Monday, September 27, 2010

Bad science joins paid science

By Devinder Sharma
27 Sep 2010

Entire India, more so its young scientists and students, is left embarrassed and ashamed after expose of ‘copy and paste’ job done by the heads of India’s top science academies to push GM food into India. While these academy heads continue to cling to their posts despite being exposed of disgraceful deeds, the incident only confirms the widespread corruption and incompetence in India’s academic and research institutions.

Citizens of India are vehemently opposed to GM food

I still can't overcome my disbelief. Such 'distinguished' scientific bodies, and such a shoddy report. I have always said there is good science, and there is bad science but this report transgresses all earlier known brackets, and I have no hesitation in saying that the Inter-Academy Report on GM crops (see the pdf copy of the report here: ) does not even qualify to be put in the category of bad science.

It is Gutter Science.
The Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops -- prepared by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences -- and submitted in September 2010 to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, is no better than the introductory write-ups any graduate student of biotechnology would come out with. In fact, I have a collection of a large number of papers/analyses written by graduate and post-graduate students who seek my comments/views that I would rate much higher than this Inter-Academy report.
The Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops is in fact a disgrace to Indian science. That Indian science was on a downhill path was never in question, but that it had already slipped into a cesspool is a revelation. I wish the presidents of the six Indian Academies had at least read the 19-page report prepared by the Minister for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh (and which is available on the website of the ministry) at the time of announcing the moratorium on Bt brinjal early this year, and they would have known what academic excellence means.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal’s release until there is widespread scientific consensus on its environmental and biosafety aspects. The Inter-Academy report fails to answer any of the concerns/questions that Jairam Ramesh had raised in his paper.

The Inter-Academy report therefore is not a scientific inquiry, but a cheap public relation exercise on behalf of the GM industry. This is a scientific form of corruption, and has to be condemned in as strong words as possible.

You have probably read in newspapers how the key parts of the report -- which supports genetically modified (GM) Bt brinjal’s commercial release -- have been plagiarized from a biotechnology department newsletter. According to a news report titled 'Experts Admit GM brinjal Report Faulty' in The Telegraph (Sept 27, 2010): "Six Indian science academies had earlier this week approved the limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation in a joint report that contained 60 lines of plagiarised text, a near verbatim reproduction of an article in a biotechnology advocacy newsletter which itself had lines extracted from an industry-supported publication.
"This is unfortunate — we are devastated. This should not have happened,” said M. Vijayan, the president of the Indian National Science Academy, and a senior faculty member at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

Another press report ‘Academies copied to push for Bt brinjal’ on India Today website says: “India's top science academies have done the unthinkable. They have copied and quoted extensively from an industry lobby report to give a clean chit to the controversial genetically modified (GM) brinjal. Key portions and data in the much touted Inter-Academy Report on Genetically Modified Crops have been lifted straight from a report of a lobbying group funded by seed companies, including Monsanto and Mahyco.”
“.. it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by US based GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA). They have recommended the commercial release of Bt brinjal and the lifting of the moratorium imposed on it by Ramesh. Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal.

“…The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.”
[See the news reports at and ]

'Right' is right but what is left...

By Sudhirendar Sharma
24 Sep 2010

UN General Assembly in July 2010 adopted a resolution to recognize water as a fundamental human right, but does it make any difference to the nearly 900 million people without access to clean drinking water?

Over 128 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water

For them the law of the land does not exist. Ever since discharge from a sugar mill first reached the village in 1955, Kalapani has continued to remain a cesspool of effluents. Apart from the households located on raised land, the entire stretch of cultivable land in the village has been waterlogged. Women use boat to ferry themselves out of the village to take the nature’s call. Collecting drinking water remains an ordeal as there is no end to water woes for the villagers.

Situated along the embankment on river Baghmati in Sitamarhi district of Bihar, the village has literally been trapped between the devil and the deep sea. If it were not the raised embankment, the effluents would have drained into the river. But that was not to be and with the law favoring the powerful, the industry has been able to secure cushion for its reprehensible attitude. Neither the state nor its administrative machinery has been able to uphold the constitutional provision of a right to water in Kalapani

Unlike most countries where the lack of explicit reference to a right to water in the national legislation necessitates creativity in enforcing the right through the courts, the constitutional provision (Article 21) wherein a right to water has been subsumed under the ‘right to life’ has long been violated across India. The right to water has existed in letter but not in spirit. No surprise, therefore, that over 128 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water and this number is growing.

Is a right to water legally enforceable? Can a complaint for human rights violation be filed for non-compliance? The 1990 Kerala High Court judgement in Attakoya Thangal v. Union of India recognized the fundamental importance of the right to water but could not go beyond mere assertion that “...the administrative agency cannot be permitted to function in such a manner as to make inroads into the fundamental right under Article 21.”

The court was hearing the petitioners who had claimed that a scheme for pumping up ground water for supplying potable water to the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea would upset the fresh water equilibrium, leading to salinity in the available water resources and causing more long-term harm than short-term benefits. In its judgement, the court could only request deeper investigation and monitoring of the scheme as it recognized the right of people to clean water as a right to life.
The crux is that while the state has several basic obligations to provide their citizens with drinking water, the affected persons have ineffective possibilities to claim these rights in the court of law. Because the right to life is understood in a very narrow sense, individuals can only file a complaint if their life is threatened through the lack of access to water. However, if those who complain can get water from another place their claim can no longer be held valid.

