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Posts Tagged ‘Bt brinjal

Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander

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Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, has accused non-government organisations and citizens’ groups in the country opposed to nuclear power as serving a foreign agenda. Singh said this recently referring to the steadfast opposition to the two new 1,000-MW nuclear reactors proposed to be built in Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu (southern India) with Russian help. The first of these reactors was to be commissioned in December 2011 while the second was to follow six months later. The continuing local protests since August 2011 – supported by dozens of NGOs and voluntary groups all over India – have halted the project.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Cartoon by Saurabh Singh / India Today

Singh’s vilification of the protesting NGOs did not come as part of a speech at home or an aside to the Indian media – it was part of an interview conducted with him by the US magazine Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is therefore worth understanding the deeper context in which Singh expressed his frustration over public opposition to his government’s dangerous nuclear power plans.

At the Indian Science Congress held in 2012 January, Singh talked about increasing the R&D budget in India from 1% of GDP to 2% by the end of the Twelfth Five Year Plan period (that is, 2017 March). In the USA, this is seen as being equivalent to a rise from US$ 3 billion last year to US $8 billion in 2017. He specifically mentioned the increasing contribution of private sector funding that will make this possible. The increase is meant to be used for the creation of elite research institutions (which will help bring expatriate Indian scientists home, mainly from the USA), to enrich science education, and equip smart new laboratories.

According to the journal Science, included in this push is South Asia’s first biosafety level–4 lab for handling the most dangerous pathogens. Over the next 5 years, an estimated US $1.2 billion of public money will be used to set up and run a new National Science and Engineering Research Board. Modelled upon the National Science Foundation of the USA, the board will fund competitive grants.

For all the fawning that has been done over the “scholar-prime minister” who “aims for inclusive development”, Singh’s government is anything but inclusive. During the second term of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, concerned Indian publics have demanded a universal entitlement to food under a food security act – and have been denied. They have demanded accountability from elected representatives – and are being denied. They have demanded local right to accept or reject industrial and urban development, which is part of Constitutional provisions and is an essential part of the village self-governance framework – and are being systematically denied all over India but especially in the mineral-rich regions. They have agitated against steadily rising food prices and fuel prices with some rural households having to spend over 65% of their income on food – and been rewarded for annual food inflation rates of over 10%.

Singh and his ministers and his government have at the same time permitted multinational retail food chains to begin business in India, over the considered opposition by tens of thousands of small traders. Singh and his ministers and his government have opened up the health, insurance and banking sectors to multinationals, guaranteeing thereby the demise of the public sector institutions which served this sector since India’s independence in 1947. The prime minister of India has complained about what he dreams is “foreign” interference in his nuclear plans – while his government’s consorting with foreign carpetbaggers of every description is wrecking the futures of millions of poor households in India.

And that is not all. In ‘Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India’ the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (distributed on 28 February 2012) has said:

“There is no foreign country or agency or money involved in this classic people’s struggle to defend our right to life and livelihood. Our fishermen, farmers, workers and women make small voluntary donations in cash and kind to sustain our simple Gandhian struggle. Our needs are very few and expenses much less. We only provide safe drinking water to the hunger strikers and visitors. People from all over Tamil Nadu (and sometimes from other parts of India) come on their own arranging their own transportation. For our own occasional travel, we hire local taxis. Instead of understanding the people’s genuine feelings and fulfilling our demands, the government has foisted serious cases of ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war on the Indian state’ on the leaders of our movement. There are as many as 180-200 cases on us. There have been police harassment, intelligence officers’ stalking, concocted news reports in the pro-government media, abuse of our family members, hate mail, death threats and even physical attack.”

[Read the full Open Letter here, also the read the Citizens’ Statement Against Prime Minister’s Malicious Comment on Koodankulam Struggle]

Atomic energy and nuclear power plants, sites, institutes and agencies in India. Source: Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India

Here is a selection of press reports on the matter:

The Hindu – When Dr. Singh, who has a reputation for reticence on sensitive subjects, drops dark hints about a foreign hand, it is surely something that needs to be substantiated and, if necessary, followed up with action. As if to bolster his argument, the licences of three NGOs have been cancelled and the foreign remittances received by them are being investigated. Meanwhile, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, the organisation spearheading the anti-Kudankulam protests, has rejected the charge and demanded the Prime Minister substantiate his remarks. Adding to the mix, Jairam Ramesh has also clarified that his decision as Environment Minister in 2010 to place a moratorium on Bt Brinjal was not influenced by NGOs, but was based on objective factors.

