Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court

It’s time to confront the BJP on GM

with one comment

Eight months ago, they wrote to Manmohan Singh about GM and said decisions must be "based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice... we sincerely hope that vested interests would not be allowed to prevail".

Eight months ago, they wrote to Manmohan Singh about GM and said decisions must be “based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice… we sincerely hope that vested interests would not be allowed to prevail”.

The ability of the biotechnology industry to pursue its aims, regardless of the orientation of the central government, became clear on 18 July 2014 when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) stated to the press that it has permitted field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal.

The brazen permission, with no details provided to the public of how the committee arrived at the decision (no agenda, minutes, attendance, notes, circulars), has been given by this committee despite the Supreme Court technical expert committee last year recommending an indefinite moratorium on the field trials of GM crops until government prepares a regulatory and safety mechanism, and despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its 2012 August report, advocating powerfully for a ban on GM food crops in India.

The decision to permit field trials is blatant bullying by a section of the so-called scientific and technical expertise of the Government of India, which has acted as the agent of the biotechnology industry in India and its multi-national sponsors. The permission also underlines how firmly entrenched the interests are of India’s biotech industry (which combines crops seed, pharmaceuticals and plant protection formulae) in that the industry has been able to get its way even though the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party explicitly included a statement on GM.

The GEAC committee [pdf]

The GEAC committee [pdf]

A committee such as the GEAC is unconcerned with the socio-economic ramifications of such decisions (a trait it shares with the rest of the industry-sponsored ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ rubber stamps that litter central government, their cozy seats filled with feckless Indians). But the reaction has been swift and damning, and none of it angrier than from within the ideological allies of the BJP.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch has accused the BJP of “deceiving the people” for “neither the government nor the GEAC has disclosed as yet the contents of the promised scientific evaluation, if any, or what changed between April 7, 2014 (the day the BJP released its election manifesto) and July 18, 2014, when the field trials of GM food crops were approved”.

“The people of India who have elected the BJP to power are feeling deceived,” said the statement. “They voted the BJP to power on the promises the party made to the people of India in its 2014 manifesto and speeches made by the leaders during the election.” In its election manifesto the BJP had written: “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.” Those long-term effects have not been studied, and both the Department of Biotechnology and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have – through their inaction – failed in their duties to the government by reminding it of its objectives concerning the safety of India’s people and environment.

How disconnected the work of the ministries and departments are from the concerns of farmers and consumers is obvious for, only a day before the despicable GEAC decision, Prakash Javadekar (Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change), told the Lok Sabha about India implementing the
Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. “By promoting the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, and by strengthening the opportunities for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from their use, the Protocol will create incentives to conserve biodiversity, sustainably use its components, and further enhance the contribution of biodiversity to sustainable development and human well-being.”

GM seed, crops and food is not what the Nagoya Protocol means by “promoting the use of genetic resources” and this government’s statements about “fair and equitable”, about “sustainable development and human well-being” will prove to be as hollow and as cynical as the statements made, in such reckless profusion, by the Congress during both terms of the UPA. For an NDA government that has taken pride in recalling Deen Dayal Upadhya and Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, it is not too much to recall that in a letter dated 8 November 2013 (addressed to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh) 251 scientists and academicians had asked the former government to accept the final report submitted by the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee on modern-biotechnology regulation [archive containing the Supreme Court report here, 3.2MB].

“Never in the history of agriculture has a technology been so controversial as Genetic Engineering (GE)/Genetic Modification (GM) of crops,” the letter had said. “The unpredictability and irreversibility of Genetic Modification (GM) as a technology and the uncontrollability of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the environment, coupled with scientific studies pointing at the potential risk to human health and environment, has resulted in a controversy across the world around the safety as well as the very need for introducing such potentially risky organisms into food and farming systems. These concerns, incidentally, have been raised first and foremost by scientists who are free of vested interests, on scientific grounds.”

Member companies of the biotechnology lobbying group ABLE-AG

Member companies of the biotechnology lobbying group ABLE-AG

It became quickly clear that the Congress government couldn’t have cared less about the carefully considered concerns of a large group of scientists and academicians speaking in one voice. In early February 2014 Manmohan Singh, in his inaugural address at the Indian Science Congress said that India “should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt crop” (in what read like a script prepared for him by the public relations agencies for Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of those who sit in the shadows behind the GEAC). At the time, the Coalition for a GM Free India had bluntly said Singh was wrong and was willfully misleading the country on the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops. Moreover, there is a growing body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, environment and farm livelihoods – compiled by the Coalition in a set of more than 400 abstracts of peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Technically, the companies which will benefit from the contemptible GEAC and its permission will have to get no objections from the states for field trials. The record of states is mixed – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana have allowed confined field trials in the past; Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan have refused them. This disunited approach by the states only emboldens bodies such as the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG), which is the biotech industry’s frontline lobbying group in India. “This is what we have been asking for the past three years,” ABLE-AG said on 18 July, “to approve field testing of new crops and traits. (Former environment minister) M. Veerappa Moily paved the way for it and we hope the new government will be supportive.”

