Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The elusive MDG-5

By Rina Mukherji
30 Jun 2010

Reducing maternal mortality is critical for every nation but the key to achieving MDG 5 lies in achieving MDG 3 - promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Of all the millennium developments goals, MDG 5 - improve maternal health and reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health - has been the slowest moving to accomplish. Over half a million women die every year at childbirth or pregnancy-related causes. Besides, for every woman who loses her life due to pregnancy, between 15 and 30 women suffer from life-long illness and disability.

More than 50 per cent maternal deaths at childbirth occur in 6 countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maternal mortality is a major tragedy since it is inextricably to another statistic - the death of newborns. For instance, a study conducted in Malawi reported a 3.35 times increased risk of death among children whose mothers had died, with most children's deaths occurring during the first year of life.

Researchers in Nepal reported that maternal death was associated with a 54-times increased risk of death of infants who were 4-24 weeks of age. In Bangladesh, a study done by Matlab (and published in The Lancet), showed a devastating effect of maternal death on the survival of children, with the cumulative probability of children surviving to the age of 10 years being just 24 percent compared with a 89 percent survival rate of those whose mothers had not died.

More than 10,000 new born babies die every day, amounting to almost 4 million deaths each year. The major causes of maternal mortality are obstructed labour, sepsis, haemorrhage, unsafe abortions, and eclampsia and hypertensive disorders. Some of these, namely sepsis, obstructed labour and hence asphyxia, also account for the death of new- born children. A good number of maternal and new born deaths are the result of malaria, tetanus, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and of course, HIV/AIDS. Sadly, all of these are preventable.

The main stumbling blocks to achieving the aforementioned targets of MDG 5 are lack of finance and the shortage of healthcare providers and trained personnel.
Recognizing this, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently unfolded a Joint Action Plan at the Women Deliver Conference in Washington that called upon the international community to increase investment in maternal, newborn and reproductive health over current funding levels by at least an additional US $12 billion, increasing the same annually to an additional US $20 billion by 2015.

The Joint Action Plan calls on increasing the number of health care professionals and managers, and ensure information and services that are sensitive to women, especially those who are poor and marginalized. It also calls for the development of monitoring and accountability mechanisms that address wider socio-economic, political and cultural barriers to maternal and newborn health care for improved policies and programmes. With the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledging $ 1.5 billion to maternal, newborn and child health which, according to Ms Melinda Gates, is slated to be spent in India, Ethiopia and other countries for the training of health workers, developing improved antibiotics, and finding better ways to treat haemorrhages, there is a ray of hope.

But alongside strong commitments to a good healthcare policy, it is equally important to pay due heed to factors that adversely affect maternal mortality- namely, access to education and women's empowerment. In fact, the key to achieving MDG 5 lies in achieving MDG 3-promoting gender equality and empowering women, which can, in turn, help us achieve MDG 4-reduce child mortality.

Maternal mortality, for the most part, affects adolescent married or unmarried mothers all over the developing world. It is primarily on account of an unmet need for contraception. But the lack of education severely impedes access to such information, and results in mothers being deprived of the necessary emergency obstetric care. Besides, most significantly, education means empowerment in the form of employment, and hence, ready cash for emergency health needs.

As impressive as its impact on fertility, higher educational attainment - especially completion of several years of secondary school - increases women's earnings, improves their life expectancy, the health outcomes of pregnancy and childbirth, and reduces infant mortality. Since women in many societies are likely to spend most of their lives in and close to homes, education facilitates the skills and confidence that can build capacity for mobilization, particularly as regards to health.

At the same time, one needs to come to terms with ground realities when chalking out programmes meant to ensure maternal health. In India, the Janani Suraksha Yojana has clocked impressive results in most parts of the country by getting women to deliver in hospitals rather than homes. But, it must be recognized that institutional deliveries can pose a problem in regions that lack a good transport infrastructure to travel over rough terrain, or are too far from health facilities. In such cases, it is wiser to train traditional birth attendants in the basics of hygiene and emergency obstetric care, so that difficult deliveries can also be successfully handled.

The UNFPA has already recognized the importance of midwives, and has initiated plans to regularize and train them all over the developing world, in collaboration with the International Confederation of Midwives. In our country, Magsaysay Award winner Dr Rajanikant Arole was the first to recognize the importance of the traditional dais (in north India) or sais ( as they are termed in West Bengal), and had taken to training them to safely manage deliveries in rural areas. Several non-governmental organizations are already working in this direction. It is high time that we regularize these efforts on a nationwide scale, and save our mothers from dying when giving birth. Mothers' lives are precious; it is time we worked to save them for the sake of families, communities and nations.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Testimony of a natural upheaval

By Sushant Sharma
28 Jun 2010

Amy Seidl's book is a perfect blend of remarkable personal observation, scientific facts and motherly concern for the land and children.

Informative and hopeful!
This is how a reviewer has described the book Early Spring by Amy Seidl. 'Informative' is a word that is often allied with books. But it's the first time that I personally have heard the word 'hopeful' being linked with a book. And that was the reason that made me pick this book off the shelf.

Early Spring talks about our rapidly changing environment and climate owing to global warming. Published in 2009, this book seems to be just another brick in the huge wall of published material on global warming. But there is something that makes this brick stand out from rest of the bricks in the wall.

The 171 pages of this book enlighten you much more convincingly than 171 scientific papers can do. But don't let its size daunt you. It's often said: All good things come in small packages!

So in this small package, Amy Seidl, a concerned mother and an even concerned ecologist, records her observations of life in the wooded Vermont, New England where she lives. Her background as environmental scientist and teacher at Middlebury College and University of Vermont vouches for the accuracy of the facts and the observations she has penned down.

Vermont nestled in beautiful country side and woods of New England is one of the few places where one can imagine seeing global warming take its toll. But New England, a region whose culture is rooted in its four distinct seasons is changing along with its climate. As Seidl narrates - At Christmas, people are canoeing rather than skating, daffodils blooming in January and subsequent outbreaks of tent caterpillars. Even the ice-fishing derby is being cancelled more times than it is run because they can't depend on the thinning ice to hold up.

Seidl takes the discussion of global warming and its effects to a totally new aspect. Her frank observation backed by proven few scientific facts makes the readers more aware to the debacle we may face in near future.

Over the years seeing such changes take place right before your eyes forces us to take notice of the environment around us too. The sheer frankness of the Seidl's honest observations packs a hard punch, which a few pie charts and weather models can never do. Increasingly, the media report on melting ice caps and drowning polar bears, but Seidl brings the message of global warming much closer home by considering how climate change has altered her local experience and the tradition and lifestyle of her Vermont neighbours.

Seidl blends a well-researched environmental study with observations of her small-town, even as she reaches beyond New England by keeping her discussion of global warming artfully broadminded. Thus Mexico can easily figure into a chapter on butterflies and Japan fits nicely into a discussion of her backyard garden. But mostly Seidl remains firmly settled in Vermont. The inclusion of her children in the narrative makes clear Seidl's awareness and concern for the future generations who in the time to come are to unwillingly pay the price of their parent's and their grandparent's mistake.

Chapter after chapter, we find Seidl's thoughtful assimilation of data from scientific studies as well as her careful observations of the land she lives on. Seidl's passion for scientific detail is matched by her concern for her relationship to the land and for her children's experience of the natural world. She tells of looking through a microscope at pollen grains from successive periods of history and relates this to the effects of climate change on forests.

Early Spring is an apt name for a book on global warming. The chapter begins with a beautiful quote and the chapters themselves are so beautifully named that they firmly anchor the views of the author in the minds of the readers.

