May 31, 2016

When artists stand up for the cause of farmers







I still remember an advertisement on the radio which was quite regular at a time when I was a child. It was an advertisement for a desi ghee brand called Mohan Ghee. "Mohan Ghee kya khaya gaon se nata hi too gaya." (Translated, it meant: After I started consuming Mohan Ghee, my link with the village has gone). At a time when Dalda ghee was easily available in the urban markets, one had to look to the rural areas to get a regular supply of desi ghee.

Mohan ghee is no longer available. But I find the moment a village lad gets educated and lands a job in a mofussil town, his/her connection with the rural areas gets snapped. Over the years I have seen many of them, not all of course, develop a kind of contempt for anything rural. I have heard many successful people blame the rural folk for not being able to emerge out of poverty. They lack the entrepreneurial spirit, are dependent on government doles, and have to blame themselves. This is a common refrain. So when news reports appear about some farmer committing suicide in some part of the country, you can see the urban educated frowning. I receive quite a lot of absurd and stupid reactions when I tweet about a farmer committing suicide. Many feel offended to even talk about it.



Over the years, the disconnect is widening. The back-to-back drought that a large part of India witnessed in 2014-15 and 2015-16 is a classic example of how severe the disconnect is. In my travel to Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, where 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought, you don't get any inkling of how tough it is in the countryside when you walk through Bangalore. If it was not for a court case filed by an activist against the IPL cricket matches in drought-affected Maharashtra, I am sure the mainline media would have simply ignored the drought. The worsening plight of farmers, who inhabit these drought affected regions, has not evoked much sympathy. People generally believe as if it is happening some where far, perhaps in Africa.




Re-establishing the connect is therefore very important. It is time people in the cities are sensatised about the rural life, about the farm crisis, farm suicides and lack of development in the rural areas in general. It is with this objective, Dialogue Highway, a registered trust, organised an #ArtistsForFarmers painting workshop in Chandigarh on a Sunday afternoon (May 29, 2016). The basic objective, as I said earlier, was to bring the tragedy of the farm closer to the people in the cities. The event was therefore organised in a public place, and Chandigarh's famed Sukhna lake is an appropriate location considering a huge turnout expected on the weekends. Seventeen artists from Chandigarh/Punjab/Delhi came together for a painting workshop on the theme of farm crisis. They painted for some 4 to 5 hours, and during this time the crowd mingled with them, and a strong contingent of Punjab farmers was at hand as an act of solidarity. The interest and curiosity that ordinary people demonstrated showed that art is perhaps one powerful tool to provide the missing link. The response was overwhelming indeed.

The #ArtistsForFarmers event was the first of its kind in the country. I am very hopeful that it will now become a regular event across the country. Activities like this are very crucial to bridge the gap that exists between rural-urban India. People need to know that how tough it is becoming for the farmer who provides us our basic need -- food. The annadata is in crisis and the nation cannot remain absolved from the kind of economic hardship he is faced with.



 

     

May 23, 2016

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault too



Sizzling at 51 degrees celsius, Phalodi, a small town in Rajasthan, has set the country’s new all-time record for hottest temperature. In any case April turns out to be the hottest month ever, 7 th month in a row when temperatures have exceeded what had been the highest recorded so far. This is not a record to be proud of but is an indication of how economic growth has created an atmosphere where chopping a tree does not evoke any concern.

The rise in temperatures is indirectly proportionate to the decimation of green cover. The more the chopping of trees, the higher is the temperature. I have never felt what it is like to be in 51 degrees but have lived in northwest areas which have often exceeded temperature hikes of 47 degrees. Even in such temperature extremes, the moment I pass through a cluster of trees a wave of relatively cold breeze is such a great feeling. The temperature difference is striking. At least, a difference of 2 to 3 degrees between a dense tree shade and what you feel when you are on a highway. Even in a concrete jungle like New Delhi, where the scorching temperature exceeding 47 degrees is biting enough, imagine the soothing effect if an increased green cover had brought the average temperature down by 3 to 4 degrees.

Don’t blame it on global warming; blame yourself for the rising heat. You kept quiet when trees were being chopped mercilessly.