Does adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly in July 2010 to recognize water as a fundamental human right make any difference? Experts argue that the adoption of a ‘human right to water' by the UN General Assembly may seem a breakthrough but in reality it is no more than a statement of good intent. The existence of right to clean drinking water, reflected within a right to life, in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights hasn't made any difference thus far.

Such legal provisions notwithstanding, the irony is that world over 884 million people have no access to clean drinking water. According to legal experts, international laws give little scope for individuals to achieve government action by emphasizing individual claims. Since such laws cannot force the state to fulfill its duties, the World Health Organization (WHO) is in favour of an enforceable right to clean drinking water.

Ironically, even if a right to water becomes legally enforceable it neither ensures quantity nor quality of water. The state is under no obligation to ensure either. As geogenic contamination is getting widely prevalent in groundwater and anthropogenic sources are polluting most surface water sources in the country, reduction in fresh water supplies is leaving the population at a higher risk. Not without reason are 21 per cent of all communicable diseases attributed to contaminated water supplies in India.

The varied implications of a constitutional provision of a right to water, enshrined in the right to life, leave the citizens in a precarious condition. As the state cannot be held accountable for non-delivery of water (both in quantity and quality) to peoples’ doorsteps, it leaves people with little option but to rely on bottled water as a reliable source of drinking water. Millions of people already do so, as a right to water has essentially meant a right to buy water.

More @

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Solar Mission ignores environmental impact

By Shawahiq Siddiqui
21 Sep 2010

Contrary to popular assumptions that there is 'zero' environmental impact of solar energy development in the country, there are serious potential environmental risks associated with National Solar Mission that can not be ignored.

Solar energy production could have adverse environmental impact
India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is considered to be the most important Mission to reduce GHG emissions phenomenally without compromising the country’s increasing high economic growth rate. No wonder, it is one of the core national missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The JNNSM aims to generate 22 GW by 2022 ( by the end of 11th Five Year Plan), by harnessing about 5,000 trillion kWh solar energy potential in a phase wise manner with the use of appropriate technology and by developing substantial solar manufacturing capacity within the country.

Amongst the three identified important phases under the JNNSM, Phase-I (2009-2012) aims at producing solar generation capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 MW (a quantum leap from the current installed capacity) and is considered to be the most important phase as it aims to achieve various objectives including rapid scaling up of domestic solar equipment manufacturing, consolidation and expansion of ongoing projects for various applications and promotion of local manufacturing capacity and establishment of solar technology parks or Solar Ultra Mega Power Plants (UMPP). The total area to be covered with solar panels is 40 million m2 excluding the land required for setting up solar manufacturing units for scaling up domestic manufacturing of equipments in the country.

On environmental aspect, the Mission envisages that there is “zero” environmental impact of solar energy development in the country. While it is correct that there is no environmental impact of harnessing energy from the Sun and there are no environmentally harmful end products due to generation of electricity or heat from the solar panels, the JNNSM undermines environmental implications related with land requirement for solar installation, environmental impacts of manufacturing solar photovoltaic and solar thermal cells and establishment of solar manufacturing plants that should have been equally considered and may have serious environmental ramifications due to the involvement of hazardous waste and processes in the manufacturing of solar equipments and cells.

Solar power being one of the most land intensive electricity generation options requiring 5-10 acres/MW, there could be huge pressure on land which could give rise to increase in conflicts for land. There are also possibilities of developers acquiring more than required area for developing solar SEZ and so forth. Currently there is no land use plan envisaged under the JNNSM. Further, there are no standards in place for land acquisition required for solar manufacturing plants and power stations. Mandatory Land leasing for utility power scale plants is one of the options to provide equitable solutions to the original land owners. There is a need for programmatic Land Use Plan for all solar projects and manufacturing units.

Due to solar thermal power plants, there would be huge pressure on water resources, especially in dry and arid areas that already face scarcity of water. Solar Thermal requires large volume of water for cooling down the steam. Water being a contested resource in dry and arid areas there is a need for revisiting the scheme for installation of solar thermal plants in sun rich but water scarce states such as Rajasthan and Gujarat. So far there has been no attempt to understand the implications of solar thermal plants on the water resources in dry areas. Water is also required in huge quantities for washing solar panels as dust accumulated on the panels would reduce the efficiency of solar panels in trapping sun rays. There is a need for laying down normative water use standards for solar power plants.

For manufacturing solar modules and wafers, the current SPV technologies in India use certain hazardous chemicals such as silicon compounds, cadmium compounds, germane and polyvinyl fluoride. Other substances that will be used in manufacturing solar cells, modules and panels include argon, cadmium compounds, selenide gas, EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate), germane, polyvinyl fluoride (Tedlar), silane, and silicon compounds. The use of these chemicals in large quantities releases hazardous substances as effluents and release of toxic gases. Given the scale at which solar manufacturing is anticipated in India there is going to be enormous release of hazardous chemicals and gaseous substances in the environment. Needless to say the regulators have not thought about it.

