1.Writ over Bt cotton farmer suicides - Pervez Bari
2.The political saga of GM crops in India - Shanthu Shantharam and C. S. Prakash
EXTRACTS: The prayers made in the PIL [Public Interest Litigation] in the interest of cotton cultivating farmers community at large are as [follows]
...ii) To order necessary probe / enquiry in the role of State Officers in promoting Bt. Cotton which resulted in the failure of crop;
iii) To direct investigation through CBI, Vigilance Commission, CID or any other independent agency in the matter of... involvement of the officials of the State in inducing the poor farmers for cultivating the Bt. Cotton;
...viii) To direct the State to take appropriate action against the Bt. Cotton Seeds companies for compensating the poor farmers who died untimely... (item 1)
NOTE: Shantharam and Prakash attribute any connection of Bt cotton and farmer suicides in places like Vidarbha as solely due to the bogus claims of the "anti-GM lobby". That will be why farmers' widows are calling for a blanket ban on Bt cotton.
See also the heart breaking article by India's leading development journalist, Palagummi Sainath, on the failure of the Bt cotton harvest in Vidarbha.
And the article 'All in a day: Six farmers commit suicide' from The Times of India,which tells us, "Most suicide cases relate to those farming families which have run up huge debts because of the high cost in using the expensive genetically-modified cotton seeds, which have to be bought every year. Crop failures in this situation, therefore, leave farmers with debts they are unable to pay and [they] are then hounded by loan sharks."http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2047898.cms
And perhaps most damning of all, in terms of how poor farmers have been led into this trap, the report: EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK - THE MARKETING OF BT COTTON IN INDIA
And, of course, Shantharam and Prakash have made their own extravagant contributions to the hyping of Bt cotton and other GM crops.
1.Nagpur Bench of HC takes serious note on bouncing of Vidarbha farmer widow's cheque
By Pervez Bari The Siasat Daily, July 14 2007http://www.siasat.com/english/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=193957&Itemid=59&cattitle=India
Bhopal : Taking a serious cognizance of continued farmers suicides and failure of various packages announced for the crisis ridden Vidarbha farmers of Maharashtra state, the Nagpur Division Bench of Bombay High Court at Nagpur expressed great concern about the matter and came down heavily on the style and approach of the State Govt. in tackling the issue.
The High Court Bench has asked to furnish every details of the farmers package schemes and its implementation within three weeks, a Press release issued by Santosh Netam, Media Incharge of the Nagpur-based Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, (VJAS), said.
While hearing the Public Interest Litigation, (PIL), filed by VJAS president Kishore Tiwari, today the Division Bench headed by Justice Dilip Sinha and Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari expressed its great concern and displeasure on the entire crisis and observed that the farmers suicides are the matter of serious concern to the society and the Court but the State seems to be little serious about the issue.
The continued suicide deaths of the farmers in the cotton cultivating western Vidarbha region the toll has now crossed 1800 in last two years. Though the Writ Petition was filed by the petitioner way back in the month of February, 2006, the respondents State Officials have failed to obey the orders passed by High-Court from time to time. The plight of the farmers is continually deteriorating and farmers suicides are reported from every crisis-ridden district of Vidarbha, the release claimed.
The bouncing of cheque of Rs.10,000/- issued from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund to a farmer's widow is the classic example of how casually the Maharashtra State Government is functioning.
The petitioner has made Chief Secretary of Maharashtra State and other top officials including Principal Secretary,Home Affairs; Principal Secretary, Agriculture; Principal Secretary, Marketing; Secretary Co-operation, Commissioner of Agriculture at Pune, Director General of Police, Divisional Commissioners of Revenue Divisions at Amravati & Nagpur, Director General of Specially Formed Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawlamban Mission having office at Amravati and National Commission for Farmers, appointed by the Union Ministry of Agriculture headed by Sharad Pawar at New Delhi as respondents.