In a desperate race to achieve a higher growth rate, chopping a tree does not anymore evoke any reaction. It is considered an inevitable price that has to be paid for development. Ruthless chopping of trees in metros and elsewhere to pave way for infrastructure projects, expansion of highways from two-lane to four lane, and from four-lane to six-lane, and the disappearing of water bodies and cutting down of trees for residential complexes has led to what is called as urban ‘heat island’ effect. Cities and towns are increasingly becoming ‘heat islands’. The higher the concentration of concrete buildings/structures, the more is the ability to absorb solar radiation.

The National Green Tribunal has recently served a notice to Punjab government for the axing of 96,000 trees to widen a 200-km long road stretch between Zirakpur and Bathinda. But to my dismay I haven’t seen any form of public protests or citizens’ outrage over such a large scale felling of trees. We have quietly accepted that trees have to be axed for the sake of development. As I have often said that if a tree is standing, the GDP does not go up but if you chop down a tree, the GDP goes up. Now it is our choice whether you want a higher GDP by cutting down trees or you want a kind of development where trees become part of sustainable living.

The Neem Foundation tells us that temperature below a fully grown neem tree is often 10 degrees less. I read an interesting article in The New Indian Express (April 24, 2016) where the author tells us the difference in temperature between green patches and the city centre in several cities. In Bangalore for instance the difference in temperature prevailing at the GKVK Agricultural University and just outside the campus is four degrees. Even when the temperature in the Majestic bus stand was 35 to 36 degrees, it was around 32 degrees in a nearby park. 

According to a study by Prof T V Ramchandra and his team of the Energy & Wetlands Research Group Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore city has seen a rapid expansion in urban growth. In 2012, the researchers estimated that the built-up area had grown by a whopping 584 per cent over the preceding four decades. This obviously came at a heavy price. Vegetation cover declined by 66 per cent and 74 per cent of the water bodies disappeared. Bangalore no longer carries the same charm as it used to earlier. I have heard many residents complain of the haphazard growth. But then who cares. After all, it is urbanization that the mainline economists and planners are always pushing for. People are being made to believe that concrete jungles are the future, if they have to develop.

IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism group, has analysed the IISc study in a form that can be easily understood. Accordingly, four major cities in the country have seen a rapid decimation of its green cover. Bhopal tree cover fell from 66 per cent to 22 per cent in the past 22 years. Now this is something too serious to worry about. Instead, by 2018, which means another three years, the green cover in Bhopal will come down to 11 per cent. You can surely call it a sign of growth but don’t complain when the temperatures soar to record breaking levels. Ahmedabad has only 24 per cent of its green cover left, coming down from 46 per cent in the past two decades. But hold your breath. If you are living in Ahmedabad or plan to translocate to this city, think again. By 2030, Ahmedabad will be left with only 3 per cent of its green cover. Kolkata too will be left with a green cover of 3.7 per cent by the year 2030, and Hyderabad will have only 1.84 per cent of its tree cover left by the year 2024, which is not far away. The rate of speedy urbanization is clearly 
leading to a massive erosion of what is called as green lungs of a city. The rise in temperature is therefore a natural outcome.

The combined effect of urbanization is what is leading to soaring temperatures. Considering that urbanization is the easiest way to enhance GDP growth, I see no reason why people should be complaining. You asked for it. #

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault. ABPLive.in May 22, 2016
http://linkis.com/www.abplive.in/blog/HD1fy

May 16, 2016

When stock markets crash, Finance Minister is on his toes; And when onion/tomato prices crash ....


An angry farmers dumps onions onto a street in Gujarat. 

This is a story which rarely gets to the front page headlines. This is a story which does not bring visibly angry TV anchors shout at the ruling party spokespersons for the government’s failure to bring down the soaring prices. This is a story of dried tears, when farmers in distress are left with
only a Hobson choice – to throw away their produce in anger on the roads.

First the story of tomato. Prices of tomato had crashed across the country – from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra, to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Reports Financial Express (April 2, 2016): “A bumper tomato crop has led to a fall in the prices of tomato across Nashik and Pune districts in Maharashtra leading to despair among farmers who resorted to dumping the commodity on the roads in protest.” The Hans India published from Hyderabad (Feb 16, 2016) said: “Tomato growers in the Nalgonda district are in distress as prices have plummeted to as low as less than Rs 3 per kg due to a glut in arrivals.” If you noticed, the two news reports are spread over a three month period -- February to April – when the tomato crop hits the market in central and south India.

