Friday, November 30, 2012
The death of former Prime Minister I. K. Gujral is a loss to the intellectual and public life of the country, said Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today.
Conveying his condolences to Mr. Gujral's family, Dr. JP said that Mr. Gujral stood for values and cleanliness in public life.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Surajya Movement for good governance was launched on ‘Quit India Day’ (August 9, 2012). Since then, it has steadily progressed into an inclusive and constructive people’s movement. It is a non-partisan reforms movement, rising above the fray of competitive politics. It has generated considerable public support for its primary goals: curbing corruption through an effective and empowered Lokayukta, guaranteeing citizen’s right to public services, empowering local governments for creating basic amenities at the grassroots, guaranteeing quality health, education and opportunities for growth to enable everyone to live with dignity and self-respect.
Surajya Movement has now spread to nearly every town and city. Round Tables discussions conducted in more than 90 locations brought together thousands of leading opinion makers, intellectuals, public representatives including present and past legislators, eminent jurists, freedom fighters, representatives of organizations of advocates, doctors, teachers, employees and other professionals, luminaries from the print, electronic media and film industry and dozens of civil society organizations. Tens of thousands of ordinary and middle-class citizens along with prominent individuals at the town, ward and colony levels were covered in Surajya Movement activities. Also, over one lakh students and youth along with hundreds of educational institutions have enthusiastically and voluntarily participated in demonstrations, pledges, marches and creative competitions.
This first phase of the movement will be completed on the International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9). Subsequently, Surajya Movement will go into a second, direct participatory phase at the grassroots level under the banner of ‘Back to the People’. This phase transition will be marked by people’s mobilization activities in prominent cities and towns; a 3-Day Surajya Deeksha will be undertaken by the Surajya movement leaders at Hyderabad:
Surajya Deeksha : 3-day fast by Surajya Steering Committee leaders led by Convener, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (MLA)
Dates : 5, 6 & 7 December, 2012
Venue : Surajya Deeksha Vedika, Dharna Chowk, near Indira Park, Hyderabad
Timings : 10am, December 5th, 2012
This 3-day Deeksha (fast) aims to focus the society’s attention on Surajya Charter of Demands so that the government may respond positively and in time.
SURAJYA CHARTER OF DEMANDS
Presented to the Government
I. Government must immediately create an independent, empowered and effective State Lokayukta institution for curbing widespread corruption at various levels. District Level Ombudsman should be an integral part of this Lokayukta.
II. Enact Citizen’s Right to Public Services legislation to guarantee timely and corruption-free services in all government offices. The government must also ensure: (a) Citizen’s Charters for every government office that compensate applicants for any delays and (b) the mandatory and proactive disclosure of public information by all public authorities as per the Sec 4.1(b) of Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.
III. Ensure basic amenities through local governments: immediately conduct the long-delayed elections to our panchayats and municipalities and empower them as per the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments; at least 10% of the State budget must be directly transferred to these elected local governments for guaranteeing water and sanitation, roads, steady power supply in all our towns and villages.
IV. Guarantee quality health, education and opportunities for growth to enable everyone to live with dignity and self-respect by initiating fundamental reforms to our education, healthcare delivery systems and employment creation mechanisms.
V. India has signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Therefore, the government must officially observe the International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9), on par with Women’s Day, Literacy Day, etc. It must ensure that all educational institutions, government offices and public authorities in the State take part in the anti-corruption day awareness generation and publicity programes.
The government must also support the national-level efforts to reform our electoral system so that the curse of money-and-muscle power is eradicated.
We warmly invite you to visit Surajya Deeksha Vedika any day between 5-7 December, to meet Surajya Movement leaders, express your support for the cause and reaffirm your commitment to its reform goals. You are welcome to visit this venue as per convenience. You can kindly be in touch with our colleague Sri Katari Srinivasa Rao (98660-74029; 040-23419949) for further details.
Given the non-partisan and constructive approach of Surajya Movement, and given your role as an elected legislator for the Andhra Pradesh State, we appeal to you to take up the movement’s goals and objectives in various and appropriate forums in the coming days and weeks.
Our freedom fighters and founding fathers made history by helping deliver ‘Swarajya’. It is time we stepped forward, stood on the right side of the unfolding history and help deliver ‘Surajya’ for our people.
With warm regards,
State Convener - Surajya Movement
The Steering Committee of the Surajaya Movement has appealed to Members of the Andhra Pradesh Legislature and Members of Parliament to lend their support to the movement for good governance.
The non-partisan reforms movement launched on ‘Quit India Day’ (August 9, 2012) primarily aims at curbing corruption through an effective and empowered Lokayukta, guaranteeing citizen’s right to public services, empowering local governments for creating basic amenities at the grassroots, and guaranteeing quality health, education and opportunities for growth to enable everyone to live with dignity and self-respect.
To focus public attention on the movement’s the goals, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan and some other members of the Steering Committee will be observing a three-day fast at Indira Park from December 5.
In a letter addressed to all legislators, Dr. JP has invited them to visit the Surajya Deeksha Vedika, meet Surajya Movement leaders, express support for the cause and reaffirm their commitment to its reform goals
“Given the non-partisan and constructive approach of the Surajya Movement, and given your role as an elected legislator for the Andhra Pradesh State, we appeal to you to take up the movement’s goals and objectives in various and appropriate forums in the coming days and weeks.
“Our freedom fighters and founding fathers made history by helping deliver ‘Swarajya’. It is time we stepped forward, stood on the right side of the unfolding history and help deliver ‘Surajya’ for our people.”
The letter was released to the media at the Somajiguda Press Club here today by members of the Surajya Steering Committee Mr. K. Madhava Rao, Mr. Rao Chelikani, Mr. DVVS Varma and Surajya Deeksha Camp Incharge Mr. Katari Srinivasa Rao.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Caste and gender discrimination can be eradicated only through education, economic self-reliance and urbanization, said Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan here today.
Speaking after garlanding a portrait of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule on his death anniversary at the party headquarters, Dr. JP advised youth to opt for inter-caste marriage if they like the partner.
Taking part in a discussion, Dr. JP said that Jyotiba Phule is an outstanding social reformers who devoted his life to eradicating caste discrimination, liberating women and promoting education.
Dr. JP said that fighting against caste discrimination, which is deeply ingrained in our psyche, is a challenge in the present-day identity politics.
Dr. JP said that real transformation in society cannot be brought about through the barrel of the gun. It is possible only when good behavior is rewarded through incentives.
Lok Satta Working President D. V. V. S. Varma, and activists Srikant, P. V. Rao, Hanumanthu, Hyma Praveen and Lavanya took part in the discussion.
Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today condemned the Telugu Desam Party for its harsh comments against State Governor E. S. L. Narasimhan.
In a media statement, Dr. JP said such comments against constitutional institutions like President, Vice President, Supreme Court, High Court, CAG, Election Commission and UPSC are unwarranted as they are beyond party politics.
Dr. JP pointed out that Mr. E. S. L. Narasimhan is known for his integrity and vast administrative experience. There can be no doubt that he is capable of acting beyond party politics.
Asking the Governor to open his office in Gandhi Bhavan under the simple pretext of his not granting an appointment without realizing his limitations is uncalled for. Whatever be the differences in opinion or ideological conflict, politicians should not resort to harsh criticism, more so when constitutional bodies are involved.
The TDP criticism has nothing to do with the merits of the arguments on sanctioning prosecution against a Minister. The Governor is duty bound to go by evidence while taking a decision and ignore the advice of the Government if such advice is contrary to evidence and colored by partisan politics.
Criticism should always be rational and factual. Such coarseness in public discourse does not bode well for our future, said Dr. JP.
Question For Dr.JP by Samba
This is in reference to the article posted on the loksatta website "Agriculture – from Poverty to Prosperity", written by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan. I'm sending my comments in this mail since there is no other means to share feedback on the article page.
It is a thoroughly researched article, quite characteristic of Dr.JP, and makes a sincere, genuine and credible attempt to improve the lives of our farmers. It is this breadth and depth of knowledge of Dr.JP that continues to amaze his followers for years, and draws new admirers.