A perfect blend of remarkable personal observation, scientific facts and motherly concern for the land and children, Seidl's book makes you sit up and take notice. Her testimony, grounded in the science of ecology and evolutionary biology but written with beauty and emotion, helps us realize that a natural upheaval from climate change has already begun. And after reading the book, I agree with what the reviewer had mentioned: the book is obviously 'informative' and 'hopeful' index

Monday, June 28, 2010

The greatest power the consumer has is the power not to buy: Anwar Fazal

By Biju Negi
24 Jun 2010

The essence and face of the consumer movement is not so well known because people associate it with the labour movement”, says Anwar Fazal, the renowned consumer rights leader.

Anwar Fazal (69), a former President of the Consumer International (CI - formerly International Organization of Consumers Unions - IOCU), has been one of the prime movers of nearly a dozen local and global citizens' movements, namely Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Health Action International (HAI), and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). He has initiated several popular global anniversaries including World Consumer Rights Day (15 March), World Wetlands Day (1 February), World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) and World Migrants Day (18 December).

Currently the Director, Right Livelihood College and concurrently Visiting Professor, Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia (Penang, Malaysia), Anwar is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (1982), the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) "Global 500" honour, the Mother Earth News Hall of Fame and the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Peace Award.
This year on 20 April 2010, at its 50 years celebrations in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Consumer International in association with the Federation of Malaysians Consumers Association awarded Anwar its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing him as "the most influential figure in the history of the international consumer movement".
Biju Negi of Beej Bachao Andolan interviewed Prof Anwar Fazal in Penang (Malaysia), for

Q: In your booklet published recently on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Consumer International, the first sentence states that 50 years ago, the Consumer International was born, giving life to an idea whose time had come. What do you think? Its time is still there?
A: It's an eternal one. In fact the sentence you mention is taken from the poem I composed in 1985 on the occasion of 50 years of the Consumer Union of the United States. So, you see the issue has an eternal relevance. One thing we have to remember, humans will always be consumers. People forget that we are consumers of many kinds of things - we are consumers of things that we have to purchase. We are also consumers of things that we are entitled to which may be government services; and we are also consumers of what would be described as free products given to us by god although they are also now becoming commercialized.
For instance, the air that we breathe. Now you find 'oxygen clubs' where you actually pay to get a bout of oxygen. Or water - just see how it has been commercialized, to the extent that our natural water sources and systems have been totally brutalized and destroyed by all kinds of mechanical systems. We have a situation where even companies like Coca Cola and Nestle are now selling bottled water and find there is a lot of money to be made in just selling water, because for these you pay hundreds and even thousands times over what you would be paying if you just drank water from the tap. And because, according to studies conducted, there is no material difference between the bottled and tap water, what do Coca Cola and Nestle do? They make "magical" improvements to the water, by adding tinges of colour - orange with a little bit of flavour; purple, with a little bit of flavour! The coloured water - it becomes a symbol of luxury and fashion. This is how, we as consumers, are exploited.
All this is done very methodically through advertising. They play on our fears and insecurities - like the pharmaceutical industry - to get us to use their products. Or they lure us with a false sense of pleasure, prestige and status. These companies know that if they can influence and capture you early and get you addicted, then the addiction becomes a part of your personality and to unlearn is very difficult. I always say it is ten times more difficult to unlearn than to learn.

Q: Do you think part of this exploitation of the consumer is in someway also related to the word - consumption and consumerism. The connotation of these words pertains to someone who takes, uses or receives.
A: Very much so. But interestingly, while the word consumerism itself signifies the whole culture of wanting, buying and consuming more and more, this word was also used against consumers and consumer movements by the right wing capitalist groups in the USA. If you look at the early history of the consumer movement, the earliest consumer organizations were all very much linked with the labour and justice movements. So the capitalists labeled the 'consumer movement' as consumerism, to have it rhyme with the word communism and say that these organizations were anti-market.
The first UN study done on consumer movement was by the International Labour Organization. It was called the "Study Guide for Consumer Protection". And it said, workers have two ways of improving the quality of their life - one is, they can ask for more wages so that they have more income; and second, they can become good consumers, and make sure they don't waste their money, but use and spend it wisely, and make sure that their money is not stolen - referring to the credit system, particularly the hire-purchase system that provided you a loan to own a product in advance. And while you paid back the loan installment monthly, with an interest rate, which may be 8-10% - on the principal sum, so that the effective interest rate that ended up paying was 40%.
"Every one of us can change the world. We just decide that we will do what we can, wherever we are, with whoever we can. We, as individuals just decide we will not buy those kinds of products, we will not engage in those kinds of services; we will live simply, we will help others, we will help the environment."
Q: So there was a sense of awareness on getting the best value for your money?
A: Not just that. One was also targeting goods that were not produced under fair conditions. This essence and face of the consumer movement is not so well known because people then associate it with the labour movement. Similarly, the consumer movement also developed a concern over the effect of the production process, and the consumption process, and the waste process after consumption, and the impact that had on the environment.

The first editorial in the publication of the Consumers International (It was then known as International Organization of Consumer Unions - IOCU) stated that we must not just be looking at a product for its use, but that we must be equally concerned with the conditions under which that product was made. Equally concerned! We talked about value for money but also value for the environment, reflecting an awareness of the workers' conditions, and also of the effect on the environment.
In the first annual consumer report of the Consumers Union (of USA), for as many of the products as it could, the report provided an evaluation of the companies in terms of their labour commitments. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the Third World particularly, very often where the consumer movements were young and environmental movements were practically non-existent, very often Consumer Movements took all these elements. When I was President (of the Consumers International, then International Organization of Consumer Unions, from 1978-1984), we decided to take up the issue of pesticides, and brought together environmental groups, trade union groups, church groups.
Then we went on to the breastfeeding issues, bringing together all kinds of groups, religious groups, development aid groups. We worked around pharmaceuticals and created Health Action International. All these movements brought together people from such diverse backgrounds and those movements were actually the faces of this new wave of the consumer movements, with a consumer consciousness that drew on the three values - for money, for people, for environment. The consumer movement therefore can then give that holistic, all embracing kind of activist leadership that is very often needed in this kind of effort.

In the early 1980s, there was actually a catalogue that was called "Shopping for a Better World" that had this kind of seven or eight social and environmental agendas or criteria - Is this company linked with the military? And if company is involved in military and defence, don't support it. Is this company supporting apartheid in South Africa? Don't buy its product. The greatest power the consumer has is the power not to buy.


Friday, June 25, 2010

The Politics of Raajneeti

By Sudhirendar Sharma
23 Jun 2010

Raajneeti is not an epic but a film that mirrors the political reality on one extreme and the masses’ disconnect with reality on the other. Behind its unexpected success lie its disturbing undercurrents.

After losing two elections, Prakash Jha has finally tasted success with Raajneeti (Hindi word for Politics) on the silver screen. Some consolation for sure, the film maker cum politician has seemingly translated some of his real life experiences into an engrossing political thriller. Jha reiterates his love for politics as he gets closer to reality in the real politik of Hindi hinterland where power is held on the barrel of a gun.

Set in an amoral world of politics, the script of the film gives its characters an uncanny freedom to kill anybody with bloody impunity. The color of Raajneeti is seemingly blood red. With too many characters to handle, the director weaves intriguing sub-plots for them to eliminate political adversaries without remorse by exploding bombs and taking close range shots. The world of deceit and gluttony shouldn't expect any mercy.

The death of a ruling patriarch sets the stage for the second generation players to grab the party nomination and rule the roost. The race for power is between Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and his US-educated brother Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) on one side and Virendra (Manoj Bajpai) and an abandoned step-brother Suraj (Ajay Devgan) on the other. Indu (Katrina Kaif), an industrialist's daughter in love with Samar, gets caught in the crossfire of a murky pre-election deal.
From affection to jealousy and from lust to deceit, Raajneeti has a slice of everything for the discerning audience. Though one gets hooked to the film from the start, the script takes a predictable turn midway through the story. Much before it ends; it leaves one wondering why a familiar political feud full of material crassness and foul energy should find favor with the multiplex audience.