If you think 2016 has been an unusually bad year for tomato farmers when over-production of tomato led to an unprecedented glut, hold your breath. The story is the same in the previous five years – 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Let’s first look at a news report from The Hindu (Aug 13, 2015):
Price drop – angry farmers throw away tomatoes. This report was Chikkamagaluru town in Karnataka. A year earlier, in 2014, The Hindu had reported: Crash in tomato prices comes as a shock to farmers ... while farmers in the villages of Tumkur district (in Karnataka) are getting 60 to 80 paise per kg of tomato, consumers in the city are buying it for around Rs 10 per kg. Another report in The Times of India (Oct 30, 2014) stated: Tomato prices have dropped to Rs 2 per kg from Rs 40 per kg in the Nashik (in Maharashtra) wholesale market over the past few days, triggering speculation of a state-wide cascading effect.

Remember the stock markets crash in August 2015 when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the market nerves by saying the government is keeping a close tab, and attributed the crash to global factors. He held a press conference during the day and set up a group to monitor the developments. But when it comes to farmers, and that too when prices have been crashing year after year, I have never seen the Finance Minister step out to help the farmers in distress.

Coming back to tomato prices, I am aware that tomato is not a crop that has the capability to bring down an elected government but that is no reason to remain indifferent to farmer’s sufferings. The hard work a farmer puts in cultivating tomatoes gets ruined by an unexpected crash in prices. Economists may call it as an outcome of supply and demand situation but the question that needs to be asked is where is the fault of farmers who invested in tomato cultivation? This year, a large number of farmers in the tomato growing belt – extending to 10,000 hectares – in Bemetera district
of Chhattisgarh had reportedly left the tomato crop unharvested as it was not even worth it to spend money on plucking and packaging. The story of tomato price debacle was followed by a crash in the prices of onions.

After three tumultuous years when onion retail prices literally shot through the roof forcing the government, following a media outcry, to take a number of steps to bring down the prices, there is no one this year to wipe the tears of the farming community. Even an overtly alert media, which starts screaming every time onion market prices go up by 25 to 30 per cent remained conspicuously quiet when it came to onion prices dropping to as low as 30 paise a kg. The plight of onion farmers wasn’t enough to shake up the media, which otherwise remains hyper-sensitive to anything related to onion prices.

As early as in February, reports of onion prices on the downslide had started appearing. In Feb, The Times of India reported: “The average wholesale onion prices fell to a two-year low of Rs 700 a quintal at the markets of Nashik due to excess production. Prices had been steadily falling for a week now, heightening worries of farmers who cannot hold on to this perishable commodity till prices stabilize.” On April 13, India Today stated that onion prices had crashed to 30 paise a kg in Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. And a few days back, on May 13, this Time of India had a more heart touching report: “Ravindra Madhikar is yet to get over the shock of earning only Rs 175 after selling 450 kg of small onions in the Lasur wholesale market. “I used to wonder why farmers take the drastic decision of ending their lives. But after Wednesday’s deal, I am also feeling suicidal.” Madhikar is an onion producer in his early thirties from Gangapur taluka of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra.

I can understand that this year onion is not bringing tears in the eyes of urban consumers but is that what the supply demand equation is all about? If the consumers get hit the media goes on an overdrive but when onion farmers suffer the media remains quiet. While this urban media bias is worrying the resulting indifference by the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs remains baffling. A year before, in May 2015, the government had provided a corpus of Rs 500-crore for setting up a Price Stabilization Fund to support market interventions for price control of perishable agri-horticultural commodities during 2015-2017, I didn’t see any initiative to help the farmers in distress.

Since the Price Stabilization Fund is initially aimed at undertaking price control operations for onions and potatoes, I thought the crash in onion prices was a fit case to help onion farmers to be paid the difference between the selling price and the market price. But I soon realized this is not the intended objective of the Price Stabilization Fund. It’s only objective is to procure onions directly from farmers or farmers organizations at the farm gate or mandi levels at the time when inflation is inching upwards so as to make it available cheaper to the consumers. And what about the organised retail trade like Reliance Fresh and Easy Day? Didn't they promise to remove middlemen? If this was true, Reliance Fresh should have been selling onions at Re 1 to Rs 2 in their stores. After all, with middlemen gone, and farmers selling at 50 paise per kg, the proce advantage should have been passed on to consumers. But it didn't happen. Only to show what i have been saying for long. The organised retail only replaces one set of middlemen with another.

