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Stimulus for agriculture;A bailout for farming?

Posted by Ramoo on December 26, 2008

By Devinder Sharma

The serial death dance in the countryside continues, with an estimated 1,82,936 farmers commiting suicide since 1997.

Buried under the whole array of angry reactions following the Mumbai terror is yet another and perhaps more violent disaster. A startling piece of news that should have shaken up the country’s screaming elite has not even been perceived by the electronic media as worthy of being dubbed as breaking news. That 16,632 farmers had committed suicide in 2007, with Maharashtra topping the list, has simply been ignored.
The reason is obvious. They did not belong to the Taj-is-my-second-home class.
While the serial death dance in the countryside continues unabated, with an estimated 1,82,936 farmers as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) taking the fatal route since 1997 to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness, the government is on a bailout spree. Since September, the government has provided a fiscal stimulus of US $ 100 billion by way of liquidity and other budgetary provisions. Another stimulus package is awaited.

The stimulus package has so far gone to sectors that erred. The proposed interest sops to housing loans of Rs 20 lakh is one such economic misadventure. By forcing banks to reduce interest rates on housing so as to create more demand is completely unwarranted. Why should the government even consider a bailout for people who can afford to pay an EMI of Rs 25,000 a month? Why should the government bail out the real estate sector which has fleeced the society? In the past four years, the prices of flats have risen by an estimated 450 per cent.

Indian banks needed liquidity inflow to jumpstart the economy. That is what we were made to believe. The Reserve Bank of India moved in swiftly. Through a series of measures, including a cut in repo rate, opening a special lending facility for the banks, and cutting cash reserve ratio, RBI has pumped Rs 3,00,000 crore into the banking system since mid-September. And look, what happened. The banks are putting the money back with RBI as safe deposits. Between December 1-8, (in just eight days), banks have deposited Rs 327,000 crore back with RBI at a nominal interest of six per cent, which was further lowered to five per cent.

The fiscal stimulus is expected to control the economic slump to some extent. In effect, the guiding principle appears to appease different lobby groups keeping an eye on the forthcoming elections. Exporters, for instance, have twice received a stimulus package. First when the rupee/dollar exchange rate had slumped to 37 per dollar, the textile and garment exporters had pitched for higher support. The government had moved in swiftly pumping in over Rs 1400 crore. Now when the exchange rate is closer to 50, the industry has again managed a second dose.
Not to be left behind, Indian cotton ginners and exporters are also demanding a bailout. They want the government to bridge the difference between a higher minimum support price for cotton, and the world prices. Citing a 95 per cent drop in exports, the industry is demanding a rescue package. Wonder when the MSP was low and the international prices were higher, and why the industry never asked the government to compensate the cotton farmers.
Amidst all the gloom, the only sector that has emerged unscathed to a large extent is agriculture. Whether India was shining or sinking, agriculture truly remained the mainstay of the economy. Complete apathy and neglect of the farm sector drove farmers to commit suicide, and also to quit farming. Facilitating the demise of agriculture are the government policies that are now forcibly enforcing land acquisition, and bringing in polices for corporate takeover.
With 60 per cent of India’s population are directly engaged in agriculture, and another 200 million landless workers indirectly bank on farming, the real stimulus to economy can come only if the focus shifts to agriculture. When I say agriculture, I don’t mean a bailout package for the tractor industry or the food processing industry. This would be counter-productive. Nor would it be cost effective.
What is urgently needed is a radical shift by stimulating the farm sector. This is a sure recipe for revitalising the economy. First, the package should be for regenerating agriculture, providing sops for organic farming systems that can restore soil health. The Rs 1.20 lakh crore fertiliser subsidy should be given directly to farmers so that they can make an informed choice of shifting to natural farming systems. And finally, the package should focus on farmers’ welfare. A fixed monthly income based on the principle of direct income support is what the beleaguered farming community needs.
In addition, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), which guarantees a minimum 100 days employment every year to rural workers and promises a minimum wage of Rs 60 per day, should have the upper cap of 100 days immediately removed. Rural workers need to be given employment for 365 days, like all of us in the organised sector. This in turn will generate demand that is expected to kick-start the economy. At the same time, there is an urgent need to link NREGA with agriculture. This is the recipe for all around growth. And not only limited to those who consider the Mumbai Taj to be the national icon.

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Hunger in Indian States “alarming”

Posted by Ramoo on October 15, 2008

BBC online: Oct. 14, 2008..

Hunger in India states ‘alarming’

India has some of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world

Twelve Indian states have “alarming” levels of hunger while the
situation is “extremely alarming” in the state of Madhya Pradesh, says
a new report.

Madhya Pradesh’s nutrition problems, it says, are comparable to the
African countries of Ethiopia and Chad.

India has more people suffering hunger – a figure above 200 million –
than any other country in the world, it says.

The report, released as part of the 2008 Global Hunger Index, ranks
India at 66 out 88 countries.

‘Scored worse’

The hunger index has been released by the International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) along with Welthungerhlife and the
University of California.

