Category Archives: Government

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/

Antibiotic and antifungal drug residues in water sources around Hyderabad

 

Visitors from seven countries selected news from Devinder Sharma as the top post this week. He had written about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, believing that he is on the right track to revive UP agriculture. CHS founder Winin Pereira, who wrote about ‘breaking the cycle of debt and dependency’ might well have agreed with Sharma.

Last week we received news about a major study published in the scientific journal Infection. It found “excessively high” levels of antibiotic and antifungal drug residue in water sources in and around a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad, as well as high levels of bacteria and fungi resistant to those drugs.

It pointed out that the presence of drug residues in the natural environment allows the microbes living there to build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them.

In this report the issue of industrial pollution from pharmaceutical companies was considered as it affects consumers of their medicines – a serious issue as resistance could leads to the deaths of many.

A detailed account of the every day impact on local people who are using those water sources  is given in a report by Changing Markets, an organisation with a mission to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy. The report opens by saying that a 2015 report from the Indian Government estimates that the number of contaminated waterways has more than doubled in the past five years and that half the country’s rivers are now polluted. An extract relating to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical companies in Hyderabad follows:

“The social and environmental costs of the development of Hyderabad’s bulk drug industry are plain to see in the neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the industrial areas, and have been well-documented over a period of decades.

“Inhabitants living and working in the vicinity of drug manufacturing units in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and other locations have borne the brunt of this. It has affected their livelihoods in the form of livestock deaths and decreased agricultural yields and damaged their health, with reported impacts ranging from higher abortion rates to birth defects and stunted growth in children, as well as greater incidence of skin diseases.

“However, the response from both the central government and the state authorities has been woefully inadequate, not to say complicit, and over the years, irresponsible drug manufacturers have enjoyed free rein to continue pumping vast quantities of untreated or inadequately treated pharmaceutical waste into the environment”.

Read the full report here: http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Impacts-of-pharmaceutical-pollution-on-communities-and-environment-in-India-WEB-light.pdf

 

 

 

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A game-changer for Uttar Pradesh farmers?

Devinder Sharma thinks Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is on the right track to revive UP agriculture. CHS founder Winin Pereira, who wrote about ‘breaking the cycle of debt and dependency’ might well have agreed with Sharma.

The minister has decided to scrap outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers up to a maximum limit of Rs 1-lakh each and at the same time expand wheat procurement operations. He aims to purchase 80 lakh tonnes of wheat at the minimum support price and 5,000 purchase centres are being set up. Uttar Pradesh is likely to reinvigorate farming by ensuring an assured price to farmers.

The state government will also strike Rs 5,630-crore of bank default, saving 7 lakh farmers from having their assets put up for auction.

Sharma believes that the political courage to write-off such a huge amount, including loans taken from nationalized banks, has to be applauded – but the State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya has already lamented that farm loan waiver destroys ‘credit discipline’ making farmers habitual defaulters.

“This smacks of double standards”, Sharma comments. The entire farm loan waiver that UP has provided is less than the bad debt of just one big steel company — Jindal Steel & Power, which owes Rs 44,140-crore. Bhushan Steel too has a bad debt of Rs 44,478-crore. These two big industries are among the steel companies, which together are seeking a loan waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

In another article in the Orissa Post, Sharma quotes, the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam is on record as saying that writing-off of bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense. “This is how capitalism works,” he said. ”If this is true”, Sharma adds, “I don’t know why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers”.

There is now pressure on the newly-elected government in Punjab for a farm loan waiver of approximately Rs 36,000-crore. Maharashtra has been demanding Rs 30,500-crore for farm loan write-off. Considering that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide across the country in the past 21 years, and roughly 70% of these suicides are related to mounting indebtedness.

 

Sharma considers that UP’s farm loan waiver will turn out to be a game changer and also expanding the procurement system would transform Indian agriculture. A network of mandis exists in Punjab, Haryana and to some extent in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu but every year farmers from western UP carry truckloads of wheat to be sold in the neighbouring border districts of Haryana – ample indication that wheat farmers in UP were not able to sell locally at the support price.

According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) there are more than 7,000 APMC regulated mandis in the country. If markets have to be provided at a radius of 5 kms from every village, India would need 42,000. Such a vast network, if constructed, could prevent distress sales and ensure income security for farmers. If UP takes the lead, it will emerge as a trendsetter and create a new model for agriculture.

