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While we all agree that research and science are important and that innovation shouldn't be blocked, here's a little devil-in-the-details sharing about GM (genetically modified) foods technology.

The present GM varieties being marketed, those being in focus, are defective models that a company shouldn't be pushing to market. Kind of like releasing a car model whose braking system the company's management internally knows tends to get defective after the first 10,000kms, so they decided to test the car only for 1000 kms. Results were positive so it went into production and is now being aggressively marketed. The industry regulator believes that there is no further independent testing of the car needed since they already know that it is safe, from the 1000km test. The top boss of the regulatory commission happens to be the car company's former high-level employee. Oh, and IPR (intellectual property rights) laws ban any third party from conducting any kind of tests on the car, they're quite strict about that. If you as an independent consumer try to conduct any test or research on this car model, you're likely to get sued and loose everything you have in lifelong litigation, and your research results likely cannot be accepted as evidence. Hence, the car company isn't doing the tests needed and isn't letting anyone else do them either.

The car is now released for open trials, which isn't actually a test for safety; it's one for studying financial potential and performance metrics. But people are led to falsely believe it's a safety test and the car company likes it that way. This test isn't being conducted in separate off-limits proving grounds or Top Gear style retired airport runways where the car being tested wouldn't interact with normal civilian traffic.. several units of the car are actually being driven actively all throughout the country, including on the streets you cross everyday, highways, expressways, AutoBahns etc, by regular people and with children in the back seat. The law of the land has exempted the company from any liability or any obligation for call-back or money-back should anything unfortunate happen, since the regulatory agency has already declared it to be safe. No one wants to talk about what will start to happen when the users of this car cross the 10,000km mark. Right now there are very few first-buyers who have, and the company is quick to respond to any complaints with the standard "it's the driver's fault, we are not liable" reply.

As per our current wisdom which is brought to us by our academia, government and media, all the people who are protesting against the release of this car model or its open testing are hereby decreed to be against technology and anti-progress, anti-science, and should not be listened to. Otherwise society will end up going backwards and we will all die for lack of cars, as if there isn't any other company on the planet capable of manufacturing the requisite number of cars (scroll down to find out that there actually is).

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Coming back to the GMOs.. two main technologies:

BT : they produce a toxin that supposedly only harms one specific insect (in the patent they're classified as pesticide and not as food), but it turns out that humans and that insect are not from different planets after all and share certain physiology. Hence, that toxin is turning out to be harmful to living organisms other than that particular insect, surprise surprise. Plus, it turns out that insect is already evolving to beat the BT-toxin, and there's other pests coming in too, resulting in farmers having to resume spraying pesticides on their crops. That ruins the single most important USP of BT technology : that pesticides would no longer be required. The technology was basically betting that biological evolution doesn't happen. (and that's Intelligent Design for you). It also turns out horizontal gene transfer does exist as a phenomena.. the technology was betting on the assumption that it didn't. Which means that the BT-toxin-producing tendency is capable of "installing" itself into other plants as well as the human body's gut bacteria : that itself was a very grey area and treated as non-existent until quite recently.

HT  or "Roundup-ready" herbicide tolerant : glyphosate tolerant.. the recent Mexico court ruling was mainly about glyphosate. It's a toxin right up there next to DDT and friends, and its devastating effect on pollinators like bees (without whom you can't have most plant reproduction) as well as on humans is only now being brought out. If you remove the glyphosate herbicide, that GM crop is useless.. the whole technology was betting on the assumption that glyphosate only kills every single other plant in the whole field (making multicropping impossible btw) but is perfectly safe for humans and other non-plants (despite Monsanto in their own fields mandating their employees wear fully enclosed protective suits and not get in contact with any particles in the field).

Some other technologies being explored:

Golden Rice : It is being compared only with rice, and so is claimed to provide more necessary nutrients. The assumption here again is that people only eat rice and nothing else. Foods like drumsticks (Moringa) have more of those nutrients than the Golden Rice can ever hope to achieve, and it's far cheaper to increase their consumption in the target population. (this thing and others like it literally grow on trees) But the assumption is that people prefer eating only and only rice in their meals and will never ever touch anything like drumsticks, so one must try squeezing all the required stuff into the rice only while forgetting that there are other items in people's meals and the rice was supposed to be for the carbs.