The 336 seats that are occupied in the Lok Sabha – what prime minister Narendra Modi said is the ‘mandir of lokniti‘ on the first day the new government began its work – were not won for deception and false promises. Modi must annul the GEAC permissions, his government must abide by the provisions of the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee report, and it must act on the advice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report. Lokniti expects and deserves nothing less.

Washington shakes an IPR fist at India

with one comment

As we had expected in 2013 December, the mutual back-slapping over the WTO ‘deal’ between Indian and the USA evaporated very quickly indeed in the face of American business aggressiveness. For the US industry, business and trade associations and lobbies, ‘partner’ means vassal, ‘deal’ means binding obligation, ‘priority’ and ‘sanction’ become weapons (which hurt the poor and vulnerable the most), and ‘trade’ itself means subservience.

And this is why this week, the last of 2014 February, the National Association of Manufacturers in the USA – which represents some 50 American business groups – asked the US Trade Representative to designate India a Priority Foreign Country in its 2014 report. “This designation appropriately would rank India among the very worst violators of intellectual property rights and establish a process leading to concrete solutions,” NAM said in a letter to US Trade Representative Michael Froman.

In its official foreign policy and business pronouncements on India, the government of the USA, its representatives and its agents adopt a tone reminiscent of the 1950s, when American foreign policy and its agricultural scientists joined forces to bulldoze a green revolution in India. Here and now too, the USA likes to hear itself make statements such as “the promise of the 21st Century depends squarely on a robust US-India commercial and strategic partnership” and “central to this partnership will be the co-development and sharing of our best technologies, as well as free-movement between our economies of our best minds and thinkers”.

But the US doesn’t do diplomacy. America’s manner and approach has always been, my way … or else. And that is why one of the most powerful factors influencing Indo-American business and trade connections, the US India Business Council, through its seniormost officer (Ron Somers, who had worked for the energy company Cogentrix in Karnataka), called “attention to India’s need to calibrate regulations to protect data, or inspire India’s future legislature to adjust its Patent Act to align more wholly with international norms particularly regarding incremental innovation”. The USIBC also bluntly said: “Everyone agrees that India needs to spend more on its healthcare system” and that “evolving ecosystems that reward and protect Intellectual Property will be crucial”.

These disagreements between India and the USA have surfaced anew because the USTR is holding public hearings for its annual report, scheduled to be issued in April. This report will be on countries that the US government thinks are “denying protection of IP rights or fair market access to US firms”. The USTR has said that “India is widely perceived in Washington as a serial trade offender, with US firms unhappy about imports of everything from shrimp to steel pipes they say threaten jobs, as well as a lack of fair access to the Indian market for its goods”.

This is among the most signal, and deliberate, failures of the two UPA terms of government – that its reckless and dangerous chasing of foreign direct investment and its reckless and dangerous opening of domains previously in the public sector to private interests have left Bharat and India in such a crippled state that we as a country tolerate such an insult. There is not the slightest hint of fairness in America’s bullying ways, for it wants nothing less than the capitulation of India’s pharmaceuticals industry, and it wants the handing over of insurance – from life insurance to automotive to weather – to its own freebooting companies whose practices have assisted the plunge of a sixth of America’s population into poverty over the last decade.

What may happen now? There are press reports that India may take the USA to face the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism if included by the USTR in the ‘Priority Foreign Country’ list for intellectual property rights. American industry and trade lobbies are putting pressure on their government to include India under this list. Thus far, the position held within the central government is that the demand (from the US companies) is “completely wrong” as India’s intellectual property rights are compliant with global laws, including that of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

It is concerning pharma that the American MNCs are most vociferous. US pharma companies had objected to India’s move to issue a compulsory license in 2012 to Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma to manufacture and sell cancer-treatment drug ‘Nexavar’ at a price over 30 times lower than charged by patent-holder Bayer Corporation.

