Archives for posts with tag: India

The drought situation in India has gravely imperiled the lives and livelihood of crores of families in over fifty per cent districts across the country. The urgency of drought relief measures on an emergency basis arises from the reality that large numbers of Indian are already living on the edge, victims of malnutrition and hunger.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) estimate ranks India at a low 66 out of the 88 developing countries, with a worse score than many Sub-Saharan African countries, with a GDP lower than that of India. The situation of malnutrition and food insecurity is further exacerbated by the utter failure of the Central Government to control the relentless price rise of essential commodities. The prices of rice, wheat, edible oil, salt have increased by 12 to 20 per cent and in the cases of some vegetables by over 100 per cent. The prices of commonly used dals (pulses) like Arhar have doubled and are sold at between 80 to 100 rupees a kilo . Sugar is today the most bitter commodity in the market at thirty rupees a kilo. High prices have led to increasing food insecurity because families are forced to cut down on their food intake. In particular, poor women and girl children are the worst affected.
Even as the Central Government is wrongly trying to blame the State Governments for this situation, it needs to answer:
Who has increased the prices of Petrol by Rs.4 per litre and Diesel by Rs. 2 per litre, leading to further price hikes? Who has cut down on the allocations of foodgrains in the rationing system uoto 73 per cent, weakening the public distribution system and thus creating more dependence on the market? Who permitted futures trade in many of the essential commodities allowing speculation and pushing up prices? Who permitted the export of sugar under pressure of the sugar lobbies leading to a shortage today?
All these major policy decisions that have a direct impact on increasing prices have been taken by the Central Government not State Governments. What is required is a change in these policies. The Centre must also reverse the policies that encourage hoarding and black-marketeering and the States must exercise a check on these.
In such a situation of price rise there is an urgent need for a food security law and the Government proposal to have such a law is welcome. However will the promised Food Security law of the present UPA Government fulfill its declared aim?
Government Proposal
Food security is defined by the Food and Agricultural Organisation as ‘Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
According to this definition a large majority of people in our country are food insecure. How does the Government proposal address this reality?
The proposed law will ensure 25 kg of foodgrains (rice and wheat) to all BPL families at Rs. 3 per kilo. The Central Government has sent a concept note to State Governments in line with this. The Congress President Sonia Gandhi has also sent a proposal on this issue to the Prime Minister along similar lines.
According to this proposal the legislation will be only for BPL card holders. The numbers will be decided by the Central Government every five years. States will have no rights to decide BPL numbers. The numbers of BPL at present is 6.52 crore families. The Central Government note proposes cutting this down further to 5.91 crore families as per the latest National Sample Survey round. On the other hand, surveys by a few State Governments add up to over 10 crores. If all the States were to do such surveys the numbers of those requiring food security would be much higher. The proposed law would thus mean a far higher level of exclusion of people.
Antodaya benefits will be eliminated and Antodaya card holders who at present are getting foodgrains at Rs. 2 per kg will have to pay one rupee more.
For both BPL and Antodaya card holders the quota will be cut by 10 kg per family from the present 35kg to 25 kg.
No foodgrain will be allocated for APL sections. Not only will the APL subsidy be eliminated but even the APL category will be cancelled.
The proposal instead of strengthening food security actually decreases what people are getting today and will thus lead to food insecurity. According to one estimate the net result of these proposals will be that the Central Government will end up saving more than Rs 4000 crores as food subsidy.
Not surprisingly, many State Governments have objected to the proposals.
There are other problems too with the proposals. While quotas are being cut, the number of ration cards will also be cut. Ration cards are given in many States either to nuclear families or even to individuals. Now it is proposed by the Congress President’s note that ration cards should be given to “joint family comprising all adults and children who eat from a common hearth and reside under a common roof.” Thus a larger number of people will have to share the reduced quota of 25 kg , if this is accepted as the norm.
The primary responsibility of providing food security is on the State Governments/Union Territory without a mandatory prior commitment by the Central Government to provide the necessary finances and foodgrains.
