Category Archives: Government

The forgotten foods: 1,582 food species displayed at an Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village (Rayagada district, Orissa)

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Devinder Sharma draws attention to a report that fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago – raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, as a study in the journal PNAS has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures. Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. “Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar – what we call the ‘globalised diet’,” co-author Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said.” The diet is composed of big, major crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean,” BBC News reported in Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Devinder writes:

Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the ‘globalised diet’.

We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.

That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature.

Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.

When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.

DS: “couldn’t resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014”.

A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.

“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.”

But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?

“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.”

Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.

She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better known Mahua trees (above) have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.

Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. 

When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”

I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragi millet (right) with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragi gruel. Says Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be certainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.

I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes were made from finger millet (left), foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds.

Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.

Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits.

It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.

This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Tehelka, Mar 7, 2014. Issue 11 Vol 11
The Culture of Eating Right

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One of the comments:

Shubhangi Sinha

Absolutely an eye opener!  I am an agriculture graduate and working in Crop Protection industry all the work concerns only 10-12 major crops across India. Rice/Wheat/Maize being the most important ones .. Even fruits and vegetables that are cultivated predominantly are limited. We need to explore our rich food culture and adopt them, also since majority of population is suffering from Lifestyle diseases. Good write up!

 

 

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Increasing waterway cargo: lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing road accidents

As Anil Sasi (Indian Express) notes: “Inland waterways are a far more efficient mode of transportation than either road or rail, considering that just a single mid-sized barge has the dry-cargo capacity equivalent to 50 trucks or over 10 railcars. As a consequence, transportation of cargo over inland waterways offers the advantage of both lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing the rate of road accidents, where India has the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the world”. 

Since India’s inland waterways are lagging behind other modes of transport, the central government has evolved a policy for the integrated development of inland waterways. The National Waterways Bill was passed on 15th March 2016. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received far less investment than roads and railways.

  • Cost of transportation by waterways is 30-50 paisa per tonne per km (PTPK), compared to Rs 1 PTPK for rail, and Rs 1.5 PTPK for road
  • Time taken by road from, say, Varanasi to Kolkata is 2 days, a typical road trailer carries six cars. In comparison, a river vessel can carry 300 if it’s a double decker. So, a large vessel can replace 50 trailers on road.

111 rivers across the country have been designated as national waterways, to be developed to enable more movement of goods and passengers. Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari regretted that the waterways had taken a backseat in India, with only 3.5% of trade being done through this mode, compared with 47% in China, 40% in Europe, 44% in Japan and Korea and 35% in Bangladesh.

Though the state-owned Inland Waterways Authority of India has been working on dredging, surveys, channel marking, river conservancy works, construction of terminals and procurement of hardware like dredgers, demonstration barges, and survey launches since 1986, neither the number of cargo vessels nor the amount of cargo moved has shown any improvement except in one case.

One problem, alongside lack of port, wharf and lock maintenance, is that most of the waterways included in the list of new waterways are freshwater rivers, many drying up completely during post monsoon period and it is agreed that the diversion of water for navigation should not be undertaken at the cost of other priorities such as drinking and irrigation, primarily carried out by India’s thirty canals.

The World Bank has noted that goods in India travel by congested road and rail networks, which slows cargo movement, adds to uncertainties, and generally increases the costs of trade logistics which account for as much as 18% of the country’s GDP. Although carrying bulk goods on waterways is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting them by road or rail, India has yet to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation.

Section 3 of its 322 page 2016 report: Consolidated Environmental Impact Assessment Report of National Waterways includes an assessment of inland waterway transport’s impact on climate change, concluding that this is the most efficient and environmental friendly mode of transportation, involving least CO2 generation when compared with rail & road. An estimate of the CO2 emissions from different modes of transportation for the same quantity of cargo for a similar distance is that CO2would be reduced and a net saving of 4.54 million tonnes realised over a period of 30 years (till 2045).

In April it announced a $375 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to help the Inland Waterways Authority of India put in place the  infrastructure and navigation services needed to develop National Waterway 1 as an efficient ‘logistics artery’ for northern India.

The loan will enable the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.

In addition, the project has introduced an innovative ‘assured depth’ contract framework to incentivise minimal dredging by agencies responsible for keeping the fairway open for navigation. These strategies have helped reduce the need for dredging in the navigation channel to only about 1.5 per cent of the river’s annual silt load. Even this limited dredging will only be done using modern, less intrusive technologies such as the water injection dredging method (see Van Oord’s video: https://vimeo.com/90107325, no subtitles). It has the additional advantage of ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.