Is it because the script confirms popular perception on power politics of our times? Has the audience accepted political violence to be a norm rather than an exception? On both accounts, the take home message from the film is undoubtedly disturbing as it lays gratuitous emphasis on achieving the 'goal' howsoever amoral the 'means' of achieving it. Even the highly educated Samar justifies decadence for political expediency.

Though many characters in Raajneeti bear distinct reference to persons in Mahabharata, none of them pursue the epic's path of karma for salvation. Conversely, the characters have been chiseled to fit into the caricatures of good commercial cinema. However, it works with the audience as accomplished direction and deft camerawork lift these negative characters into life-size images that are dangerously close to being true.

Unlike his earlier films, like Gangajal and Apaharan, Jha has been persuasive in extracting powerful performances from his cast in Raajneeti. Virendra delivers a haunting political statement 'raajneeti me murde zinda rakhe jaate hein, samay per bolne ke liye' (In politics, the dead are kept alive to deliver the punch at the right time). Clearly, Jha has grown from a small time film maker specializing on portraying divisive politics only.

Not losing control of the script at any stage, Prakash Jha has used a mix of multiple frames to present his understanding of the political chaos: the power frame, the relationship frame, the subaltern frame and the sexual frame. Each of the frames has been legitimized to construct the supremacy of power politics, the fusion of which translates the wide sweep of the story on the big screen. This lends authenticity to the script and its characters.

Some critics have questioned Jha's audacity to take the electorate for granted, leaving them to the pranks of their political masters. Interestingly, it has worked in favour of the film because much of what Raajneeti portrays is regularly been served in parts to the masses as breaking news on raging controversies and unsolved scams. Raajneeti only provides the complete narrative that reinforces the adage 'you get the politicians you deserve' and the audience loved it.

Hasn't democracy been reduced to an electoral ritual where the masses remain witness to brazen absurdities of their political bosses? Jha leaves the audience to judge while he remains honest to the script, providing an insider account of the political game as it is played behind four walls. It is no secret that those four walls remain insulated to the laws and regulations with which the masses are governed.

Raajneeti is about power and the means to attain power over peoples. The bottom-line is that one is not a winner until one makes it to the finishing line. In a growing economy where material possessions have become the middle-class dictum for empowerment, Jha only plays to the gallery by reinforcing greed as the driving force for attaining political high ground. All actions are justified because 'you only live once'.

Raajneeti presents the political dimension of human emotions: its blatant trade for power behind the four walls counterbalanced by its public display to make electoral gains. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that politics is all about capitalizing on the emotive vulnerability of masses. That the electorate is an 'emotional fool' has been confirmed many times over, Jha sweeps the box office to prove that indeed that has been the case.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Assured procurement can boost pulses production

By Devinder Sharma
15 Jun 2010

Instead of encouraging Indian farmers to grow pulses by ensuring purchase by government agencies at attractive prices, suggestions are put forth to outsource production to other countries without comprehending socio-economic and political implications.

Production of pulses has gone down due to unfavourable
agri policies (photo: srefoodblog)

Every time you want to cook dal you have to think twice. There was a time when dal-roti was the common man's food. With prices hitting the roof, dal has disappeared from the poor man's platter.
For over 40 years now, dal production continues to stagnate. Production remains in the bracket of 140 to 160 lakh tonnes a year. To meet the gap in demand and supply, India imports roughly 30 to 40 lakh tonnes of pulses from Myanmar, Canada and Australia.
While you are wondering as to why India cannot produce 30 to 40 lakh tonnes more pulses every year, a Working Group of Chief Ministers has suggested that Indian companies be encouraged to buy land abroad to grow pulses, in order to meet the domestic demand. Formed in April this year, the Working Group is headed by the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and also includes the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal.

The draft report of the Working Group states: "We should seriously consider these options (of buying land abroad) for at least 20 lakh tonnes of pulses and 50 lakh tonnes of oilseeds for 15-20 years." I feel there can be nothing more stupid than this recommendation. Nor is there anything new in this suggestion. Many decades back, the then Agriculture Minister Balram Jakhar too had made a similar suggestion asking Indian companies to engage in contract farming for pulses in Africa.

All such fanciful ideas are cropping up at a time when common sense has disappeared from public policy. Cultivating pulses abroad and then shipping it back to India is one such idea. At a time when farmers in India are passing through a terrible distress, with more than 40 per cent farmers wanting to quit agriculture if given a choice, I thought boosting domestic production of pulses could be one approach to make farming more profitable.

"Indian companies can be encouraged to buy land in countries like Canada, Myanmar, Australia and Argentina for growing pulses under long-term supply contracts to Indian canalising agencies. Similarly, such arrangements can be made with ASEAN countries for securing oilseed supply," says the draft report of the Working Group of Chief Ministers. I find the recommendations of the Working Group of Chief Ministers not only a stupid assertion but also dangerous. This would mean that the country will gradually reduce dependence on its own farmers for producing agricultural commodities, and this is exactly what the agribusiness companies have been lobbying for.

First of all, let us examine why is that India is unable to produce more pulses? After all, an additional 30 to 40 lakh tonnes should not be much of a problem. Only a few days back, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister, had announced a hike by about 30 per cent in the minimum support price (MSP) for kharif pulses, including tur or arhar. The underlying objective is to increase production.

At the same time, the government has decided to pay an additional Rs 500 per quintal for pulses sold by farmers to the government purchase agencies. In other words, Rs 500 per quintal is the bonus for growing pulses and selling it to the government. The additional payment will not impact the retail prices as it is purely on the government account. It will cost the government an additional Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000-crore.

By providing a respectable price to growers, the government has made its intention clear that it is looking forward to increase crop productivity by attracting more farmers to undertake cultivation of pulses. But what it has failed to visualise is that increasing the MSP for pulses is only one of the mechanisms to increase production. We need to understand that price alone cannot do the magic. If higher prices alone can increase production, the task would have been achieved long ago.
Higher prices have to be backed by an enabling environment for the farmers to invest in pulses or oilseeds. And this is where India has failed the farmers. Let me make it clear that production deficit is not due to dearth of technological innovations to improve productivity. The National Research Institute for Pulses, located at Kanpur, along with other research centres have already developed more than 400 improved pulses varieties. But production of pulses hasn't increased much.

Now where the problem lies is that even after the heady days of Green Revolution, what is not being realised is that the production of wheat and rice (the two most important staples) went up not because of the high-yielding varieties but because the policy makers had put together two-planks of what is called a 'famine-avoidance' strategy. With higher yields, production is expected to go up. But comes harvest, and the prices crash.

Assure farmers of procurement at attractive prices to boost production of pulsesProduction of mainly four crops - wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton - has gone up because the market is assured through the FCI purchase or the Cotton Corporation of India or by the sugar companies.

To ensure that farmers get a remunerative price as an incentive to continue producing the same crop, the government started providing MSP or in other words provided an assured price to growers. Assured price certainly becomes an incentive for the farmer who would normally be squeezed out by the trade at the time of the harvest. At the same time, the government set up a procurement system through a network of mandis. Whatever flows into the mandis and is not purchased by the private trade is mopped up by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other government agencies.

This means that farmers got an assured price and an assured market. They know that the labour they put in to raise a crop does not go waste. And it is primarily for this reason alone that production of mainly four crops -- wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton -- has gone up. These are the only four crops where the market is assured, whether through the FCI purchase or the Cotton Corporation of India or by the sugar companies, and therefore the production of these crops has been steadily on the rise.
Pulse production has not increased primarily for the same reason. Although the government has been announcing a procurement price, but there is no assured procurement of the produce. More often than not farmers growing pulses have to resort to distress sale in the absence of an assured market. Government's failure to provide an assured market has forced the farmers to avoid cultivating pulses. They prefer to cultivate wheat, rice or sugarcane where they know the government will buy their produce.

