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AGRICULTURE & DEVELOPMENT: Bt-ing the farmers!




                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  BT-ING THE FARMERS!

SOURCE: India Together, India

AUTHOR: Jaideep Hardikar

URL:    http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/jul/agr-btvidarb.htm

DATE:   02.07.2007

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BT-ING THE FARMERS!

Jaideep Hardikar is a Nagpur based journalist. He won a 2005 scholarship to research the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha from the Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust, New Delhi. He has also been a recipient of several national media fellowships and was the winner of the 2003 Sanskriti award from Sanskriti Foundation, New Delhi.

As the fresh sowing season starts, beleaguered cotton farmers, already steeped in debt, are being forced to opt for the more-expensive Bt (genetically modified) cotton. Inputs dealers in Vidarbha say that there is hardly any non-Bt hybrid variety available in the market this year. Jaideep Hardikar reports.

 

2 July 2007 - Nagpur - When the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha last July, the Vidarbha farmers hoped bad days were coming to end, their destiny would change. Skeptics had warned the region’s agrarian economy, which has collapsed totally, could not be resurrected with piecemeal packages. They were right. The relief is turning out to be a mere band-aid, as it indeed was meant, with policies remaining unchanged on all fronts – credit, seeds, prices and imports, to name a few.

But, as the fresh sowing season starts, worrying signs are already evident. Beleaguered cotton farmers, already steeped in debt, have little choice but to opt for the more-expensive Bt (genetically modified) cotton this season.

Inputs dealers say that there is hardly any hybrid variety available in the market this year. ”We get good margins on Bt from the companies. Also, the companies haven’t marketed hybrids this time around.” To be frank, says one dealer, ”we are not keeping non-Bt seed, for it has no future.”

Estimates indicate entire cotton area to be under Bt, results of which have been very discouraging for the rain-fed region. Divisional Commissioner (Amravati) Sudhir Goyal says this year would be a 100 per cent Bt year. Meaning, nearly a 100 per cent cotton area would be occupied by Bt cotton.

While cotton prices are crashing every year, a total shift to the genetic modified cotton will hike up production costs, leading to a steep risk of heavier losses, farm activists say. The central problem is that India provides no cushion to millions of farmers from the risks involved. When hybrid seeds were introduced, they wiped out desi cotton. Now Bt cotton would wipe out hybrids and farmers would be left with no choice but to buy expensive Bt seeds.

The top scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) fear it is a signal for disaster, which will be accentuated many times if monsoon fails. For one, only three-per-cent cotton area in Vidarbha has protected irrigation. Two, Bt cotton is highly capital intensive. In a region where income levels of farmers have been steadily dwindling, any exposure to risk could be suicidal. The chief minister, who is advocating that farmers practice yoga and spiritualism, could do well to regulate markets and ensure fairplay by the seed companies.

After Bollguard-I (first generation Bt), Monsanto has introduced in the market Bollguard-II in more or less the same genotypes (varieties). The price of a 450-gm packet of seed is Rs.1350, several times the cost of non-Bt seeds. A package of Bollguard-I comes at Rs.750. A packet of same quantity of non-Bt will come at Rs.400-450, while the desi cottonseed, grown in very few areas, costs Rs.50 a kg.

Farmers’ leader Vijay Jawandhia argues, ”Bt cotton has not brought about any increase in productivity. Also, it has not reduced the use of chemicals.” Last year, with 60 per cent area under Bt, the production of cotton in the state could only match the average annual production – about 190 lakh quintals.

State government reports and statistics too suggest that Bt cotton has not brought about any rise in productivity or decline in pesticide use. In 2005, Maharashtra’s Agriculture Commissioner wrote in his note to the central government and later the National Commission of Farmers about the poor performance of Bt in the state. Also, Maharashtra government has in four years paid to farmers about Rs.400 crore in compensation due to the failure of Bt cotton in Vidarbha and other parts.

Suman Sahai, Convenor of Gene Campaign, New Delhi, says: ”The only long term feasible and sustainable approach to controlling pests in cotton would be not the Bt gene but a long term integrated pest management approach.”

