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India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk-

Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?

The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.

The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have beenfiled. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.

IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty?

In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise inthese matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.

IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’:

The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? Thestrategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.

Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB:

The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.

The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.

The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.

The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Ourregulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.

NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty:

The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-NationalCorporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.

Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands:

India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excludingother profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.

If India's intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.

This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India nocredit.

Signed:

 Vandana Shiva,               Aruna Rodrigues,                Kavitha Kuruganti

Navdanya

8100 25169                       98263 96033                         9393001550

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One should never underestimate the power of denial. Modi suporters are comparing Gujarat with Maharashtra (unbeaten champ of farmer suicides) and claiming that Gujarat does not have a problem. Wait a minute. Not so fast. Being better than the worst is hardly leader material. If it were a classroom (compulsive associations from ranking - left over trauma from the education system), better than the worst student often doesn't even pass. So let us take a look at the situation.

The argument is that farmer suicides are not as bad as Maharashtra. I'm not even going to try and debate that. For a state to get as bad as Maharashtra gets they would have to completely stop caring about farmers.... like Maharashtra does (and the population is larger too). My question is, are farmers doing well in Gujarat?

To begin with, let us be clear that there are farmer suicides in Gujarat. This is the NCRB data. (Data for 2013 is not out yet)

YearFarmer suicides reported
2001594
2002570
2003581
2004523
2005615
2006487
2007317
2008526
2009588
2010523
2011578
2012564

On the face of it, the numbers of farmer suicides in Gujarat appear to be somewhat constant. Beginning at 594 in 2001 going as high as 615 in 2005 and dropping to 317 in 2007 to finally 564 in 2012 according to latest available data. If we look at it mathematically, Gujarat achieved a drop of 30 suicides from the 2001 number. It may not have been a dramatic drop, but it ain't the end of the world either.

But wait. Gujarat lost almost a fifth (18% - lest someone accuse me of exaggerating) of its farmer population between 2001 and 2011.

YearCultivators
20015802681
20114746956
 Difference−1055725
 % of original−18%

So we are basically seeing similar numbers of suicides in a drastically decreased population size.

But wait. This is not all.

When the policies do not care for farmers, and the focus is on profiteering at the cost of the people, a new kind of "science" mushrooms up. It is called "Creative statistics". Or is it art? Whatever it is, it most certainly should be a post-graduation specialty, since it seems to be a very lucrative field.

It is not easy defending pro-corporation and anti-farmer policies year after year. Some kind of damage control is needed to show that farmers are harmed as less as possible. Leading GDP state and national farmer suicide champ Maharashtra achieves this by recording as farmer suicides only farmers who own land in their own name. So, the 45 year old son of an 80 year old agricultural land owner, who does all the farming and risks all the debt and commits suicide when all fails.... is not a farmer suicide. The farmer who takes land on rent, suffers loss and can't reply debt or pay dues and commits suicide.... is not a farmer suicide. The brother who helps his brother in the field and both suffer losses and he commits suicide is.... you get the idea. When there was outrage over this brazen fudging of farmer distress, Maharashtra started recording ‘Farmer’s relatives suicides,’ or “non-genuine” suicides. That didn't dent their winning streak.

Chattisgarh had more than 7,500 farmer suicides between 2006 and 2010, averaging 1,567 per year. 18,375 farm suicides between 2001-10. In 2011 they "fixed" it by declaring ZERO farmer suicides, and "4" for 2012. West Bengal averaged 951 farmer suicides per year between 2009 and 2011. In 2012, it did the clever thing and did not submit any data. Mamata Banerjee declared on TV channels that farmer suicides were a Maoist conspiracy.

Gujarat doesn't do something this obvious and the "presidential style" of election politics isn't the only thing it copies from the United States. It reports the suicides reported as suicides transparently. Only.... there is no compensation for farmer suicides, while accidental deaths of farmers get one lakh compensation declared by a benevolent state under the Janta Juth Accident Insurance Scheme. It doesn't take much genius to guess how the death gets reported, particularly if the suicide was because of debt. Sometimes police record it as an accident even if it is a suicide, and farmer's families have fought battles in courts to set the record straight.