What is therefore required is that instead of encouraging Indian companies to lease out land abroad, the emphasis should be to identify the regions in India where pulses production needs to be encouraged, and then to set up a series of mandis. For instance, why can't parts of semi-arid Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, and even Punjab be identified for production of pulses? The government must give a commitment to farmers that from now onwards it will start procuring pulses in addition to wheat and rice.

The increase in procurement prices has to be accompanied by an assurance that whatever farmers produce will be procured. Just provide an assured market, and be ready for a bountiful supply of pulses all through the year. This will also rescue farmers in the inhospitable areas of the country. Pulses being crop of the marginal lands require less water and add atmospheric nitrogen to the soil. It will lead agriculture towards more sustainable farming systems, and also bail out the poor farmers from the poverty trap. Let us help our own farmers rather than provide more income in the hands of farmers abroad.

Gloomy face of glittering Delhi

By Gaurav Sharma
14 Jun 2010

While the government authorities are spending billions to beautify Delhi for the Commonwealth Games 2010, does any one care for the millions of poor living in pitiable conditions in the Capital's slums?

Just a stone's throw away from Shadipur Metro Station in New Delhi is an elongated slum cluster Kathputli Colony. Whiff of fetid air and stench of stale urine assail your senses the moment you enter the locality. Stray pigs, heaps of garbage, clogged drains, dingy lanes and mosquitoes buzzing all around will accompany you, as you move about in the slums.

There are thousands of slum clusters in Delhi where a mammoth population is living a gruelling life with no basic amenities. Kathputli Colony is, one such slum, riddled with acute water shortage, dilapidated mud huts, abysmal health and education services, corrupt Public Distribution System and a myriad of other problems.
While Delhi has come a long way to boast of its 'world class' facilities, dismal infrastructure in the slums is a legacy of decades of neglect.
For a population of over 7000 and an area of 5.22 hectares, the slum has only one hand pump which breathed its last two months ago due to excessive handling forcing the inhabitants to quench their thirst from sources outside the colony. Braving the scorching sun and heat waves, women and children fetch containers filled with water all the way from a community tap installed outside the slum.
It is ironic that everyday gallons of water are showered on the lush green field of Delhi's several Golf Courses used by ultra-rich but these slum-dwellers yearn for even a single drop of water in this hot torrid summer.

The tragedy of these poor is that in every election politicians promise them better life to get their votes. "The politicians come and go but our problems remain the same. Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit does nothing for poor except uttering platitude. Eight years ago she had promised that every house would have regular water tap but till date there is no water supply let alone water taps", says Sudha who lives in parched Kathputli colony.

But what affects the slum residents most is pathetic sanitation services. Chocked drains, children defecating in the open, mud paths strewn with faeces and litter all around make one feel sick within few minutes. To make matters worse, there is no public toilet in the slum forcing women to go outside colony to use a public toilet but that too on payment. Many share makeshift bathrooms within the colonies for bathing and washing clothes.
"Kathputli colony is a virtual hell. I wish I had a better place to live in. Dirty drains lie clogged for weeks, as nobody comes to clean them. Litter and Kathputli colony are inseparable," rues 24-year-old Harsh.

While Delhi has witnessed huge budget expenditure on improving civic infrastructure and beautification in the last decade, a tiny portion of that spending on providing sanitation facilities in Delhi's slums could have spared the women embarrassment of defecating and bathing in open.

Delhi's comfort obsessed middle class may find it difficult to stomach but a number of these slum dwellers are forced to skip their meals due to soaring food prices and inefficient Public Distribution System (PDS). The gross irregularities and rampant corruption in PDS have taken a massive toll on the well being of these poor people.
Prabhu, one of the Pradhans (Community Heads) of this slum, says that as many as 1,500 inhabitants are without ration cards, making it impossible for them to access PDS outlets for cheaper ration. In 2007, 1550 people had applied for the renewal of ration cards which were due to expire the same year. But only 25-30 people have received their respective ration cards till now, he told d-sector.
Rummaging around his torn and tattered bag, 60-year-old Harsukhiya fishes out a receipt issued by the ration office for his new (ration) card. Recently, he discovered much to his horror, that his application for a new ration card has been cancelled.

What is worth mentioning here that many residents are facing the threat of eviction as a real estate firm Raheja Developers (owner of a prominent English weekly) has been given the contract to develop 2,800 flats for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Kathputli colony. The catch is that the ration cards of many old residents haven't been renewed and if they fail to produce it to the concerned authorities they will lose the right to rehabilitation and their entitlement to these flats.

Their eviction may not spring surprise as in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG), the Delhi government led by Sheila Dikshit, in its obsession to beautify the city state, has rendered many poor homeless. Independent experts estimate that nearly 3 million people are likely to be rendered homeless in Delhi by the end of CWG.
Like other basic amenities, health services are also in doldrums. No dweller wants to go to government hospitals until there is a serious illness. People say doctors and staff in government hospitals do not treat them properly. They feel it is better to have speedy, though costlier, private treatment than doing several rounds of government hospitals.
Despite such odds, the slum residents dream of a better life for their children but lack of proper education facilities disappoint them. Most children in this locality are victims of shoddy education standards of municipal schools. Either they play truant or stop going to schools. They can easily be sighted playing cards in the open.
"Who doesn't want to go school? We can only afford government schools where teachers never pay attention to children from slums. I flunked twice in 7th standard and finally quit education. My mother could not afford my useless education," rues teenager Mukesh, who has now started helping her mother in street-vending.

When d-sector tried to contact Mrs Vidya Devi, Municipal Councillor of the area, she was not available for a comment. Despite several attempts by this reporter to call on her official number mentioned in the MCD's directory, she could not be reached. Every time, her husband Lala Ram received the phone and offered to answer all queries on behalf of his wife.
"You can ask me whatever questions you have. I am looking after the problems of entire area including Kathputli colony." Lala Ram told d-sector over phone.
Certainly, empowerment of women through reservation of seats in elected bodies is still a distant dream. If husband of a municipal councillor runs the show in India's capital, we can well imagine the conditions in far away villages.
"Sheila Dikshit is doing everything to spruce up the city for Commonwealth Games but is least concerned about the plight of poor like us. I was born and brought up in Kathputli colony. I am now father of three children. Nothing has changed from the time since I was born. The government has spent thousands of crores on this city but, this colony has not seen even a single rupee," laments 30-year-old Lallu.

With the Commonwealth Games around the corner, New Delhi is all decked up to showcase its overhauled infrastructure, the metamorphosis of which cost billions of rupees. While sprawling stadia, serpentine flyovers, manicured gardens, and spacious parking lots have come to symbolise the galloping growth of India, government officials cannot resist the temptation to blow the trumpet of creating a "world class" city.
However, behind this new-found glitter lies a gloom which reveals the dark side of Delhi's development. The government may have decided to erect bamboo screens to hide the slums in Delhi but the horrendous living conditions in slums cannot be glossed over.
As this reporter was about to leave Kathputli Colony, a shriveled old man asked: "Why do these ladies (social activists) who come on TV regularly only talk about the rights and plight of tribals of distant regions? Why don't they take up our cause? They should come and spend a night in Kathputli Colony."

Little did he know that for our celebrity activists living in a slum for a day would be much more difficult than spending a week in a jungle!

Women suffer for family honour

By Rina Mukherji
15 Jun 2010

Family as an institution has served us well, but one needs to confront practices that oppress and infringe on the basic rights of individuals.

According to Christopher Lasch, "The family is a haven in a heartless world." When facing the worst in crises, an individual can ideally turn to his family for support, and be assured of someone to hold his hand. Perhaps realizing the tempering effect of the family in human life, the United Nations had declared May 15 as World Family Day in 1993. Of course, this was mainly influenced by the Indian idea of Vasudhaiv Kutumbam, or "The entire world is one family", a premise that assumes peace and progress can be assured if the entire world buries its differences, and the many peoples of the world consider themselves members of a single family.

