Archive for June 2014
The new NDA government has within six weeks of its formation made its direction clear. It will seek the steady weakening of laws that have protected labour and will encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) into as many sectors of the economy as possible.
Such unilateral dismantling of workers’ rights and of self-reliance cannot be tolerated. Prime minister Narendra Modi, finance minister (and defence) Arun Jaitley, commerce minister Nirmala Seetharaman, home minister Rajnath Singh, rural development (and transport) minister Nitin Gadkari, urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu, agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh, labour minister Narendra Singh Tomar and their cabinet and ministerial colleagues are not in office as representatives of Indian companies and industry associations, nor are they in office as representatives of multi-national corporations and the finance industry.
But judging from their statements in so short a time, they need a strong reminder that it is the people – worker and kisan, householder and elderly – whom they serve. Where will that strong reminder come from?
The first such reminder has already been issued, forcefully, during a meeting between the central trade unions and labour minister Tomar on 2014 June 24. The minister of state for labour Vishnudeo Sai, the labour secretary, chief labour commissioner, Central Provident Fund Commissioner, finance commissioner, ESIC and other labour department officials also heard the demands and points of view of the central trade unions.
What has been asked for is what the central unions call “a directional change in approach and policy so that the legitimate interests of working people who produce wealth for the nation, resources for the exchequer and also profit for the employers are protected and taken care of and also the interests of the national economy and the national assets and resources are harnessed for the benefit of the majority of the populace”. This has become all the more urgent and necessary as the central govt (which is urging state governments to follow suit) is attempting to hurry major amendments to a number of principal labour statutes including the Factories Act, the Minimum Wages Act and the Child Labour Act.
That it is necessary for such a change to be demanded (yet again, these have been central to successive sessions of the last few Indian Labour Conferences, the 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 45th) demonstrates how strong a hold Indian industry and their foreign collaborators have on the political class, regardless of the public persuasion of the members of that political class.
The trade unions had systematically arrayed before these government worthies the reasons for their opposition to the policy of opening up all sectors to FDI, to the reckless deregulation of strategic sectors and natural resources of the economy including the financial sector, to the aggressive disinvestment of public sector units and the privatisation of crucial public utility services. There were representatives from Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre for Indian Trade Unions, All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Committee, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, United Trade Union Congress, Labour Progressive Federation and Self-Employed Women’s Association (BMS, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, AICCTU, UTUC, LPF, SEWA).
The trade union representatives presented the incontrovertible evidence – a presentation of great import but largely ignored by the urban-centric broadcast and television media – of the anti-labour and anti-people policies that have been the hallmark of UPA1 and UPA2, and which given their current orientation, will continue to be a primary characteristic of the new NDA government. These are:
* patronisation of deliberate default in tax payment by companies
* the violation of all basic labour laws on (1) minimum wages (2) social security (3) trade union rights (4) safety in workplaces (5) contractual work
* reckless opening of strategic and sensitive sectors of the national economies including public utilities for exploitation by foreign companies and speculators
The same destructive set of policies has been followed by the previous Congress-led government in the name of promoting employment, generating investment from the private sector (both domestic and foreign), all of which has combined to condemn the working class, rural and urban labour, farmers and the informal sector alike to impoverishment as India is wracked by an ever-deepening economic crisis.
We now have rain data for three complete weeks from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and for all the districts that have reported the progress of the monsoon.
The overall picture remains grim. In the third week of the monsoon the number of districts that reported normal rains in that week (-19% to +19% of the average) is only 74. No rain (-100%) was reported by 71 districts Scanty rain (-99% to -60%) was reported by 221 districts, deficient rain (-59% to -20%) was reported by 125 districts, excess rain (+20% and more) was reported by 129 districts, and there was no data from 21 districts.
The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, of the Ministry of Agriculture, has already issued its guidance to states on the contingency plans to be followed for a delayed monsoon. That is why it is important to make available the district-level normals and rainfall departures – the meteorological sub-divisions are too broad for such analysis and are irrelevant to any contingency plans and remedial work.
By end-June, when the IMD updates its outlook for the rest of monsoon 2014, we expect more detailed assessments of the districts to be publicly available – the agromet (agricultural meteorology section) already provides this to the states, with state agriculture departments given the responsibility of ensuring that the advice – which is especially important for farmers to plan the sowing of crop staples – reaches every panchayat.
Who can you turn to? It’s easier to list those whom you shouldn’t turn to, the top rankers being the country’s press and television wallahs, followed at a not respectable distance by academic commentators, then come the government blokes and bureaucrats (some of whom do know the difference between isobars and salad bars, I’ll give them that). Lurking behind this cacophonous mob are the boffins of the IMD and its associated scientific chapters, a number of whom have got their sums right, but who aren’t given the space and encouragement to tell the great Bharatiya public what said public is yearning to hear simply because regulations forbid, just like it was in 1982, 1957, whenever.