Bharatsinh R Jhala was a citizen nominee for RTI Awards 2009 for his tenacious investigations into farmer deaths in Gujarat. He revealed that a total of 6055 farmers were shown to have died in accidents, out of which only 1909 of the farmer households had managed to get insurance claims (under Krishi Bima Yojana) passed after these accidental deaths. One also wonders how 6055 farmers can die in accidents without alarm.

Considering that a large part of farmer distress is also in losing agriculture land in the name of "development", it is anyone's guess if the development hit farmer gets recognized as a farmer if he commits suicide once his land is sold to the state - and he no longer farms.

But this is speculation. Gujarat state dismisses such news or questions as "politically motivated".

“Every time someone commits suicide in a village, Congress workers rush to the home of the deceased and persuade his family to sign a paper saying their family member had committed suicide because of crop failure,” ~ Babu Bokharia

Apparently massive farmer deaths in accidents is not so abnormal for a ("high risk" ?) profession like farming. I imagine crops eat farmers who don't put enough fertilizers or something in large numbers in Gujarat. But a farmer committing suicide? Impossible.

What cannot be denied is furious farmers renewing their agitation against the Gujarat state to retain control of their fertile land that produces export quality wheat.

An article by Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express is accurately named Environmental fraud, though it is rare for such transparency of intent to be declared upfront. I do appreciate the legitimate opportunity to pun "Environmental Fraud by Tavleen Singh" when introducing the article. Considering that the article is an umbrella attack on the legitimacy of environmentalists and an endorsement of policies known harmful to the environment, it is very shabby of Indian Express to not state the conflict of interest in this supposed "truth" being stated.

While I do not hold it against her and will address her arguments directly, I think it is important here to state that Tavleen Singh happens to be the partner of one of the promoters of Lavasa (his name is not required here, since the article is not about him). Lavasa township has come to much grief (and financial losses) due to legal action by environmentalists that had enough substance for the judiciary to put a halt to work on the site for a year. Thus, people with a vested interest in Lavasa having a dislike of environmentalists cannot be called unprejudiced or unmotivated. Additionally, Sharad Pawar, our agriculture minister, whose interests in GM seeds are identical to those this article promotes happens to the Godfather of said Lavasa project. While this in itself may or may not be intellectually incestuous, NOT being transparent about a connection makes one wonder if this is a case of "You scratch my back, I scratch yours and let us be discreet and pretend that it is all very neutral and deserved."

All quotes by Tavleen Singh from article linked above.

"Real environmentalists" / "serious environmentalists"

Reminds me of the "true Hindus" and "true Muslims". As if the rest are made of thermacol. The idea that her disagreement makes environmentalists real or fake is absurd. She is not required to like or agree with all of them for them to be real. Their actions make them environmentalists.

"one of our noisiest lady environmentalists actually declare in Davos that Indian farmers were rich until international seed companies like Monsanto arrived"

This is presumably Vandana Shiva, though the article does not name her. I have no idea what she said in Davos, but I believe that Indian farmers were better off before the seed corporations for several reasons:

  • Patented seeds mean that farmers cannot save their seeds to sow the next year's crop, leading to a direct annual expense for seeds, which also happen to be costlier. This in turn puts them at serious risk of bad debt - a leading cause of farmer suicides.
  • GM crops require more water. I am not inventing this. Monsanto says this. India is rapidly becoming water scarce with industries taking up a vast share of the water and irrigation being overallocated and iffy at best. Not that either manufacturing or agriculture have added jobs since 1995... Unless of course they are Sharad Pawar's pets doing sugarcane and getting a whopping 60% of available water for 6% of the crop.
  • Input costs for fertilizers and pesticides are higher for GM crops.
  • Most farmers in India are small and marginal farmers and cannot afford to plant waste strips of non-GM crops to try to avoid the "expected" resistance to pests that is the selling point of Bt seeds. The idea of these strips is to grow pests like the bollworm (for example) that have no resistance to Bt so that they can breed with Bt resistant pests from the "superstar" seeds and keep them killable. The crop on this land is wasted by design.
  • The resultant race of more GM, more fertilizers and more pesticides has resulted in diseases among humans and animals, which add to the burden of medical expenses compounded by low access.
  • The actual claims of productivity are severely contested per crop and with authoritative, independent research and are beyond the scope of this article to go into detail. It isn't without any evidence that developed countries are limiting or banning use of GM seeds. A simple google search will bring forth an avalanche if anyone is really interested.
  • Productivity itself has been seen to drop with lame excuses from Monsanto that may be good PR, but do nothing to actually change the production. Including in a "perfect" state like Gujarat, which supposedly reports great profits from GM. Monsanto blamed the farmers. Done.
  • Finally, do you know that Indian farmers have set world records for crop yields using organic farming that have left results from GM in the dust? The same traditional methods and bio fertilizers that had been systematically decimated by the British?