The workers in the solar manufacturing units will be exposed to hazardous substances and toxic gases. The raw material used in solar manufacturing poses various kinds of health risks such as possibility of silicosis due to use and handling of silicon in large quantities. Cadmium used in manufacture of solar modules can cause cancer. Besides the fumes emitted during the process can cause various respiratory and skin diseases. In case of accident the chemicals stored in the SPV unit can cause immeasurable damage to the health and environment.

Ignoring the above concerns, the Mission document doesn’t see the role of regulatory bodies enforcing environmental norms in the country. Accordingly, a number of regulatory instruments that can be used for sustainable expansion of solar energy industry have been ignored. The crucial being the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2009 which does not include solar industry as an activity requiring Environmental Clearance. Currently, EIA can be conveniently done away with by the developers as under the current EIA Notification activities under a threshold financial limits and size do not require EIA. Further, it is also unclear whether CSP projects would be included as Thermal Power Plants under activity 1(d) of the EIA Notification, 2009.

Also, the Hazardous Chemical Rules 1989 do not include a number of notable toxic and hazardous chemicals that are being used in the present solar technologies.

More @

Unfair share, uncertain futures

By Shalini Bhutani & Kanchi Kohli
20 Sep 2010

As the world finalises an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), concerns in India remain regarding the efficacy of National Biodiversity Authority to ensure that the commercial entities share their benefits with the local communities and guarantee biodiversity conservation.

Institutional and legal mechanisms to conserve biodiversity are there,
but where is the will?
Around this time governments representing over 193 countries of the world are negotiating an International Regime (IR) on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) under the multilateral environmental agreement – Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The IR is meant to be finalised at the CBD's next Conference of Parties (COP) scheduled in October 2010 in Japan. In 1993, after this treaty came into force, each member country was to enact its own legislation towards conservation of biodiversity and the regulation of biological resources accessed from its territory.

India finalised its Biological Diversity (BD) Act in 2002 and its implementing Rules in 2004. These legislative dictats are meant to streamline procedures when non-Indians and corporate entities use any biological material for research or commercial activities. The intention is the distribution of wealth generated and a fair share of benefits guaranteed for local people when any local resources or traditional knowledge from their areas is so utilised. India's Guidelines for such 'benefit sharing' are still in draft form.

Since 2005, when the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was set up in Chennai, it has worked to implement the BD Act. It has granted approval to over 325 applications seeking access to India's biological material. The requests for access from applicants mostly government institutions and private enterprises have varied from research, commercial utilisation, IPRs as well as third party transfer of the material. The approval procedure mandates consultation with a Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) to be constituted at village and urban ward levels. The law also requires the consultation to be followed up with the finalisation of an agreement laying down conditions for use and the terms of benefit sharing.

In one such instance in 2007, the NBA entered into two agreements with PepsiCo India Holdings Private Limited. Some facts need to be mentioned here. PepsiCo is a US multinational company and its Chair and CEO is also the head of the US-India Business Council. And till date the US is not a party to the CBD. These were 'benefit sharing' agreements, one for commercial access and the other for third party transfer of Kappaphycus alvarezii, a particular type of sea weed to Malaysia. The company paid INR 37.26 lakhs to the NBA for a type of dry sea weed (Kappaphycus alvarezii) accessed around the Gulf of Munnar area in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. PepsiCo signed a yearlong agreement with the NBA to export this to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines for commercial utilisation in the food and cosmetics industry.

When this approval took place, the State of Tamil Nadu neither had any local BMC nor the required Tamil Nadu State Biodiversity Board. This remained the situation till December 2007 when the agreement was signed. Thus there was no means by which mandatory consultations were held with the local communities – the potential “benefit-claimers”, as defined in the law. Till date none of these structures have come into place. However, as per due procedure laid out in the legislation, the NBA would have got a sum equalling 5% of benefits claimed as 'administrative costs'.
In reply to a Right to Information application, in July 2010 the NBA admitted that the money received from Pepsi is “yet to be ploughed back to the benefit claimers”. The delay is explained by the fact that guidelines for utilisation of such monies deposited in the National Biodiversity Fund are yet to be finalised.

But there is more to this story. In 2004, following the Tsunami tragedy, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) offered 'Tsunami Assistance' to India. One element of this was micro-enterprises which entailed setting up self-help groups with forward and backward market linkages. In the planned implementation, over 200 micro enterprises were conceived of and multiple women’s groups were federated into societies. They were to focus on the production of commercial activities for e.g. sea food products, dairy products, etc, including sea weed products. In the latter half of 2005 the Tamil Nadu Government issued Government Orders granting subsidies for sea weed cultivation to 19 special village Panchayats across 5 districts in the State.
It is yet again visible how international financial institutions by the nature of projects they propose, pave the way for the entry and operation of large corporations. All this in the name of rehabilitation and livelihood support for affected communities. The ADB part loan part grant to India thus actually aided PepsiCo sea weed cultivation plans, ensuring the company contract growers! PepsiCo also facilitated bank loans to the coastal communities through the State Bank of India. PepsiCo has been doing sea weed farming in TN since 1999. In 2000 the license for the particular kind of cultivation was obtained by the company from India's Centre for Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI).

Therefore, not surprisingly, in its Agreement with the NBA, PepsiCo suggests that the local communities are already getting benefits from it on this sea weed cultivation programme. The company states that it provides training to the women, facilitates bank loans and guarantees a buy back from the SHGs.