As I may have mentioned before, this is Not A Good Thing. It has taken about a decade of mission mode tutoring (how the UPA bureaucrats loved that phrase, mission mode) to get the media wallahs to see the difference between weather and climate. A few may even have learned to read a wet bulb thermometer and puzzle their way through precipitation charts.
But overall, the profusion of android apps that profess to show cool graphics of clouds with lightning bolts erupting topside so that our humble ‘kisans’ know when it’s going to rain (i.e., by looking down at their screens instead of up at the sky) has not helped the Bharatiya public make more sense of less rain. We have squadrons of Insats and Kalpanas buzzing around the globe beaming pictures from the infra-red to the infra dig back home, every 60 or 90 minutes, busy enough to crash a flickr photo server, but the knowledge that said public can sift from it is sparse, rather like the rainfall over Barmer, Bikaner and Ajmer.
And so it goes, with the waiting for rain replacing with an equal banality waiting for Godot but with a far larger cast of characters, most of them insensible to the greater climatic drama being played out, 30,000 feet overhead, and at the poles, in the vast turquoise swells of the eastern Pacific where a malignant El Nino is brooding, in the Himalayan valleys where crystal zephyrs have been shoved aside by an airborne mat of PM2.5, or to the desiccation that creeps outwards from our towns and cities (7,935 of them, India’s triumphant ‘growth story’) that have enclosed sweeping hectares with cement, asphalt, and the hot foetid belches of factories and air-conditioners. GDP, they have been told, is the great liberator.
And that is why we have in place of the quiet concern of our forefathers in their dhotis, an electronic jumble of shrill alarm. “Weak monsoon intensifies drought like conditions in India” was one such headline, the text beneath finding the most ludicrous connections: “… threat of food inflation and weak rural demand in the first year of the Narendra Modi government”. Naturally, the cheerleaders of a demand-centric world cannot do otherwise.
And likewise with “Weak rains deliver India’s new Modi government its first economic challenge” that desultorily spies impending delays in the “sowing of main crops such as paddy, corn and sugarcane” and which notes mournfully that “about half of all farms lack irrigation systems” and, even worse, that “reservoir levels are only a fourth of last year’s levels”, this last despite the best efforts, ham-handed though they are, by the Central Water Commission to show India (for Bharat knows) that the reservoir levels in the 85 major reservoirs are low, but not much lower at this point in 2014 than they were in 2013. The GDP bullies dislike contrary numbers, and would go cross-eyed were someone to mischievously mention the existence of 4,845 large dams in India (the blue-ribboned 85 included) whose many water levels we don’t in fact know at all.
And similar vapidity from another quarter, which like its peers cloaks ineptitude with what it takes to be appropriate jargon, “The cumulative rainfall across the country has so far been 45 per cent below the Long Period Average (LPA) for 1951-2000” and brandishes even more frightful credentials with “a further breakdown of rain data recorded in different meteorological subdivisions shows that normal rainfall has been recorded in only seven of the 36 regions”. But which sere farmer and her wise daughters consider in their universe such things as meteorological subdivisions, when their world is what Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in 1953 showed us so lambently, is no more than ‘do bigha zamin’?
But still the misreading gathers pace, as vexed fixations upon an existence merely economic chase away plain common-sense. For rains may come or rains may go, but in tractors – for so we are instructed by the agents of hardened merchants – we trust. To wit: “… tractor sales have typically expanded at a double-digit pace in the years when rains have disappointed… In the 11 years between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013, rains fell short by 5% or more on six occasions… In four of those six years, tractor sales grew at a double-digit pace”. Let us then leave behind our cares and go rollicking over the dusty, still dustier now, plains of the Deccan in tractors tooting red.
But a shadow of monsoon yet for Bharat, and at June’s end. It is past time that the prattling ceased and the learning began.
It is difficult to apply the title of ‘a new low’ to the dizzyingly long epic of lies that has emerged from the United States Department of State in the life of a generation. Nonetheless, the statement made recently in Cairo by the current incumbent to the position of US Secretary of State, John Kerry, now ranks as the most recent contender.
Kerry said that the government of the USA is “not responsible” for either the crisis in Libya, or violence in Iraq, where militants of the Al-Qaeda offshoot group ISIS are capturing cities one by one. “The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today,” said Kerry at a press conference.
Just over a generation ago, the CIA is credited with the coining of the term ‘plausible deniability’, which was apparently designed to protect the executive from revealing what they did (or didn’t) know by simply limiting what they did in fact know. What Kerry and his comrades in the topmost echelons of the government of the USA have done is to prove to the rest of the world that they practice a rare form of implausible undeniability.