It measures hunger on three indicators which include child
malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the number of people who
are calorie deficient.

Table of full results

The problem of hunger is measured in five categories – low, moderate,
serious, alarming or extremely alarming.

The survey says that not one of the 17 states in India that were
studied were in the low or moderate hunger category.

“Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than
nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except
Bangladesh,” the report says.

The best performing state was Punjab, which has a ‘serious’ hunger
problem and does less well than developing countries such as Gabon,
Vietnam and Honduras.

About 60% children in Madhya Pradesh state are malnourished

“When Indian states are compared to countries in the Global Hunger
Index, [the central Indian state of] Madhya Pradesh ranks between
Ethiopia and Chad,” it says.

India is long known to have some of the highest rates of child
malnutrition and mortality in under-fives in the world.

According to the Indian government statistics two years ago, around
60% of more than 10 million children in the state were malnourished.

Nutrition experts say the abysmal record is due to an inadequate
access to food, poor feeding practices and poor childcare practices in

And now the rise in the global food prices has reduced the food-buying
capacity of many poor families, making their situation worse.

In the past year food prices have increased significantly, but
people’s incomes haven’t kept pace, forcing many families further into
hunger, experts say.

The report says “improving child nutrition is of utmost urgency in
most Indian states”.

“All states also need to improve strategies to facilitate inclusive
economic growth, ensure food sufficiency and reduce child mortality,”
it adds.

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"King" Bt cotton stumbles

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007…

On March 9th India celebrated the fact that, according to the latest figures released by Forbes magazine, more billionaires call it home than any other Asian nation, a honor held by Japan for the last two decades.

Being Indian that made me happy, but only so much. March also saw a spate of farmer suicides across the country, something that has been going on for a while in the nation’s rural villages, some worse affected than the others. In India, unfortunately, one becomes immune to the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor, but this contrast was a little too stark for me. The rich had just got richer and more numerous while desperate debt-ridden farmers were killing themselves by drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.

The official figure for the number of suicides in the past five years is about eleven thousand, and alarming as that is, the real figure, it seems, is much higher, closer to twenty thousand. Last July the Prime Minister toured the worst hit regions and announced a relief package of 37.5 billion rupees ($833 million). Out of this, about 22 billion rupees was to be spent on existing irrigation projects, but nine months later that has yet to happen. So the money meant for the farmers has yet to reach them and they continue to kill themselves in droves

The worst affected are the cotton growers, and the reasons for this are many – crop failure, lower price for their product, low import duty, drought, and lack of irrigation facilities – to name a few. But the main culprit, claim farm activist Kishore Tiwari, and others is a crop known as “Bt cotton.” The state government promoted this genetically modified and pricier (nearly double than the ordinary ones) cotton plant claiming that it would yield better results since it was resistant to pests (the “Bt” in the name refers to this attribute). The idea was that planting Bt cotton would reduce the need for harmful chemical pesticides. But that’s not what happened. Cotton crops were affected by disease every year. This sad state of affairs was pointed out back in 2002, but nothing was done. Hearing the promises of a higher return for their crop, many farmers had taken loans from private moneylenders at steep rates to buy seed and were devastated when the crop failed. But Monsanto, that international agriculture conglomerate that manufactured Bt cotton doubled it’s sales.

What happened next was typical: Panels of experts were set up, fingers pointed and causes explored. But all this was of little relief to the farmers who continue to live in wretched poverty even today, caught between the government, private Shylock-like money lenders, crop failure and drought. In one cotton growing state in Western India, Maharashtra; there was a suicide every six hours. As crops have continued to fail, year after year, farmers have no option but to borrow more money and fall deeper into the debt trap, a vicious circle that many are unable to break out of. In many cases, after they’re gone, their widows and children have no money even for their funerals – and they often inherit the debt.

It’s a desperate situation and no one seems to care. It grabs a headline every once in a while, politicians clash over it, committees are sent to the villages, but in the end, even if relief is allocated, it fails to reach the farmers, or to their widows who are left penniless and with no breadwinner for the family. Critics say that the government has not done enough, and more importantly, that it has contributed to the agrarian crisis by promoting a transgenic crop like Bt cotton, which has proved disastrous for the areas where it was grown.

At the crux of it, it’s the age-old scenario: A multinational company lobbies the government to switch to their technology, in the apparent interest of the masses. But in this case the government, for the vested interests of some, does not do it’s homework, it blindly implements a scheme; crops fail; farmers die; non-government agency advocates howl but – at the end – nothing happens.

The Indian government now reluctantly admits that the Bt cotton crop has failed. And some farmers, those who’ve survived, are giving up on cotton. But there are a variety of serious factors that still need to be looked into – higher prices for the produce and drought being two important ones. The ministry of agriculture on it’s website declares that: “Drought is a condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals and man over a sizable area.” It then goes on to add that drought is a management issue and can be avoided, it just fails to mention how this is all to be done. Needless to say, it does not even address the farmers’ issue.

