Category Archives: Protest

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


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.


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






Farmers have been subsidising the nation

So says Devinder Sharma, in India’s APN News, a respected and widely watched news channel:

“The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.

“Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?

“The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means that the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700.

Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this

I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income . . . I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

And, as in UK: “Our planners can’t think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward . . .” (see next week’s post here)

There is a high rate of suicide in the farming communities of India and UK, compared with other occupational groups.  Over the past 21 years, India’s National Crime Record Bureau reports that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.

Sharma emphasises that the burden food producers carry is not one of low productivity but the lack of a fair price providing an assured farm income and this is true in both countries.

Farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu display skulls, who they claim are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide, during a protest demanding a drought-relief package from the federal government, in New Delhi, India March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

In both countries already affluent middlemen in retail, packaging and transport or speculating in food futures have prospered while those who actually work and produce food – in particular fresh milk, fruit and vegetables – are denied a fair price covering production and living costs.





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.




Tigers and Tribals in India

Sharad Vats asks: “Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? “

He explains that the government is trying to protect an endangered species and is considering the relocation of some tribal villages to give the tiger a safe area in which to live.


In April it was reported that for the first time in this century, the global tiger population in the wild has grown to 3,890 in April 2016 from 3,200 in 2010 – an increase of almost 22%.

Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries

The tribes in question are the Baigas (below), who – like the tigers – have lived for centuries in the forested districts of Mandla and Balaghat, which house Kanha National Park. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But Sharad thinks that it is the development strategy of the nation which leads to deforestation. He explains that during his recent visit to the area via Nagpur he saw expansion of National Highway 7 cutting few thousand trees and asserts that this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa is accounting for more deforestation than are the tribals.


In 2005, Sunita Narain, appointed chair of a Tiger Task Force reviewing the management of tiger reserves in the country, pointed out: “the British stripped the forests of Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to make ships and railway lines and independent India sold its forests for a pittance to the pulp and paper industry. This was the extractive phase. Sharad adds: “Mining is destroying forests at a much faster rate than tribals could destroy in 200 years – but they would not do so. Their wants and desires are few, dependent on the forest for their livelihood and so seeing the need to preserve them”.

The Forest Act 2006 was passed following massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. Sharad singles out Ekta Parishad which organized some of those walks and demonstrations.

He continues: “But an ad hoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well”.

Sunita points out that these tribal lands are rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, diverse wild plant, insect & animal species – and are the source of water that irrigates farms, that villagers and city-dwellers drink. Her recommendation is that policies to build green, enterprising futures from the use of forests – which provide fish, firewood, fodder, building materials and raw material for industry – are needed.

Sharad Vats ends, “For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist”.

And Sunita says that “the answer, untested across the world, lies in our abilities to use the environment so that forests and people can coexist”.




Times of India: GM ‘skeletons’ continue to fall out of the cupboard

A reader has drawn our attention to an article by Snehlata Shrivastav about GM mustard in the Times of India, which follows up this site’s reference last month. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union’s ministry of environment, forests and climate change has put on hold the commercialisation of genetically modified mustard, of the Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 or DMH-11 developed by Delhi University’s former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), working with Dr Pental, is said to have conducted the open field trials at ten locations in country in 2005-06 without approval from the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) – a practice which is also against environmental norms.

Scientists and experts alleged that in the entire development of the DMH-11 technology, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the RCGM, GEAC, The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), NIN, and DU have been working with Pental in DU since 1992 – NDDB directing crores of rupees, 50% of funding, but now considering withdrawal. The scientific community regards all of them as being equally responsible with Pental and expressed shock over the manner in which the facts appear to have been manipulated.

S E Pawar, a BARC scientist from city who was associated as a consultant in the NDDB funded project at NU revealed that he was involved in conducting multi-location trials of DMH-1, DMH-2 and DMH-11. But DMH-11 never out-yielded the national checks. There also appeared to be no need for a GM hybrid in mustard as the existing hybrids (DMH-1 developed by Pental himself with support from NDDB), NRCHB 506, Coral 432 and Coral 437 commercialised by both public and private sector are much cheaper.

It is alleged that unfavourable data while preparing the DMH-11 hybrid was deliberately omitted in the reports submitted to GEAC and Power is demanding that everyone involved in withholding the actual data and not giving proper information to the GEAC should be taken to task. He congratulated the MOE and government of India for not accepting the proposal for commercialisation of DMH-11 at this stage.