Kerry – like Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher before him; like Lawrence Eagleburger James Baker, George Schultz, and Alexander Haig before them; and like Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger even earlier – has been schooled in obscuring the truth at home, and inventing noxious unrealities before the rest of the world in the endless American attempt to explain away its warmongering.
The mechanica of the British establishment appear to follow this doctrine, with which Kerry has now proven his mastery, but in fact the British government’s sophistry pre-dates that of the American ruling circles. Lord Palmerston, a nineteenth century politician in that country, advised his peers that Britain had no lasting enemies or allies, only permanent interests. And so for Tony Blair, prime minister of that island when George Bush the younger (assisted by Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney) began their ‘war on terror’, the bloody wave of extremism gripping Iraq is an internal occurrence and was in no way – oh not at all – facilitated by the Western invasion.
The changes that we find in the patterns, trends, intensity and quantity of India’s monsoon now require an overhaul in the way we assess what is satisfactory or not for environmental and human needs. India’s summer monsoon is already late, and where it is late but active it is weak. The indications from the central earth science agencies (including the India Meteorological Department), from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting are that it will be the end of June before the summer monsoon system settles over central India and the western Gangetic plains. Even so, it will be a relief from the searing temperatures but will not assure sowing conditions for farmers and cultivators, nor will it add to the stores of water in major and minor reservoirs.
In this commentary written for India Climate Portal, I have explained why IMD’s hoary top level categorisation of rainfall weekly quantities in the subdivisions must be replaced, both for what they describe and for how frequently they are described. These currently are: ‘normal’ in a subdivision is rainfall that is up to +19% above a given period’s average and down to -19% from that same average; likewise excess is +20% and more, deficient is -20% to -59% and scanty is -60% to -99%. The ‘normals’ are calculated based on the mean weekly rainfall for the period 1951-2000 with monitoring done in 641 districts distributed amongst the 36 meteorological subdivisions.
By categorising rainfall ‘normals’ and departures from ‘normal’ to become more administratively impelling – these proposed corrections also simplify the interpretations possible for rainfall above and below ‘normals’ – greater awareness and preparedness of administrations, key agencies and citizens to the deficiencies of monsoon can be fostered. For the district tables below therefore, I have re-cast the categories as follows (all based on the long-term average provided by IMD): Normal in a district is +5% to -5%; Deficient 1 is -6% to -20%; Deficient 2 is -21% and more; Excess 1 is +6% to +20%; Excess 2 is +21% and more.
Whereas, for the same second rainfall week the IMD categories were ‘No Rain’ in 80 districts, ‘Scanty’ in 241 districts and ‘Deficient’ in 130 districts, under the proposed revision they will simply be ‘Deficient 2’ with 449 districts – thereby showing dramatically how widespread the conditions of the late and weak monsoon 2014 are – and ‘Deficient 1’ with 36 districts. Please read the rest at India Climate Portal.
There are, as usual, problems with the data. The ‘meat and preparations’ category, the third biggest earner with Rs 27,247 crore, has no quantity figure. Nor does ‘paper/wood products’, the eighth biggest earner (Rs 12,529 crore). Nor do ‘miscellaneous processed items’ (Rs 6,882 crore) or ‘fresh vegetables’ (Rs 5,117 crore).
Here are the top earners by value for 2013-14: Marine Products (Rs 30,617 crore), Rice Basmati (Rs 29,300 crore), Meat and Preparations (Rs 27,247 crore), Cotton Raw Incld. Waste (Rs 22,248 crore), Rice (Other Than Basmati) (Rs 17,493 crore), Oil Meals (Rs 17,034 crore), Spices (Rs 15,981 crore), Paper/Wood Products (Rs 12,529 crore), Guargam Meal (Rs 11,734 crore). These are the earners above Rs 10,000 crore.
Here are the major quantities exported in 2013-14, in thousands of tons: Rice (Other Than Basmati), 7,019; Oil Meals, 6,564; Wheat, 5,560; Other Cereals, 4,609; Rice Basmati, 3,757; Sugar, 2,460; Cotton Raw Incld. Waste, 1,941; Spices, 1,029; Marine Products, 999; Guargam Meal, 602; Castor Oil, 545; Groundnut, 512; Pulses, 343; Sesame Seeds, 257; Coffee, 254; Tea, 248; Tobacco Unmanufactured, 237; Mollases, 212; Cashew, 121.
The sweltering of North India, aggravated by manic urbanisation, just as manic use of personal automobiles, the steady thinning of tree canopies, and small businesses forced to buy diesel generators – in the tens of thousands, each emitting hot fumes that further trap already heated layers of sooty air – is an annual pre-monsoon epic that no-one has the energy to write.
This panel of four maps shows us where India baked during the last week of 2014 May (and now, Delhi has experienced a record its residents did not want). The high temperature belts (top left map), 40-45 Celsius, covered most of central and north-western India (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Gangetic Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi). Minimum temperatures (top right), 20-15 Celsius, are seen in two pockets – south interior Karnataka and in the North-East over Manipur and Mizoram.
