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Archives for : July2018

Modi Sarkar – A propaganda tool called #UrbanNaxal

‘The category of crime and criminals called Maoist or Naxal or #UrbanNaxals is an illegitimate creation of right-wing propaganda media frenzy.’
‘It is a fiction repugnant to the Constitution and the law of the land,’ argue Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.

‘Urban Naxal’ or #UrbanNaxals has long been the favoured pelting pebbles of Sangh Parivar social media operators, first deployed on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and then put to much wider use against a range of intellectuals, media-persons and others perceived to be unaccommodating toward the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh agenda.

Arundhati Roy and Barkha Dutt, Prashant Bhushan and Rajdeep Sardesai, Shekhar Gupta and several others have been at the receiving end of such branding.

However, such labelling of well-known personalities being pathetically facetious, the phenomenon remained for long beyond the fringes of serious public discourse.

2018: Government acting in consonance with troll brigade

The year 2018, on the other hand, has seen some change.

The political and police establishment, which had till then shown only low-key approval for the #UrbanNaxals phraseology, started taking active steps which seemed to run in consonance with the cant of the rightwing cyber brigade.

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Post Bhima Koregaon, the road for Indian politics

Post Bhima Koregaon, the road for Indian politics

In Maharashtra, this appeared as the ruling regime’s response to the rise of an anti-BJP multi-caste alliance (external link) around the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon that vanquished Brahminical Peshwa rule.

Its call to bury the New Peshwai — a figure of speech for the present rulers — seemed too real for the Sangh Parivar to remain without response.

The Sangh’s opening gambit of organising violent attacks (external links) by saffron flag-wielding upper caste mobs on the predominantly Dalit congregation at Bhima-Koregaon failed to result in the widespread caste riots and polarisation that it desired.

It in fact backfired and only led to an expansion and consolidation of the opposition, with state-wide protests and a bandh and a demand for the punishment of Hindutva organisation leaders, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who had been named in the First Information Report.

Diverting attention away from the actual attackers

It was then that the BJP troll teams and right-wing fake-news (external link) Web sites like postcardnews.com immediately launched Plan-B.

It was to divert attention from the actual perpetrators of the violence, onto some of their favourite whipping boys — Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, JNU student Umar Khalid and Pune’s Kabir Kala Manch — who had spoken and performed at the Elgaar Parishad programme held a day earlier, 30 kilometres away at Pune.

They alleged that these constituted a Naxal-Maoist hand that was behind the violence, but made no attempt to explain the strange logic of how speeches and songs by those they called #UrbanNaxals could be responsible for motivating and mobilising violent saffron-flaunting mobs.

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This thus would have safely remained in the realm of the ridiculous had it not been for the way the government and administration promptly picked up this narrative.

Police machinery takes cue from right-wing propaganda machine

As if on cue, within 24 hours of the right-wing propaganda on #UrbanNaxals, we had police officials mirroring it and telling the Times of India (external link) that ‘security agencies suspect that the Bhima-Koregaon episode may have been planned and executed by urban Naxal cadres’ and that ‘a Nagpur-based senior woman member of a front organisation too took part in the “Yalgar Parishad” — a likely reference to the now-arrested Professor Shoma Sen.

The same report has Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis giving his nod to a probe in this direction.

This was all being spoken to the press at a time when the only FIR (external link) registered had clearly identified the right-wing Hindutva organisations and their leaders who were responsible for the violence.

It had taken just about 48 hours for the higher echelons of the state machinery to decide to follow the path first plotted by extreme right-wing Web warriors.

With the storyline decided, things started rolling as per script.

By January 8, 2018, the story invented from above was composed into a new FIR(external link), which was registered in Pune city’s Vishrambaug police station against the now-arrested Sudhir Dhawale and five others of the Kabir Kala Manch.

Four days later, the Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad (external link) registered its own FIR in Mumbai and arrested seven Dalit, Telugu-speaking, worker union activists, claiming to the press that they were Maoists associated with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

By February the original accused, Milind Ekbote, jumped onto the #UrbanNaxals bandwagon and started mouthing the Pune city police’s version, blaming Naxals and Leftists (external link) for his own actions being investigated by the Pune rural police.