Enough said.

"Any farmer could have told this lady that the international seed companies are a welcome change from state-owned companies which have often sold them junk. But farmers have no voice on television and the lady fraud has a very loud one."

Leaving aside the personal comments about the lady environmentalist who sounds suspiciously like Vandana Shiva, Tavleen Singh is clearly ignorant about the 37th All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee on cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects, which clearly states that the farmers explicityl detailed problems they faced because of GM crops and demanded a ban. Additionally, ALL MEMBERS of the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee - across political parties - unanimously endorsed banning cultivation of GM crops in India. The report condemns the paid media report in Times of India promoting Monsanto with falsified information about prosperity of farmers. The members of the Committee physically went to those villages and saw that there was no such thing. How much more voice do you expect? Or is the gold standard of voice about performances in a corporate controlled media? Would Indian Express give space to an angry farmer trashing Monsanto, when their awards of excellence in journalism are sponsored by Mahyco?

I called up a few people who were present during the visit when outlandish tales of outright manipulating the committee came to my ears and can confirm that the government of Maharashtra made great efforts to prevent the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee from speaking with farmers and tried to con them into meeting a few planted "farmers" - some of whom were input dealers - in a cosy circuit house. Farmers persisted and the Committee visited the villages reported to be prospering and chasing away money lenders and saw fields left barren. In front of the committee, farmers shouted down and chased away not money lenders, but representatives of Monsanto.

"There have been natural disasters in the Himalayas since the beginning of time. If this one was 'manmade' as they claim, then it was because the political leaders who have governed Uttarakhand have been careless about making contingency plans for natural disasters."

and

"Our two most sacred rivers have become sewers despite thousands of crores of rupees having been spent on 'cleaning' them. And yet, the only noise we hear from environmentalists is when a new dam is built. Have they noticed that it was the dams on the Ganga that stopped the whole of Uttarakhand from being washed away?"

and etc (this is getting boring).

First, I'd like to ask Tavleen Singh why she is writing an article about environmentalists instead of "seculars" and "NGOs" - after all, aren't all right wingers supposed to talk about that only?

If my question is absurd, so is the idea that all environmentalists are working on the same thing, namely hydel projects. There are people fighting dams and for more reasons than only the environment. There are people working to get rivers cleaned. Others fight to protect forests, marine life, fight drought, promote water renewal, whatever. Environment isn't one piddly subject that everyone is doing the same thing and from only one angle. Swami Nigamananda died when he fasted unto death in what is rumored to be a murder by political and mafia forces. He wasn't fighting dams, but the sand mafia and pollution. There are all kinds of people. Vijay Panjwani often updates from his legal activism to get judicial pressure for clean ups. To the best of my knowledge, no one has prevented her from taking up a concern she feels strongly about. If it is un-sewering the Ganga and not protecting roads from dog poop, so be it.

The blame for the tragedy has been consistently attributed to irresponsible construction work of which dams were a part. The greatest blame has been on the roads, actually due to the use of dynamite in cutting them creating fractures in the structure of the mountain. Hydel projects don't drop rom the sky. They need development of roads, as well as dam construction. They need construction materials which leads to further exploitation of the river banks. Dams already silt up the upstream while starving the downstream of silt leading to eroded banks and disturbed ecology.

Here is what happens to a construction made of reinforced concrete when subjected to reckless construction activity. Nowhere in the Himalaya, this is, but Katraj tunnel near Pune - a place that has little to do with floods and landslides. This news is not a month old yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tUxN9nHco4

The page on Wikipedia about the environmental impact of dams is well referenced so I'm using this space for one last important piece of disinformation:

"Have they noticed that alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels have mostly failed?"

Failed?

Work on hydel power in India started in 1897, nuclear power started in 1948, renewable energy started in 1983.

India gets 57% of its electricity from coal, 19% from hydro electric power, 12% from renewable, 9% from natural gas and 3.75% from nuclear power.