At least 10 state governments have successfully implemented more universal schemes. Those schemes will also be negatively affected by the Central Government proposals.
All these factors point towards the need for an inclusive universal PDS that includes several items at affordable prices linked to the capacity to pay of the majority of our people.
What is that capacity? The NSS data quoted by the Arjun Sengupta report says that 77 per cent of our population spends less than 20 rupees a day. At current prices that would mean one kilo of rice! Clearly with these low levels of expenditure the vast majority of our people require subsidized foodgrains and other essential commodities.
Dividing and Excluding the Poor: Targeting Continues!
It has been conclusively shown through evidence backed by NSS data that the targeting system started in 1996 has excluded large numbers of the poor. For example over half of agricultural labourers are excluded from the BPL category. Over half of dalit and tribal communities are also excluded.
The current average national poverty line according to the Planning Commission is only around 11.80 rupees per person per day for rural areas and 17.80 rupees per person per day for urban areas. These are clearly not poverty but destitution levels. And yet, anyone earning above these levels is considered ineligible for the subsidy. Under pressure from the Left and almost all political parties, a Committee was set up to relook at poverty estimates. Headed by Dr. S. Tendulkar the Committee is said to have recommended a methodology which would increase rural poverty from the current levels to around 42 per cent and the urban poverty estimates would go up to 26 per cent. It is not known whether the Government would accept these estimates
Even though this would mean a substantial increase and benefit a larger number of people, as far as food security is concerned it would still exclude a substantial number of families from a basic right. Considering that the vast mass of our people in both rural and urban India earn their living through the informal sector where there is no guaranteed income, the urgent requirement is for a universal system which would cover these sections. The central Government’sNational Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector has itself admitted that the vast number of unorganized sector workers require social security. How then can they be excluded from an even more basic right, that is food security?
It is therefore clear that the faulty Central Poverty estimates should be delinked from the guarantee to a right to food, which should be based on universal entitlements.
Antodaya Entitlements
The previous UPA government did little to expand the Antodaya scheme. In five years it increased the Antodaya beneficiaries on an average of just 10 lakhs a year (from 2 crores when it assumed power to 2.5 crores when its term was over). The CPI(M) had demanded an expansion of the Antodaya particularly to the “priority groups” identified by the Supreme Court like the aged, infirm, disabled, destitute; pregnant and lactating women, widows and other single women with no regular support; primitive tribal groups. In many tribal areas hunger and malnutrition has caused hunger deaths. The government also rejected a specific demand for expansion of the special Antodaya subsidies to tribals in remote areas. The present UPA government actually proposes to completely do away with the Antyodaya and subsume it under the BPL category asking them to pay higher prices.
Include All Food and Nutrition Schemes in the law
Nutrition programmes like the ICDS and the mid day meal scheme are hostage to budgetary considerations instead of being recognized as a statutory right. It is necessary to include all food and nutrition schemes of the Central Government in the proposed food security legislation so that the most vulnerable sections of our society, children of the poor, are guaranteed food security.
Production and Procurement
Food security requires food self-sufficiency. The agrarian crisis brought about by the neo-liberal policies of the Government has resulted in negligible agricultural growth and a fall in per capita availability and absorption of foodgrains in India after the mid-1990s.
Considering five-year averages India saw a rise in the foodgrain availability per head from 416 grams during 1950-55 to 485 grams by 1989-91. However since then there has been the slide to a low of 439.3 gram per head per day by 2007, a level not seen since the drought years of 1970s. There is a fall in per capita foodgrain production. If 5 year averages are taken between 1990 and 2008, it fell from about 200 grams in the 1990s to 187 grams during the NDA regime. During the UPA regime, it barely increased to 189 grams, well below the 1990s.
Therefore, the Government must take immediate short and medium term measures to increase production and procurement, instead of falling back on the inevitability of imports at levels that are bound to push up international prices and become a self-defeating exercise. Shockingly the Government imported wheat at prices higher than it was prepared to pay Indian farmers. Thus food self-sufficiency also requires a policy to ensure fair prices to farmers. The implementation of land reforms as in West Bengal is essential to engender food security. Other measures include increased public investment, extension services and appropriate land use policies.