There is no indication that the NBA questions this when determining the quantum of benefits to be shared. If the company can cite pre-NBA benefits, surely the NBA can point to the pre-NBA profits from sea weed export that the company has made! Since the agreement was signed by an authorised representative of the NBA, the logic of the company is accepted. Is this a fair share of the benefits as per CBD, leave aside the issue of biodiversity justice?

On the contrary there is obvious silence of the NBA, which is also meant to be the topmost biodiversity conservation body in the country, on the issue of bio-invasion by the non-native red weed in very close proximity to a Coastal Marine Reserve. In 2008, it was reported that the algae, Kappaphycus alvarezii, has invaded coral reefs in the marine reserve in the Bay of Bengal. “Experts are trying to establish who let the seaweed escape into the wild: a government lab, a multinational company, or careless farmers”, an article in Science Magazine said.

So the world may get an International Regime and a country may have its Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) law, but there is no guarantee that agreements signed hereafter will be life-changing for local communities. Or that biodiversity conservation will be guaranteed either. The benefits to businesses will surely continue, now “legally”.

Bamboo for sustainability and growth

By Pandurang Hegde
18 Sep 2010

While we celebrate the International Bamboo Day, it is essential to recognize and propagate the multiple uses of Bamboo in providing livelihood security to poor, protecting land from degradation as well as in mitigating climate change.

Bamboo is a major source of livelihood in North-east India
(photo: Pandurang Hegde)
Bamboo is an important part of rural livelihood in many countries, especially in developing counties like India. Due to its versatile nature and multiple uses, it is also called ‘poor man’s timber’. Though it grows tall like a tree, it belongs to the grass family. It can withstand the drought as well as flood. During the annual floods in Kosi region in Bihar, it is the bamboo that helps the flood hit villagers. Even during Tsunami, bamboo came to the rescue of people rendered homeless to erect shelters at short notice.

There are more than 70 genera divided into about 1,450 species of bamboo all over the world. India is second only to China in terms of bamboo diversity having more than 130 bamboo species spread across 18 genera. The North Eastern states are the store house of bamboo diversity with 58 species belonging to 10 genera.

Bamboo is grown on 9 million hectares in India, covering almost 13 per cent of the total forest area of the country. In addition, nearly 1.75 million hectares of bamboo area lies outside the natural forest area. The total production of bamboo is 5 million tons per year.

Though Madhya Pradesh has the highest area under bamboo forests, the bamboo culture thrives in the North Eastern region. From the tender shoots as a delicacy food item to the rice cooked in the hollow of raw bamboo, it is part of the everyday life. From house construction to flooring, agricultural implements, the bamboo pervades the life and culture. We find the most artistic skills in bamboo weaving in these regions. Millions of families are dependent on bamboo resources for their livelihood in India.
The advantage of bamboo is manifold compared to monoculture tree plantations. It grows in forest like natural formations either in monocultures or mixed stands among other tree crops. After planting, the fast growth of bamboo clumps start yielding after 4 to 7 years. It can become part of agro forestry practice in small land holding. New bamboo plantations may curb the pressure from deforestation by serving as wood substitutes. It can be planted to reclaim severely degraded sites and wastelands. It is good soil binder owing to their peculiar clump formation and fibrous root system and hence also plays an important role in soil and water conservation.

Climate change and Bamboo
Recent studies suggest that bamboo is more effective plant than trees in increasing carbon stocks through sequestration of carbon. The researchers studying bamboo plantations estimate that a hectare of bamboo has the potential to sequester between 12-14 tons of carbon every year above the ground. Additionally, the extensive root system builds up the carbon sink faster than trees.

When bamboo forest is managed by annual harvesting of mature culms it can sequester more carbon, especially if harvested products are converted into durable products like bamboo furniture or household timber. It can be a good substitute for energy intensive products, thus helping to reduce fossil fuel based products. It is used in over 1500 applications, but until recently the life span of these products was short. However, the upgradation in processing techniques has enabled to manufacture durable products that have longer life, mainly in housing components and furniture.

The international community, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as well as Indian government have overlooked the potential of bamboo to address the issue of climate change and enhance livelihood opportunities. Compared to growing trees, a bamboo plantation would repay the investments in carbon development costs within first four years. Moreover, when mature bamboo is harvested, it would fetch handsome net revenues providing employment opportunities to people, mainly artisans. In fact the Medar community in Karnataka is entirely dependent on bamboo weaving, producing items like baskets. They are the poorest groups belonging to the lowest caste among Dalits. One of the ways to strengthen their economic situation is through enhancing bamboo stocks.

The carbon credit business world wide is in billions of dollars. Large high tech projects as well as those which destroy natural forests like micro hydel projects get carbon credit benefits. Contrary to these dubious carbon credit ventures, bamboo plantations can bring the carbon credit business at the doorsteps of poor, marginal communities. If CDM as well as those agencies that are aiming to address the issue of climate change include bamboo as one of the tools to mitigate climate change, it would yield ‘poor man’s carbon credits’.

While it has many positive impacts on climate change, one should also be aware of the negative impact. Gregarious flowering of bamboo in North Eastern part of India and in some regions of Western Ghats may lead to releasing of large amounts of carbon in the form of dry bamboo. There is an urgent need to evolve a rationale policy to procure and utilize enormous quantity of bamboo crop after the flowering. Ignoring this would cause a devastation of fire that would engulf the diversity in the region.

