Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hard questions about soft questions-P. Sainath

Hard questions about soft questions

P. Sainath
Even a doting corporate media find that the Professor did not come out looking good from his interaction with a few favoured students. That is, electronic media chiefs and editors who have mostly adored Dr. Manmohan Singh for nearly two decades. File photo

*There was in fact a successful auction of spectrum — only it was not conducted by the government but by its corporate sector cronies who made a fortune on the deal.

On one pronouncement of his, you have to agree with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His is not a ‘lame-duck government.' Cooked goose seems the more appropriate soubriquet. However, not a single new scam worth over Rs. 1 lakh crore has surfaced for 10 days now. So maybe things are getting better. Yet, even a doting corporate media find that the Professor did not come out looking good from his interaction with a few favoured students. That is, electronic media chiefs and editors who have mostly adored Dr. Singh for nearly two decades. If even the largely free ride they gave him left him unnerved and defensive, it's a measure of how much things have changed. Not that the editors emerged looking better. If asking the right questions is at the heart of journalism, then somebody had a bypass. At no point did it occur to them that the corruption they questioned him on with some passion, flowed entirely out of policies and from a policy altar at which they have worshipped for years.

Some of the questions in fact indicated a need by worried editors to be reassured that those very policies would continue. For instance, a fear that there is “no big reformist wave coming from UPA II. Have we lost the will to take hard reformist decisions?” “No way,” responded the Prime Minister. “We have not lost the will. We will persist.” In asserting that what he (and the editors) view as “reforms” are on track, Dr. Singh speaks the truth. The chaos and corruption troubling the editors was the outcome of those very ‘reforms', if they cared to see it.

Even on corruption, the questions ranged from those revolving around some Ministers' actions to a couple implying wrongdoing by people within the PMO or Cabinet. Nothing that suggested the country's basic direction under the Professor's guidance is destructive and dangerous. But once you've accepted the neo-liberal economic framework scripted since 1991 as wonderful and beyond reproach, then your questions get limited to asking who fluffed his lines. And as for corporate criminality, editors step on to that terrain only when left without a choice and at their own risk.

The first question, fair enough, was about the 2G scam and the lack of an auction in the sale of spectrum. There's something missing here, though. There was in fact an auction of spectrum — a successful one. Only it was not conducted by the government but by its corporate sector cronies who gave it away for a pittance. Having been gifted that scarce public-owned resource by the government, the cronies then auctioned it privately for astronomical sums of money. The argument that consumers today enjoy low prices because the privateers got it cheap is a fraud. Customers are getting those cheap prices even after this double sale. After the crony cabal milked huge profits in its own private auction. Had that process been cut out, consumer benefits would have been far greater. Also auctioned alongside were the government's individual Ministers, posts and integrity. Two auctions for the price of none.

Abstract query

The press conference saw one abstract query and a no less abstract reply on ‘black money.' Not a single question on Indian illegal funds parked overseas in Swiss and other banks. None on why the government does not reveal the names it has in this connection. The illegal flow of such funds, according to the startling report from Global Financial Integrity, costs the nation Rs.240 crore every single day, on average. As much as Rs. 4.3 lakh crore (twice the highest estimate of the 2G scam losses) has been lost in just five years, between 2004 and 2008. And who are the main culprits? “High net-worth individuals and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India's private sector.” Seems a good subject to ask the Prime Minister some questions about. But it didn't happen.

Nor was there a single question about the Amnesty/Immunity schemes his government seems to be planning for such criminals. This, even as it plans tougher and tougher laws for ordinary citizens, abridgement of rights for displaced persons, gutting of the public distribution system and arrests of those protesting the incredible price rise.