MSP for Coarse Grains and procurement for PDS
The Government has not made any efforts to procure foodgrains at remunerative MSP for crops besides rice and wheat. The shortage pf pulses and oilseeds points to continued neglect by the Government. Moreover the Government has completely neglected the production of millets, or coarse grains like ragi, bajra, jowar which can be grown in dry areas. Production of millets has gone down by 2.4 per cent between 1996 and 2006. Shockingly although these grains form a staple food in diets of a large number of communities across the country, the Government has not included these in the public distribution system. This should be done as part of food security
In addition a number of essential commodities like dal, sugar and edible oils must be included in the PDS at subsidized prices
Reforming the PDS
The Fair Price Shops network and procurement system is in shambles in many parts of the country. Urgent steps are needed to make the procurement system more vibrant, cost-effective for States, remunerative for farmers and accountable to consumers.
The Decentralised Procurement Scheme is poorly conceived too so that most states are unable to increase local procurement. The States receive credit for procurement at an exorbitant interest rate of 12.35%, which must be halved. The Government of India has extremely unrealistic and irrational norms for storage, transportation and shrinkage losses, making State Governments bear an extra burden on account of the PDS which is a central scheme and penalising States which are part of the decentralised procurement system. These norms should be revised.
Accountability and expansion of the FPS network are essential, and the country has a lot to learn from Kerala in this regard. In Kerala, apart from the ration dealers SHGs, Panchayats and other co-operative societies or public bodies are also involved in public distribution. They get a working capital grant as well as better commission amounts. The delivery of the grain etc. is done to the doorstep of the FPS without any intermediaries. They are allowed to sell other commodities in order to increase their viability.  FPS should be allowed to sell other commodities as in Kerala in order to increase their viability. At the same time these shops provide a great service to consumers by selling commodities at much lower prices (see chart of prices in Kerala on inside back page)
Not ‘Feasible’ for Aam Aadmi ?
A strong food security system requires financial backing and adequate allocations. At present the food subsidy budgeted for 2009-10 of the Government is 52, 489 crore rupees, which is about 1.18 per cent of GDP. A June 2008 report of the International Monetary Fund showed that 28 countries have food subsidies. 16 countries increased their subsidies from near zero to up to 2.7 per cent of GDP as a response to higher food prices. Thus if India also raises its food subsidy to fund a food security system as suggested above it is not exceptional. The UPA Government’s continuous harping on inadequate finances to justify a targeted not a universal system is unconvincingIn budget 2009-2010 it gifted the corporate sector 4 lakh crore rupees in tax foregone. According to one estimate the giveaways to corporates in the last two years come to 700 crores rupees a day! Surely this is a policy not for aam aadmi but khaas aadmi.
Thus there can be no excuses for not ensuring the minimum human right of food security for our people.
A nationwide struggle is required to force a change of Government policy and to have a food security law which includes the basic issues discussed above.
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Half a century has passed since India took its first steps towards establishing a space programme of its own. The country’s first experimental satellite, Aryabhata, was launched from the Soviet Union in 1975 and the first successful satellite launch from within the country, using the SLV-3 rocket, followed five years later. On Sunday, the Indian Space Research Organisation celebrated its 100th mission with a flawless launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota. Given the long association between the French and Indian space programmes, it was particularly appropriate that this landmark launch carried France’s SPOT 6 satellite. A deal in the mid-1960s to make a small French two-stage rocket (known as a sounding rocket) in India catalysed the development of solid propulsion capabilities needed for the launch vehicle programme. A decade later, another deal gave ISRO access to French liquid propulsion technology, which has gone into the PSLV’s second stage. The PSLV has become a rugged workhorse with 21 consecutive successful launches behind it. It has taken over 50 satellites and spacecraft into space, half of them for foreign customers. Since it became operational, the PSLV has carried all of India’s remote sensing satellites and also launched the country’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1. The first Indian mission to Mars too will travel on its shoulders next year.

