Saturday, February 27, 2010

Whose security is Pawar working for?

His friends say that Sharad Pawar is more knowledgeable about agriculture management than any other political leader. May be. What the public knows is that he pays less attention to his portfolio than any other minister. The little attention he pays leads to dubious results.

Farmer suicides have become a feature of life in India, with Vidarbha in his own state at the heart of the tragedy. But the minister never seemed worried about it. Food prices went up so badly for so long that his own government colleagues openly pointed a finger at him. He replied casually that the Cabinet as a whole was responsible and went off to play games at Bal Thackeray’s house.

He has now written a six-page letter to the Prime Minister pleading strongly for Bt. brinjal. He says GM food will bring about “increased yield and reduced crop loss” and is therefore being increasingly accepted as a means to food security. Monsanto’s spin specialists could not have written a more one-sided thesis based on half-truths. Pawar doesn’t say a word about the dangers a Supreme Court-appointed scientist mentions. And not a word about GM being roundly rejected in Europe and Japan.

Strange things are happening in the Government where powerful lobbies are at work. Two MOUs were recently approved by the Cabinet, both in a hush-hush manner. One regulates intellectual property rights pertaining to agriculture and biotechnology as per the Science and Technology Agreement between India and America. The other promotes the privatisation of agriculture and, specifically, collaboration between America’s agribusiness and India’s farm sector. These are in addition to the India-US Agricultural Knowledge Initiative which allowed private corporations like Monsanto to directly control farm research activities in India.

The net result of these agreements is obvious: American MNCs are in a position to dominate India’s food industry from research to production to marketing. This may fit in with Sharad Pawar’s notion of food security, but whose food security? It cannot be India’s when decisions are primarily meant to ensure a market for Wal-Mart, Monsanto and their Indian collaborators.

During the days of the Shah of Iran, America signed a treaty with him to guarantee legal immunity to US troops in Iran. Americans called it the Status of Forces Agreement. Iranians called it the Capitulation Treaty. Ayatollah Khomenei put it best when he said: “ If someone runs over a dog belonging to an American, he will be prosecuted. If an American cook runs over the Shah of Iran, no one will have the right to touch him”.

It’s worth a sociological-psychological-political study how the US manages to get such treaties even from sovereign republics supervised by parliament, judiciary, vigilance commissioners and investigation agencies. Circumventing these checks and balances must be part of the genius that operates behind the scenes.

When the GE Approvals Committee (GEAC) cleared Bt. brinjal cultivation, Sharad Pawar rushed into print with a statement that this was now final. Why the eagerness? Jairam Ramesh demolished Pawar’s contention. But Pawar would not give up, hence his epistle to the PM. Why this zeal? The PM has now ruled that the moratorium on Bt. brinjal approval should not be indefinite. In other words, give in to the MNCs sooner or later.

Add a mystery element to all this. News reports in November said the Central Vigilance Commission was investigating whether a crucial report to GEAC was rigged by interested parties. At least four named persons associated with an Expert Committee (EC-II) set up by GEAC are said to be under investigation. News agencies said the chairman of EC-II was called by “the Agriculture Minister, GEAC and industries” to ensure that Bt. brinjal was cleared.

In all probability we won’t hear about that investigation again. Who said the Shah of Iran is dead.