However, the caring, nurturing role of the family can turn oppressive in the face of misplaced pride miffed at what is assumed to be a slight to family prestige. The recently reported honour killings in many parts of India are a case in point. Women, especially find it difficult to fight their families back, as the recent death of a young journalist who committed the mistake of falling in love with a man from a lower caste has proved.

Even when matters do not take such a gruesome turn, a lot is brushed under the carpet lest it tarnish the family name. Until dowry deaths were sought to be addressed as a national calumny, it was not uncommon to hear of young brides succumbing to exploding stoves. Very few parents had ever sought to set things right when compelled to satisfy repeated demands for dowry in cash or kind, lest fingers were pointed to them for not having bred a quiet, adaptable daughter who was satisfied with being seen and never heard.

Notwithstanding anti-dowry legislation, and the recent Domestic Violence Act, women generally continue to suffer in silence, making a mockery of legal safeguards provided by the state. Physical violence may not be the norm in many middle-class homes, but psychological violence bordering on absolute cruelty and exploitation can circumscribe an individual's movement, crush her spirit, and destroy her career for good.

In India, many mothers-in-law take vicarious pleasure in running down their daughters-in-law, even when the individual is adept at housework, a good mother and a good cook. When there is nothing to find fault, the daughter-in-law is criticized for being an ambitious career woman who spends a lot of time outside the home. A woman who dares to fight back and stand up for her rights is forever branded; forcing many parents to advise their daughter to give in. Even when matters take a physical turn, few want to turn to the law, and lodge a police complaint.

The reluctance to take the bull by the horns has spawned a culture of denial, and given rise to a situation where wrongdoers and perpetrators of violence go scot-free.
Where seemingly minor crimes like eve-teasing are committed, social taboos prevent young women from taking it up, and ultimately lead to heinous crimes like acid attacks, molestation and rape. Sexual harassment might often leave deep scars that can occasionally cause a young girl to commit suicide.

Realizing this, a pilot project launched some years ago by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNFPA) under its Integrated Population and Development Programme in 6 Indian states- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Kerala and Rajasthan- aimed to address the problem of domestic violence by placing counsellors within hospitals. Women may be averse to taking up the matter of domestic violence legally, but medical attention is what they must turn to when violently beaten. In Alwar in Rajasthan, the family counselling services have been placed within the precincts of the Zenana (women's) Hospital. Thus, the hospital has become an entry point for services to the survivors of domestic violence.

None can deny the role of the family as part of the community; and its contribution to building a strong and healthy nation. We cannot do away with an institution that has served us well and stood the test of time. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It would be appropriate to follow the example of social reform movements like Brahmo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj, who advocated borrowing the best from the West and building on all that was best in the East. It is imperative to retain the best in what constitutes the family as an institution, but one needs to confront practices that oppress and infringe on the basic rights of individuals. Only then can the family fulfill the positive role it was devised for.


Spurious seeds flood the Indian market

By Devinder Sharma
18 Jun 2010

The poor regulation and absence of strict punitive measures in the present seed law encourage spurious seed manufacturers and sellers to exploit farmers.

A few weeks back I was travelling in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Nimad derives its name from the neem tree. As the region's name suggests, neem is the dominant tree in this area. What however strikes you is multiplicity of Bt cotton posters that adorn walls, trees, buses etc. You see them everywhere.
I saw posters and banners of some 20 different brands of Bt cotton seed. To name a few: Super Mallika, Atal, Jai Bt, Ankur 3028, Ganesh, Gabbar, Mallika Gold, Superman, Jaadu Bt cotton, and Obama. I wonder how the farmer makes the right kind of choice, of which seed brand to pick up. How many of them end up being duped, your guess is as good as mine.

Hybrid seed is a lucrative market. There was a time when close to 2,000 brands of hybrid seeds of cotton were being sold in Andhra Pradesh. Interestingly, at least one of the parents in most of these hybrids was common. I wonder how could so many different kinds of hybrids (and all with higher productivity) be developed with one parent being common. In other words, most of these popular brands were nothing but duplicates being sold under different names.

So if there was a brand of hybrid cotton seed named Laxmi someone brought another brand called Super Laxmi. Farmers have to use their sixth sense (if any) in selecting the more genuine ones from hundred of brands flooding the market.

The menace of multiple brands of hybrid seeds has now spread to the northern parts of the country. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab are now faced with this problem. In all these States, hybrid seeds have flooded the market, mostly from Andhra Pradesh. Whether it is vegetable (which in any case is dominated by hybrids, with the UP, Haryana and Punjab governments providing subsidy on its cultivation), cotton or rice, what is being increasingly available in the market are only hybrid seeds.

In UP, a report in Dainik Jagran says the four main agricultural universities were provided with Rs 53 crore from the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna to develop locally adaptable hybrid seeds. But none of these universities have undertaken any such research project. Now don't ask, what happened to the Rs 53-crore (or Rs 530 million) allocated for the purpose. The average market price for hybrid seed that is available is Rs 200 per kg. Farmers have little choice but to go by the recommendation of the retailers selling the seed.

Quoting a State government report, the newspaper says that between 2006 and 2009, 40 private seed companies had made available 102 different kinds/brands of hybrid seeds to the agricultural universities for evaluation. Only 14 of these were made available for research in the second year of cultivation (since hybrids lose their hybrid vigour in the 2nd generation). It means that the hybrid seed sector is dominated by fly-by-night operators who make money from one year's sale, and than disappear probably to appear again with a new brand.
Not even one seed sample was drawn and sent for testing in any of the laboratories in UP.
That makes me wonder whether the kind of intense deliberations and engagement that a few of us (and that includes farmer organisations and NGOs) are involved in over the proposed Seed Bill will make any practical difference to the existing market realities? Is the Ministry of Agriculture even aware of the hanky-panky that goes unchecked in the name of improved seeds? And even if they are aware, do they care?
What is therefore urgently needed is a strict penalty clause with heavy penalties (and prison terms) in the proposed Seed Bill. Unless some of the guilty seed manufacturers and dealers are hauled up and given exemplary punishment, selling spurious seed will remain a flourishing business for all kinds of operators.
Well, knowing what the Prime Minister said: "Bhopals will happen, but the country has to progress," and that sends a message down the line, you should be prepared not to expect any meaningful change. After all, the more the seed samples are sold, the more it adds to the GDP calculations. Who cares for the aam kisan?

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My words, it's still fun!

By Sudhirendar Sharma
05 Jun 2010

On the eve of the World Environment Day, Sudhirendar Sharma reminiscences personal account of environmental journalism of the past three decades. Self-critical and somewhat amusing, it unfolds many layers of what constitutes 'environment' and how indeed it has been perceived.

ppear before the advent of the next century under rising sea waters made interesting environmental story in the late 1970's. Three decades later, it's amusing that the island nation hasn't ceased to exist on the world map! Did I read too much into the doomsayers predictions or was the influence of Daniella Meadows and Lester Brown overwhelming? The cause-effect relationship of climate change sensationalism was over simplified, and may indeed be so even today!

If journalism is the 'first draft' of history - incomplete, momentary, and often inaccurately opinionated - then I have long been into it. During the past three decades, journalism for me has grown from being an obsession with byline to a passion for change. Unlike others of my genre, my first decade in it was lost in creating niche amidst a diversity of periodicals. From Youth Times to Mirror and from JS to Imprint, magazines of the bygone era had helped sustain my enthusiasm. Though most of these magazines may have ceased to exist, the generation of writers these nurtured are still in circulation.

Phrasing of ideas and articulation of news couldn't have been without a mix of influences, from individuals, institutions and published information. Place of residence too played a role then. Moving from a small town in the hills to the sprawling capital of the country brought dramatic change in my world view. Being one of the earliest to be ushered into the environment school at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University had left an indomitable mark on me. It continues to reflect in bits and pieces ever since, the legacy of the erstwhile white elephant of higher education is hard to discount.