With the PSLV, the country does not have to look abroad for launching its remote sensing satellites. But the same is not true with communication satellites. In contrast to the PSLV, the trouble-prone Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) has been hampered by delays in mastering the cryogenic technology required for it as well as other problems. Moreover, ISRO’s needs appear to go beyond the capabilities of this rocket, which was designed to carry two-tonne communication satellites. The Indian space agency has already launched three communication satellites weighing over three tonnes on Europe’s Ariane 5. A fourth satellite, GSAT-10, is to be carried on the Ariane 5 in two weeks’ time. Such foreign launches are expensive. In the case of the GSAT-8, which went into operation last year, it cost Rs. 300 crores to build the satellite and a similar sum went for its launch. The giant solid-propellant boosters and liquid-propellant core stage for the next generation GSLV Mark-III are ready and will be tested in an experimental flight. But this rocket, with the ability to carry four-tonne communication satellites, cannot be put to use till an entirely different cryogenic engine and stage have been perfected. That could take time. The Indian launch vehicle programme has a long way to go.

The Union Cabinet’s green light to the amendments in the existing law against child labour is encouraging. When it comes into force, all forms of child labour under the age of 14 years will be banned, the employment of children in the 14-18 age group in hazardous occupations prohibited and child labour a cognisable offence. This would also mean scaling up the state’s efforts and responsibilities, enhanced expenditure and more involvement of the police and judiciary, if the government is serious about the enforcement of the newly tagged Child and Adolescent Labour Prohibition Act.

To judge from India’s official surveys, the protection of its forests is a success. Somehow, this resource-hungry country of 1.2 billion people is managing to preserve its rich forests almost intact in the face of growing demands for timber and agricultural land.

But a senior official responsible for assessing the health of the nation’s forests says that recent surveys have overestimated the extent of the remaining forests. Ranjit Gill of the Forest Survey of India (FSI) claims that illegal felling of valuable teak and sal trees has devastated supposedly protected forests in the northeast of the country. He and other experts also say that an over-reliance on inadequate imaging by an Indian satellite system is making such destruction easy to overlook.

India’s police investigating five coal companies have raided premises across the country over the alleged misallocation of lucrative mining rights. State auditors recently said India lost $33bn selling coalfields cheaply between 2006 and 2009.

Government officials and company employees are also under investigation. Dharini Mishra, spokeswoman for the Central Bureau of Investigation, said that 30 premises had been visited as detectives examined whether coal companies were guilty of cheating in a scandal that has rocked Manmohan Singh’s federal government. “We have registered an FIR (First Information Report) after conducting raids in 10 cities,” Mishra told AFP news agency, adding that coal company offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata had been targeted. An FIR is a written report detailing an alleged crime, prompting an investigation. Mishra declined to name the companies involved.

Corruption cases

The UPA government has been found responsible for another gigantic corruption scandal in the coal block allocations. According to the CAG Report, allocations of coal blocks to private companies have resulted in their benefiting to the tune of Rs. 1.86 lakh crores. This scandal and loot of natural resources is a result of the UPA government’s efforts to privatize the coal industry through the backdoor having failed to change the coal nationalization law. The CPI(M) is opposed to the privatization of the coal industry. It demands a full investigation to fix the responsibility for this large-scale corruption. All those guilty must be prosecuted, however high position they hold. The allocations made to the private companies should be cancelled and steps taken to recover the losses suffered by the government. The Polit Bureau calls upon all its Party units to conduct a campaign to mobilise the people in support of these demands. The campaign through holding demonstrations, rallies and protest meetings should be conducted between September 3 to 5, 2012.

