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A rubber nursery in Dodamarg

In search of greener pastures With agricultural spaces shrinking and land prices going unreasonably high in Kerala, the farmers from the state are relocating to the coastal belt of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra. The cheaper land price and climate similar to that of Kerala are said to be the major draw. 34| MEDIA VOICE | | APRIL 2012

seeking affordable agricultural land. Many of the locals from Kerala followed the path of the priests. Spread mostly in Dodamarg and Sawantwadi Tehsils, the migrated farmers cultivate rubber, pineapple and banana, traditional crops from Kerala. This part of Sindhudurg is a work in progress to becoming a mini Kerala.

affordable land price, the major draw


few years ago, when Shyjan, a rubber farmer from Muvattupuzha in Kerala decided to try his luck in pineapple farming, he realised that it was almost impossible for availing large area of land in Kerala. Even if there was, the land rates were unaffordable. A friend then suggested moving to Dodamarg. Now he grows pineapple in 25 acres of land at Bedshi village in Dodamarg. Like Shyjan, it’s the exorbitant land price and unavailability of large area in Kerala that brought many here. Saji Sebastian and his friends from the Kasargod district of Kerala own around 6000 acres of rubber-mango plantations in Sawantwadi-Dodamarg. Their Sindhudurga Plantations is one of the major rubber planters here. Saji says besides the cheaper land rates, the availability of large area, which is ideal for rubber cultivation and accessibility to water brought them here. Apart from these big players, there are small time farmers who wanted to try their fortune in this coastal belt. Those who cannot afford to buy land do farming in leased land. Mathukutti from the Idukki district of Kerala has leased six acres of land to cultivate pineapple. He says farming is much more profitable here because of the subsidised charges for electricity and abundant water supply. From Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod, one can find people from almost every district in Kerala here. Abhimanyu Londhe, a senior Marathi journalist estimates the approximate migrated Malayali population in the district as around 3000. As per Census 2001, Sawantwadi had a population of 22,871 while the total population of Dodamarg, was 50,032. While paddy, coconut, kokum, mango and cashew are the major native crops in the region, the Keralites who came here planted banana, pineapple and rubber.


hree decades ago when four priests from the Missionary Society of St Thomas (MST) from Kerala stopped over Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, during their missionary work, the rolling hectares of uninhabited fallow land intrigued them. They came back to the region after some years and bought around 300 acres of land to grow rubber, a traditional crop from Kerala. The experiment was successful. This gradually set a precedent for farmers from Kerala who were looking to relocate outside the State

The growing demand for land has escalated the price too. While the price was Rs 5,000 per acre in the 90s today it’s varied between Rs 60,000 and Rs 2.5 lakh. Cashing in on this boom for land are unscrupulous middlemen. “There are many who lost money after being trapped by these agents. This is bringing bad name to all Malayalis,” says Saji. This migration seems to have indirectly helped the local people. According to Father Bipin, the present caretaker of MST in Mulasu village, the local labourers are better paid APRIL 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |35

now. “The local people have plenty of employment opportunities. They were earlier paid meagre amount. Since we gave them decent wages, they started demanding the same from local employers.”

biodiversity. The Rubber Board has trained local farmers and provides subsidies for solar fencing of plantations. Now even local people are coming forward to take up rubber farming now. According to Krishna Kumar around 25% of the rubber planters are now local people.

Those who relocated with family had to face several hardships in the beginning. Schools and hospitals were far off and the villages were remotely connected to the main town. Lissy was a teacher in Gujarat while getting married to Benny from Kottayam. A few years ago they along with their two children moved in here. “Initially it was obviously very difficult. Imagine a sudden shift from a crowded and noisy Ahmedabad to this godforsaken place where there is no one to even talk to,” says Lissy. Now the couple has a two-acre banana-rubber farm in Bomwadi village. The process of acquiring land is not a cakewalk. It involves tedious process because of the joint property system and getting consent of all of them take a lot of time.

rubber, the reigning crop


Saji Sebastian at Sindhudurga Plantation’s rubber nursery

Such vast areas is not available in Kerala now. Even the rates have gone higher. Moreover the climate here is similar to that of Kerala.” - Saji Sebastian

However, this had its share of controversies too. There were allegations of large-scale deforestation. “Several hillocks were trimmed off woods to plant rubber. It’s a worrying trend because this is happening in large scale,” says Eknath Nadkarni, a local Shiv Sena leader. He says the concerned authorities are not taking action because they have some interests in the plantations. “It’s happening with the connivance of the authorities. They may be benefitting out of this.” However, Krishna Kumar says so far the genuine farmers have been cultivating without disturbing the dense forest area. “Most of them I know of are doing it in the middle track, not in the proper forest area. It’s not possible for planting trees in between the forest. So obviously it has to be cleared.”

hopeful of a better tomorrow


round 15 years ago when Deepthi Plant ations, eanwhile, there are stories promoted by MST, first of rags to riches and in some planted rubber, a nontraditional cases rags to more rags. crop in the region people viewed it Mathew, 87, can barely hear or see. Even with suspicion. But years on, even while staying at a temporary shelter at the Bomwadi village of Dodamarg, the local farmers are cultivating rubber now. According to The Rubber his memories are stuck in the thick Board statistics, it’s being grown in rubber plantations and serene valley Mathew and Mariamma more than 12,000 hectares of land in of his native place Idukki. He sings Sindhudurg District. Recently, the Board has opened its an old Malayalam revolutionary song of his childhood, field office in Dodamarg. Krishna Kumar, the Development while his 80-year-old wife Mariamma and daughter-in-law Officer of the Board’s Regional Centre in Goa for three Moly elucidate their plight. Having been promised land in States-- Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa – says they are Sawantwadi area, they sold off their property back home. planning to shift the regional centre to Sawantwadi soon. They are one among such few families who came here after selling out the properties back home. None of them “As long as there are no alternatives for rubber, we got however got any land so far, “We hope to get it soon. “It’s to use it. It’s always better to produce it naturally than divine decision. We have to struggle to benefit something the non eco friendly synthetic rubber,” he says countering out of life,” says a hopeful Thomas, Mathew’s son. the argument that rubber is not eco-friendly. According to him, the idea is the financial upliftment of local people in Dwindling faming area and inflated land price in God’s the background of increasing prices of rubber. However, own country are thus forcing farmers to look beyond the he says the Board had suggested the farmers to plant state in the hope of fresh woods and pastures new. other trees in the boarders of plantations so preserve 36| MEDIA VOICE | | APRIL 2012





Four years of bitter harvest

Post-Aila, farmers wake up to forgotten salt-resistant paddy varieties MOHANA DAM KOLKATA, NOVEMBER 19

Bt cotton, the first genetically modified crop to be grown in India, hasn’t improved their lot in four years, say Vidarbha farmers. Bt brinjal, therefore, isn’t welcome here

stems are attacked by white flies. Even though the yield was less, it was stable. Now, to get rid of these INCE the seeds were first flies, we have to spray pesticides sown in their lands four years four to five times more than that ago, farmers of Katpur vil- of normal cotton,” says Kale. Ironically, those who push for lage in Amravati district have been patiently waiting each season for GM crops underline that a major wonders to happen. Nothing of advantage that Bt crops have is that they require minimal pestithe sort has happened yet. With huge debts taking the lives cides. Director of Research, Maof many farmers in the district, and hatma Phule Agricultural Univereven cattle purportedly dying af- sity, Dr Subhash Mehetre says ter feeding on the Bt cotton plants, that since the yield potential of Bt the 5,000-odd farmers of this Ma- cotton is high, it requires more harashtra village have decided to fertilizers. “Bt cotton requires shun the crop — once introduced more fertilizers, but then it also to them by seed companies as gives more yield. The expenditure "miracle” seeds. Most of them are involved, therefore, would be now growing soyabean. Some high,” he says. The farmers, however, say there have taken to organic farming. “We were cheated by the seed is little guarantee of getting back companies.Wedidnotgettheyield even what one spends . “Bt cotton promised by them, not even half of requires huge quantities of fertilit. And the expenditure involved izers and pesticides. Even the was so high that we incurred huge seeds are expensive. If you calcudebts. We have heard that the gov- late the expenditure and the outernment is now planning commer- come, the normal cotton cultivacial cultivation of Bt brinjal. But we tion is a better option,” says another farmer. donotwantBtseedsof However, Mehtre any crop anymore,” is of the view that the says Sahebrao Yawdecline in yield could liker, a farmer. With reddened not get the yield be due to other factors like climatic leaves and shrivelled promised by flowers of Bt cotton, seed companies, change and lack of awareness about scithe four-acre cultivaentific methods of tion of farmer Anil not even half of Kale, adjacent to a it, says Sahebrao cultivation. “There are many misconcepgreener brinjal fields, Yawliker, a tions about GM looks dull. “The red farmer of Katpur crops.Onesuchisthat leaves are due to a disit causes health hazease called ‘lalya’, a village in rare one earlier. The Amravati district ards, which is untrue. RENITHA RAVEENDRAN



We did

Top: Sudhakar Kale, a farmer of Katpur village, shows the reddened leaves of Bt cotton RENITHA RAVEENDRAN plant; Farmer Anil Kale says he won’t cultivate Bt brinjal.

Most farmers are not aware of the proper scientific methods to cultivate Bt cotton. According to statistics, there has been a considerable increase in cotton production over the last few years,” he says. But he wouldn't bet on the viability of GM crops for the poor farmers of the country. The brouhaha over the health hazards of GM products may not have reached the villagers, but the death of seven cows after eating Bt cotton plants has created quite a commotion. “We don't want to take any chance. We have lost our cows. It's better to stay away from things that are alien to us,” says an-

other farmer, Vinod Ambadas Thaywade. But District Superintendent Agriculture officer of Amravati S Mule rubbished that the deaths were due to eating Bt cotton plant. According to Dr K P Prabhakaran Nair, eminent international agricultural (soil) scientist, animals may have died after eating Bt cotton plants. “The death could be primarily due to ulceration in stomach. The biopsy tests done on the cattle shows that. Ruminants, especiallycattle,haveadifferentdigestive system. Ulceration will lead to severe internal bleeding. In addition, there could be hallucino-

geniceffectswhereincasesofcattle or sheep meet with instant death after accidentally grazing into Bt cotton fields,” he says. The fake seeds under the label of Bt cotton that are sold in the market and unavailability of indigenous cotton seeds are other causes of worry. According to Chandraprabha Bokey of Maharashtra Organic Farming Federation, the local market is flooded with many varieties of seeds that confuse farmers. “There is no proper system in place to keep a check on such things. They go by what the seed companies say,” she says.

