this and more through large-scale diversion of fertile agriculture land.

Diversion of agricultural land for industry is frequently justified by pointing towards cultivable wasteland – around 132 lakh hectares – which can be developed and put under cultivation. However, cultivable wastelands have also declined by over 18 lakh hectares between 1990 and 2004. Further, even if these wastelands are developed and made cultivable to grow food, the productivity will remain abysmally low for several years.

In addition to increasing production of foodgrains for ensuring food security, pulses and fats are necessary for nutrition security. On the one hand, feeding half of the world’s hungry who live in India will require at least 170 lakh hectares of additional land under cultivation. On the other, to achieve self sufficiency in pulses and edible oils will require 200 lakh hectares more. Where will this land come from? Forget agricultural land; there is not enough cultivable wasteland available to meet this requirement.

The fact is that there simply is not enough land to go around. The statement of the Commerce Ministry, ‘SEZs account for 0.000012 per cent of the country’s arable area’ therefore needs to be viewed through this prism. When the ministry states that just over two lakh hectares of land will be lost once the formally and informally approved SEZs come up, it ignores the fact that this can feed over four million hungry every year in perpetuity. These numbers have gone up recently. Check the Ministry of Commerce website for latest data. Further, the argument of the ministry that most land under SEZs had already been acquired by state governments is indefensible because prior to its acquisition, it would have been under cultivation.

Agriculturally rich states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh account for over 70 per cent of the land that is earmarked for approved SEZs. Punjab and Haryana which meet a bulk of the country’s foodgrain requirement are promoting SEZs on prime agricultural land. With the Ministry of Commerce announcing on 3 December 2007 that the 5,000 hectare ceiling on multi-product SEZs may be relaxed, it is music to the ears of big developers whose projects were stalled. Now with acquisition of land left to the SEZ promoters, agricultural land is bound to come under increasing pressure.

In addition to land, water is another resource that is limited in supply and increased competition for its use between agriculture and the industry is jeopardizing food security. As it is, barely 40 per cent of the cultivated area of the country is irrigated while the rest depends on unpredictable rains to produce crops. This limited area however accounts for more than half of the total value of output of Indian agriculture. Irrigation also has the potential to increase crop yield by 30 per cent and therefore its importance for ensuring food security cannot be ignored.

Between farming and industry, which sector will have a priority over the use of this scarce resource? The SEZ Act of 2005 and SEZ Rules (2006) do not answer this question. Legislations at the state-level are either silent on this issue or clearly allow SEZs to develop water supply and distribute to its units. Given the present rules governing groundwater resources in the country, there is precious little that a state can do to prevent SEZs from running the underground aquifers dry and leaving nothing for surrounding farmlands.

Not only groundwater, even rivers and reservoirs meant for irrigation purposes are now being put at the service of SEZs. Take for instance the Whitefield Paper Mills SEZ in Andhra Pradesh. Located within five kilometres of the river Godavari, the state government has permitted the SEZ to draw 100 million litres of water per day. While the river at present has ample water, it is noteworthy that more than half of the Godavari river basin is categorized as cultivable land and, naturally, any mass-industrialization along this zone will reduce water availability for irrigation.

In Orissa, the allocation of water to industries from the Hirakud reservoir to industries has gone up 30 times over the 1997 levels. Notwithstanding protests by farmers against diversion of water meant for irrigation, the state is going ahead with its plans to increase allocation for industries – many of which are SEZs – like the Hindalco industries in Sambalpur district and Vedanta Industries Ltd. in Jharsuguda. POSCO’s proposed SEZ in Jagatsinghpur has been allowed to directly draw water from the river Mahanadi.

While industries are being given a priority over water rights by the Orissa government, Padampur subdivision of Bargarh district of the state, which falls in the command area of Hirakud dam, has remained permanently in the grip of continuous drought and agricultural failure since the 1960s. This area has also earned the dubious distinction of being one of the poorest region of the world. Obviously somebody has been busy stealing water meant for irrigating the crops of poor farmers.

There is more. The Mundra Port SEZ being developed by the Adani Group in the Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat has managed to access six million litres per day of Narmada water for immediate use and they expect the allotment to go up. SIPCOT SEZ in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu will receive water from the SIPCOT water supply scheme. Government of Andhra Pradesh will install a pipeline capable of carrying dedicated capacity of 20 million gallons of water per day for the FAB City SEZ coming up near Hyderabad. The list is endless.

It is unfortunate that despite over 177 lakh hectares of barren and uncultivable land lying unused, scarce resources like rich agricultural land and water are being poached upon to promote SEZs. To feed a billion plus people, 350 million of whom are chronically food insecure, the government is pushing for diversification away from foodgrains to produce non-food cash crops. The cash generated through exports of these will be used to import food.

However, there are some who believe that there may be pitfalls with this approach. ‘It’s important for our nation to be able to grow foodstuffs to feed our people. Can you imagine a country that was unable to grow enough food to feed the people? It would be a nation that would be subject to international pressure. It would be a nation at risk. And so when we’re talking about American agriculture, we’re really talking about a national security issue.’

This was President George W. Bush addressing the National Future Farmers of America Organization on 27 July 2001. For once, Bush does make sense.

Footnote:

1. J.S. Mill, The Principles of Political Economy. Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1848.

Posted in Land question, SEZs, Special Economic Zones | Leave a Comment »

‘Raigad votes against SEZ in referendum’

Posted by Ramoo on September 23, 2008

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2008/09/23/stories/2008092352471000.htm

Mumbai, Sept. 22 A majority of people in the 22 villages in Raigad district have voted against the SEZ in the referendum process which was held on Sunday, claimed Mr N.D. Patil, senior leader of Peasants and Workers Party of India, who is spearheading the agitation.