The oldest dam in India is from the second century. That is older than several of the religions in this country. The first hydro electric power plant in India was in the year 1897 or fifty years before Independence. We currently produce approximately 39GW. We started chasing nuclear power when we were 11 months old. Several parts of current India were not India then. 4780MW to date and we call it the pride of the country and have gone into the international dog house for it. In contrast, our renewable energy production started in the 1980s and already accounts for 28GW or 12% of our electricity production, which Wikipedia assures me is more than the total production of electricity in Austria. In three decades.

India is rapidly growing in solar energy and fastest growing in the world in wind power. What failure?

The fundamental difference here is a difference in what Tavleen Singh sees as a good thing and what I see as a good thing. Projects she thinks are good for the country include Vedanta's bauxite mines and Lavasa and what not. I am not so sure we should be growing to suit the fastest runners. In my view, large projects have delivered comparatively little in comparison with robust grassroots efforts. I am also of the opinions that the super rich have done more to destroy economies and free enterprise than build them. I also think it is dangerous disinformation to club all large projects as one regardless of whether they are government or private. Masses cannot hold private enterprise accountable.

We are both entitled to our opinions. My expectation from media however is transparency and accuracy of information. People can decide for themselves if the information is correct.

Update: I forgot to address Tavleen's point about the Tehri dam that supposedly protected Haridwar. Tavleen Singh might be delighted to know that the Alaknanda blew through the Vishnuprayag Hydro electric project and the water that had backed up behind it wiped out Lambagarh market when it exploded out of the dam. Additionally, dams on Mandakini River such as Phata-Buyong HEP and Singoli-Bhatwari HEP badly damaged. Small dams on Madhaymaheshwer and Kali river are also badly damaged. It is worth considering a moment what the Tehri dam could have done to Haridwar if it too had given way. Perhaps water simply overflowing banks wouldn't be as bad.

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The report tabled by the all party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in the Parliament on 9th August 2012 titled "Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects" is unanimous and superb and I recommend that you read it. This post is about the Parliamentary Standing Committee's visit to Vidarbha - famous for cotton farming and farmer suicides and valiant efforts of the oh-so-caring Maharashtra Government to deny them voice. Maharashtra government still tried to take credit for the visit they did everything to prevent. Brazen.

The all party Parliamentary Standing Committee for Agriculture scheduled a visit to the villages Maregaon and Bhambraja (Mosanto's model village as per Times of India) on the insistence of Kishore Tiwari and others of the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti. Plans were in place; details and timings had been discussed, but Maharashtra is the unbeaten farmer suicide champ for five years running. That kind of "success" doesn't come from letting farmers get attention! On the day of the visit, the Government of Maharashtra conspired to (no other word for this) con the Committee into a token visit with "progressive farmers", described as "bigger farmers with irrigated lands" and "input dealers and traders" (sold things needed for farming - seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc).

The Committee was at the Circuit House near Panderkauda - a small cotton trading town about five kilometers from Maregaon when farmer activists who would have none of the sham were able to get word across to the Committee through rural reporter P. Sainath, who was expecting them in Maregaon, who in turn was able to get through to Basudeb Acharia on phone. Minister Basudeb Acharia was superb. He stood up and declared that he would go to the affected villages on the original plan - alone if need be - and told everyone to join him there.

Attempts to dissuade failed, they discovered that time was short to go to both villages, as a meeting at 4:30pm was rescheduled to start at 2:30pm and they wouldn't be able to go the 170km to Bhambraja and return on time.  Dr. Sudhir Kumar Goel, principal secretary for agriculture in Maharashtra was in charge of the visit and stage managing this farce. They decided to go to Maregao, which was 5km from there. The Maharashtra MLAs did not go, but the entire Parliamentary Committee did. Every single one of them. [I have drawn my own conclusions here.]

Some two thousand people crowded to meet them in spite of a police cordon under the auspices of Maharashtra government to prevent more people from more villages coming in. The state sold a dream of prosperity to these people and continued to promote it in the face of devastation it wreaked. Sharad Pawar had toured the region promoting genetically modified cotton. Government agencies and colleges like Dr. Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth in Akola and Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) had promoted GM seed crop. While traditional crops resulted in seeds for future sowing, a culture of profit had been built along with the Green Revolution of recommending new purchases of seeds every year. Newer varieties would be designed to not be viable if farmers tried to sow seeds from the crop. Terminator technology to protect patents.