However, I strongly disagree with the opinions expressed by Dr.JP regarding the cultivation of genetically modified crops. It seems that we haven't yet learnt our lessons from the green revolution -- the very fertilizers and pesticides which were hailed as life and blood for crops 50 years ago are being looked upon as health hazards in just over 5 decades of their invention.
Who knows what these genetic modifications would lead these plant systems into? Who guarantees that these induced genetic modifications would not lead to further mutations and counter-mutations on their own in a period of, lets say a few decades or centuries, transforming those plant systems into a completely different species? How can a consumer accept food from a genetically modified crop even though the scientists, at that period in time and with their limited knowledge, assures nothing to worry?
Further, once we start cultivating these genetically modified crops, the traditional varieties would completely vanish in a short period of time[market dynamics] thus leading to a situation where we do not have the originals in case we need any further modifications or even new research for new needs and new challenges.
And above all, consumers are demanding more and more of original food, be it organic or even native varieties; for example, the hybrid thick-tomato or round-brinjal which are pushed on to the farmers by the agricultural research institutes on account of high yield and/or longer durability, are bought by consumers only because they were not given a choice of the original native varieties; if an option is available, 90 out of hundred will buy the native varieties, even at a higher price, not because of any sentiments but because of superior quality and unforgettable taste.
So, I would advise caution and demand more research in the traditional varieties and better farming practices than following someone else's mistake just because they are supposedly wiser than us, at the moment. It would be good if Loksatta can organize a brainstorming session on this topic by experts in agriculture, genetic engineering, environment protection, farming community, consumer research bodies, etc.
This is in reference to a couple of articles published on Lok Satta website related to Genetically Modified Crops, henceforth referred to as GM Crops. These two articles detail the efforts put by Lok Satta Party in support of field trials and possibly their subsequent commercial cultivation of GM crops in India. Going a step ahead, Lok Satta Party has even impleaded itself against the 10 year moratorium imposed by Supreme Court of India (on October 7th 2012) on field trials of GM Crops in India.
Sir, what appears to be milky white may be pitch dark when viewed from a different angle; so, I humbly request you to tread slowly in this issue and review the matter holistically before plunging ourselves into it.
I’m not talking about the intellectual property rights and their use or misuse by large companies or their monopolistic trade practices. I’m not talking about the plight of the farmers who may not be able to buy seeds for sowing in their own farms. I’m not talking about the pitiable situation of an elected government not being able to supply the seeds to its farmers.
I’m talking about the immaturity of the technology. I am talking about the danger to ecology. I am talking about the possible annihilation of native varieties (which we did lose immensely during the first phase of ‘green revolution’). I’m talking about the numerous inexplicable diseases that may cripple the consumers of these genetically modified crops (any studies on the linkage between GM crops and diseases like high incidents of depression, allergies, cancer, etc in USA and other developed countries?). I’m talking about the incapability of existing sciences to find the damage they do on humans and the eco system; we cannot, again, feel sorry after a few decades like the way we do in case of ‘green revolution’. I’m talking about the zero gain with possibility of irrepairable losses in allowing these GM crops since these are not meant [as of now] for high yields but only for pest resistance.
It is such a hotly debated topic in those countries where these inventions were made; and for every research that shows GM crops do not have any side effects [those mostly sponsored by the very corporations that sell GM crops], there are various research papers by independent universities or agencies refuting the same and even showing that cultivation of genetically modified crops have, instead of reducing the consumption of pesticides, increased the pesticide consumption by leaps and bounds because new weeds and new pests continue to attack these crops.
A half a century ago, green revolution entered the developing world as a helping hand via under-the-hood cold war diplomacy; and now GM crops are entering the same developing world as a ‘huge promise’ by their large capital houses. I could not find a single country from the developed nations club which employed Green Revolution. It was meant for “Third World Countries” to “save them from famines and starvation” as a publicly stated goal but to “prevent them from joining the sphere of communism” as a secret mission. And sadly we fell in to their trap then; lets not do the same again.
Our leaders, who never learnt from our history, turned a blind eye to the traditional cultivation methods (not sure if deliberately or inadvertently, nevertheless killed by the British rule) that once were noted in the administrative records of the East India Company as superior to theirs and yielded much higher returns than what we are getting by ‘green revolutionized’ crops today. Modern science, now, says that our traditional methods of cultivation are much better for environment, humans, birds and friendly insects; but it is too late to revive our traditional knowledge since three generations of neglect and forceful suppression have killed almost everything that can sustain such knowledge – we do not rear enough cattle per village to provide enough natural manure, lost the knowledge of friendly weeds that can help prevent pests, lost the knowledge of natural pesticides since we do not even recognize many plants, forget about knowing their medicinal values.
Green Revolution introduced the problems of malnutrition (because crops yield more with fertilizers containing high ratios of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium, and such fertilized crops do not contain many minerals that humans need), contaminated and polluted land, water, air, food, life, and what not. Scientists still trying to find solutions to the problems created by Green Revolution by the very means through which this science originated, i.e. more fertilizers, more pesticides, more fungicides, more synthetic pyrethroids, and more and more of the same stuff. Same is true for Genetically Modified Crops; they introduce more genes and more mutations to solve more anomalies produced by the very usage of these GM crops. A simple example: Researchers invented a genetically modified calf that can give milk which does not cause milk allergy – getting it? no one questions into why such an allergy comes in the first place, leave alone trying to prevent it. It is all about money and which market player can have a bigger share of what market segment – farming, dairy, poultry, medicine, education, engineering, energy, weapons, -- you name it, the result shall be the same.
Sir, I’m no expert on any field but I feel confident of being a jack of many trades. If there are any technical, economic, or political facts that I missed or misunderstood, then please let me know so that I can correct myself in this matter. I’m not stubborn or xenophobic to reject everything that is not indigenous; but I certainly take things with caution and go for external stuff only if I cannot get it locally.
I would sincerely request you to review the decision and initiate a discussion with a panel of experts on various fields such as farming, agriculture, genetics, environment, consumer interests, legal (patent law), healthcare, and allied fields. It is not too late before we plunge into this irreversible mess.
I do not want to raise these views publicly since these are differing with the publicly stated opinion of the Party, but I would request a healthy debate within the the party strategists on this topic.
I read your mails with interest. I can see your genuine concern. Certainly let us learn more about GM technology, or any other technology and have a meaningful debate.
1. All human progress is a result of the clash between hope and fear. Whenever you embrace new technology, there can never be 100% guarantees. All economists know that the cost of ensuring 100% guarantees is prohibitive. Ultimately it is about statistical probability, reasonable precautions and effective regulation. Microwave ovens, mobile phones, nuclear energy, radio isotopes, thermal power plants, biotechnology, vaccines, antibiotics, even some food stuffs are fraught with risks. Vitamins A & D can be poisonous if you eat in excess! We have to have a reasonable and uniform standard of safety, and not a variable and arbitrary one to suit our moods.
2. If GM seeds or hybrids are more remunerative, let farmers go for them. Economic forces and competition will decide which technology will survive. We cannot argue against allopathy on the ground that Ayurveda may suffer. However, we should preserve genetic diversity and germ plasm of all varieties is stored in many nations. Let us do it.
3. If people really want traditional varieties, so be it. But it can only be proved by the willingness of consumers to pay higher price. Farmers or any producers cannot sacrifice their lives for others’ fancies.
4. The only fair position can be let scientists and farmers decide what is best and safe. Let consumers decide what they want. Let market determine through price signal what people want. Arbitrary and unscientific regulation and emotional responses do more damage than good.
It is necessary to have a healthy debate on this issue. I am therefore putting this in public domain.
With warm regards
Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, Convener of the Surajya Movement Steering Committee and national President of the Lok Satta Party, will observe hunger-strike for three days from December 5 with a view to awakening and mobilizing people on three demands the fulfillment of which will transform their lives to some extent.