The State Government is likely to announce the result of the referendum in next 15 days.

The promoters of Maha Mumbai SEZ, which includes promoters of Reliance Industries Ltd, want to set up 10,000 hectares SEZ in the district.

SEZ is expected to attract an investment of nearly Rs 40,000 crore and generate 20 lakh jobs.

Mr Patil said that although the Maharashtra Government has undertaken the referendum process, it is not necessary that the report would be tabled any time in the near future.

“When under pressure, the State Government acts in a circular manner.

“The report could be further handed over to a committee, which will take the further circuitous route,” he said.

Mr Patil said that the people of the district do not want SEZ and no amount of compensation from the corporate houses and government will change their view about selling their land.

A senior official in the industries department said that in the eventuality of referendum going against the promoters of the SEZ, the land acquisition process for the other mega projects and SEZs in the State will suffer.

“We will not be mute spectators; we are also prepared for a court battle,” Mr Patil said.

Raigad villagers participate in referendum on Reliance project
21 Sep, 2008, 1717 hrs IST, IANS

 

PEN/MUMBAI: Thousands of villagers around Pen area in Maharashtra’s Raigad district Sunday took part in a referendum to decide the fate of Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Group’s proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
District Collector Vinayak Nipun and Superintendent of Police Pradeep Digavkar were present to monitor the referendum – the country’s first on an industrial project – even as a huge security blanket covered Pen, around 150 km from Mumbai, a police official told IANS.
Residents of 22 villagers who will be affected by the Reliance Group’s mega-project came out in substantial numbers to give their verdict on the SEZ.
During the referendum, a small group of people at one village opposed to the project and raised anti-Reliance and anti-government slogans.
Around 10,000 farmers from these villages are reluctant to part with 3,415 hectares of land for the project, touted to be Asia’s largest.
Through the referendum, the district administration is ascertaining their views and recording their statements, which will be forwarded to the state government.
The villagers’ sentiments shall be taken into consideration before deciding whether the proposed Rs.400-billion (Rs.40,000-crore) project can come up in that region or not.
A district official said the outcome of Sunday’s referendum may be available only by early October.
The Reliance SEZ is slated to come up over 10,000 hectares in Pen, Uran and Panvel sub-districts of Raigad. However, the group has faced stiff resistance from the people of Pen, necessitating the referendum.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena executive president Udhav Thackeray has offered to secure a better financial deal for farmers willing to sell their land for the SEZ.
He made the offer to a delegation of villagers that called on him in Mumbai two days ago and conveyed the sentiments of the local population regarding the SEZ.

Posted in Land question, Land Reforms, Maharashtra, SEZs | Leave a Comment »

PIL seeking ban on acquisition of agricultural land dismissed

Posted by Ramoo on September 23, 2008

23 Sep 2008, 0327 hrs IST,TNN

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/PIL_seeking_ban_on_acquisition_of_agricultural_land_dismissed/articleshow/3515557.cms

NEW DELHI: The Raigad referendum may have seen farmers casting their vote against acquisition of agricultural land, but that did not deter the Supreme Court on Monday from dismissing a PIL seeking a direction to the government to acquire only barren land for SEZs and other public purposes.
Listing the repercussions of acquiring agricultural land, a PIL filed by one Donald Fernandez argued before a bench that the government be restrained from acquiring agricultural land and jeopardising foodgrain production.

Unimpressed, the bench said the plea for acquisition of only barren land was fraught with practical difficulties. “If the government wants to establish a hospital or a post office and is allowed acquisition of barren land 100 km away from the locality, will it serve public purpose,” the bench asked.
This means, the apex court refused to put any fetters on the government from acquiring agricultural land provided all other preconditions for such acquisition were met.
However, the same bench refused to dispose of a PIL complaining of faulty agricultural policies of the government, arguing that they had led to a spate of suicides by farmers.

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Posted in Land question, PIL | Leave a Comment »

Some issues on Nandigram

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007

People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXI, No. 13, April 01, 2007

Brinda Karat

THE chief minister of West Bengal and the CPI(M) have expressed their deep distress and regret at the police firings and violence in Nandigram on March 14. Sympathisers, friends of the Left, democratic minded citizens have expressed their strong feelings on the issue. The matter is before the Kolkata High Court which has asked for more details. Once the investigation is over, action will no doubt be taken against those responsible for the excesses. The authorities have also registered FIRs on complaints of rape, made by four women several days after the reported incident. Urgent investigations are required and if found true, exemplary punishment must be meted out to those guilty. Till now two cases of rape have been confirmed by medical reports and both these are prior to the March 14 police action, the victims being CPI(M) supporters. The guilty must be brought to book and punished in these two cases also. 

This is not the only violence that the people of Nandigram have faced. Less known, their stories and tragedies ignored by the national media, around three thousand men, women and children of 12 villages of Nandigram, have been forcibly driven out of their homes and have been living in camps outside Nandigram since January 3 because they are known members or sympathisers of the CPI(M). Those killed or beaten by the police, those injured in hospital, those thousands displaced in camps are almost all poor, agricultural workers, marginal peasants or artisans, a substantial number of them are dalits. The CPI(M)’s opponents speak in terms of “their poor” and “our poor”. When representatives of the displaced sat on dharna in Kolkata, they were mocked at by Mamta Banerjee leader of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) who contemptuously brushed aside their suffering as ‘ CPI(M) drama.” The NGO activists and fact-finding teams who have been to Nandigram have not included the trauma of these families even as a footnote in their reports. This is not our understanding or approach. We stand in solidarity with the families of those killed and the injured in hospital just as we do with the displaced. 