How long this agrarian crisis will continue, is hard to say. The road looks long and hard for many Indian farmers. Even as I write this I wonder how many are contemplating suicide, driven to desperation, neck-deep in dept and abandoned by corrupt government officials. This, I say in sadness, is India too.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:07 PM | Print this article

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India wants removal of non-tariff barrier in agriculture

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007



GENEVA: India has joined the chorus in criticising the EU’s non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and SPS issues, and market access in agriculture at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the EC.
According to the WTO Secretariat report the EC’s agriculture policies were a matter of concern with its protection by a complex tariff structure, high tariffs, tariff quotas of which some were not filled, and high levels of domestic support and export subsidies.
In its intervention India informed the WTO of its steady, significant intensification of strategic partners dialogue and of a proposed agreement on trade and investment between India and the EU. The negotiations of which could commence shortly and “open vast opportunities for businesses on both sides.”
The EC is one of the largest sources of FDI from India. It is not only India’s largest trading partner, it accounts for almost a quarter of India’s exports and imports. In 2005 India-Europe trade was around 40 billion euros, EU’s exports to India grew by 23.8%, and EU imports from India by 16.2% as compared to 2004.
India stated that it has submitted written questions to the EC for clarification on some of its trade policies, however mentioned that Indian agriculture exporters continue to suffer on account of NTBs and SPS issues.
It pointed out that in market access several instances had been brought to the Indian government’s notice by Indian exporters of meat and meat products, marine products, milk products, egg products, Basmati, mushrooms, refrigerators, lack of intra EU harmonisation of standards, which impede exports from India to the EC.
India stated that it seeks dismantling of these non-tariff barriers to enable it increase access to the European markets for Indian exporters. India also focused on the EC restrictive policy on Services which it urged to take urgent stops to address.
India stated that despite its advantage of young population, complemented by a vast network of academic infrastructure and educated, English-speaking talent, India’s opportunities with the EC in trade services sector are hindered by issues relating to Mode 4, the imposition of unclear ENTs, domestic regulations, territorial requirement to set up business, residence requirements, and discriminatory tax treatment.

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Agriculture remains wanting

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007…

2007-03-29 08:58:15 – The Standing Committee on Agriculture) 2006-07) is an unhappy committee. One does not have to look far for the reasons for this unhappiness

New Delhi, 29th March, 2007.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture) 2006-07) is an unhappy committee. One does not have to look far for the reasons for this unhappiness – lowering of per hectare growth of produce,, farmers’ rampant suicides, shortage of urea, inadequate water for irrigation, shortage of power for running irrigation pumps and last but certainly not the least,

old unimproved seeds that do nothing to increase productivity of grains.
The 23rd report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav has noted that despite their repeated recommendations in various reports to substantially increase budgetary allocations of the agriculture sector to give required impetus to agricultural development, the allocations in respect of this vital sector continues to be unsatisfactory and much below the requirement.
The Committee has been informed by the representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation that to build and sustain momentum of the agriculture sector it is necessary that both state and central plan outlays are augmented to achieve the required percentage of anticipated growth in the agriculture sector. Keeping that in view, they had proposed a plan outlay of Rs. 5917 crores for 2006-07 but only Rs. 4840 crores had been approved. The Committee noted that plan allocation of Rs. 3920 crores for 2005-06 at revised estimate stage was 6.3% less as compared to budget estimate of Rs. 4209.32 crores of the same year.
The Committee report, tabled in Parliament during the dying days of the first half of the budget session, noted that they are not at all impressed by the rosy picture portrayed by Member Secretary, Planning Commission during evidence where he profoundly declared that Plan allocation in favour of all the three departments of Agriculture put together (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Department of Agricultural Research and Education and Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries) has been doubled within a single plan period from Rs. 3242 crores in 2002-03 to Rs. 6900 crores.
The Committee observed that in view of the inflation and value of money in real terms, the overall allocations are not actually being made from agriculture to carry out activities under its various programmes, although it has been termed as a priority sector. This can also be gauged from the fact that percentage share of agriculture in central plan outlay of Government of India has come down from 2.84 % in 2005-06 to 2.73% in 2006-07, of which share of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation accounts for 1.98% in 2005-06 and 1-89% in 2006-07.
The report said the Committee were of the firm opinion that to meet the challenges faced by agriculture sector, the government has to reprioritize the role of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation to achieve the targeted 4% growth rate envisaged for the agricultural and allied sector and to help the farmers to compete in the WTO regime.
The Committee strongly recommended that the Department should be provides Rs. 5917 crores by Planning Commission and Ministry of Finance at the revised estimates stage, as proposed by them at the budgetary estimates stage, since many of their new initiatives and other programmes are suffering owing to lack of requisite funding. The Committee further recommended that no financial cuts should be imposed on the department at revised estimates stage for smooth implementation of the schemes, as financial cuts imposed now may lead to further addition of miseries to Indian farmers and people engaged in the agricultural sector, in the absence of timely help. The need is to achieve the targeted 4% growth rate in agriculture and allied sectors.