The demands are institution of a strong and independent Lokayukta, enactment of a law to guarantee basic services to people and devolution of 10 percent of the State budget on village panchayats and municipal wards or divisions. The Surajya Movement is focusing on two other issues: comprehensive reforms to ensure quality education and healthcare to all and replacement of the first-past-the post electoral system by proportional representation.
Addressing a media conference here today, Dr. JP and other members of the Steering Committee said they would meet Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy on November 29 and request him to act on the demands which do not cost the exchequer an extra rupee.
Dr. JP said that since the launch of the Surajya Movement on August 9, workshops and round-table conferences have been held in over 90 towns. The non-partisan movement has attracted leaders from all parties and caught the imagination of thousands of youth and students.
Dr. JP said that in the next phase of the movement, the Steering Committee will strive to train up to one lakh youth on what needs to be done to transform the nature of the polity. The movement aims at showing a way out to vast sections of people who are mired in gloom over the state of politics in the country, he said.
Mr. Ch. Rajeswara Rao, freedom fighter, said that the response to the movement was more than expected. The need of the hour is collective effort and not mutual bickering on the basic demands.
Prof. K. Nageswar, MLC, said that the Surajya Movement demands should be conceded since no political party is opposed to them.
Mr. K. Madhava Rao, former Chief Secretary and Chief Electoral Officer, said that there is no point in being silent spectators to the irregularities in the present system. The civil society has, therefore, taken the initiative to remedy the situation.
Mr.K.Ramachandra Murthy, Chief Editor of HMTV and The Hans India, underlined the need for regulatory authorities for education and healthcare sectors.
Mr. Solipeta Ramachandra Reddy regretted that the State Government continues to neglect local governments. Mr. Chelikani V. Rao said the Steering Committee has members with immense credibility to pursue the Surajya cause. Mr. D. Somasundar, President, AP Union of Working Journalists, pledged journalists’ support to the movement. Mr. T.L Narasimha Rao of the Lok Satta movement spoke on the urgency of the demands.
In a note circulated to the media, the Steering Committee explained the rationale behind the Surajya movement. The following is the text:
“India is going through a crisis because the State has failed in discharging its basic responsibilities with politicians engaged in perpetuating corruption and abuse of power, anointing their children as political successors and amassing personal wealth. They throw freebies at the public, foment divisions in society and indulge in vote buying to convert people into vote banks.
Athough deeply political, Surajya Movement is non-partisan in its approach. The movement is placing five demands before the public and the Government for immediate action. What is needed now is not merely blame-throwing and political rhetoric, but constructive and purposive action to improve the life of ordinary citizens.
The first is the creation of strong and independent anti corruption mechanisms at the Central and State levels. The proposed Lokpal and Lokayuktas should have control over institutions like the CBI and ACBs. They should have complete authority to investigate cases of corruption against all high functionaries in the political and bureaucratic establishments. The enabling legislation should provide for independent prosecution, establishment of special courts and confiscation of property of the guilty. The power to sanction prosecution should be removed from the Government and vested with Lokpal/Lokayuktas with appropriate safeguards.
The second is enactment of a law to guarantee simple services like issuance of ration cards, and land records, approval of building plans and sanction of water/power connections. As of now, tax paying people are treated as mendicants and made to run from pillar to post to get the services. Such services should be provided within a specific timeframe. The law should provide for payment of compensation to citizens at the rate of Rs.100 per day for delay in services and penalties on erring public servants.
The third is devolution of 10 percent of the State's budget on village panchayats and municipal wards so that directly elected people's representatives can provide simple day-to-day services like water supply, roads, storm water drains, drainage and sewerage, garbage disposal, street lights, schools and parks. As of now, people are forced to run after officials and legislators to get such services. Although the State Government spends Rs.17000 per capita per year it has miserably failed to make available the simple services. In contrast, Jamshedpur city has demonstrated that all local services can be provided if Rs.1500 to Rs. 2000 is spent per capita.
The fourth is bringing about comprehensive reforms in the education and healthcare sectors. Although the State Government spends Rs.15000 per child per year on education, the quality of education imparted is abysmally poor. India ranks 73rd among 74 countries in the standard of education imparted up to the child's age of 15, according to the PISA survey of OECD. Education reform is vital to give an opportunity to every child to advance in life irrespective of its status of birth. Similarly, primary and family healthcare are in a shambles and warrant comprehensive reform. As of now, poor people are forced to spend huge amounts out of pocket towards treatment of even simple ailments.
The fifth is replacement of the first-past-the-post electoral system by proportional system of representation. The present system has spawned evils like vote buying and fragmentation of society on the basis of religion, caste, region and language, and is preventing the best and the brightest from entering politics. The nation is getting fragmented, and the idea of India is in retreat. We need to adopt proportional representation system to reduce the evil of vote-buying, promote participation of honest, competent and committed citizens in political process, and enhance viability of pan-Indian politics.”
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
Dr. Jayprakash Narayan, President of the Lok Satta Party and Federation of Independent Farmers’ Associations (FIFA), will inaugurate the 9th National Farmers’ Conference at FAPCCI Bhawan, Red Hills, Hyderabad at 10-00 a.m. on November 24.
Representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Indian Sugar Mills’ Association, Forward Markets Commission and Rice Millers’ Association and 600 farmers’ delegates from 14 States are taking part in the conference.
On this occasion, Peddi Reddy Thimma Reddy Farm Foundation Awards will be presented to farmers’ leaders, progressive farmers and outstanding scientists. Mr. Ch. Mutyam Reddy and Mr. M. Janakiramaiah are among people selected for the awards.
The conference will have technical sessions on commercial as well as food crops.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
The Lok Satta Party today charged that the State Government has used the Anti Corruption Bureau to whitewash the liquor scandal in the State and said that only a CBI inquiry would expose and bring the guilty to book.
In a media statement, Lok Satta Party General Secretary Katari Srinivasa Rao said that going by media reports the ACB has named only Government officials and liquor traders as accused and given a clean chit to elected people's representatives including Ministers.
It may be recalled that the ACB had raided a number of liquor syndicates in districts in December 2011 and early this year and claimed to have unearthed records establishing a nexus between liquor traders on the one hand and politicians, officials and media on the other. Many of the licenses happened to be in the names of people below the poverty line, indicating that powerful people obtained them in their names. As the ramifications of the scandal began to unfold, the State Government transferred the ACB Additional Director spearheading the inquiry.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao said that the Government has succeeded in scuttling the inquiry through a change of guard going by the ACB's report to the High Court.
The Lok Satta Party, he recalled, has always been fighting for insulating the ACB from political interference by bringing it under the purview of a powerful and independent Lokayukta.
The Lok Satta leader asked why the ACB has not probed how people below the poverty line have come to corner liquor shops by paying crores of rupees as license fee? A thorough inquiry was warranted in the context of reports that Ministers and elected people's representatives belonging to almost all traditional political parties obtained the licenses in the names of non-descript people.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao demanded a CBI inquiry into the liquor scam the ACB by its very nature cannot and will not bring the guilty to book.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan will be taking part in a national conference on “Competency-based Human Resource Management for Civil Services” in New Delhi on November 21.
Mr. V. Narayanasamy, Minister of State, Prime Minister's office, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, will be inaugurating the conference being organized by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India and UNDP.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today heartily congratulated Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) President K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) on courageously and sincerely characterizing the Pranahita- Chevella lift irrigation scheme as one meant to take the Telangana people for a ride.
Addressing a media conference, Dr. JP recalled that the Lok Satta for the last four years has tried to convince those in the Government and outside that the project is ill conceived. Yet, leaders of the Congress, TDP and the YSR Congress Party have been hoodwinking the public by clamoring for implementation of the economically unviable and financially disastrous project.
Dr. JP reeled out facts and figures to buttress his argument. The project is currently estimated to cost Rs.40,000 crore and past experience shows that the cost may go up considerably by the time project is completed As of now, it involves a capital expenditure of Rs.300000 an acre. The Government has to spend Rs.30,000 per acre every year on the maintenance and operation of the lift irrigation system, not to mention the cultivation costs to be incurred by the farmer. The operation of the lift irrigation system calls for generation of nearly 4000 mw of power. How can anyone justify expenditure of such a magnitude when the farmer does not get more than Rs.20000 an acre? As of now, the State is allocating nearly 70 million (7 crore) units a day to the agriculture sector out of the total 240 million units generated every day. In addition the state is now committing 8000 Mw of power for unviable lift irrigation schemes. The new lift irrigation projects alone will require allocation of an additional 120 to 150 million (12 to 15 crore) units a day. Is it possible in a power-starved State?