It is necessary to normalise the situation. At present because of the continuing tension and refusal to allow the administration to function in the area, normal life is completely disrupted. Children have been the worst affected. In just one relief camp in Tekhali there are 67 children, 58 of whom have been forced to miss school for the last three months. Mid-day meal schemes have been stopped in 127 centres. 275 women’s self-help groups have stopped functioning. Poor people who have to move out of the area for livelihood purposes are afraid to do so. Who gains from this division of the poor, from their feelings of insecurity, loss of livelihood? Who are the forces responsible for the situation in Nandigram? There is a deep political game afoot in West Bengal which has many layers that need to be laid bare before the people.

RESISTANCE AGAINST WHAT?

It is said that the Nandigram mobilisation has been a great peaceful resistance movement. When I met the injured women in the PG Hospital in Kolkata and asked them the reason for the mobilisation on March 14 they said they had been told that the police were coming in to takeover their land. “We will never give up our land” they said. I asked them whether they had known that the chief minister had said no land is being taken. Their answer was revealing: “The BUPC has told us that the plan for land acquisition has already been made by the CPI(M) and that is why we have to guard our land day and night.” 

Why should the BUPC continue to run a campaign based on utter lies on the threat of land acquisition? Since January 9 the chief minister and government officials have been repeatedly stating that there will be no land acquisition in Nandigram since the farmers do not want it. Indeed he is the only chief minister in the country who has made such a categorical statement that a condition for land acquisition must be farmer consent. This has been a longstanding demand of all those including the CPI(M) who have been opposing the arbitrary takeover of land from farmers in different states. Normally when there is a struggle on a specific demand, in this case against land being taken over, if the demand is accepted it is claimed as a victory of the struggle and naturally the agitation is called off. 

In the huge farmers struggle in Ganganagar and other districts of Rajasthan where the CPI(M) plays an important role, police firing and violence under the BJP government between 2004 and 2006 has taken the lives of 17 farmers including one woman. The deafening silence against those killings of those who claim today to be the main defenders of farmer interests tells its own story. But the point to be made is that in the first phase of the agitation after the government was forced to agree to the demands concerning water sharing, the agitation was called off. Later when the BJP government reneged on its assurance the agitation resumed. It is precisely because the interests of farmers, the rural poor or the issue of saving the land is not the real agenda of the “resistance” in Nandigram that the chief minister’s statement was ignored. It is for this reason that the main parties in the committee, the Trinamool and the Congress have continuously boycotted the over 20 meetings called by the district administration to resolve the issue. The agenda is clearly only one, shared by all the disparate elements of the committee from the right to the extreme Left and including the various assorted foreign funded NGOs, namely, to reverse the massive mandate given to the CPI(M) in the last elections. It is a straight political battle, not to do with bhumi ucched (land displacement) but for CPI(M) “ucched.” 

NOT PEACEFUL, NOT DEMOCRATIC

There was nothing peaceful about the BUPC organised protest on January 3 and subsequently. That was the day a team from the central government was visiting the area as a village was going to be recognised as a “nirmal” district. Using that as a pretext the committee succeeded in whipping up a genuine fear among the local communities, created by the Haldia Development Authority notice that the team had come to finalise the takeover of their land. The fear and concern among a wide section of people in the area was used as a sanction for violence. Two gram panchayat offices were attacked and locked up. The two pradhans, Sameerun Bibi and Lakshman Mandal were driven out of the village. Houses of CPI(M) members and sympathisers were identified in an organised way and attacked. In one day, 34 homes were burnt, 41 houses were broken into and household goods smashed, 47 houses were looted. Thousands were driven out. Sobita Sumanta is one of the many displaced women who had come to meet the various authorities in Kolkata. Her husband Shankar Samanta was an elected gram panchayat member. On January 3 he had tried to reason with the leaders of the committee not to indulge in violence. He resisted attempts to drive out CPI(M) sympathisers from the villages. He paid the price for it. On January 7 he was burnt alive by an armed group of people. Kanika Mandal is also among the displaced. On January 3, her husband and two young sons were forced to flee from their home in Sonachura. She and her younger daughter Sunita, a bright student in Class 9 continued to live in the village under constant threat. On February 10, at around noon mother and daughter were working in the field. Sunita returned early to the house. When her mother came back she found her daughter killed. The medical report confirmed rape. She was warned not to follow up the case with the police. She fled the village and is now in the camp. Kakoli Giri was driven out of her village of Kalcharanpur along with her husband and children. On March 3, she went back to check on her belongings. She was surrounded by a group of men who gang raped her. Since she had not returned, her anxious son came in search of her. He found her lying unconscious and somehow brought her back to the camp. Her medical report has confirmed rape. Krishna, an activist of the AIDWA took her to meet the women’s commission. The women’s commission was prevented from following up the report. The police have been unable to follow the investigation leave alone arrest those responsible. Krishna herself received death threats for taking up the case and lives in fear. Earlier a police personnel had been lynched, and his body thrown into the river. Not a single person has been arrested for these murder and rapes. They have all taken shelter behind the “peaceful resistance.” 

The displaced women, each with a personal tragedy to narrate, are bitter when asked why they did not resist. We were unprepared, it was so unexpected, and they were fully prepared and armed. Do you think they drove us out with flowers, they ask, the men were armed with guns and axes. They say that all political activity in the area in opposition to the BUPC is banned literally with arms. On January 29 the CPI(M) and Kisan Sabha had organised a big rally in an area neighbouring Nandigram. The people in the two worst affected panchayats were warned not to attend the rally. But some still did. On the following day, 14 more families were driven out of their village for defying the dictat. There are approximately 7000 women who are members of the AIDWA in the affected area. Today almost one third of them, have been forced to leave their homes. The rest who are in the villages live in fear and terror sending out messages from time to time about their plight. Among those forcibly driven out are 13 panchayat members including women. What about their democratic and human rights? 