Vendors sell vegetables at a market in Shimla. India’s food prices declined by 1 per cent from the previous month’s level. REUTERS

CYCLONE Aila has altered their calculations. Hit by crop failure due to increased salinity caused by sea water surge, the farmers of the Sunderbans were pinning hope on the low-yield but salt-resistant paddy varieties that their forefathers cultivated. Only to realise that the highyield varieties that they had preferred to cultivate over the years, had gradually pushed all traditional varieties of paddy to extinction. Now with 90 per cent of the world’s largest delta being dependentonagriculture,farmersandscientists are now desperately searchingforthetraditionalvarietiesinthe hope that it would feed the five-million delta dwellers next year. “Farmers across Bengal have lost more than 90 per cent of the traditional rice varieties. The saltresistant varieties, of which six were cultivated in abundance at one point of time long ago, can no longer be found,” said scientist A K Ghosh, who is part of the National Biodiversity Authority under the Ministry of Environment. The six salt-resistant rice varieties that have become extinct now and which could be grown in knee-

only reported to be more suitable to local soil conditions and also better equipped to withstand natural calamities like Aila. According to environmental scientists, since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, the policies of the government led to the introduction of high-yielding varieties of seedlings along with large scale use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, besides the use of canal irrigation system. This resulted in homogenization of agriculture, helping the country tide over the crisis of 1960s. “However, the policymakers and scientists advising the government failed to remind them of the need to diversify rice varieties. And tell farmers to conserve in their own fields, even in small quantities, the traditional varieties of rice. As a result of years of wrong advice, farmers across Bengal do not have any access to more than 90 per cent of the traditional rice varieties,” added Ghosh. “Had the farmers been told and taught how to conserve such important varieties, Aila's impact on agriculture in Sunderbans wouldn't have been much so enormous,” said Ghosh. With the increasing sea water

Aila has wiped out large portions of fertile soil, particularly in Gosaba and Basanti blocks of the Sunderbans. EXPRESS ARCHIVE

deep salt water are: Hamilton, Matla, White Getu, Balck Getu, Nona Bokra and Talmugur. The high-yielding paddy can grow when the soil salinity is below one milimose. But it rose to 12 milimose after cyclone and gradually came down to 3 milimose which traditional paddy varieties can tolerate. Way back in 1947, Bengal was well-known for its 6,000 rice varieties, each with its distinct generic character. South Bengal, which once recorded 100 different traditional rice varieties, has none left. Aila is set to have a long-standing effect on the island villages of the Sunderbans. It has wiped out large portions of the fertile soil, particularly spread over the Gosaba and Basanti blocks. And the large incursion of saline water will have a debilitating impact on agriculture and fishery in the area. The only possible answer at the moment to the agricultural crisis, according to experts, lies in harvesting the salt-resistant rice varieties. These traditional varieties were not

level, scientists are concerned that unless an alternative is provided to farmers of the region, there may be massivemigrationinsearchoffood. “In 2007, a group of scientists, including myself, had gone to Bali (one of the 52 islands of Sunderbans) to hold extensive consultation with the farmers from all islands. We wanted to impress upon them the use of traditional varieties of rice, which reduces costs involved in chemical fertilizers, pesticides and operating cost of water pumps. Five of the traditional varieties were given to them. Initially, only five of the 300 farmers accepted them. But when scientists showed them the usefulness of such varieties against the highyielding ones, their demand rose. From only five, 25 farmers began harvesting it within a year. Even the area under cultivation of traditional varieties increased from four bighas to 32 bighas. The government will have to make such efforts to address the growing food crisis,” said Ghosh.

In dry Medak and Rangareddy districts of Andhra, farmers used to struggle for one crop. Now, they are reaping two to three crops a year J P YADAV GOTTIGARIPALLY & KOTHAPALLY (ANDHRA PRADESH), NOVEMBER 19

AT FIRST glance, the lush green fields hardly convince that this is one of the dry regions of Andhra Pradesh. Then a closer look, and you wonder how the gravel-ridden red soil supports the lush field of pulses. Well, farmers, who struggled to grow just one crop of Gottigaripally in Medak district, are now reaping two to three crops a year. This change has come courtesy the Centre-sponsored watershed programme being implemented by the state. “Farming was so unproductive that people here were desperate to sell their land. Now, however, those who had sold it at throwaway prices are repenting their decision. The land, which hardly used to give one crop a year, is now yielding two to three,” said A Narayan Reddy, a farmer from Kothapally village in Rangareddy district — yet another region where

Watershed moment the watershed programme has been successfully implemented. According to official figures, the programme has been successful in 4,741 villages and it is underway in another 4,560 out of 22 semi-arid districts identified in the state. Watershed development refers to conservation, regeneration and judicious use of all natural re-

sources. It involves treatment of water from the highest point (ridge) to the valley. Rain water is allowed to flow down the ridge through soil bunds and collected at different stages by building lowcost check dams, sunken pits, percolation tanks and farm ponds. This leads to increased groundwater recharge, increased soil water

availability, increased water levels in the bore wells — all these are translated into increased yield The whole process is easier said than done as it requires community mobilisation. “Convincing the villagers is the most difficult part. In many villages, we had to abandon the programme as villagers refused to accept it,” said Kishan Das, Joint

Commissioner in the Rural Development department of the state. As part of the preparatory phase, the villagers need to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding and demonstrate willingness for community action towards conservation of natural resources. Villagers need to agree to give up portions of their land to be used by

then entire community to build check dams, sunken pits, percolation tanks etc. “Initially, we were not convinced and people were also not ready to give up their land. We thought that when the land is hardly yielding anything, then why not try it out,” said Laxmi (40) of Kothapally. It took over two years for results to show, and it was only when the villagers saw water in their wells during the dry season that they believed it. “We had to walk a long way to fetch drinking water. We were surprised to see that there was water in our wells even during the dry season,” said Bhagamma of Kothapally. Mere management of water resources was not enough. The technical support from International Crop Research Institute for SemiArid Tropics (ICRISAT) brought aboutmorethanthedesiredresults. Rightadviceregardingthenutrients tobefedtothesoilandimprovedvarietyofseedsresultedinasignificant jumpinagriculturaloutput. “Earlier,wejustgrewlocalvariety of pulses and cotton. Now, we are

getting improved varieties of seeds and apart from paddy, cotton and pulses,vegetablesarebeingplanted inabigwayanditisearninguscash,” saidKahiruNisaofGottigaripally. According to farmers, the yield per acre before the integrated watershed development programme was just 4-5 quintals and it has increased to 10-11 quintals. Survanna (35), a Dalit woman from Kothapally, owns just one acre of land and herhusbanddrives an auto. Earlier, the entire family used to migrate in search of work and now they get enough to remain in the village and send their three children to high schools in Hyderabad, 65 km away. The fate of the programme remains to be seen when the government withdraws. So far, the village community has the support of the government. “Yes, we are aware of it. We are hopeful that things be smoothly even after we withdraw as everything is managed by the community and the government has minimal intervention,” said K Vidyasagar,SpecialCommissioner, State Rural Development.



third exodus In the hilly terrain of western Maharastra, a cluster of villages are resisting relocation for Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. Twice before they rebuild their lives for two projects — a dam and a wildlife sanctuary — with little more than unkept promises.

By reniTha raVeendran

26| MEDIA VOICE | |November 2010


n Shakar Raoji Uthekar’s life, one journey stands out — a bumpy bullock-cart ride with his family that took him 150 km from his homeland Koyna (in west Maharashtra) to coastal Raigad. He was 24 then. His family was among the thousands who were displaced in 1963 to make way for a dam. It was the biggest ever rehabilitation drive that modern India witnessed. But even before half of the nearly one lakh oustees could be rehabilitated, most families including Uthekar’s returned to Koyna. They were unable to cope with the different culture and faced opposition from locals. Uthekar tried to earn a livelihood by sowing ragi in the hilly terrain. His plot had by then been reduced



Yuvraj Salunke at the fourmember, single-room Zilla Parishad lower primary school in Ravandi.

The Koyna Dam is one of the largest dams in the Western Ghats. The dam was completed in 1963 and with it were submerged 98 villages in the Koyna Valley which resulted in one of the biggest displacements of its kind in maharashtra. In 1967, Koyna was subject to a massive earthquake.

• The population of 19 villages that are awaiting rehabilitation: 3629

to less than a quarter of what it originally was, surrounded by water from the reservoir. But even before he could reap happiness from his harvests, he got another notification to vacate the place in 1985 – when Koyna was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. Then he was 46. At present, the rehabilitation drive for the sanctuary displaced remains incomplete — only two villages have been covered so far. Now at 71, he is watching his children prepare for yet another rehabilitation — this time for Sahyadri Tiger Reserve project. “We were thrown out of this place in the name of a dam. The three months that we spent in Raigad was a struggle. The land offered to us there was non-cultivable. How is that rehabilitation?” asks Uthekar from Ravandi village in Koyna. But his son Dattaram Shakar Uthekar, 47, is more hopeful. Dattaram says he is game for yet another relocation provided the authorities fulfill their promises this time. “Our generation has suffered for the dam. We do not want our children to suffer like us,” says Dattaram who has managed to send one of his four children for studies in Mumbai. The story of this father and son in Ravandi village repeats itself in the cluster of villages surrounded by water and cut off from the rest of the world. The main occupations here are farming and cattle rearing. There are around 50 villages that come under the protected area of Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary. Among these, only 19 villages are human inhabited. Of this, 12 villages have agreed for a rehabilitation proposal and seven villages have refused the offer. According to M K Rao, the Conservator of Forest (wildlife), Kolhapur, already 123 families from two villages in Koyna have been shifted to Palus in Sangli district. They are Zadoli and NahindeShishinde. “The government has spent Rs 1.9 crore to rehabilitate these villages. Three acres of land has been given to each family. They

• National Tiger Conservation Authority, New Delhi principally accepted converting Koyna and Chandoli Wildlife Sanctuaries into Sahyadri Tiger reserve in 2008. • Sahyadri is the fourth tiger reserve in maharashtra after melghat, Tadoba and Pench-Navegav. The proposed reserve includes 48 villages. Source: Down to Earth. • In 2005, there were 10 tigers in Koyna sanctuary that was reduced to two in 2007 as per the official estimates. • In August this year, the ministry of environment and Forests has approved the release of ` 70 lakh for Sahyadri Tiger reserve for the year 2010-2011.

have all the amenities provided in Palus. There are a few more families remaining in these villages to be shifted,” says Rao. Khirkhandi village, with a population of close to 100, has opted to move out. It is a good one-hour travel from Ravandi by motorboat. “We lost everything in the name of development but look at the way we live — no proper transportation facilities, electricity, medical service, ration shops or even proper schools. There is only one up-and-down boat service from the nearest mainland Bamnoli to even faraway villages,” says Baliram Sakpal of Khirkhandi. It is strange that he should complain, since Sakpal earns his living by ferrying passengers from Bamnoli to these villages. But conditions are indeed abysmal. Take for example the health centre – the nearest is almost 40 km away, in Bamnoli. Therefore, once a month, a medical boat brings a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist and three assistants to each village. “Nearly 30 pregnant women have given birth in this boat ever since it was introduced 11 years ago,” says Dr PM Bhosale, who heads the medical unit. “It has been very helpful especially for the elders in these villages.” To reach the ration shop, which is again kilometers away, the

November 2010 | | MEDIA VOICE |27

villagers need to depend on the lone launch service. 22-year-old Yuvraj Salunke is the lone teacher at the four-member, single-room Zilla Parishad lower primary school in Ravandi. “Two students walk more than 4 km from Aadosi village to attend classes. There are no other schools in any of these villages and therefore it is either this, or a long commute to the

The Koyna Dam oustees were rehabilitated to Raigad, Thane, Sangli and Solapur districts. schools in the mainland.” A two-hour ride away from this village is Malunke, one of the seven villages that turned down the rehabilitation proposal. Here the message is loud and clear. “We are not against any projects, but we were cheated once before. When we were asked to leave our soil in 1963 to build a dam, we did it without any hesitation. But where did that get us? We lost acres of our land here and in return we were given non-cultivable land,” fumes Bhivaji Bhosale, 60, of Malunke village. He, like many others, returned from Bhiwandi in Thane district. His neighbour 55-year-old Hariranji Bhosale pitches in, “Except for the forest personnel, no one visits us. After coming back from Bhiwandi, we worked really hard to set up this village.” Today Malunke has brick houses and electricity, which is a rarity in other villages. “If we shift again, we will have to start over. We do not want to take any chances, like our previous generation.” Their caution is not misplaced. Authorities largely ignore them, and politicians and leaders visit them only during elections. The villagers also allege that the surplus land acquired for the dam was not returned to the owners; instead it was given to the forest and revenue departments. “We have huge restrictions for cutting trees and using any forest goods. At times we feel like strangers in our own land,” says Bhosale.