Though India has launched the National Bamboo Mission in 2007, the implementation of this mission is not only slow, but it has failed to address the enormity of the issues related to bamboo. May be, the step motherly attitude meted out to the North Eastern states is one of the prime reasons for such gross neglect of poor man’s timber and negation of bamboo culture. A proper understanding and empathizing with the bamboo culture and financial and technical support would have unleashed the bamboo revolution that would have uplifted the living standards of people in this region.

It is high time the national action plan to address climate change in India incorporates these ideas in ‘green mission’ as an important tool to address the issue. Additionally the government should take this to international flora and give due credit to bamboo.

Monday, September 13, 2010

India's strategic hot potato

By S. G. Vombatkere
11 Sep 2010

Willingly or forced by global developments, India got into an uncomfortable strategic embrace with USA and invested heavily in Afghanistan's reconstruction. But as USA is desperately looking for a way out of Afghanistan, India may soon find itself in a difficult situation.

Manmohan Singh is keen to further strengthen Indo-US relations
Exactly nine years ago the world stood aghast at the real-time TV screening of the audacious, coordinated attack on WTC and the Pentagon and trembled when, weeks later, USA invaded Afghanistan in retaliation to what was understood as an Al Qaeda attack masterminded by Osama bin Laden. This was first seen as a knee-jerk reaction to retrieve American pride and prop up USA's international image, but soon enough the world interpreted it as a strategic move to gain a secure foothold in Asia. This interpretation was confirmed when USA subsequently defined it as a Global War on Terror (GWOT) and invaded Iraq to execute “regime change” there.

USA's global strategic interests are by now well-defined, and the shocks delivered to Afghanistan and Iraq have been integrated into the way in which the world views USA. US President Obama's recent commitment of withdrawing US troops from Iraq is nothing but outsourcing warfare and corporatizing conflict, since “combat operations” by troops becomes “stability operations” by US-paid mercenaries operating out of US bases in Iraq to maintain hold on the ground.
Strategic partnership

After 9/11 attack, New Delhi thought that USA had at last become aware of cross-border terrorism of which India had been complaining for years. But Pakistan being the long-time seed-bed for terror attacks against India and then becoming a strategic partner of USA, and that too for GWOT, made New Delhi's complaints somewhat ineffective.

After 2004, New Delhi, under a Congress-led UPA government with known “Americanophiles” at the top of the pile, began to cosy up to the US administration, going so far as to say words to the effect that India loves G. W. Bush.
Thus it came to pass that in Washington in July 2005, Indian PM Manmohan Singh and US President G. W. Bush issued a joint statement on a framework agreement for India-USA civilian nuclear cooperation that came to be known as the 123 Agreement. However, this N-deal was overshadowed by the provisions of the Hyde Act enacted by the US Congress in January 2006, which is an India-specific legislation (titled “Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006“) that visualises India having a foreign policy “congruent with” that of USA, and actively participating in USA’s efforts to implement sanctions against Iran if that country fails to conform to USA’s checks on its acquisition of N-weapons.

While certainly India was not bound by the Hyde Act, it is necessary to understand that the provisions of that legislation were part of USA’s foreign policy to bring as many countries as possible under its influence, if not control, for its global designs. Thus, notwithstanding New Delhi's protestations to the contrary, the 123 Agreement overshadowed by the Hyde Act was in fact nothing less than a strategic convergence between India and USA. Indeed, following this, there have been several army, navy and air force joint exercises between India and USA with the stated aim of enhancing military cooperation and inter-operability.

Locked in a strategic embrace
To emphasize the fact of it being a wide-spectrum strategic tie-up, it needs to be noted that the nuclear framework joint statement was issued on 18 July 2005, and on the same day, the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture (KIA) Agreement was finalized and the KIA Working Group formed. And just two days later, on 20 July 2005, the KIA Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Indian PM Manmohan Singh and US President G. W. Bush. It is left to conjecture whether India was being railroaded into strategic linkage with USA.

On March 3, 2006, US President G. W. Bush was in New Delhi, and he and PM Manmohan Singh signed the Joint Statement on India-US Strategic Partnership with emphasis on civilian nuclear cooperation, but including KIA. This came to be known as the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty, which raised a furore in Indian politics and nearly caused the UPA government to fall when the Left Parties withdrew their support.

It is not out of place to note that the USA's KIA Board gives official status to US seed and food MNCs like Archer-Daniels-Midland, Monsanto and Walmart since their representatives are US KIA Board members, while the Indian KIA Board has full representation of industrial interests with the sole “representative” of the agricultural sector being Dr. M. S. Swaminathan. The purpose of highlighting this is to show, firstly, that the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty was the trojan horse with the little known and even less debated KIA Agreement (which gives free rein to US MNCs and impacts India's food security) in its belly, and secondly, that the strategic tie-up was carried out with political stealth. Of course, with the MNC-friendly provisions of the nuclear accident liability bill, it is clear that for USA at least, the nuclear deal was meant to resuscitate and hugely benefit moribund US nuclear corporations. In sum, India is locked in a strategic embrace with USA, a fact internationally well recognized.