BUPC Dictats

After the successful forced displacement of thousands of CPI(M) families, the area was barricaded. Over 116 culverts, bridges and roads were broken and dug up. Four panchayat offices have been attacked. Government officials including teachers and employees have not been allowed to enter. Any other government would have immediately sent in its forces to ensure an end to this lawlessness. The West Bengal government refrained from doing so precisely because it believed that it was essential to start a political process. But this approach was rejected by the opposition. Since there are no elected members in some of the areas, no government officials accountable, there is a kind of dictatorship of the leaders of the BUPC who operate according to their will. Money is being reportedly collected from every household in the name of protection, every house has to send one person to “guard” the village and if they do not do so they have to pay a fine. There were 17 reported criminal offences in the area in this period with no action taken.

Evidence available and reported on some of the Bengali TV channels shows the meticulous planning of the BUPC preceding the incidents of March 14. Recorded conversations of organisers owing allegiance to the TMC clearly indicate the amount of money spent on procuring arms, bombs etc. The date of the administration’s plan to start rebuilding the roads and culverts and the police and administrative move to reestablish the government’s presence in the area was known to the organisers. The main concern expressed in the taped conversations is how to prevent the seizure of weapons by the police. Names of two TMC leaders are also mentioned. The taped conversations reveal that the planning included holding a puja in one area, and mobilising of women and children in school uniform to act as a shield for the armed men who attacked the police. There is also video footage available of the men lurking behind the women with guns. The utter cynicism and criminal callousness of those who deliberately used women and children as a shield while wielding arms is unprecedented. Of those killed, two died due to bomb injuries, one due to injury from a sharp weapon, and a few more due to gunshot injuries which were not police bullets. Who was throwing these bombs and wielding arms? There is a totally false campaign that the CPI(M) men went into the area along with the police. This is being linked to the arrests of ten men reportedly CPI(M) men, who were found in a brick kiln by the CBI team with arms and ammunition. No doubt the investigations will reveal their role and the reason for their presence in Tekhali. This incidentally is the area where a CPI(M) camp for displaced people is set up and which had been brutally attacked on January 5, leading to the deaths of several people. It was once again attacked on March 21 and the camp itself was sought to be burnt down but fortunately there were no casualties because many of the inmates were in Kolkata that day. But to link this up with a so-called joint operation of the police and the CPI(M) in Nandigram on March 14, is a deliberate canard to shield the role of the armed groups in the barricaded area.

No, there is little that is democratic or peaceful about the “resistance.” 

Political Gang-up 

There is a gang-up of political parties ranging from the BJP, the TMC, the Congress, the SUCI and the various naxal outfits. On March 17, the Maoists issued a statement calling for a Bangla bandh on March 20. The secretary of the CPI-Maoist, Soumen also wrote a letter to Mamta Banerjee published by some Bengali newspapers extending full support to her and assuring the backing of the Maoists for “the resistance struggle.” The letter states “We were there in Singur, we are there in Nandigram and we will stay. We will not leave the place.” Such statements should not be dismissed as rhetoric. The geographical location of this belt is crucial for the spread of the Maoists “liberated” belt stretching from areas of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa. Bengal is the big block and barrier in the Maoist thrust to the east. Already there are reports that the sea route through the Bay of Bengal is being used by the Maoists to come into Nandigram. Undoubtedly there are huge arms stockpiles in the area. Neither the CBI team or the local police has been able to go to any of these areas. In fact the police withdrawal from the area after the March 14 has further facilitated the entry of the Maoists.

Surprisingly, the High Court which made an unprecedented intervention ordering a CBI inquiry without so much as hearing the state government has not yet taken note of these developments. The plan of digging up roads and areas and preventing the entry of officials in different parts of Bengal has now been adopted as a strategy by the TMC. In a thinly attended meeting in Deganga on March 25, Mamta Banerjee has given a call to “create areas free from the CPI(M) and the government.” The implications of this are ominous. In the last few days Bengal has witnessed incidents when miscreants armed with bombs and pipeguns have attacked CPI(M) Party offices. Rumours to mislead the peasantry about land acquisition are deliberately spread. The Party has adopted a policy of utter restraint. The challenge will be met with a widespread political campaign approaching all sections of the people with the facts. 

But what however to be noted is the close coordination between the TMC and the group of NGOs functioning under different platforms, but united in the BUPC. In fact the NGOs and some nationally known figures and commentators have provided a cover of so-called impartiality to the reactionary political forces operating. In fact it is they who have more or less taken over the public face of the anti-CPI(M) campaign. 