DNA structure:

Also, it turns out that plants are not predominantly left-brained like the people who designed the GM seeds. So DNA is quite messy and integrative, whereas the gene theory upon which the entire GM technology is based, says that DNA is linear and reductive. It assumes that there is an exact input-to-output relation between gene and characteristic. So they thought that precisely X gene sequence controls Y characteristic, and its placement or removal will then control only and only that characteristic of the plant and have absolutely no side effect whatsoever on the rest of the living being and its other characteristics. It was assumed that there is no integrative overall structure  or inter-relationship between the various parts of the genetic sequence. Typical assumptions of the techno-savvy left-brain mindset. All very neat and orderly, a place for everything and everything in its place. Turns out that assumption was false, DNA is integrative and inter-relational, and one drastic change in one part tends to have other effects on other characteristics too which they didn't bother to check out, since the assumption was that nothing else will get affected.

So it's not like the flagship products of the GMO sector have "a few chinks to iron out". The very technologies they are based upon have lost their core USPs in light of emerging realities, and have become redundant. You can't make an improved version of a floppy disk : it's pointless, you need to go back to the drawing board and look at the whole thing again from an improved understanding of the science of food.

Some websites where you'll find good info on this topic:
GMO Evidence
GMO Seralini  : this European scientist repeated Monsanto's same feeding trial on rats that had "proved" safety of their GM products, but made one tiny alteration: He ran the experiment for 2 years instead of Monsanto's 3 months. (after which their opposition to independent testing really kicked in!) The result : After 2 years of eating them, those GM foods seem to be the exact opposite of safe, and the rats that managed to survive the feeding trial are just not what you'd call "perfectly healthy". To this day, Monsanto is refusing to accept the research's results, but not daring to repeat it, which would have been the scientific way of proving something wrong, which happened to them (Seralini repeated their study and got disputing results). They even terminated another long-term study of theirs midway and refused to share the results with anyone. So for someone who supports science, it's worth questioning which side of science are GM producers on? If they are pro-science, then why are they and their supporters opposing independent scientific research?

8 ways Monsanto fails at sustainable agriculture

Videos : Genetic Roulette, Seed Freedom, Bought... there's many independent films out there which channels like Discovery don't want to show, even if the film-makers themselves aren't charging any money. (saala tereko free mein itna mast maal mil raha hai... fir bhi wohi purane shows repeat pe repeat karte jaa raha hai tu?). But there's surprisingly no independent films out there (not in my years of looking around) which make any case FOR GM foods. It seems every independent film maker out there working on food sector is against GM only, while every corporate studio wants to religiously avoid sharing these objections. Wonder why?

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Now, for those who don't care about the harms part and want to "be positive" and focus on the gains, here's a 30-year side by side growing study by Rodale Institute (they incorporated GM when it became mainstream). Tested conventional non-gm, GM, organic.
Farming Systems trial: 30 year report

Result? Organic won hands down. Greater yield per unit area, lower costs, lower inputs, lower CO2 emissions, negative damage to soil (ie, soil health improved year on year). Everything that the world's  scientists and our governments have been desiring from a technology to grow food, delivered without the pesky patents or high input costs. And what's more, it's an industry alternative that while lowering the bottom line, actually creates more jobs (with zero work related illnesses) at the same time! Organic technology has much higher job creation opportunities, while simultaneously having much lower costs than GM technology! Now you'd object that this organization might have had some bias (but apparently Monsanto conducting its own tests has no bias). May I point you to the scientific method : The best way to prove a research study wrong is by repeating the experiment as defined and publishing your results.

Note: There are presently heavy government subsidies given to the competitors, and the market dominance combined with lack of market mechanisms for decentralized organic technology are hampering these cost benefits from making their way to the retail end. That changes when more people join in and market share increases, and this sector is witnessing exponential growth right now, with the first adopters being everyone from politicians' families to movie stars to industry leaders to well-educated people. Like in any other technology's life cycle, early adopters pay higher but this funds the technology and enables it to come into its own.