Nor, while on morality and corruption, was there a single question from the editors about the Prime Minister making Vilasrao Deshmukh Union Minister of Rural Development. A man castigated by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Maharashtra now controls rural development across the country. The Maharashtra government has even paid up the Rs.10-lakh fine imposed by the court in that case, signalling acceptance that wrong had been done while he was Chief Minister. Dr. Singh cannot plead ‘coalition compulsions' here. Mr. Deshmukh is from his own party. If he remains in the Union Cabinet after the Supreme Court trashes him, it is only because Dr. Singh wants him there. There were no ‘coalition compulsions' in brewing the CWG scam either, but that too wasn't touched upon in the questions.

It would, of course, be insane to expect the editors to raise a question on the nearly quarter of a million farmers who have committed suicide in this country since 1995, going by the data of the National Crime Records Bureau. Or on migrations out of villages going berserk. Or on worsening levels of unemployment. But there was not a single one on hunger either.

The only serious question on food inflation, linking that to its impact on the poor in a country with 8.5 per cent growth came from a foreigner. Now our editors present knew this to be a burning issue, even for their middle class audiences. Yet Sara Sidner of CNN was the only one to raise it. The other question on inflation related to the need for “the second [round of] structural reforms to be done in agriculture.” Another query on price rise — not linked to hunger or poor people — was not answered at all. The Prime Minister was not challenged when he virtually equated losses in the 2G scam with subsidies to the poor. “If auctions are not taking place then what is the basis for you to calculate a loss? ... It is very much a function of what is your starting point. And also depends upon your opinion. We have a budget which gives subsidy for food, Rs.80,000 crores per annum, some people may say these foodgrains should be sold at marketplace. Will we say then because they are not sold at market prices, because you are giving them a subsidy, it is a loss of Rs. Rs.80,000 crores?”

Plunder and subsidy

Firstly, he equates plunder with the pathetic subsidies tossed at the world's largest hungry population. We rank 67th out of 84 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Secondly, subsidies for the super-rich soar each year. While food subsidies for hundreds of millions were cut by Rs. 450 crore in the last budget.

All those carping critics attacking direct cash transfers miss the point that the government has become really good at this. It routinely transfers billions of rupees, directly or indirectly, at each opportunity to the corporate world. And it is equally good at corporate karza maafi — Rs.5,000 billion under just three heads (direct corporate income tax, customs and excise duties) in the last budget. That's two-and-a-half times the 2G scam estimate. It also gets bigger with each new budget. The dominant media have never once raised a peep of protest against the corporate plunder of public money, thanks to the government Dr. Singh presides over. Nor did they in this conference with the Prime Minister. So Dr. Singh is understandably peeved when asked about the petty cash transfers of the 2G scam to a handful of hucksters. The Prime Minister wanted to know if the editors would view the Rs.80,000 crore his government commits to food subsidies as ‘losses.' Actually, most of them do. Quite a few of them would like to see all subsidies directed at the poor to be wound up. The politically correct way of going about this is to call for the “streamlining of systems,” or “proper targeting,” or “efficiency.” A demand never once made of the tsunami of subsidies given to a handful of super-rich (media owners amongst them).

One positive point: Dr. Singh announced no new Group of Ministers at his conference with the editors. Though one's probably required to conduct a GoM Census. That might help Pranab Mukherjee figure out how many of these he chairs. And spare him the embarrassment of having to ask “so which GoM is this?” at his next meeting. A ‘lame duck' government? Not really. More like an integrity-challenged Cuckoo.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Activities and Achievements of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS)

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS)

The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a farmers’ movement in Vidarbha or the eastern region of Maharashtra, is fighting for the cause of farmers and monitoring Vidarbha farmer’s suicides and agrarian crisis since 1998. The movement is pursuing its battle on various fronts from people’s agitations to taking up the issues with administration, judiciary, legislature, human rights bodies, and international forums. We have pursued with vigor the issue of farmers’ suicides and agrarian distress, malnutrition among tribal’s in Yavatmal, depressing rural economy, drinking water problem in rural Vidarbha, right to food and education, problems faced by minorities, and statehood to Vidarbha.