Concerted Campaign of Misinformation

One part of the campaign is a number of highly exaggerated and sometimes self-contradictory reports from various sources about the incidents of March 14 and subsequent events. Wild allegations have been leveled at the Party from the killing of children, mass rape of women to massacre and burying of dead bodies. Three such investigation reports have been circulating on the net. The first of these is by a team of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights which claims to have been ‘deputed by the High Court.’ A perusal of the High Court order makes it clear that there is no such team deputed by the High Court. However the APDR are the petitioners in the High Court case. The second report is that of Medha Patkar and company called the All India fact-finding team report. The third is the CPI-ML team report that was led by its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. On the night of March 14 itself , wild rumours were circulating through SMS and e-mail by NGOs in different states about the violence against children. There is no doubt that the children of Nandigram’s affected areas have been severely traumatised by the violence since January 3 and the complete disruption of their routine. Everything must be done to help the children. But look at the “impartial” reports: The APDR report says ‘ Children were murdered indiscriminately, bodies have been thrown into the nearby Chuniburi river.’ The next sentence reads ‘Eight children of primary schools have been killed by the murderers and then all those children were buried in a particular place in the Bhangabhera area.’ The Patkar report says ” 35 children are missing… children from other villages are also missing. The parents apprehend that they are killed and their bodies abducted. Uniforms of two school children were found in nearby bushes. Incidents of children being killed and torn apart by pulling aside their two legs were also reported.” The ML report says: Women have recounted their children being torn apart…” Yet not a single report of a single missing child has been filed with the police. Why did not these leaders help the mothers register cases with the police? Even an ordinary citizen leave alone such internationally recognised eminent individuals would have considered it their bounden duty to file complaints of “children being torn apart.’ But they did not. Clearly such reports are concocted with the one aim to spread rumours and inflame passions. The situation of women is also highly coloured. The first reports of rape were revealed to the BJP team. The team said that after detailed interviews with women hospitalised, two women said that they were raped by unknown policemen. This was on March 17. The same day the “two women” becomes “women raped and molested” implying a large number of women were affected in the Patkar report but no fresh FIRs were filed. The ML report takes it further “there were gang rapes and brutal assaults of a sexual nature…” But did they meet any of the women? Their report reads “the women we spoke to spoke of six other rape victims who were not examined due to pressure from above.” A report from an NGO calling itself the Medical Service Centre (MSC) which has been the source of information for the media on the charge of “mass rapes” claimed that four of the women in the hospital said they themselves were rape victims. There are further charges made that on the night of March 14, after the firing, there was ” mass rape of the women.” The Patkar report says ” the police and cadres dragged people out and raped and molested the women inside..” The ML report links the rapes with the arrests of the alleged CPI(M) men from Tekhali. It reports the arrests thus ” The CBI sleuths who raided the brick kiln came across.. women’s underclothes.’

This utterly false reporting is reminiscent of the highly motivated campaign several decades ago when the Left front was in its infancy and under severe attack, an incident of a badly managed function in Rabindra Sarobar on April 6, 1969 became the focus of a vicious campaign that under the Left Front, goondas had a field day. A newspaper report of the time is illustrative that described “torn pieces of sarees and a good number of underclothes were found scattered all over the place.” A huge campaign started against the Left and the CPI(M) in particular. Fact finding committees were setup to defend “human rights and a League to be formed for defence as during the nazi regime.” 175 MPs from different parties issued a statement which spoke about “mass scale molestation of women, women being stripped, jumping into the lake to save their honour, several dead bodies of women have been recovered from the lake water..” and so on. The enquiry that was set up established conclusively that this was a huge fabrication. Yet another unfortunate case was that of Champala Sardar. Champala was used to concoct a totally fabricated case of rape against CPI(M) men by the TMC at the time of the 1993 panchayat elections. The CPI(M) men named by Champala were arrested. She was cruelly paraded at meeting after meeting by Mamata Banerjee as a symbol of CPI(M) criminality. The opposition campaign focussed on the issue. Later it was found that the case was fabricated and all the men were acquitted. Champala herself was abandoned soon after the elections were over. 

The plight of women in Nandigram causes deep concern to all those who have worked with women victims of violence. Police action may have involved cases of brutality which may not exclude those of a sexual nature. As has been stated earlier a proper investigation into the complaints is essential and action required against those guilty. But to exaggerate and concoct reports for narrow political ends is insulting to the dignity of the women. It also undermines the hard struggle by women’s organisations to give extra weightage to the statements of the women victims where medical evidence is not available. But if women are used as tools in a politically motivated campaign as in Nandigram by the BUPC it undermines the very credibility of the demand.

Political Context

The immediate aim of the TMC led campaign has been openly stated to be the next round of panchayat elections scheduled for May 2008. The Congress party in the state has even demanded president’s rule. A union minister from the state has made the most intemperate statements against the chief minister. The aim is to continuously provoke incidents in the name of saving the interests of farmers. The CPI(M) will have to face a combined onslaught of all these political forces in the state working in tandem with the ultra Left and being provided a cover by some self-serving NGOs. 

But the implications of the current campaign against the Party are not limited to Bengal alone. In the present national political situation the CPI(M) has been playing a crucial role in defence of the interests of the working classes and the rural poor putting forward a set of alternative policies. This stand has received wide recognition and caused much consternation to the neo-liberalisers. The BJP also knows that the CPI(M) is a big hindrance in what it considers its comeback trail which is why even though it does not have a single MLA in Bengal, it has focused its national campaign against the CPI(M). The cadre of the Party who are being villified today are those who have selflessly fought to defend secularism and the unity of the people and defended the interests of the working people. The effort is to demoralise the Party and villify it, to isolate it and thus weaken the only credible opposition to the exploitative policies of the ruling classes. It is also not a coincidence that US officials in India held an unprecedented meeting with a leader involved in the mobilisations of the minority community in Nandigram. The categorical position the CPI(M) has taken against the strategic partnership with the US being pushed by the Indian ruling classes and a section of the establishment, is reason enough for these interests to lend their support to the anti-CPI(M) platforms.

Some well intentioned commentators have called on the CPI(M) to introspect on the different issues that have arisen. That is a process which is an intrinsic part of the Party’s functioning at all levels. Appropriate lessons are drawn from the collective experience of critically analysing the Party’s work and policies with a view to addressing and removing weaknesses, lapses and gaps whenever and wherever they exist. The most widespread campaign is required throughout the country to explain not only to our friends but also to our critics and to the people in general the context of the Nandigram developments and to launch a strong united campaign to counter the highly motivated campaign against the CPI(M) and the government it heads in West Bengal.