With access to exclusive literature from across the world at an arms distance at the university library, re-writing on emerging environmental issues came handy. The intricate interplay of forces governing changes in the human environment kept unfolding before me. If there was news, I had a nose for it! No wonder, when The Times of India had launched its 16-page weekly section called The Review in the early 1980's, I had a co-authored story 'One day it may rain acid' prominently displayed in it. The threat to the historic Taj Mahal by the controversial Mathura refinery was the backdrop to the story. Interestingly, both co-exist though the Taj may have taken some beating!

Reality Check
All said, I was one amongst scores of journalists who had covered the environment during early years without embracing the extremes. Barring few, most of the environmental writings of the 1980's were an exercise in scaring readers anyway. Even at the cost of being repetitive there was little let down in giving alarmist spin to the story - pesticides in food, pollutants in the air, hole in the ozone layer and so on. Environment had become a staple of most newspapers, with any average story stood ample chance of being published. No wonder, stories written in moronic fashion had started mushrooming, apparently written by those who didn't understand what they were writing about.

What competitive edge I had over those writers who were churning out environment stuff frequently? Did a degree in environmental science make any difference? I was in for a reality check as I was fast becoming skeptical of my own writings, as much of others. Without sounding apologetic, the crux of the matter instead was that we were reporting research over which we had little control. Unlike in the west, back home much of the derelict environment predictions were not being contested either by the readers or the editors. Yet, one could sense some kind of fatigue descending on the media.

In his response on my offer to write on environment for New Delhi, the magazine that didn't last long, the one and only Khushwant Singh had written: 'Environment doesn't sell.' It had left me dumbstruck! For a moment I was furious with his oneliner but had soon realised that the legendary Sardar had only showed me a mirror. Though not trained as a formal journalist, I had passion and commitment to sell environment stories against odds. I suspect there were several of my kind pushing each other for the limited column inches that were on offer in the print media.

Undoubtedly, the likes of me were unintentionally distanced from reality. Unlike Indira Gandhi who had opined that 'poverty was the greatest polluter' at the Stockholm Summit on Human Environment 1972, we were still writing about environment concerns of the west viz., acid rain, ozone depletion and so on. Does academic conditioning distance one from the ground truth? Hearing about the historic decision to shelve the hydroelectric project at the Silent Valley and the judicial position on the incredible Chipko Movement in the seminar halls had lent a helping hand in taking a detour from armchair environment journalism that I was glued to.

Green dilemma
The slopes were getting green, the idea of conserving water was reflected in the two majestic check dams in the Shivaliks. Those who were once struggling for cattle fodder had enough milk to spare for occasional visitors like me. The life for the Gujjars had gone through dramatic change, poverty had been shown the door in the Sukhomajri village. Perhaps my first convincing outing into the countryside, the village tucked upstream of Chandigath's picturesque Sukhana Lake had become my popular destination for many years to come ever since I had been to it during mid-1982.

With degrees in physics and philosophy, P R Mishra was rare amongst his contemporaries. In his inimitable style he had once quizzed me: have you been able to understand Sukhomajri?' Having seen protected hill slopes, an enthused village community and a couple of check dams filled to the brim, my response was in the affirmative. So amused was the man behind the project, which eventually launched the country's watershed programme, that he could not hold himself to say that he was yet to understand it! Years later, I now realise that getting to understand the dynamics of natural systems is one hell of a subject too big for a lifetime.

Between check dams and large dams, the gulf was treacherously wide. Were small dams an alternative to the big structures? Could power be generated without inundating large tracts of land? Sunderlal Bahuguna had his set of arguments cut out against then proposed Tehri Dam. With his distinct headgear, though in white, he was dubbed one of the earliest 'environment terrorists' of his time. Having started camping inside the submergence area of the dam, he had become toast of the media. I had teased him once: 'it will be an unbelievable headline the day you'll take 'jal samadhi'. That had brought curtains on our rather friendly relationship!

It was a shocking revelation that some of the best in the business of environment were conscious of their territorial jurisdictions. Often fighting for the same turf, they were found working at cross purposes to each other. The environmentalists were a divided lot with media playing its part in promoting one at the cost of the other. The legacy of 'divide and rule' had sustained itself. The work on the controversial Tehri dam was at high pace. It was evident that the dam will be built soon and the forlorn crusader of the bygone era will have to resign himself to history books. But will lessons ever get learnt from it?

It was hard to believe that in a country where the much-hyped Silent Valley hydroelectric project could be put to rest with the stroke of a pen, several hundred column inches of writing deploring the project were inadequate in repeating the feat in the case of the controversial Tehri Dam. 'The apolitical nature of social movements was up against the politics of development', I had argued in one of my articles. It wasn't a level playing field though, with odds tilted in favour of the powerful stakeholders. Opposition to several mega-projects were inconclusive, pulling activists into the convenient domain of service delivery for fighting poverty at the grassroots.

Alternate media
With hundreds of written stories on diverse environmental issues behind me, an opportunity for being part of the mainstream media was somewhat expected. A short stint at the India Today was a great learning experience. In addition to rubbing shoulders with some of the big names, how a handful of journalists decide what the majority must read had begun to unfold! I'd always wondered why a human interest story would get pushed to the 'back of the book' section at the cost of a story reporting on the inevitable ageing of a political supremo named Sitaram Kesari? That aligning with the powers-that-be was akin to being counted amongst the 'powerful' seemed the unwritten logic.

Raising grassroots concerns through an alternate media, on the lines of parallel cinema, seemed the order of the day. Building and nurturing a constituency was critical to sustaining newfound environment consciousness. The passion and drive were in plenty, and so was perhaps a committed readership but the requisite capital was nowhere in sight. The rights to re-publish The Ecologist, a well-known environment magazine from the UK, were secured without strings. However, getting it on to the newstands had remained an unfulfilled dream ever since.

Around this time, a young Nepalese journalist had walked into my one-room office. After years of serving the UN as a mediaperson, he was planning to launch an environment magazine from Kathmandu. That gentleman had learnt of my interests from the Ashoka Foundation, a US-based organisation that had bestowed fellowship on both of us for public service entrepreneurship. I had helped him in every possible way, giving vent to my unfulfilled ambitions in the process. Though we have stayed connected ever since, both Kanak Dixit and his brainchild Himal have continued to flourish.

I had to contend with what I could afford the best, edit and publish a Hindi language quarterly on environment and sustainable development. Named Vikalp, meaning alternative, the magazine had acquired a respectable readership in a short time. However, it didn't translate into desired number of subscriptions for meeting the production costs. With a handful of budding writers, we published it as long as we could take the toll of doing everything ourselves, from writing copy to organising pictures and from maintaining subscriptions to mailing copies. In hindsight, it may have been worth the cause had there been a method in that madness!

All said, it remains a milestone in environment literature and an experience worth sharing. It must however be said that an alternate media may indeed be a bad idea if it can not create a significant readership base to amplify voices to influence policies. The very notion of alternate media often has an ideological base with a mission. I have learnt it the hard way: those who are passionate about environment must not pursue active journalism and those who stand to do objective journalism must stay away from being passionate about the environment. Either way, it doesn't serve any purpose.

Getting focussed
It may seem that I had burnt myself on several fronts at the same time. But for me, environment journalism has been an evolving engagement, a process in which one was able to check on one's capabilities and capacities as new environmental challenges were tossed from time to time. If pollution and poverty were issues in the past, scarcity and survival were the current issues. However, in the pursuit for economic growth concerns for the environment were put on the back burner. Quite often it seemed that the good work of creating environmental awareness during the 1980's and 90's had been lost.