Posted in Economix, Policy issues | 2 Comments »

Create special agri zones, manage small farms: Swaminathan

Posted by Ramoo on March 31, 2007…

Express News Service

Ahmedabad, March 30: Managers should start thinking about ways and means to manage small farms in a more profitable manner and like the Special Economic Zones, Special Agricultural Zones (SAZ) should be created.’’ Renowned agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan said this at a function here on Friday.

Swaminathan was giving away the ‘AMA-Metrochem Outstanding Manager of the Year Award 2006’ to Alan D’Souza, Acting Dean, Mudra Institute of Communication Research. The award was conferred on D’Souza by the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA).

“While the contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP is going down every year, the percentage of population depending upon agriculture is not going down,” said Swaminathan, adding that it was important that the managers now also start thinking about ways and means to manage small farms in a more profitable manner.

Swaminathan, who is credited with Green Revolution in the country, stressed the need for the development and sustainability of agricultural sector.

“While sectors like ICT, BT, nuclear and renewable energy will dominate the world of technology in the days to come, the agri sector should also be better managed,’’ he said.

“We have seen some profitable partnership among the farmers in sectors like tobacco and sugar cotton, however the same has not happened in the case of cotton,’’ Swaminathan observed, adding that in case of contractual farming such formula need to be worked out so that a win-win situation can be worked out between the industry and the farmer.

Later interacting with the media, Swaminathan said that apart from its obvious importance, food is also becoming a political weapon in the changing global scenario and it is important that adequate impetus be given to generate sustainable and enhanced food productivity.

“Like the Special Economic Zones, Special Agricultural Zones (SAZ) should also be created,” Swaminathan said, adding that such zones would serve to conserve prime farm land for agriculture, realise the untapped production potential of rainfed areas, apart from ensuring national nutrition security and food sovereignty.

As in the case of SEZs, special support and incentives will have to be given to farm families in SAZ as well, Swaminathan said, adding that such support package would include support for conservation farming, timely supply of credit, effective insurance system and post-harvest infrastructure for value addition to primary produce, biomass utilization and for producer oriented marketing.

In this connection, Swaminathan lauded the efforts made by Gujarat government to introduce soil health cards and such measures to the farmers. He further said that such measures need to be introduced by the governments across the country.

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National farm strategy to be presented to NDC soon

Posted by Ramoo on March 28, 2007

Special Correspondent
The document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map

Corporate sector could provide technology, extension advice, marketing, logistics’ Sector urged to institute scholarships for rural students

CHENNAI: A national agricultural strategy is likely to be presented before the National Development Council, which is to meet in two months, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, said here on Tuesday.
Pointing out that a committee headed by the Union Agriculture Minister had been set up, Mr. Ahluwalia told a seminar organised by the Madras Management Association (MMA) that sub-groups comprising Chief Ministers were holding discussions. The proposed strategy document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map for the farm sector.
Speaking on the corporate sector’s role in rural development, the Deputy Chairman said while the Central and State Governments had a critical role to play in the areas of irrigation and roads in rural areas, the corporate sector could take care of technology, extension advice, marketing and logistics.
On the possible impact of global warming in the country’s agriculture in future, he called for the development of varieties in crops resistant to climate change. The public sector should engage itself in the basic research while the corporate sector could devote itself to making different varieties commercially attractive and building on the basic research.
Water management
Arguing that issues concerning water management were more important than the energy crisis, he said some parts of the country were already in water stress conditions. Though water was the most scarce commodity, people expected to get water free unlike in the case of energy.
Calling for efficient water use among the people generally and among farmers particularly, Mr. Ahluwalia said that even within the existing seeds and water availability, it was possible to achieve 40 per cent to 80 per cent increase in the agricultural yield through improved cultivation practices.
On the free electricity scheme for farmers and the consequent adverse impact on groundwater and water resources, he acknowledged that it introduced distortions into the system but there were political constraints (in lifting the scheme). Pointing out that electricity was massively subsidised in general, he said “there are better ways of subsidising farmers than what we have been doing.”
As for the entry of big players in retail trade and the likely impact on small traders, he said that it would be a good idea to introduce modern retail trade if farmers were to be given a fair deal. “Nowhere in the world has small retailing disappeared. But, nowhere in the world has modern retailing not come in.”
Inaugurating the seminar, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, State Rural Development Secretary said the corporate sector could play a vital role in the areas of training, marketing and communication strategies, targeting the rural sector.
He urged the corporate sector to institute a large number of scholarships and endowments for rural students.
Jayshree Venkataraman, MMA vice-president, said a concerted effort towards establishing cottage industries appropriate to natural resources and raw materials available locally might help to retain migration to cities.
© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Marketing reforms, Policy issues, Second Green Revolution | 1 Comment »