Posted in Displacement, Land question, Opinion pieces, SEZs, West Bengal | 2 Comments »

Asking the state to grab land has to stop

Posted by Ramoo on March 30, 2007

http://mbalamurugan.blogspot.com/2007/03/asking-st…

For fifty years, ever since he won his first election to Parliament, the same jibe has been hurled at Atal Bihari Vajpayee: ‘A good man in a bad party!’ From time to time, this would be accompanied by mock-sympathetic invitations to join Party X or Party Y or Party Z.
The former prime minister is a tolerant man. Someone less forgiving would be tempted to turn the tables on his tormentors today, and muse aloud that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee too is a ‘good man in a bad party’, and invite the beleaguered chief minister of West Bengal to leave his carping comrades for more congenial company!
I refer, of course, to Nandigram. The CPI-M is currently tying itself up in knots over the issue, its carefully cultivated image as the ‘people’s champion’ torn to shreds by the sight of all hell breaking loose in the green fields of Nandigram.
Even its allies in the Left Front are enjoying the discomfiture of the Marxist Big Brother, while the Congress has been dropping broad hints that any tie-up with the CPI-M is limited to Delhi, and definitely does not extend to West Bengal and Kerala.
The non-CPI-M parties are having so much fun abusing the CPI-M that they probably did not hear a couple of interesting statements, two by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and one by the party boss in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Both men, however, are senior politicians and we must at least pay them the courtesy of hearing them out.
Here, first, is what the chief minister of West Bengal had to say about the genesis of the problem in Nandigram. It was, he said bluntly, the handiwork of Muslim fundamentalists.
You must also know that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said this not once, but twice. Even more interestingly, on each occasion it was to American listeners. I understand that the first statement came at a meeting with an Indo-American business council. The second, more intriguingly, was to a high official, with links to the US intelligence establishment, who had called on the chief minister.
Can you imagine the furore had a BJP chief minister said anything of the kind? (Actually, can you imagine the howls of outrage had a BJP functionary at any level met an American official?) Yet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s remarks won little or no attention in a media titillated by Bob Woolmer’s murder.
Please note that the chief minister of West Bengal is one of the few ‘secular’ functionaries with any credibility on the issue of Muslim fundamentalism in India. He had previously spoken of the dangers of unchecked illegal immigration from Bangladesh, not once but repeatedly so.
Let us now turn to Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan’s bastion. According to the party boss, the West Bengal firing in Nandigram was in ‘self-defence.’ Please ponder a little over the implications of that statement. Pinarayi Vijayan is one of the 16 current members of the CPI-M Politburo, a man who has himself been a minister in Kerala. And he is saying that the agitators in Nandigram were equipped with modern arms, not just the crude spears and scythes they waved before the television cameras.
For more than half a century, Communists of all stripes have had two whipping-boys, namely ‘Western imperialism’ and ‘Hindu fundamentalism’. But today two senior CPI-M functionaries are blaming neither; they are laying all the blame at the doors of well-armed Muslim fundamentalists, probably instigated from abroad. If they are correct then the tragedy of Nandigram has only begun to unfold.
I have given you one side of the story. In the interests of fairness, here is an attempt at presenting the other side.
Let us grant that there is a heavy Muslim presence in Nandigram, where, I was told, roughly 40 per cent of the population is Muslim. But opposition to the CPI-M cut across the Hindu-Muslim divide, and the 60 per cent of the population that is Hindu appeared to be as vehemently anti-CPI-M as anyone else.
If reports are true, CPI-M workers in the area actually thought it necessary to band together in a safe camp!
Second, there is the peculiar incident that happened when Mamata Bannerjee tried to reach Nandigram. The CPI-M immediately accused her of fishing in troubled waters, and CPI-M workers prevented her entourage from getting to Nandigram. I repeat: It was not the police but the CPI-M proper that stopped her.
In other words, Nandigram was an area under siege by the Marxist cadre — which casts a smidgen of doubt on Pinarayi Vijayan’s portrait of his West Bengal comrades coming under fire.
There is one final point that I would like to make, namely that we should not ignore the economics while debating the politics. Special Economic Zones are here to stay. Lay aside Nandigram, or even West Bengal as a whole. The fact is that several chief ministers have recently written to Delhi, demanding that the Union government give the green signal to their own Special Economic Zones. That includes states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, both of which have chief ministers belonging to the United Progressive Alliance.
The brutal fact is that agriculture has reached its limit as far as employment generation is concerned; the industrial and services sectors need to grow if future generations of India must get jobs, and if Special Economic Zones can give the process a boost, so be it.
But if Special Economic Zones are here to stay, why should the State get involved in acquiring land? Let the barons of industry negotiate directly with the owners of the land. If the current proprietors do not wish to sell, let industrialists persuade them to lease it. Or perhaps they could offer a combination of rent plus dividends, something that would make the peasants feel as if they have some stake in industrial enterprises coming up in their area.
The private sector often boasts of its capacity for innovation. Well, here is the opportunity to be proven correct. Persuade the peasant proprietors to part with property if you can manage it. But this business of asking the State to grab the land has got to stop!

Posted in Displacement, Farmers Suicides, Land question, SEZs | 1 Comment »

Government waging war against farmers

Posted by Ramoo on March 30, 2007

News

New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) The Indian government has declared a kind of war against the poor and marginal farmers who are also up in arms against its regressive policies, environmental scientist Vandana Shiva said Friday.

“The government has declared a war against India’s small farmers. And war against farmers means war against 65 percent of the population,” Shiva told a press conference here.

Referring to the recent killings in Nandigram in West Bengal and large-scale farmer suicides in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, she said: “Our government is encouraging the throw-away policies of the West and pushing them through violence.”

According to her, policies driven by corporate globalisation are pushing farmers off the land and peasants out of agriculture, which is against the natural evolutionary process.