Whether it is the organised retail or the indifferent government, when the prices crash, farmers are left alone so as to allow them to quietly wipe their tears. #

Let the farmers cry. No one is willing to wipe their tears. ABPLve.in May 15, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/let-the-farmers-cry-no-one-is-willing-to-wipe-their-tears 


May 9, 2016

Farmer suicides: Have the economists failed farmers?


Agricultural economists have always been for raising crop productivity to enhance farm incomes. I have seen mainline economists invariably blaming low crop productivity to be the reason behind the continuing agrarian distress. We are often told that in an era of globalization, farmers can only survive if they become globally competitive. Those who are not able to match the higher crop yields in countries like America or China are left with no option but to commit suicide.
For nearly four decades now, I have heard economists repeat the same prescription year after year – use technology to raise productivity, reduce cost of production, go for crop diversification, improve irrigation efficiency – per drop more crop and shift to electronic trading to bypass the hoard of middlemen who squeeze farmers income. Listening to all these suggestions most people genuinely believe that the agrarian crisis is primarily the doing of farmers.
There is no denying that all the suggestions to prop up agriculture are definitely required but that's not the end of it. Keeping them deliberately impoverished by denying them their due return and then expect them to provide us cheaper food year after year and still make a decent living has certainly been too much of an imagination. This is in reality a grave injustice with Indian farmers. And let me make it clear. Farmers in United States/European Union are well off not because of higher productivity but because of huge subsidy, including direct income support, they receive. In the US for instance, as per the Farm Bill 2014, agriculture will get a massive federal support of $ 962 billion in the next ten years.
In the past 20 years, an estimated 3.2 lakh farmers have committed suicide with 42 suicides on an average in a year. Unseasonal rains, hailstorm in the rabi season followed by a drought in the summer months had exacerbated the farm crisis in 2015 as a result of which an unprecedented spurt in farm suicides was witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra. Consequently, the annual death rate on the farm in 2015 had gone up to 52.
Punjab is the latest to emerge as a farming graveyard. In 2015, as many as 449 farmers had committed suicide. This year, till March 11, as per information laid in Parliament, 56 farmers had ended their lives in Punjab, which was just a shade less than Maharashtra. Punjab, the food bowl, has now the second highest rate of farmer suicides in the country. If lack of irrigation and low crop productivity is the reason why farmers are being driven to despair than how come a spate of farm suicides should continue to rock a progressive state like Punjab?
This is where the entire prescription being doled out for improving farm incomes goes wrong. Agricultural economists have so far blamed farmers. But I wonder whether it is farmers who have failed or is it agricultural economists who have failed farmers. It is their recommendations/analysis that are eventually taken up by policy makers. Are faulty recommendations responsible for faulty policies? 
In a state which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the yields match international standards I see no reason why farmers should be committing suicide. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat stands at 4,500 kg/hectare which matches the wheat yield in America. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000 kg/hectare, quite close to paddy productivity in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation why Punjab farmer should be taking to suicide?
If you are still not convinced, here is a study undertaken by Prof H S Shergill of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh. He has compared Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanization, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity as the matrix. Accordingly, the number of tractors per 1,000 hectares in Punjab stands at 122 compared to 22 in US, 76 in UK and 65 in Germany. As far as fertilizer use is concerned Punjab tops the chart with 449 kg/hectare per year compared to 103 kg in US, 208 kg in UK and 278 kg in Japan. Irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab which is much above 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, and 35.0 per cent in Japan.
Let’s look at the crop yield now. Punjab has the highest annual per hectare productivity of cereal crops (like wheat, rice and maize) with 7,633 kg. With all the crop matrix in its favour, Punjab leads the productivity chart leaving behind US (7,238 kg), UK (7,008 kg), France (7,460 kg) and 5,920 kg in Japan. If raising productivity is the major factor I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be committing suicide. But the fact that economists don’t want to acknowledge is that it is actually the low price that farmers being deliberately paid that is the primary reason for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails.
The procurement price of wheat in 1970 was Rs 76/quintal. In 2015, MSP for wheat was fixed at Rs 1,450 per quintal. This is an increase by 19 times over a period of 45 years. Compare this with the increase in incomes of various other sections in the same period. The jump in salaries of government employees (just the basic salary plus DA) in the same period has been 120 to 150 times; the increase in salaries of college/university teachers is 150 to 170 times; of school teachers in the range of 280 to 320 times. So much so, in the 7th Pay Commission, the salary of a chaprasi has been fixed at Rs 18,000 per month.
At a time when the monthly wages of contract labour has been fixed at Rs 10,000, and states like Haryana are contemplating a monthly wage of Rs 9,000 for unemployed youth for putting in 100 hours of work every month, the average monthly income for farmers in Punjab, who are no less efficient and productive than farmers anywhere in the developed world, stands much lower. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) the net return for wheat and rice in Punjab, the dominating cropping pattern, is about Rs 3,000 per hectare. Therefore the question that needs to be asked is how come with a productivity level higher than in America, income of Punjab farmers is a pittance?
This is in reality not even a living wage. The net return is low because policy makers have intentionally kept the output price low. 
Looking at the salary jumps for other sections of the society, and if I were to go by the minimum yardstick of a 100 times increase in procurement price for the same period, wheat price should be Rs 7,600 per quintal. This is the legitimate price of wheat, which has been denied to farmers. I agree that such a high price for wheat will push food inflation. But then that's not the farmers fault. Why should a farmer be penalised for producing food? Why not procure wheat at Rs 1450/quintal and transfer the remaining Rs 5,500/quintal to his Jan Dhan bank account?
Agricultural economists therefore must acknowledge that the answer lies in correcting the great imbalance in incomes. A parity between farm incomes and incomes of other section of the society has to be maintained. Farmers are dying not because they are in any way less efficient but because they have been denied their legitimate income all these years. 

