Friday, July 25, 2014

Trade: India must stand firm on food security issue, say farmers

Trade: India must stand firm on food security issue, say farmers

Geneva, 23 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- A number of farmers' organisations in India have called upon their government to stand firm on linking the issue of food security with the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

In a statement issued in New Delhi on the eve of the WTO General Council meeting (24-25 July), the groups called on the Government of India to not buckle down under pressure from the United States, the European Union and other developed countries, and to not dilute its position of linking trade facilitation with food and livelihood security and by pushing for a permanent solution to the G-33 proposal on public stockholding for food security purposes.

"We call upon the Government of India to use current negotiations to correct fundamental WTO wrongs, to build up and lead a coalition/alliance of like-minded countries to collectively secure safeguards for sovereign development policy space, food security and the livelihood concerns of farmers and its people," said the groups.

Among the groups that endorsed the statement are the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA); All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS); Bharatiya Krishak Samaj (BKS); Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana; Bhartiya Kisan Union, Punjab; Green Brigade, Karnataka; Kerala Coconut Farmers Association (KCFA), Kerala; BJP Kisan Morchha; Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathan; and Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, Tamil Nadu.

"In the backdrop of rising costs and extremely volatile global market prices, and to fulfil the constitutional obligation of food security to its people, and also to ensure the livelihood security of producers, the Government of India needs to sustain and increase domestic agricultural production through price support, procurement and other measures to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, across different food grains," said Yudhvir Singh, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the largest farmers' organisations in India, in a press release.

"This is all the more important in the context of hundreds of thousands of farmers committing suicides in desperation," he added.

Kavitha Kuruganti, of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said: "The Government of India lost a historical opportunity in correcting deep-seated WTO wrongs in the Bali Ministerial. At least now, they need to stand firm on our sovereign policy space related to food and livelihood security, and sustainable development pathways."

"Indian government at that time settled for a temporary solution with so called ‘peace clause'. Lack of progress towards a ‘permanent solution' vindicates our apprehensions. At this point of time, the government should not buckle under any international pressure. It should remain firm in its position," she added.

Don’t allow field trials of GM crops: farmers, activists

Don’t allow field trials of GM crops: farmers, activists

The recent decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to allow field trials of GM rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal has been met with strong opposition from farmers’ groups and environmental activists.
Seeking the intervention of Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javdekar, the Bhartiya Kisan Union has asked for “annulment” of the approvals.
Questioning the need for release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the fields, the BKU leaders said they were concerned over the nation’s seed and food sovereignty.
“This is because most genes as well as transgenic processes are already patented and these Intellectual Property Rights work for the monopolistic benefit of the profiteering multinational corporations. The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” BKU leaders Naresh Tikait, Dharmendra Malik and Yudhveer Singh said in a letter to the Minister.
In a separate letter to Mr. Javadekar, the Coalition for GM-free India said the GEAC approvals came at a time the Supreme Court was about to pronounce its orders on the issue of field trials of GM crops, based on the recommendations of the Court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC). “Realising the potential of field trials to contaminate the seed, food supply chains and environment, and owing to the lack of a proper regulatory system, the TEC has recommended a moratorium on open-air field trials.”
“It is ironical that the BJP manifesto promise of not allowing GM foods in the country without full scientific evaluation of their long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers is the main subject for this PIL petition in the Supreme Court. It was pending the decision of the apex court that former Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had stayed GEAC meetings... The last time the GEAC approved some GMOs for open- air field testing, prominent BJP leaders had condemned the move,” Rajesh Krishnan of the coalition said.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

KRRS Martyrs remembered as Karnataka village Muttagi struggles against thermal power project

Agitation against NTPC power plant in Muttagi and commemoration of Farmer Martyrs’ Day

KRRS farmers show solidarity with the people of Muttagi after a police shooting took place at a similar protest on July 5th, outside the NTPC power and ask for a judicial probe into the shooting.

On Monday 21 July, 2014, thousands of farmers came from all over Karnataka, mobilized by Karnataka Rajya Rayta Sangha, to lend solidarity to a farmers in North Karnataka struggling against the construction of a thermal power plant just outside their, Muttagi (Bijapur District). It is only fitting that the day marks the Farmer’s Association’s Martyrs’ day, as on July 21, 1980 another police shooting of farmers took place at Naragund.  The plant in question is the NTPC power plant at Kudgi, in which 12 crores rs has already been invested as a step towards so-called “development.” Farmers in Muttagi are adamant that the disastrous health impacts (such as in-utero affects on babies and respiration problems) as well as environmental effects (poisoning of soil and draining of groundwater) seen as a result of other thermal power plants in India should not become a permanent part of their day-to-day reality.