What makes things difficult here for those who love technology and internally bracket everything natural as non-technological and backward, is having to eat humble pie and admit that nature might be technologically more advanced than present human attempts in at least ONE sector (saala ek ko jaane do, kya jaata hai tumhaara?), and might have a solution that is still far better than what our best scientists and mega-corporations have come up with so far. Given the fact that she has had a multi-billion year head start and access to a planet-full of resources to tap into for her research, we shouldn't be so surprised and definitely not so jealous of her. On our end, more research should happen of course, but it should happen safely, without treating you and me and our children like lab rats. Defective products shouldn't be pushed to market for the sake of recouping investments made so far. If you know your closest competitor is so far ahead of you, then you should either invest in researching something like GMOs for the long, long run (I'm talking multiple human lifetimes here), or not invest at all and simply go for the best alternative solution available that delivers better, even if you can't earn royalties off it. But it's wrong to get impatient or greedy and push defective products to market just for the sake of showing a profit this year, and it's wrong to use massive government subsidies, IPR and friends in high places as a crutch to conceal your product's defectiveness.

And that's pretty much what all your "anti-technology" friends are trying to tell you. Nobody's being anti-technology. They're just warning about defective products that can cause irreversible harm. That is all. On the other hand, they are also actively supporting organic technology which seems much more promising, so it would be nice if we didn't have anti-technology and anti-science people and mega corporations unnecessarily harming progress.

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The Narendra Modi government has allowed 21 new varieties of GMO crops for field trials in India. This decision was made based on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). This is the new GEAC. The old GEAC had the first item listed under "Main functions" on its page as "To permit the use of GMOs and products thereof for commercial applications." This one has "approval of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous living microorganisms and recombinants..." and they are making decisions that will impact our food, here. This is rather like the world's nuclear "watchdog" being created to promote nuclear power.

It is rather strange that a body implies evaluation, but is actually created to proliferate. This GEAC rejected 1 application out of 28 it received. In a world where more and more countries are banning GM crops, India naturally is fertile grounds for yet another reject of the West, where opposition to genetically modified food is increasing. And of course, it helps that if anything can be centralized and made money out of, Indias political cartels will have takers.

In a country where farmers quit farming as a full time profession at a rate that amounts to 2000 less farmers each day over a decade and over a quarter of the country is below an insanely low poverty line, replacing seeds collected from harvests to seed next years crops with expensive genetically modified varieties that need to be purchased each year alone is an economic nightmare, even if GM crops were safe, which I'm going to show below that they are not. It is no coincidence that there are very few suicides among rice and wheat farmers in comparison with cotton farmers whose lives have been devastated by BtCotton.

First, raising some quality concerns. GM crops are not reversible. They introduce new traits into the ecology of the fields where millions of lifeforms live in a symbiosis. The impact of changed traits of crops on other life forms including essential microorganisms in the soil to beneficial insects and contamination of adjacent fields or wild plants is impossible to determine when there are no long term tests of any sort including direct impact on humans. The assumption that it is safe is naive at best and unleashes irreversible changes which cannot be erased with an "oops. Sorry, we thought..." in the future if uncontrolled hybrids emerge.

Additionally, when GM seeds like these - that are resistant to specific poisons are grown in a region, the adaptations of pests to survive result in pests of the region becoming more and more resistant to pesticides and requiring greater applications of chemicals to control crops (including on the GM crops). This has happened in India. In Modi's own Gujarat. India approved Bt Cotton in 2002. In 2010, it failed pest tests in Gujarat. By 2013, the five year decline in cotton production was being blamed on everything from lack of innovation to climate change by GM apologists in media. Anything but GMO. By 2014, Modi who was CM in Gujarat when above failure happened is Prime Minister and opening more crops like wheat, rice and maize for GM field trials.