Shakar Raoji Uthekar and his son


Chandoli National Park

Koyna Sanctuary

Total Area

Core Zone




Tourism Zone










Buffer Zone Total

*The area of different zones proposed for ‘Sahyadri Tiger Reserve’ (in sq km). Sources: Sahyadri Tiger Reserve proposal prepared by chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Kolhapur. Conservator of Forest (wildlife), Kolhapur. Range Forest Officer (wildlife), Bamnoli. To the latest Sahyadiri Tiger Reserve project, opposition from certain quarters claim that that there are not enough tigers in the forests to declare it so. But the forest authorities claim that the local residents have little reason to worry since they will benefit from by the project. “The number of tigers is not the only criteria for declaring an area tiger reserve. There are other things that we take into consideration,” says Dasharat B Godse, Range Forest Officer, Wildlife, Bamnoli area. “Once it is developed as tiger reserve, tourism will generate employment for locals.” According to Godse, about 3,630 people from 12 villages had agreed for rehabilitation when Koyna was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1985. Of this, 369 people from Punavli village were rehabilitated in Sangli district. Now, with the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve Project (which covers the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and

28| MEDIA VOICE | |November 2010

Chandoli National Park), he says seven villages comprising 1,190 people opted to stay back. But people like Srikant Shah, who had fought for the rights of Koyna dam evictees under the movement Koyna Jeevan Hakka Sanrakshana Sanghatana, says that even this third rehabilitation is just “on paper” and is an eyewash. “Even after five decades, no proper settlement has been given for the first project, Koyna dam rehabilitees. Only one village has been resettled so far under Koyna Wild Life Sanctuary, which was proposed more than two decades ago,” he says. Ironically, Maharashtra was the first state to enact a statute for people affected by any dam rehabilitation. Two generations have lived half-lives along the scenic Koyna backwaters for two different projects. Why should they greet the new project with happiness?

rIskINg lIves


A village of widows A scathing indictment of the hazardous working conditions at the silicon mines in Rajasthan, and the apathy of the government machinery.

Most women in Kaliberi are widowed at young age


he village of Kaliberi in Rajasthan has just woken up to a dusty, noisy day. The sandstone quarries surrounding the village are spewing out silica dust, accompanied by the thundering noise of mining machines. Emerging from the clouds of dust from one such quarry, Suguna, a labourer, rushes towards a makeshift cradle suspended nearby. Her threeyear-old daughter is sleeping in it, oblivious to the blasting noise.


She is the third child of 28-year-old Suguna, whose husband, also a miner, died two years ago of silicosis, an occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of excessive silica dust. Now, Suguna is also affected by the disease. In every other household in the dusty lanes of


Kaliberi, Suguna’s story is repeated with dismal twists. Thousands of its men have succumbed to acute lung diseases like silicosis and tuberculosis, transforming Kaliberi into a village of widows. “Nearly 30-35 percent of these households do not have men,” said Vinod Tyagi, a social worker. “Most of them died in the dangerous working conditions in mines; some

family. Suddenly, misfortune befell his family when he was diagnosed with Silicosis. His illness worsened, and he became bedridden. His wife Indira Devi took care of the family, but soon, she also fell ill. With both of them unable to work, the children stopped going to school. Now, they are doing small jobs in the mines to keep the family going. Silicosis, caused due to the deposition of silica particles in the lungs, cannot be cured if not arrested at an early stage. Dry drilling, which has been banned, but is still carried out in the mines, is said to be a major reason for its escalation. This, coupled with the absence of safety arrangements like masks in the workplace, aggravates the problem.

Silicosis misdiagnosed Small huts of mine workers at Sindhiyon Ka vas Sodoki Dhani Rathode Singh, Indira Devi and their children


few kilometers ahead of Baildar Basti is Bheel Basti, where the Bheel community lives. Almost all households here have at least one tuberculosis or silicosis patient. Residents say silicosis has been misdiagnosed as tuberculosis in most cases, which prevents them from claiming compensation from the mine-owners under Workmen’s Compensation Act. Geetha says her husband died of silicosis eight years ago. “He showed all the symptoms of silicosis and was treated for the same. But the doctor refused to give it in writing,” she says.

succumbed to acute lung diseases, others were killed in accidents in the workplace.” The village with a population of about 5,000 is about 20 kilometres away from Jodhpur town, and falls in the famous mining belt of Rajasthan. The region is rich in sandstone and marble rocks and houses a large number of mines.

Plagued by killer disease Kesuram Puskaran lives in Baildar Basti, a cluster of houses that the Baildar community inhabits. He had been a miner all his life, starting from eight years of age. The job earned him enough money to maintain his six-member

Residents say silicosis has been misdiagnosed as tuberculosis in most cases, which prevents them from claiming compensation from the mine-owners under Workmen’s Compensation Act.”

According to Mahitosh Bagoria, Joint Director, HEDCON, a mineworkers advocacy group, the doctors interpret silicosis as acute tuberculosis for the fear of tiresome legal procedures, after certifying the disease as caused by occupational hazards. However, Dr KC Agarwal, Associate Professor in the Department of Pulmonology Medicine at the KN Chest Hospital, Jodhpur, where silicosis patients are sent for further treatment after primary analysis at the Primary Health Centre (PHC), refutes the allegation. “In 90 percent of the cases, there is no possibility of mix-up in diagnosis,” he said. “We send regular reports of silicosis patients to the government and the mines department.” But he admits that there is no decline in the number of silicosis patients. While in


2009 there were 86 silicosis victims in the Jodhpur area, the figure escalated to 200 in 2010. This year, from January to June alone, the number has reached 115. The life expectancy of mine workers in the region is as low 40-50 years. According to Dr Ajay Arora, the Rural Medical Officer of Fidusar Primary Health Centre, under which Kaliberi comes, health camps are conducted by the PHC, twice a month, for mine workers. “Each month, around 15-20 new cases of either silicosis or tuberculosis are diagnosed in the camp.” This seven-bed health centre with three doctors caters to more than 5,000 people in the region.


eanwhile, the Pneumoconiosis Medical Board set up by the government in 1993 to provide certificates to mine-workers who suffer from silicosis and pneumoconiosis, to enable them to claim compensation from the mine-owners, is almost dysfunctional, with none of the victims being provided with any compensation. “Not a single silicosis victim has received any compensation so far,” Bagoria says. “The procedures are so tiring that people shy away from approaching the board.”

Geetha in front of her house

Most of the labourers are on contract, and no records of them are available, which makes it more difficult to claim the compensation.

Battling illness all life

The lower primary school being run in a single room building

Theeja is a tuberculosis patient. Her husband Ajith Kothari and five members of his family also suffer from the disease. Theeja is 35 and has two children. She has had three miscarriages and is malnourished.

Her case is not an isolated one. People suffer from various health issues. Most of them enter the mining industry in childhood, and are exposed to the dust particles and risky working environs since are then. It makes them vulnerable to different quarries to occupational diseases.

Alcohol and drugs like opium supplied in abundance in the help labourers work overtime.

Another issue plaguing the region is addiction to drugs and alcohol. From children to elders, everyone uses tobacco. Alcohol and drugs like opium are supplied in abundance in the quarries to help labourers work overtime. Says Madu, a resident of Bheel Basti: “They give us opium and alcohol. Without it, it’s difficult to work.”

Game for shifting job Given an option, women are ready to leave mining and take up another line of work. Sursagar MLA Suryakantha Vyas said the government is mulling over a couple of projects to train them in other jobs. But the inhabitants refuse to buy her promise. “She doesn’t even visit our place. Then how will she understand our problems?” asks Leela Devi, a resident of Sindhiyon Ka Vaas Sodon Ki Dhani sector.

Risky Childhood

ninty-year-old Gutki Devi lost her three sons to silicosis


Twelve-year-old Parem’s eyes gleam when she says she wants to become a teacher. But soon, the glow fades into a deepening disappointment. She knows it’s nearly impossible. The oldest daughter of a mine labourer couple, Parem, who is studying in fifth grade, already knows her limitations well. She cannot attend school full-time since she has to do

odd jobs in the mines to support the family income. Her parents, Dhanni and Rathode of Shivpuri, have seven daughters including Parem, and one son. “Two people’s income won’t be sufficient to run the family. So, we all work in the mines,” says Dhanni. All her daughters are already married, and will be sent off to their in-laws’ place when they are 14 or 15 years old. Young boys and girls toiling in the quarries is a ubiquitous sight in the mines. This is clearly in violation of the Mines Act (Amendment) 1983, which prevents anyone below 18 years of age from being employed in mines.

No leave, less money, plenty of work

Women miners are employed in hazardous working conditions

Thirty-year-old Rajudevi Ghanderaki Rani has been working in the mines since childhood. She lost her husband eight years ago reportedly to silicosis. She is suffering from serious health problems. However, to take care of her family of five, she has to work even in the most hazardous conditions in the quarries. Kaliberi’s young widows are accustomed to shouldering family’s responsibility, unmindful of their own poor health conditions.


evertheless, their hard work doesn’t translate into a good income. “Payment is dependant on the number of huge stone blocks we crush a day. I get paid Rs 30 for one block,” she says. Women are paid lesser than men. The Mines Act makes it mandatory for women workers to have a day off during the week, and full payment and compensation for overtime work. But this rule is regularly flouted. In violation of the Act, workers are not provided toilets, urinals or drinking water facilities. Says Ghumsingh Gehlot, Kaliberi Councilor, “Mine-owners must provide water at the site; else they will not be able to work in the scorching sun. For toilets, they can use the hilly areas.” Gehlot himself owns a quarry.

Lakshmanan and Sunitha with their children

Silicosis is an occupational respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust. This year from January till June, 115 miners in the Jodhpur area were diagnosed with silicosis.

Being contract employees, workers are not eligible for annual leave or weekly holidays. As yet another day fades into the sundown, dusts settles on Kaliberi and a young widow leaves the mine carrying her three-year-old. Suguna’s lot seems inevitable, but is her young daughter destined for a life of suffering in the mines? Only the authorities have the answer.

About 64 different kinds of minerals are produced in Rajasthan. The mining industry fetches an annual revenue of more than Rs 600 crore for the state. More than two million people are said to be working in the mining industry in the state.

Geetha’s kitchen


Controversial report

lavasa hill City Located on the banks of the baji Pasalkar reservoir, near Pune in the Western Ghats On the eight large hillocks surrounding Varasgaon Dam reservoir The project covers approximately 25,000 acres of land Last year November, the MOef ordered to stop further construction here owing to violation of environmental norms and unauthorised structures activist contend that the project will have adverse impact on biodiversity agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s kin is said to have invested in the project Tribal land alleged to have forcibly acquired for the project

other developmental proJeCts in ratnaGiri, sindhudurG

Jaitapur nuClear poWer proJeCt, maharashtra This 9,900-MW project proposed to be built on the Madban plateau in ratnagiri. It will spread over 968 ha. estimated cost is around rs 100,000 crore. expected to generate 300 tonnes of nuclear waste each year; unclear as to where this waste will be dumped. Said to be an earthquake-prone site. Opponents say fisheries would be severely affected. rich species, and important private forests exist here. The power plant’s high tension lines may destroy mangrove forests

lote ChemiCal industries Complex, maharashtra It comes under Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation area in Khed taluka, ratnagiri. Chemical industries are predominant. environmental pollution is high. Common effluent Treatment Plant is not functioning properly. Sometimes effluents are being discharged into the ground water or in the nearby ponds. The study group to monitor chemical effluents has not met for two years. Gadgil panel says environment Impact assessment wasn’t done properly. fishing community affected due to water pollution.