It was a conspiracy and a monopoly. Pre-Bt hybrid seeds sold for around Rs. 300-350 per packet of 450g. Bt at its worst (before the AP govt initiated legal action against Mahyco-Monsanto) sold at Rs. 1650-1800 per packet of 450 grams (which would mean around Rs. 3500-400 per kg. Pre-Bt hybrids would this have been around Rs. 700 per kg. Additional needs in fertilizers and "micro-nutrients" drove cultivation costs up. The government scale of finance went from Rs.5.000/- to Rs.25,000/- per acre.

GM cotton needs a lot of water, and is less tolerant of shortage. During the same duration, mismanagement and scams brought irrigated land down from 8% to 6%. The difference between the success stories  being peddled and the devastation is irrigation. Irrigated land performs fine in Vidarbha too. However, with 90% of the land under dryland farming: No rain = No cotton. Die, farmer, die. 65 years post independence, we haven't figured out irrigation, but we are planning a mission to Mars.

When the crop succeeded, the main chunk of the harvest was to repay loans. When the crops failed... a far greater investment than before was lost. Taking the cash out of cash crops. There has been a rise in illnesses in the village since 2005, devastating finances further. Chicken gunia, leukemia and renal failure count among serious ones. GM crops may not be the cause, but timings matched and it needed urgent investigation.

This was the sea of desperation waiting for the Parliamentary Committee. And boy, did they listen! Faced with the outpouring of stories, the Committee, one and all, were magnificent and opened their hearts and ears and listened with patience and attention. Many of them from farming backgrounds themselves, they were able to understand what the farmers were going through as well as were not taken in by the Maharashtra Government's efforts to mislead them. To quote Sainath, "They asked the right questions, listened to the right people and behaved like true leaders and parlimentarians". And for once, "behaving like a true parliamentarian" was not an insult. 

Let us get this straight. MPs of *All parties* together at same place, listening to the the aam janata? It happened in such an elegant and caring way that it had gratitude ringing in the words describing it. Who would have thunk it? I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

New farmers slipped past the police cordon and disrupted the meeting. They had discovered that the Committee had canceled the plan of visiting Bhambraja, their village. They refused to let the meeting continue till the committee agreed to visit them. As the leader of the Committee, Basudeb Acharia again rose to the occasion. Pointing out that all the members need not be present for the miraculously preponed meeting, he proposed that a few MPs go to Bhambraja while the others continue to the meeting and both groups fill each other in on what was missed. Congress National Spokesperson Satyavrat Chaturvedi led a small group of four MPs to Bhambraja.

Here died the myth of the model village. 14 widows of farmers who committed suicide met the MPs where farmer suicides were denied. "Prosperity", "production" and other fairy tales were laid to rest and relentless debunking happened. The report stands testament of how much was spoken and heard. Two MPs from BJP and JD(U) with strong farming ties, touched the villagers with their empathy, though Kishore Tiwari forgot names. The extend of apathy towards farmers lay exposed. One revelation I found bizarre and infuriating was motors for irrigating fields given as part of relief measures to reduce their distress. Had they received them? Yes, and the motors were rotting in their homes for five years, without electricity connections being allocated. #Facepalm doesn't begin to cover things like this.

A third of the village had left their fields fallow. The soil was barren. The villagers had no idea of the Times of India story. A few prosperous villagers had been taken to a large, lush green irrigated farm belonging to a distributor in Beed and their photographs had been clicked there as visuals of their prosperity. Their incomes from other sources - were passed off as prosperity from BtCotton. Money lenders were not being chased out of villages but Monsanto representatives. Feeble attempts at euphemizing losses by Monsanto representatives were shredded by villagers.

In the end, the MPs verified what they had understood. They asked the villagers to confirm that they had been heard right. And, with minor corrections and additions, they had. They had heard, and they had noted and that is the reason why you should take time to read this report.

The villagers had wanted a ban on Bt Cotton. 12 varities of Bt cotton from Mahyco seeds were banned by the government of Maharashtra  -  as Mahyco's licence to sell them was withdrawn. This was not done, though on the basis of ani-Bt action, but on the grounds of serious irregularities Mahyco has been charged with by the government. Other rabbits from that hat are in normal business and a new rabbit called Krishidaan from the same hat is trying to take over the seed market with maybe a helpful nudge from this token ban, unless, of course, Mahyco "cleans up" their act. Not to be ruled out. "Miracles" are a dime a dozen here. The Maharashtra government takes its lead position on farmer suicides seriously.

