Monday, October 10, 2011

Saving Punjab farmer

By Devinder Sharma
4 October, 2011

To overcome the adverse long term impacts of intensive farming, Punjab needs to make its agriculture more sustainable and farmer centric.

For over 40 years now, ever since Green Revolution began, the nation has eulogised the Punjab farmer. Newspapers have reported time and again about the visible prosperity ushered in through intensive agriculture. Magazine articles have featured the opulent life style of prosperous Punjabi farmers. The story of the bygone era somehow remains transfixed in our memory, and that perhaps is the reason why policy makers, economists and scientists still continue to live in the past.

For nearly two decades now, Punjab’s underbelly has been gradually caving in. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers has turned the verdant lands poisonous, water mining has dried the aquifers leading to the expansion of the desert, and chemical fertilisers and pesticides have played havoc with the environment and human health. With the input prices climbing year after year and the output prices remaining static, Punjab farmers became a victim of the same economic policies that projected them as country’s heroes. Agriculture has become not only unsustainable but economically unviable.

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Poor ideas to remove poverty

By Gopal Krishna
28 September, 2011

While the Planning Commission has repeatedly failed to provide any worthwhile solution to eradicate poverty, its insincere attempts to deliberately hide the actual number of poor in the country makes one question its relevance in present times.

In an affidavit filed by B D Virdi, Adviser, Planning Commission before the Supreme Court in the PUCL vs Union of India & Others or Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001, the Commission said that any citizen who spends more than Rs 965 per month in urban India (around Rs.32 per day) and Rs 781 in rural India (around Rs.26 per day) “at June 2011 price level” would be considered not to be poor. This is set as poverty line based on the monetary value of some normative expenditure that is deemed essential.

The affidavit submits that “At June 2011 price level, for a family of five this provisional poverty line would amount to Rs.4, 824 per month in urban areas and Rs.3, 905 per month in rural areas. However, final poverty lines following the Tendulkar Committee will only be available after completion of the 2011-12 NSS Survey” by National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). Till then poor can wait.

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The business of knowledge

By Sudhirendar Sharma
26 September, 2011

In the race to keep pace with the educational imperatives of growing population can quality of education be allowed to be compromised? Prakash Jha's film Aarakshan takes a compelling dig against privatisation in education.

Needless to say, you don't come home after watching the film Aarakshan (meaning ‘Reservation’) with a happy-go-lucky feeling, nor do you come away entirely sure of what you've seen. Reality, like the warped mind of the protagonist, is wholly subjective, and the only thing that is clear, crystal clear, is that, howsoever growing and expanding it might be, tuition cannot be a substitute for education.

Prakash Jha is one filmmaker who has carved out his own niche within a Bollywood system that is both intellectually bankrupt and box office driven. Often labelled a political film director, Jha has found it hard to avoid marketing gimmickry to deal with the subject of his recent flick. The politics of ban on Aarakshan film only justified his commercial wisdom.

Despite losing the plot in the first half, Aarakshan remains an important movie that takes a compelling dig against privatization in education. Though the narrative sets up a simplistic good versus evil dispute and a high-caste versus lower-caste conflict, the screenplay nevertheless exposes the unethical commercialization of education as the core issue.

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Teary tale of onion trade

By Devinder Sharma
21 September, 2011

The recent ban on onion exports resulted in an aggressive lobbying to revoke the ban as demanded by the wholesale traders. The way Chief Ministers and cabinet ministers joined hands against the export ban, it is obvious that onions have become important political tool.

Concerned by the rising retail prices of onions, government banned its export on September 9 but within 11 days of imposing the ban, the powerful traders lobby forced the government to lift the ban. Succumbing to pressure from the big traders, who normally cry hoarse in the name of farmers, the speed at which the onion trade made the government to bend backwards is a pointer to the monumental failure to curb food inflation.

For over 4 years now, ever since food inflation has hit the roof, I haven’t seen so much of political activity as I have observed in the last few days. Triggered by protest by Nasik onion traders, who had refused to partake in daily auction to demonstrate their anger against the sudden imposition of exports ban, the state NCP chief Madhukar Pichad made appeals to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan too deputed his Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-patil and some of his colleagues to meet Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other concerned ministers.

According to news reports, Prithviraj Chavan had himself lobbied with Pranab Mukherjee and Anand Sharma seeking an immediate withdrawal of the ban on onion exports. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar too had thrown his weight behind the agitating traders and had met Food Minister K V Thomas to impress upon him the need to allow onion exports. He forcefully argued in favour of onion exports at the meeting of the empowered Group of Minister (eGoM). Knowing the influence Sharad Pawar wields in UPA II, it was expected that the government would give in.

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Save nature, the tribal way

By Rina Mukherji
18 September, 2011

Nilanjan Bhattacharya's film Johar-Welcome to our world highlights the sustainable practices of our indigenous peoples which they nurtured on the strength of their bonds with the forests.

India has the highest concentration of indigenous peoples in the world- with 635 tribes totaling 84.32 million people- and yet we have only belatedly woken up to the need to recognize the rights of forest dwelling communities. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was a just step in the direction of conserving our biodiversity. But the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, which shall pave the way for genetically modified crops, threatens to make a mockery of our rich biodiversity and traditional agricultural and food practices, including those of tribals.