And guess what Monsanto did? It blamed the farmers for not following the "fine print" like planting refuge areas. A refuge area is basically a strip of ordinary cotton planted around the main crop of BtCotton. Guess why? Because when pests susceptible to the Bt gene die, the ones that survive are those that are resistant to it. So the idea is that they will breed with the pests from the normal cotton and thus lose some of their resistance. And if this doesn't happen (and tough to imagine how that would work effectively given that species breed to become stronger and survive and most of the field is Bt allowing most pests to find their Bt resistant dates on hand, without going to the other crops), it is apparently the farmer's fault. In other words, GM is not responsible...

Of course, that isn't what they had said when promoting BtCotton.

It [traditional methods of farming] has been a complete failure, because you have to modify infrastructure, you have to re-educate them as to how to modify their farming practices themselves. But with biotech, the technology is in a seed. All you have to do is give them the seed.

Because of course the guy with the powerpoint presentation understands agriculture better than the guy who doesn't even understand English and is too dumb to read instructions.

While there is little evidence of safety on various issues, the evidence that GM crops are not safe is mounting.

About a year and a half ago, a farmer in Oregon, USA found some wheat growing in an empty field. He tried to kill it with a herbicide. IT DIDN'T die. Astonished, the farmer sent the wheat to the Oregon state University for testing and it was found that it was genetically modified wheat containing Monsanto's a Roundup resistant CP4/maize EPSPS gene. The USDA confirms this. When this happened, there was no GM wheat approved for use anywhere in the world. Field trials had ended in 2005 on the wheat that was not expected to be viable for more than 2 years. Do the math.

Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robb Fraley tried damage control "It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field." However, that doesn't solve the problem that wheat had turned into what basically amounted to a weed. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan postponed wheat imports from the region to avoid the contamination.

This basically shows that GMO food crops are not a choice as advertized. Seeds propagate, and the best intentioned organic farmer may still end up with GM contaminants.

Speaking of GM maize, in Hesse, Germany, many cows in a slaughterhouse died when they were fed Syngenta’s genetically engineered maize cow food. The remaining cattle were slaughtered on the decision of the authorities to... you guessed it... prevent spread of contamination. Syngenta withdrew the "protein" (not one of the better associations with this word) after being charged for covering up livestock deaths including those on the farm of a tenacious farmer who participated in trials and his cattle developed diseases and five cattle died. Syngenta paid him forty thousand euros basically as hush up money and other cover ups, including in tests. In India, maize is not cattle feed, but consumed by humans for the most part. Remember your "makki roti and sarson saag"? Now Modi sarkar has allowed field trials on GM maize in India.

A research paper published by Dr. Judy Carman last year showed marked increase in abdominal inflammation and on an average a 25% heavier uterus among female pigs fed GM feed. In 2009, American Academy Of Environmental Medicine called for Immediate Moratorium on Genetically Modified Foods stating a whole list of health risks related with GM food.

Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health."

I could go on listing studies that have clearly shown the danger, but then what is my voice in the face of an all party (including BJP MPs) Parliamentary Standing Committee that overcame attempts of the state government to prevent them interviewing farmers and recommended against GM in its report?

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Green peace is an anti-national organization.

Don't believe them when they say they are mostly funded by Indians. Green peace was instrumental in Australia declaring Virat Indian Adani's $7 billion Carmichael coal project in Australia unviable for environmental reasons. Now, you will agree that Australians donate to Greenpeace Australia and not Indians. Thus proved that foreign funded Greenpeace is hindering India's development.

Vandana Shiva is completely anti-national.

She wants to save Indian seeds and resist genetically modified seeds taking over the market. Considering that GM seeds are made by foreign companies,this directly harms India's foreign relations with countrys like Monsanto, Mahyco and Times of India.

People protesting in Kudankulam are anti-national

In fact, thousands of them have cases of sedition against them. They are agents of the church and rose in protest against the Virat Russian project in their backyard, but they forgot that Russians are more Indian than unpronouncable names from Tamil Nadu.

Narmada Bachao Andolan is the worst anti-national.