Replace input subsidy for farmer with direct payments

Posted by Ramoo on March 27, 2007

M Rajivlochan

Finance minister P Chidambaram expressed some doubts in his Budget speech about the large subsidy the government sets aside each year in the name of the farmer. Yet, he went on to offer Rs 22,452 crore to the fertiliser industry in the hope that those good souls would pass on this money to needy farmers. The Fertiliser Association of India, the pressure group of fertiliser producers of India, how ever, threw a fit, demanding that it be given Rs 48,000 crore this year. 
   Total subsidy in the name of the farmer is considerable. It is given out to a wide variety of organisations concerned with chemicals, fertilisers, irrigation and power. A quick look at the Budget does not provide an idea of the magnitude of the subsidy. The subsidy bill has increased from about Rs 500 crore 25 years ago to over Rs 40,000 crore now.
   There has been repeated criticism of the subsidies on offer in the name of farmers. It is said they are wasteful and go mostly to the rich farmer. The question often asked has been: Does the benefit reach the farmer at all? But a more pertinent question could be: Are the subsidies even designed to reach the cultivator, assuming leakages are zero? The answer is no.
   In the name of subsidising the poor farmer, the government offers free lunches to industry. There are three assumptions implicit in the present policy: organisations which receive government subsidy pass on the benefits they receive to the farmer; that the government rather than farmer knows best on what items the agriculturist should spend and therefore will subsidise only such items; and it is an impossible task, given our present administrative structure, to provide direct cash subsidies to nearly 12 crore cultivators. None of these assumptions is borne out by ground reality.
   Electricity boards argue that the subsidy given to them is to ensure that the farmer pays only a fraction, if at all, of what other consumers pay. However, this grant assumes that the service is actually reaching the farmer. A brief visit to almost any rural area will show that pumps get energised only for a fraction of the time. In some farmer suicide cases reported from Maharashtra, families of the victims said that the farmer was in despair because of the failure of the electricity board to supply him with power. So much is made of the muchreviled promise by various governments to provide farmers with free or cheap electricity that we seldom bother to see whether the farmer
is getting any electricity at all. Is it possible that the farmers, like all of us, would be willing to pay for their power if the government were to supply it reliably?
   The government in its Big Brother role is assumed to know what to subsidise. Most Indian farmers practise dryland farming. Some 60 per cent of our cultivated area does not have irrigation facilities; subsidies on irrigation and power are meaningless here. Should they continue?
   If subsidies are to lower cost of cultivation, then the NSSO survey of 2003, which shows that the cost of cultivation exceeds agricultural income in much of the country, amply demonstrates that the present complicated method of indirect subsidy is a conspicuous failure. Would it not be better to allow the Indian farmer to decide what he wishes to spend on by simply giving him the money directly? The idea that the farmer might spend his money on drink and drugs is baseless. Providing direct subsidy is a difficult but not impossible task, in terms of funds and implementation machinery. 
   If all farmers in India who own land up to four hectares or 10 acres (and this figure comes to 91 per cent of all farmers in India in the light of data provided by the Indian agriculture census of 1995-96) were to be given a flat subsidy of Rs 5,000 per hectare, it would still come to about Rs 49,000 crore, which is not much more than the present level of subsidy.
   The sum would be less than 10 per cent of Indian agricultural GDP and far less than what many other countries do for their farmers. Compare this with the subsidy of $58,885 million that Japan provided to its agriculture in 1999. This amounted to 2.82 per cent of its GDP and 65 per cent of its AGDP. During the same period the US provided $54,009 million, which was 1.32 per cent of its GDP and 24 per cent of its AGDP.
   It is assumed that the Indian government is incapable of distributing this money to the farmer. If the government were to ask one to repose faith in a babu, one would hesitate. But actually in this day and age, the task of distributing money is easily done by routing the money directly to the farmers’ bank account, which the government already does for most transactions with farmers.
   The government already has an extensive system of land records at the village level, so that it is possible to know who sowed what crop in which field and in how much area. So, it should not be difficult to implement direct subsidies.
The writer teaches history at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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India is colonising itself

Posted by Ramoo on March 26, 2007

By Arundhati Roy & Shoma Chaudhuri

26 March, 2007

There is an atmosphere of growing violence across the country. How do you read the signs? Do you think it will grow more in the days to come? What are its causes? In what context should all this be read?

You don’t have to be a genius to read the signs. We have a growing middle class, being reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrializing western countries which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonize ourselves, our own nether parts. We’ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable. What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere. They’ve managed to commandeer the resources , the coal, the minerals, the bauxite, the water and electricity. Now they want the land to make more cars, more bombs, more mines – super toys for the new super citizens of the new superpower. So it’s outright war, and people on both sides are choosing their weapons. The government and the corporations reach for Structural Adjustment, the World Bank, the ADB, FDI, friendly court orders, friendly policy makers, help from the ‘friendly’ corporate media and a police force that will ram all this down peoples’ throats. Those who want to resist this process have, until now, reached for dharnas, hunger-strikes, satyagraha, the courts, and what they thought was friendly media. But now, more and more are reaching for guns. Will the violence grow? If the ‘growth rate’ and the sensex are going to be the only barometres the government uses to measure progress and the well-being of people, then of course it will. How do I read the signs? It isn’t hard to read sky-writing. What it says up there, in big letters is this: The shit has hit the fan, folks.

You once remarked that though you may not resort to violence yourself, you think it has become immoral to condemn it, given the circumstances in the country. Can you elaborate on this view?