Presence in Afghanistan
India has ancient and modern cultural and economic ties with Afghanistan. New Delhi's interests in Afghanistan also coincided with undoing Pakistan's influence there, and the US invasion was a convenient excuse to upgrade its “soft power” and regain its former strategic depth. However at present, Indian presence there is opposed by the Taliban and Pakistan because New Delhi supported the 10-year long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan which was opposed by CIA-sponsored Taliban trained in Pakistan.
The US occupation of Afghanistan post-9/11 placed Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan in a subordinate position relative to its earlier dominant position following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. This, along with the India-US strategic partnership and USA's happy acceptance of India's role in Afghanistan, led to New Delhi providing monetary aid for Afghanistan and actively assisting in infrastructural construction and re-construction by sending manpower.

It should be clear to any perceptive observer of Afghanistan that the rules of the contemporary “Great Game” imposed by USA in Afghanistan would last only so long as the US military has a presence in that country. Even though New Delhi knew the history of the impossibility of subjugating the fiercely independent tribal people of Afghanistan, as the British and Soviets know at their cost (never mind the cost paid by the Afghanis), the inevitable withdrawal of USA from Afghanistan was apparently not considered when New Delhi jumped into Afghanistan with both feet.

Thus, New Delhi as USA's strategic partner, went ahead to help Afghanistan with monetary investment – while people starve at home and there is no money for education and health, India pledged to invest $1.2 billion, becoming the second largest contributor of funds after USA – and also sent Indians to undertake construction work in the face of attacks by the Taliban. India's Kabul embassy is its largest in the world and India has re-built two previous and opened two new consulates in Afghanistan. All this shows India's level of commitment to “re-build” Afghanistan and maintain an enhanced diplomatic presence; predictably, this has enraged Pakistan.
New Delhi's investment in Afghanistan in construction and re-construction work is considerable. Border Roads engineers and Indian military personnel have been airlifted to construct roads and other infrastructure such as a new Parliament House, erecting power transmission lines and a sub-station to supply Kabul with 24x7 power, building the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway, sinking tube wells in 6 provinces, running sanitation projects and medical missions, lighting 100 villages with solar power, and building a dam. In addition, India has given three airbus aircraft to Afghanistan's Ariana airline and offers scholarships for studies in India to young Afghans. All this may add up to cost New Delhi around $1.2 billion – a huge amount considering that India's internal development suffers at least partly due to lack of funds.

The Afghan hot potato
When USA begins to consider withdrawing its military from Afghanistan, it is obvious that Pakistan will strenuously endeavour to regain its former influence, and it follows that India would be forced into a difficult position due to its considerable investment in Afghanistan being at stake. Its position may by similar to a man putting a hot potato into his mouth – he cannot chew or swallow it and he cannot spit it out either; and it burns his mouth. New Delhi appears to have already acquired the hot potato by its involvement in Afghanistan, and may put it “into the mouth” when US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

To put a finer point on the matter, some questions need to be asked: Will India be able to withstand the combined might of Pakistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda on its own in Afghanistan? Will it be worthwhile to pump Indian troops into Afghanistan at enormous cost in order to “save face” and protect Indian interests in Afghanistan? If so, for how long would India remain committed militarily in Afghanistan and, more importantly, will there be an exit policy? Or will New Delhi pull out of Afghanistan a tad earlier than USA does (at the risk of displeasing its senior strategic partner), and write off its huge investment in Afghanistan as a financial misadventure?

The die is cast; the act is committed. Now only time will tell; but the tale it will tell will surely be an unhappy one. Either way, it will have huge repercussions at home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who will feed Uttar Pradesh?

By Devinder Sharma
08 Sep 2010

State governments are competing with each other to grab fertile lands of farmers and transfer these to industry. But with increasing population and decreasing arable land, feeding the people will become a huge challenge for states like Uttar Pradesh in the years to come.

Already marginalised and ignored by the policy makers, Indian farmers
resent land grab by government and industry

India is witnessing a thousand mutinies. Pitched battles are being fought across the country by poor farmers, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government and the industry. From Mangalore in Karnataka to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, from Singur in West Bengal to Mansa in Punjab, the rural countryside is literally on a boil. Large chunks of prime agricultural land are being forcibly diverted for non-agricultural purposes.

While the continuing struggle against land acquisition for instance by farmers in Aligarh, which took a violent turn and became a political ploy, is being projected by media as an agitation by farmers for higher compensation, the reality is that a majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. They are being forced to do so. The most critical, but until now ignored, aspect of this land grab is that it has serious implications for food security.

Let us take the case of Uttar Pradesh. The state has the largest population in the country, and is also the biggest producer of foodgrains. Western parts of Uttar Pradesh, comprising the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains, have been considered part of the green revolution belt. In addition to 4.10 crore tonnes of foodgrains, it produces 1.30 crore tonnes of sugarcane and 1.05 crore tonnes of potato.
Uttar Pradesh produces more foodgrains than Punjab but because of its huge population, it is hardly left with any surplus. What is however remarkable is that Uttar Pradesh has been at least feeding its own population.

This situation is bound to change soon if the government continues with its land conversion policies. The proposed eight Expressways and the townships planned along the route, along with land being gobbled by other industrial, real estate and investment projects are likely to eat away more than 23,000 villages. Although Mayawati government has dropped the townships along the Yamuna expressway, but the company that is investing in real estate claims that as per their pact with the State government, they have to be given land in an alternative location.