She said: “The government, by encouraging big business houses like Reliance, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Cargill is trying to corporatise agriculture.”

“When the world is moving beyond the Wal-Mart model and the Americans are thinking of re-ruralisation, we are being asked to dismantle our mandis (wholesale markets), our haats (rural markets), increase food miles and aggravate climate chaos.”

“A small bio-diverse farm has higher productivity than large industrial farms which contribute to climate change,” Shiva added referring to a recent address by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to an industry body that small landholdings limit the chances to improve agricultural productivity.

On the issue of using genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilisers, she said: “The soil looses fertility through chemical fertilisers.”

As a solution to the problem, Shiva is planning to create a re-agricultural strategy in Nandigram and Vidharbha and formulate a food security system.

Cautioning the government about the upcoming general elections in 2009, she said: “If the anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies continue to be pushed by the prime minister the entire government will have to pay a heavy price.”

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Land question, SEZs | Leave a Comment »

Keeping Indians poor: Grand government design

Posted by Ramoo on March 30, 2007

M R Venkatesh | March 27, 2007 |

A bit of digression at the outset is crucial to understand the depth of food depravation, associated poverty and the resultant food insecurity prevailing in India.

For the ordinary Indian it must be shocking to know that food security in India is a falsehood propagated repeatedly by the government since the mid-eighties.

To understand the enormity of the falsehood, let me put things in perspective. The net per capita food availability in India in 1971 was 394 gm per day. This was just after the onset of Green Revolution in India. Exactly 30 years later, in 2001, the net per capita of foodgrain availability was 396 gm per day: a princely rise of 2 gm! In effect, for over 30 years our farm growth has barely kept pace with our population growth. This sets up the debate.

A comparison with other countries is central to understanding the extent of food shortage prevailing in India. Advanced countries, on a per capita basis, consume anywhere between 500 gm to 600 gm per day. Such healthy consumption in these countries is supplementary to the substantial quantity of meat, fruits, vegetables and milk.

On this score, our consumption on a per capita level is far below the world average and significantly below the average of the developed countries. It would seem that, we as a nation, seem to have declared food self-sufficiency on virtually empty stomachs.

A reference to China is unavoidable here. China, a country with approximately 1.2 times our population, produces approximately 450 MT of foodgrain every year — more than double that of India. Does this comparison with other countries not blow the myth of self-sufficiency in India?

What is appalling is the fact that even after the British took over the reins of India, they constituted a commission to look into the quantity of food required in India, should India were to be hit by a famine. For this purpose, the per capita food consumption was held to be 500 gm per day by the said commission. It has to be noted that the British fixed this norm for consumption of Indians during a famine. It would seem that our colonial oppressors had a more charitable view than our own democratically elected government!

A callous approach to agriculture

Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India in the past few years. Yet governments, both in the States and at the Centre, have been shying away from dealing with the issue appropriately. While there has been occasional media outcry, the ‘packages’ announced by the government have hardly made an impact. And if these packages do take effect, experience shows that this would at best be insignificant.

The issue is not merely of agriculture, food security and farmers: it is something much more. Agriculture is far too central to the Indian economy than can be imagined by many of us. It is our route to food security, economic well-being, poverty alleviation and, crucially, national security.

But like all other things in India, the seriousness of the issue is inversely proportional to the attention it gets.

Structural issues remain un-addressed

At the root of the current crisis in the farm sector is the fact that decades of neglect has de-legitimised the farm sector. There are a number of structural issues that remain un-addressed within the farm sector today. These include:

Farm Credit: Lack of an appropriate lending mechanism, which means farmers are forced to obtain credit at exorbitant rates from the informal sector. Though credit expansion by the formal sector has taken place in the recent past, it is inadequate.

Soaring costs of inputs: Apart from interest costs, other input costs (viz. seeds, power, etc) — barring fertiliser — have shown significant increase in the past few years. This rise in input costs has been disproportionately higher than the rise in the selling price of farm produce. Naturally farmers are reeling under huge debt, a sure sign of a losing economy.

Lack of water: Water is crucial to farm activity. Successive years of drought in many parts of India have reduced agriculture in India to a gamble on the monsoon. With a mere 40 per cent of farmland irrigated, Indian farmers have been at the mercy of the weather gods. Under the liberalisation programme, the fundamental assumption is that virtually every government activity can be privatized: however, it needs to be understood that irrigation and capital formation within the farm sector cannot be privatised so easily in India. It has to remain a government function, essentially.

Farmers are entrepreneurs. They take risks. Their risk gets compounded due to the vagaries of monsoon. They do not look to the State as a benefactor. Rather they would prefer the government to be a genuine facilitator in lowering these risks.

Today a farmer gets a fraction of the final retail price while a substantial portion of the prices that we pay for our food goes to the retailers, wholesalers, middlemen and others. These are structural issues that can be addressed only by the government.

And due to these distortions within the system we are witness to a strange paradox: rise in prices of farm products strangely resulting in farmers committing suicide.

However, due to fiscal orthodoxy and indifference to the farm sector, the government has been reluctant to deal with this issue of capital formation in the farm sector. And in areas where the government has done so, it has been far from satisfactory.

A leading daily in Chennai had recently exposed as to how despite the government spending in excess of Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 350 billion) in the past decade or so under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), there has not even been a marginal increase in the gross farm land under irrigation in the country, which virtually stands at 40% of the total farm land.

The Indian economy has yet to mature to expect that the private sector would step in to the space created due to the government’s exit. If the government cannot handle this crucial issue — of rural infrastructure — why do we have governments?