It is trying to prevent electricity from reaching your home just because a few lakh people became homeless. You didn't become homeless, I didn't become homeless. Do you want to live without electricity just so some people can have homes? They need to see how Virat India can be. We are so totally going to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar just to make sure they understand. There is plenty of water, but more electricity is always needed in an electricity surplus state like Gujarat. Also no one can claim the government is unjust. Madhya Pradesh is a BJP ruled state and their people are getting submerged, so Congressis have no reason to complain.

The true Virat Indian has a heart like a lion

...that doesn't cry just because a few lakh people have a problem. Development is important business. And business is best done by the corporations, and interfering with this business of corporations is interfering with the development of the corporations which means it is anti-national. All Indians are hereby requested to turn highly patriotic and make sure that the corporations suffering from threats of decreased profits do not suffer and bring shame to India. We must sacrifice all we can so that the rich may inherit the earth, because the meek will be gone by then anyway and there is no point wasting.

Foreign funded NGOs that engage in anti-nuclear, anti-coal and anti-GMO protests are anti-national (notice the "anti" they all share in common?)

Fact is, with India's population, we could easily lose half our prople and no one would notice. And you must not notice, because it isn't our purpose to cause you unnecessary trauma. Excessive care with health is detrimental to reducing India's population density, and is directly responsible for inflation, crowds on trains, rising prices of real estate and power cuts. Get rid of half the people and see how comfortable you would be. Now that everyone whines if there are riots, at least leave the coal, nuclear and GMOs alone, to reduce the burden on our country.Frankly, it is worrisome that you have read this far, because you aren't supposed to examine what you are told.

Hope you have now understood everything.

Even if you haven't, don't worry about it.

All you have to do to be a Virat Indian is to listen carefully to who is disagreeing with the government about helping the corporate sector of our country grow and listen to what the problem with them is, and make sure others understand.

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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

Indian citizens have the freedom of speech. But freedom of speech in itself means little without freedom of information. If you are free to decide for yourself and speak up, but you are deliberately fed information that makes something look really good and something look really bad, your condemning what was informed to you as bad, or your praising what was informed to you as good holds little meaning. Yet, your voice raised as an opinion lends its power to decisions the country takes. Whether as protests or public opinion on the street, choices in goods or accepting or refusing policies.... and voting in your own interest in elections. Your voice can be manipulated by feeding you inaccurate or invented information.

Paid news in coloquial use can refer to the practice of placing favorable news reports in mainstream news organizations. Practically, it extends to false or exaggerated criticism or deliberate double standards in evaluating. It can be used to influence decisions, as seen in the superb expose by Sainath of the favorable reporting of Monsanto by Times of India, which was aimed at preventing a ban because of farmer complaints. As it stands, the Parliamentary Committee report vindicated the facts from the expose in their interactions with villagers. The Analytical Monthly Review has published a robustly argued article linking the phenomenon of paid media with the neo-liberalization of India's economy and media.

On record, paid news is specifically the practice of manipulated reporting related with elections.

The increasing prevalence of manipulated news reporting aimed at influencing electoral results alarmed the Press Council of India after the 2009 elections and a Press Council of India Committee Report first defined what it considered as paid news in 2010:

Paid News can be defined as “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration”

The Press Council Committee report aims to not only define paid news, but to document the ways in which paid media manifests and attempts to recommend guidelines for the Press and the Press Council in tackling the phenomenon. A stinging 70 page Press Council Sub-Committee report on paid news, also in 2010 listed various instances of paid media that came to their attention. Another report that emerged from the monitoring of Gujarat Assembly Elections followed as well as careful documentation of Private Treaties (can't find document, will update) as a development in media being able to offer "deals". But there is not much that can be done.

There is no dearth of understanding the issue, and sting operations have as much as revealed rate cards with paid media coverage packages and politicians admitting that they cannot win elections without buying such coverage. However, the problem is manifold. The deals happening in secret, even if open secret, acquiring proof is not easy. There have been guidelines for media and even the Election Commission for accepting complaints related with paid news, but not much appears to have come out of it.