May 5, 2016

Drought, forest fires and heat wave ... blame the government policies

Forests on fire in Uttarakhand --NDTV pic

At a time when 60 per cent of Maharashtra villages are grappling with a severe drought, quite a significant proportion of people living with drought for the third year in a row, news reports say Maharashtra has fast-tracked key infrastructure projects worth Rs 50,000-crore, most of them in rural areas. Much of the financial outlay is for Mumbai-Nagpur super communication expressway and expansion of the Mumbai-Goa national highway.
In another news report, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has served a notice to Punjab government for axing 96,000 trees for widening the 20-km stretch of Zirakpur-Bathinda highway. As many as 50 per cent of these trees belonging to the species – Sheesham, Neem, Arjuna, Brahma Drek, Melia, Keekar and Eucalyptus – were planted under a Rs 450-crore afforestation project about a decade ago.
These two examples illustrate the absence of environmental protection in the model of economic growth that is being overzealously pursued. I have never understood why policy makers should not be insisting on integrating environment with economic growth. After all, much of the environmental crisis that the country is faced with – a severe drought leading to an acute water shortage afflicting 54-crore people in 10 States, a devastating forest fire in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and a record-breaking heat wave that is already leading to 6 to 8 degree higher temperature than the normal – is man made.
But still I don’t find the Ministry of Surface Transport for example and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change showing any signs of coming together before planning an infrastructure project. If only the speed at which the roads are being dug is accompanied by environmental parameters that do not allow cutting down of a large number of trees beyond a limit probably a significant proportion of the 96,000 trees being axed in Punjab could have been saved. If only the highways and expressways were planned in such a manner that the natural drainage system was least impacted probably flash floods wouldn’t be so rampant.
I don't think the governments care. At a time when wetlands are under severe threat, and the MoEF will publicly convince the nation on the dire need to preserve the water bodies, privately the ministry will not spare any opportunity to dilute the provisions. Business Standard (May 6, 2016) has in a report stated: "In November 2015, the environment ministry drafted rules that would de-link the forest clearance process from the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. The ministry sought exemption from seeking tribal consent for underground mining as well. The tribal affairs ministry, the documents showed, again re-iterated in a meeting in December 2015 that clearance cannot not be given without tribal consent. It noted that in cases where the government had tried to de-link clearance from tribal consent, the projects had landed up in court."

This is happening across the board. Why only blame MoEF, look at how Maharashtra government is trying to usurp tribal's rights over forests. Business Standard (Mar 12, 2016) reports: "The Maharashtra government has finalised regulations to allow it to wrest from tribals the control of the forest trade in goods such as bamboo and tendu leaves, worth thousands of crore annually. This means the government will also manage potentially 80 per cent of community forestlands in the state. The regulations came after the Union tribal affairs ministry’s volte-face on interpreting the Forest Rights Act (FRA)." 