A delegation from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), described as a quasi-judicial agency, has arrived intending to probe the impact India’s policies on trade and investment have on the American economy (the intention is to supply the USTR with ammunition and to prepare for a WTO dispute confrontation; the Americans involved perhaps cannot see or appreciate the irony of the USIBC also praising India for investing in the USA and creating jobs there).

The USITC has raised the Natco matter, and has also raised the rejection of patent to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sprycel and Novartis’ Gleevec. It has stated that Indian IPR laws are not Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) compliant under the WTO. The response of the government of India has been to ask all its officials to stay away from any interaction with the USITC delegation.

But we have stood firm till here. Swiss pharmaceuticals manufacturer Novartis AG had lost a legal battle for getting its blood cancer drug Gleevec patented in India and to restrain Indian companies from manufacturing generic drugs. The Supreme Court had rejected the multinational company’s plea last year in a judgement that was loudly and widely hailed in all countries of the South. This came as a blow to the US-EU pharma MNCs who see the very much larger populations of the South as new markets. Hence the threatening fist-waving by the US government.

The complaint by American companies that India refuses to implement laws to provide data protection and to provide patents for bio-pharmaceutical companies is framed in terms of being against the interest of Americans in terms of jobs and ‘fair’ competition in the global marketplace. To support such nonsense, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Centers issues what it calls an International Intellectual Property Index, which compares the IP laws and implementation of those laws of 25 countries. In the 2014 Index, India received the lowest overall score, with a score of 0 for ‘Membership and Ratification of International Treaties’ and 0.25 for ‘Trade Secrets and Market Access’.

India’s policy on generic drugs has so far refused to accept ‘evergreening’, a scheme used by pharmaceutical companies to continue having a patent over a drug – even after its patent has expired – by modifying it slightly. India’s decision to grant compulsory licenses (within Indian and WTO rules) to anti-cancer drugs by Novartis and Bayer has infuriated Big Pharma in the US. To retaliate, the USA banned Ranbaxy selling medicines from its fourth plant in the USA – so much for being ‘fair’ at home in America; why does Ranbaxy continue to want to do business there?

India’s generic drug policy is guided by the need to provide cheap medicines to a large population that cannot afford even a fraction of the international patent-protected prices of these medicines, as several authoritative civil society responses to the matter have competently pointed out. This is the practice the judiciary has supported and this is the practice that must not change under any circumstance and regardless of the threats and blandishments by Froman and his shylockian collaborators.

A victory for the Dongria Kondh

with one comment

Seven square kilometres of the Niyamgiri hilltop would suffer deforestation. This would change the water supply and severely affect ecolgical systems and human communities. Photo: The Hindu/Ashoke Chakrabarty

Seven square kilometres of the Niyamgiri hilltop would suffer deforestation. This would change the water supply and severely affect ecolgical systems and human communities. Photo: The Hindu/Ashoke Chakrabarty

Vedanta has been stopped. The mining conglomerate has been refused permission to work in Orissa by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests. A high-level committee was commissioned by the ministry earlier this year to deliver judgment on the country’s most controversy-ridden mining proposal. Vedanta Resources plc and the Orissa Mining Corporation planned to extract bauxite from the top of part of the Niyamgiri mountain range in Orissa. On August 16th the committee, headed by N C Saxena, delivered its conclusions to the Ministry and unequivocally condemned the project.

Business Standard reports that the Saxena panel was commissioned by the Environment Ministry which had set up a four-member team headed by Saxena, member of the National Advisory Council, to probe into the alleged violations of tribal and forest laws. The Saxena report has also accused the company of illegally occupying forest land for its US$1.7 billion mining project. The allegations have been, however, strongly refuted by the Orissa state government, which claimed that the Saxena report has cast aspersions on the state over grant of mining licenses, even though the Supreme Court has already given its ruling on the matter.

“No Ministry can abdicate its responsibility of enforcing the laws passed by Parliament,” said Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister for environment, citing the Attorney General’s opinion that he was free to decide on final clearance despite the Supreme Court ruling. “My Ministry cannot function on the basis of fait accomplis:Since August 2008, a lot of new information has come to light. It is on the basis of this incriminating new evidence that the decision has been taken.”

[Earlier posts on the Dongria Kondh and their struggle are here, here and here.]