I’d be a liability as a guerilla! I doubt I used the word ‘immoral’-morality is an elusive business, as changeable as the weather. What I feel is this: Non-violent movements have, for decades knocked on the door of every democratic institution in this country and have been spurned and humiliated. Look at the Bhopal Gas victims, the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The NBA for example, had a lot going for it, high profile leadership, media coverage, more resources than any other mass movement. What went wrong? People are bound to want to re-think strategy. When Sonia Gandhi begins to promote Satyagraha at the World Economic Forum in Davos it’s time for us to sit up and think. For example, is mass civil disobedience possible within the structure of a democratic nation-state? Is it possible in the age of disinformation and corporate-controlled mass media? Are hunger-strikes umblically linked to celebrity politics? Would anybody care if the people of Nangla Machhi or Bhatti mines went on a hunger-strike? Sharmila Irom has been on a hunger strike for six years. That should be a salutary lesson to many of us. I’ve always felt that it’s ironic that hunger-strikes are used as a political weapon in a land where most people go hungry anyway. We are in a different time and place now. Up against a different, more complex adversary. We’ve entered the era of NGOs – or should I say the era of palthu shers – in which mass action can be a treacherous business. We have demonstrations which are funded, we have sponsored dharnas and social forums which posture militantly but never follow up on what they preach. We have all kinds of ‘virtual’ resistance. Meetings against SEZs sponsored by the biggest promoters of SEZs. Awards and grants for environmental activism and community action given by corporations responsible for devastating whole ecosystems. Vedanta, a company mining bauxite in the forests of Orissa wants to start a university. The Tatas have two charitable trusts that directly and indirectly, fund activists and mass movements across the country. Could that be why Singur has drawn so much less flak than Nandigram, and why they have not targeted, boycotted, gheraoed? Of course the Tatas and Birlas funded Gandhi too – maybe he was our first NGO. But now we have NGOs who make a lot of noise, write a lot of reports,but who the sarkar is more than comfortable with. How do we make sense of all this? The place is crawling with professional diffusers of real political action. ‘Virtual resistance’ has become something of a liability.

There was a time when mass movements looked to the courts for justice. The courts have rained down a series of judgments that are so unjust, so insulting to the poor in the language they use, they take your breath away. A recent Supreme Court judgment allowing the Vasant Kunj Mall to resume construction though it didn’t have the requisite clearances said in so many words, that the question of Corporations indulging in malpractice does not arise! In the era of corporate globalization, corporate land-grab, in the era of Enron and Monsanto, Halliburton and Bechtel, that’s a loaded thing to say. It exposes the ideological heart of the most powerful institution in this country. The judiciary along with the corporate press, is now seen as the lynchpin of the neo-liberal project.

In a climate like this when people feel that they are being worn down, exhausted by these interminable ‘democratic’ processes, only to be humiliated eventually, what are they supposed to do? Of course it isn’t as though the only options are binary – violence versus non-violence. There are political parties that believe in armed struggle, but only as one part of their overall political strategy. Political workers in these struggles have been dealt with brutally, killed, beaten, imprisoned under false charges. People are fully aware that to take to arms is to call down upon yourself the myriad forms of violence of the Indian State. The minute armed struggle becomes a strategy, your whole world shrinks and the colors fade to black and white. But when people decide to take that step because every other option has ended in despair–should we condemn them? Does anyone believe that if the people of Nandigram had held a Dharna and sung songs the West Bengal Government would have backed down? We are living in times, when to be ineffective is to support the status quo (which no doubt suits some of us). And being effective comes at a terrible price. I find it hard to condemn people who are prepared to pay that price.
You have been traveling a lot on the ground — can you give us a sense of the fissures you are seeing on the ground. What are the trouble spots you have been to? Can you outline a few of the combat lines in these places?

Huge question – what can I say? The military occupation of Kashmir, neo-facism in Gujarat, civil war in Chhattisgarh, MNCs raping Orissa, the submergence of hundreds of villages in the Narmada Valley, people living on the edge of absolute starvation, the devastation of forest land, the Bhopal victims living to see the West Bengal government re-wooing Union Carbide – now calling itself Dow Chemicals – in Nandigram. I haven’t been recently to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharshtra, but we know about the almost hundred thousand farmers who have killed themselves. We know about the fake encounters and the terrible repression in Andhra Pradesh. Each of these places is has its own particular history, economy, ecology. None is amenable to easy analysis. And yet there is connecting tissue, there are huge international cultural and economic pressures being brought to bear on them. How can I not mention the Hindutva project, spreading its poison sub-cutaneously, waiting to errupt once again. I’d say the biggest indictment of all is that we are still a country, a culture a society which continues to nurture and practice the notion of untouchability. While our economists number-crunch and boast about the growth rate, a million people, human scavengers – earn their living carrying several kilos of other peoples’ shit on their heads every day. And if they didn’t carry shit on their heads they would starve to death. Some fucking superpower this.

How does one view the recent State and police violence in Bengal?