In other words, concerned citizens may go on saying what they want to say, the governments will not learn.   
The compartmentalization of the process of development, wherein the performance of a Ministry is judged by the speed with which it is able to exhaust its budgeted financial allocations with utter disregard for preserving the environment as well as to ensure that minimal damage is done to the ecology and eco-systems is what has primarily led to the present environment debacle. The fast track green clearance being provided by the MoEF for infrastructure projects for instance immediately needs a review. If the objective is to provide speedy clearances with processing for over 2,200 project proposal being done online, the underlying objective is to ignore environmental consequences. I wonder how is it possible for example to review online an infrastructure project proposal that is coming up in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand without having a detailed environmental study.
After the Himalayan Tsunami that struck Uttarakhand in July 2013, I had thought the nation would sit back and draw some lessons. If it were the flash floods of 2013 in Uttarakhand, it is now the forest fires in 2016. That Uttarakhand should be subjected to two harrowing disasters in a short period of time shows how unplanned the process of development has been. The moment you raise the issue of unplanned development, a chorus rises accusing you of being anti-development. Those who stand up to warn are blamed for holding India’s growth story. The MoEF is actually applauded for giving a go-bye to cumbersome environmental clearances. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said when it comes to environmental clearances his Ministry’s green light is always on.
Coming back to the prevailing drought, the India growth story had simply eclipsed the harrowing build-up of drought conditions in Marathwada and Bundelkhand regions. If it were not for the Mumbai High Court’s decision on IPL, the national media wouldn’t have woken up to the tragedy in our own backyards. Unlike floods, drought does not happen suddenly. It has been building up over the years. And yet the media, except for a few honorable exceptions, ignored it. Parliamentarians, as well as the policy makers, only were jolted out of sleep when the Supreme Court came up with a strong indictment. But all this while, as drought had swelled up to epic proportions, India’s growth story had remained intact. It is as if the drought-affected areas were in Africa.
In Bundelkhand, it is the 13th drought year in the past 15 years. In Karnataka, 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought. In Jharkhand, it is the fifth drought year in a row. In Marathwada too, several areas are languishing under drought for the fourth consecutive year. In other words, it has been building up over the years. But still, the economic growth story had remained exclusive. I don’t understand the economic logic of having a network of expressways in Maharashtra when more than 60 per cent of the villages are somehow struggling to survive. Why should infrastructure development only come to mean constructing highways and malls?
Rebuilding a network of traditional water sources, ponds and tanks is also infrastructure development. Recharging ground water in the parched Marathwada and Vidharbha regions is in fact sustainable development. Turning the 64,000 sq kms Marathwada region drought proof is perhaps the biggest infrastructure development that is possible. Changing the sugarcane-based cropping system in Maharashtra, knowing that the 4 per cent area under sugarcane guzzles 71.5 per cent groundwater, to crops which require less water is also development, perhaps more sustainable than what is perceived so far. All this may not immediately enhance raise the GDP numbers but would certainly add on to the well-being of the society at large without inflicting environmental damages. That in true sense is Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #

Part of this article appeared in my ABPLive.in blog. May 6, 2016
Drought, forest fires, heat wave....need to integrate environment with economic growth.
http://www.abplive.in/blog/drought-forest-fires-heat-wave-need-to-integrate-economic-growth-with-environment

Apr 28, 2016

Punjab is the new hotspot for farmer suicides

The shocking incident of an alleged suicide by a farmer, along with that of his mother, when a moneylender along with a police posse arrived at his door to take passion of 2-acres of land he had mortgaged has come at a time when Punjab has gained the dubious distinction of emerging as a farm suicide hotspot.

The recurring tragedy on the farm is happening at a time when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has urged the Supreme Court not to reveal the names of defaulting companies, which have defaulted in repaying loans of at least Rs 500-crore each. “We believe that any act of default without understanding the severity of the issues and if it is put out for public to consume, it may create both a loss of business as well as undue anxiety and panic and therefore, chill business activity,” the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said.