Dr. JP said that the Government has already given away to contractors Rs.1100 crore on the unviable project even without a sod of earth being turned up merely to reward contractors and earn commissions. He recalled that Chief Minister Dr. Y. S. Rajaseskhara Reddy whom he briefed on the project agreed to get the project reviewed two days before he died unfortunately in the air crash.
Dr. JP suggested that the money proposed to be spent on Pranahita chevella and other unviable projects should be utilized to improve groundwater table, soil fertility, to build infrastructure, promote industrialization and generate employment in Telangana. Otherwise, the project will turn out to be an albatross round the neck of Telangana if the State is formed.
Dr. JP said that the lift irrigation projects proposed in the State would require a total of 8000 mw of additional power and called for a thorough review of all such projects. Annually the state is spending Rs 5000 crore under employment guarantee act. This money must be utilized mostly in Telangana and Rayalaseema dry areas for soil and water conservation. There must be an annual groundwater survey in every village to ensure that the money is properly utilized.
In reply to a question, he said he would write to both the State and Central Governments opposing the project and proposing utilization of the funds meant for it on Telangana development. Replying to another question, he said the Polavaram project has been conceived to divert the Godavari water to the Krishna basin so that the Krishna water can be utilized to irrigate backward areas in Telangana and Rayalaseema.
Dr. JP said that in their bid to reap electoral dividends leaders of all the mainstream parties are making wild promises in the belief that people are ignoramuses, and can be deceived. They are interested in coming to power at any cost and are unmindful of the State's future.
He referred to promises of loan waivers to farmers and higher percentage of reservations for minorities. What the farmers need is remunerative price for their produce and not loan waivers, he said and asked whether the previous loan waiver had improved the farmers' lot Dr JP pointed out that the Rytu satyagraha launched by Lok Satta in Feb 2012 through padayatras from Kurnool to Karnataka, and Nizamabad to Nanded opposing government’s illegal restrictions on interstate trade have benefitted the farmers to a tune of Rs 3600 crore. By ensuring a fair price to one variety of paddy in one season alone benefitted farmers in a significant way. Instead of ensuring higher incomes to farmers, these parties are emptying state coffers even as farmers continued to suffer on account of bad policies. He pointed out that as per the Supreme Court verdict, reservations in Government jobs and educational institutions cannot exceed 50 percent. Since SCs, STs and BCs account for 46 percent of reservations, minorities cannot get more than four percent reservations.
Dr. JP said the mainstream parties are reckless in promising more and more freebies forgetting that the State has not been able to fulfill its basic duties like maintenance of law and order, provision of education and health care, drinking water and electricity.
He appealed to youth to wake up to the threat they faced because of the wild promises being made by political parties.
Lok Satta Party leaders Katari Srinivasa Rao, K. Gita Murthy and Janakirama Raju took part in the media conference.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Agriculture contributes about 15% of India’s GDP, but provides livelihood to about 55% of our population. Simple arithmetic tells us that the per capita income of those dependent on agriculture is less than one-sixth, or 16% of the per capita income of the rest of the population. Agricultural share of GDP is steadily declining; but share of population dependent on agriculture is not showing decline at the same pace. As a result, rural unrest and agrarian crisis are deepening. Therefore increasing productivity and incomes of farmers and tenants is a matter of vital national importance.
All agricultural growth involves cross-breeding, development of hybrids and high-yielding varieties, and selection of plant varieties based on desirable genetic traits. That is how mankind mastered agriculture and generated surpluses. Our green revolution, pioneered by the greatest benefactor of human race, Dr Norman Borlaug, and ably supported by our policy makers, scientists and administrators, was a result of application of knowledge of genetics and selection and propagation of desirable genetic traits. That is how India, whose total production of food grains was of the order of 52 million tons at the time of independence, now has 83 million tons of food grain stored FCI godowns during peak storage period. Embracing new gene technologies is critical for agricultural prosperity.
Genetic engineering of crops is nothing but selective introduction of DNA segments in a plant’s genome through gene-splicing techniques. This process allows the organism to acquire desirable traits like pest resistance, drought resistance, improved yield and nutrition etc. Traditional genetic modification is done through selective plant-breeding. Transgenic technology allows scientists to transfer desirable traits rapidly and surely. GM Technology is therefore a vital tool in the fight against poverty and for food security.
Globally, transgenic varieties of agricultural and food crops have been raised in a gross area of about one billion hectares cumulatively so far. At present, GM crops are raised in about 160 million hectares annually.
Before introduction of GM Crops they are subject to strict testing and verification. Stringent regulatory measures are in place. So far, the technology has been in use for about 15 years, and it has yielded very good results.
India developed long-stapled hybrid cotton in late 1970s, and within a decade, production of high quality cotton rose significantly. However, by late 90’s, cotton crop developed severe pest attack in the form of resistant heliothis (boleworm). Farmers suffered huge losses, and application of pesticides could not save the crops. Scores of farmers committed suicide in late 80’s, and cotton production fell. Years later, the gene that could resist heliothis was identified in a bacterium called Bacillus thuringen (BT), and through transgenic technology, it was introduced into cotton seeds. Thus BT cotton became resistant to pest attacks, and it revolutionized cotton cultivation in India. Nearly 95% of the 30 million acres under cotton in India now sows BT cotton seeds. Our production now is about 33 million bales of cotton, second only to China, and India is slated to overtake China in the next few years. Pesticide consumption has come down significantly; environment improved; and India is a major exporter of cotton earning precious foreign exchange. There has been no negative effects on agriculture or health. Cotton seed is consumed by cattle, and oil extracted from seed is consumed as cooking oil. All over the world, these products have been perfectly safe for cattle and human consumption.
Many transgenic technologies - in vegetables, pulses and oil seeds - are now being developed. For instance, ICRISAT, the International Crop Research Institute for dry areas, located near Hyderabad, is developing transgenic ground nut. India now imports 9 million tones of cooking oil at enormous expense to meet our shortages. Transgenic seeds would revolutionize dry land oil seed cultivation, enhance incomes of small farmers in places like Amateur and Mahaboobnagar, eliminate imports, and improve food security of India. Similarly, vitamin-D rich rice is now being developed through trans-genic technology. This and other such varieties will significantly reduce malnutrition and huger of most of our people.
Human Insulin now available to patients of Type-1 diabetes and Type-2 Insulin-resistant diabetes is a transgenic product saving lives. Until Human Insulin has been developed through GM technology bovine insulin was the only recourse, and many insulin-dependent diabetics developed insulin-resistance and life-threatening complications.
Mankind always prospered by technological innovation. While India’s geographic area is only 2.5% of global land mass, we have about 11% of World’s arable land. Such land mass, plentiful sunshine, good rain fall and millennia of strong agricultural tradition give us priceless opportunity to become a global giant in farming, and make our agriculture an engine of economic growth. For this to happen, we need the best proven technologies available to farmers. A nation of India’s size and potential cannot deny to itself frontier technologies. The US, Brazil, China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Canada and other major agricultural powers are harnessing transgenic technologies effectively to enhance their production and productivity Soyabean, maize and other GM crops are already transforming global agriculture. India cannot afford to be marginalized in agriculture.
We should certainly take all steps possible to prevent monopolies of MNCs in transgenic technology. Corrective steps are necessary by ICAR, agricultural universities and scientists to ensure that transgenic varieties are developed in public sector to benefit farmers. Years ago, ICAR declined to purchase BT cotton technology and germ plasm when it was offered by private companies on attractive terms. India is paying a heavy price for that lapse. We now need to promote GM research.