National Waterway 1 will form part of a larger multi-modal transport network, linking with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, as well as the area’s network of highways, allowing the region’s manufacturers and agricultural producers to use different modes of transport to reach markets in India and abroad. A successful outcome would encourage a gradual expansion of waterway freight transport in India, reducing transport costs, road accidents and urban air pollution.

 

 

 

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Araku coffee

The Financial Times reported this week that subsistence coffee farmers in the Araku region of Andhra Pradesh set up The Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually-Aided Co-operative Society in 2006 to process the coffee grown through the Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based philanthropic organisation, which gave technical support with cultivation and marketed the farmers’ produce overseas.

Their coffee is grown bio-dynamically, requiring no costly fertilisers or agrochemicals; farmers enrich the soil through mulching, using leaves, fallen fruits and other freely available organic matter. They use inexpensive, herbal soil additives to enhance soil fertility and fight pests. It is produced using techniques similar to those in wine making and the variants which draw their flavours from the soil in which they are grown enjoy a guaranteed price as ‘speciality’ coffee.

Tribal people in the Araku region – Bagathas, Valmikis, Kondus and Poorjas – traditionally relied largely on collecting forest produce. The government has created a special developmental and funding plan for locals. The Times of India explains that in such ‘agency areas’, tribal people can use as much government land as much as they can till.

Amy Kazmin (FT) writes: “Ten years ago, the residents of Kabada Boddaput — in southeastern India’s remote Araku valley — were impoverished subsistence farmers, living in mud huts and eating the millet, yams, pumpkin and greens they grew on their one- to five-acre plots. Cash was scarce and emergencies meant borrowing from friends and family — debts that might take years to repay. ‘It was a very terrible situation,’ recalls Sanyasi Gullela, a farmer. ‘There were not enough clothes and no money for cattle.’ “ Daily life has improved, with the increase in income used to improve homes, buy more clothes and nutritious food.

The Times of India reports that four prominent businessman have taken up the cause of  marketing Araku coffee and this is now being profitably sold as a “speciality” coffee to ‘select’ roasters and traders from Japan, Korea, and Europe. These ‘high-end’ buyers — who taste and rate each lot before purchasing — are willing to pay up to Rs700 per kg for the best of the beans.

It is economic heresy to wish that most of the coffee could be enjoyed in the huge number of coffee houses in India – including 400 outlets of The Indian Coffee House,chain run by worker co-operative societies – and only the surplus exported.

 

 

 

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Protect and develop India’s traditional knowledge, genetic resources, seeds and medicines

As the latest news of the applications to plant GM mustard in India is published, Winin Pereira’s writings were scanned for his views on the subject of genetically modified crops. Far more attention was given to genetic screening of embryos and research into genetic manipulation of human beings.

As an ethically motivated scientist, he would certainly have denounced this money/profit-centred exhortation – tempered by a sop to bee lovers – issued by Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director at South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), New Delhi Area, India. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/allow-high-yielding-gm-mustard-now-bhagirath-choudhary?trk=mp-reader-card 

The following extracts from his writings have an indirect bearing on the subject.

  • The traditional agricultural systems, not dependent on these factors, survived for millennia till they were displaced by this transitory “modernisation”. A change in the climate and the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer could cause major reductions in food production, since the extremely narrow genetic base from which high-yielding varieties are derived could result in widespread crop losses.
  • The high susceptibility of the new varieties to pest attacks is another factor contributing to insecurity. At the same time, the creativity which produced the tens of thousands of different traditional crop varieties adapted to numerous ecological niches is being destroyed by TNC producers of special seeds.
  • While the West claims that the available land and other resources will be inadequate to provide food for rising populations, it encourages the use of food in a most inefficient manner: many grains directly edible by humans are now being redirected to cattle, pigs and poultry to obtain expensive milk, meat and eggs.
  • India at present grows sufficient food to provide all its people with adequate basic nourishment, yet about one third of the population living below the poverty line do not get sufficient to eat.
  • The godowns are overflowing, but the people cannot afford to buy the stored food. The grain merely goes to maintain a population of rats and other pests, including the population of synthetic pesticide manufacturers.

