Category Archives: CHSUK

Campaign for electoral reform in India

On reading the news about the election success of the Aam Admi party,   James Bruges asked if the ‘Raj’ system had been used. I had not heard of this campaign so read further.

ceri conf

M C Raj, the founder of the campaign for electoral reforms in India (CERI) and his wife Jyoti, have worked with colleagues to promote the PR electoral system in India for several years.

He points out, in TOI, that in the present first-past-the-post system, “The problem is that parties with less than 30% of votes win more seats and claim the right to form governments. This leaves out a vast majority of voters unrepresented in governance”.

There are members in the present Lok Sabha who got less than 10% of the votes mc raj

In the proportional representation system, ‘majority’ means more than 50% of votes; and the other votes are not wasted, but given to other candidates in order to provide representation to all voters in state assemblies or in Parliament, he explained.

M C Raj (right) said that the present system encourages corruption, use of muscle power, communalism, etc, in order to gain a slight margin of winning votes.

“The parties that come to power are not mandated by the citizens. Only parties that have the power to manipulate voters are able to come to power, and dalits, adivasis, minorities and women get excluded”. ceri logoRaj said that CERI has been working for years to create awareness among academicians, intelligentsia and political leaders. He has held detailed discussions with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and former Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. He has also been lobbying with MPs, in and out of Parliament. pr raj coverAfter a workshop in Berlin on electoral systems, which was attended by experts in 2011, CERI has published a policy document on the subject and is now preparing a draft bill on the PR electoral system. Raj said that DMK, Akali Dal, many regional parties and all the communist parties in India are supporting this system.

The PR system is already being followed in countries like Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and others. We end with a passage from CERI’s website: “89 democracies have already taken up PR system in order to make their democracies more inclusive and not to waste votes in elections. Only 60 democracies in the world, most of them former colonies of the British still stick to the first-past-the-post electoral system.

CERI believes that India is in dire need of reforming its electoral system and many on the CHSUK mailing list would agree that Britain also is in dire need of a good PR system.

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Will alterations proposed to the cereal procurement system benefit the producer or the middleman?

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Finance Minister P Chidambaram has now called for private players to participate in foodgrain procurement:

p chidambaram“The government is the largest and in many ways the only bulk buyer of cereal crops. The discovery of market prices is affected by minimum support price.” By opening to the private sector, the Finance Minister thinks procurement will improve as it will benefit both the consumers as well as the farmers.

Devinder Sharma warns that any attempt to ‘tinker’ with the procurement system will have grave implications for the farming population as well as the country’s food security – the food self-sufficiency assiduously built over the past four decades. He writes:

“The government constituted the Agricultural Prices Commission soon after the Green Revolution was ushered in 1966. At the same time it set up the Food Corporation of India. Both these were excellent initiatives and what needs to be understood is that if the country has stopped food imports and turned food self-sufficient it is primarily for the role played by these two organisations in providing an assured price and an assured market to farmers . . .

“Mr Chidambaram gives the impression that procurement of wheat and rice by the government agencies crowds out the private players, who would have paid a better price to farmers. This is not true . . . Private players too can come and make purchases from the mandis. Only when there are no buyers for wheat, for instance, at the procurement price of Rs 1350 per quintal it becomes mandatory for the FCI to purchase the produce”.

Mr Chidambaram, a corporate lawyer, appears to be at odds on the subject of procurement with the agriculture minister

In January, the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged the Kerala Government to procure coconuts to ensure better price for farmers. Last year he said Bengal should increase its rice procurement (currently only 13%) to ensure a proper price for farmers. 

Another problem looming on the horizon?

CHSUK members can only add a warning about the proposed increase in activity by large foreign retail chains in India. Our experience is that small and medium producers are given a very low price for food: in the case of milk not even covering production costs. Their produce is then sold to the public at a far higher price, with the supermarket taking unfairly high profit margins. Food producers only survive because EU subsidies are given –enabling supermarkets to get away with giving an unfair price.

Will this happen in India?

 

Read Devinder Sharma’s article here: Ground Reality

CHSUK writes: India’s government listens to its people – when will ours?

India’s government is reported to have put on hold plans to open up the retail market to global supermarket chains.

Just days after approving long-awaited proposals to raise the limits on foreign investment, a government ally said he had been told the policy was suspended.

The decision to allow chains such as Walmart and Tesco into India has sparked fierce opposition.