An economically attractive agriculture is the first step to stop rural to urban migration. And that’s what Yogi Adityanath has said his aim is – to stop migration from rural areas – and that was a cause near to the heart of CHS’ founder.  

Summarised from Devinder Sharma’s article in Ground Reality 4/15/2017. See also http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/110417/p8.htm

 

 

 

Learning from the past: A new protocol for agricultural education and research in India

Extracts from an article written by Michael Gordon Jackson, 16th March 2017 and highlighted in James Robertson’s newsletter

M.G. Jackson is a former Professor of Agriculture and sometime Director of Research at the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, India. For an elaboration of the agenda described in this note see the newly released book Tending Our Land: A New Story by M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho (below left). INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Belagavi chapter released the book ‘Tending our land- a new story’ written by Dr. M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho on Wednesday 30th November 2016 at Bharatesh Education Trust.

Extracts (bullet points added)

After independence, the government of the USA largely took over this role of introducing chemical agriculture in the country. By the early 1960s large numbers of our countrymen were trained in the science and practice of chemical agriculture, and traditional knowledge was on the wane. In 1965 crop failures threatened large-scale famine, and we adopted chemical agriculture without reservation as the only way to ensure food security. Farmer scientists gave way to professional institutional scientists.

We are now in a position to formulate a broad vision of the way forward in securing food security, and the welfare of village communities and the nation. First, farmers, farm families and village communities must be re-empowered to take the responsibility for realising this agenda. They must realise that they themselves are better scientists and teachers than the professional, career scientists who spend all their time in the classroom, the laboratory and the experiment station. And we need to realise it too. Only if we accept this fact of history, can we move on to realising our objective of sustainable agriculture, continuing food security and rural and national welfare.

Given this change in outlook by everyone concerned (farmers, professional scientists, teachers, extension workers, administrators and politicians), the practical measures that need to be taken fall logically into place. It must become the objective of all establishment personnel to work with farmers, not as advisors, but as facilitators of the process of farmer re-empowerment. This will involve encouraging them to identify the causes of their present plight, visualise remedies and assisting them in implementing these remedies. This activity will amount to transformative learning exercises for farmers since they too have been brainwashed into adopting the chemical agricultural paradigm.

In the course of such exercises, they may be encouraged to recall traditional practices and to examine them for their possible value as remedies. If these practices make sense, then farmers need to pursue them again. Many innovative ideas will inevitably be generated. They need to be helped to articulate their understanding of the rationale for these traditional practices and for new innovations. In facilitating such discussions we ourselves will learn along with them. Both men and women need to be included in these discussions (the term ‘farmers’ is gender neutral), as well as village residents pursuing non-farming livelihoods, and landless families. At least one adult member from every household in the village should participate in these discussions.

At the same time, farmers, farm families and village communities need to re-empower themselves as teachers of village youth. Training in agriculture needs to follow the traditional apprenticeship pattern. Such training needs to be integrated with a more comprehensive education that fits young people for participation in the larger national and international communities on an equal footing with urban-reared young people. A pre-requisite for such an educational curriculum is the replacement of contemporary mechanistic science by the science of living systems as the rationale for all subjects. The village community itself needs to design, implement and oversee such an educational programme. If this is done effectively at school and senior secondary levels, university curricula will then fall in line. We need to help organise and then facilitate discussions aimed at bringing about such change. Adolescent boys and girls (grades 9 to 12) should participate in these discussions. The appropriate place for these discussions is the gram sabha. Gram sabhas should be the policy-formulating bodies, while the gram panchayats are the administering bodies.

To facilitate all these initiatives Government laws and policies will need to be overhauled fundamentally. Examples here are:

  • the return of reserved forests to village community ownership and use,
  • the discontinuance of all flood irrigation projects (in favour of local water self-sufficiency),
  • closing all fertiliser and pesticide factories (natural farming does not use any of these),
  • the discontinuance of government subsidies on electricity and chemicals,
  • transferring responsibility for community food security,  to the extent possible, to village communities themselves,
  • the curtailing of MNCs dealing in farm inputs, including machinery (natural farming is human and animal power intensive),
  • long-distance transport of food ((local and seasonal vegetables and fruits are more healthful; petroleum use is curtailed).

And so forth. The over-arching rationale for such changes in laws and policies is the natural farming paradigm.