We must not confuse between access to technology and danger of monopolies. We need technology; but we must prevent monopolies. We cannot give up technology for fear of monopolies. That would be tantamount to throwing the baby with the bathwater.
Lok Satta fought against monopolistic tendencies of Monsanto, an MNC, which has huge market share of BT cotton seeds. In 2006, Lok Satta filed a writ petition WP No.5505 of 2006 in the High Court of AP seeking a declaration that the trait value of BT Cotton seeds involving Monsanto Technology should be reduced and should be sold at a level that was in vogue in China. Taking a cue from this writ petition Government of Andhra Pradesh has instituted a complaint before MRTP Commission, New Delhi in RTPA No.2/2006, which was disposed of on 8-12-2009, where in orders were passed reducing the price of BT cotton seeds. Lok Satta’s initiative and Government’s positive response brought down seed price significantly.
This is a clear case where fight against, and regulation of, monopolies and extortionary prices is separated from the desirability of proven transgenic technology. Merits and Safety of technology should not be confused with safeguards against monopoly.
Independent regulatory authority to prevent abnormal pricing and fixing of reasonable prices is necessary. Fair return on investment to seed producers and developers, and affordable price to farmers - both must be ensured by an independent regulatory authority. Lok Satta has sought such a direction from the Supreme Court in the application made in relation to the case pending before the Court
Regulatory agencies in bio-technology need to be constituted only with individuals who are known experts with global exposure in the field. In order to prevent vested interest developing and to ensure keeping pace with changes in technology, the experts in regulatory agency should serve a fixed tenure - say, three years. No one should be allowed to continue for long term.
Under Indian law, holders of patents are allowed monopoly of technology for 20 years from the date of registration in India - not 20 years from the date of first patent anywhere in the world. MNCs are using this provision to register patents in India only after commercialisation of products. Law needs to be amended to reduce such monopolistic tendencies. Also companies may resort to small, insignificant, cosmetic changes in existing technologies and file them as new patents to get extended patent life of 20 years. Safeguards should be institutionalized by patent Authority.
All these and other necessary steps should be taken to protect our national interest as well as farmers’ interests. However, rejection of technology because of our unease with MNCs is like cutting the nose to spite the face, and is not an option.
Mankind progressed and prospered through technological development, adaptation of proven technologies to improve production, creation of functioning free and fair markets, elimination of monopolies, and constant innovation. Indian agriculture needs such innovations and technologies. The scientific community and competent regulatory authorities must be entrusted with the responsibility to evaluate technologies and safeguard public interest. But fear, scare-mongering and aversion to monopolies cannot derail us, or deny us technologies. We need the best technologies in agriculture that modern age offers, but with two caveats: competent agencies should make informed decisions regarding safety and efficacy; and all effective steps should be taken to prevent emergence of monopolies to the detriment of farmers.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today whole-heartedly welcomed Supreme Court refusal to impose an interim ban on field trials of genetically modified crops and reconstitution of the Technical Experts Committee with the inclusion of an agricultural expert.
It may be recalled that the Lok Satta Party had impleaded itself in the writ petition filed by some in the Supreme Court against conduct of GM crop trials.
In its petition, the Lok Satta Party strongly argued that GM crops are essential for ensuring food and nutritional security in a developing country like India with ever growing population.
The Technical Expert Committee constituted by the Supreme Court in its interim report dated October 7, 2012 had recommended imposition of a 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops.
In its petition, the Lok Satta Party argued that the interim report had not considered the advantages of GM technology.
It pointed out that in the whole debate on transgenic technologies, there is a confusion of two separate issues – technology and propensity of companies to perpetuate monopolies. Technologies need to be welcomed and adopted to suit the needs of the country, subject to certain precautions and there is every need to protect the farmers from monopolistic tendencies of technology leaders. The committee was more apprehensive of the monopolies and business practices of parent companies, which are seen to be exploiting the farmers of India.
Denying the country vital and proven technologies because of monopolistic tendencies will be tantamount to throwing the baby with the bath water, the Lok Satta said.
Dr. JP recalled that he had in the past fought against monopolistic tendencies of a multi – national company, Monsanto, by filing a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in 2006 seeking reduction in the price of BT cotton seeds marketed by it. Taking a cue from the petition, the Andhra Pradesh Government lodged a complaint before the MRTP Commission which passed an order reducing the price of Bt cotton seeds.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan
I feel privileged to participate in this function to pay homage to Sri N G Ranga on his 112th birth anniversary. Acharya N G Ranga fought for many causes, built many institutions, and touched millions of lives. Farmers, tenants, agricultural labourers, weavers, dalits – every segment of our long-suffering rural population was on his rador.
Achrya Ranga’s public life spanned over 60 years, from his first election to central legislative Assembly in 1930 to his demitting office as Member of Parliament in 1991. While he played a crucial role in freedom struggle, including his participation in the first Round Table conference, his greater contribution was to nation building and rural economic emancipation.
In many ways, the history of farmers’ movement in India is inseparable from Ranga’s life. He was in the forefront of the struggle for Zamindari abolition. His leadership saved farmers and the nation from the potentially fatal folly of collective farming proposed by Nehru in 1959. In an era of uncritical admiration for socialism and collectivism, Ranga understood the importance of individual initiative, property rights and economic incentives. Starting his life as a socialist, he acquired deep insights into human nature and became an ardent advocate of liberty and humanism.
Nehru was enamoured by the Soviet model and aggressively pursued collective farming. Little realizing that absence of ownership and economic incentive would undermine agricultural production and food security, he pursued the ambitious plans of collective farming, erasing farmers’ property rights in pursuit of a socialist God. Ranga valiantly fought against Nehru at great personal cost, at a time when opposition to Nehru was political suicide. It was this one great success of Ranga that saved our farmers, and indeed the nation. Three decades later, the failure of the USSR on food front was one of the chief reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. In our own country, Nehru, having failed in his grand mission, still pursued state-controlled farming through large central State farms. The productivity of these farms with enormous infrastructure and state support was typically a fraction of the productivity of the neighbouring farmers’ lands! Even now some 14 of these Central State Farms exist as white elephants and as monuments to our past follies.
Similarly, when Nehru later proposed the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution to curtail property rights, again it was the intrepid Ranga whose compelling logic and persuasive argument swayed Parliament against Nehru’s wishes, and defeated the amendment. Later, after Nehru’s death, as a mark of honour to him, the Amendment was carried in Parliament. Mercifully, the Golaknath (1967) and Keshavanand Bharati (1973) judgments of Supreme Court protected liberty, constitutionalism and due process, and negated the effect of the illiberal Constitutional assaults on human dignity and individual initiative.
Rajaji, Minoo Masani, Ranga, Gouthu Lachhanna and their far-sighted colleagues were far ahead of their times. Among them, Ranga’s name stands out foremost in the history of the struggle to protect peasants’ rights. That is why, even Nehru was compelled to admit in Lok Sabha, “As long as Rangaji is in Parliament, Indian peasants can sleep without any worry.”
Any contemporary struggle for a fair deal to the farmers has to start where Ranga and his colleagues left it. In his celebrated Economist essay on India in May, 1991, Clive Crook argued that if Indian politicians, policy makers and planners sat together and conspired to destroy Indian agriculture, they could not have done a better job! Collective farming and the 17th Amendment are obviously two of the more egregious policies pursued or attempted in the early days, and thwarted by Ranga and the Courts. But many more illiberal, anti-farmer, anti-poor policies and actions continued unchecked, and played havoc with rural economy and agriculture, and undermined India’s growth and prosperity. As Kilaru Purnachandra Rao cited, as early as in 1955-56, Ranga’s computations showed that the per capita income of those dependent on agriculture, at Rs 195 was only 40% of those in other sectors (Rs 485). Today, thanks largely to successive governments’ follies and failures, this income disparity has grown to six times. About 55% Indians even today depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and yet their share of GDP is only 15% now. This share is still declining by 0.5% every year, without appreciable decrease in population dependent on agriculture.