While the Supreme Court has still not made public the list of the rich and the bold, a roaster of defaulting farmers is routinely put on the walls of tehsil premises. Harpal Singh, President of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, and based at Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, says that the farmers list not only carries the names but also a loud warning saying ‘do you know them’ and ‘have you seen them’ as if these farmers who have been unable to pay loans are terrorists.

The deceased farmer from Barnala in Punjab, who ended his life on Monday, was a second generation farmer. His father, who has since expired, had taken a loan of Rs 1.8 lakh from the commission agent in 2002. Like the benefit of doubt shown to the big defaulters, shouldn’t the farmer’s inability to repay the loan amount be similarly ascertained considering the severity of the issue before their names are made public? How is that we have two sets of laws – one for the rich and powerful and another for the poor farmers? How many more farmers need to die before the revenue laws are made uniform?

In Punjab, the food bowl of the country, agrarian distress has been mounting with each passing year. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) debt of private moneylenders and commission agents has witnessed a significant hike in the past 10 years. A survey by Punjabi University, Patiala, published in Jan 2016, has put the outstanding debt at Rs 69,355-crores. Considering the mounting indebtedness and without evaluating the complex reasons for it, I fail to understand how the banks and administration can be so cruel towards the farming community. Most farmers commit suicide unable to bear the humiliation that comes along when public sector banks and arhtiyas seize their assets when they fail to pay back outstanding loan.

This anomaly has not even been addressed in the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2016 – passed by the Punjab Assembly recently.

This brings me to the moot question. After all, why should farmers in the country’s food bowl commit suicide? As per information placed in Parliament on Monday, as many as 56 farmers in Punjab have ended their lives this year, till the date ending Mar 11. The alarming rate of farm suicides has placed Punjab at the second position in the country. Trailing drought-ridden Maharashtra by a whisker, considering that 116 farmers had committed suicide across the country in the same period, the Punjab debacle certainly needs serious re-thinking.

In 2015, 449 farmers had ended their lives. 2015 was a bad agricultural year but the death toll on the farm is in fact worsening with each passing month. This month alone, between April 1 and April 26, 39 farmers have reportedly taken to the gallows. At this rate, I will not be surprised if the death toll this year overtakes last year’s figures. That such a tragic serial death dance is being enacted in a state which is considered to be the most prosperous as far as agriculture is concerned speaks volumes of the neglect, apathy and indifference. The entire fault cannot be passed to the State government. Agricultural scientists and economists too have to admit that they have somehow failed to keep a finger on the dark underbelly of Punjab agriculture. Needless to say there is something terribly going wrong.

I have heard agricultural economists and policy makers often shift the blame to low crop productivity, failure to go for crop diversification and lack of irrigation. In a State which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the per hectare yields of wheat and paddy match international levels I see no reason why then farmers should be dying. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat in Punjab stands at 4,500Kg/hectare which matches the wheat yields in United States. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000Kg/hectare, quite close to the paddy productivity levels in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation available why farmers should be dying?

If you are still not convinced, here is a little more insight into how progressive Punjab farmers are. In a study, Prof H S Shergill, emeritus professor at Panjab University, has compared the Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanisation, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity. The number of tractors per 1,000 hectares is 122 in Punjab compared to 26 in US, 76 in UK, 65 in Germany; fertiliser use is 449Kg/hectare per year which fares rather favourably with 103 Kg in US, 208 Kg in UK, 278 Kg in Japan; irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab compared to 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, 35.0 per cent in Japan; and the cereal yield per hecatre and per year is 7,633 Kg in Punjab, 7,238 Kg in US, 7,460 Kg in France, 7,008 in UK and 5,920 Kg in Japan. Now with such a high level of intensive farming, which is what economists have been asking for, than why are Punjab farmers committing suicide?   

The real question that needs to be asked is whether the economists have failed the farmers? #

Punjab is the new hotspot of farmer suicides. ABPLive.in April 27, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/punjab-is-the-new-hotspot-of-farmer-suicides

Apr 26, 2016

India is on the boil, literally



It has now become even more obvious than before that the world we are living in has changed profoundly in the last five years. Every passing year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. It is just the middle of April but vast tracts of India are reeling under scorching heat with temperatures
zipping past the 40 degrees mark. In 13 States, April temperature is higher by 8 degrees from the average. This will only intensify, as the season warms up.

India is on the boil, literally.