Former Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has in a statement said that one-third of total cultivable land of Uttar Pradesh will be eventually acquired.

This means that out of the total area of 1.98 crore hectares under foodgrain crops in Uttar Pradesh, one-third or roughly 66 lakh hectares will be shifted from agriculture to non-agriculture activity. Much of the fertile and productive lands of Western Uttar Pradesh will therefore disappear, to be replaced by concrete jungles. In addition to wheat and rice, sugarcane and potato would be the other two major crops whose production will be negatively impacted.

As per rough estimates, 66 lakh hectares that would be taken out of farming would mean a production loss of 140 lakh tonnes of foodgrains. In other words, Uttar Pradesh will be faced with a terrible food crisis in the years to come, the seeds for which are being sown now. Add to this the anticipated shortfall in potato and sugarcane production, since the area under these two crops will also go down drastically, the road ahead for Uttar Pradesh is not only dark but laced with social unrest.

Already lagging behind most other states in socio-economic development, Uttar Pradesh will surely see surge in hunger, malnutrition and under-nourishment. We can only imagine the socio-political fallout of the misadventure that the government is attempting with such a massive takeover of fertile land.

What is not being realised is that Uttar Pradesh alone will send all the estimates of the proposed National Food Security Act go topsy-turvy. At present, as per the buffer norms, the government keeps between 200 lakh tonnes to 240 lakh tonnes for distribution across the country through the Public Distribution System (PDS). In the last few years however the average foodgrain stocks with the government have been in the range of 450 to 500 lakh tonnes.

Even with such huge grain reserves, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has expressed his inability to provide 35 kg of grain per month to every eligible family. Imagine, what will happen when Uttar Pradesh alone will put an additional demand of 140 lakh tonnes. Who will then feed Uttar Pradesh?

Policy makers say that with rapid industrialisation the average incomes will go up as a result of which people will have the money to buy food from the open market and also make for nutritious choices. But the bigger question is where will the addition quantity of food come from? Already, Punjab and Haryana, comprising the food bowl, are on fast track mode to acquire farm lands. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are building up ‘land banks’ for the industry and Rajasthan has allowed the industry to buy land directly from farmers setting aside the ceiling limit.

Internationally, the food situation is worsening ever since the 2008 food crisis when 37 countries were faced with food riots. Even now, food prices globally are on an upswing. As Russia extends the wheat export ban till the next year's wheat harvest sending global prices on a hike, deadly food riots were witnessed last week in Mozambique killing at last seven people. According to news reports, anger is building up in Pakistan, Egypt and Serbia over rising prices.

Knowing that the world can witness a repeat of 2008 food crisis that resulted in food riots in 37 countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for a special meeting to discuss the implications.

Extended drought and resulting wildfires have caused a 20 per cent drop in wheat harvest in Russia sending the global wheat prices on a spiral. Wheat futures obviously would take advantage, and according to Financial Times wheat prices have gone up by 70 per cent since January. India may therefore find it difficult to purchase food from the global market if it thinks it can bank upon the international markets to bail it out. This is primarily the reason why several countries, mainly China and the countries of the oil rich Middle East are buying lands in Africa, Lain America and Asia to grow food to be shipped back home for domestic consumers.

Gone are the days when a worried Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on Aug 15, 1955 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi said: "It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture." That was in 1955. Fifty-five years later, in 2010, UPA-II thinks that food security needs of the nation can be addressed by importing food. Land must be acquired for the industry, because the industrial sector alone will be the vehicle for higher growth. There can be nothing more dangerous than this flawed approach.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Theatre of the absurd

By Hartman de Souza
03 Sep 2010

Niyamgiri and its tribal inhabitants are saved, at least for the time being! But before we begin to sing praise of the government and its minders, isn't it prudent to review the actions and inactions of the same government which remained a mute spectator, even an active facilitator, while destruction of the Niyamgiri hill continued unabated for years?

Dongria Kondh tribals had to struggle for years to convince the world of their rights
Sorry for not breaking this news earlier.I am sure many of you already know it. I was travelling in Niyamgiri the last few days. Yes, Victory at last!! Niyam Raja, the Mountain God will not be harmed by the bauxite miners!! Many thanks to all of you for your support to the cause. The people are celebrating in Niyamgiri. Of course the battle is half won with Vedanta's monstrous refinery still active. Also Vedanta is eyeing other verdant hills in the region. Then justice is yet to be given to Arsi Majhi's family as well as Lado Sikaka. There are other threats as well like branding innocent tribals as Maoists. Then there is a pending case in a green court against Vedanta by the Dongria Kondh. So, we are yet to reach the final destination. But nevertheless, a great victory for all. More power to the people!

An activist writing on Facebook

In naming the behemoth he created Vedanta, harking to a brahminical sage who posited the outside world as being an illusion and as far from reality as Niyamgiri is from his mansion in London, Anil Agarwal plays a cruel joke on us. Not only is his mine, alumina refinery and smelter, ‘maya’, and, vedantically speaking, not there at all either for the Adivasi or misguided activists to see, equally deceptive is the satisfaction that he may have been thwarted in his quest to be the richest Indian on this terribly fragile and far from illusory planet.