In March, the Pune city police added the charge of conspiracy to its FIR of January 8, indicating that they wanted to implicate many more people who had not even been present during the Bhima-Koregaon events.

This they followed up with search and seizure operations on April 17 across four cities — Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi — and subsequently, the June 6 arrests under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of five activists from Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi.

#UrbanNaxals trends at #1

Amidst mysteriously manufactured (external link) letters fueling BJP accusations of Congress funding for Maoists and media hysteria of PM assassination plots, the hashtag #UrbanNaxals soon started trending at #1 (external link) on Twitter.

A term, hitherto the staple of right-wing trolls, became mainstream.

It appeared on official police Twitter handles and at high-level police press conferences, prime time debates and print media headlines.

Its use spread.

Petty trollery rapidly grew to petty tyranny of government functionaries in a number of states, who resorted to the #UrbanNaxal tag to justify the threat of, or the actual application of draconian provisions like sedition or the Goondas Act or UAPA.

BJP MP Poonam Mahajan (external link), claimed that the March 2018 ‘Kisan Long March’ to Mumbai was propelled by ‘Urban Maoists’; the Bastar police(external link) arrested a Bangalore-based blogger and tweeted that they had got an Urban Naxal; Union Minister from Tamil Nadu Pon Radhakrishnan (external link) provided the ‘Urban Maoist’ justification for the arrest of an advocate for the agitation against Sterlite’s polluting copper plant in Thoothukudi (external link), and sedition charges against environmentalists and students for protesting against the Chennai-Salem (external link) expressway.

Undefined #UrbanNaxal is a handy propaganda weapon

Each use of the #UrbanNaxals tag, however, has rarely if ever been justified with reference to the law of the land.

As former additional solicitor general Indira Jaising (external link) rightly pointed out on a prime time programme, ‘The word “urban naxal” does not exist anywhere in law. It is something only coined by the BJP.’

The BJP’s coining and usage of the term is, however, slippery and changes according to its immediate needs.

The nearest to an authoritative BJP understanding came when, two days after the June arrests, Arun Jaitley tried to define an associated term of his own coinage. He tweeted (external link) that, ‘The “half Maoist” is a serious threat to Indian democracy and blogged (external link) that he had analysed this in the Rajya Sabha ‘whilst in the Opposition during the UPA II’.

A perusal of the official Rajya Sabha debates of 15th April, 2010 (external link), where Jaitley, as Leader of Opposition, made his analysis, shows a different usage of the term ‘half Maoist’ then than now.

At that time he had used ‘half Maoist’ for those in the Treasury benches (external link), like Digvijaya Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and even Mamta Banerjee, who he tried to show up as opposed to Home Minister P Chidambaram.

His 2018 blog, however, now uses the term for those who he said, ‘have captured the human rights movement in several parts of the country but always lend support to the Maoist cause.’

Different priorities today probably call for an opportunist shift to a different definition.

The definition in the Organiser, the organ of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is patently meaningless. Vivek Agnihotri, author of the book Urban Naxals, in an interview with Organiser says,

‘Who is an Urban Naxal? Well. It’s not as difficult as it may seem to identify an Urban Naxal. They are mostly invisible and are mixed in crowd. Anyone can be a naxal. You may feel secure that your child is with his professor for tuition but what he is learning is Urban Naxalism. They use doubt as a weapon to create confusion and chaos.’

On further questioning he lists two characteristics, ‘First, anyone who is not willing to give any space to Hindu civilisation’ and ‘Second, legal activism’.

The only thing that comes clear from the Organiser and Jaitley definitions is their deliberate vagueness.

‘Urban Naxal’ and ‘half Maoist’ seem merely to be handy weapons with which to browbeat an opponent with their meaning changing to suit time and situation.

UAPA used in violation of Supreme Court rulings

State agencies using the ‘Urban Naxal’ terminology do not seem to need any definition in law for the labeling, implicating and arresting they have done so far.

Faithfully following the prompting of the Organiser-Jaitley definitions, the police have targeted human rights legal activists whom they see as inimical to Hindutva and government policies and have slapped charges of membership of the CPI-Maoist — a crime under UAPA.