Read the full article here: http://www.ecologise.in/2017/03/16/learning-past-new-protocol-agricultural-education-research-india/

Copies of the book may be obtained from any of the following:

Peoples Books 5, High Street Camp, Belgavi 590001, Karnataka, India, Phone: +91-831-2460991/9343413193, Email: childrenstalim@gmail.com

 Earthcare Books 10 Middleton Street, Kolkata 700071, West Bengal, India, Phone: +91-33-22296551/22276190 Email:  earthecarebooks@gmail.com, Website: http://www.earthcarebooks.com

 

 

 

A decent minimum income for food producers

Just as in England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that in India the Niti Ayog, NABARD, Agricultural Universities, Research institutes, public sector units, and everyone even remotely concerned with agriculture are now talking about ways to double farmers’ income. He comments sardonically:

india-seminar

“While the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers are increasingly sinking into a cycle of deprivation”.

The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles — increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform (e-NAM). And in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers. 

In both countries the rate of suicide amongst farmers is high – see the pitiful picture in Sharma’s latest post:

“A 58-year-old farmer of Chikkamsihosur village in Haveri district in Karnataka climbed up a transformer on the outskirt of his village a few days back to get himself electrocuted. Depressed over the failure of his crop for two consecutive years he was constantly being harassed by moneylenders. He carried an outstanding debt of only Rs 3-lakh”.

In an order issued by India’s Supreme Court in 1991 a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage was laid out: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation and provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25% of the wage. Further, it stipulated the minimum wage to include a dearness allowance compensating for inflation

Using the same criteria that the Supreme Court had laid down in 1991, and also following the same decent living norms prescribed by the Indian Labour Conference, 1957, a few economists, researchers, and agricultural activists came together for a workshop in Hyderabad in December 2016 to work out an income security model for farmers. This was followed by another workshop in Kerala in the first week of January attended by ten economists and policy researchers. They aimed to ascertain the payment that farmers deserve for the ecosystem services they protect while undertaking crop cultivation. Led by the United Nations, measuring ecosystem services is now becoming a global norm in computing what is called the green economy.

Farmers and many civil society organizations have been demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report which proposed 50% profit over the cost of production.

Only 6% of Indian farmers get the benefit of the minimum support price – there is no mechanism to support the remaining 94% of farmers. A Cornish farmer explained to the writer that, similarly, British supermarkets discriminate. They have devised a system of aligned or dedicated suppliers – currently only 20% of UK dairy farmers – who supply liquid milk through a processor and get paid a little more for their milk; this is often less than a penny a litre because of all the rules which go with the contract. The headline price is the one the supplier gets if all the boxes are ticked – which is rare.

Sharma’s idea of providing farmers with an assured income package every month includes the 94% of the farming community who have been suffering silently all these years. MSP certainly will remain as one of the ways to provide a guaranteed income to farmers. But we have to work out other ways to provide assured income to rest of the farming community. The estimates based on the minimum prescribed living standards show that the farmers suffer a huge economic loss for providing cheaper food. When the lowest government employees are assured monthly pay of Rs 18,000 per month, and the non-agricultural workers with a daily wage of Rs 351, the state cannot leave the country’s food producers with meagre incomes that push them into a debt spiral forcing them to leave farming or commit suicide.

As Sharma writes, the time has come to look beyond crop productivity, contract farming and privatization of marketing structures as the way forward to give farmers a fair income.

Read the article here: Ground Reality at 2/22/2017 09:54:00 PM

 

 

 

Update from VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh – mission accomplished

vri2logoThe first entry about the International Task Force for the Rural Poor was made on this website in 2010, opening, “Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective”.

Read about their work on the VRI website.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

mukat_and_jyoti_2005VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it.  Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome.“There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on.  There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement.

 

 

 

Forest management policies over the last thirty years

Last year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments. News of the misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings from “wildlife rich areas” was published on this website.

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In January there was a summary of Devinder Sharma’s account of his recent journey to the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats who depend on forest resources for their sustenance. As he wrote: “Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon”. He explained:

“Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them”.

80s – 90s: Joint Forest Management  

A draft forest bill for draconian controls on access was abandoned in 1982, following mass Chipko demonstrations. The 1988 National Forest Policy adopted conservation measures and focussed on meeting local needs. The success of pilot schemes in West Bengal and Gujarat in improving the quality and area under forest was shown in remote sensing satellite data (Sarin 1995). A government order of 1990, which provided for the formation of Village Forest Committees (VFCs) to protect forests said: “Access to forest land and usufruct benefits should be extended only to the beneficiaries who get organised into a village institution, specifically for forest regeneration and protection.”