14| MEDIA VOICE | |february 2011

Several power, mining, chemical and petrochemicals, fertiliser, steel, processing, oil and gas transportation pipeline projects were proposed in the two districts. Total power generating capacity is around 33,000 MW. environment Impact assessment said to be flawed in many projects. May destroy the biodiversity in Konkan region




illeGal mines in Goa Chief minerals found here are iron ore, manganese, bauxite, high magnesia, limestone and clay. The rs 6,000-cr mining industry said to provide employment to around 20,000 persons. Nearly 40 illegal mines were found in the region. Illegal mining industry pegged at rs 250 cr a year. around 200-odd mining leases are located in close proximity of water bodies. They pollute or damage water bodies. There were controversies over mining reject being dumped in Selaulim water reservoir. Politicians alleged to have involvement in illegal mining.

athirappilly hydro eleCtriC proJeCt (163 mW), Kerala Proposed to come up along the Chalakudy river basin in the Vazhachal forest Division Located in Thrissur district, Kerala. 138.6 ha of forestland would be affected. Currently estimated cost approximately at rs 675-crore. Dam envisaged to be 23m high and 311m wide. The project area falls under the habitat of highly endangered Cochin forest Cane turtle (Heosemys silvatica). This forest division is the second most biodiverse area in the state. The Wildlife Trust of India named it one of India’s best elephant conservation efforts. The project proposal once rejected by Moef and suspended by the Kerala High Court. Got fresh clearance in 2007.

Will our Ghats stay One of world’s biodiversity hotspots, Western Ghats, is under threat


s a Chinese proverb goes, the tree lovers across the Ghats (a mountain range along the western coast of India) keep a green tree in their heart anticipating the arrival of a singing bird. With the unregulated developmental projects and unchecked deforestation, their fear now is whether the bird will ever come. The 1,600 km-stretch, from the Tapti River mouth near the Gujrat-and-Maharashtra border to Kanyakumari, covering six states -Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Goa -- is one of world’s biodiversity hotspots and a treasure house of plants and animals. The Ministry of Environment and Forests

(MOEF) estimates that the Western Ghats neutralises 4 million tons of carbon annually. This is about 10 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions neutralised by India’s forests. However, the developmental projects along the region, coupled with illegal mining, tree felling, hunting of animals and human encroachment, has extensively damaged the verdant cover. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh took bold steps to check this destruction -- licence to a few projects was withheld and temporary moratorium was put on other projects where environment impact assessments were allegedly badly done. Sadly, the minister was severely criticised by the advocates of industry for his

Gundia hydro-eleCtriC proJeCt, KarnataKa This 400 MW project has been proposed to come up on the Nethravathi river in Sullia and Hassan (Sakleshpur taluk) districts of Karnataka. Total cost estimated approximately is rs 1200 cr. It would destroy around 480 ha of rainforest and block several animal corridors. Involves the building of 16 bunds and 3 dams across rivers such as the Kumaradhara, the Hongadihalla and the bettakumari. It is one of only three known areas in the state where Travancore flying Squirrel Petinomys fuscocapillus are found. The endangered slender loris, Loris tardigradus, and the endemic Lion-tailed macaque are also seen here.

pro-green stand. Can development at the cost of environment be justified? However, if Ramesh’s recent statements are any indication, the future of major projects (hydroelectric, mining and infrastructural) -- most of them allegedly flouting norms, involving millions of rupees and political support -- along this stretch lie at the mercy of a crucial report by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panelheaded by Dr Madhav Gadgil, and set up by the MOEF, to be submitted in March. It may even change the map of green India. Perhaps, the tree lovers might still welcome their singing bird. Below, the map details a few controversial projects that are mentioned in the Gadgil report.

By renitha raveendran

Know Western Ghats


he Western Ghats region boasts of over 1,741 species of flowering pants and 403 species of birds. Notable wildlife includes tiger, elephant, Indian bison, lion-tailed macaque, wynad laughing thrush, Travancore tortoise and uropeltid snakes. Around 325 globally threatened species have been found in the region. It generally receives 500 mm-7000 mm rainfall. Most rivers in peninsular India have their origin in Western Ghats. About 30 per cent of the area of the region is under forests. The traditional horticultural crops are arecanut, pepper and cardamom in the hills and coconuts in the coast along with mango and jack fruit. Tea, coffee, rubber, cashew and tapioca are the other important plantation crops. There are many protected areas including 2 biosphere reserves, 13 National parks, several wildlife sanctuaries and many Reserve Forests here. A proposal to put the area on the Natural World Heritage list is under consideration by the UNESCO. Source: Ministry of Environment and Forests

pooyamKutti hydel poWer proJeCt, Kerala The 700 MW project has been proposed to come up across the Pooyamkutty river in Idukki district, Kerala. estimated cost (1998) is rs. 820 cr. Would submerge around 2,668 ha area. activists say it will destroy more than 3,000 ha of natural forests in Palghat area of the Western Ghats.


he Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee, set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to study the current status of the ecology of the Western Ghat region, is due to submit its final report in March. Headed by renowned ecologist Dr Madhav Gadgil, the panel was mandated to identify areas to be earmarked for notification as ecologically sensitive zones within this ecosystem. The fate of many controversial hydroelectric and other projects along this approximately 1,600 km of forested ranges, which includes the fragile Nilgiris biosphere, depend on the findings of this panel. In an interim report on the developmental projects in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Maharshtra (where the controversial 9900MW Jaitapur nuclear park is located), the panel has strongly crticised the government for its poor implementation of environmental laws. The report also flayed officials for failing to protect the civil rights of local people. In this candid interview, Dr Gadgil talks about the importance of the region, serious systemic flaws that help culprits get away with environmental destruction and how the benefits of many developmental projects never reach some section of society. Q:in the interim report on the developmental projects in sindhudurg and ratnagiri districts of maharashtra, you have said that in many places environmental impact assessments (eia) were flawed and environment protection laws were not enforced. has the system been a failure, starting at the

administrative level? a:The EIA reports, in many cases, have not been prepared objectively. There were major systemic flaws. The project proponents themselves commissioned the assessments. Even the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) -- a supposedly neutral agency -- has prepared a biased report on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, simply to push the project. The report does not reflect the ground reality. For instance, it says Madban (which falls in the proposed project area) is a barren plateau with just a few species of grass. In reality, the plateau has a very large number of rare and endemic species of grass. The agency had outsourced its biodiversity studies to the Dr. Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. The university study talks about several mangrove forests, but NEERI, in its report, removed this part and said the place hardly has any mangrove forests. NEERI has, thus, distorted the facts. Q: are you saying that eias are just eyewash? a: During this review, I have not seen even a single, objective and honest EIA . I am told, a power corporation in a tender notice for a project said that it is the responsibility of the agency that does EIA to get full permission for the project from the

“I’ve not seen even a single, honest EIA” Dr Madhav Gagdil says that most of the projects along the Western Ghats have flouted environmental norms By renitha raveendran

16| MEDIA VOICE | |february 2011

government. Then, how can we expect the assessment to be objective? This is unacceptable. EIAs have become just a tool to get project permission from the government. This certainly should be changed. Q: so, were eias flawed only in ratnagiri and sindhudurg projects? A: Wherever we could get hold of a report, we found flaws. The Gundiya project in Karnataka (KPCL’s 400MW plant) has serious flaws. Our panel may not be able to look into every project, but we are studying different cases. Q: But don’t such projects generate jobs? a: The general belief is that such projects bring in a lot of job opportunities. But it is something that we should study closely and find out -- whether in reality, they have created or destroyed jobs. In Ratnagiri, local fishermen say that more jobs have been destroyed with the destruction of the fishery than generated. No studies have been done so far on this. The drastic decline of fishery due to water pollution is clearly evident. So, it is plausible that jobs have shrunk.  Q: What are the other problems that you observed in this region? a: Regional plan: Under the Town and Regional Planning Act, a district regional plan is prepared for every district. It defines areas

for different industries and preferences and possibilities for different economic sectors. In Ratnagiri, it is clearly mentioned that horticulture, fishery and tourism are important economic sectors and certain pattern of land use is described. So, industries should come without hurting the interests of these sectors, and also not unduly impacting the forest areas. This prescription was not adhered to. Zonal Atlas: There is something called the ‘Zonal Atlas for Setting up Industries’ report, prepared separately for each zone by the Central Pollution Control Board. The sites of industries are supposed to be decided according to these atlases. This has not been followed in Ratnagiri and the laws were completely violated. The atlases had been prepared many years ago, and the government had received grants from Germany to prepare them. However, these atlases are still not in the public domain, they are not even made available under RTI. Why is the government not making them public? The only possible answer is that the industry does not want them to be public knowledge. Mining: The panel had interaction with civil society and the mining industry in Goa. There are active, illegal mining happening in Goa, which even the mining industry has acknowledged. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, there are a large number of illegal mines. Goa and Ratnagiri definitely have many illegal mines. Q: is there a disparity among different economic sections, when it comes to sharing of environmental cost and benefits? a: It is very clear that the benefits are cornered by only some sections of society. They do not share it with other sections. Our report will definitely mention such disparities. In Lote, (A Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation area in the Khed taluka, in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra) the fishing community has been at the receiving end; they suffered huge losses because of the large amount of effluents and pollution in the waters in which they fish. Only few members from the community are employed in industry. The Minis-

try of Environment and Forests has asked me to do a separate Cumulative Impact Assessment in Ratnagiri, Raigad and Sindhudurg, which will look deeply into such issues. Q: your interim report mentions how the civil rights of people have been denied. a: You must have heard about an activist, killed some weeks ago. He was protesting against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project. Reports say that it is a ‘mysterious’ murder. However, the local people say it is a planned one, to silence those opposing this project. A friend of mine, who was a retired judge of the Bombay High court, has been opposing the project and participated in a protest event in Ratnagiri. He claims he was illegally detained and jailed for four days.

suggest a review of all such regulations. Programmes should be flexible, where positive incentives also become a part of the programme and not just regulations. Kerala has had this long experience of people’s planning, where the State has attempted to get the people’s participation, right from the gram panchayat level, in overall development programmes. Our panel’s recommendations will be that some such method should be adopted and inputs from people should be collected, before forming a management regime for all ecologically-sensitive areas. Right now, ecologically- sensitive area management prescriptions are done by people sitting in Delhi, who probably have no idea of the ground reality. They are overtly uniform and overtly rigid. Q: the panel is supposed to recommend areas to be earmarked for notification as esZs, within the Western Ghat region. Which are the areas you have zeroed in on?

a: Identification of ESZs has been ad hoc. What happens is, some enthusiastic lobby says one particular site is very important and it should be declared an ESZ and it has been made one. We feel that we cannot follow this methodology. There should be a very careful, scientific analysis. Even Hongadahalla: the methodology should be very careProposed to be dammed and drowned fully planned. Our suggestions will be based on all the available scientific data. The study will be concluded Even local people are subjected to a by early February. whole lot of prohibitory orders, which are very unfair. Their fundamental Q: around 75 mini-hydel projright to protest is denied. Even durects have been sanctioned by the ing the panel visit, I had difficulties Karnataka government in the in interacting with people, since there recent years, in the Western Ghat were prohibitory orders. region. (around 60% of the Western Ghats lies in Karnataka). it is There were cases in the past too, said that since no prior clearance where the government machinery is required from the environment used such steps to silence those who department for a project with 25 spoke against government initiatives. mW capacity, many such projects get clearance easily. however, Q: you have adopted a critical apthere is huge destruction of forests proach to the process of deciding in the name of mini projects. isn’t on ecologically sensitive Zones it a matter of concern? does your (esZ). you have said that most study have any mention of this? regulations are without any positive incentives.

a: Yes, so far, it has just been regulations -- not well thought out ones at that -- and without any inputs from local communities. So, wherever these have been implemented, there are huge problems. Our report will

a: It certainly is a matter of concern. Here we will suggest replacing the project, and recommend that project appraisal is an integrated, cumulative appraisal. Hundreds of such mini projects may fall well over the

february 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |17

threshold. We need to look at the overall impact. Some new appraisal system will have to be decided. I think, at the district level planning, consolidation of everything planned should be properly evaluated. We will certainly be referring to this issue -- that isolated evaluation (and evaluation in isolation) is not desirable and overall impact should be assessed.