Correct and full information, for instance, about food products, their real nutritional value in relation to their cost, the nature of the additives used, genetic modifications, if any), about pesticides (their health and environmental effects), about medicines (side-effects, alternatives) and so on, has to be wrung out of the system, instead of being given as a matter of right. But if people were fully informed, the sales of most such products would certainly drop drastically.

The ancestral rights of the indigenous peoples to control over their lands and other resources are being viciously destroyed for Western hamburgers, toilet paper and paperbacks. The exercise of such rights often involves the commercialising of these activities and the co-option of indigenous peoples into the mainstream.

The Western predators need to be reminded about the rights of the indigenes. They have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their sciences, technologies and cultural manifestations, including human and other genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs and visual and performing arts.

Next: relevant to the fourth bullet point, a summary of ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’ – William G. Moseley,  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gere.12259/full: Copyright © 2017 by the American Geographical Society of New York. First published: 3 July 2017Full publication historyDOI: 10.1111/gere.12259  View/save citation

The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.

 

 

 

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“The push for GM mustard is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”

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As the Indian government considers approving the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, the Hindu reports that an alliance of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

A threat to seed diversity

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

She told a panel here at Anna University: “The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”.

India can produce all mustard needed

She added that India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements and the claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on mustard oil imports is baseless.

Implications for health and safety of its consumers

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed on the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic.

Live Law, a legal news portal, ‘set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India’ reports that – in a letter addressed to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate – Public Interest Advocate Prashant Bhushan has set out his opposition to the commercial release of GM Mustard, one of several grounds being that the government itself admits that there’s no evidence that GM mustard will increase yields.

These organisations are amongst over 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups, and political parties, who are urging the government not to release GM mustard.

They say the farmers’ problem is not the production of mustard but the unfair market prices.

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For more information there are links on our 2016 mailing on this subject.

 

 

 

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Anil Dave would have steered country’s environment to a safer haven

When Devinder Sharma saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter expressing his sincere condolences on the sudden passing of Environment Minister Anil Dave, he records that it took a few minutes for the tragic news to sink in.

He writes about their interaction on personal and issue-based matters and continues, “When I learnt that he had actually suffered a heart stroke, I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, he was my “junior” and going by the bypass medical history, he should have under normal circumstances lived for another 15 years or so or perhaps longer”. . .

Sharma recalls: “I met him first time when he was planning to launch the annual “Narmada Samagra” drawing environmentalists, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens to save the mighty Narmada River. I was in fact introduced to him one fine day by my friends. We sat down for lunch and he shared with me what he proposed to achieve from “Narmada Samagra”.

He even told me: “You may think it is a government show but all I can tell you there are good people in the government who too want to protect the rivers,” I still recall his words, and could see through the deep commitment . . . ”On a number of occasions I found he would often speak with a lot of respect for some of the well-known environmentalists. “Sad, in this race to attain a higher GDP, we are mercilessly killing the environment, cutting down the trees, polluting the rivers ….”

I specifically recall when once I gave him a call, and told him I was in the city. At his insistence, I drove to ‘Nadi Ka Ghar’ where he greeted me and then we got into discussing a wide array of subjects – from rivers, to deforestation and to non-chemical agriculture. “I am telling the Chief Minister to ban chemical farming around Narmada. All these chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides — eventually flow into the river,” he told me. He wanted a massive plantation drive along the river banks, and I am glad Madhya Pradesh has undertaken that exercise.

Dr Deepak Pental (second from left) with fellow scientists at a GM mustard trial field in Jaunti village of North West Delhi.

Sharma records that Dave had been under severe political pressure to approve genetically modified mustard and had told him that given a choice he would never approve GM Mustard, adding, “I suggested to him to resign rather that give in to pressures”. He continued:

“For a man who in his heart only revered nature, it wasn’t easy to take a call on GM Mustard. As Tarun Vijay wrote: “He was to take a final decision on an application for an indigenously-developed GM crop of mustard. Everyone who knew him was sure that he would ban it in India.”  On that fateful day, after witnessing a civil society protest outside his office during the day, and later inviting a six-member team for discussions in his office, he met the Prime Minister at his residence late in the evening. As the Prime Minister had tweeted, acknowledging he had long discussions around policy issues with Anil Dave the fateful night, it is quite obvious that the contentious issue of GM Mustard approval too must have been discussed.

“A few hours later he complained of pain in the chest and was rushed to the hospital”.

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/