An estimate suggests that over 30 lakh packets of Bt cottonseeds would be sold this season, enough to cover well over ten lakh hectare farms in the region. That’s more than a double-fold rise in the acreage over last year, officials point out. A disaster of unmanageable proportions is on the cards if there is any fluctuation in monsoon, fears Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. So far, rains haven’t betrayed the farmers, but as the entire Vidarbha reels under inclement weather, some areas are staring at first sowing being washed away.

Already, the farm suicides in 2007 are nearing 500. Tiwari laments that a cotton farmer commits suicide every six hours in Vidarbha, and the rate has been picking up alarmingly, pooh-poohing the government claims that the suicides in Vidarbha have declined due to the implementation of special relief packages.

Interestingly, the Maharashtra Agriculture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat, recently admitted that Bt had failed in Vidarbha and cautioned farmers not to sow it. ”We will introduce new crop patterns for every district in the entire state,” Thorat said after a Kharif review meeting in Nagpur earlier in May. ”We want Vidarbha farmers to shift to soybean,” the minister proposed, ”because the prices are good and cultivation is cheaper.” But it’s too late, and the damage is done.

Also, farm activists point out the government-run Mahabeej seeds corporation is itself marketing Bt cottonseeds to inputs dealers, while the minister advises caution. There is a lot of double-speak on the part of the government, charges Tiwari.

Yet, what’s concerning activists is the permission granted to nearly 53 new genotypes of Bt cotton by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). As many as 35 of those varieties would be introduced in the central India.

Over 60 Bt varieties are already in the market here and few more are on the anvil. But there’s hardly any study on the performance of new genotypes in Vidarbha. ”We don’t yet know whether these varieties will suit the agro-climatic and soil conditions; moreover releasing the second generation Bt (Bollguard II) for a wide spread commercial use is surely disastrous,” says a senior CICR scientist, speaking under condition of anonymity. He also warns that it is only a matter of time before the widespread emergence of resistance in bollworms. ”It has already happened in Gujarat, where bollworms have developed resistance to Bt.”

Peasants’ confusion is only being compounded by the introduction of new varieties this season. As companies compete for greater market share, they are promoting their brands fiercely and relentlessly, and farmers are being exposed to greater risks.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  NAGPUR BENCH OF HC TAKES SERIOUS NOTE ON BOUNCING OF VIDARBHA FARMER WIDOW'S CHEQUE	

SOURCE: The Siasat Daily, India

AUTHOR: Pervez Bari

URL:    http://www.siasat.com/english/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=193957&Itemid=59&cattitle=India

DATE:   14.07.2007

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NAGPUR BENCH OF HC TAKES SERIOUS NOTE ON BOUNCING OF VIDARBHA FARMER WIDOW'S CHEQUE	

Bhopal, July 14 (Pervez Bari): Taking a serious cognizance of continued farmers suicides and failure of various packages announced for the crisis ridden Vidarbha farmers of Maharashtra state, the Nagpur Division Bench of Bombay High Court at Nagpur expressed great concern about the matter and came down heavily on the style and approach of the State Govt. in tackling the issue.The High Court Bench has asked to furnish every details of the farmers package schemes and its implementation within three weeks, a Press release issued by Santosh Netam, Media Incharge of the Nagpur-based Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, (VJAS), said.

While hearing the Public Interest Litigation, (PIL), filed by VJAS president Kishore Tiwari, today the Division Bench headed by Justice Dilip Sinha and Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari expressed its great concern and displeasure on the entire crisis and observed that the farmers suicides are the matter of serious concern to the society and the Court but the State seems to be little serious about the issue.

ll has now crossed 1800 in last two years. Though the Writ Petition was filed by the petitioner way back in the month of February, 2006, the respondents State Officials have failed to obey the orders passed by High-Court from time to time. The plight of the farmers is continually deteriorating and farmers suicides are reported from every crisis-ridden district of Vidarbha, the release claimed.

The bouncing of cheque of Rs.10,000/- issued from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to a farmer’s widow is the classic example of how casually the Maharashtra State Government is functioning.