Bettakumri river may soon dry up

Q: how important is the conservation of Western Ghats in neutralising the greenhouse gas emissions? does the panel have any suggestion to reduce emission?

Q: to compensate for the 400 mW Gundiya project, the Karnataka power Corporation ltd has proposed biodiversity parks. how viable are they? a: One of the major impacts of this project is the disruption of the elephant migration corridor. Even if you set up a biodiversity park, this corridor cannot be restored. Natural ecosystems can not be compensated.   Q:your committee’s findings will be crucial for the Gundiya and athirappilly power projects, because minister Jayaram ramesh has said that he is awaiting your report to take further decision on these projects. do you think the projects will be scrapped? a: We have a very good data base to help evaluate the ecological impacts of the power plant in Gundiya. The Environmental Impact Assessment was flawed here. In Athirappilly too, we will collate all the data available and give our suggestions before our term ends. It is up to the ministry to decide whether the projects will be scrapped or not. Q: recently many incidents of man-animal conflicts have been reported in the Western Ghat region, especially in the Kerala stretch and the shiradi Ghat in Karnataka. does your study mention this? Man-wildlife conflicts have definitely increased. Certainly it is a matter of concern. The reason could be due to the destruction and disruption of natural habitats of animals. We have asked specialists to look into such conflicts and provide us inputs. We have commissioned an expert- paper on man-animal conflict. Based on this, as well as the observation of our

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issue. Harvesting of medicinal plants is completely unregulated today. Under the Biodiversity Regulation Act, this could be properly regulated but this is not being implemented. Our report will mention all these.

a: There is a proposal for declaring at least the Western Ghats GM-free. We are taking this matter seriously and you may find further suggestions in our report.

a: Certainly, there is potential at two levels - substantial increase in vegetation cover and organic carbon level. There is a very interesting ongoing programme in Australia, wherein the farmers are given special incentives to change their farming practices to improve the amount of organic carbon. We are going to suggest it for the Western Ghats. It will also improve the agriculture productivity in the region. Everywhere, one of the reasons for the so-called fatigue of the green revolution is the destruction of organic matter from the soil. So, our panel will suggest something like the Australian programme, to improve the organic contents in the soil.

Q: increasing pesticide usage in crop cultivation has been a major threat across the Western Ghats. Will you be making any suggestions to declare the region pesticide-free?

Q: do you think it is time that the environment ministry looks beyond the conventional developmental problems and adopts a more proactive approach to save the Ghats?

a: We have commissioned a paper from an expert. He will make suggestions. Certainly, there is a proposal for declaring the region pesticide-free, which will be examined. Uttarakhand and Sikkim have already decided to go pesticide-free. We will also examine the possibility for the Western Ghats.

a: I feel the ministry has a limited role. It, ultimately, has to happen through a grass root approach, ideally with the proper involvement of locally empowered bodies and by getting them involved in environmental protection initiatives. Something like a Kerala model of people’s participation should be developed for environmental management. Instead of spending so much on national environment awareness campaigns, the ministry should ideally involve local bodies and look into the environment assessment flaws and issues. Only then, local level awareness will happen

panel members, we will make suggestions as to how to deal with such conflicts. Q: if Genetically modified (Gm) food cultivation is given consent, won’t it destroy the indigenous species and biodiversity in the region?

Q: the land, timber, mining and medicinal plants lobbies in the region is believed to have control over the state governments. how will this impact conservation? a: Mining definitely has a huge impact on the Western Ghats, which we will talk about in the report. We should certainly not allow illegal mining. Deforestation and illegal felling do occur. That’s again a very serious

-- Source: Report by Energy & Wetland Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

Cover story Western Rajasthan

Broken pOTS In some parts of Western Rajasthan, killing girls is still a social norm

By renitha raveendran 8 | MEDIA VOICE | | August 2011

in these villages in western Rajasthan girls are clearly unwelcome

women at moda ganeshpura village


t is siesta time in the tiny huts of Moda Ganeshpura. The entire village is burning under the hot afternoon sun, with temperature reaching 42 degree celsius. Nevertheless, a group of children are out in the sand terrain playing. The noise of the vehicle brings more of them out of their houses. Soon, the car is surrounded by a bunch of beaming young boys. Indeed, all of them are boys. The village Moda Ganeshpura, situated around 45 kms away from

padamji, village head of ugawa (extreme right)

Jaisalmer town of Rajasthan, falls into a belt infamous for female infanticide. “Marriage of a girl would cost alteast Rs 10 lakh. If we are not able to provide the dowry, our girls will have trouble in their husbands’ house. No mother would want her girl to suffer. It’s better if they are not alive,” says fifty-year-old Shayam Kanwar.   The practice is prevalent in nearly 108 villages of Jaisalmer district. “In Basiya region – in which Moda Ganeshpura falls – people from Bhati, Rathore and Sodha communities commit the crime,” Says Nakhat Dan Detha of Seemant Kisan Shayog Sasthan, a campaigning group working for the  elimination of this social evil. Modha Panchayat with a population of 1001 had only 71 girls for 162 boys. According to 2001 Census, Modha Ganeshpura village had only 10 girls against 28 boys under the age of six. The entire Modha Panchayat had only 71 girl children for 162 boys. Sitting on her kitchen floor coated with cow dung, Sushila admits that the practice is still on. As a August 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE | 9

Cover story Western Rajasthan

hari singh

mother of two daughters, she stands as an exception from the rest of her community. An educated background and support of her husband helped her to retain her girls. But she is aware of the financial burden a girl child brings into a family. “Marriage is quite an expensive affair here. How is it possible for us to save lakhs of rupees with the low income that we earn out of cattle rearing and farming?”


he marriage expenditure will vary depending on factors like bridegroom’s community and family status. This will cost anywhere between Rs 10 lakh and fifty lakh for the bride’s parents – a hideously expensive affair for the people who earn a living from cattle rearing and intermittent farming. To meet this demand most of them sell their land, borrow money from local money lenders and remain in debt for the rest of their life.    

“without funds and human resources how can pCpnDt run effectively? if the government has the will they can stop this practice completely,” says Renu Bhati, District Co-ordinator, pCpnDt.

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Some of the villagers like Hari Singh are quite vocal about their predicament. “Are you going to marry off our girls spending lakhs of rupees? Or are you going to give us the money? Then why are you trying to save them?” As per the archaic practice, the infants are killed by poisoning them with opium or brutally smothering them with huge sand-filled sacks. The media reports about this inhuman practice forced the authorities to take some stringent action. In a first ever case, a couple in the nearby Devda village was booked for killing their new-born baby girl. According to the authorities, they are doing their best to prevent such

incidents. “Sonographic centres in Jaisalmer are prohibited from revealing the gender of the foetus.


e also have online monitoring services to check on pregnant women in the villages,” says Dr AGM Purohit, Chief Medical Officer and the nodal officer of The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques – Prohibition of Sex Selection (PCPNDT) of Jaisalmer. “The practice has come down drastically in recent years,” says Dr Purohit, who has been working here for the past 28 years. However, the statistics are contradictory to his claims. According

married girls in moda ganeshpura are not supposed to go out, or even let the shadow of a man besides their husband fall on them

according to 2011 census, Rajasthan has 883 girls between the ages of 0 and 6 for every 1,000 boys in the same age group, which is 26 points down from the 2001 census. it’s also one of the lowest in the country. a study by the oxford poverty and human Development initiative found that Rajasthan is one of the poorest states in india.

to 2011 census, child sex ratio in Jaisalmer is 868 for 1000 boys, a one point down from 2001 census’ 869. While in 2001, children under 0-6 formed 22.04 percent of Jaisalmer district population, it was reduced to 19.40 percent in 2011. Jaisalmer district also has the lowest sex ratio (849) after Dhaulpur (845) in the State, which is one of the lowest in the country. 


s per Janani Suraksha Yojana, a scheme aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality, every child born in a government hospital is given Rs 1,400. According to officials, if it’s a baby girl, the women leave the hospital availing the

Renu Bhati, District Coordinator of pCpnDt

amount – before the mandatory two days are over. After which they kill the baby at home. According to this scheme, 14 cases of suspected female infanticide have been registered and reports sent to the government. Meanwhile, the newly-appointed District Collector Mahaveer Prasad Swami says the government is resolute in its stand against the practice, and appropriate actions will be taken. Frequent shuffling of District Collectors is a major problem – pointed out activists. “Every six months, we get a new Collector. Even before they get to understand the issues, they will be transferred to another place. Then how will they take any proactive initiative against this heinous practice?” asks Detha.


n some villages, the killing of baby girls is a social norm and those who are not willing to follow the tradition become outcasts. Deravar Singh Rathore, a native of Sankare village, is ostracised from the society for not murdering his infant daughter. However, he is proud of his stand and is happy to see his little girl growing up. “She is two years old now,’’ he says. According to him, a major contributing factor for female infanticide is the ludicrous dowry demanded by the boys’ parents. Ugawa, a village situated a few kilometres away from Jaisalmer, is

August 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |11

offering a practical solution to this problem. “We don’t promote dowry and hence we don’t kill our girl children,” says Pathamji, the village head.  They follow the system of Ata Sata where a bride from their village is exchanged for another bride in a neighbouring village. There is no bargaining for dowry. “If anyone kills a female infant, that person a house at moda ganeshpura village will be ostracised. And thus the sex ratio is far better here,” says Himat Singh, a school teacher in Ugawa.


he lack of education and employment make a majority of the women from these villages completely dependent on their partners. Most of the girls stop schooling at the age of ten and are married off with in a year or so. “Our custom doesn’t permit girls to go outside the house after the age of 10. They are not even allowed to go for shopping after the marriage,” says Kanwar, who herself has her face covered in traditional odhani (long headscarves). Here, married women walk in groups cautiously covering their faces in odhanis, and move away speedily even at the sight of a man. They

ugawa village

Jaisalmer has the second lowest literacy rate for women in Rajasthan. the district has the second worst sex ratio in the state, with 849 females for 1,000 males.

are not supposed to reveal their faces to strangers. It’s understandably difficult for them to take a firm stand against infanticide, especially when the girl baby is viewed as a potential burden and financial threat by the rest of the family. “I want my daughter to study. But it’s impossible since our custom doesn’t permit it. Also, the high schools are far off. It’s not safe to send her that far,” says Sushila pointing at her daughter Lakshmi, who has studied till class seven.


t’s clear that long-term efforts are required to address these issues. However, Renu Bhati, the district co-ordinator of PCPNDT blames the inefficiency of authorities for the disappearance of baby girls. “Without funds and human resources how can PCPNDT run effectively? If the government has the will they can stop this practice completely,” she says. She says monthly audit conducted by health department has revealed a large number of suspected sex selection in the district headquarters. “I have seen more than 60 percent of the doctor references for sonographic tests are suspect. Most of the references have no details about the diagnosis or details about the doctor. To investigate further into the matter, we need staff and more power, which we don’t have,“ she says.


moda ganeshpura village has very few girls when compared to boys 12| MEDIA VOICE | | August 2011

P Swami however refutes her allegations. “That’s not true. We have enough funds. We are doing our best to eradicate female infanticide.” Amidst the usual mudslinging, what’s forgotten is the appallingly diminishing number of baby girls in the district. Here, when a baby boy is born, the villagers offer prayers ironically to the nine devis, the presiding deity. They celebrate it by distributing sweets and announcing the birth to the entire village. But if it’s a girl they break earthen pots to signify grief. In the searing sandy terrains of West Rajasthan, girls are clearly unwelcome.