I was ready for new challenges unlike many who had sought to drift into 'business', the new window of opportunity in up-market journalism. My renewed commitment may have something to do with the birth of my son. Since he was born on the world environment day, many wondered if it reflected my commitment (or that of my better half) to the environment. It did, however, reflect lack of commitment for some of my erstwhile colleagues whose offsprings had missed dateline environment by few days on either side. Either they were sucked into the system or had chosen more lucrative career paths. Pure coincidence, I'd imagine!

But I knew there was a road ahead for me. The gigantism of development had started to surface yet again. We had a task at hand. Fresh affiliations and new associations were on the horizon as the country got ready to alter its geography by embarking on the ambitious task of linking its rivers, from north to south and from east to west. Water became the foci of my writings ever since. I had never stopped to think what a magical substance it is, with a special meaning for everyone. A new form of consciousness had started to dawn upon me. I had began my schooling yet again!

It was the return of the familiar debate on dams along with all pervasive discourse on water harvesting. Commodification and privatisation were components of market-driven hydrology. Growth engine is trying to consume everything in the process as social space gets usurped by a market economy of malls and multiplexes. Poverty no longer registered as in the past. The surging middle class was upset when it was reminded of that old blight. Poor had to be dispensed with for making space for special economic zones, even if it meant forcing many to commit suicide. A new culture of self-annihilation is upon us.

It will demand a journalism of a kind that will not only question the dubious processes but confront the invisible forces of self-destruction as well. I often enthuse myself with the famous one-liner from irresistible Sholay: Ab aayega mazaa! In many ways, it is fun to rearticulate and reposition oneself to confront a new situation. It indeed burns the creative calories in you, but the impact is immensely satisfying. With the democratisation of communication technologies, it is a fresh new game to confront the market forces that operate under the veil of democracy. Clearly, the rules of environment journalism are being rewritten!

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It's all about market!!

By Devinder Sharma
05 Jun 2010

World Environment Day celebrations get global publicity because these are mostly supported by companies engaged in selling green technologies.

Today is the World Environment Day. You know it already. Your newspaper has suddenly gone green. Some of them have even changed the colour of the headlines to green. Your TV channel is talking about those who made the difference. Many TV channels are digging out visual stuff from across the globe to show how much they care.

Schools and colleges have debates on the subject, and some even hold rallies. Most of the discussions are being sponsored by the corporate houses. Political leaders will plant saplings. You will be told 'each-one-plant-one'. If you escape planting a sapling, some NGOs will catch you to tell you to go for rainwater harvesting.

How could you then have missed it?

Of course we cannot protect our planet without the support and collaboration from one and all. Prime Minister will appeal the nation to join the movement to protect environment. All through the year, the government brings in policies that unabashedly destroy the environment. But on this 'auspicious' day, they make a resolve to save the environment. Somehow I get an impression that the government thinks its job is to plunder, and the task to save the environment is that of the people.

Not only the government, which operates through the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), but almost all official bodies and agencies do the same. The other day the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) organised a conference on biodiversity. At the fag end of the two-day conference they had a session on 'Role of farmers, NGOs, Civil Society in Biodiversity Conservation'. I was amused. To me it appears as if the task to save biodiversity is only that of the civil society and farmers. ICAR's job is to destroy biodiversity.

Similarly, the industry is allowed to pollute the rivers. They dump effluents into the rivers all through the year. Whether it is Ganga, Yamuna, Kaveri, and you name it, all Indian rivers are like open sewers. And on June 5, we do not mind launching programmes (and that for a day) inviting common people to join the effort in cleaning-up the rivers. Who are we befooling?

We launch programmes and project to create awareness about environment protection. The phrase they use is 'capacity building'. You will invariably see that the 'capacity building' exercise is always limited to the poor and marginalised. I wonder when will we begin 'capacity building' of bureaucrats, policy makers, politicians, journalists and the business and industrial leaders? The problem is not at the level of the ordinary citizen but among the people who matter. If the elite and the opinion leaders were to be sensitized, the economic and political discourse can change, and change for the better.

We are a great nation. All through the year we destroy the environment. In our misplaced emphasis on GDP, we plunder the natural resources. In the name of increasing crop yields we bring in technologies and products that sap the Earth and eventually kill farmers. In the name of development, we actually exploit, and exploit ruthlessly.

And then one day -- June 5 -- we want to give an impression as if everything has changed. The goalpost has shifted. As if we have learnt from our mistakes.

The next day, June 6, life is back as usual.

Why is that the world celebrates World Environment Day with such fervour? There are so many other international days marked, but why the excitement only for the World Environment Day? The answer is simple. The entire exercise is supported by companies engaged in selling green technologies. This is an opportunity for the $ 200 billion industry to showcase its hardware. No wonder, already leaders of the G-8 economies are talking of ushering in a Green Technology Revolution on the lines of Green Revolution.

Therefore, the reason why your favourite newspapers have gone green for a day, your TV channel has suddenly become conscious of environment, your policy makers are talking green is simply because of the power of money and advertisement. And you thought it had something to do with the changing conscious.

It's all about market, stupid !

Friday, June 4, 2010

Centre has ignored tribals, says former Commissioner of SCs & STs

By Gaurav Sharma

As blasts and attacks by Maoists are on the rise leading to anticipation of widespread operations by the government security forces, concerned citizens have begun to press for initiation of dialogue between the government and the anti-democracy radicals. Among many such voices, a prominent one is of Dr B D Sharma, Former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who feels that tribals suffer the most in the ongoing violence.

Talking to media in New Delhi's Press Club, a day after 41 para-military jawans and civilians were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Dr Sharma said that Centre can not shy away from its responsibility of ensuring welfare and protection of tribal people and therefore, it must make sincere efforts for dialogue with the Maoists.

Dr Sharma, who has long been working for the welfare of tribals, accused Union Government of abdicating its Constitutional responsibility by allowing the situation to degenerate from that of stray revolts in 1960s to 'warlike situation' at the moment.

Alleging that Centre is not committed to the cause of tribals, he said, "The Home Ministry always projects a position as if it is not in a principal position to guide the states in tackling the problems of tribals. How can this be? The executive power of a state extends to the Scheduled Areas subject to the provision of the Fifth schedule of Indian Constitution".

"It is unconstitutional if the government thinks that the problem of tribals is the matter of state and it can only assist the state governments", Dr Sharma added. He emphasized that government was largely unconcerned with the simmering discontent among tribals since the adoption of Indian Constitution.

Taking a swipe at Centre's perception that tribals are poor and they need development, Dr Sharma said, "Let it be known that tribal is not poor. He is deprived and disinherited in his own domain. The have had unbroken history of broken promises".

Highlighting the loopholes and inefficiency in Forest Rights Act, Dr Sharma said, "No step has been taken to implement this act which makes a tribal the owner of minor forest produce."

Dr Sharma, who was named by Maoist as one of the possible mediators between them and the Government of India, said that current situation is witnessing a virtual collapse of the regime for the tribal people.

He was of the opinion that tribal areas have been excluded from the general administration which is oppressive and discriminatory in nature. "Tribals are being exploited and suppressed by uses and abuses of land acquisition and public order", he remarked.

Dr Sharma also informed the media people that recently he had sent a letter to the President of India to request her to intervene immediately and earnestly to restore peace in the tribal region. In the letter, he has appealed to the President to persuade the central government to publicly state its special responsibility towards the tribals.

Maoists aim to capture Delhi: Raman Singh

By Gaurav Sharma

Speaking at a seminar in New Delhi on Maoist threat, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said the development of Chattisgarh could not be stalled by the violence and destructive activities of Maoists who are the gravest threat to the internal security of India.

Addressing the seminar organised by the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) in New Delhi, he denied that operation Green Hunt was being run for clearing land so that multinational companies could do their business in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

He said, “There is not even a single multinational company working in the region. We have not allowed any private trading of minerals in the state. Only government agencies like National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) and SAIL are involved in mineral exploration and mining in the state”.

Urging all political parties to come above party politics in tackling the Maoist menace, Mr Singh expressed grave concern over the surge of violence in the country.