No different from police and State violence anywhere else – including the issue of hypocrisy and doublespeak so perfected by all political parties including the mainstream Left. Are communist bullets different from capitalist ones? Odd things are happening. It snowed in Saudi Arabia. Owls are out in broad daylight. The Chinese Government tabled a bill sanctioning the right to private property. I don’t know if all of this has to do with climate change. The Chinese Communists are turning out to be the biggest capitalists of the 21st century. Why should we expect our own Parliamentary Left to be any different? Nandigram and Singur are clear signals. It makes you wonder – is the last stop of every revolution advanced capitalism? Think about it – the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Anti- Apartheid struggle, the supposedly Gandhian Freedom struggle in India…what’s the last station they all pull in at? Is this the end of imagination?

The Maoist attack in Bijapur — the death of 55 policemen. Are the rebels only a flip face of the State?

How can the rebels be the flip side of the state? Would anybody say that those who fought against Apartheid – however brutal their methods – were the flip side of the state? What about those who fought the French in Algeria? Or those who fought the Nazis? Or those who fought Colonial Regimes? Or those who are fighting the US occupation of Iraq? Are they the flip side of the State? This facile new report-driven ‘human rights’ discourse, this meaningless condemnation game that we all are forced to play, makes politicians of us all and leaches the real politics out of everything. However pristine we would like to be, however hard we polish our halos, the tragedy is that we have run out of pristine choices. There is a civil war in Chattisgarh sponsored, created by the Chattisgarh Government which is publicly pursing the Bush doctrine – if you’re not with us, you are with the terrorists. The lynch pin of this war, apart from the formal security forces, is the Salwa Judum – a government backed militia of ordinary people forced to take up arms, forced to become SPOs (Special Police Officers). The Indian State has tried this in Kashmir, in Manipur, in Nagaland. Tens of thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands tortured, thousands have disappeared. Any Banana Republic would be proud of this record.. Now the government wants to import these failed strategies into the heartland. Thousands of Adivasis have been forcibly moved off their mineral –rich lands into police camps. Hundreds of villages have been forcibly evacuated. Those lands, rich in iron-ore are being eyed by corporations like the Tatas and Essar. MOUs have been signed, but no one knows what they say. Land Acquisition has begun. This kind of thing happened in countries like Colombia – one of the most devastated countries in the world. While everybody’s eyes are fixed on the spiraling violence between government backed militias and guerilla squads, multinational corporations quietly make off with the mineral wealth. That’s the little piece of theatre being scripted for us in Chattisgarh.

Of course it’s horrible that 55 policemen were killed. But they’re as much the victims of Government policy as anybody else. For the Government and the Corporations they’re just cannon fodder – there’s plenty more where they came from. Crocodile tears will be shed, prim TV anchors will hector us for a while and then more supplies of fodder will be arranged. For the Maoist guerillas the police and SPOs they killed were the armed personnel of the Indian State, the main, perpetrators of repression, torture, custodial killings, false encounters. The ones whose professional duties involve burning villages and raping women. They’re not innocent civilians – if such a thing exists – by any stretch of imagination.

I have no doubt that the Maoists can be agents of terror and coercion too. I have no doubt they have committed unspeakable atrocities. I have no doubt they cannot lay claim to undisputed support from local people – but who can? Still, no guerrilla army can survive without local support. That’s a logistical impossibility. And the support for Maoists is growing, not diminishing. That says something. People have no choice but to align themselves on the side of whoever they think is less worse.

But to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice, with the Government which enforces that injustice is absurd. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. When people take to arms, there is going to be all kinds of violence – revolutionary, lumpen and outright criminal. The government is responsible for the monstrous situations it creates.

The term Naxals and Maoists and outsiders is being used very loosely these days. Can you declutter it.

‘Outsiders’ is a generic accusation used in the early stages of repression by governments who have begun to believe their own publicity and can’t imagine that people have risen up against them. That’s the stage the CPI (M) is at now in Bengal, though some would say repression in Bengal is not new, it has only moved into higher gear.. In any case what’s an outsider? Who decides the borders? Are they village boundaries? Tehsil? Block? District? State? Is narrow regional and ethnic politics the new communist mantra? About Naxals and Maoists – well… India is about to become a police state in which everybody who disagrees with what’s going on risks being called a terrorist. Islamic terrorists have to be Islamic – so that’s not good enough to cover most of us. They need a bigger catchment area. So leaving the definition loose, undefined, is effective strategy, because the time is not far off when we’ll all be called Maoists or Naxalites, terrorists or terrorist sympathisers and shut down, by people who don’t really know – or care -who Maoists or Naxalites are. In villages of course that has begun – thousands of people are being held in jails across the country, loosely charged with being terrorists trying to overthrow the state. Who are the real Naxalites and Maoists? I’m not an authority on the subject, but here’s a very rudimentary potted history.