This easy branding and incrimination are made possible by the arbitrary wording of UAPA, which outlaws thought and criminalises association, merely by a notification of the State proscribing a particular organisation.

Such lawmaking obviously runs counter to the very essence of democracy and Constitutional rights.

This doctrine of ‘guilt by association’ has been unequivocally rejected by the Supreme Court (external link).

The apex court has ruled, ‘the provisions in various statutes i.e. 3 (5) of TADA or Section 10 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) which on their plain language make mere membership of a banned organization criminal have to be read down and we have to depart from the literal rule of interpretation in such cases, otherwise these provisions will become unconstitutional as violative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

It has explicitly held, ‘mere membership of a banned organisation cannot incriminate a person unless he is proved to have resorted to acts of violence or incited people to imminent violence, or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to imminent violence.’

It is no one’s case that the arrested Bhima-Koregaon five were anywhere involved in violence or incitement to imminent violence.

Their arrest therefore is violative of the Constitutional constraints imposed by the Supreme Court for applying UAPA.

Following the lead of the top court, the Kerala high court (external link) has defined the Constitutional position more explicitly,

‘Being a Maoist is no crime… Police cannot detain a person merely because he is a Maoist, unless police forms a reasonable opinion that his activities are unlawful.’

Thus, the category of crime and criminals called Maoist or Naxal or #UrbanNaxals is an illegitimate creation of right-wing propaganda media frenzy. It is a fiction repugnant to the Constitution and law of the land.

However, police officials, who have, with steady circulation of fabricated letters, invested deeply in the project to pump up the fraudulent #UrbanNaxals narrative, will clearly not make any attempt to understand and abide by Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

They are even less likely to try and understand the relevance and implications of Article 19 of yet another Constitution — the party constitution (external link) of the CPI-Maoist.

This article states that ‘Every member must be ready to participate and play a vanguard role in class struggle in the form of armed agrarian revolutionary war’.

The Bhima-Koregaon five charged with membership of CPI-Maoist, being in urban professions, are incapable of fulfilling the membership condition of leading ‘armed agrarian revolutionary war’.

The CPI-Maoist, which is reportedly (external link) strict in implementing its rules, could not admit such persons as its members.

This itself should be sufficient to question the flimsy basis for the police charges on those arrested.

It also indicates the utter frivolousness of the propaganda that claims there are Urban Naxals around every corner. A party with the above demands of its members is hardly likely to have any members in urban intellectual circles.

This logic, however, is not remotely likely to influence either the Sangh troll brigade or the police authorities who have acted in their wake.

The police continue to fake and leak newer letters with fewer takers, while threatening to take more human rights defenders behind bars.

The cyber gang pushing #UrbanNaxals continues to reach new frontiers of fanaticism.

One follower of Agnihotri even anointed the top woman capitalist of the country, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (external link) as an #UrbanNaxal.

Agnihotri himself was found calling the United Nations (external link) ‘nothing but a hiding place of #UrbanNaxals’.

No limits to the ludicrous in this theatre of the absurd.

http://www.rediff.com/news/column/a-propaganda-tool-called-urbannaxal/20180713.htm

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Jean Dreze-Hollowing out a promise- NREGA

NREGA is a demand-driven programme and if the demand vanishes because wages are low and uncertain, nothing will be able to save it.

Written by  | Updated: July 13, 2018 8:47:45 am

MGNREGA, MGNREGA wages, Rural employment wages, MNREGA wages, MNREGA wages hikes, MNREGA wage revision, nrega wages, farm wages, Modi govt, Indian Express

When workers lose interest, corrupt middlemen step in and take advantage of the lack of vigilance to syphon off NREGA funds by fudging the records. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is going through a deep crisis of delayed and failed wage payments. The problem is not new, but it is more serious than ever and threatens to undermine the entire programme.

The crisis has at least four manifestations: Delayed payments, rejected payments, diverted payments and locked payments. Let me try to spell them out, one by one.