The petitioner has made Chief Secretary of Maharashtra State and other top officials including Principal Secretary,Home Affairs; Principal Secretary, Agriculture; Principal Secretary, Marketing; Secretary Co-operation, Commissioner of Agriculture at Pune, Director General of Police, Divisional Commissioners of Revenue Divisions at Amravati & Nagpur, Director General of Specially Formed Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawlamban Mission having office at Amravati and National Commission for Farmers, appointed by the Union Ministry of Agriculture headed by Sharad Pawar at New Delhi as respondents.

The prayers made in the PIL in the interest of cotton cultivating farmers community at large are as under –

i) To take cognizance of the plight of poor families of farmers who were compelled to commit suicide due to wrongful policies of the State;

ii) To order necessary probe / enquiry in the role of State Officers in promoting Bt. Cotton which resulted in the failure of crop;

iii) To direct investigation through CBI, Vigilance Commission, CID or any other independent agency in the matter of sale of bogus and duplicate Bt. Cotton seeds by the companies and involvement of the officials of the State in inducing the poor farmers for cultivating the Bt. Cotton;

iv) To order prosecution of the guilty officials for the offences punishable under Sections 306, 409, 420 & 120 (B) of Indian Penal Code, (IPC), and their over acts causing series of suicides of farmers;

v) To direct the Maharashtra State Government to compensate the families of the farmers who were compelled to commit suicide due to the negligence of the State by providing Rs. 5,00,000/- each without any disparity or choose & pick policy;

vi) To direct the State to take immediate measures for granting financial assistance to the Cotton growing farmers and to take further steps to protect the farmers from the coercive recovery at the hands of banks and private money lenders;

vii) To direct the State to place Action Taken Report on the recommendations of Swaminathan Committee; viii) To direct the State to take appropriate action against the Bt. Cotton Seeds companies for compensating the poor farmers who died untimely

ix) Other reliefs which High Court may find suitable in the facts and circumstances

x) To issue writ, orders, directions to the respondents to frame long term policies and its timely implementation and review in the interest of farmers so that they can lead a graceful, respectful and dignified life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The petition will be taken up for further hearing after three weeks at the Nagpur Bench of the Mumbai High Court. Advocate Firdos Mirza & Advocate Vinod Tiwari appeared for the petitioner and State was represented by Asstt. Govt. Pleader Mrs. Bharati Dangre.

It may be pointed out here that it was an embarrassment for the Vilasarao Deshmukh-led Maharashtra Government when a cheque issued by the Yavatmal district collectorate was bounced owing to lack of adequate balance in the account last fortnight. Taking the serious note of the lapse on the part of the district administration, the chief minister even ordered a probe into the incident last week.

The Yavatmal district administration had issued a cheque of Rs. 10,000 in the name of one Vandana Shende, whose husband Anil had committed suicide in August last year. Vandana was shocked and surprised when the district Central Cooperative Bank dishnoured the cheque because of paucity of funds in the concerned account of district administration.

Several debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha, forcing the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh government to announce a special economic package of Rs. 3750-crore last year and a sum of Rs. 1500-crore by the Maharashtra Government to bail out the crisis-ridden farmers.

It may be recalled here that on June 13, 2006, due to negligent and casual approach of the Maharashtra state and its bureaucrats to comply with the earlier orders passed by the High Court, by its order the Division Bench of the High Court had imposed cost of Rs. 1,000/- each to be recovered from the Chief Secretary and 12 other top I.A.S. officers of the ranks of Principal Secretary, Secretaries, Divisional Commissioners and Director General of Police to be paid within two weeks. In case of non-payment of the cost the reply-affidavit would not be considered, the order had said, and the High Court Bench would proceed to pass further orders on the prayer made by the PIL. petitioner Kishore Tiwari. However, after unconditional apology expressed by the Chief Secretary and other top bureaucrats, the High-Court had pardoned and the order of imposition of cost of Rs.1000/- each was modified after the prayer made by the Advocate General of Maharashtra State, who had to rush Nagpur for pleading before the Court in this Writ Petition, the release stated.


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