Critics fear the move would destroy millions of jobs and businesses.

When will the British government bring in the long-promised retail adjudicator with powers to fine unjust supermarket dealings?

It has cross-party support.

But the supermarkets who oppose it are donors to party funds and sponsor conferences . . .

A recent Welsh debate on GM crops

‘An insight into GM’, the Women’s Food and Farming event in Aberystwyth, was hosted by the Welsh branches of the WFFU and chaired by its former president, Ionwen Lewis.

Government position: to restrict GM crops

The Farmers Weekly Interactive reports that a civil servant, Nic Shilton, explained that the Welsh government had taken the most restrictive stance possible on GM crops without breaching current European and UK law and that proposed legislation would allow individual regions to make this ruling.

If passed, countries like Wales, whose food and farming industry relied on a green, natural image could rule out GM production because it threatened that industry, he added.

Unwelcome publicity?

A national register of GM growers in Wales is likely to be available for public scrutiny from next year; will it lead to the ‘trashing’ of fields growing GM crops as a pilot project, seen elsewhere in Britain?

Call for clearer labelling of imported meat

Karen Bellis, who runs 130 suckler cows and 130 sheep near Wrexham, called for clearer labelling on imported meat to help consumers who want to buy GM-free meat: “Family farms in Wales are failing because they can’t compete with imported factory farmed meat. I am not a scientist questioning the rights and wrongs of GM technology, I am a farmer who wants a level playing field.’’ 

Concerns over human health 

The Farmers Guardian noted that the presentations raised major concerns over human health, the environment and the long-term damage to conventionally grown food crops. Dr Michael Antoniou, from the London School of Medicine at Guy’s Hospital, an internationally renowned medical researcher with 27 years’ experience of genetic engineering, a nutritionist working in the field of food security, a Euro MP and a working farmer, agreed that the risks far outweighed any possible benefits. Dr Antoniou explained: 

“GM breeding is very different to normal plant breeding, having an inherent destructive effect on the structure and functions of genes which can have knock-on effects in numerous areas, including human health . . . In fact, there is an increasing body of evidence from controlled laboratory studies showing adverse effects in the functioning of the kidney and liver from the consumption of GM crops.  

“The worrying aspect is that some of the studies showing high levels of toxicity relate to commercialised varieties – findings which should have been carried out before commercialisation. All of the GM crops currently out there have been engineered to either produce their own insecticide or to be tolerant to a herbicide – and any animal or human eating them is going to subject themselves to consuming residues of these chemicals. 

“Disturbing the biochemistry can produce all kinds of unexpected toxic effects and there are signs of that happening,” he added. “This is something the GM regulators have not taken on board. They are still sticking to outdated flawed principles with crops that have never been fully tested and are a danger to human health. But the warning signs are there. There are far better ways of going forward with biotechnology than genetic modification.” 

There is a massive industry lobby to increase the production of GM crops 

A Welsh Member of the European Parliament, Jill Evans, also expressed ‘serious concerns’ over threats to public health and the environment from GM crops – a view which she said was echoed by the majority of people in Wales and across Europe: 

“There is a massive lobby to increase the production of GM crops but in the interests of farmers and consumers there should be a ban on new GMOs until science can prove there is no risk at all to consumers’ health and the environment.” 

Feedback from farmers in other countries growing GM crops 

Another contributor, Michael Hart, a conventional livestock producer, has been farming in Cornwall for nearly 30 years and has travelled extensively in Europe, India, Canada and the USA looking in depth at GM technology. He said that consistently he was told of the ever-increasing costs of seeds and chemicals, as well as weeds becoming resistant to herbicides. 

US farmers had told him that a single pass herbicide was a fallacy, with three or more passes now the norm for GM crops. As weeds had become more resistant to glyphosate there had also been a sharp increase in the use of herbicide tank mixes, most of them patented and owned by the biotech companies. 

Some farmers were now even having to resort to hand weeding, costs had spiralled nearly three-fold and the ability to grow GM crops next to conventional and organic crops was unsolvable. 

“In summary there is a huge weed problem, crop co-existence is a myth, farmers are trapped into the genetically modified biotech system and there have been huge price increases for seeds and sprays – well beyond the price increases farmers have received for their crops,” said Mr Hart. “In short, US farmers are urging great caution in adopting GM technology.” 