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At the heart of the CBI’s investigation is the allegation that some of the companies were set up only to obtain the coalfields being allocated by the government and then sell them off at profit. Media reports allege that the companies involved misrepresented their ability to mine the coal. The auditors’ report said of the 86 coal blocks, which were to produce coal by 2010-11, “only 28 blocks (including 15 allocated to the private sector) started production as of March 31, 2011”. The CBI will investigate whether some of the firms were set up only to get the coal blocks allocated by the government, and then sold them on at huge profits. Singh’s coalition government, led by the Congress party, has been beset by a string of corruption cases since re-election in 2009 and the latest allegations of mismanagement have led to renewed pressure on him. The BJP and other opposition parties have forced parliament to be adjourned daily over the issue and have demanded the prime minister’s resignation. Singh, who along with being prime minister was also in charge of the coal ministry when the mining rights were allocated, has strongly rejected charges over the coal scandal, saying the auditor’s findings were not supported by facts.

 

The CPI(M) Programme updated in 2000 succinctly summarises the caste question as follows: “The bourgeois-landlord system has also failed to put an end to caste oppression. The worst sufferers are the scheduled castes. The dalits are subject to untouchability and other forms of discrimination despite these being declared unlawful. The growing consciousness among the dalits for emancipation is sought to be met with brutal oppression and atrocities. The assertion by the dalits has a democratic content reflecting the aspirations of the most oppressed sections of society. The backward castes have also asserted their rights in a caste-ridden society.
“At the same time a purely caste appeal which seeks to perpetuate caste divisions for the narrow aim of consolidating vote banks and detaching these downtrodden sections from the common democratic movement has also been at work. Many caste leaders and certain leaders of bourgeois political parties seek to utilise the polarisation on caste lines for narrow electoral gains and are hostile to building up the common movement of the oppressed sections of all castes. They ignore the basic class issues of land, wages and fight against landlordism, which is the basis for overthrowing the old order.
“The problem of caste oppression and discrimination has a long history and is deeply rooted in the pre-capitalist social system. The society under capitalist development has compromised with the existing caste system. The Indian bourgeoisie itself fosters caste prejudices. Working class unity presupposes unity against the caste system and the oppression of dalits, since the vast majority of dalits are part of the labouring classes. To fight for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression through a social reform movement is an important part of the democratic revolution. The fight against caste oppression is interlinked with the struggle against class exploitation.”

The Political Resolution of the 18th Congress of the CPI(M) held in 2005 gives concrete guidance to the Party to take up caste and social issues. In the section titled “Caste Oppression and Dalits”, it says, “The caste system contains both social oppression and class exploitation. The dalits suffer from both types of exploitation in the worst form. 86.25 per cent of the scheduled caste households are landless and 49 per cent of the scheduled castes in the rural areas are agricultural workers. Communists who champion abolition of the caste system, eradication of untouchability and caste oppression have to be in the forefront in launching struggles against the denial of basic human rights. This struggle has to be combined with the struggle to end the landlord-dominated order which consigns the dalit rural masses to bondage. The issues of land, wages and employment must be taken up to unite different sections of the working people and the non-dalit rural poor must be made conscious of the evils of caste oppression and discrimination by a powerful democratic campaign. There are some dalit organisations and NGOs who seek to foster anti-communist feelings amongst the dalit masses and to detach them from the Left movement. Such sectarian and, in certain cases, foreign-funded activities must be countered and exposed by positively putting forth the Party’s stand on caste oppression and making special efforts to draw the dalit masses into common struggles.”

In the section titled “Fight Caste Appeal”, the Political Resolution says, “The intensification of the caste appeal and fragmentation of the working people on caste lines is a serious challenge to the Left and democratic movement. Taking up caste oppression, forging the common movement of the oppressed of all castes and taking up class issues of common concern must be combined with a bold campaign to highlight the pernicious effects of caste-based politics. The Party should work out concrete tactics in different areas taking into account the caste and class configurations. Electoral exigencies should not come in the way of the Party’s independent campaign against caste-based politics. Reservation is no panacea for the problems of caste and class exploitation. But they provide some limited and necessary relief within the existing order. Reservation should be extended to dalit Christians. In the context of the privatisation drive and the shrinkage of jobs in the government and public sector, reservations in the private sector for scheduled castes and tribes should be worked out after wide consultations.”

