This scam will never hit the headlines. It will never be the subject of a joint Parliamentary committee nor will it ever result in Parliament being blocked for days together.
It doesn’t matter if hundreds of poor people die and millions of livelihoods are destroyed. This is a just the collateral damage that the country must live with if it has to have economic growth. It is worse than any scam we have heard about. And it involves some brilliant minds — our economists and scientists.
As a nation we feel outraged if a patient dies due to a doctor’s neglect. We force the government to imprison the engineer when a bridge collapses. But we remain quiet when hundreds of people die from pesticides poisoning. For the past few weeks, Kerala is witnessing an unprecedented uproar over a human disaster that a potent chemical pesticide — Endosulfan — has caused. Approved for use in cashewnut plantations, the pesticide has killed close to 1,000 people, chronically disabled more than 10,000 inhabitants with neurological disorders, paralysis and deformities, but is still being pushed for commercial application. Endosulfan was considered safe for humans and the environment by the Kerala Agricultural University and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).
This reminds one of the Agent Orange gas used by the Americans to defoliate forest covers in the Vietnam War. Forty years after the war ended, an estimated 500,000 were poisoned to death, and another 650,000 continue to suffer from an array of baffling chronic diseases. Like Endosulfan, Agent Orange, too, was considered safe for humans. And 40 years later, none of the scientists who approved it have been persecuted nor has the company that manufactured and marketed Agent Orange been hauled up for war crimes.
This is the accepted story of the shameful nexus between politics, industry, economists and scientists to slowly poison the current and the future generations; to usurp the natural resources in the name of development, bringing the world close to a tripping point; and to destroy millions of livelihoods in the name of free trade. While engineers and doctors are often brought to book under consumer laws, there is no legal mechanism that holds erring economists and scientists accountable.
It all begins when economic policies and scientific decisions are taken in a ‘closed and opaque’ manner. These policies are often designed to suit the commercial interests of particular companies.
Take the case of the process to justify the approval for FDI in multi-brand retail. The ministry of commerce is working overtime to tailor reports/studies in order to give an impression that big retail will be beneficial for the farmers as well as the consumers.
In reality, it is a massive cover-up operation that involves some research institutes as well as pliable experts who are picked to be part of the expert committees. The fact that big retail has not helped farmers and has instead led to the exit of farmers, is simply ignored. Numerous US studies that clearly show how the big retail eats into the livelihood of small shopkeepers and hawkers, exacerbating poverty, are very conveniently pushed under the carpet.
And if you think scientists are holy cows, think again. Over years, scientists have, with exception, turned out to be more corrupt than the politicians. Institutionalisation of corruption in science, technology and economics has already taken a massive human toll.
If you thought Niira Radia was the only successful corporate lobbyist, you just have to trace the influence International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has on Indian agricultural science and you are left wondering whether the biotechnology lobbying group is designing farm research in India. Private banks and consultancy firms like Mckinsey & Co are increasingly writing the farm and health policies for India.
Public sector science is now becoming subservient to private interests. Take the case of the Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops prepared by the top six academies — the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Submitted in September 2010, the report has been criticised for plagiarism and accused of blatantly siding with the commercial interests of the biotechnology industry.
That the top six distinguished science academies produce a report that is but a cheap public relation exercise on behalf of the biotechnology industry cannot be pardoned. It is time to stem the rot. We need to take a broom to clean the mess that has built up in the name of science and economics. This scam is much bigger than what the TV channels are telling us. And it involves human lives.
Source: Scammed in the name of economic growth and science. DNA, Mumbai, Dec 24, 2010. http://bit.ly/gx63ZE