Click on the link to Michael Hart’s film:

GM crops, farmer to farmer in America:

http://gmcropsfarmertofarmer.com/index.html  

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Only one representative of the industry accepted an invitation to contribute 

Ionwen Lewis, former WFFU president and chairman for the day, had invited a cross-section of industry and consumer representatives to attend the event but only Dr Tina Barsby, director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, accepted and put the case for GM crops and the benefits they could bring in helping to solve the world’s growing food needs. 

Ionwen Lewis, said the purpose of the conference had not been to extol the virtues of one side or the other, adding “It is important, however, that consumers know the full facts surrounding GM crops. They are the people farmers rely on for their livelihoods.” 

The British involvement: Enron [India] revisited

 CHS-Sachetan

Mumbai’s Centre for Holistic Studies, a resource-centre and library with extensive databases, gave support, information and encouragement to farmers resisting the Dabhol power project in Maharashtra.

CHS’ Indranet Journal,Vol 3, No 2-4,1994, published ENRON –THE POWER TO DO IT ALL, by Winin Pereira, Subhash Sule and Abhay Mehta. Later, Abhay’s book, “Power Play” on the Enron-Dabhol Project was published.

Looking back I saw that in June 1997 CHSUK posted a bundle of cuttings to Amnesty UK who were seeking information, following serious violence against the ‘project affected’. CHS-Sachetan gave a lot of evidence to Amnesty International’s Emma Blower and Sangeeta Ahuja, who produced a detailed report on the human rights violations perpetrated against local people living near the Enron power project in Maharashtra.

About the fifth cutting I wrote: “I have heard that British companies had insured this project and that the London office of Payne & Linklater were acting in some capacity for Enron.” This was confirmed in The Lawyer’s article (28.7.10) ‘Linklaters in line for India tax bill after court ruling.”

The Jubilee Debt Coalition’s 2011 report

The report – which can be downloaded via its new site – details the ‘dodgy deals’ underwritten by the British government [taxpayer] via the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD).

In theory ECGD is an insurance project but in execution far more. It has a particularly deplorable record in foisting arms deals on countries which could not afford them by means of the ‘offsets’ mechanism – but that’s another story.

The Jubilee Debt Coalition’s report notes that the ECGD denied that support for Enron’s Dabhol power plant project had been given when first asked in 2010, but later acknowledged this in their response to a Freedom of Information request on 6.10.10. Its support – ‘overseas investment insurance’ – came well after serious concerns had been expressed about its viability.

A websearch reveals that in 2004, a letter was sent to Mike O’Brien, Minister of State for Trade and Investment about the Dabhol Power Project, India, from Indian and UK organisations including Corner House (UK), All India Power Engineers Federation, India, National Confederation of Officers Associations of Central Public Sector Undertakings, India, Corporate Accountability Campaign, Friends of the Earth—England, Wales and Northern Ireland  and the National Working Group on Power India. It was copied to ECGD, ABN Amro, ANZ Grindlays, Treasury, Standard Chartered Bank, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DFID, National Audit Office, BP, Shell and British Gas.

It made most serious allegations, recounting that:

“ANZ Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and ABN Amro had approached the ECGD at some stage during 2003 to make claims under the ECGD’s political risk insurance scheme. The report suggested that the amount of claims to the ECGD could be in the region of $60 million. The grounds for the claims appear to be that the Indian governments, at both state and local level, have behaved in such a way over the Dabhol Power Project that an expropriation has occurred.”

Ending:

“We believe that, in examining the claims made by the three banks, the ECGD should give serious consideration to whether the banks concerned conducted adequate due diligence before investing in what was clearly at the time an extremely risky project and whether the ECGD would be rewarding poor investment decisions by paying such a claim. We also believe that the ECGD must examine whether paying a claim to the banks concerned will lead to the Indian government and Indian financial institutions having to assume an unfair share of the financial burden resulting from the crisis in the project. It is clear that for a lasting and equitable solution to the crisis, foreign investors will have to accept some form of realistic burden-sharing.”

Please bear with the website ‘blip’: suddenly no spaces appear after the commas.

The best environmental minister India has had for a long, long time

It is good to hear from a Mumbai colleague that Jairam Ramesh is the best environmental minister India has had for a long, long time. She continued, “At least important environmental concerns like the proposed Navi Mumbai airport across many hectares of mangroves, illegal mining in Orissa, hydel projects in Himachal etc. aren’t being callously brushed aside . . . there is a sense of him trying to make a difference. He’s making the right noises with a hands-on approach . . .”  