Gayatri Buragohain, an electronics engineer by education, and expert on information and communication technologies for non-profit organizations, has made it her life’s mission to increase women’s participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Early in her engineering career, she searched for connections between her two passions — feminism and technology — but her efforts proved fruitless.

Not only did India not have organizations focused on female empowerment within technology, but women’s rights organizations, activists, and advocates did not recognize the need for them. Buragohain looked for statistics on women studying or working in STEM. All she found was a single, outdated report on the industry as a whole. “Statistics on women in different layers of STEM scared me,” said Buragohain.

She quit her job and started Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) in New Delhi, India, a non-profit organization –  intentionally named to confront more than one taboo about women.

Buragohain says that women receive a number of signals from a very early age that discourage them from entering STEM fields. For many, it comes down to the absence of role models and mentors she argues. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Buragohain. However, negative perceptions and stereotypes of STEM as a path for the geeky and unattractive also have an impact. Frequent portrayals in the media only serve to reinforce these views, making girls self-conscious about their chosen paths and undermining their confidence.

Buragohain set out to reverse this trend. With a computer purchased through a Systers Pass-It-On cash award from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (and several others borrowed from friends), she started a free technology workshop in her own house for girls who otherwise would not have access to a computer. Many workshop participants — a large percentage of whom are domestic workers — had previoulsy never seen a computer, did not speak English, and dropped out of school.

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The lack of a strong female presence in STEM fields means women have little say in decisions that could make the world a better place, even when they rise to the top of other fields. “A healthy society is one in which men and women work in partnership. It’s not just women who need to have more women in technology—society needs it,” Buragohain said.

It has taken a huge battle to get women out of domestic caretaker roles, help them gain equal say, and get them to recognize the value of their contributions. However, the drastic under-representation of women in technology — an industry that shapes the way we live, work, and learn — could undermine this progress if it is not addressed now.

To increase the numbers in STEM fields, we need to start with young girls. As those girls get married and have children, we need to acknowledge that women tend to assume most of the responsibility for their families. In STEM, that has meant that around half the women who start in the workforce drop out within the first five years. Even worse, only three percent ever reach the top. Buragohain said that those statistics can — and should — change through efforts that balance the modern family and reduce women’s domestic responsibilities. In turn, this can free both women and men from traditional gender roles and create change for a better future.

Ultimately, Buragohain’s feminist approach to technology is about social equality for everyone, and bringing more people into the conversation about technological developments. Buragohain said,Under-representation in STEM is not just a problem for women; it is a problem for larger society. So if you want to bring change, don’t do it for the women — do it for yourself.”

Interest in teaching also suffers because of the fact that the career advancement (promotions, awards/recognitions) are almost entirely based on research productivity with quality of teaching having little consideration. Although the students’ evaluation of teachers is in principle a necessary requirement (at least in departments/universities recognized by UGC-recognized under the SAP or UPE programs or those accredited by the NAAC), this very constructive activity is rarely undertaken and even if undertaken for record sake, the students’ assessment of teachers is very rarely actually utilized for faculty assessment. Unfortunately, the current UGC guidelines for teachers’ eligibility for promotions etc also do not provide any incentive for teaching! The UGC and the university governance system must rectify this serious lacuna.

I personally believe that teaching does not really hamper research, rather it helps generate newer ideas/questions. Teaching requires much wider reading and interactions with a large number of creatively active students. Both these provide opportunities to think of one’s own research in seemingly different backgrounds, which may be expected to foster better integration. Thus if good facilities and congenial environment is created in the universities, the faculty members would have the double advantage of good research and satisfaction/pleasure of teaching.