“There should not be any confusion over tackling Maoists as their sole objective is to seize power at the centre. Today Chhattisgarh is facing the problem, tomorrow whole country will have to stand up against the Maoists” said Mr Singh.

Launching a broadside against the human rights activists, Mr Singh said these activists shed their tears only when naxals are killed whereas their sympathy vanishes when civilians and soldiers are butchered by Maoists.

Questioning the rationale of extending moral support to Maoists, he said these activists who talk about human rights “come flying to Chhattisgarh, stay at five-stars, and protest with a candle and fly back to metros”.

Prakash Singh, Former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, also spoke on the occasion. He said that India needs to have multi-pronged and integrated approach to root out the Maoist problem.

He suggested that Center review its decision of deploying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the naxal-infested areas as its soldiers are not aware of guerrilla warfare.

Commenting on Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s statement that he has ‘limited mandate’ to fight Maoists, former DGP said aerial support differs from aerial attack as the former will help only in intelligence not in the strikes.

Peace is theoretically justified but the government must take stern actions against the anti-government rebels, he said.

Maoists aim to capture Delhi: Raman Singh

By Gaurav Sharma

Speaking at a seminar in New Delhi on Maoist threat, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said the development of Chattisgarh could not be stalled by the violence and destructive activities of Maoists who are the gravest threat to the internal security of India.

Addressing the seminar organised by the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) in New Delhi, he denied that operation Green Hunt was being run for clearing land so that multinational companies could do their business in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

He said, “There is not even a single multinational company working in the region. We have not allowed any private trading of minerals in the state. Only government agencies like National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) and SAIL are involved in mineral exploration and mining in the state”.

Urging all political parties to come above party politics in tackling the Maoist menace, Mr Singh expressed grave concern over the surge of violence in the country.

“There should not be any confusion over tackling Maoists as their sole objective is to seize power at the centre. Today Chhattisgarh is facing the problem, tomorrow whole country will have to stand up against the Maoists” said Mr Singh.

Launching a broadside against the human rights activists, Mr Singh said these activists shed their tears only when naxals are killed whereas their sympathy vanishes when civilians and soldiers are butchered by Maoists.

Questioning the rationale of extending moral support to Maoists, he said these activists who talk about human rights “come flying to Chhattisgarh, stay at five-stars, and protest with a candle and fly back to metros”.

Prakash Singh, Former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, also spoke on the occasion. He said that India needs to have multi-pronged and integrated approach to root out the Maoist problem.

He suggested that Center review its decision of deploying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the naxal-infested areas as its soldiers are not aware of guerrilla warfare.

Commenting on Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s statement that he has ‘limited mandate’ to fight Maoists, former DGP said aerial support differs from aerial attack as the former will help only in intelligence not in the strikes.

Peace is theoretically justified but the government must take stern actions against the anti-government rebels, he said.

Does soccer give GDP a kick?

By Sudhirendar Sharma
28 May 2010

People's sport football has come to symbolize political power, national pride and economic prowess. Can South Africa make expected socio-economic gains by hosting the world cup?

German supporters during 2006 Football World Cup
South Africa is most unlikely to win the World Cup but within a period of four weeks, beginning June 11, it hopes to win on the economic front - achieving an astonishing 0.5 % of its projected 3 % annual growth during that short period. Thanks to 96 hours of football, an estimated $12.4 billion will be injected into the host country's economy according to an assessment by Grant Thornton Strategic Solutions. While some 415,000 jobs will be created, over 373,000 foreign tourists are expected during the tournament.

Some economists call such claims exaggerated, saying that the costs of organising football world cup outweigh the economic benefits. Much of the newly built sports infrastructure is unlikely to be used following the event. The desire to host a global event may seem insatiable, but the funds diverted to the mega event could have been invested in socially relevant projects such as schools and hospitals. Yet, nation after nation make frantic bid to host the most popular event that seeks massive diversion of funds for infrastructure development in the first place.

Interestingly, there is little resistance to such resource misappropriation even in poor (host) countries. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, authors of Soccernomics, contend that large sports events may not yield economic profits, but it does increase people's happiness. According to them, South Africa is likely to lose money on the forthcoming World Cup but it would be happier nation this fall - as also other participating African countries that could reap empowerment, pride and happiness from the South Africa-hosted World Cup.

Germans had invested US$ 7.7 billion with a hope to score additional 1.6 per cent on the growth curve during 2006 edition of the Soccer Cup. It fell short of target though - there were 10,000 fewer jobs created; the tourism industry earned $250 million less than expected and even the brothel owners complained of less than anticipated business on account of poor clientele. Yet, the official assessment of the World Cup by the German government considered the event to be a fairytale that had changed everyday life, helping improve the country's image internationally.

Equating hard currency investment with soft emotive output may remain an enigma! However, gains from the soccer's mega madness may always remain an understatement with some businesses gaining the benefits much later. Japan & Korea, that jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup, are still realizing the return on investment made during the event. Japan pulled out of recession as its economic output rose by US$ 2.5 billion, contributing 0.6 per cent increase in GDP, whereas Korean economy gained a 2.2 per cent increase in its GDP.

With soccer turning out to be an economic ball game, the studies on its impact are emerging as a new subject in the study of political economy! Besides the economic impact, world cup soccer greatly impacts nationalism, both in positive and negative aspects, as well as the world-wide economy with sponsors and other affiliated businesses. For South Africa, staging the globe's most prestigious football tournament is intertwined with rebuilding the economy, reducing lingering social divisions and showcasing a new national identity.

The most popular sport, which had originated in England, has had its own share of politics too. The so-called 'football war' between Honduras and El Salvador, that had claimed 3,000 lives within 96 hours in 1969, was reportedly invented by European sports commentators to reflect the chaotic conditions in Latin America, In effect, the real cause of the bloodiest conflict was due primarily to the expulsion of Salvadoran farm workers from Honduras. But the 'football war' story persists in popular perception.

Whether or not such attempts were deliberate, sociologists contend that modern football has come to symbolize political power, national pride and economic prowess. If happiness is an intangible gain then the Europeans had it the most - hosting the World Cup has contributed to reduction in suicides. In similar tone, football symbolizes a faint hope of equal opportunity for the deeply-divided societies in Latin America and Africa? However, for million of deprived fans football is a sense of belonging that reflects a spirit of rebellion!

While Pele may remain a central source of identity for the Brazilian society and Maradona a 'rags to riches' dream for most Latin Americans, football has been systematically driven from the streets and slums of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico to the elite clubs in Europe. Having gained an incredible political currency in the west, soccer has become a money-spinner of immense significance for governments, sponsors and business in Europe. It's hosting in South Africa, therefore, goes far beyond the immediate pride of hosting the event.

The football madness has come a long way since the World Cup was first hosted by Uruguay in 1930. Economists argue that there seems a method in this madness as nations hosting the World Cup stand to gain tremendously. However, how indeed this gain will get transferred to millions of fans who may not have the luxury of bread and butter remains a huge question? Conversely, however, as the stakes are raised those who might deserve the economic fallout of hosting it are often pushed to the margins. The game of football seems under seize!

Given the fact that the world-wide total sponsorship value for the World Cup has increased from a 1984 value of $2 billion to a 2006 value of over $20 billion, the event has long ceased to be a mere game of emotions, ecstasy, desperation and triumph. Instead, the desire and the ability of the nation to be the sole world-wide spotlight for promoting the tourism of that nation and its corporate sponsors hold the key. Since the existing evidence on the economic impact is developed by host country, ground reality is far in contrast to what gets reflected in the books.

But, isn't the unquestionable faith of those for whom football is 'God' being bartered away for economic gains? Are fans that experience a surge of nationalistic pride being used to make profit for the sponsors? As such, whenever a study comes out putting forth that the event shall earn a said amount for that nation, it must be clear that the gains will rarely, if ever, get shared on a level-playing field.