Delays in wage payments have plagued NREGA ever since bank payments were introduced about 10 years ago. In recent years, there has been some improvement in what might be called first-step delays — the delays that occur before the final signature of a Fund Transfer Order (FTO). First-step delays are reasonably transparent and the system is designed to calculate the compensation due to workers (by the state government) when they occur. But the system hides the second-step delays — the delays that occur when bank transfers themselves are held up. In a recent analysis of NREGA wage payments in 10 states, Rajendran Narayanan, Sakina Dhorajiwala and Rajesh Golani found that second-step delays were as long as two months on average in 2016-17. Repeated demands for second-step delays to be disclosed and compensated for by the central government have fallen on deaf ears so far.

One reason why delays have persisted for so long is that the payment system is constantly being re-designed. First it was cash payments, then post-office payments, then bank payments, then specific banks, then various avatars of what is now called the National electronic Fund Management System (NeFMS), and now the Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS). None of these innovations, so far, has been able to ensure payment within 15 days of the work being done, as prescribed under NREGA.

Even as the delays continue, the latest payment systems are largely responsible for rejected payments, diverted payments and locked payments. Rejected payments were not unknown earlier but they have become endemic ever since the linking of NREGA wage payments with Aadhaar. Linking the bank accounts of NREGA workers with Aadhaar may seem like a trivial matter but in practice it creates endless problems, associated for instance with inconsistencies between different databases — job cards, bank accounts and Aadhaar. Today, “e-KYC” (biometric authentication of Aadhaar-linked accounts) is compulsory for NREGA workers, if not in theory then certainly in practice. That, too, is a fountain of technical glitches. A senior official at the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) recently told me that the MoRD had identified more than 200 different possible reasons for a payment to be rejected. Some of the error codes, like “inactive Aadhaar”, are beyond the comprehension of the MoRD itself and even of UIDAI — both pleaded ignorance in response to an RTI on this matter. According to the NREGA’s management and information system (MIS), nearly Rs 500 crore of wage payments were rejected in 2017-18 alone.

Diverted payments is a pathology of the Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS), the latest — but probably not the last — reconfiguration of the NREGA wage payment system. Under APBS, Aadhaar effectively becomes a financial address and wages are automatically paid into the worker’s last Aadhaar-linked account. Most workers, of course, are unaware of this rule, so they often look for their money in the wrong account. Worse, wages are sometimes paid into accounts that workers know nothing about, for example, accounts opened without consent in the initial Jan Dhan Yojana frenzy, or Airtel wallets. Even worse, wages are sometimes sent to the wrong person, because that person’s account has been linked to the concerned worker’s Aadhaar by mistake (for instance, due to data entry errors). These diverted payments are very difficult to retrieve — most NREGA workers are powerless to do anything about them.

Last but not least, many NREGA workers today are unable to withdraw their wages from their bank accounts even after their wages have been paid — this is the problem of “locked payments”. Workers are locked out of their bank account when the bank treats it as “dormant” or “frozen” because it does not meet the current norms. One of these norms is e-KYC, a major hurdle on its own for NREGA workers, but there are others. For instance, if a worker does not use his or her accounts for a specified number of months, the account is often frozen. Similarly, when Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana money is sent to a worker’s bank account (often without intimation or consent), he or she is at risk of the account being frozen because the balance exceeds the current maximum. Sometimes accounts are not just frozen but closed altogether, without even informing the concerned person.

Three further remarks are due. First, many of these pathologies are associated with brazen flouting of consent principles and norms. For instance, moving an account to the APBS system is not supposed to happen without informed consent. In practice, NREGA workers are being herded en masse into APBS without their knowledge let alone consent.

Second, the lack of grievance redressal facilities aggravates all these problems. Even as NREGA workers run from pillar to post to find out whether they have been paid, where their money is, or why their account has been frozen, there is no one around to inform or assist them. Their ordeal is a pathetic sight. What is a worker supposed to do when he or she is told, after hours of queuing in an overcrowded bank, “your account has been closed from the back-end, now move on please”?

Third, aside from causing enormous hardship to NREGA workers, delayed and failed payments are a major source of corruption. When workers lose interest, corrupt middlemen step in and take advantage of the lack of vigilance to siphon off NREGA funds by fudging the records. I am not sure about other states, but in Jharkhand at least, the crooks have found ways to game the bank payments. Linking bank accounts with Aadhaar makes little difference. In fact, to the extent that Aadhaar contributes to the payments crisis, it means more corruption not less.

