Sunday, December 25

Sad State of Agriculture

You can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place, Sudhirendar Sharma quotes Einstein to drive home the point about sad state of agriculture and farmers

Whatever might have happened to the much-hyped National Commission on Farmers set up last year, the Prime Minister has set up yet another high-powered committee under his chairmanship to focus on agricultural development and policy.
While the commission is still grappling with the core issue of farmers' plight, the newly constituted committee may examine fresh policy initiatives that can pull the agriculture sector?s promised 4 per cent contribution to the country's GDP.
In the year that has gone by, corporate profit and farmers' suicides have continued to move in unholy parallel. The Sensex has continued to attain new heights while suicides by farmers have plunged the country into deep despair.
With the growth rate having overshadowed all other concerns, suicides seem to have been taken for granted. No wonder, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was recently pulled for not doing as much to enhance the agricultural growth rate. Did anyone hear farmers' suicides being as much a concern?
As the country begins to lose count of the farmers committing suicide, a rare exception of the recent past has literally become a undesired norm. Even the much-hyped poor man's budgets haven't been of much help.
Shockingly, a plethora of agriculture research institutions, policy planning bodies and relief programmes have been mute witnesses to this blood bath. It's shocking that the successive governments have failed to even diagnose the problem, leave aside solve it!
No sooner did the new government assume office than the Prime Minister set up the National Commission on Farmers to prescribe exigency measures. Cynics wondered if the commission could help provide a lasting remedy.
Many wondered if those who had pioneered the Green Revolution could get hapless farmers out from the residual impact of the revolution itself. Isn't it a reality that proponents of the Green Revolution could never foresee that farm incomes would decline one day, forcing farmers to take their own lives?
Undoubtedly, the entire agriculture bureaucracy and the farm scientists' fraternity has been caught napping. Not discounting the wisdom that is supposedly resting within the commission, it is undeniably true that solutions cannot come from the same source that had been the root cause of the problem.
Not without reason had Albert Einstein remarked: "you can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place."
Einstein's prophetic words need to be dispassionately examined in the present context. Improving credit flow in the rural areas has been tossed up as a solution. True, a majority of the farmers, who took the fatal route to escape the humiliation of increasing indebtedness, did so on account of their inability to repay the loans. Easy credit undoubtedly can clear loans, but what it cannot perhaps do is to improve crop harvests. Can a fresh loan to erase the previous loan be any solution? Will it not trap the poor into the perpetual debt cycle? Credit could be a part of the solution but not a solution itself.
What the farmers need is an assured income - an income that takes care of their family needs and leaves them with a little surplus to sow the next crop. But with the magic of the Green Revolution on the decline, nobody is able to assure farmers about any surplus harvest from the farm.
Not without reason though, as farmers in Punjab have recorded negative returns on their investment. Studies have also shown that there has been a decline in farm incomes in the past five years.
Rice farmers in West Bengal earn 28 per cent of what they earned in 1996-97. Sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have recorded a decline in their incomes by about 35-40 per cent too. Conversely, corporate profits and urban incomes are on an upward upswing. Critical to this decline is the fact that the input-output equation of the Green Revolution hasn't held on to its promise. Input costs of fertilisers and pesticides have consistently gone up with a concurrent decline in crop harvests.
Unless harvests can be sustained at a shade higher than the input costs, farmers cannot be pulled out from the perpetual debt cycle. Consequently, extending credit as a solution under the situation defies logic.
The planners have gone wrong in their diagnosis on another account too. Far from addressing the core issue of imbalance in the input-output ratio, expanding irrigation facilities has remained a populist measure with all successive governments. The present government too has promised greater investment in the irrigation sector. Irrigation can play a significant role only if the skewed input-output ratio gets corrected first.
Had irrigation been the most crucial factor for sustaining harvests, farmers in Punjab would not have been on the suicide trail. Paradoxically, farmers in the arid regions of the country would have been on the forefront of suicides for a long time.
Though significant, irrigation is critical if other inputs stay balanced. It needs no rocket science to know that indeed maintaining land's productive capacity is the key to surplus harvests.
If Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's budget speeches are any indication the government lacks a road map to boost agricultural growth. The government has left the responsibility for further experimentation on the hapless farmers.
At a time when a simple opening of a savings account comes with an insurance cover these days, leaving farmers and their crops uncovered by insurance indicates gross neglect of the farm sector.
With political rhetoric and illusive promises as the driving keys, it will not be surprising if genetically modified crops and contract farming get prescribed as the solutions to the present malady in the days ahead.
If news reports and analysis are any indication, the current developments in the agriculture sector ' backdoor entry of the corporate sector' is being promoted to achieve the desired growth rate in agriculture. Till such time, farmers can wait!

Saturday, December 17

Justice: Delayed & Denied

Ranjit Singh Gill alias Kukki released from jail after 17 years is not a free man yet

Shiela Dixit's government's inaction on remission to Ranjit Singh Gill in Lalit Maken murder case has given credence to the assertion of it being a political case.
Out on bail after being seventeen years behind bars, Ranjit Singh Gill is still not a free man. While granting bail to him, Delhi High Court put restrictions on his movement. He can't go beyond the boundaries of Ludhiana district except for his court appearance. He has to report twice a week in a local police station.
Ranjit Singh Gill, son of eminent agriculture scientist Dr. Khem Singh Gill, who is a Padma Bhushan awardee and former Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, was convicted of murdering Congress trade union leader Lalit Maken and his wife Geetanjali on July 31, 1985. Lalit Maken, the son in law of then president S.D. Sharma, figured among the suspects behind 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) listed 227 people who led the mobs, which killed up to 3,000 Sikhs over three days. Lalit Maken's name was third on the list with a brief description: "Lalit Maken reportedly paid the mobsters Rs.100 each plus a bottle of liquor. A white Ambassador car reportedly belonging to him came four times to the GT Road area near Azadpur. Instructions to mobs indulging in arson were given from inside the car." The judgment against Ranjit Singh Gill says that it was on the basis of this list that he and his two accomplices targeted Lalit Maken.
Interestingly senior Congress leader of Delhi Congress and close relative of Lalit Maken, Ajay Maken wrote to chief minister Shiela Dixit to grant him pardon. Lalit Maken's only child Avantika Maken had also been personally pleading his case but to no avail so far.