These facts are not given in some other accounts – see the Indian Express. Like other sections of the media, it stresses the need for a high-yielding mustard to reduce India’s import bill for edible oil, but as campaigner Aruna Rodrigues, points out the reduction was due to regulatory reasons: until about two decades ago India was self-sufficient in mustard but the introduction of low import tariffs on edible oil led to a great rise in imports. Read more about Ms Rodrigues’ work here.

The deputy director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, J S Sandhu, agreed that experts from bodies like the ICAR, RCGM and national institutes working in GM technology should have been consulted or involved in the experiments and that DU worked in isolation, which was not good science, adding: “The experiment should have used appropriate checks which I gather were not done”.

The verdict of Colin Todhunter, a prolific writer on GM issues, in his informative article in the Ecologist: “Global oilseed, agribusiness and biotech corporations are engaged in a long term attack on India’s local cooking oil producers. In just 20 years they have reduced India from self-sufficiency in cooking oil to importing half its needs. Now the government’s attempts to impose GM mustard seed threaten to wipe out a crop at the root of Indian food and farming traditions”.

Removal of the ban on the cultivation and sale of khesari dal

Subhash Sule (CHS-Sachetan, Nashik) expressed the hope that Devinder Sharma would raise a voice against the removal of the ban on the cultivation and sale of khesari dal – and Dr Sharma has done so.

ICMR 2 dal

The Indian Council for Medical Research recently decided to lift the ban, put in place in 1961 because consumption of khesari dal had paralysed many thousands of people, particularly tribals and the poor.

Even in a 2004 publication ICMR noted that a community survey carried out in the villages of Bhandara district of Maharashtra revealed that several people were affected with toxicity-related illness after consuming khesari dal (Lathyrus sativus).

A 2013 paper confirms a causal relationship between the excessive consumption of L. sativus – which contains a neurotoxin – and neurolathyrism, an upper motor neuron disorder characterized by a spastic paraparesis of the lower limbs. The paper states that this has been known for several decades.

Oldest affected boy

Oldest affected boy

Our reader adds that bringing back khesari dal on the market is a retrograde step by the Government put in place due to its unwillingness to control food prices by taking action against the trading community that financially supports the ruling party.

Dr Sharma sent a link to his widely republished article on the subject, agreeing with the reader that there is ‘No justification for lifting ban on khesari dal’.

His assessment is that to use the current high prices of pulses as a justification for lifting the ban of the harmful khesari dal hardly makes sense, scientifically as well as economically.

devinder 5He explains: “Khesari dal was banned in 1961. The ban was imposed after reports of spread of a disease lathyrism, a neurological disorder from eating khesari dal (botanical name: Lathyrus sativus) that leads to limping, was widely reported and diagnosed. According to New Scientist (Aug 23, 1984) – ‘the disease has two forms: latent and established. The latent form is characterised by mild back pain, an alteration in gait and difficulty in running. In just over half the cases, the disease goes no further. But in its established form, lathyrism leads to spastic paraplegia of the lower limbs; the fortunate sufferers can hobble on crutches; for others leg muscles give way completely and patients are reduced to crawling helplessly’.”

Sharma refers to studies showing that khesari dal contains the toxin ODOP – and states that although it is said to be removable, it is inadvisable to promote khesari dal on the assumption that the average member of the public would take the necessary precautions.

ICMR justifies its support for removing the ban on khesari dal:

  • (though many thousands have been afflicted) this is a very small proportion of India’s population,
  • it only affects those who eat large quantities of the pulse when other foods are in short supply,
  • it grows well in drought conditions
  • and it will have a medical application – now being named as ‘the golden pulse of the future’, containing an amino acid which ‘stays in circulation for longer duration and contributes to a healthier cardiovasculature’.

Sharma’s recommendation is that instead of focussing on detoxification, newer varieties being developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) should be promoted. He adds that boosting domestic production of pulses needs a two-pronged strategy: to raise the import duties and stop cheaper imports coming in and to announce a high minimum support price with the promise of assured procurement.

Sound common sense? But with potential commercial returns to the pharmaceutical industry offered by a new medicine for the cardiovascular conditions rife amongst India’s wealthier citizens – and gained by developing a product they expect to be ‘universally accepted as a health food’ will this view prevail?

Should medical ethics lead advisers to recommend exercise of the precautionary principle and avoid any further cases of this crippling condition, though it ‘only’ affects thousands of the poorest amongst its millions?

Where does America stand on ChemChina’s bid – and who will take over the funding of Indian research into GM mustard seed?


In the news: ChemChina is bidding to acquire Syngenta AG, a global Swiss biotechnology agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds and conducts genomic research. The company is said to be ‘positioning’ itself for “the day when GM corn can be grown domestically, boosting yields in a country that is home to more than 20% of the global population but has less than 10% of the earth’s arable land”.