There does not appear to be much motivation either, as the lawmakers are the ones profiting from such favorable coverage and the media that can mobilize or stifle public opinion profits from the continued practice. This can sometimes go to absurd levels, like the UPA government filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the Election Commission  only has to make sure that the accounts of a candidate (which include spending on media) are filed on time, but they cannot disqualify if the accounts are falsified. It is the same UPA that would state in the Parliament two years later, as they attempted to ram through an amendment that would prevent RTI for political parties that political parties are already accountable to the Election Commission.

In the meanwhile the run up to this upcoming Loksabha Elections have seen more exposes. Operation Blue Virus by Cobrapost exposed a new dimension to paid media - the use of social media to create perceptions of massive support for candidates or slander opponents. "Services" offered by "providers" included planting false defamatory information and even spreading rumors to cause riots. There is no depth to which the profit machine will refuse to fall, it seems.

In the meanwhile, Operation Prime Minister by News Express exposed the manipulation of poll survey data to project favorable results for parties on demand.

After Aam Aadmi Party started challenging corporate corruption, the coverage changed to the point where some allegations in media coverage stopped making any sense at times. Arvind Kejriwal's direct confrontation of media and statement that if elected his government would take action against such media had news anchors throwing fits of fury on screen, as though this was the first time they had heard of paid media. Strangely, it were the same channels covering with a bias that were the loudest in claiming persecution of media as well. The NBA stopped an inch short of issuing an outright threat as they stated that they would have to see how the AAP was covered if Kejriwal continued to act in this manner.

There were, however several journalists who did take the allegations with the gravity they deserved. Here was the nation's largest democracy heading off to the what counts as among the world's largest election processes and rampant paid media was happening in the full eye of the world and drawing increasing comment. Notable among these were the panel hosted by Girish Nikam on Rajya Sabha TV with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Sr. Journalist) ; Ravi Mohan Khanna (Media analyst) ; Vipul Mudgal (Former Resident Editor, Hindustan Times) ; Saurabh Bharadwaj (Former Minister, AAP) as guests

and Nikhil Wagle's interview of Arvind Kejriwal.

There was a dramatic drop in biased coverage against Aam Aadmi Party in a few days after Arvind Kejriwal's allegations. However, how long this drop lasts is anyone's guess. The problem of paid media is also compounded by the complete lack of intellectual challenge to journalists and particularly television journalists, who essentially operate in whatever manner suits them with little criticism or peer commentary ever. It is extremely unlikely for one channel's absurd coverage of something to draw comment from another channel, and thus any outrage by people impacted by the inferior quality of journalism largely remains limited to tiny audiences and ineffective as deterrent.

A recent example is the declaration of Priti Gandhi as the person behind BJP's campaign using Assange's falsified quote. Yet all Wikileaks had done was to point out to Mrs Priti Gandhi promoting the image to her 40 thousand followers. The tweet in question was a retweet, and thus the image was clearly not posted originally by her. So it is really unclear how media has reached the conclusion that it is her behind the campaign without any further proof. But this is how media is. A grasshopper on caffeine. An elephant in a China shop. There is little sense of nuance, very poor comprehension skills and a complete disinterest in evolving. With BJP on the backfoot about the larger allegation of false social media plants, it is unlikely they will defend her on this technicality, so in all likelihood, Mrs. Gandhi will go down in history as the chief accused in Modi's Social Media fraud plants.

But beyond that, the facts of the case are so obfuscated in desperate labeling of heroes and villains and flying accusations that there is little time to take a deep breath and understand what really happened, let alone narrate it accurately. The speed of news has translated extremely poorly for the intellect that should drive it. Journalism is a post graduate degree course in India and our journalists don't link to sources of the facts they claim in their article, because their education has trained them for print and years of actual hands on work cannot bring them to this century.

What does this mean for you, as a citizen? It means that you cannot afford to be lazy with your own rights. You cannot count on media for accurate information, because whether out of motivated manipulation or poor comprehension or careless reporting, facts are often distorted. It is important that you use your ability to discern and evaluate.

It suits those in power if the masses can be kept stupidified and gullible and easy to herd to choice decisions through invented fears or invented qualities. It is mental colonization of a sort, where a few people with the ability to design and power to deploy mass media can engineer your perceptions.

The next freedom struggle of India is going to be of the mind.