Agriculture every where in the world is a difficult and risky occupation. Farmers always depend on nature’s mercy, and incomes tend to be lower than in other sectors. And yet, agriculture is the very basis of civilization, and provides food security and raw materials for industry, and increasingly in the energy-starved world, fuels. Recognizing this, governments world over have promoted agriculture in three ways: boosting production by irrigation, drainage, credit support, research and extension; protecting incomes by free trade, protection from external competition, and assured price support when needed; and preventing volatility and waste by insurance, ware housing and storage, promoting market access, post-harvest technology, and value addition. Higher productivity is critical to meet the needs of an ever-growing population and rising economy. Reasonable and assured incomes are vital for the survival of the farmer and sustainability of agriculture. By nature, agriculture is risky and prices are volatile. Commodity price should therefore cover the risk, and reward the effort. Volatility of prices should be minimized by better and direct access to market, greater market information, and development of logistics chain to prevent supply shocks and agro-processing to eliminate wastage and add value.
Indian agriculture has largely suffered because of government’s failure to do the right things, or insistence on doing the wrong things. Even now, about two-thirds of the area under crops is dry land with paltry rainfall and no assured irrigation. The state failed in water-harvesting and soil conservation, and left the farmers completely to nature’s mercy. Agricultural research and extension were of a high order in select areas during the era of green revolution. As a result, our food grain production rose significantly, and India is more than self-sufficient. While the total food production in the 50’s was about 50 million tonnes, the food stored during peak time in government granaries alone stands at 83 million tonnes now. But the green revolution has not extended to pulses and oil seeds, and dry land agriculture. There is a shortage of pulses, and we import about 9 million tonnes of edible oil annually.
But the state’s follies are not really in the area of production; they are largely in the perversion of markets, deliberate price distortion, and fleecing of farmers in a corruption-ridden license-permit-quota raj. At one stage, in 1973, even wholesale trade of food grains was nationalized for a short while, until it failed spectacularly. But retail trade has always been rigorously controlled by state, and storage, transport, and sale continue to be at the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats. A vast, inefficient and corrupt public distribution system (PDS) has been created. Nearly 40% of the food grains in PDS are ‘recycled’ because of price distortion, and go back for sale to FCI. More than a third of the food grains with FCI are stored open to sky or in poor conditions, leading to wastage and corruption. There is organized corruption in food procurement and distribution in PDS. There is a well-developed market for public office in all these sectors. And yet, the government is getting ready to enact a so-called food security legislation to supply subsidized grains to 72% of the population! The resultant market distortions and corruption end up perpetuating poverty and hurting farmers.
The so-called minimum-support price offered by governments in these conditions is neither fair, nor remunerative. It encourages production and sale of sub-standard stocks, and food is largely wasted or ‘recycled’ at enormous cost to the exchequer without benefiting the farmer. The state is seen to be spending a lot on food subsidies, but the poor get little benefit. In order to partially compensate for the market distortion resulting from state policies, fertilizer subsidies are given. Again while the exchequer is depleted, there is a huge imbalance in application of plant nutrients. Poor storage is leading to high volatility of prices of even non-perishable commodities like cotton, chili and turmeric. Absence of cold-storage and processing leads to wastage of 30-35% of fruits and vegetables being wasted. Prices in the market fluctuate dramatically hurting both farmer and consumer. There is a long market chain between producer and consumer, and farmers often get only 35% of the consumer price. In perishable products, farmer’s share can be as low as 12-20%.
Arbitrary, unreasonable trade controls and inconsistent and adhoc government policies have played havoc with farmers’ lives. Food grain exports have been banned for years even as our grain stock is rotting and prices were falling and production was increasing. Only in late 2011, rice exports were allowed, but with quotas and caveats. Even when exports are allowed, the corruption, procedural bottlenecks and inefficiency at ports is ensuring that Indian grain does not reach international markets. Because of uncertainty and adhocism, Indian rice is selling at less price than comparable Thai rice. Every other week there is threat of arbitrary export quotas and reversal of decisions. Given the uncertainty, exporters cannot take risks or develop long-term market linkages. In states like Andhra Pradesh, even food grain sales across state borders are banned illegally, artificially depressing prices and causing distress to farmers.
Adhoc farm export policies are completely ignoring the fundamental laws of economics governing demand, supply and price. Policies on cotton export are a classic example. The largest number of farm suicides are by distressed cotton farmers. And yet the government unabashedly pursues a policy calculated to depress prices, and imposes quotas and stops exports at will on the ground that Indian textile industry needs raw material. Farmers will be glad to sell to anybody – Indian or foreign – if the price is good. If there is shortage in India, there should be a price signal to that effect, boosting production and stabilizing price. Instead, export controls are imposed, and crisis-ridden farm sector is forced to sell at low prices to enhance the profits of a few in industry. If farmers switch over to other crops on account of low prices of cotton, there will be long-term shortage and price increase adversely affecting the economy.
India is the biggest importer of edible oil. There is need to boost oil seed production, even as we import to overcome shortages. The world over, moderate to high import duties are levied on farm imports, and incentives are given to boost indigenous production. Surprisingly, India does not subject edible oil to any import duty. On occasion, sensing India’s dependence on imports, the exporting countries are levying export duty! If a moderate duty of, say 10%, is imposed on edible oil imports, and if that revenue is ploughed back to oil seed farmers as incentive to boost production, within a few years we will have no shortages. Time and again, when technology and price incentives are available, the poor, illiterate Indian small farmers have achieved great results.
I have outlined the impact of adhocism and short-sighted antediluvian policies on three commodities – food grains, cotton and edible oils – to highlight the failure of government policies in protecting the farmer through proper price signals. This failure is leading to long-term dangers to the economy. Depressed prices will force more and more farmers to leave farming. The recent crop holiday declared by farmers of Godavari delta is illustrative of the brewing crisis. Farmers without reliable market information will move rapidly from crop to crop in the quest for better incomes, leading to volatility in prices. Long-term shortages because of failure of price signal, and agrarian distress are real and mounting dangers to the economy. The government and political parties need to act swiftly and wisely before the crisis leads to massive rural unrest.
India is home to 11% of the world’s agricultural land, with plenty of sun shine, good rainfall and strong agrarian tradition. A comprehensive policy needs to be evolved to leverage our strengths, and make agriculture an engine of growth and an earner of export revenue, not a drag on the economy. This strategic shift should involve a recognition that farmers’ interests, industrial growth, and national prosperity are all inseparable. We need to get out of the narrow, compartmentalized silos of thinking in terms of different ministries of agriculture, food, commerce and environment. Prosperity of the farmer and consumer is an inseparable, harmonious goal.
What then needs to be done to ensure fair and remunerative prices to farmers, and promote rural rejuvenation and overall economic prosperity of the nation? We need to act on several fronts – trade policies, warehousing, market access, value addition, new technologies, price support and restructuring agricultural support.
Let us start with trade policies and pricing of commodities. The global history of the past century taught us that free trade is the best guarantor of smooth supply of commodities in both the short term and the long term. In the short term supply will go wherever demand and price are higher, and thus stabilize prices; in the long term price signal will boost production of a commodity in short supply. The failure of the Soviet Union in agriculture, and success of Chinese agriculture after liberalization are standing testimonies to the virtues of economic freedom. Certainly the state should have a strategic reserve to tide over crisis, and there should be state support for warehousing and marketing infrastructure. In conditions of dire scarcity, as in Second World War, there is need for effective public distribution system, backed by road, storage and retail infrastructure. But rationing and price controls in the long-term are always ineffective, and lead to arbitrage and corruption.
The only time rationing was perfectly implemented was when Marshal Zhukov, the Russian general, enforced it through brutal means in time of war during the seize of Stalingrad. He shot down a whole family because they suppressed information of the death of an elderly family member so that they could get extra rations to stave of starvation! Such draconian measures were necessary in extreme scarcity and national crisis; but are both unacceptable and counterproductive in normal times, particularly when there is no real shortage in the economy as a whole.