Having said this, the worst part of the payments crisis is the damage it does to NREGA itself. NREGA is a demand-driven programme and if the demand vanishes because wages are low and uncertain, nothing will be able to save it. Averting this requires a reliable payment system, higher wages, compensation for delays, effective grievance redressal and — last but not least — stopping the constant redesign of payment systems. If that means staying one step behind in the financial technology race, so be it.

Indian Express

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Climate Change Crisis: Why Fatuhi Khera In Punjab Changed From Cotton To Rice

Fatuhi Khera_Punjab_620

In Fatuhi Khera, Punjab, crop losses following a deluge in 2009 prompted a switch from growing cotton to paddy in 75% of the acreage that was earlier under cotton. Since paddy withstands water logging better than cotton, farmers see its cultivation as a means to protect their income against losses emanating from excessive rainfall during the monsoon.

Mount Abu: Harsimranjit Brar, 26, has an unforgettable childhood memory of his family’s fields in Fatuhi Khera, a village in Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib district. Just before harvest, it would be a sea of white fluff. Brar’s father, a seasoned farmer, used to cultivate cotton on a 40-acre plot every kharif (monsoon) season.

All that changed after a deluge in 2009 submerged their land under 4-5 feet of water, wiping out their cotton crop, recalled Brar, now an inspector with the Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation Limited. Three days of rain damaged the cotton crop in 60-70 villages of the around 238 villages in the district.

It took months for the standing water to percolate into the saturated ground. “The damage to our land was so substantial that it washed out the possibility of growing any crops in 2010,” he said.

To avoid a repeat of the disaster, in 2011, Brar’s father and elder brother decided to grow paddy–parmal, as it is called in Punjab–on 9 acres of their land because paddy can withstand water-logging.

The family has now switched to paddy on 38 of 40 acres. In the district itself, 75% of the acreage dedicated to cotton is now used for paddy, Brar reckoned.

“Monsoon rainfall used to be spread across the season but we had started to see more downpours followed by dry spells,” Brar said. “Downpours invariably led to water-logging. We strongly felt we needed to de-risk our income.”

The farmers of Sri Muktsar district chose to play it safe; elsewhere farmers might choose to deal with climate change differently. In semi-arid regions, for example, “farmers adopt more risky cash crops such as cotton instead of more resilient dryland cereals or pulses, in the anticipation of higher returns but at a very high risk of failure”, said Anthony Whitbread, a research programme director at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

ICRISAT_620

To withstand climate change, farmers need adequate support by way of know-how and practical assistance for adoption of drought- or heat-tolerant crop varieties (cultivars), soil and water conservation technologies, said Anthony Whitbread, a research programme director at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

For instance, this 2010 ICRISAT study examined a change in the cropping pattern in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra–from cereal crops (except maize) to pulses and other cash crops such as sugarcane and cotton.

India is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. It has increased the frequency of downpours as well as the gaps between rainy days during the monsoon, as IndiaSpend reported in January 2018 and February 2018.

Extreme rainfall shocks could reduce farmer incomes in the kharif and rabi seasons by 13.7% and 5.5%, according to theEconomic Survey, 2017-18. To reduce the impact of these shocks and to double farmer incomes, as the government wants to, the following are vital, according to Whitbread: “adequate support by way of know-how and practical assistance for adoption of drought- or heat-tolerant crop varieties (cultivars), soil and water conservation technologies, changing sowing dates and so on”.

Farmers’ observations mirror scientific predictions about climate change

In Punjab, 97% of the agricultural land is irrigated while in Madhya Pradesh, this percentage stands at 40%, leaving farmers more vulnerable to fluctuations in the monsoon. Despite this, farmers in both states have felt the effect of climate change.

Over three-quarters of the 150 paddy farmers in Punjab were sure that climate patterns have changed, Brar found in a 2016 survey he conducted for his master of science (MSc) degree in five districts–Hoshiarpur, Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar, Ludhiana, Faridkot and Sri Muktsar Sahib. This covered the the north-east, south-west and central parts of the state.

