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#India-Critique of Lok Satta party’s views on #FDI

 

 

 is a political party in India founded by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan It was launched on October 2, 2006 by the Lok Satta Movement. From 1996 to 2006, the fought for administrative and political reforms, including constitutional amendments regarding elimination of defections, reduction in the size of the cabinet, the Right to Information Act (RTI), disclosure of criminal records and assets by all candidates and others

 

English: Portrait photo of Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan

English: Portrait photo of Dr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Champions of Farmers

 

 

 

In recent past, two articles appeared in “Andhra Jyothi” by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (or JP as he is known), the chief of Loksatta Party. These were two part articles that talked about two major issues, failure of governments to protect the interests of farmers and the need to bring in access to foreign / export markets for the farmers and also the know how in post-harvest technologies. His as well as his “farmers group” leader Mr. Chengal Reddy’s argument is that farmers are unable to access export markets and are losing out on making big profits as they don’t have the necessary infrastructure – like cold storages, post harvest technologies etc.

 

 

Their view point is that by inviting FDI in retail it shall be a win-win situation for the farmers of as they will have access to good storage facilities, infrastructure for post harvest technologies, processing industry and finally have greater access to export markets. In one television debate on DD some days ago, Mr. Chengal Reddy says, “Now “we farmers”, have huge stocks lying idle in the godowns, if we get FDI we will have access to cold storages and export markets and we will be able to sell at a better price. Therefore, “we farmers” are inviting FDI. See, you have allowed competition in TV and have so many channels as opposed to DD, and then due to private enterprise we have so many varieties of gadgets, why do you deny the farmer to have access to a variety of traders?”  It is another matter that this spokesperson of “farmers”, has given up on agriculture as a profession a long time ago. When questioned as to why this huge produce lying idle can’t be made affordable / accessible to the millions that die of hunger everyday, which will solve the issue of the farmers and the poor, he had no response.

 

 

And the other champion of farmers Dr. JP somehow never talks about the other issues that are plaguing the farmers of this country. For example, it’s a well known fact that climate change has become the greatest enemy of agriculturists. And one of the major arguments is that there is a need for reduction in energy usage for restoring stability in the environment. And it is precisely for this reason and also for the reason that the pollution and radiation from Thermal power projects adversely impacts agricultural production besides hugely increasing local temperatures that we (NAPM) have been arguing against these projects. However, Dr.JP has critiqued our stand in a public meeting in Naguluppalapadu mandal in Prakasam district, in Aug.2010, where the local people had been campaigning against a thermal power project being set up there. His stand was that setting up a Thermal plant in that area was not good as it was an agriculturally productive area with good irrigation from the Lift Irrigation project that he was instrumental in setting up, when he was a collector. But then, he added that while setting up thermal plants in that area should not be allowed, our opposing thermal plants all over is foolish. And asked that if we oppose Thermal Projects everywhere, then where should one establish these industries? “In the sky?”

 

 

Dr. JP was addressing a public meeting in a constituency where he was an erstwhile collector. But if his concern for farmers is so strong then why is it that he doesn’t speak of the farmers who are losing their agricultural produce due to the pollution of NTPC in Parawada, another project that he was instrumental in establishing? When he is questioned on this, he says that it’s the fault of the NTPC which is not controlling the pollution. But then, as he has claimed to champion the cause of the farmers, why has he not campaigned/ protested on the issues of the pollution that is destroying the lives of people in Parawada? Why has he not taken up the cause of the farmers of Nellore, who are going to suffer total destruction due to the cumulative impact of 35,000 MW of thermal power projects? By his own definition, thermal plants should not be established in fertile agricultural areas. Therefore, these projects should not be set up in Nellore district which too is a rich agricultural, productive zone as also most of the coastal areas, where thermal plants by the dozens are being established.  Why oppose in Prakasam and not talk about it elsewhere? What are the dynamics that are preventing his taking a stand on this issue?  Forget about the pollution, in most places farmers have to fight to save their lands from Land acquisition, for SEZs, mining projects and various other industries. And this is no small number, why has he been silent on this issue?  In fact, his take on SEZs is that farmers lands have to be consolidated in the SEZs and out of the developmental profits, farmers should be given a share! Seems fine to hear, but who will ensure that it is followed inside these “deemed foreign territories” where the Indian Constitution has not teeth? And what if the farmers don’t wish to give away their lands? What about the state repression regarding the various projects and the land acquisition process? Without referring to any of these, he has presented a beautiful, idyllic picture of Indian agricultural conditions, with “large areas of cultivable land, plenty of sun light, and good rainfall” etc, which goes to show that either he is not living in reality or simply trying to brush the truths under a carpet. In the past years what we had was erratic climate, and not good rainfall – it was either less or excess. But if he accepts these, then he has to come into the climate debate and then has to defend his stand on thermal power projects. Of course, he has a solution for climate change which he mentioned in a Kisan Swaraj Yatra meeting held in Hyderabad on 8thNovember 2010: “Indian agriculture contributes hugely to global warming, because the dung of our cattle emits methane. To over come this we have a solution. The gene in the stomach of Kangaroos controls this aspect. That is why the dung of kangaroos doesn’t emit methane. So, if we can use this gene and genetically modify our cattle so that their dung doesn’t emit methane, it would be a win-win situation”. He mentioned this in support of his argument that GM technology is “Oh! so good for us!”