I value about this visit the robust and life affirming view of our parliamentarians. That too, politicians from *all* political parties AND working with each other, unanimous in the interest of the aam aadmi. Politicians with roots in the soil, who understand the concerns of the farmer. This report with its no nonsense attitude and research oriented approach, as well as these stories of leaders with a heart give me hope that we may make something useful out of ourselves yet.

Standing ovation to Minister Basudeb Acharia and the ALL PARTY Parliamentary Standing Committee for their magnificent report "Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects" [please read] and listening with such caring! Bravo!

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I have been thinking about this on and off beef debate raging in our country, and I realize it is a very complex, multi-dimensional thing. Each side of the table has its own considerations and they are all important. Trying to explain how I see the situation. Beginning with religious perspectives, because they seem loudest these days.

Hindus

[tweetthis]We can't argue that we used to burn widows, so we should now. We can't argue we used to eat cows, so we should now.[/tweetthis]

painting of two women with sacred cowHindus see cows as sacred. While not specifically a deity, a cow has its place in religious rituals and customs. There are many who argue that Hindus did eat beef in the Vedic period, or that the ban on eating beef where it occurs is for fertile cows. And the documentation seems fairly convincing. However, I disagree that this means that the same rules apply today. One big difference between Hinduism and Abrahamic religions is that practices have evolved and been different in different times.

Just like we can't argue that we used to marry kids and burn widows, so we should do it now, we can't argue that we used to eat cows and we should do it now. The fact is that whatever the past, the present holds a deep reverence for the cow and an aversion to cow as food. This must not be ignored. It is not enough to say minorities have rights if that means violating very deep rooted beliefs of the majority. This is my opinion based on a purely social understanding.

So, I see the validity of the stand of the Hindus that they oppose beef as food.

Christians

Not much to say here. Christians eat beef. At the same time, most are also fine not eating it out of consideration for the community at large.

Muslims

[tweetthis]Beef eating by Muslims rarely happens in front of Hindus. It is more often in Muslim areas, where it is not offensive.[/tweetthis]

The same with Muslims. Most Muslims I know in India don't actually eat beef. Islam has no problems with eating beef, but they do it out of a cultural understanding that it is offensive to those they live among. Whether this is a fear of being targeted for eating beef, or it is a genuine respect and willingness to not expose fellow Hindus to such actions may vary from place to place. Any beef eating is mostly done in Muslim areas - where it is not offensive - culturally.

Dalits

[tweetthis]Dalits find beef an affordable and nutritious food, which their beliefs don't prohibit them from eating.[/tweetthis]

I have heard this on and off. Dalits eat beef. Dalits also are interested in legitimizing beef as a source of food, because the very fact that most Hindus will not eat it, in a country of Hindu majority means that it is significantly cheaper. This is important to them. Considering that an majority of dalits are under the poverty line, and that beef is indeed nutritious, this is no trivial consideration.

Also, I can understand their need to openly eat cows, instead of hiding it as a shameful thing. They have lost enough dignity over the ages. If they eat something, hiding it for social disapproval of upper castes would be a return to that same thinking. They are legitimate people of the land, eating food that is not forbidden to them. There is no need for them to be ashamed of it.

Cows as domestic animal - relationship

[tweetthis]Unlike goats or chickens, cows are often part of a household and it becomes uncomfortably like eating someone you know.[/tweetthis]

A friend brought up an important point. Unlike a goat or a chicken, the way a cow is housed in a home, the daily interaction with owners, and so on means an emotional bond. She would find eating a cow about as appealing as eating a cat or pet parrot.

Another friend in the same conversation remarked that cats and parrots eat very little and are not domesticated for their economic utility.

However many love their goats dearly, specially those who own one or two for milk, families who have children, etc as compared with shepherds with large flocks intended for consumption. On the other hand, there are communities that will eat dogs too.

It is a difficult boundary. I have once unknowingly eaten a goat I had been friends with on an earlier visit. During the post [delicious] dinner conversation I asked my hosts how Chulbuli was doing, and they went "uh...." I wouldn't have had dinner if I had known. I'd have asked for vegetarian only food if I could have saved her. Though I know she would still have died on another day. The worst part is that dinner had tasted very very good, and I was feeling horribly guilty for enjoying it.