Initially, 15 state governments issued resolutions assuring participating villages free access to most non-timber forest products (NFTPs) and a share in the profit from poles and timber, when harvested, in return for forest protection (as specified by the forest department). It is said that after initial successes in West Bengal and Haryana, as of 2005, 27 states of the Indian Union had various JFM schemes with over 63,000 FPCs involved in the joint management of over 140,000 km² of forested land. (The link: Resource Unit for Participatory Forestry (RUPFOR) – Joint Forest Management – About JFM unfortunately led to a website on a different subject.

In the 90s TV producer Fiona Charlton-Hill published her dissertation for the School of Oriental and African Studies on JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT IN INDIA – A KARNATAKA CASE STUDY, SEPT.15TH 1996). Some findings:

  • The increased height of trees had resulted in new leaves growing beyond easy reach and affected the production of Sal leaf plates.
  • Leaves from Tendu bushes, used in the production of bidis, had been shaded too much by the denser tree growth.
  • Quarrels between villagers and the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) over the grazing of animals on forest land –  92 cattle used for draught power –  were the major impetus behind the institution of Joint Forest Policy Management (JFPM).
  • It was decided that women were to be responsible for collecting firewood and fodder leaves.
  • Microplanning included demands for smokeless chulas, safe drinking water, a gobar gas plant, bamboo for fencing, seedlings of a plant which produces a large quantity of green leaves, for 21 other species of plants and profit sharing.
  • Previously acacia had been cut by Alga Ulga and Sathgeri villagers for firewood and fencing. The guard posted had not prevented this. KFD now pays a watchman and the committee – in groups of five – now watches the forest and the watchman.
  • The most successful JFPM was in Sathgeri.

Villagers enabled to speak directly to Whitehall by video 

w-ghats-sirsiPandurang Hegde, a local Karnataka activist and Chipko/Appiko Andolan veteran, came to CHS in Mumbai with written statements, asking for help. A letter giving an account of various corrupt practices was sent to the [British] director in New Delhi, who did not reply. Then the ODA in UK was contacted and this director sent a furious letter to CHS colleagues for ‘going over his head’.

As letters of complaint and reports were being ignored by the UK government’s Overseas Development Agency (ODA) representative in Delhi, The Ecologist contacted CHS and paid for a video with a subtitled translation. Shot on location in the Western Ghats, it presented villagers’ evidence about the problems arising from the Joint Forest Management (JFM) projects heavily funded by the UK Overseas Development Agency. The video was taken to UK by Pandurang Hegde where CHS’ Jeremy Seabrook and Nicholas Hildyard of the Ecologist arranged and chaired gatherings at which the video was shown and Pandurang. The ODA (now DFID) officials agreed to a meeting at their London office, and, after seeing the video, agreed that an enquiry should be held.

Is Community Forest Management a better answer?

odisha-forest-women

NDTV reports that in Gunduribadi, a tribal village, the women of the village took charge of guarding forests in 2000 after the male members failed to do so. “If the men objected to the illegal cutting of woods, they would get beaten up. But, we were not harmed. So, we took over forest patrolling from them,” says Ramma. This movement was successful: the ‘Sata Bhai’ or the ‘Seven Brothers’ hill which was barren until a few years ago is alive once again.

 In 2013 Ashish Kothari wrote about his visit to the Baigas of Madhya Pradesh who were campaigning to regain their traditional rights of access, to restore the diversity of their forests and to protect national wealth.

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Birju Singh Bindhia explained: “Not so long ago, we had a much greater variety of plants in this forest. Then the Forest Department came along with its working plan involving coupe felling, which included getting rid of crucial species like mahulikayafal, lianas and others that interfered with the felling. They also deliberately encouraged only sal so that over the years other species disappeared. Seeing this, our own people also indulged sometimes in felling, and we lost the traditional restraint that our elders had practised. But now we are bringing them back, and nature is responding.”

Those with a keen interest in the subject might wish to read the devastating analysis of JFM as practised at the time: Same Platform, Different Train, The Politics of Participation, Corner House Briefing 04, by Nicholas Hildyard, Pandurang Hegde, Paul Wolverkamp and Somersekhave Reddy, 3rd March 1998