In times of adequate supply, the state should ensure fair trade and marketing infrastructure to ensure that fair competition prevails. The poor who need state support would benefit more through cash support or food stamps which enable them to buy food in the open market. Instead, we chose to depend heavily on controls and the corruption-ridden civil supplies machinery through Essential Commodities Act. The results are evident; phenomenal corruption, arbitrary state power, waste of public money, whole sale fraud through ‘recycling’ and arbitrage, a transfer industry fuelling corruption, depression of market prices, cronyism, and a culture of government patronage in business and trade.
I have already outlined the market distortions on account of adhoc and capricious government policy. Indian agriculture could be an export engine if we allowed our traders to develop and nurture global markets in areas where we are competitive. License-control-permit raj within the country is even more hurtful to the farmers and consumers. Edible oil, sugar and pulses – all suffer control raj. Instead of allowing price signal to boost production and eliminate shortages, we are perpetuating a scarcity economy that fuels corruption.
The paddy and rice trade restrictions imposed illegally by AP government are a case in point. The union government removed all barriers to trade between the states, and the states have no power to go against the Union’s directions on a central law. And yet, AP government continues to ban sale of fine varieties of paddy and rice across state borders. In Feb, 2012, while BPT paddy sold at Rs 1200 / 75kg bag in Karnataka and Maharashtra, across the border in AP it was selling at Rs 750 / 75kg bag, thanks to these illegal restrictions. Corruption was rampant in border trade. Then Lok Satta and Federation of Independent Farmers’ Associations led a Rytu Satyagraha. We under took a padayatra from Kurnool to Karnataka, and Nizamabad to Nanded. Hundreds of volunteers carried paddy and rice on our shoulders, defied the government ban, dared them to arrest and prosecute us, crossed the border, and sold these commodities in neigbouring states. The state, realizing that their ban was illegal and immoral, did not dare to arrest us. Within days, farmers and traders understood that the state had no power, and the price of 75kg bag of paddy rose to Rs 1200, an increase of Rs 450/-, or 60% increase in a few weeks. About 4 million tonnes of BPT rice (or its equivalent in paddy) was available for sale at that time. By enforcing free trade, this Rytu Satyagraha increased farmers’ incomes by about Rs 3600 crore in just one season in one variety (BPT) of one crop in one state!.
This episode demonstrates the massive losses suffered by farmers every year because of state controls, not to speak of corruption. The argument that trade should be restricted to control inflation is a disingenious defense of a shameful anti-farmer policy. Consumer price will be fair if market chain is compressed, not by imposing controls and hurting the already impoverished, suffering farmer. In the long term, in fact scarcity will increase, prices will shoot up and food security will be jeopardized by depressing prices and forcing farmers to shift to other occupations or more remunerative, uncontrolled crops.
Clearly we should abolish all restrictions and controls on food grains trade within the country, and across the national borders. With vast quantities of food grains rotting in government godowns, and enormous sums spent on storage and holding costs, it is a monumental folly to prevent or control international trade. A strategic reserve to tide over crisis is more than adequate in this day and age. Once producers’ interests are protected, consumers will gain by price stability. The savings on procurement, storage and inefficient distribution, and the reduction of corruption, leakages and arbitrage will benefit both producers and consumers. Farmers as well as the poor can be benefited much more by deploying these savings wisely.
In respect of non-food commodities like cotton, a similar, durable, predictable policy will yield rich dividends. Let all trading restrictions go, and prices in India will be comparable to global prices. Farmers can make long term plans and leverage our competitive strengths once there is price stability. The nation will earn precious foreign exchange. Once agriculture becomes remunerative, government can also reduce some of the fertilizer subsidy burden, and also promote more rational application of plant nutrients.
In respect of imports of palm oil, or on occasion pulses, we need to adopt a rational policy meeting the twin objectives of overcoming short term shortages, and stimulating medium-term production to make us self-sufficient. The WTO regime gives us all the flexibility we need to protect our farmers from global imports. Even high tariffs are permissible. But the prudent course would be to impose 10-20% import duty, and utilize the revenues to give incentives to farmers to boost production. This policy will ensure moderate prices and rapid increase in production and full sufficiency. Such a sensible policy will give a strong signal to the farm sector, and save precious foreign exchange.
There are many non-perishable commodities which are not subject to domestic controls, and yet are suffering tremendous volatility of prices hurting both producers and consumers. Cotton, chilli and turmeric are three examples. Despite the AP government raising Rs. 1500 cr per year as tax revenues on paddy / rice procurement by FCI, and in addition collecting about Rs. 400 – 500 cr / year as market cess, the markets controlled by government are in deplorable condition. A massive investment in storage infrastructure, and ensuring pledge loans to farmers who stored their produce would give great relief to farmers. These commodities see cyclic price fluctuations, and once the farmer can store the produce and raise money to meet his consumption and production needs, there would be no distress sale. The farmer can choose to sell at a price attractive to him as the price line improves. Equally, consumers do not have to pay exorbitant prices when there are shortages. If prices rise, producers will bring their stored commodities into the market for sale; prices will stabilize as demand and supply are allowed to operate in a free market. Once long-term price becomes stable, more investment will flow into agriculture, boosting production and productivity. As productivity increases, prices will be under control, and the whole economy gains in the long term. The failure of government in post-harvest management of even non-perishable commodities is striking, and this failure has resulted in extra-ordinary hardship and distress in farm sector. As I said before, most farm suicides in India are in this segment of non-perishable commodities.
Government’s failure in marketing is not limited to appalling lack of warehousing despite collecting vast amounts in taxes and cesses from farmers. Market committees are totally in government hands, and managements are nominated at the behest of local legislators for partisan considerations. Farmers who pay taxes and market cess, who produce crops and need to market them, have no say in managing the markets. Most market committees are moribund, and do not provide market access to farmers or protect from unscrupulous private traders. Even in cases where markets do operate to some extent, as in case of Telangana region – the conditions are appalling. There are no shelters for farmers; no protection from rain to the paddy or cotton brought to the market, no compound walls (resulting in bandicoots and stray dogs becoming a menace), no sanitary facilities, no electronic weighing machines, and no driers to reduce the moisture of food grains to meet the procurement standards. The proud and honest producer is treated as a mendicant, and is robbed of all dignity and income.
There is a long chain of intermediaries between the producer and consumer. As a result, the farmer gets only a fraction of the consumer price, and the consumer is forced to pay high price. Low farmer income and high food inflation – both coexist in this bizarre situation. Where Rytu Bazaars are implemented effectively, the small farmers are able to access the market directly, and they get the price market is willing to pay. These pilot projects of Rytu Bazaars have not fully succeeded because of infrastructure deficiencies and failure of bureaucrats to ensure that farmers, not traders, can utilize markets. But even the limited success in unsatisfactory conditions shows that direct market access and compression of market chain yield significant benefits in the form of better price realization for farmers, and supply of quality produce at affordable price to consumers.
Markets therefore need to be democratized and brought under direct farmer control. Managerial and expert professional assistance can be provided to farmers on request to protect their interests. But there should be no external control of markets other than the democratic control and management of the stake-holders, the producers. All taxes and cesses related to farm produce should be directly deployed only to improve infrastructure in markets, warehousing and other facilities to facilitate better access and higher price realization; and these resources should be directly transferred to elected committees, under fair and firm supervision to enforce accountability and transparency.
One of the great challenges of agricultural marketing is the volatility of prices of perishable commodities on account of vagaries of nature and demand-supply imbalances. About 35% of our fruits and vegetables are wasted because of poor storage or excess supply which cannot be sold in the market. Poor market access or absence of storage means that while price of tomato in Madanapalle is half a rupee (50 paise) per kg, consumers in Hyderabad pay Rs 15/kg. Prices fluctuate wildly, hurting both the farmer and the consumer. In the developed world as well as in most emerging economies, they built up impressive transport and cold-storage infrastructure to address these problems. In addition, a massive food-processing industry came into existence to eliminate wastage, add value to farm produce, promote industrialization, create employment, enhance farm-gate price, and stabilize consumer price. Once there is adequate storage and processing, the farmer need not resort to distress sale, nor is food wasted. If the market demand is low or supply is too high depressing the price, the processing units can buy at minimum guaranteed prices. This can be further promoted by legal framework to promote contract-farming and protect farmers’ interests. The farmers’ income is thus protected, and fruits and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste are put to use. Whenever the supply of these fruits and vegetables falls below the demand and the market price rises, the processed foods will go into the market to meet the demand. This will eliminate shortages and stabilize prices.