Suave and articulate Ranjit Singh Gill won over Avantika Maken in just one meeting. Avantika, a Youth Congress leader used to get agitated at even mention of his name declared him to be his friend when she met him personally through Amrita Chaudhry, a senior journalist based in Ludhiana. According to Avantika Maken, her image of a militant that she had before she met Ranjit Singh Gill underwent a total change on talking to him.
Ranjit Singh Gill was a student of Punjab Agricultural University when he went away from home in 1985. He recalls it was on July 9, 1985 that he went away from him when police started putting pressure following a murder of a police officer's son. Just 22 days later Maken was murdered and he was named among the accused. Next year in Februray he went to United States. He was working at a gas station there when a year later on May 14, 1987 he was arrested along with his friend Sukhwinder Singh Sukhi. Extradition proceedings were held against them while they were in jail for thirteen years. On May 5, 2000 they were extradited to India.
Ranjit Singh Gill was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On Februray 26 last year he was granted 15 days interim bail on account of his mother's illness. His mother, who was suffering from cancer died later. Since then Ranjit Singh's bail is being extended for short periods. And he waits for the pardon committee headed by Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit to hear his application.

Wednesday, December 14

Punjab has high indebtedness among farmers

Punjab has the highest indebtedness among farmers, followed by Kerala, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
While the average amount of outstanding loans was the highest in Punjab at Rs 41,576, that of Kerala stood at Rs 33,907, followed by Rs 26,007 for Haryana, Rs 23,965 for Andhra Pradesh, Rs 23,963 for Tamil Nadu and Rs 18,135 for Karnatak according to a May 2005 national sample survey organisation report.

Friday, December 2

There Is Nothing Abnormal

Today is World Disability Day. Writing in The Indian Express, Amrita Chaudhry asserts disabled children see this world as their own; it's society which considers them outsiders.
It is time to thank the Lord for the mercies small and big. My five year old son Siddharth is autistic and I am thankful for the fact that Siddharth does not need to be hidden away from the eyes of the world. Siddharth and thousands of children whom we able people label as 'handicapped,' 'differently able', 'abnormal,' or 'children of lesser Gods,' now have their share of chances to be part of the society, all thanks to the special schools. It was not long ago when such children, considered results of some ill deeds of past life, were either locked up within the four walls of their homes or worse still, abandoned. Like me, thousands of parents are thankful for the fact that at least we all have recognised the problem, the solution too, will now be found.
This is one progression we have made over the years and from here begins the struggle for more. Children like Siddharth have to be given their right to a normal childhood and life. For Siddharth, it is his right which is being denied to him. And to secure these rights for him many people, his family, his teachers, his friends and the people who love him, struggle day in and day out. I am proud to be Siddharth's mother for he has sensitised me to a part of society which was totally alien to me. There cannot be more Siddharths, yet his message can be carried on. Abnormality or handicap is not for these children, these terms are for us, the so-called able and normal people. Siddharth does not need to adjust to the normal people, it is us, the normal people, who have to learn a few basic lessons of life from him - things like tolerance for other persons? space and life. In our race for reaching somewhere in life we forget that there is nothing picture perfect or ideal.
Bringing up Siddharth and seeing him play with his school mates has brought forth one reality. It is not these children who are handicapped, it is us normal people who are handicapped. Why? Simple. For these children do not have a problem in communicating with us, we have a problem understanding them. Special schools, special teachers, government aides, reservation rights, laws are all in place for the handicapped, sympathy more closer to pity is abound. But is this enough? The state -in theory - has done its bit and now we humans have to awaken to this sensitisation. Hands have to join together in support, support not just for helping children like Siddharth and their families but more for the general public. More for your and my normal children. The normal children and grown-ups have to get used to the idea that these are no abnormalities. A person without legs can just not walk and that too at present, is no handicap. He can walk, run. Siddharth may seem slow in studies and hyperactive. But that is all. Let us not teach our children to pity them or even sympathise with them. It is time to get this term abnormal or handicapped out of our daily lives and system. There is nothing abnormal, it is just a way of viewing things and this way can be changed.

Punjab's Downward Spiral Continues

In a continuous downward spiral for Punjab, now comes the report that Punjab's share in national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has fallen from 3.31 pc. in 2001-2002 to 3.14 pc. in 2003-2004. The information was given in a reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha, reported The Indian Express.
Delhi and Haryana are the only two states which has shown constant upward progress during the past three years. The share of GDP of Haryana in the national GDP has grown from 2.77 pc. to 2.80 pc in the corresponding period whereas the share of Delhi has gone up from 3.21 pc. to 3.34 pc.
Maharashtara leads with a share of 13.29 pc in the national GDP following by West Bengal with 7.40 pc. UP contributes with 8.17 pc. and Gujarat with 7.27 pc.