By ReniThA RAVeenDRAn

The mighty women of Medak By transforming thousands of acres of rocky land to lush green patches, a group of women from Andhra Pradesh’s Medak District show the world how food sovereignty can be attained through sustainable agriculture practice.

for almost two months. The incident had terrorised the villagers so much that those who managed to getaway hid in the nearby Sitheri hills for days together.

We fought tirelessly to fast-track the case, but none of the ruling parties came forward to offer any help to the victims, or made any attempt to ensure speedy delivery of justice.”

A few metres from Paranthayi’s house, Perumal, who was the village head then, says that his family was first in the village to be attacked in the incursion. “For a while we couldn’t understand what was happening,” Perumal’s wife, Kuppu, says. “The officials did not say a word to us. They dragged all of us outside our house; beat my husband, his brother and his parents. Even my teenage daughters weren’t spared. Both of them were taken away and God knows what they did to them. Our daughters did not return home for a long time. I don’t want to even talk about the abuse they suffered.”

“There was nothing left in our house,” Kuppu continues. “They had taken our goats, cows and everything around, leaving behind the inedible pieces of the livestock.” Perumal’s sister, Lakshmi, says despite her brothers owning a mass of land, he and his family had to live like refugees for days following the raid. The daughters, Selvi and Gandhimathi, did not complete schooling, and their lives changed radically after the incident. Perumal, who is seventy, lost his hearing partially after the episode, while his parents died a couple of years later. A few of the villagers were incarcerated in Salem Central prison and released after a couple of months. 14| MEDIA VOICE | | MARCH 2012

Lucky to escape: Lakshmi From then, a struggle for justice began and continued for 19 years until a special court delivered its verdict in September 2011. A Dharmapuri court convicted all the 269 police and forest officials for the torture and abuse of the villagers, and 18 of them for the rape of women, and 54 officials died during the course of the trial.

P. Shanmugam, President of the Tamil Nadu Tribal People’s Association, who has been fighting for justice on behalf of the victims since 1992, says that not a - P.Shanmugam single person from the government came forward to call for a speedy trial. “We fought tirelessly to fast-track the case, but none of the ruling parties came forward to offer any help to the victims, or made any attempt to ensure speedy delivery of justice,” he says. In 1995, the Madras High Court ordered a CBI enquiry into the case. The CBI found evidence of rape and the High Court ordered the payment of interim compensation of Rs 10,000 to each of the 18 rape victims. As the victims still gather together the bits and bobs of a life dominated by anguish and disillusionment, it may not be accurate to call the 2011 verdict justice. For Paranthayi, compensation cannot mean justice, she says. “They even stated by mistake in the records that I was dead. I am not worried about the compensation; let them give it, or deprive me of it. I have survived this long without the government’s mercy,” she says.

Sooramma of CMT videographing a farmer

Around twenty years ago, when they set themselves the tough task of turning their stone-ridden lands to fertile agricultural farms, around 5000 Dalit illiterate women from the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh hardly had any clue that they were soon going to become part of history. What started off as voluntary village-level associations of the deprived women (called sanghams) to address their basic food needs has become a holistic sustainable development model appreciated the world over today. Besides attaining huge success in food sovereignty, their ground-breaking experimentation with filmmaking and community radio has brought otherwise nondescript Medak to the world’s attention. MARCH 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |15


ormed two decades ago by Deccan Development Society (DDS), an organisation working towards the development of the grassroots, these sanghams are spread in around 75 villages in the district.

From rocky land to fertile farms “Look at this, it’s ready to be harvested,” says Mallamma pointing at her ripened golden sorghum field sprawled in two acres. Age doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirit of this 70-year-old woman farmer from the Kashimpur village of Medak. She proudly shows off different varieties of sorghum and other grains that are being cultivated in the land. Cut to 1985. Mallamma recalls the days of poverty and famine with the mere existence of her lot depended on the mercy of landlords. Her family of ten, including four daughters and four sons, waged a hard battle against deprivation. “There was tremendous amount of hunger among people. Then we thought instead of becoming food consumers, they could be producers of their own food. We helped them to bring back fallow land and made them cultivable land by removing the stones,” says Satheesh, Founder Director of DDS.

Rajamma’s two acre verdant multi grain farm is a fitting answer to the advocates of chemical fertilisers for large scale food production. According to her, not only that the grain production has increased many folds over the seasons with the use of organic manures but also the pest attacks are very less. This farmer from Kashimpur village cultivates linseed, Bengal gram, chick pea, safflower, red gram, lentil, mustard, sorghum, wheat, and vegetables. Interestingly, except for the less than 10 male officials in DDS, sanghams are an all-women affair. However, to bring the male farmers into the fold and ensure their support, DDS has given financial aids to male farmers to buy bullock carts.

Mallamma’s life thus changed when DDS formed sanghams to help them with interest-free loans to cultivate in their own degraded lands. “After joining the sangham, I realised the importance of farming in my own land. I got to know of various schemes and farming practices,” she says. Now besides having a monthly steady income of her own, she is guiding new members in the group.

Interestingly, most programmes are done by the villagers themselves. According to Narasamma through this they are able to preserve the obliterated folktales and folksongs. These four women are now proficient in radio production including live reporting, editing and anchoring.

We realised that the agendas of mainstream media was in the interests of the mainstream people. it worked in direct conflict with the interests of marginalised communities.”

short, kandi shot for eye level shot, madhya shot for middle shot etc. The ten women from different villages in the district thus were trained in videography by professionals to set up DDS Community Media Trust.

Started with the aim of taking the images and voices of rural women to the larger world outside and create an alternative media ethos, the trust served as a platform for these women to voice their concerns and opinions. “We realised that the agendas of - Satheesh, Founder Director, DDS mainstream media was in the interests “It might be late for the elderly to learn of the mainstream people. It worked to write and read. But through such in direct conflict with the interests programmes, they are able to express of marginalised communities. That’s themselves,” says Suresh, deputy Director of DDS. Now how we thought of staring an own medium,” says Satheesh. people from outside get trained here in radio production. From wielding the video camera to scripting, editing This FM radio has indeed turned out to be a powerful and dubbing the films they have made, these women communication medium for the illiterate in the villages. have mastered the art of filmmaking. The CMT facility at Having won several awards already, this is probably the Pastapur village boasts of an editing room, dubbing booth, first of its kind in the country. The fully equipped, low cost radio station has a reach of approximately 30 kilometres. Until they got broadcasting license in 2008, they had to narrow-cast by sending audio-cassettes to villages, where people sit around and listen to the programmes.

Alternative Public Distribution System In the earlier days, the likes of Mallamma couldn’t afford or at times, missed the deadline to buy the government ration due to lack of money. This otherwise meant them going to bed without food for most part of the year. At this juncture, DDS started an Alternative Public Distribution System. A revolutionary system, this was based on the principles of local production, local storage and local distribution to create a series of Community Grain Funds. This Grain Funds served the critical hunger time food needs of the poorest in the villages. Through this programme they enhanced the productivity of over 3500 acres of fallow land. “We used to go to bed without food for continuous days. Not for PDS we couldn’t have been alive,” says Mallamma. She is now in the executive committee of PDS. Today, from bajra to sorghum to sugarcane to vegetables, there is hardly anything that these women do not cultivate in their farms. They retrieved as many as 80 varieties of landraces. 10 years ago, sangham women set up their own market in which all of them are shareholders. They have a shop in Zaheerabad to sell their produce and a mobile unit that travels to cities every week, the annual turnover of which is around 25 lakh.

Sustainable Model Sangham women strictly follow organic farming; they use vermi compost, farmyard manure and neem cake as fertilisers. They were in the forefront to fight the introduction of genetically modified crops in the country.

16| MEDIA VOICE | | MARCH 2012

Laxmamma, Balamma and Sooramma at the editing room

Rajamma, sangham member from Kashimpur Village.

The Radio Saga For someone who administers a FM radio station, Narasamma looks petite, and shy during conversations. But the moment she wears the hat of a programme producer giving cues to the performers inside the sound proof studio at the DDS radio facility in Machnoor village, she becomes a tough boss. She and three other women have been operating this radio station since early 90s. From issues relevant to agriculture, education, environmental and ecological issues, health and hygiene, bio-diversity and food security, gender justice, to local cultures and entertainment programmes such as song and drama, they produce varied programmes. “We get around 50 calls a day. People ask about a number of issues. Sometimes they ask about diseases or other times during farming season about seeds and fertilisers,” says Poolamma, another broadcaster.

Mallamma at her sorghum field

Camerawomen of Medak

Around eight years ago when Satheesh asked 60-year-old Balamma to learn videography she thought he was making fun of her. “I thought how an aged person, who can’t even write or read, would learn camera. People would laugh at me. But he forced me,” says Balamma. After undergoing three-month training, she somehow learnt the techniques. But the main difficulty was catching the terms in English. She and her nine other co-workers thus coined terms that they can comprehend, such as, patel shot for high angle

Narasamma at the FM radio station storage space, rehearsal and a computer room. Now proficient in reporting and editing, these women have made around 20 films so far and have travelled in as many as 10 countries to exhibit their works. The most remarkable of their films were on the issue of Bt Cotton. It’s remarkable that these dalit women, from a country that is still battling evils like casteism and poverty -- have become a role model for sustainable food sovereignty and effective communication. MARCH 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |17

8 NorthEastWestSouth


OCTOBER 18, 2009




dollars was the Nobel prize money in 1901. It has since gone up 6667 per cent to today’s amount of 10 million, of which US president Barack Obama will win $1.4 million for his Nobel Peace Prize.

516 1

civilians and security force personnel killed in Naxal attacks this year, as on October 6, 2009. Last week, a former JMM MP was attacked by Naxals in Jharkhand. This comes days after 17 policemen were killed in an ambush by Maoists in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra.

degree Celsius rise in the average global temperature will reduce yields of potato, wheat, soyabean and groundnut by 3 to 7 per cent, according to government-backed scientific research on the impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions


was when farmers started using Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) as a pesticide. Last week in India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave its nod to the commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal.