India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, at about 200 million tonnes per annum. We have only over 5000 cold-storage facilities with a total capacity of 23.6 million MT. 80% of this cold storage is used only for potatoes. 35-40% of horticultural products and 10% of food grains are wasted for want of storage. Post-harvest losses of perishable commodities exceeds Rs 100,000 cr or Rs one trillion per annum. Massive investment in transport, cold storage, processing and retail chains is necessary to reduce this criminal waste, improve farmers’ incomes, stabilize consumer prices, and ensure quality food supply.
Government should deploy every available resource to improve this infrastructure. But the state has neither the resources nor the managerial ability to undertake such a massive operation. Realistically, the governments can improve the existing regulated markets and provide basic amenities and warehousing. Retail business in India is estimated to be about $ 590 billion annually, and it is growing at 13% per annum. Organized retail industry is needed to improve quality of farm output by grading, contract-farming, packaging, input supply and other interventions. With improved logistics and supply chain, waste is eliminated and farmers will have direct access to markets. Apart from improving farm incomes, the resultant quality improvement will open up global markets to our farmers. With vast arable land, good sun shine, tropical climate and adequate rain fall, once support is given to farmers to improve quality, India can be a major global player earning precious foreign exchange.
Massive investments in organized retail chains are necessary to stimulate our agriculture, stabilize prices, create jobs and promote exports. The source of investments is of little consequence as long as steps are taken to protect farmers’ interests. For instance, mandatory procurement from within the country, and regulatory mechanisms to prevent monopolies of purchase are necessary. Much of the recent debate on FDI is misplaced. As Deng Hsiao Ping famously said, it does not matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice! Given our mounting fiscal deficit and massive current-account deficit, foreign direct investment in any form is preferable to flow of FII hot money into our stock markets which will flee the country at the first sign of trouble, deepening crisis. Investment which creates jobs is always better than borrowing which shifts the burden to our children.
Any serious discussion on farm incomes would be incomplete if we do not pay at least passing attention to productivity problems and serious shortfalls in oil seeds, pulses and other products. ICAR did a remarkable job along with agricultural universities during the green revolution era. But in recent years, most universities are moribund, and governments have neglected research funding as well as encouragement of quality scientists. Significant investment in agricultural technologies, plant breeding, pest control, soil management, drought resistance, post-harvest technology, and in frontier areas of biotechnology is critical if we are to ensure food security and protect farm incomes. In a highly competitive, globalized world, India has to keep pace with technology and our farmers and entrepreneurs need the best technology. Otherwise we will be ruthlessly exploited by monopolies and multi-nationals.
There is a lot of concern about genetically modified crops. We need to separate technology from issues relating to commerce and monopolies. Any serious biologist knows that genetic research and transgenic crops are vital for our future. BT Cotton, by developing varieties resistant to heliothis has dramatically increased yields and reduced pesticide consumption. ICRISAT is developing transgenic groundnut which could revolutionize our oil seed production and improve incomes of dry land farmers. Soyabean, maize and other GM crops are already transforming global agriculture. About a billion hectares of GM crops have been raised globally in the past decade. Current GM crop area is about 160 million hectares. Human insulin, which eliminates insulin-resistance in diabetic patients administered bovine insulin, is a life-saving transgenic medical product used world over. The US, Brazil, China, South Africa, Australia, Canada and all major agricultural producers are applying GM technologies to improve farm productivity, food quality, incomes and nutrition.
Certainly all regulatory steps should be taken to prevent monopolies of a few MNCs. Apart from promoting GM research in our Universities and ICAR research laboratories, we need to take several steps to protect farmers. Only competent scientists with global exposure should be positioned in regulatory agencies; there should be a fixed tenure without reappointment to prevent vested interests getting entrenched; and independent regulatory mechanism should be created to determine a fair price of GM seeds to ensure reasonable returns to the entrepreneur and prevent monopolistic price extortion; the patent laws should be amended to ensure limited period of technology monopoly.
All these steps to protect our farmers and national interest should be taken. But denying ourselves technology because of our anger against monopolies would be tantamount to cutting the nose to spite the face. In order to fully tap our agricultural potential, a major economy of India’s size must have access to the best technologies. Denying ourselves technologies would be throwing the baby with the bathwater.
India has the potential to convert our farming into a dynamic, globally competitive, fast-growing, job-creating sector. What is seen as a drag on our economy can be a stimulant to growth. We need to choose prosperity over poverty; opportunities over alms; and liberty over state controls. Our farmers have delivered great results against heavy odds and fetters. Once the fetters are removed and the right incentives are provided, Indian farmer can be globally competitive, and rural economy can be transformed.
The author is the founder and President of Lok Satta Party – new politics for the new generation; Email: email@example.com; Url: www.loksatta.org
Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan will be addressing two conferences of young leaders in Mumbai on November 9 and in Kozhikode (Kerala) on November 10.
In Mumbai, he will be speaking on Political Reforms at a program titled iPolicy for Young Leaders. The Center for Civil Society is conducting the program for students of St. Xavier College, Mumbai.
In Kozhikode, he will be addressing the annual management conclave titled Horizons 2012 with the theme ‘Ideate, Innovate and Integrate: Strengthening Small, Building Big" on ‘Political and economic reforms for sustained growth of our nation". The Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, is organizing the event.
The IIM in its invitation to Dr. JP recalls that “in an era when many of the brightest minds would shun away from politics, you set up the Lok Satta Party to take on a flawed system from within the system. Your party has today steadily worked to creating a fundamental change in the way the society views governance and electoral process. Its focus on eradicating systemic inefficiencies through grass root interventions will go a long way in establishing a just and equitable society . We believe that it is this integration of political stability and economic prosperity that would set the stage for the sustained growth of this nation. As we deliberate on the concept of ‘Strengthening Small and Building Big’ through ideation, innovation and integration, your views and ideas would certainly go a long way in influencing the budding corporate professionals.”
The Lok Satta Party today demanded that the Government drop the CID move to file charge-sheets against people who led the movement against the hike in power tariffs in 2000.
Addressing a media conference, Lok Satta Party General Secretary Katari Srinivasa Rao said that leaders like Survaram Sudhakar Reddy (CPI), B. V. Raghavulu (CPM), Gummadi Narsaiah (New Democracy), and Mrs. Punyavati were sought to be accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy and instigating violence.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao said the Government apparently wants to subdue opposition by framing such atrocious cases 12 years after the Basheer Bagh firing incident. Violence might have erupted when the police tried to suppress a legitimate agitation. The Government should handle such issues politically.
Mr. M. Satyanarayana, President, Lok Satta Party's Greater Hyderabad unit, demanded that the Metro Water Board drop its irrational move to slap separate water bills on each portion of a house drawing water from a single connection. The board can raise tariff if absolutely necessary but under no circumstances should cast a burden on people by charging them separately when there is no increase in the quantum of water drawn.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao said that the Metro Water Board is collecting exorbitant deposits for giving water connections and its employees provide the connection only when their hands are greased. It supplies contaminated water even to this day forgetting that polluted water killed 14 people in Bholakpur in the city a couple of years ago. Billing is done just for 50 percent of the water it supplies and God only knows who the water thieves are. Against such a backdrop, the Metro Water Board is planning to punish people who pay their water bills regularly.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao also took exception to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation move to raise property tax steeply. Its record in maintaining sanitation, drainage system, and traffic facilities is awful. People are falling victims to diseases like dengue and malaria because the corporation has failed to contain the mosquito menace.
The Lok Satta will mobilize people against the move to hike property tax, Mr. Srinivasa Rao warned.
Mr. Srinivasa Rao appealed to students and youth not to commit suicide, referring to the instance of Osmania student D. Santosh ending his life in the cause of Telangana. They should live and fight for their demands, he added.