The continued follow up and Jan Andolans of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has resulted in many success broadly classified as under;

1. Waiver of small farmers crop loans

2. Interest remission to marginal farmers

3. Right to food to the lacs of tribal’s

4. Primary Education to every rural students

5. Farmers packages

6. BPL benefits to thousands of poor families

7. Justice to unwed mothers

The relentless agitations and struggle by the VJAS has given Vidarbha farmers a voice and political identity and helped place the crisis on state and national political agenda.

Activities and Achievements of VJAS:

Activities and Achievements of VJAS since 2004:

i. A PIL was filed by VJAS in 2002 in Nagpur High Court on malnutrition deaths among Kolam tribals. In 29th June 2004 the court gave directions to provide foodgrains, clothes, shelter and health to Kolam tribals in Amravati division: - Yavatmal, Washim, Buldhana, Amravati, Akola, Wardha districts.

ii. On 19th July 2004, a dharna was organized outside SBI bank, Parwa, taluka Ghatanji, district Yavatmal. Cotton farmers with outstanding loans were not being given fresh loans. Hence the dharna was organised to demand new loans for the farmers and accept repayment of the old loan in instalments. As a result the farmers started getting fresh loans.

iii. On 28th July 2004, to demand land rights of tribals in Yavatmal districts. In every taluka an andolan was organised outside tehsil, SDO office. SDO spoke to Collector. Collector ordered the forest department to let the tribals continue farming in the forest.

iv. In 2004, VJAS demanded that the government start a ‘Sahukar Mukti Yojana’ after suicide of a farmer in Injara, taluka, Ghatnji, district Yavatmal.

v. In May 2004, Rohpat (Tandapod), taluka Maregaon, district Yavatmal, there was an incidence of police harassing Kolam tribals and wrong cases were applied to them. A PIL was filed in Nagpur HC by VJAS to quash the case against the Kolam tribals. ............

vi. In 2004, a PIL was filed in Nagpur HC to give Khawti Karj Yojana to all tribals. To waive off Khawti Karj, to give new loans to them and also cover those who have been left out. The demands were fulfilled.

vii. On 1st July 2004, the government announced free electricity to all farmers. This would not help those farmers who commit suicide. Give direct loans to farmers because this would not help them. Give direct help to farmers.

viii. In Nov 2004, an andolan was organized to demand Rs.2700/- against government’s rate (which was declared in their election manifesto of Rs.2700/-) of 2500/- for all cotton farmers as MSP. This was done in Pandharkawda cotton market.

ix. In Dec 2004, farmers were not getting the payment for their cotton on time. So an Andolan was organised outside Zilla Madhyavarti bank, Pandharkawda. So payment gradually started being disbursed.

x. In Dec 2004, a scheme for tractor was started for farmers. There was a major corruption in the scheme and job in Zilla Madhyavarti Bank. So a demand was made to stop this corruption.

xi. In 104 Cotton ginning factories in Yavatmal district, the labourers were not getting minimum wages of Rs.82/- but were being given 30-40/-. There were no identity cards, muster, or provident fund being given. Then an andolan was organized at Collector’s office in Yavatmal. Then they started receiving minimum wages and pension.

xii. In Dec 2004, there was an andolan was organised in Pandarkawda outside tehsil office, to demand land rights for tribals who have encroached forest and revenue land to give them patta ownership. “Zameenche patte denari Swabhiman Yojana”.

xiii. Farmer suicides due to shortage of water, drought and loss of crops, lack of fodder. VJAS has raised the issue.

xiv. In 2nd Jan 2005, A land owned by a trust Ruikar Trust in Nanjha, tehsil Kalamb, district Yavatmal was not being used and many farmers, mostly tribals, had been farming on that land since 30 – 40 years. The trust was trying to harass the farmers and evict them. So an andolan was organized against the trust and demand land for the farmers. After that the trust stopped harassing them.

xv. In 11th jan 2005, VJAS supported the andolan of business traders who were opposing service tax as this would affect the poor.

