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India marches against Monsanto, hauls it back into court

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The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

This is an important week for the public movement in India against genetically-modified seed and food, and against the corporate control of agriculture. Just ahead of World Food Day 2013, the Coalition for GM Free India has held public protests, marches and events in major cities – Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai.

“Today, India is also under threat from the hazardous products that Monsanto wants to profiteer from – these are products that affect the very food that we eat to survive and stay healthy and our environment. These are products that have the potential to jeopardise future generations too,” said the Coalition at the protest meetings and marches.

These actions have come when, in a very significant ruling by the High Court of Karnataka, a petition to dispose criminal prosecution of the Monsanto subsidiary in India, representatives of an agricultural university and a partner company, has been dismissed.

RG-Monsanto_BLR_protest_10Mahyco-Monsanto, the Indian seed company, the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad (which is in the state of Karnataka), and Monsanto collaborating partners Sathguru Consultants were accused by the National Biodiversity Authority and the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board of committing serious criminal acts of biopiracy in promoting B.t. Brinjal, India’s first food GMO.

The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) had said to the court that the entire process by which the product had been developed violated the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, and “constituted an outrageous act of biopiracy of India’s endemic brinjal (eggplant) varieties”.

To substantiate this charge, the ESG produced evidence that all the endemic varieties of brinjal that had been accessed by the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad and Monsanto-Mahyco, with technical support from Sathguru Consultants and USAID, and the act of inserting the B.t. gene (a proprietary product of Monsanto), were undertaken without any consent of local Biodiversity Management Committees, the State Biodiversity Board and the National Biodiversity Authority.

As the Coalition for GM Free India has pointed out repeatedly, Monsanto’s misdeeds in India and its growing threat to food security and the right to food cultivation and consumption choices are considerable:
* Mahyco-Monsanto used its Bt cotton seed monopoly to set exorbitant prices. The Andhra Pradesh government had to use the MRTP (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices) Commission, which observed that Monsanto-Mahyco was using unfair trade practices in India, while asking the company to reduce the royalty/sub-licensing fee being charged in India.
* Monsanto-Mahyco did not hesitate to sue governments in India on issues related to compensation for loss-incurring farmers or price-regulation.
* After the advent of Bt cotton, Monsanto entered into licensing agreements with most seed companies in India so that out of 22.5 million acres of GM cotton, 21 million acres is planted with its seed, Bollgard. Today it controls nearly 93% of the market share of cotton seeds in India, with little choice left to farmers.
* Monsanto is on the Board of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, under which bio-safety regime for GM crops was sought to be weakened.
* Monsanto entered into agreements with several states (Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir) under which the states spend hundreds of crore rupees of public funds every year to purchase hybrid maize seeds from them. Such agreements were found to have no scientific or funding rationale to support them. Appraisals have shown these to be risky for farmers. However, the corporation has found huge, ready markets supported by taxpayers’ funds!
* Monsanto is pushing the sales of its herbicide glyphosate which is known to cause reproductive problems. Approval for its herbicide-tolerant GM crops would skyrocket the use of this hazardous chemical in our fields.

The action in court and on the streets of major cities must be recognised by the central and state governments in order to pursue the criminal prosecution against biopiracy in B.t. brinjal. This is critical, said the ESG, because it is for the “first time that India has sought to implement the provisions of the Biodiversity Act tackling biopiracy, and thus the effort constitutes a major precedent to secure India’s bio-resources, associated traditional knowledge and biodiversity for the benefit of present and future generations”.

Lucknow’s megalomanic mahout

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Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in LucknowLucknow is a city beseiged by the blue elephant of the Bahujan Samaj Party and its mahout, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Behen Kumari Sushri Mayawatiji. She has taken over a mammoth portion of city land, on both banks of the river Gomti, and upon which gigantic memorials are being built. Scorning all hindrances (such as Supreme Court of India and High Court stays) and opponents (they are fewer and more feeble now) construction is proceeding steadily on a variety of monuments.

It is a landscape based in stone (judging by the delicate pink colour, it must be an expensive stone). There is not a square foot of grass to be seen amongst all the stone acres of Ambedkar Park – whose ‘official’ name is the more impressive Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. There is not a tree to be seen in the dusty acres relieved only by dry hot stone columns and pillars, stelae and towers. The scale makes no sense whatsoever – it has no relation at all to the densely packed residential neighbourhoods of Lucknow that this stone landscape has been robbed from.

Ambedkar park in LucknowThe kilometres of stone wall – clumsily ornate – that suround the giant Sthal are edged by a pavement it is impossible to walk on because the struggling saplings embedded in the pavement are enclosed completely by a tight orb of metal caging. To look at this immense folly is to see the senseless diminution of nature, the callousness to humans and a complete insensitivity to a wonderful city’s brocaded history.

Today, the mahout hovers over every chowk in Lucknow like a gorgon, bedecked with multiple rows of blue BSP buntings that line every single street and galli and avenue (except in the cantonment). What has this insensate throwback to pharaonic glory cost the state of Uttar Pradesh? In early 2008, this is what a report in the Indian Express had to say:

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in Lucknow“Uttar Pradesh has an urban population of 34.5 million with a need for 320,000 every year. But consider this: in 2007-08, the government has spent 65% of the Housing department’s budget — meant for housing and urban development projects — on Chief Minister Mayawati’s statuesque tribute to Ambedkar, the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. In the present fiscal, 40% of the department’s budget has been earmarked for this colossal project. A close study of the Housing department’s budget shows that there are only two schemes in the budget of 2008-09 under the Urban Development Scheme — the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal and Ramabai Park, which is now part of the Sthal. Of the other 13 schemes, under the head of Urban Development, seven are memorials or parks in the name of Kanshi Ram and Ambedkar, which are being built in the state capital.”

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in LucknowThe mahout with the dinky handbag has unhoused the poor and needy of Lucknow to construct her messianic stone dreams. What of the Gomti and its heritage-rich landscapes? To begin to understand what has been, as the Americans say, paved over, you should read Chinki Sinha’s description, an extract of which is:

“Squeezed in between the river bank and the Dariya Wali Masjid and across from the King George’s Medical College (now called Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University), this was where kite fliers of repute would tug at their strings and fight fierce and colourful battles in the skies. Jafar Mir Abdullah would often stop by at the ground on his way home from La Martinere, where he studied at the time, to see the spectacle. Kan kauwe bazi or kite flying was a favourite sport in Lucknow. As a 10-year-old in 1952, he loved looking at the horizon that was painted in different hues in the twilight hour, the war cries resounding for miles. He loved watching the kite runners as they ran through the labyrinthine streets to grab fallen kites, raising dust as they sprinted.”