Odisha Lok Dal activists holding a cut-out of Chairman of Vedanta Resources plc, Anil Agarwal, during a protest rally in Bhubaneswar on 23 Aug 2010. The FAC report also established that the area proposed for mining and the surrounding forests are a cultural, religious and economic habitat of the Kondh tribal groups. Photo: PTI

Odisha Lok Dal activists holding a cut-out of Chairman of Vedanta Resources plc, Anil Agarwal, during a protest rally in Bhubaneswar on 23 Aug 2010. The FAC report also established that the area proposed for mining and the surrounding forests are a cultural, religious and economic habitat of the Kondh tribal groups. Photo: PTI

The Saxena team discovered numerous instances of negligence – to the point of criminality – on the part of local government officials and the state government itself. It  highlighted egregious violations of existing legislation to protect Indigenous Peoples rights (specifically as Forest Peoples). Not least, it roundly condemned the manoeuvres and activities of UK-listed Vedanta – both in regard to the mine and the construction of its adjacent alumina refinery.

In its introduction, the Saxena Report on Vedanta and the mining of Nyamgiri stated:

“In the committee’s view the mining of Nyamgiri would:
* Destroy one of the most sacred sites of the Kondh Primitive Tribal Groups
* Destroy more than seven square kilometers of sacred, undisturbed forest land on top of the mountain that has been protected by the Dongaria Kondh for centuries as sacred to Niyam Raja and as essential to preserving the region’s fertility.
* Endanger the self-sufficient forest-based livelihoods of these Primitive Tribal Groups
* Seriously harm the livelihood of hundreds of Dalit families who isndirectly depend upon these lands through their economic relationship with these Primitive Tribe Groups,
* Build roads through the Dongaria Kondh’s territories, making the area easily accessible to poachers of wildlife and timber smugglers threatening the rich biodiversity of the hills”

The Saxena report also noted violations by Vedanta of:

The Forest Conservation Act – (1) The company is in illegal occupation of 26.123 ha of village forest lands enclosed within the factory premises. The claim by the company that they have only followed the state government orders and enclosed the forest lands within their factory premises to protect these lands and that they provide access to the tribal and other villagers to their village forest lands is completely false. This is an act of total contempt for the law on the part of the company and an apalling degree of collusion on the part of the concerned officials. (2) For the construction of a road running parallel to the conveyor corridor, the company has illegally occupied plot number 157(P) measuring 1.0 acre and plot number 133 measuring 0.11 acres of village forest lands. This act is also similar to the above although the land involved is much smaller in extent.

The Environment Protection Act (EPA) – (1) The company M/s Vedanta Alumina Limited has already proceeded with construction activity for its enormous expansion project that would increase its capacity six fold from 1 Mtpa to 6 Mtpa without obtaining environmental clearance as per provisions of EIA Notification, 2006 under the EPA. This amounts to a serious violation of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act. This expansion, its extensive scale and advanced nature, is in complete violation of the EPA and is an expression of the contempt with which this company treats the laws of the land.

The Dongria tribe along with other villagers of 150 villages of Rayagada district demonstrating before the Orissa State Assembly in 2005. Photo: The Hindu/ Ashoke Chakrabarty

The Dongria tribe along with other villagers of 150 villages of Rayagada district demonstrating before the Orissa State Assembly in 2005. Photo: The Hindu/ Ashoke Chakrabarty

The welcome decision has come after months of high-pressure lobbying by Vedanta and its industry supporters, which has been countered on the ground by rallies and information campaigns mounted by many activist and citizens’ groups. The struggle of the Dongria Kondh has found support around the world. Yet the upholding of the findings of the Saxena team owes a great deal to the independence of India’s processes of law, which were underscored again on 19 July 2010 when, in another mining case, the Supreme Court temed developmental policies as “blinkered”.

The Supreme Court said that the promised rights and benefits never reached marginalised citizens fuelling extreme discontent and giving birth to naxalism and militancy, which are threatening the sovereignty of the country. Referring to the large-scale displacement of tribals from forest land in the name of mining and development, the Court said non-settlement of their rights and non-provision for timely compensation of their lost land has created the worst kind of hatred among them towards development, possibly giving birth to extremism.

“To millions of Indians, development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of their sustenance,” a Bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam and B S Chauhan said. “It is cynically said that on the path of `maldevelopment’ almost every step that we take seems to give rise to insurgency and political extremism which along with terrorism are supposed to be the three gravest threats to India’s integrity and sovereignty,” it said. “Why is the state’s perception and vision of development at such great odds with the people it purports to develop? And why are their rights so dispensable? Why do India’s GDP and human development index present such vastly different pictures?”

Lucknow’s megalomanic mahout

leave a comment »

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.”