xvi. Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) was procuring Cotton for the Central government at Rs.1700/- whereas the Pannan Maha Sangh was procuring it for the Maharashtra government for Rs.2200/-. So on 15th Jan 2005, VJAS made a demand that the Maharashtra government give the difference as bonus to cotton farmers selling to CCI. But the demand was not met.

xvii. In Jan 2005, 12lakhs quintal of cheap cotton was bought by traders from Andhra Pradesh. Because of that local farmers were suffereing. Hence VJAS demanded the Collector that the border of Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh be sealed to stop the flow of cotton.

xviii. Jhari tehsil, there was drought in some 20-25 villages. ‘Gaon tithe Uposhan’ andolan was organized on 15th February 2005 to demand clean water in Gram Panchayats. A memo was given to collector. So Collector took steps to provide tankers, bore wells etc.

xix. In Yavatmal in 5 years, 216 layout were made after evicting tribals. VJAS demanded an investigation into these land scams to the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra.

xx. In Maregaon Van, tehsil Pandarkawda, tribal farmers had taken loans from money lenders. The money lenders bullock cart, bull, and belongings of the tribals when they couldn’t repay loans. Then VJAS took up the case and made a police case.

xxi. In 27th February, payment was not being made on time in Vidarbha & Marathwada, by the Mahareashtra government. Hence a demand for uposhan satyagraha was made by VJAS. Then payment started.

xxii. In National Food for Work Program, corruption was taking place where foodgrains were being sold in the open market and not being given to beneficiaries. An andolan was organized against it on 5th March 2005. Later foodgrains were being distributed started. Later work was not being started and hence an andolan was organized to demand start of the work.

xxiii. A petition was made to the National Human Rights Commission demand for inclusion of Neo-Buddhists in Scheduled Caste in Census in 2005.

xxiv. In Swabhimani Yojana where land is given to landless, Dalit and tribal agricultural labourers through Social Welfare department and Tribal Project Office. Corruption in this was brought to the notice of CM. They were buying land at Rs.1000-2000 per acre and telling the government that it is Rs.25,000/- per acre.

xxv. About 212 tendu patta ghatak in Vidarbha were not selling tendu leaves as traders were not buying. So VJAS demanded that the government buy it. But the government did not do that.

xxvi. Khawti karj andolan.....The central government had given directions to all banks to give loans to farmers but were not being implemented. So VJAS demanded that increase the loans. Later an andolan was organised.

xxvii. In Feb 2007, VJAS demanded the Central government that in places where there are no water facilities, Bt cotton should not be grown. Coarse grains should be grown so that farmers can get food as well as fodder for animals.

xxviii. In April 2007, Demand for Kolam tribals for Khawti karj and implementation of court order.

xxix. In Pandharkawda, a farmer committed suicide after not being able to repay the loan from a money lender. A demand was put before the CM, PM and President to write off the loan and help the widow but it was considered ineligible as the loan was not from a bank.

xxx. From Jan to April 2007, 396 farmers had committed suicide. But PMO had declared that suicide had reduced. Then VJAS defied it and presented the correct data.

xxxi. In june 2007, VJAS demanded that all loans be waived off. In the last package only interest was waived off which benefitted a very small number of farmers. In 2008 the loans were waived off only for farmers with less than 5 acres and those above 5 acres only 20,000/- was waived off.

xxxii. In june 2007, VJAS asked farmers to use traditional seeds and organic manure.

xxxiii. In june 2007, National Human Rights Commissions was approached for malnutrition deaths of Kolam tribals. A committee had come. VJAS showed the fluoride water affected villages and Kolam tribal villages.

xxxiv. The President was going to come to Yavatmal. Widows of farmers who committed suicide wanted to meet her and tell her the conditions of farmers. VJAS demanded that all loans be written off and be given new loans and give Rs.5 lakhs to the those farmer who committed suicide. The widows met the President and demanded loans be waived off, free education for their children and health benefits. The demand to wave off loans was agreed by the President APJ Abdul Kalam.