Being a cow owner

[tweetthis]Non-productive cows are an economic drain on owners. It is no small expense to feed a cow you have no hope of earning from.[/tweetthis]

I have lived a rural life for many years and have experienced the realities of owning a cow among those who aren't particularly rich (which is a heck of a lot of people in India). A cow has significant requirements. Most cows today being hybrids for greater yields of milk, they are not as hardy as the cows of old, who could weather the climate of their place through natural evolution. Cows today live in sheds. This not only means the structure itself, but the bells and whisltes that go with it. Cleaning it, airing it, etc. A cow is a lot of work. The cost for a day's feed can easily cross Rs.150 without getting into anything special. If a cow gives milk worth Rs.200 or more, that is rewarding, but when she doesn't... things get ugly.

[tweetthis]Taboos around slaughter lead to cows and bullocks being abandoned on the streets to feed at garbage dumps.[/tweetthis]

Barren cows and bulls are an expense. And not a minor one. While it is true that it is callous to value an animal for its economic merit, it is also a fact of animal husbandry - even for dairy. A barren cow is also difficult to sell. With a ban on cow slaughter, it will be impossible. Who would buy an animal to feed massive quantities of grass daily for no gain?

I have heard of families wishing their cows dead, I have heard rumors of someone poisoning their cows because they were barren - unverified village gossip. I have seen with my own eyes the ration of cows go down drastically when they are not lactating. It is simple to blame the cow owner for cruelty. But the fact is many simply cannot afford. If you go to Manali in late November and visit the Rohtang pass, keep an eye out for many, many calves dotting the frigid countryside along that winding road. I don't know where they come from, but every year, there are cattle driven to certain death on the slopes of that and other passes - to die of cold when the snow falls or at the hands of wild animals. Get out of your car, approach them. They are mostly friendly - domestic animals. Used to humans. Look carefully. All of them will be male.

[tweetthis]Taboos against slaughter make cows economically unviable and population of cows grows much slower than buffaloes.[/tweetthis]

Few people need to plough fields anymore, and with calves not eaten, and of no other use than their dung (which fertile cows also provide), they get abandoned. Abandoned cows are also a reality in cities, at garbage dumps, eating plastic, often dying of it. You call animal helplines, they will be blunt. They don't know what to do with them either. An NGO can't possibly own, house and feed all the retired population of cattle! They don't have that kind of resources. No one with a stake in cows has, except some of our larger temples who also have an interest in cows not being killed and with massive donations in charity (and the possibility of raising more to save cows) they definitely could afford it, but I haven't seen temples keen on adopting cattle they would like to save.

I would use and call a number if provided.

cow in a pasture

Economics of the cow

India is likely to become the world's largest beef exporter by 2013 - believe it or not. Wait, before setting my blog on fire. The beef India exports is buffalo meat. You never get to hear this, because of the extreme volatility of public opinion on this issue. No one wants to talk about the beef industry here. Naturally, we also have a flourishing leather industry, which is an even more hidden matter. I think most people think that leather goods manifest out of thin air, because when they see the reality, they go insane enough to murder five people just doing their jobs. Those men got angry and the place being Haryana, they fixed that by lynching to death all the five dalits who skinned the carcass of the cow. I have no difficulty understanding why dalits are not impressed by reverence for a cow, when their own lives are considered cheaper.

No more, no less. Why? Because our diaper changing, religio-political thought hijacking leadership has simply erased many facts of life from public consciousness. No one thinks of where cows go when they die. I suppose most imagine a cow heaven with green grass, fresh water springs and calves gamboling like freaking deer in a Disney film. In reality, there are thousands and thousands of stomachs being fed handling dead bodies of these "mothers" no one wants to think about. Collecting carcasses from highways and streets and parks. "Processing" them. Not a single "son" of these "mothers" shows up, to avoid any inconvenient expenses or effort. If the dalits had any worshipful thoughts, most tanners being low caste and looking at how unwanted stray cows are would tell them the truth anyway. Why not feed starving people?

And does banning cow slaughter actually result in the well being of cows? If their economic worth is reduced to only milk and dung, their viability itself suffers - in other words, a slow genocide of these 'mothers'. Particularly if a non-productive animal can not only not be sold for money, but can't actually be killed or done anything with except worship. Better to not have and breed cows than incur expenses many times worth the milk they produce!