The prayers made in the PIL in the interest of cotton cultivating farmers community at large are as under Ã¢â‚¬“
i) To take cognizance of the plight of poor families of farmers who were compelled to commit suicide due to wrongful policies of the State; ii) To order necessary probe / enquiry in the role of State Officers in promoting Bt. Cotton which resulted in the failure of crop; iii) To direct investigation through CBI, Vigilance Commission, CID or any other independent agency in the matter of sale of bogus and duplicate Bt. Cotton seeds by the companies and involvement of the officials of the State in inducing the poor farmers for cultivating the Bt. Cotton; iv) To order prosecution of the guilty officials for the offences punishable under Sections 306, 409, 420 & 120 (B) of Indian Penal Code, (IPC), and their over acts causing series of suicides of farmers; v) To direct the Maharashtra State Government to compensate the families of the farmers who were compelled to commit suicide due to the negligence of the State by providing Rs. 5,00,000/- each without any disparity or choose & pick policy; vi) To direct the State to take immediate measures for granting financial assistance to the Cotton growing farmers and to take further steps to protect the farmers from the coercive recovery at the hands of banks and private money lenders; vii) To direct the State to place Action Taken Report on the recommendations of Swaminathan Committee; viii) To direct the State to take appropriate action against the Bt. Cotton Seeds companies for compensating the poor farmers who died untimely & ix) Other reliefs which High Court may find suitable in the facts and circumstances & x) To issue writ, orders, directions to the respondents to frame long term policies and its timely implementation and review in the interest of farmers so that they can lead a graceful, respectful and dignified life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The petition will be taken up for further hearing after three weeks at the Nagpur Bench of the Mumbai High Court. Advocate Firdos Mirza & Advocate Vinod Tiwari appeared for the petitioner and State was represented by Asstt. Govt. Pleader Mrs. Bharati Dangre.
It may be pointed out here that it was an embarrassment for the Vilasarao Deshmukh-led Maharashtra Government when a cheque issued by the Yavatmal district collectorate was bounced owing to lack of adequate balance in the account last fortnight. Taking the serious note of the lapse on the part of the district administration, the chief minister even ordered a probe into the incident last week.
The Yavatmal district administration had issued a cheque of Rs. 10,000 in the name of one Vandana Shende, whose husband Anil had committed suicide in August last year. Vandana was shocked and surprised when the district Central Cooperative Bank dishnoured the cheque because of paucity of funds in the concerned account of district administration.
Several debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha, forcing the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh government to announce a special economic package of Rs. 3750-crore last year and a sum of Rs. 1500-crore by the Maharashtra Government to bail out the crisis-ridden farmers.
It may be recalled here that on June 13, 2006, due to negligent and casual approach of the Maharashtra state and its bureaucrats to comply with the earlier orders passed by the High Court, by its order the Division Bench of the High Court had imposed cost of Rs. 1,000/- each to be recovered from the Chief Secretary and 12 other top I.A.S. officers of the ranks of Principal Secretary, Secretaries, Divisional Commissioners and Director General of Police to be paid within two weeks. In case of non-payment of the cost the reply-affidavit would not be considered, the order had said, and the High Court Bench would proceed to pass further orders on the prayer made by the PIL. petitioner Kishore Tiwari. However, after unconditional apology expressed by the Chief Secretary and other top bureaucrats, the High-Court had pardoned and the order of imposition of cost of Rs.1000/- each was modified after the prayer made by the Advocate General of Maharashtra State, who had to rush Nagpur for pleading before the Court in this Writ Petition, the release stated.
2. The political saga of GM crops in India
BioSpectrum, Saturday, July 07, 2007
Biotech experts Dr Shanthu Shantharam and Dr CS Prakash share their take on the trials and tribulations of Bt cotton in India.
This year the fifth anniversary of Bt cotton commercializa- tion in India, and a look back at the road it has traversed; it can be best described as a success with serious public relations deficit. If one were to believe all the ghastly stories of how Bt cotton has brought doom to the lives of poor farmers in India, then one might as well blame all natural disasters in India on this "dreadful" Bt cotton. Certainly, the anti-GM lobby in India does everything possible, on a daily basis to discredit and disparage agricultural biotechnology, and get lots of traction in the media that does not care to verify facts. In fact, a journalist of a major daily said that "facts" are not news, sensation is. So far, the hapless Bt cotton has been dubbed genocidal and even homicidal. Going by the anti-GM lobby reports, it has killed sheep and goats in thousands, peacocks and cattle in hundreds. Next, it will be the turn of children who labor in the hybrid cotton seed production fields. Bt cotton is supposed to have made women sterile and made young girls attain early puberty; no news about what happened with boys so far. There are sporadic reports of Bt cotton field workers having developed allergic reactions. Thank heavens, no news of blood poisoning so far! A rooky farmer leader was brazen to declare that biotechnology is dangerous than nuclear technology, obviously betraying ignorance of both.
There has been an unfortunate spate of farmer suicides in the country in the last three to four years. Everybody has an opinion on why farmers are committing suicide, and so does the anti-GM lobby. According to them, Bt cotton is singularly responsible for suicides among cotton farmers in Vidharbha and Warangal. Ask for evidence, there is none. It is all based on God knows what kind of surveys, opinions and ad-hoc conclusions. The media laps it up merrily and never bothers to verify facts. The government agencies also don't care. But, for the first time ICAR has put out an official report on the performance of Bt cotton, which is on a positive note. No doubt, the anti-GM lobby will not buy this. Good news about Bt cotton is bad news for the anti-GM lobby. If the same ICAR scientists allude anything even remotely negative about Bt cotton, then it is taken as authentic, but if the same ICAR says anything positive about biotechnology or GM crops, then it not kosher for the anti-biotech forces. It is really impossible to verify all these claims and counter claims. The proof pudding is in eating. This year, India has surpassed China is Bt cotton acreage. Does this satisfy the anti-lobby?