This is just the beginning of the summer months. In the next three months, before the monsoons set in, the heat wave is going to deadly. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that the summer months this year will be warmer than normal across the country in all meteorological sub-divisions of the country. This year, unlike in the past, heat wave conditions are likely to hit more of central and northwestern parts of the country. In fact, this is becoming quite visible with the hills facing very high temperatures.

I don’t know why the IMD uses the word ‘warmer’ to describe sweltering heat conditions but shooting mercury has already taken a death toll of 130. If this is ‘warmer’ by IMD definition, I shudder to think what it would mean if it were to use the word ‘hotter’ instead?

Last year, 1,500 deaths from heat wave were reported from Andhra Pradesh alone.

Now, let us look at the rising graph of mercury. According to NASA, 2015 was the warmest year ever since it began to keep record. But a year earlier, in 2014, the world also lived through the warmest year till then. In other words, mercury has been rising with each passing year. And now, meteorological predictions globally point to a still warmer 2016. Let me add, India is not going to be an exception. The IMD too points to a deadly heat wave in the months ahead. Its predictions shows that “all temperatures – maximum, minimum and mean – for most sub-divisions from northwest India, Kerala from south India and Vidharbha from central India are likely to be above 1 degree C.”

If you thought January was unusually warm this year, let it be known that February was still warmer. Globally, February 2016 was the hottest month known based on the long-term averages drawn. NASA had used the word ‘shocker’ to describe the unprecedented warming it measured for the month of February and warned of a ‘climate emergency’. The average global temperatures in February were higher by 1.35 degree C. In India too, February was unusually warm this year with average temperature hike fluctuating between 1.5 degree and 2 degree.

But March has now turned to be the hottest. As per the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) March has ‘smashed’ all previous records. Data compiled by Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that the March temperature was higher by 1.07 degree, based on an average since 1891. Data released by NASA also shows that March temperatures has beaten the past 100-years record.

We are now in mid-April and I can already feel the average temperatures creeping up. While we can survive, my thoughts go out to the 700 million people reeling under two consecutive years of drought. With wells almost dry and walking on a parched land they will now have to confront an unkindly hot sun. Some reports say wells have dried to a level in Marathwada not seen in past 100 years. Another report tells us that 133 rivers have dried in Jharkhand. To make matters worse, a BBC reports indicated that the government mioght pipe Himalayan water and carry it all the way to the parched lands. After all, this is the surest way to add to GDP !

The relatively well-off in the cities, towns and suburbs have the facility to switch on an air-conditioner or an air-cooler but imagine the plight of majority population who have no other option but to survive under shade, be it at home or under the tree.

Water bodies have dried up. Many studies point to a steep fall in water levels in major reservoirs to the levels that are lowest in a decade. Reports of several rivers drying up are also pouring in, Tungbhadra in Andhra Pradesh being one of them. But while the media remained embroiled in the controversy surrounding IPL matches following the Mumbai High Court directive to shift them outside Maharashtra, the nation has failed to focus on what is clearly a ‘climate emergency’. Even if you are living in a city, you cannot escape the fury of heat wave. In Bangalore, the city broke a 85-year-old record when the temperature crossed 39.2 degrees (on April 25). And as I said earlier, we are still not into May.

What should certainly be more worrying is that each year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. Quoting JMA, a report in The Guardian says: “every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.” The way the temperature is climbing every month, it seems the records will go on tumbling as we step into the future. Is this because of the climate change or not is something for the scientists and policy makers to conclude but as far as I am concerned the climate is already changing.

Can we do something? Yes, we can. There are already a number of stories of hope – of how ordinary people have made efforts and demonstrated the will to make a difference. Just to illustrate. From Anna Hazare’s water harvesting techniques in the famed village of Ralegon Siddhi in Maharashtra to the tiny but forgotten village of Sukho-Majri tucked away in the Shivalik hills in Haryana, such examples are aplenty. This is just one way to minimize the impact. Several other alternatives and solutions have also been prescribed.

It’s therefore high time to take a fresh look at what development means. Policy planning must shift to address the emerging issues linked to human survival at times of worsening climate. I am not sure whether the two-years of back-to- back drought followed by an unprecedented heat wave have given any jolt to policy planners. We seem to be simply waiting for a normal monsoon to provide a succor, and wash away the dark realities. #

India is on a boil, literally. ABPLive.in April 16, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/india-is-on-the-boil-literally