Beijing does not currently allow cultivation of genetically-modified crops, but is reported to be considering a relaxation of the ban – though its citizens are opposed to use of this technology – see the recent news on this site about a ban on GM food in a section of the Chinese army.

Here, the US/Swiss Syngenta connection is spelt out:

Brian Babin, a Republican congressman whose district includes a Syngenta plant in Houston that produces ingredients and fungicides, foreshadowed potential obstacles ahead. “I believe it is critical that every purchase by China of any company that operates in the United States should be fully reviewed by Committee on Foreign Investment United States (CFIUS),” he said. “There should be absolutely no exceptions.”

Indian-developed GM mustard yield is said to be 20-30% higher than normal varieties, which would help slash an annual bill for vegetable oil imports of more than $10 billion.

GM-MustardField trials have been held in Rajasthan, Punjab and at Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), Delhi

Dr. Eva Novotny (Scientists for Global Responsibility) recently sent a link to news from New Delhi that government officials were to decide on Friday 5th February whether to allow what could be India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, mustard, spurred by food security concerns.

gm deepak pentalDr Vandana Shiva gave a clue to the provenance of this mustard: “Our mustard is once again under threat, this time from genetic engineering of mustard for sterility and herbicide tolerance by Dr Deepak Pental (left), Delhi University’s former vice-chancellor”.

But a further search found that recently Pental’s chief funder, National Dairy Development Board’s (NDDB), has withdrawn funding, recommending that the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) should support the further research on the project.

Will others step in? Monsanto? Syngenta/Chem China?

gm protest

A second message from Eva contained a link to the active and intelligent protests taking place. It gave the news that, under the banner of Sarson Satyagraha, a large informal nation-wide ‘rainbow’ network of organisations and individuals concerned about the environmental release of GMOs gathered to hold a symbolic protest outside the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change in the Capital. These included members of farmers’ groups, other civil society organisations, activists, students, researchers and Sangh Parivar affiliates such as SJM who oppose the government proposed plans to allow commercial production of GM mustard, citing concerns over bio-safety and livelihood of peasants.

They were representing the views of tens of thousands of citizens who have been writing to the Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar for the past few weeks, asking him not to proceed with the processing of the ‘environmental release’ application of a genetically modified food crop – GM mustard – and the signatures of more than 41000 citizens on a petition were handed over, asking him to stop the invasion of GM mustard.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was holding its meeting to consider the ‘environmental release’ application of GM Mustard, and the Chairperson of GEAC, and later, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change met a delegation from Sarson Satyagraha. The Minister assured the delegation that without due processes, GM mustard will not be approved.

Protestors reminded government of its stated commitment to transparency, accountability, good governance and federal polity

The delegation pressed home the point that:

  • GMO regulation has to begin with a needs assessment,
  • and establish whether alternatives are available,
  • applications should not be processed routinely without policy directives put into place,
  • no health ministry person is participating in the regulatory body,
  • unacceptable conflict of interest continues in the regulatory body,
  • despite court orders, data is not being shared and
  • even agenda and minutes of meetings are not put into the public domain from the time this government took over.

The Minister assured the delegation that all these issues will be looked into, that he will organize a separate meeting soon and hear out all the issues, and then sit with GEAC, “to resolve the issue”.

Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) explains: ”Our point is this: this technology is a risky, irreversible, living technology. On top of that, our regulators have proven themselves to be untrustworthy of protecting citizens from the risks of modern biotechnology. Given a combination of both, should we not have a policy directive on the subject that ensures that we don’t adopt such risky technologies when we have other alternatives? We repeat that our government should not be imposing on its citizens unneeded, unwanted and unsafe GMOs. GM mustard is certainly one such GMO with serious adverse implications for various stakeholders”.

The protesters pledged to fight any such efforts by vested interests to compromise with the interests of people of India and push through GMOs into its food, farming and environment.

Umendra Dutt of Sarson Satyagraha added, “True science would have welcomed a proper public scrutiny and debate on the whole subject, and not hidden it in ‘confidentiality’ clauses. What is top secret about the safety of your food and mine, unless there is something to be hidden? . . . We want all governments to be responsible to science and responsive to society. We cannot remain silent spectators to what is being unleashed on us in a secretive, hurried, unconsultative manner. We have come here to show our valid dissent”.

Last word from Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, who sent Prime Minister Narendra Modi a letter this week: “Why is the government imposing its decision on farmers on an unsafe and unproven technology, despite the availability of good varieties of mustard in our country?” We pray to you not to compromise our agriculture, citizens’ health and the environment under pressure from a handful of foreign companies.”