Nilanjan Bhattacharya’s film Johar-Welcome to our world is an attempt to focus on a sustainable food culture that our indigenous peoples have nurtured on the strength of the bonds that bind them to the forests they live in.
This documentary, that recently won a National Award for best narration /writing, extensively covers the lives of the Birhor, Munda, Oraon, Asur, Korwa, and other tribal communities in Jharkhand, and dwells on their traditional occupations, which have been unable to bear the onslaught of the westernized model of development, leaving them without means of livelihood, or land to farm on.

Tribal lands all over India yield the major part of the country’s mineral wealth, including iron ore, mica, copper, chromium and coal. Yet, 75 per cent of the tribals live below the poverty line. Tribal hamlets like Amlasole in West Bengal and Kalahandi in Orissa are synonymous with starvation deaths and misery. Whenever dams have come up, it has been on tribal land. And so have wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere reserves. Forest-dwelling tribals have always found themselves marginalized, with the forests from which they gathered produce increasingly being cut down by successive governments - British and Indian, and forest officials denuding forests of the trees that give them their unique character. As a consequence, vast tracts that were home to forest-dwelling tribals are now barren land, with not a single tree in sight.

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Greed eyeing green

By Sudhirendar Sharma
16 September, 2011

Is green capitalism a distraction from the real issues that the world needs to address to realize sustainable development?

Henk Manschot, a Professor of Ethics and Sustainable Development at the Kosmopolis Institute in the Netherlands, shocked a global gathering at a conference in the Hague late last year when he revealed how ‘global footprint’ increases as people move up the human development index. As people consume resources to go up on the index, their ecological footprint stretches on additional hectares of land on the planet. ‘If the resource poor billion plus were to gain improved access to basic services such as health, education and portable water, the planet will run out of its hectares,’ warned Manschot.

The warning is imminent although there is no international consensus on how to reach out to the deprived billions. While global food security has yet to be achieved, the outlook for freshwater scarcity and improved sanitation looks bleak. Collectively, these crises are severely impacting the possibility of sustaining prosperity to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for reducing extreme poverty. Top it with growing fossil fuel and energy demand and the cup of woes will spill over like a never-before tsunami of unprecedented nature. The signs are ominous!

Forty years since Stockholm and twenty years following the Rio Summit, the world has slipped backwards on its race to alleviate poverty and on its efforts to reverse the ecological decline. Conversely, obsession with capitalist model of development has acerbated social instability, economic insecurity and job losses. While some of the biggest western-style economies are dragging the global economy with their sovereign debt dramas, the developing world's obsession with economic growth is leading to deepening of the ecological crises.

To pull the planet from the current mess, world leaders will get back to the drawing board yet again. Knowing well that none of their previous commitments to sustainable development have worked, the congregation at Rio in June 2012 will carve out a new global agenda for survival of mankind. Though global climate negotiations have already hit a road block, the leaders are taking a detour to charter a ‘green economy’ pathway aimed at getting the planet back on track. While ‘green' as a colour seems promisingly soothing, its contents are fuzzy and somewhat contentious.

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Distressed farmers declare crop-holiday

By Devinder Sharma
15 September, 2011

To revive agriculture and to make farmers debt-free, government must bring in a Farmers Income Guarantee Act to determine the monthly income package a farm family must receive.

There is something terribly going wrong with agriculture. While nearly 40,000 farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have defaulted on repayment to the State Bank of India alone to the tune of Rs 600-crore, hundreds of farmers in the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, comprising the fertile and irrigated East Godawari and West Godwari districts, have refused to cultivate paddy this year declaring a ‘crop holiday’.

What may appear to be two completely disconnected events happening in two different geographical regions of the country are in reality a wake up call. Whether it is the northeast or the more productive northwest regions; whether it is Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Odisha; agriculture continues to be in the throes of what appears to be a perpetual crisis for survival. What is not realised is that it is actually a crisis of sustainability and economic viability.

It all began from the fertile konaseema region of East Godawari district in Andhra Pradesh where a small farmer Suryabhagwan owning six-acres of land voluntarily announced that he would prefer to work as a ‘coolie’ than to undertake paddy cultivation. Already under heavy debt and knowing that another season of paddy cultivation will only add to his indebtedness, his call for a ‘crop holiday’ soon reverberated. Within a few weeks, the idea of a ‘crop holiday’ in the ongoing kharif season spread like wildfire and more than 1 lakh hectares in the two irrigated districts today lies barren.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Maize Matters

By Pandurang Hegde
09 Sep 2011

Backed by government support, maize cultivation has spread to a large area of India to cater to increased demand from the industry. The shift towards maize will not only upset the delicate nutritional balance in dry regions but it will also pave way for agri-corps to push GM maize into India.

The high priests of agricultural bureaucracy have been chanting the mantra of second green revolution for quite sometime. It seems the country is moving towards this through maize revolution. The vast expanse of the countryside in north and southern India is full of standing maize crop. This versatile crop, which can grow in any kind of ecological zones, is changing the agricultural landscape in India.


UNCTAD finds fault with recovery measures

By Ashok B Sharma
08 Sep 2011

Instead of regulating the financial system, developed economies are trying to woo the very speculators who created the problem, says a report by the UN agency.

A United Nations report for the first time has taken a dig at the faulty measures being adopted so far to bail out the world economy from the financial crisis which engulfed it since August-September 2008.