 

 

Dr.J.P’s articles in Andhra Jyothi sound very concerned for the farmers and seem to be providing pragmatic and practical solutions, but look beneath the surface and his idea is to promote FDI in retail and leave the farmers to the mercy of private investors. True, the government mechanisms have failed to deliver to the farmers – a proper system of input supply and robust marketing support. True also that the entire government machinery is rife with corruption, but will this be solved by the entry of foreign / retail players? Are they holier than the government agencies?  Have we not seen in the recent past post liberalization, the kind of corruption that ran into lakhs of crores of rupees which involved major corporate bigwigs in this country? Have we not seen how the US government involved itself in the way the then Petroleum Minister Manishankar Iyer was removed from his ministry? And the way Reliance played its role in the ousting of Jaipal Reddy just a few weeks ago? Are we not seeing how big corporations are arm twisting governments to suit their demands? In this context, assuming that Big Retail chains armed with their colossal money bags who have ruined small traders and small farmers with their predatory practices elsewhere, and who are instrumental in the framing of policies not just in the US but also in other countries, would work in the interest of  small farmers; is either naïve or deliberate. Knowing that Dr.JP is an intelligent person, his solution of bringing in big retail into the country and to remove all protection in trading commodities, seems more like a deliberate act to promote the interests of big corporations rather than a real concern for the farmers.

 

 

In the same vein he champions that farmers elsewhere have benefited from GM seeds, but the farmers in India are being deprived of this benefit, due to unscientific claims by activists. In his third article, he claims that India has benefited hugely by using Bt Seeds. And that pesticide usage has reduced very much and thus protected the environment. (Which itself is not true, because there has been an increase in various other pests which were hitherto dormant, after the use of bt cotton targeted for Bollworm. In many places the bt cotton was not effective even on the Bollworm). He also claims that people have been feeding animals on cotton crops and that they have been using cotton seed oil and their health has been perfect and this has been proven ‘world over”. And he says the way forward is to promote GM technology in India. In his article while he talks about the farmers suicides pre-bt cotton, he doesn’t speak of the continuing suicides of farmers, especially cotton farmers, post Bt Cotton. Has he not seen the reports that it was Bt Cotton that has resulted in the increasing number of farmers suicides? Or the reports of the AP Animal Husbandry Department which has linked the death of animals to grazing on bt cotton fields? Or the fact that farm labourers end up with rashes on their skin and faces when they are working in the Bt Cotton fields? He and his dear friend Mr. Chengal Reddy claim that there have been no adverse effects on people consuming GM food and cotton seed oil (in Indian Context). I had asked this question earlier to Mr. Chengal Reddy and I am asking this question now to JP, “Have they done any epidemiological studies in India, regarding the consumption of GM food?” On what basis are they saying that there have been no harmful effects? There have been studies conducted in many universities abroad, and it has been found that there have been harmful effects on health including damage of internal organs and in a recent study that was done on rats over a span of 2 years, it was found that regular consumption GM food was even causing cancer. Like nuclear radiation the impacts of this technology on health may not happen over night, but it takes time for its effects to show up.