She will welcome the cabinet support he has received recently from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in reversing the decision to construct a hydel dam. Jairam Ramesh stated: “It will be a no-dam area and the government will declare it an ecologically sensitive zone in the next four to five weeks.” 

Devinder Sharma in Delhi covers the subject in a recent post, opening: “After the moratorium on Bt Brinjal — which could have been India’s first poisonous GM food crop — the scrapping of the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project on Bhagirithi river in the lap of the Himalayas (in Uttarakhand State) is another firm but major decision that has been swayed by public opinion.”

Sharma adds, “more such ecologically important decisions need to be taken to ensure that we don’t play havoc with the environment any further.”

 

An enchanting view of the Himalayan valley — photo by S Roy Biswas 

He quotes a front page dispatch in The Times of India (Aug 21, 2010) by Nitin Sethi, showing a further stratum of support: The decision to shut down the hydel project comes after the Congress leadership showed it was ready to lend more political credence to environmental concerns.” 

He surmises that when the newspapers say Congress high command  they actually mean the UPA President Sonia Gandhi, who recently condemned illegal mining: “It is a menace with profound political, economic and social implications . . . What is most worrying is the high degree of convergence between areas that are mineral and forest-rich and areas that are arenas of tribal deprivation and Left-wing extremist violence . . . Dealing with the Naxalite challenge will call for fundamental innovations in the manner in which the mineral resources are exploited and forests are managed.” 

As most of these developments affect the rural poor, the stance of Rahul Gandhi is another hopeful sign. As Sharma wrote a week later, Rahul Gandhi has highlighted the real divide between the rich India and the poor India.’ As he said in Orissa [August 26th]: “There are two Indias — Ameeron ka Hindustan (India of the rich) whose voices reach everywhere, and the Garibon ka Hindustan (India of the poor) whose voices are seldom heard…. Two years ago, you had come to me saying the Niyamgiri hill is your god. I told you I would be your soldier in Delhi. I am happy that I have helped you in whatever way I could. What is important is that your voice was heard without violence.”  See video.

India’s so-called Freedom and Independence

Once more we thank Delhi’s Devinder Sharma for his latest post about Sangita Sharma from Bangalore. 

She writes on her ‘blogspot’ My Right to Safe Food

“Seven years ago, the pesticide residues in the food chain had me raging and thinking. So I made a conscious shift from the corporate to becoming a self contained natural farmer. I advocate and practise low cost sustainable farming techniques by applying organic principles. So by taking charge of my food and not leave it to the dictates of private companies, I reap the abundant harvests of nature. Just try it, farming is no rocket science, If I can you do it, so can you! I have no a science background, nor an agricultural degree … nature teaches you provided you are willing to take the plunge, with a leap of faith and commitment.” 

The post includes Sangita’s devastating analysis on the state of the country. A few points: 

We have an estimated 421 million in poverty. 360 million dying of hunger. We breed a sick nation with every second person a victim of some chronic disease. Is this Freedom? But there is

– Not a squeak against the policy makers who get away with designing policies to suit the vested interests of the 48 dollar billionaires and about a 100,000 millionaires in our country. 

– Not a squeak against faulty farm policies designed to suit industry but not our farmers. Traditional seeds are under threat, a direct consequence of our food being under assault.

– Not a squeak against pharmaceutical industry that releases day after day new drugs, new vaccines, new prescriptions to suit new diseases. But the root cause is never tackled. Progress in science they call it but in reality it is designed to fill their coffers. No wonder India is the Diabetic capital in the world with 40.9 million people being diabetic.

– Not a squeak against the flourishing food processing industry that unleashes day after day countless toxic refined foods. In short, we blindly accept the claims of these politically correct nutritionists . . . 

We have no time to question the oppressive institutional policies that have constantly undermined the well–being of our nation. Henry Kissinger’s forecast is well underway “if you want to control nations control oil, but if you want to control society control food”. 

A handful of multinationals are merrily controlling our food chain. Whilst they laugh their ways to their banks, you suffer your way to the hospitals with a big dent in your pocket.

Wake up . . . Raise your voices against the diktats of the junk, processed food produce. Boycott all such products. The Right to Safe Food Choices and Good Health is our constitutional Right. Demand it.