These temperature maps may be read with the rainfall for the same period, 2014 May 25-31, to correlate particularly the temperature anomalies (how much higher or lower the normal maxima and minima have departed) with where it has rained. The rainfall map (lower left) shows rain having fallen over south Karnataka, but also north West Bengal and eastern Bihar, coastal Odisha and southern Haryana. These appear to relate to a group of anomalies (lower right): the first being interior Tamil Nadu, north-eastern Karnataka and adjacent Andhra Pradesh; the second being eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjacent Bihar. [You can get the four maps in this zip file.]
What these don’t show, but which the longer range forecast Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (Pune, Maharashtra) has on record, is that monsoon 2014 will not touch northern India until the fourth week of June. Rain-bearing cloud and wind systems will cover, in this forecast, peninsular India by around the 16th or 17th of June, but it will be another week before they deliver some relief to the cemented and asphalted surfaces of the National Capital Territory and its parched surroundings.
These very helpful maps are used by the Pune-based met researchers as part of their monsoon monitoring and forecasting partnership with several international climatoloigcal research institutes, chief amongst them the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the USA through its Climate Prediction Centre.
The Tropmet – as the Pune group is usually called – has bequeathed to us a definition (perhaps for this season only, subject to revision when climate change asserts itself) of monsoon rain that is in part scientific and in part geographic, which I think is a good sign (the Indian Meteorological Department will disagree, but we know better). The faster Tropmet decides to communicate in language appreciated, and understood, by Bharatiya citizens, the more said citizens will find an interest in correcting the misconceptions of scientists.
Tropmet says: “Rainfall within the summer monsoon season is mainly punctuated by the northward propagating monsoon intraseasonal oscillations (MISOs) with timescales of 30-60 days that manifests as spells of heavy rainfall and periods of quiescent rainfall, instead of a continuous deluge.” In the Konkan, we like our continuous deluge and the old-timers would have sixteen names for different sorts of deluge (and an equally rich chest of monsoon nouns for other sorts of rain).
“Baskets used specially by the sower are called generally ora, ori or oriya (sometimes made partly with the fibre of the leaves of the tal palm); also we meet, to the west, chhainti, and to the east chhita (a large one), chhiti (a small one), or dauri. South of the Ganges they are also called in Patna batta (also in Shahabad), daura, or dauri (sometimes made of the culm of the silk grass, andropogon muricatum), in Gaya (also in North-East Tirhut) pathiya (also used for feeding cattle), and in South Munger khanchiya. The only difference amongst all these is that in the case of the daura and dauri the bottom is woven of bamboo slips, like a mat.
“There are likewise several other kinds of baskets, used indiscriminately for this and other domestic and agricultural purposes. Thus, small straw grain-baskets are changeli or changeri, and sometimes dali or daliya, especially towards the east. In Patna and South Munger they are called batri. Another very similar basket (but still smaller) is called very generally maunni or mauniya, also batta in Patna, Gaya and South Munger, and phuluki in East Tirhut. A large open basket made of split twigs of bamboo generally woven up with the fibre of the leaves of the til palm is called tokra, dhaka, dhaki, ora or chainta. A smaller variety is called ganja, tokri, dhakiya.
“When the bottom is very finely woven, so as even to hold water, it is called oraisa. The dhama is an open basket made of rattan. The khaincha or khancha is a large coarse basket made of twigs of cytisus cajan (rahar) or tamarisk (jhau). South of the Ganges we also find deli. A smaller basket of the same kind is known as khanchi (also khanjhi in North-East Tirhut), khanchiya, khacholi, pathuli (Gaya), nonihari (Patna), or (South Bhagalpur) damhariya. The dagra, dagri, also called South of the Ganges daura, dauri, or (South Bhagalpur) dala, is a large shallow basket. These are all made of either bamboo twigs or slips, except the daura or dauri. In Shahabad karui or doki, and north of the Ganges sikahuti or sikauti, is a little basket made of the stalks of the munj grass.
“A broken basket is chhitai, or in Gaya chhatna, or in South Bhagalpur chhitna. The jhampi or jhampiya is a little basket with a lid. It is also called punti or pautiya (being then generally made of munj grass) and petari (made of bamboo or rattan). A larger kind is called jhampa. The lid of all these is called pehani or jhamp. Thaicha or changor, or in Shahabad thaincha or thincha, is a kind of large open basket. Phuldali is a flower-basket, saji is one with a handle. In North-East Tirhut mator is a basket used by betel-growers.”
From ‘Bihar Peasant Life, Being a Discursive Catalogue of the Surroundings of the People of that Province‘, by George A Grierson, printed in 1885 at The Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta.
Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.
The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.
Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.
This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.
That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).
The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.
This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:
* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.