 

 

But whatever may be the facts, people like Dr. JP conveniently overlook these facts. The way he overlooks the fact that while the production of the grains due to green revolution may have increased, but the impacts on the soil and people’s health has been enormous. Also the increase in the cost of inputs, the use of chemicals has consistently increased over a period of time resulting in catastrophic effects on human health. Has he ever heard of the “Cancer Express” that takes cancer patients from the “hub of green revolution” Punjab, to a free cancer hospital in Rajasthan? While talking high about Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution it would have been good if he considered these facts also. But Dr.JP conveniently keeps these facts out and paints a rosy picture about green revolution the way he now does about GM technology. I want to ask whether he eats GM food daily or does he eat organic food? I want to also suggest him to be on a special diet of GM food for the next two years and if after that he still wants to claim that this is absolutely safe, and then we will look into the matter. But for now, we rather trust the various scientists who have been cautioning people about the harmful effects of GMO’s.

 

 

Talking about the issue of monopoly by seed companies, he says, that we should not say no to this brilliant new technology, just out of fear of monopoly by MNCs. He says we are confusing the two things. But the real reason why the seed companies have brought in GM seeds and GM organisms is to Control the entire “food market and seed market of the world”. He suggests that in order to contain the seed companies, we should put in place control mechanisms that will ensure that farmers are provided seeds at reasonable rates while the “seed producers” get fair remuneration. Citing the example of how Loksatta fought to get the seed prices reduced in 2006, he says we should be doing similar things but not say no to the Technology. It took 3 years for the decision to reduce the prices to come about in 2009. What happened to farmers in these 3 years? Should then the farmers who are victims of these companies continuously run after courts to do this? Or will he (JP) be able to fight the cases of all the farmers in the entire country? For surely farmers don’t have either the time or the means to be running after courts for fair trade practices or compensations. On patents, he says we should amend our law in order to control the monopoly practices of the seed companies. I wish to ask if Dr.JP will he demand for scrapping the Patents on living organisms? Because it is the patents on seeds and living organisms that is encouraging companies like Monsanto to control seed markets. However, he specifies no clarity on this matter.

 

 

He seems to overlook the fact that once the seed is contaminated with a GMO then the farmer has lost his choice to use the seed that he wants to use. Further, he will be forever paying to the company for the use of the seeds, because almost every other seed would be contaminated by the patented gene and thus the companies claim royalties. He also seems to forget that once the biological contamination happens we cannot call it back from the ecosystem. Nor can it be controlled by putting up borders – wind, insects, birds – none of these know the physical borders or the buffer zones! They would go for hundreds of kilometers taking the contaminated pollen, contaminating the fields of unsuspecting farmers, as happened with Bt cotton in India, GM Canola in Canada, GM maize in Mexico to cite a few examples. Dr. JP seems to be unaware of the fact that companies like Monsanto slapped multi million dollar cases against ordinary farmers in North America, claiming that they have used Monsanto’s seeds without the company’s permission; while their only fault was that the pollen from their neighbouring farmers fields’ contaminated their crops due to the wind. Or that there is a big movement across the US demanding for GM Labelling, as it has been proven to cause various diseases.  And consumers now feel cheated and want to know what they are eating.

 

 

Saying that GM technology and Big Retail helps farmers’ interests is the most vulgar lie ever told! In this country, farmers who have been left high and dry at the mercy of fluctuating international prices and who have been made dependent upon the private fertilizer, pesticide and seed companies, are committing suicides in thousands of numbers and the situation will only get even worse with the entry of both Big retail and GM seeds in other crops. The hitherto self-reliant farmer has been turned into a beggar by making him/her dependant on these companies. While in earlier times the demand and supply was based on local demands, now the farmers have to contest with the rapid changes in international markets. The problems started more because of this opening up of markets which has brought in cheap imports. It is thus, the commercial crop farmers like tobacco, cotton and other such crops, who are directly dependent on the “commodity trading international markets”, are the ones who commit suicides. Those who grow food crops meant for the local consumption in their nearby towns and villages are the ones who are in a better situation. Instead of asking for FDI in retail would Dr.JP demand for a ban on futures trading in commodities?

 

 

Farming and small trading / retail have been the largest private enterprise in this country and also the largest employment generating occupations of this country. But these are not seen as such and have no access to the kind of “red carpet” facilities including access to land and credit which an ITC or a Walmart would receive. While farmers have to run around for loan waivers and compensations from pillar to post, big time defaulters like big corporations are given waivers to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees. Small landless poor have to struggle for decades to get access to some land, and governments don’t have land to give to farmers’ markets, but big retailers like Reliance and Walmart will be given access to land of their choice and given all facilities – even if it means to oust the existing farmers. Why doesn’t Dr. JP talk of this?