The Communist Party of India the CPI was formed in 1925. The CPI (M) Communist Party Marxist- split from the CPI in 1964 and formed a separate party. Both of course were parliamentary political parties. In 1967 the CPI (M) along with a splinter group of the Congress, came to power in West Bengal. At the time there was massive unrest among starving peasantry in the countryside. Local leaders of the CPI(M) – Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar led a peasant uprising in the district of Naxalbari which is where the term Naxalites comes from. In 1969 the government fell and the Congress came back to power under Siddharta Shankar Ray. The naxalite uprising was mercilessly crushed – Mahashweta Devi has written powerfully about this time. In 1969 the CPI (ML) – Marxist Leninist split from the CPI (M). A few years later around 1971, the CPI (ML) devolved into several parties: the CPI -ML (Liberation) largely centred in Bihar, CPI –ML (New Democracy) functioning for the most part out of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the CPI-ML (Class Struggle) mainly in Bengal. These parties have been generically baptized ‘Naxalites.’ They see themselves as Marxist Leninist, not strictly speaking Maoist. They believe in elections, mass action and, when, absolutely pushed to the wall or attacked- armed struggle. The MCC – the Maoist Communist Centre at the time mostly operating in Bihar was formed in 1968. The PW Peoples War, operational for the most part in Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1980. Recently, in 2004 the MCC and the PW merged to form the CPI (Maoist) They believe in outright armed struggle and the overthrowing of the state. They don’t participate in elections. This is the party that is fighting the guerilla war in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The Indian state and media largely view the Maoists as “internal security” threat. Is this the way to look at them?

I’m sure the Maoists would be flattered to be viewed in this way.
The Maoists want to bring down the State. Given the autocratic ideology they take their inspiration from, what alternative would they set up? Wouldn’t their regime be an exploitative autocratic violent one as well? Isn’t their action already exploitative of ordinary people? Do they really have the support of ordinary people?

I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that both Mao and Stalin are dubious heroes with murderous pasts. Tens of millions of people were killed under their regimes. Apart from what happened in China and the Soviet Union, Pol Pot, with the support of the Chinese communist party (while the West looked away discreetly) wiped out two million people in Cambodia and brought millions of people to the brink of extinction from disease and starvation. Can we pretend that China’s cultural revolution didn’t happen? Or that that millions of people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were not victims of labour camps, torture chambers, the network of spies and informers, the secret police. The history of these regimes is just as dark as the history of Western Imperialism, except for the fact that they had a shorter life-span. We cannot condemn the occupation of Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir while we remain silent about Tibet and Chechnya. I would imagine that for the Maoists, the Naxalites as well as the mainstream Left, being honest about the past is important to strengthen peoples’ faith in the future. One hopes the past will not be repeated, but denying that it ever happened doesn’t help inspire confidence….Nevertheless, in this part of the world, the Maoists in Nepal have waged a brave and successful struggle against the monarchy in Nepal. Right now in India the Maoists and the various Marxist Leninist Groups are leading the fight against immense injustice in India. They are fighting not just the State, but feudal landlords and their armed militias. They are the only people who are making a dent. And I admire that. It may well be that when they come to power they will as you say, be brutal, unjust and autocratic, even worse than the present government. Maybe, but I’m not prepared to assume that in advance. If they are, we’ll have to fight them too. And most likely someone like myself will be the first person they’ll string up from the nearest tree – but right now, it is important to acknowledge that they are bearing the brunt of being at the forefront of resistance. Many of us are in a position where we have are beginning to align ourselves on the side of those who we know have no place for us in their religious or ideological imagination. It’s true that everybody changes radically when they come to power – look at Mandela’s ANC. Corrupt, capitalist, bowing to the IMF, driving the poor out of their homes – honouring Suharto the killer of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists with South Africa’s highest civilian award. Who would have thought it could happen? But does this mean South Africans should have backed away from the struggle against apartheid? Or that they should regret it now? Does it mean Algeria should have remained a French Colony, that Kashmiris, Iraqis and Palestinians should accept military occupation? That people whose dignity is being assaulted should give up the fight because they can’t find saints to lead them into battle?

Is there a communication breakdown in our society?


Posted in Displacement, Economix, Globalisation, Opinion pieces, Policy issues, Second Green Revolution, SEZs | 1 Comment »

No more Bengal land for industry till SEZ rules change: CPM

Posted by Ramoo on March 22, 2007

Jayanth Jacob

NEW DELHI, MARCH 19: Days after the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe into the police firing in Nandigram, the CPM leadership today called for a judicial inquiry and announced that no industrial project involving large acquisition of land, “such as the one by Salim Group”, will take place in West Bengal until the Centre changes its policy on special economic zones (SEZs).

Making this announcement, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, however, said that the Tata small cars project in Singur could go on as “the situation in Singur and Nandigram are not the same”. Even the Jindal Group’s steel plant project, he said, could go ahead. The Jindal Group plans to invest Rs 12,000 crore in an integrated steel plant in the Midnapore region with a capacity of 5 million tonnes.

Karat said that a judicial inquiry into the Nandigram incident was needed to bring out the “circumstances” that led to it and to suggest “remedial action.” The proposed project there, he said, would be shifted and an “alternative site” was being looked at.

Posted in Policy issues, SEZs, West Bengal | Leave a Comment »