The government spends about Rs 26,000 crore (Rs 260 billion) every year on food subsidy, through the public distribution system (PDS), for those living below the poverty line. It is estimated that for every Re 1 of subsidy to reach the ultimate beneficiary, the government has to spend approximately Rs 7 on the administrative mechanism. In fact, of the 300 million poor estimated to be below the poverty line in the country, only 25 per cent are estimated to have access to PDS.

The rest are left to fend for themselves. In effect, the government’s programme — in intent and in execution — leaves a lot to be desired.

Yet, is it a failure of the delivery system, or is there something more to it than meets the eye?

Keeping farmers poor, a grand design

Speaking on the issue of farmers and the general lack of food security prevailing in the country, I suggested to a retired bureaucrat (who held very high positions in the Government of India) that India must double its food production from its existing 200 MT. This, I argued, would boost the income of the farmers as well as provide access to food at far cheaper rates to those living below the poverty line.

The bureaucrat was appalled. Clearly stating that India required nothing more than 200-220 MT of foodgrain, he dismissed my line of reasoning.

Crucially, through a paradigm of shortages, the government and its officers have increased their relevance, power and authority. In contrast, farmers have been reduced to play the role of applicants and would forever remain in the clutches of the State and its draconian agencies.

The net result of our ‘planned’ neglect of the farm sector has meant that today approximately 50 per cent of our population is malnourished. Some international agencies report that certain pockets in India suffer from acute malnutrition more than some African regions.

Robust growth in the farm sector acts as a trigger for overall economic growth. Economists have been repeatedly pointing out that a one per cent growth in the farm sector acts as a significant multiplier in industry and the services sectors, leading to increases in aggregate demand within the Indian economy.

Despite a decade and half after the initiation of reforms, the government has yet to come out of its socialist mindset vis-�-vis the farm sector. This is not without purpose and falls within the government’s grand design of keeping farmers — and India — poor.

The failure of the farmers comes with an attendant and natural bonus — it can ensure that a substantial portion of our population is underfed, under-clothed and mired in acute poverty. And that directly increases the importance of the government, the politicians and the bureaucrats.

If farmers were to succeed, it would mean the failure of our politicians and the brand of politics practiced in this country since 1947 by the Left and the Right.

And that explains why the government is keen on a failed farm sector: the idea is to merely keep it on a life support system, allow it neither to die nor to bloom. And that ensures that India remains poor, while its politicians are rich.

Posted in Land question, Second Green Revolution, SEZs | 3 Comments »

Farmers wont buy Relience SEZ deal

Posted by Ramoo on March 14, 2007

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/PoliticsN…

GIRISH KUBER

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14, 2007 02:37:37 AM]

PEN: The Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance group’s relief and rehabilitation package for those affected by the Maha Mumbai SEZ near Mumbai doesn’t seem to have evoked much response. According to government sources, land transactions have not shown any significant pick-up since the announcement of the package. The company also admits that it has acquired just around 200 acres.
Compare this with the total land requirement of 35,000 acres (13,000 hectares), of which 10,000 acres would come as part of the Cidco-promoted Navi Mumbai SEZ. The rest, 25,000 acres, are being acquired for the Maha Mumbai SEZ. To speed up land procurement, the company had announced a relief and rehabilitation package on February 19. The package offers three options. First, the company will allocate 12.5% of the original land holding as developed land to the legal landholder. The second option is a one-time payment of Rs 10 lakh per acre of land. The third option is a payment of Rs 5,000 a month for the lifetime. The package also offers employment to a member of the family, to be nominated by the landowner.
As late as Monday the Reliance arm, Mumbai Integrated SEZ, claimed that farmers have welcomed the package and are queuing up to offer their land. However, after visiting a dozen villages (of the 45 villages identified for the twin SEZs)), ET learnt that the ground reality was quite different. “We will not surrender even an inch of our land,” said Suvarna Sakharam Patil, Sarpanch of Sarade village.
She is upset over two reasons. One, the company was eyeing her prime farm land. Second, the price Reliance paying is a pittance. When pointed out that RIL is offering as much as Rs 10 lakh per acre, she shot back: “What’s the big deal? Cidco was offering Rs 5 crore for the same piece of land. RIL offer is nothing compared to that.” Septuagenarian Balkrishna Tukaram Mhatre of Koroli village, raised another point. “Why should we give our land so that someone can trade it? RIL will resell our land at a premium. We will not let this happen,” he said.
He ridiculed the company’s employment offer. “They are promising job to only one in the family. As of now, my whole family, including all the sons, their wives and kids, are making a living out of the land. We earn enough to feed all. What will happen to the family if only one is assured a job, that too with a salary of Rs 5,000 a month,” he asked.
Mr Mhatre also came down heavily on Maharashtra government’s, what he calls, “dubious role” in the whole affair. “Why should the state have a soft corner for one company? The Maharashtra government should walk out of this. We will deal directly with the company.”
Tukaram Gharat from Dhakati Jui village also wants the government to keep out of the affair. “The government says our land is non-cultivable. If that is the case the region should have faced a serious agrarian crisis like Vidarbha where thousands of farmers have committed suicides. Where is the crisis in our region? On the contrary, we are sitting on one of the most fertile stretches of land in the state. We will not let this land slip out of our hand,” he said.
When contacted, state government officials refused to go on record on the tricky issue. However, an official from the state revenue department said on conditions of anonymity that no significant land transaction has been recorded by the department after the announcement of the relief and rehabilitation package. The revenue department is the central depository of all land records in the state.
The RIL spokesperson, however, disagreed. “The response to our package has been encouraging,” he said. According to him, the company has acquired nearly 200 acres of land since February 19, the day it announced the package. “The March 11 Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections somewhat slowed down the process. We expect things to speed up after March 15,” he said.

Posted in Displacement, Land question, Maharashtra, SEZs | 2 Comments »