 

 

What our farmers need is access to credit, allowing them to use their own wisdom and making them more and more self-reliant. We need not go any further than see the experience of Gujarat where the farmer’s co-operatives own everything from godowns to fertilizer companies (Kribhco). And for a change I saw farmers with as little land as 5 acres being prosperous, because they fight with their collective strength and also have the protection of their collective wisdom. Promoting local procurement for local Public Distribution System managed by community groups was successfully demonstrated in Medak District. Also successful was the Dairy co-operative of Mulkanoor in Karimnagar, run by women’s groups. This protects not only the farmer but also the consumer. However, people like Dr. MMS and Dr. JP will always feel that our people are incapable of solving their own problems. They always feel the need to beg foreigners to lift us out of our misery. And we have seen where this begging and dependency on “foreign wisdom” has led us to. The need of the day is to strengthen the local communities – farmers’ co-operatives and farmers markets where the farmers can sell their produce directly to consumers and it is the real solution to remove middle men. And Big retail is nothing more than that – A big middleman.

 

 

At present, the farmer at least has the choice of either selling in his own village, town or to a wholesaler or retailer. When once these big retail chains come in with their big money, small traders will be wiped out and the farmer will have only one choice – to sell to these hegemonic powers. In many situations too, small farmers sell their produce directly also. Will these people be able to compete with the low prices of big chain stores? Dr. JP and Mr. Chengal Reddy feel that as we need cold storages and infrastructure facilities, we need to bring in big money. But my question is why can’t these infrastructures be built by the government agencies and give the management responsibilities to local communities or at least give them the right to question any kind of mal-functioning? Where is the guarantee that these private owned cold storage and other such infrastructures be easily accessible to farmers? Like the Toll Gates that have now made ordinary travel from one district to another exorbitantly high and like the private health care and private education, wherein, all the public utilities have become exorbitantly out of reach of the common person, these infrastructures too will not be open to farmers unless they pay through their nose or become a part of the contract farming system and live according to the dictates of these companies.

 

 

All this is assuming that these retail chains in true spirit buy the produce from our farmers. In one of its clauses the FDI Decision says the companies are obliged to source only 30% of the produce from local farmers. And that it will be under self-monitoring system. Who will check these guys whether they are purchasing that 30% at least? The corrupt govt. officials who can easily be bribed? And what about the rest of the 70%, that could easily be a way for cheap imports from other countries? In that case what happens to the 70% produce of our farmers here? We have seen what has happened to small industry and weavers across the country, due to cheap imports and products by highly subsidized big industry. Now it’s the turn of the farmers and small traders. As I write this article the decision on FDI has already been made. Only time shall tell us what is in store for us. And how far will Dr.JP ensure that fair practices are enforced in this country!

 

 

But one thing has become clear: it is easier to deal with loud, uncultured, corrupt politicians for we know what they are. The soft spoken, seemingly people-friendly and “intellectual” politicians who hide their true intentions behind the façade of honesty are the real danger, due to their capacity to influence the educated classes’ perceptions by their seemingly authentic arguments. We have already seen what happened to this country for having trusted one such predecessor – Dr. Manmohan Singh (Dr.MMS)!

 

 

Saraswati Kavula

 

National Alliance of People’s Movements

 

06/12/2012

 

 

 

 

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Comments (2)

  1. Aravind

    This is commentary of typical leftist activist who is scared of principled opposition and reforms. I have been consuming GM food in USA for past 10+ years and I know millions of Americans who do and are NOT getting poisoned or cancer. There have been NO establishment of conclusive evidence that GM foods are dangerous. JP is at least principled and taking stand based on available evidence rather than fear-mongering or hearsay. Regarding FDI in retail, JP has taken the stand looking at interests of farmers & consumers, unlike the activists who bat for middlemen & brokers who raise this bogey to protect their turf. For millions of poor consumers, low prices through FDI in retail make lots and lots of difference, unlike the rich socialites who don’t need to save much for fulfilling basic needs. Even for middle class who are suffocating under high inflation, this will provide more choices at reduced prices. Indian farmers can sell directly or form a cooperative etc & make deal with the retailer directly or value-added-partner & get higher return than what inefficient middlemen currently pays them. Farmers and consumers win. It is also win-win for foreign retailer and India which desperately needs foreign investment & employment opportunities for the people in retail, manufacturing & logistics areas.

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