One in five farmers in the study was somewhat sure that climate change had happened. However, they differed on how it manifested. Eight in 10 farmers believed climate change had raised temperatures, seven thought the rainfall pattern had changed, four felt a rise in air pollution, nearly four perceived a fluctuation in the hours of sunshine, two thought droughts had become more frequent and less than one believed that floods occurred too frequently.

A couple of these observations match scientists’ predictions for climate change in the coming decades, as we will see in the following sections.

Arid pockets of western India may see increased rainfall

Between now and 2050, India is likely to see an increase in the baseline mean, minimum as well as maximum temperatures and these could have a warming effect that could raise sea levels, said Whitbread.

By the 2050s, some regions of India are likely to see more rainfall, in contrast to the African continent that is getting drier, he added. These predictions are based on 20 general circulation models, climate models simulating the future change in precipitation and temperature around the world. The highest increase in rainfall by 2050 is predicted in the arid western parts of India while the south and parts of the Gangetic plain bordering Nepal may see moderate increases.

However, this prediction comes with a rider: “Large uncertainties exist in quantifying precipitation changes,” said Whitbread. “Rainfall during the monsoon months will be uncertain; rainfall could be inadequate after the onset of the monsoon or involve pronounced dry periods juxtaposed against heavy spells. Since the number of rainy days is not projected to correspondingly increase, India could see more extreme events.”

There is little advice on how to adapt: Farmers

Jabalpur district in Madhya Pradesh has the largest area of rainfed agricultural land in the state–235,058 hectares. In its Shahpura block, where 45,274 hectares of the land is rainfed, seven in 10 farmers listed the lack of knowledge about ways to mitigate the effects of climate change as their biggest challenge, in a 2015 survey conducted by Amrita Singh, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur, for her MSc degree.

All the farmers featured in the survey were aware that they should delay the sowing of the kharif crop because monsoon now tends to start late. About eight in 10 had some idea of measures such as ensuring adequate drainage and avoiding the use of fertiliser during heavy rainfall to avoid nutrients leaching into groundwater. Six in 10 farmers were aware that selecting a suitable cropping pattern could help deal with the current vagaries of nature.

While farmers in Shahpura acknowledged that government and non-government bodies were holding agricultural extension activities to equip farmers with information about dealing with climate change, more than half complained about the non-availability of information in local languages. This plea for information is universal.

Brar is of the opinion that technical know-how is sparse and what is being shared is not customised. “Drafting an advisory for a state or large region ignores the fact that the characteristics of land differ from area to area,” he said.

“We need to strengthen the agro advisories covering market information and other know-how being circulated to farmers,” agreed Anil Sharma, assistant director (TV and radio) of the Centre for Communication & International Linkages, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He suggested the use of the internet to disseminate the advisories because rural Punjab is net-savvy.

Farmers need better seeds to cope with climate change

Left to their own resources to adapt to climate change, nine in 10 paddy farmers Brar surveyed in Punjab had switched to growing shorter duration varieties of crops while eight were relying on the weather forecast–these are two of the most popular measures. Less than one in 10 farmers had opted to change their cropping pattern, a potential outcome of climate change with drastic implications. If farmers switch en masse from a food crop to a cash crop, the quantity and variety of food available to the country would be adversely impacted.

More than half the respondents wanted the government to develop crop varieties that are insect- and disease-resistant; close to half wanted varieties that are resistant to water logging and almost a third wanted varieties that could cope with temperature variations and water stress.

Indian scientists have developed drought- and heat-tolerant varieties of certain crops but farmers don’t seem to be aware of all that is available.

Harsimranjit Brar_620

Harsimranjit Brar, from a farming family in Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab, feels that farmers need more technical know-how on climate relevant to their situation. State-wise or regional advisories ignore the fact that the characteristics of land differ from area to area.

For instance, ICRISAT has developed the ICGV 91114, a strain of groundnut with better drought tolerance, that has been shown to increase pod yield by 23%, net income by 36% and reduce yield variability by 30%, in a farm impact study conducted in 2011 in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh.