Minute of silence for martyrs

Farmers’ protest for life & livelihood met with gunfire from police
On 5 July, almost 10,000 farmers from 10 to 15 villages surrounding Kudgi organised a protest and tried to storm the gates of the power plant. Women were pushed to the front of the crowd to discourage the police from physical violence. The police were unfazed, and charged at the crowd using lathi. When this was an unsuccessful deterrent, shots were fired by the police. Basuraj Chimmaragi, the former Gram Panchayat President of Muttagi, whose leg was fractured as a result of the stampede, said that the official reports were misleading: while two people had bullet wounds, over 50 people were injured and rushed to the hospital.

Kudgi NTPC Power Plant on 21 July 2014

In the face of such danger, farmers continue to fight. The proposed thermal power plant, will have a generation capacity of 4000 MW and will use water from the Alamatti reservoir, a dam built on the Krishna river. Most local farmers have non-irrigated land and the Krishna river is a major source of irrigation. If diverted towards the power plant, given that the monsoons are become more unreliable every year, the farmers will have close to nothing to fall back on. Though the company has acquired around 2995 acres of land in Kudgi, the effects of the plant will spread to over 40 of the villages in the periphery.  

Public awareness grew when Mr. M.P. Patil, a retired atomic scientist from the village of Masuti, took it upon himself ti educating the people about the thermal plant's repercussions. He later filed a case in the Supreme Court which will be heard on August 5th. Patil campaigned in villages through video screenings of documentaries of other power plants in India, such as in Ranchi. He explained to villagers that the plant would not only will it affect the air and soil adversely, but these villages will get none of the benefits from the plant, with one-sixth of the total electricity produced in already existing power stations being transferred only to Bangalore. There are now 6 cases pending against Mr. Patil, due to which he has gone into hiding. Similarly, after the July 5th protests, over 27 farmers have pending criminal cases against them.

Farmers’ response to so-called “Development”
Farmers’ leaders encouraged government energy policies to shift towards sustainable energy sources. Puttanaiah, MLA from Mandya District, challenged India’s tendency towards coal power plants when the rest of the world is giving up on them. He also demanded a judicial inquiry into the police firing.

“The NTPC is the kind of project that our government calls ‘Development’! But development for whom?” asked Nandini Jayaram, KRRS Women’s Wing President. “They promise to build railroads and give electricity, but without water we cannot grow food. What use is a railroad if we are starving?”

Women sit in protest against the backdrop of the power plant and fertile farmland

But some Muttagi residents find that they are already starving, and NTPC is a short-term solution. One marginal farmer found relief when she and her daughter secured cleaning jobs at the NTPC. She says she hides her face from disapproving neighbors as she goes to work everyday, along with one thousand local coworkers at the plant – all salaried as office boys, cleaners, and other laborers. Her 2 acres of land could not support her family, which she heads as a single mother, and so the combined 17,000 INR/month she and her daughter make at NTPC provide her “rozi roti.” She told us, “I’m not sure if the videos they showed of places like Ranchi are doctored or not… such as babies being born without limbs… but, regardless, at this point I’m unwilling to fight. I need the money here and now.”

Shankaramma of Muttagi
Other women gathered at the protest are hopeful that with KRRS backing their efforts to stop the erection of the power plant will be more organised and that they will eventually succeed in stopping NTPC. Shantabai, a protester, says, "My family discourages me from being involved in this struggle. But even if I die during this struggle, it does not matter. At least that will be a honourable death." Adds Gangabai, “I do not even have land where I can be buried anymore! If I die, I will die a martyr's death, and at least they can bury me though my family cannot." 

The government has taken an extremely firm stance and has refused to stop the development of the power despite the growing unrest among the people of the region. Though official figures say that about 70% of the construction is complete, it is alleged that in reality only 30% of the plant has been built.  But if the government refuses to budge, then the people of the land along with the KRRS are willing to match them step for step. Like their slogan says, "Come what may, let us unite." And that is exactly what they are doing.