BREAKING BARRIERS Hajo’s Hindus and Muslims offer lessons in peace

The boat, with its medical unit, is a lifeline for the 7,000-odd people of villages along the backwaters of Koyna in Maharashtra’s Satara district

WATCHING FROM THE BANKS The 58 villages along the backwaters of Koyna in Maharashtra are tired of living a life of obscurity




HE lone bench in the waiting room can’t hold more than half-a-dozen people and the consultation cabin can only accommodate the doctor and one other person, besides the patient. The walls are dank and musty and the low roof forces everyone to stoop a bit. It isn’t of much help that that this mobile medical unit rocks—the makeshift clinic, a lifeline for the 7,000-odd people of 58 small villages along the backwaters of Koyna in Maharashtra’s Satara district, is built on a boat. Here, in these villages that are part of the Koyna wildlife sanctuary, everything looks still, except for the mobile unit that sways gently. The waters cut off most of these villages from the mainland and as the sun goes down, they spend another night in the dark. Most of these villages have no electricity, no PDS shops and no schools. “No one visits us here and we don’t go anywhere. The boat service isn’t reliable. Every village owns a canoe but that’s usually not good enough. Nobody thinks of stepping out of their homes after dark. Another major problem is the lack of a health centre. If any of us is seriously ill, we have no option but to die here,” says Narmada Patil, 75, of Khirkhandi village, which has a population of about 120. Narmada still remembers the rainy night about two years ago when a pregnant woman from her village had to be taken to Bamnoli— about an hour’s journey from her village— which is where the nearest Public Health Centre (PHC) is. “She was in a terrible condition. By the time we finally reached Bamnoli, it was too late. The baby had died, but at least we could save the mother,” says Narmada. Which is why the villagers are happy for their boat—it’s the only thing that works for them. “Thirty pregnant women have given birth in this boat ever since it was set up about 10 years ago. For people in these villages, who have no access to pubic health sub-centres or any other medical help, this mobile medical unit has been very useful,” says Dr P.M. Bhosale, who heads the mobile

“No one visits us here and we don’t go anywhere,” says Narmada Patil of Khirkhandi village; Narmada at work on her field; inside the medical unit on the boat

medical unit. The unit has a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist and three assistants. But not all has been well. For the last four months, the service of the mobile medical unit has been erratic. “As we are short of staff, the unit has not been functioning regularly,” says Dr Bhosale. The lone ration shop is in Pavshewadi, one of the 58 villages, and for people in the other villages, it’s a good one-hour journey away. “The ration shop is far from here. We have to hire a private boat to get there,” says Rajaram Patekar of Tambi village. The villagers grow their own crops as most of them are not eligible for government ration. Only three families of the 12 in Khirkhandi village are eligible for ration. “When we go there, they say we are not eligible because we are not below the poverty line. I don’t know on what the criterion is. We don’t have jobs and we grow our own food grains,” says Patekar. The rainy season is a nightmare and the few villages that boast of electricity connections have to live with blackouts. “It’s a complete mess during the rains and we can’t even depend on our canoe. During times like these, we trek through the mountains for four to five hours to reach the primary health centre in Bamnoli,” says Baliram Sapkal, 27, a Khirkhandi villager who works as a boatman. The only hope the villagers have is to move out of here. And they hope the government keeps its promise of rehabilitating them under the Koyna Tiger Reserve Project. “Since this is part of a wildlife sanctuary, we face a lot of restriction on the use of forest produce. In the past, government authorities had held discussions on rehabilitating us to Raigad district as this area will soon be declared a tiger reserve area,” says Sapkal. The villagers say they will be happy if the rehabilitation plan works out. “If that happens, we will gladly move out. In Raigad, we will at least be part of the outside world,” he says. But Satara district collector Vikas Deshmukh doesn’t have any good news for them. “The tiger project is very much on. But, it is still in the preliminary stage. Nothing can be assured of now,” he says.


Women pray at Pao-Mecca in Hajo, Assam SAMUDRA GUPTA KASHYAP HAJO (ASSAM)

EVERY year, when the idols of

Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara are taken out in a procession from the Hayagriva-Madhava temple to the banks of the Brahmaputra, Md Tamij Ali and 20 other Muslim inhabitants of Sualkuchi in Hajo, Assam, and nearby villages prepare for a very special role: they have to turn up in their finest silk kurtapajamas and lead the 15-km long procession. “My father, my grandfather, and probably his grandfather too had taken great pride in performing this sacred responsibility for the Hayagriva-Madhava temple,” says 65-year-old Ali, a resident of Faqirtola, a village on the foothills of the Garudachal hill in Hajo. But the Hayagriva-Madhava temple is just one instance of religious amity in Hajo, a multi-religious centre in Assam’s Kamrup district that’s about 28 km across the Brahmaputra from Guwahati. On the Garudachal hill is PoaMecca, the oldest Muslim shrine in Assam. The shrine is revered by people of all faiths. Poa-Mecca has a 16th century mosque as well as the mazar of Giasuddin Auilya, a Sufi preacher who is believed to have come all the way from Persia to set up the mosque. And as some believe, one visit to Poa-Mecca is equal to onefourth of a trip to Mecca, with poa in Assamese meaning one-fourth of a kilogramme. There are also people who say that the preacher had brought along with him one poa of soil from Mecca to lay the foundation of this mosque. “These could be myths woven over the centuries. But the fact is that for the Hindus here, PoaMecca is as important and sacred as Hayagriva-Madhava and the four other temples in Hajo. And it’s the same for the Muslims,”

says Syed Mahtab Ali, an elderly Muslim who is also a member of the Pancha-Tirtha Parichalana Samiti that looks after the five Hindu shrines here. “The Muslim families of Hajo also vote to elect members of the Samiti, just like the Hindu families,” says Sambhu Dutta Sarmah, secretary of the Samiti. There are about 300 Muslim families who are attached to the Hindu temples and they are called sevaits, says Sarmah. “On the day of Bhogali Bihu, the Assamese harvest festival in January, the khadim of Poa-Mecca has to formally hand over the dharma-dhwaja to the temple priest to flag off a colourful procession through the town,” says Sarmah. The procession ends on the foothills of Poa-Mecca and is followed by a public meeting where the two religious heads pray for a better harvest the next year. “We have a large number of Hindu visitors from outside, apart from the people of Hajo, who come to offer prayers in PoaMecca,” says Syed Musha Haque, the khadim of Poa-Mecca. Muslims too visit the temples here. “The Muslims offer their prayers from the western gate of the temple,” says Sarmah, recalling that one of the most distinguished devotee at the Hayagriva-Madhava temple was former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. So inseparable are Muslims and Hindus here that one village called Bamun-bori (bamun meaning Brahmin) has only Muslim inhabitants. But even as Hindus and Muslims share and take pride in the heritage that is Hajo, the Buddhists too form an important part of Hajo. “Buddhists believe that it was here, in the Hayagriva-Madhava temple campus, that Lord Buddha attained his mahaprayana,” says Sarmah.

Cover Story




his is almost the end of Kharif (JuneOctober) season when usually vast paddy fields of East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh are filled with golden stacks heralding the harvest. However, this year, the scenerio is a bit different. Large patches of land are left uncultivated by frustrated farmers who declined to sow in protest against the flawed agricultural policies of the government, which compelled them to lead a life in debt. In East Godavari alone, 13,000 paddy farmers are observing ‘crop holidays’ in 1,20,000 acres of land causing an estimated loss of Rs 530 crore to the state. The agitation has already spread to neighbouring districts of Krishna, West Godavari, Khammam, Prakasam, Medak, Guntur, Thenali, Warangal, Kurnool and Kadapa, where thousands stayed away from farming during Kharif season. This novel form of protest is snowballing into a national farmers’ movement, with other states following suit.


t was a difficult decision,” says Ganeshula Rambabu of Inavally mandal of the Konaseema region in the East Godavari district of Andhara Pradesh. He had destroyed 40 acres of seedbed he had meticulously prepared for the cultivation. ‘But what’s the point in cultivating if it brings only loss,” asks Rambabu. Rambabu’s predicament can well be imagined. Like him, other farmers who stayed away from cultivation point out the skyrocketing cost of production (increasing labour cost, soaring prices of fertilisers, insecticides, seeds, petrol and diesel), unfair Minimum Support Price (MSP) and unsupportive export policies as major reasons for their plight.


ow they have resorted to indefinite hunger strike to attract the government’s attention. Their demands include the purchase of paddy at the minimum profitable price, building storage facilities in Mandal headquarters and opening and closure of irrigation water from the canals for not more than 30 days.



Vast expanse of paddy fields now serve as grazing ground for cattle

Thousands of paddy farmers from Andhra Pradesh have boycotted farming this season,to mark their protest against the faulty agricultural policies of the government. With the neighbouring states following suit, the movement nicknamed ‘crop holidays’ may create a national crisis in the farming sector. Even though the future of the movement remains uncertain, it can be said that this novel way of protest, is a powerful addition to the non-violent methods of agitation propagated by Gandhiji.

Rotten paddy: Due to the lack of storage space, the crop was left in the open after harvesting. 22| MEDIA VOICE | | OCTOBER 2011




he idea and thought for this novel way of protest was sparked off when the farmers saw their abundant Rabi crop going to waste in April-May 2011. This was thanks to insufficient storage facilities and delayed export approval from the government. “The state government refused to purchase the excess paddy. In Karnataka and Haryana, the governments purchase paddy from the farmers. Here, it doesn’t even suggest the Food Corporation of India to purchase the grains from us,” says Umamaheshwar Rao, a farmer from Uppalaguptam Mandal. This, the farmers say, had benefited only private traders. “Most of us sold paddy to private mill owners for cheap rate for the fear of our harvest being spoiled,” says Rao. While the government-fixed MSP for paddy for 75 kg was Rs 740, they sold it to traders for Rs 650 or even lesser prices. The sight of the rotten paddy bundles left desolate in many places in the region is a grim reality the officials can’t turn their face from. The assurance of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy to look into the issue has not convinced the farmers yet. “We have seen all political gimmicks. It’s their negligence that forced us to resort to such an extreme step,” says Raghuvera Reddy, a farmer from Kunavaram village. With no land in possession and hence ineligible for benefits extended by the government, the tenant farmers are the most affected. According to them, the Loan Eligibility Card (LEC) scheme announced by the State government for tenant farmers has not helped them, with banks refusing to give loans without proper documents.

63-year-old M Ramamurthy naidu sold 10 acres out of his 16-acre paddy field to pay back the loan he had borrowed from a local moneylender. ”

The LEC was aimed at helping farmers who have been cultivating land without any lease agreement from land owners that prevented them from availing benefits like low interest loans, subsidised seeds and fertilisers and crop insurance assured by the government. 63-year-old M Ramamurthy Naidu sold 10 acres out of his 16-acre paddy field to pay back the loan he borrowed from a local moneylender. Most people in the region have taken loans from microfinance agences for heavy rates of interest. Besides, natural calamities like cyclone and flood take their toll on the crop every year. The farmers say the method adopted to determine crop insurance eligibility is archaic and thus the result would be inaccurate. They have requested the government to device a new method for this.



ccording to farmers, the cost of cultivation for an acre of land is Rs 25,000 while the income they get in return is around Rs 18,000. In short, they end up making a loss out of farming. The proposed National Food Security Bill doesn’t allow the export of food grains to other countries or states except for a few varieties. Last season, since the export permission came late, the farmers had to sell paddy to private traders for low rates. A few months ago, the Supreme Court had criticized the government on the issue of rotting food grains and sought explanation from the government as to why it was not distributing the grain to the needy. Uppalaguptam Tehsildar N Chittibabu admits that the complete harvest couldn’t be procured and they are kept in the open to rot. The farmers estimate that around 30 percent of their kharif harvest is still not procured.



he MSP fixed by the government for the last Kharif season was not reasonable, allege the farmers. The price fixed by the government was Rs 1,080 per quintal of common paddy which was only a Rs 80-increase from last year’s price. One of the farmers demands includes the implementation of the recommendations of the Dr MS Swaminathan-headed National Commission on Farmers, appointed by the union government. According to its recommendations, MSP should be equal to the cost of production plus minimum 50 percent as profit.

a significant number of agricultural labourers have migrated to cities in search of jobs ”



nother section that’s largely affected because of the crop holiday is agricultural labourers. With the meagre amount (Rs 50) they are being paid for working more than 10 hours, they find it difficult to make both ends meet. Chander Rao, a labourer from Inavally mandal says he is planning to shift to construction work. A significant number of agricultural labourers have migrated to cities in search of jobs while others have opted for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’s Food For Work programme (MGNREGA). However, the farmers allege that in the programme the labourers are getting paid for doing nothing. “They hardly have any work there. Naturally, labourers would tend to opt for the scheme. Agriculture is taking a beating because of this,” says a farmer. They say after most agriculture labourers opted for the Food For Work scheme, there is a huge demand for labourers in agriculture which in turn has increased the labour cost. The farmers demand incorporating MGNREGA and cultivation during farming season.


n Ram amurt back h hy nadu so ld is deb ts incu off 10 acr es of h rred d is ue to loss in farming lan paddy d cultiva to pay tion


rawing inspiration from this novel way of protest, farmers’ groups from other states are planning to join the agitation. Recently, around 500 farmer leaders from Karnataka met at Raichur to discuss the issue. Says Natha Gowda, a farmers’ group head, “Due to heavy loss, farmers are switching from paddy to other crops like sun flower, cotton and jowar in Karnataka. Cropping pattern has changed drastically. The crisis has forced farmers to shift to cities looking for jobs.” They have made representations to the government to convince them


Farme rs of U pp strike alaguptam as par t of ‘c mandal obs rop ho e liday’ rving hung prote er sts

Chander Rao, a farm labourer who lost his job due to the crop holiday OCTOBER 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |25


f their plight. “We will wait till November 1st. We will go on crop holiday after that,” he adds.