xxxv. On 18th June Halla Bol andolan for writing off loans and give fresh loans. An andolan was organized outside Pandharkawda Central Bank.

xxxvi. 15th August, a Shetkari Wachwa Andolan was organized for Dalit, tribal and OBC. Government and cooperative banks were not getting loans. So they were going to money lenders. They were being exploited by them. VJAS demanded the government that farmers be given loans, be included in antyodaya, and health facilities.

xxxvii. The VJAS demanded Nagpur High Court should implement in 10 days the case dealing with farmers suicides. A PIL had been filed earlier by VJAS.

xxxviii. In July 2007, a widow of a farmer who committed suicide was given PM package of Rs.10,000/- but the cheque bounced. VJAS raised the issue and finally cash was given to her by the government. Action was taken against 6 officials.

xxxix. On 27th September 2007, Khawti Karj Andolan was organized to demand khawti karj for all tribals in front of tehsil office, Pandharkawda.

xl. On 2nd October, Gandhi Parishad was organized so that cotton MSP be Rs.2700/- and loans be written off and from the profits of Pannan MahaSangh Rs.300/- be given as bonus to farmers. Widows also participated.

xli. Agriculture Price Commission, MS Swaminathan came to meet widows of farmers who committed suicide.

xlii. 1 – Agitation for loan disbursement at State Bank of India and District central cooperative bank branches of Pandharkawda, Patanbori, Darwha and Jhari (2008 June-July)

xliii. 2 – Gandhigiri Andolan in June and July 2008 for pushing the bank officials to approve loans to farmers. The activists would happily welcome the bank officials at the branches early morning, touch their feet, and embarrass them to the hilt in this unique protests. It moved bank officials faster than our usual agitations to avoid further embarrassment.

xliv. 3 – Krishi Parishad, Kinwat (nanded), September 2008 ; A convention of farmers who do not have protective irrigation was organized at Kinwat in Nanded post-loan waiver announcement, mainly to discuss its outcome and anomalies with regard to land acreage condition. The VJAS rallied the farmers who had smaller outstanding loans but could not get the benefit of the complete waiver due to their large land size. It was at this convention that the VJAS rejected the farm loan waiver scheme as unfair to rain-fed farmers and started a debate in the political and economic circles that loans up to Rs 50,000 should be waived completely, a view later accepted by the state government that went on to announce its own waiver of loans up to Rs 20,000 in December 2008.

xlv. 4 – Farm widows’ conventions, Pandharkawda, Yavatmal, Bothbodan, Kosara and Karanji (December 2008-March 2009) - The VJAS organized the first convention of farmers’ widows in December 2006, but it was on a small scale. A first major convention of over 500 farm widows from all over Vidarbha was organized in Pandharkawda, the VJAS field headquarters, in February 2009, as a precursor to many smaller village-wise farm widows’ conventions and get-togethers. The VJAS intended to mobilize the widows who are living in abjectly poor conditions with their children. It was important to organize them and bring them together to raise a charter of their demands. The VJAS intends to make it an annual feature to bring the widows together at least once every year so that their problems are heard and they feel they are not alone in their struggle. The convention helped the VJAS to not only mobilize the widows but also understand their land-related problems, among other issues. We now intend to take forward their struggle and demands.

xlvi. 5 – Dushkal Parishad, 2009 - Vidarbha witnessed a major drought in 2009. Crop yields were less than 50%; farmers had liquidity crunch at the beginning of the season; the cotton-soybean support prices had not been raised post-election. Maharashtra was going for the elections. The VJAS, in view of the political situation, organized a ‘Dushkal parishad’ in Pandharkawda to take the stock of the situation, invite farmers to share their conditions and prepare a charter of demands ahead of elections. The government did announce scarcity in Vidarbha that year, owing to our demand.