However, the idea that NGOs with ‘foreign’ links are fuelling the protests seems more expedient than convincing. The charge is also, at some level, quite irrelevant. For what it’s worth, tens of thousands of ordinary Indians around Kudankulam, Jaitapur and other areas where reactors will be sited are apprehensive about what the placement of large nuclear installations in their backyard might mean for their health, environment and livelihood. The government needs to engage with them in a transparent and constructive manner and allay their fears with facts and arguments rather than innuendo and slander.

The Indian Express – In an interview to Science magazine, the Prime Minister had said that these NGOs do not appreciate India’s need to make use of high-technology like nuclear energy or genetically-engineered crops to move forward on its growth agenda. “You know, for example, what is happening in Koodankulam. The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate our country to increase the energy supply,” Manmohan Singh said.

Asked whether nuclear energy had a role to play in India’s energy sector despite last year’s accident in Fukushima, Japan, he said, “Yes, where India is concerned, yes. The thinking segment of our population certainly is supportive of nuclear energy.” He blamed these NGOs for his government’s 2010 decision to put an indefinite hold on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal as well. “There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Cartoon by Amauri Alves / Toonpool

Business Standard – The Congress, in its communication to Minister for PMO V Narayanasamy, noted that it had been experiencing similar protests from various NGOs and political organisations. “Till now, with few exceptions, the reasons were generally observed to be for financial gains of the NGOs and either personal and financial benefits or pure political gains to the leaders and workers of the political organisations,” it said. “We have seen in the past protests against the Dabhol power project by the Shiv Sena and many other projects by various NGOs and political parties.” The party said now a new threat has emerged considering the anti-Kudankulam demonstrations, asking the Centre to take them seriously.

Hindustan Times – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed American and Scandivanian NGOs for fuelling protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, according to media reports. The Prime Minister has also blamed these NGOs for opposing genetically modified foods and the use of biotechnology to increase food production in the country.

India Today – The Prime Minister’s statement, in an interview to the prestigious journal Science, attributing anti-nuclear protests at Kudankulam to non-governmental organisations based in the United States, has stirred a familiar hornet’s nest, that of “the foreign hand”. The foreign hand of the CIA was of course frequently deployed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to deflect attention from domestic problems and, most memorably, to justify the imposition of the Emergency. It is deeply ironical coming from a Prime Minister whose government’s policies can be divided into two handy categories: those, such as employment guarantee and food security, that have the imprint of the Congress’s aam aadmi hand symbol; and those, such as its economic and nuclear policies, that bear the generous imprint of the foreign hand. It is amusing that the policy perspective of the US government should be so enthusiastically embraced, even as the views attributed to NGOs in that country are derisively dismissed. This has to be more than the common hypocrisy of everyday politics.

Clearly, what makes the government bristle is opposition to official initiatives. Popular protest provokes it to send its minions scurrying to sniff out a foreign conspiracy. The assumption is that any developmental project the government undertakes must be an unambiguous national good, and the support of its citizens for such projects must be the prime test of their loyalty.

All over India, thousands march for seed sovereignty

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On 9 August 2011, a date marked every year as ‘Quit India Day’ for its association with a landmark in India’s freedom movement, thousands of Indians marched to support food and seed sovereignty. From remote tribal hamlets in Orissa to cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, more than a hundred events were organised by civil society groups and concerned individuals to highlight the issues of food, farmers and agricultural freedom.

[See earlier post, ‘Monsanto, get out of India!’]

The ‘Monsanto, Quit India!’ day call was given by the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a national network of more than 400 organisations working to promote sustainable farm livelihoods, seed and food sovereignty, food safety, farmers’ and consumers’ rights etc.

Across the country, the demands made to central and state governments were four-fold: no collaborative research partnerships with companies like Monsanto in the state agriculture universities and other institutions in the NARS; no commissioned projects especially for GM crop trials, by these institutions and no GM crop trials in general; no public-private-partnerships (PPP) in the name of improving productivity especially of crops like maize and rice which in effect pose serious questions on food/nutrition security as well as seed sovereignty; setting up grassroots systems of seed-self reliance, recognising farmers’ skills and knowledge related to seed and supporting institution-building and infrastructure around such self-reliant systems, so that timely availability of appropriate, diverse, affordable seed for all farmers is possible.

The Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture, India (ASHA) has summarised the Quit India day events and actions ahead:

In Mumbai, farmers from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra state joined hands with Mumbai citizens to narrate stories about GM seeds like Bt cotton and how suicides by farmers continue to take place because of debt related to high inputs and crop failures. In Mumbai, youth joined freedom fighters in a silent march from the Lokmanya Tilak Statue in Chowpatty to the historic August Kranti Maidan.

In Orissa, padayatras and palli sabhas marked the day with dialogues with farmers in the tribal regions where the government is promoting hybrid maize along with chosen corporations, activists and farmers leaders urged farmers not to fall prey to the false promises and short-term yield claims of these corporations.

In Andhra Pradesh, all major farmers’ unions along with dozens of civil society groups came together to urge the state government not to allow any GM crop trials in the state. They reminded the state government that corporations like Monsanto (and its associates) have not hesitated to defy the government on various issues including redressal for loss-incurring farmers and price reduction on cotton seeds. A delegation met with senior bureaucrats in the Department of Agriculture after a protest sit-in at the Agri-Commissioner’s office.

Bangalore in the state of Karnataka witnessed a gathering of 300 farmers and consumers under the leadership of Kodihalli Chandrasekhar, President, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) who held a demonstration at the Directorate of Agriculture. One of the main points raised here was related to state agencies like the University of Agricultural Sciences-Dharwad facilitating biopiracy in the name of collaborative research. Protesters demanded the scrapping of the ABSP II project through which Bt brinjal varieties were created posing serious questions on the IPRs over farmers’ seed resources; they also demanded that agencies which have violated the legal provisions of the Biological Diversity Act be penalised for such violations. The protestors dispersed only after receiving an assurance from top bureaucrats sent by the Agriculture Minister, that all partnerships and collaborative projects with Monsanto and other such companies will be reviewed.

In Patna, in the state of Bihar, freedom fighters and social activists along with farmers’ leaders joined hands to take up a one day symbolic fast against the government’s partnerships with Monsanto and research on GM crops like Golden Rice. The activists were met by the Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Food and Civil Supplies and an assurance provided that Bihar government would look into all the issues raised with regard to hybrid rice, hybrid maize, Golden Rice etc.

More than 15 events marked the day in Tamil Nadu state. In Coimbatore farmers and acitivists urged the state government not to allow the State Agriculture University to take up GM crop trials. They reminded the ruling party in Tamil Nadu about its election manifesto in 2009, where AIADMK had expressly recognised the threat from GM seeds and their unsuitability for Indian conditions, wherein the party had promised ‘no more promotion of GM seeds’. Memoranda submitted to the Chief Minister from various locations across the state urged her to follow the footsteps of other progressive states, which have taken a firm stand in favor of farmers and environmental sustainability and have said NO to GM crops. Data was shared from official records on the occasion to show that Bt cotton had not made any dent to the insecticides use in cotton in the state and that yields have been fluctuating greatly over the years that Bt cotton expanded in the state.

In Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of protesters gathered in Neelam Park in Bhopal from all over the state and took out a funeral procession of Monsanto and cremated Monsanto symbolically. They pointed out that the promotion of hybrid maize seed would nullify the efforts of the state government in promoting organic farming in the state, with an organic farming policy being officially adopted recently here. Protesters said that hybrid maize PPPs with corporations like Monsanto will take away diversity from our farms, will jeopardize food and nutrition security of poor tribals, will bring in agri-chemicals and indebtedness and will push the farmers of the state towards more suicides.

Punjab saw the launch of a week-long unique ‘Kheti Khuraak Azaadi Jatha’ from Jallianwala Bagh on the occasion. This Jatha will travel through the villages and towns of Punjab in the coming days and highlight the dangers of the recent secret deal that the Punjab government entered into with Monsanto. Farmers unions and activists here cautioned the government against giving a No Objection Certificate to GM crop trials in the state and said that all political parties have to take cognizance of the opposition amongst citizens against GMOs in our food and farming, as Punjab moves towards Assembly elections next year.

In Gujarat, a Beej [seed] Yatra in the tribal pockets of the state preceded the August 9th events; in Baroda, many Gandhians, along with housewives, youth and activists, took out a rally across the city today, despite heavy rains. In Uttar Pradesh, led by Bhartiya Kisan Union’s Rakesh Tikait, a fiveday long mobilization effort began with a farmers’ meeting held in Muzaffarnagar. The UP government was urged not to allow any GM crop trials in the state and to revise its plans for hybrid maize and hybrid rice promotion.