Cynics of course now see the decision of the MoEF as little more than a superbly stage-managed spectacle intended to introduce to India and the world, a prince-in-waiting, or, as his party’s spin doctors will have us believe, a knight in shining armour rallying to the cause of this country’s largely ignored if not abused antipodal populations.

To those in tune with the skulduggery afoot, the high-minded posturing of Rahul Gandhi recalls a political cartoon of the 60s showing a well-heeled American tycoon, cigar in mouth, doling coin into the grateful hands of an impoverished African with his right hand while reaching out behind his back with his left hand, to loot a large bag marked with the dollar sign.

Out of decency one must ask whether public memory has become as short as day-old text messages. Whether this country has become so craven it will choose to delete the many anomalies that crop up in this seven year itch when Vedanta (and its beneficiaries) tried to bulldoze their way to the bauxite?

Vedanta’s seven year greed around Niyamgiri had three components, namely, the mining operations, the alumina refinery and the smelter. The refinery project at Lanjigarh was granted approval as far back as September 2004, in all likelihood with the willing consent or even behest of the PMO. There were serious violations in the clearance procedure, a fact challenged by at least three petitioners including the Wildlife Society of Orissa before the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court. The same committee recommended that the environment clearance granted be revoked since it was based on misrepresentation and concealment of information, that the MoEF had granted undue favour to the project and had moreover, approved the project in haste. The MoEF (under D. Raja, now the infamous Telecom minister) opposed the recommendation and prayed to the Supreme Court that the project be approved since there would be no impact on either the tribal populations or wildlife.

Despite this damning report, the Supreme Court approved the clearances since the MoEF itself was keen that Niyamgiri be mined!

The plot now thickens: Vedanta’s smelter plant is located at Jharsuguda and construction on this also started prior to government clearance and approval. A petition to the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) the Delhi High Court saw a cost of 50,000 rupees imposed on Vedanta. But Vedanta’s case, argued by no less than Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress M.P. and party’s senior spokesperson, went under the hammer in 2009, again, somewhat surprisingly, because the MoEF supported the projects, legal warts and all.

In early 2009 Rahul Gandhi had his dress rehearsal in Niyamgiri, promising the same Adivasi bussed in last week that he would not allow mining in Niyamgiri. While he flew off by helicopter to see how the Dalits in UP were faring, on April 28th 2009, the mining project at Niyamgiri was given its environmental clearances by the MoEF.

In June 2009, the clearances were challenged by 25 Adivasi and two other petitioners, including a reputed earth scientists, before the NEAA on the grounds, funnily enough, that Environment Impact Assessment reports (mandatory before any clearance) were prepared two years after the so called Public Hearing on the matter (another farce!).
Hearing for this case was held twice every month over a year and some, by which time Jairam Ramesh had already become the environment minister. Perhaps not fully clued in yet on his Blackberry, the minister maintained there was no need for a Public Hearing and that all environmental concerns were carefully considered. As late as May 2010 in fact, his ministry held before the NEAA that Niyamgiri had been approved after taking due diligence and that it was essential for the development of the area.

In a best case scenario, the MoEF can now only issue show-cause notices to Anil Agarwal and a host of other mining magnates in at least 10 other states. The show will go on. When, as some legal minds are saying, the anomalies may go all the way to the doors of the Supreme Court, fuelling hysterical rumours of suitcases of money changing hands in various cities and countries, where is the reason to smile or, at the very least, believe that justice will prevail?

Moreover, for all the roses thrown at his feet, one must not forget this minister's prevarications, irritability with straight questions, and indeed arrogance when conducting public hearings over the infamous BT brinjals...or the fact that his government and him chose to wilfully ignore the repeated telecast of farmers in Andhra Pradesh (before they were taken off the air) who had already grown the damn brinjals and were proudly thrusting them up to the cameras at the hearing in Hyderabad! Who gave them the seeds pray and why has no one been brought to book?
On the other side is still the Posco project, guilty of violating the laws but now expected to be cleared by the PM himself, the fundamental reason of course, above any law of the land, and certainly above public opinion, is that high-growth-rate India should not frighten away foreign investment with something as petty as environmental 'intransigence'.

Before we pat ourselves on the backs and pop out the corks, there's also the matter of a dam in Andhra Pradesh and the Adivasis there soon to have water flowing above their noses. There's Sterlite in Tuticorin, where, a week or so back, in collusion with the police, activists protesting the project were arrested and detained. There's still Coca Cola in Kerala, contesting a decision that the world and its mother knows went against the company? There's the farcical situation of Goa, where no one, not even the most ardent activists can tell you exactly which mine is legal and which is not, such the legal skulduggery at work, such the impressive technique of throwing activists to the mercy of wolves in the courts.

But then, why should this information be made easily available when you have provision for the RTI, a state-sponsored device intended to keep you from the truth as long as it takes to have illegalities brought within the ambit of the law. In Goa there are over 400 illegal stone-quarrying businesses, but since politicians and their functionaries have a hand in this trade, the government in Goa now proposes to make these quarries legal! They will do this in a court, thumbing their noses at us…
Isn't this the bottom line? Robber barons doling out the money and starting the work, knowing full well the machinery will be put in place to grant them the necessary clearances...

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