xlvii. 6 – Road blockade pressing for a rise in MSP of cotton - The VJAS blocked the National high way 7 in the summer of 2007 and 2008 demanding a hike in the minimum support price of cotton. MSP was hiked finally in 2008 May, a year before the Parliamentary elections were due.

xlviii. 7 – Drinking water agitation 2010 - The summer of 2010 was one of the most difficult periods of recent times. The two successive years of drought, water mining by mines and farmers, and lack of drinking water supply programme, villages in Yavatmal and rest of Vidarbha had to go miles in search of water. The VJAS held agitations and pushed the districts’ administration and political leadership of the region and state to make emergency plans to provide drinking water to the rural households.

xlix. 10 – Agitation against corruption in the implementation of special farm packages: The state and central government announced different packages for the six most suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha since 2005. First came the Rs 1075 crore CM package in the December of 2005; then the Rs 3750 crore PM package in July 1, 2006, followed by the central loan waiver, state loan waiver etc.

l. 9 – Food-Fodder - The VJAS also simultaneously launched agitations all over for food and fodder security for farming households during summer of 2010, drawing the attention of the government toward massive food and fodder crunch, and forcing it to open fodder camps in every tehsil so that the cattle could survive the scarcity.

li. In the implementation of each of these packages the VJAS stayed alert to massive corruption and anomalies and staged protests all over Vidarbha, petitioned the concerned ministers, and moved the high court when no action was forthcoming. The state government admitted in the legislative assembly in 2008 most of the VJAS charges and suspended a few officials, who were guilty of corruption.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

तेंदुपत्ता घटकांचा लिलाव करण्याची मागणी-लोकमत

तेंदुपत्ता घटकांचा लिलाव करण्याची मागणी-लोकमत यवतमाळ, दि. १२ (वार्ताहर) - तेंदुपत्ता घटकाच्या लिलावाची प्रक्रया दरवर्षी डिसेंबरमध्ये सुरू होवून जानेवारीत पूर्ण होते. मात्र गडचिरोलीच्या जिल्हाधिकाऱ्यांनी तेंदुपत्ता घटकाचा लिलाव करू नये, असा प्रस्ताव दिल्यामुळे वनखात्याने ही प्रक्रया रोखली आहे. शासनाने येत्या पंधरवड्यात लिलाव न केल्यास यावर्षी विदर्भातील पाच लाखांवर तेंदुपत्ता मजूर १६० कोटींची मजुरी व बोनसपासून वंचित राहणार आहे. त्यामुळे गडचिरोली वगळता इतर जिल्ह्यातील तेंदुपत्ता घटकांचा लिलाव करण्याची मागणी तेंदुपत्ता मजूर समितीचे नेते किशोर तिवारी यांनी मुख्यमंत्री पृथ्वीराज चव्हाण यांना केली आहे. महाराष्ट्रात प्रत्येक वर्षी ३३ वन विभागात सात लाख ५० हजारावर प्रमाण गोणीसाठी तेंदू घटकांचा लिलाव केला जातो. वर्ष २०१० मध्ये लिलावाद्वारे सरकारला ९० कोटींचा महसूल मिळाला होता. नंतर हा महसूल मजुरांना बोनस म्हणून खर्च कापून वाटण्यात आला. त्याचवेळी मजुरांना ८० रुपये शेकडा मुडक्याच्या दराने मजुरीद्वारे ६० कोटी रुपये वाटण्यात आले होते. मात्र यावर्षी अद्यापतरी लिलावाची प्रक्रया सुरू झाली नसल्याने तेंदुपत्ता मजूर मजुरीपासून वंचित राहणार असल्याचे किशोर तिवारी यांनी म्हटले आहे. गडचिरोली वगळता इतर जिल्ह्यातील तेंदुपत्ता तोडाईचा मार्ग मोकळा करावा व तेंदुपत्ता मजूरी वाटपासोबतच तेंदुपत्ता बोनस देण्यासाठी योजना लागू करावी, अशी मागणी भीमराव नैताम यांनी केली.