A case in point are official animal census figures.

Livestock Population in India by Species
(In Million Numbers)
Species195119561961196619721977198219871992199720032007$
Cattle155.3158.7175.6176.2178.3180.0192.5199.7204.6198.9185.2199.1
Adult Female Cattle54.447.351.051.853.454.659.262.164.464.464.573.0
Buffalo43.444.951.253.057.462.069.876.084.289.997.9105.3
Adult Female Buffalo21.021.724.325.428.631.332.539.143.846.851.054.5
Total Bovines198.7203.6226.8229.2235.7242.0262.2275.7288.8288.8283.1304.4
Sheep39.139.340.242.440.041.048.845.750.857.561.571.6
Goat47.255.460.964.667.575.695.3110.2115.3122.7124.4140.5
Horses and Ponies1.51.51.31.10.90.90.90.80.80.80.80.6
Camels0.60.80.91.01.11.11.11.01.00.90.60.5
Pigs4.44.95.25.06.97.610.110.612.813.313.511.1
Mules0.10.00.10.10.10.10.10.20.20.20.20.1
Donkeys1.31.11.11.11.01.01.01.01.00.90.70.4
YakNCNC0.00.00.00.10.10.00.10.10.10.1
MithunNANANANANANANANA0.20.20.30.3
Total Livestock292.9306.6336.5344.5353.2369.4419.6445.2470.9485.4485.0529.7
Poultry *73.594.8114.2115.4138.5159.2207.7275.3307.1347.6489.0648.8
NC : Not Collected;  NA: Not Available    * Includes Chicken, ducks, turkey & other birds
$ Provisional derived from village level totals
Source : Livestock Censuses, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI

Almost every animal on this list has nearly doubled their population from 1951 to 2007 with the exception of cows and animals used as transport. The decline of animals of transport is to be expected with the decline of their use for transport.

[tweetthis]Animal census data from 1951 to 2007 shows that the population of cows grew by 34% while buffaloes by 159.2%[/tweetthis]

The cows? From 155.3 to 199.1 - an increase of 28% for cattle in general and from 54.4 to 73.0 - an increase of 34% for adult females (cows) in 57 years. They have been strangled off through protection - even as demand for milk has increased manifold from the increasing population.

Buffaloes offer almost identical uses, but buffalo meat is eaten and exported for food too. From 43.4 to 105.3 - an increase of 142.6% for buffaloes in general and from 21 to 54.5 - an increase of 159.52% for adult females in 57 years.

Who calls this protection or even respect?

The politics

Religious hyperbole and exclusivist pandering have made a monkey out of all religions by encouraging the least practical and most flamboyant statements of special favor. While the Muslims are slowly waking up to the fact that quotas and doles did them more harm than good, it will be a long while by the time Hindus realize that they have been conned into the most visibly exclusive and intolerant practices as a statement of their unique superiority for the exact same reasons as the Muslims.

[tweetthis]"Would you eat your mother?" "No, but I also wouldn't tie her in a shed."[/tweetthis]

My words have little value for a Hindu fundamentalist, therefore I borrow from a hero they do respect - Veer Savarkar.

Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man, hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship; their protection, sustenance and well-being is our duty, in that sense alone it is also our dharma! Does it not follow then that when under certain circumstances, that animal or tree becomes a source of trouble to mankind, it ceases to be worthy of sustenance or protection and as such its destruction is in humanitarian or national interests and becomes a human or national dharma?

~ Veer Savarkar (Samaj Chitre or portraits of society, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.678)

Without spreading religious superstition, let the movement for cow protection be based and popularized on clear-cut and experimental economic and scientific principles. Then alone shall we achieve genuine cow protection like the Americans.

~ Veer Savarkar (1934, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.171)

I don't know what the right answer is on cow slaughter. I disagree that it should be banned. At the same time, there needs to be consideration for the sentiments of those who are emotionally attached for religious (or other) reasons.

Perhaps the answer lies in a mix of live and let live combined with clearly marked and separated areas that cow lovers can easily avoid. Areas with a large religious significance or places of pilgrimmage could be barred, etc. Another big help on this front would be in making slaughter more humane - for all animals. Will go a long way to know that animals may die for food, but they did not suffer for it.

Like all things democratic, we ought to find a middle way rather than an uncaring imposition that is absolute in any one direction.