Gm Crops


By Aritra Bhattacharya

June 18, 2014 | 4.13 pm IST

Ever since somebody signed me on to a Google group called ASHA*, I have been getting richer, and richer.

Every time a mail from the group lands in my inbox, I get another email following its trail. But this one—unlike the ASHA emails that contain mundane information, questions and links to articles on agriculture—contains clear and precise, un-opinionated, objective, accurate information. It informs me that $1 has been credited to my bank account that is synced with the Google account.

You may think $1 is not such a big deal, but just imagine: ASHA is a mammoth alliance—a coming together of over 400 organisations from across the country working purportedly on ‘agriculture’. Of course, not all the 400-plus organisations are active in the email circuit; but the many that are ensure that at least 20-25 mails land in the mailbox each day. That means $20-25 per day. Calculating at the lower end of the average, I make around Rs 30,000-plus from this email group alone. All I have to do is nothing.

Sometimes though, I read a few emails that come my way from the group. Of late, they seem to have been talking about naturally-occurring salt-resistant rice varieties. One activist shared a link to an article about farmers in Kerala making efforts to conserve the “only existing salt-resistant rice variety in India”. Voluminous replies poured in. Of the one in Kerala not being the only one. Of such rice varieties occurring elsewhere in the country naturally. Of some varieties nearing extinction. Some of the crazier activists in the mail trail even went on to name some varieties. Crazy indeed, for in these times, when it is difficult for the country’s Prime Minister to remember whether He is touring Bhutan or Nepal, they expect us—normal, unaided citizens—to remember the names of rice!

The deal isn’t bad, you see—I get to have my laughs, and get paid for it too.

But now, I am a bit scared. The Intelligence Bureau has said, apparently in a leaked report, that ASHA gets its money from international NGOs, and the group is but one pawn in ploy by foreign powers to stall India’s development. Of course, I can’t beat the irony of this, because I was informed of this ‘attempt to compromise the country’s progress’ bit from mails circulated in the group. Every time someone in the group expressed outrage at this ‘absurd claim’, sharing yet another news article ‘quoting’ the IB’s report to the Home Ministry, I grew a little more worried, but a lot more rich.

Just to clarify, I got onto the group because I had once heard the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) say terrorists were planning to destabilise the country’s economy by targeting the agriculture sector. The plan, the ATS said, was simple: since over 60 per cent of the country’s 1.2 billion people were still dependent on agriculture and allied activities, targeting the sector would ensure a slow death for India. Since they (the terrorists) were operating from out of India, they were choosing imports of seeds and fertilisers from advanced countries into India to smuggle their ‘agents’ (chemical, biological, genetic et al). I had read this story some years ago in a rundown journal that no longer exists. It was then that I decided to think about agriculture.

I talked over this with some friends, and one of them signed me on to the ASHA mailing list. The trail mail hasn’t stopped since. And the dollars.

But now, I am a bit scared.

I hope the IB does not see this—this dispatch from distress. I hope some scared-to-the-bone nut in the group does not cop me out. Because if the IB finds out that I am stalling India’s development, they may just…

I just hope they give me enough time to stash away my ‘hard-earned’ wealth in a Swiss account.

Swiss bank agents, anyone?

*ASHA, also called Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, is a great money-making venture functioning under the garb of working on ‘food farmer freedom’. It, along with a bunch of other organisations, is presently being mauled by the country’s Intelligence. Clearly, the IB wants to be ‘Intel Inside’ to corner some of the wealth, as it is cash strapped, and is having severe difficulty producing reports of any depth.

The writer is a journalist and a PhD candidate at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). He can be reached at [email protected].

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