In 2016, the Odisha State Seed Certification Limited procured about 54 tons of the ICGV 91114 from the seed-producing farmers in four districts to distribute to other farmers in the subsequent season. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also produce the ICGV 91114 seed for distribution to farmers. But this is still little considering that the top five groundnut producing states in 2015-16 were Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

“Apart from low awareness, diffusion of our new technologies in farmers’ field is slow because of the non-availability of seeds in the market,” Swamikannu Nedumaran, a senior scientist with ICRISAT told IndiaSpend. He believes that this is due to the limited attention paid to developing and distributing seeds for dryland crops and promoting them through price support.

Dryland crops are a traditional source of income for thousands of small farmers in rainfed regions. “There is much more focus across the country on the major food crops such as paddy, wheat and maize,” said Nedumaran.

Poor access to technology compelling small farmers to switch crops

In Madhya Pradesh, soybean covers 45% of the state’s total cropped area during the monsoon. This was the case in Raisen and Hoshangabad districts too, till a few years ago.

Of late, frequent and heavy monsoon rains in the two low-lying districts have caused crop failures and prompted a shift from soybean and pulses to paddy, said Nalin Khare, professor and head, Agricultural Extension, Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur.

“Water stagnation from unpredictable rainfall affects soybean more than paddy,” he said.

Soybean became a favourite crop of farmers “mainly because of [its] short duration (90-105 days) with high net return”, reads the2015-16 Annual Report of the directorate of pulses development, Bhopal, a body under the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare.

However, the report tells us that “soybean production was more drastically declined during kharif 2015 due to excess rains at vegetative phase [the period of growth between germination and flowering], long dry spell at seed filling stage [when the seed develops in the pod] and infestation of yellow mosaic virus [a viral disease affecting plants] and other insect pest”.

In certain districts, the soybean crop loss in 2015 was 60-70%.

During agricultural extension activities in Madhya Pradesh, farmers have been taught how to use the ridge and furrow method and raised bed system to protect the soybean crop from heavy rainPurushottam Sharma, a senior scientist (Agricultural Economics) with the Indian Institute of Soybean Research, Indore, told IndiaSpend.

The state government is trying to make available the required tools for this system through professionally-run hiring centres established for the purpose. “But as the reach of these hiring centres is limited, far-flung farmers are still deprived, keeping the adoption of these protective methods low,” he said.

Brar is grateful for the government subsidies farmers in Sri Muktsar Sahib received a few years ago to bore tubewells. “A tubewell priced at Rs 100,000 to install cost us only Rs 9,000,” he said. However, he acknowledged that this benefit has not been extended to all the needy farmers, many of who cannot afford electricity.

Sri Muktsar Sahib_620

Harsimranjit Brar’s family in Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab, is grateful for the government subsidies that reduced the cost of a tubewell from Rs 100,000 to Rs 9,000. However, he acknowledged that this benefit has not been extended to all the needy farmers, many of whom cannot afford electricity.

Why India can’t delay developing and implementing climate change strategies

Globally, climate change has already extended the growing season in some middle and higher latitude areas that were earlier too cold for the cultivation of most crops, such as the northern precincts of Russia, according to this 2013 study published in the journal Economics. In contrast, Southern Russia, one of the world’s breadbaskets, would suffer a decline in wheat yield as the climate becomes drier, it predicted.

Russia’s bumper wheat harvest in recent years is partly attributable to record temperatures boosting yields, this April 2018 Bloomberg report noted.

In India, while agriculture in parts of the country might benefit from the 5% to 20% increase in rainfall expected by the 2050s, the adverse effect of rising temperatures across the country and the mixed effect of rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide would also need to be factored into future plans.

The combined impact of precipitation, temperature and carbon dioxide will depend on the crop variety grown, crop management practices and location, said Nedumaran.

ICRISAT crop simulation models of the impact of climate change suggest that maize, sorghum and groundnut yields may increase due to higher rainfall, but rising temperature will decrease the yield of crops, especially rabi (cool) season crops such aschickpea, particularly in south India.

Gram, soybean, onion and castor could benefit from the higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, while rice, wheat, maize and sorghum could see a decline in yield, according to a recent modelling study.

(Bahri is a freelance writer and editor based in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.)

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