When one of us visited Warangal last November, there was no evidence of Bt cotton failure. We could not locate a single shepherd whose sheep had died and no farmer had heard of it. We could confirm from the State Department of Agriculture officials that 90-95 percent of cotton grown in Warangal is Bt cotton that was confirmed by educated farmers and pesticide dealers in town. Yet, the anti-GM lobby does not accept these facts, and continues to spread lies and canards about everything imaginary about Bt cotton.
The big question is why do all NGOs (we know of only one NGO that supports modern biotechnology and science) are 'such die-hard' opponents of biotechnology and GM crops that is based on some of the best science in the world. The politicization of GM crops technology was complete when Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a partner in the ruling coalition in Tamil Nadu and the former lady chief minister of the same state have taken a stand against GM crops at the goading of the anti-GM lobby. Otherwise, it is hard to believe that these politicians would have any idea about these modern day cutting edge technologies. This is just the beginning, and should the anti-GM lobby persist in their efforts, they can get more converts among the political parties whose understanding of science and technology is worse than that of NGOs. A ham handed intervention by the agricultural minister of Andhra Pradesh to slash the price of Bt cotton by more than 50 percent, only to be followed by other states smacks of rank political populism to garner farmers votes. This is another brazen political intervention by the political mighty. In this instance, the role of NGOs in misleading the agriculture minister must not be understated. The state government reports on the failures of Bt cotton are bereft of any scientific or empirical evidence, and appear pitiable.
All these oppositions from the NGO community are coming from ideological opposition to globalization, multi-national corporations, and free market capitalism, all sentiments liberally borrowed from the European greens and socialists. The idea of "re-ruralization" of India by taking back Indian farmers to old fashioned, pre-independence agriculture is a clear indication of technical bankruptcy of what these NGOs would like to accomplish, if they had their way. That is to keep poor Indian farmers poor by adhering to the backward and non-productive agricultural systems. The anti-GM lobby draws lots of inspiration and resources from the European greens, the organic lobby, and anti-globalization lobbies (world social forum) to sustain their activities. Another constant refrain one hears is that Indian GM crops policies are being implemented without proper stakeholder or public consultations. Not withstanding hundreds of consultations that have been held, the NGOs are not happy because these consultations have not resulted in banning the GM technology. No amount of public consultations will satisfy these NGOs until they get their wish. The latest series of activism against GM crops is unraveling at the grassroots level where the anti-GM NGOs are going from village to village swearing villages to declare themselves GMO-free villages. No one knows what will come out of this GMO-free village campaign, but is an indication how motivated these forces are.
Regarding GM food safety, some NGOs wish that they be tested for next 50 years until they can prove to be safe beyond reasonable doubt. This way, they know that they can tie up the product forever and nothing will come to the market place. All these kinds of scientifically unreasonable demands by NGOs are a clear indication of what they want, and that is to see that the technology is killed in its infancy. Clearly an anti-biotech political agenda.
Who will bell the cat?
What is regrettable is the deafening silence of the great Indian scientific community. Even a scientist headed committee to reform the Indian regulatory system has recommended that GM rice must not be introduced into areas that are known to be centers of origin and diversity, a patently nonsensical idea. This was done just to appease the anti-GM lobby. The quarantining of areas will never work and GM rice will find its way to every nook and corner of the country. The point here is that since such a deployment strategy will not work, then push for total ban on GM rice, and the war cry has already started. There are four academies of sciences in India, and scores of individual science associations, but none dares to take on this anti-GM lobby to inform the public or the media. These academies could have submitted an amicus curiae brief against the case in the Supreme Court of India filed by half a dozen anti-GM activists. But, these academies have gone on AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave) on the issue. The science establishment is totally apathetic about this raging anti-biotech and anti-GM controversy, the anti's have a field day, and the media has nowhere to go to verify facts.
This is a political battle, and must be fought at the political level by the combined activism of scientists and technologists. Otherwise, not only the technology deployment will be delayed, but many future products that are in the pipeline may never see the light of the day. Indian agriculture badly needs all the modern technology to upgrade itself and compete at the global level, and these ideological opponents must not be allowed to hijack the agriculture development of the country, and dictate terms to the nation. Opportunity costs are too high of not deploying modern science and technology for India's agricultural development.