The situation is grim in Uttar Pradesh. After making losses out of their main crop, sugarcane, farmers are switching to agro forestry cultivation like poplar and eucalyptus, which experts say is a worrying trend. According to Yogesh Dahiya, chairman of Farmers Forum in the Berhampur district of Uttar Pradesh, three out of eight sugar factories have been shut down after suffering huge losses. “The farmers have turned to agro forestry, which can be harvested only in the 7th year after planting. So in a way we are also observing crop holiday,” he says. He says his association is in constant contact with other groups in the state to take this agitation forward.

GOVERNMENT IN ACTION The pressure from various quarters forced the AP government to take action. A committee under the leadership of former agriculture secretary Mohan Kanda was appointed to study issues raised by farmers. The report submitted recently to the government is understood to have recommended several measures to tackle this crisis. “There are plenty of issues that we have observed while interacting with farmers that need to be addressed immediately. For instance the MSP is below the actual cost of production. There is enormous increase in labour cost and the price of fertilizers and seeds over the last few years. There aren’t adequate storage facilities. Mechanisation is yet to pick up in farming”, says Mohan Kanda when asked about the committee’s observation.

in Uttar Pradesh, after making losses out of their main crop, sugarcane, farmers have started switching to cultivating agro forestry like poplar and eucalyptus, which experts say is a worrying trend. ”

Farmers demand that: • the present cost of agriculture labour should be brought down to reasonable levels. • Check the increasing cost of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, diesel and petrol. • the MSP fixed by the government should be in proportion to the investments made by the farmers. • adjust the compensation rates to make good the loss due to crop loss. • address the produce procurement schedule being followed by the government.

If not addressed on a war footing, this movement, which has cropped up among the grassroots, may spread to other parts of the country and hit the agriculture sector badly.

Ganeshula Rambabu, a farmer from inavally mandal of East Godavari, destroyed the 40-acre seedbed he had prepared for paddy cultivation



The green revolutionist “Government social protection schemes are ineffective” - Dr. M S Swaminathan


M S Swaminathan is a plant geneticist by training, whose initiatives in developing high-yield varieties of seeds in the 1960s saved millions in india from starvation. his contributions to the agricultural renaissance of india brought him accolades from around the world. A fellow of many of the leading scientific academies of india and the world, he is the founder and chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai. he served as the Chairman of the United nations Science Advisory Committee and independent Chairman of the Un Food and Agriculture Organisation. he speaks to Renitha Raveendran on why agriculture is a risky profession in india and suggests solution for the agrarian crisis plaguing the country.

Farmers boycotting paddy cultivation in Andhra, ginger farmers committing suicide in Wayanad, and up north in Uttar Pradesh, sugarcane farmers shifting to cash crops – there are a lot of issues in the agriculture sector. Well, when the first UPA came to power in 2004, they set up a National Commission on Farmers. I was the chairman of the commission. We submitted the report in 2006. It dealt with present farmers’ problems comprehensively: the agrarian crisis, the causes for farmer’s suicides and essentially where do we go from here – a roadmap for 21st century. Unfortunately, the government is yet to take action on it. We also prepared a national policy for farmers. I always felt, all the policies for farmers were for agriculture and not for farmers. One has to make the difference clearly; you have to put faces before figures. We always look at commodities, not the persons who are preparing it.

As someone who has been closely associated with farmers for several decades, what do you think are the major challenges before the country in the agriculture sector?

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan

26| MEDIA VOICE | | MARCH 2012

We wanted to bring about a paradigm shift for measuring the progress in agriculture in terms of income orientation for farmers Thus a Kisan Policy, was put in Parliament in 2007. This had three major recommendations: 1) Looking at agriculture from the point of view of the real income of the farming family, both the security and the totality of income; 2) Increasing women’s participation in agriculture. Women in farming have always played a key but in unrecognized and unrewarded role. With great difficulty, I got it included in the budget two years ago – a Mahila Kisan

Sasikthikaran Paryojana – an empowerment program for women farmers. 3) (A) recommendation for yuva kisan (young farmer); because more than 50% of the population is below the age of 35 and 70% among them are living in rural India. This is to attract and retain youth in farming. 4) Assured remunerative marketing. We have recommended a formula for price fixation in agriculture, i.e., the minimum support price should be equal to the total cost of production + 50 percent margin. C2 has to be calculated at the state level because it varies according to region. Credit and effective insurance security have to be provided to the farmers. We need to insulate our farmers from risks, particularly at a time of climate change and global farming. Agriculture today has become a very risky profession.

When you have a department to promote Biotechnology how can the regulatory authority be under it?”

In India nearly 300 million people go to bed partially hungry every night and nearly 42 percent of our children are malnourished. This is at a time when tonnes of food grains go waste at food procuring centres, at times due to the lack of sufficient storage facilities. So isn’t the actual problem is at the policy-making level? Yes, naturally. Investment in infrastructure is important. For some reason our country has not been spending money on storage facilities. They say the Food Corporation is like a government,unless the government gives money, where will they go? Paddy procurement except for Punjab and Haryana is not done directly through Food Corporation of India, but is done through rice mills. The rice millers do not give the minimum support price, although they are obliged to give it. This is the reason why the farmers of East Godavari, which is really the granary bowl of Andhra Pradesh, observed a crop holiday. When I went there they asked me, “When I have last year’s crop lying down here why I would cultivate again?” But those are

MARCH 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |27

dangerous (boycotting farming), especially now when we are bringing a food security bill.

There is mass migration of agricultural labourers from villages to cities in search of jobs, such as construction work. Isn’t it a worrying trend? This is happening because we don’t have diversification of employment. If you go to China, there is nothing such as a landless labourer. Because what they did is, they started a new agricultural revolutionary policy with a two-prong strategy…One is on farm productivity and profitability the other is non-farm employment and income. So they started what’s called Township Village Enterprises. By 1980 they had taken 100 billion people from farming to non-farming. They are not called landless labourers – they are given manufacturing jobs. That’s why they (China) are on top of the world. All over the world, people are worried about Chinese products. Even in our country, the mulberry farmers in Karnataka started committing suicide after the government reduced the import duty on Chinese silk from 30% to 5%.

Reports suggest a significant number of sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh have moved to cash crops such as eucalyptus. Similarly cotton farmers in Salem and Maharashtra have also shifted to other cash crops. Won’t this create imbalance in crop pattern? Do we have an index of priority crops to be cultivated? Today, farmers grow their own crops according to their assessment of what their income would be. Yes, there should be (priorities), but it’s difficult to implement unless you have a controlled market. Today the market is open and people have to fend for themselves. The price for most produce depends on the international market, so nothing is in the control of farmers. What the government can do is to improve the post-harvest infrastructure, the storage facilities, and marketing; they can give what farmers want- more services than subsidies, good storage, rural communication, knowledge about prices list, markets and so on. If the subsidy amount could be spent on post-harvest technologies such as storage, marketing, processing and

agro-processing centres, that would be much more beneficial.

Turning of farming land to special economic zones and industrial areas has been a major issue. What reason would you like to attribute to this change? That’s because the real estate in the country has become a big business. The government has a land acquisition policy. But that’s only about acquiring. The Farmer’s Commission had recommended a policy for preserving prime farm land for agriculture. For example, in Kuttanadu we have recommended a Special Agriculture Zone (SAZ). For Special Economic Zone you lose land to non-farming purpose, but for SAZ, you conserve farming land. We have to develop more land consciousness in relation to agriculture.

You had raised concerns about certain provisions in the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRAI). I had a lot of concerns. In 2004 I submitted the report where I recommended an autonomous, professionally-led transparent authority, which I said should ensure the food security of the nation, income security of the farmers, the trade security of the country and also the health security of the consumer. The government from that time onwards started preparing a bill (BRAI). Finally the Department of Biotechnology was in charge. They primed a bill that could not be placed in Parliament after some of the NGOs and activists opposed it. I had been suggesting to NGOs, “You should allow the bill to be introduced; let it be discussed, because the entire biotechnology industry is suffering.” On the one hand, the government is promoting biotechnology research. There are so many MScs and PhDs in biotechnology. What’s their future? If you say your products can’t be sold in the market, who will invest in biotechnology? So, the sooner we have a regulatory mechanism that inspires public confidence, the sooner we will be able to use the technology in a safe and responsible way. The principle is, the regulator should not be under the control of the person to be regulated. So the argument is when you have a department to promote biotechnology, how can the regulatory authority be under it?

you should allow the bill to be introduced; let it be discussed, because the entire biotechnology industry is suffering.”

But the safety concerns of genetically modified food still exist.

You can’t generalise genetically modified technology. Genetic modification is not necessary in most cases…Most of these can be done through marker method; you identify the molecular marker and take the gene and put it in. You should decide under what conditions genetic modification is to be done. In my own centre in Chennai (MSSRF), work is in progress on breeding new salt-tolerant rice varieties. We are preparing for sea-level rise. Those (salt-tolerant) genes are not available in rice; they had to be taken from mangroves. And we have got a very good variety of rice; it’s being grown in Kalpakkam. Bt cotton (Bacillus thuringiensis) works against some of the butterflies like Lepidopteran pest. It doesn’t solve all the problems in cotton. There are 28| MEDIA VOICE | | MARCH 2012

Source: Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India

many other pests in cotton this bacterium doesn’t resist. Monsanto has been promoting it; people are afraid of Monsanto’s agenda and multinationals controlling seed industry. Today, five companies control 80% of the world’s seed trade. Monsanto was charging exorbitant amounts (for Bt cotton seeds) that the Andhra Pradesh government went to court and got reduced. Any technology has risks and benefits. But we should learn how to use it.

There are apprehensions about the implementation of the national Food Security programme. The food grains required to meet the commitment under the bill is estimated at about 60 million tones. Will we be able to procure that much?

revolution, also says it came at the cost of degrading fertile land, depleting groundwater etc. It now calls for a sustainable crop production using ecosystem approach. But our draft 12th Five Year plan calls for promoting the composite use of organic and chemical fertilizers. What’s your stand? I have been calling it evergreen revolution. Evergreen means increasing production and productivity in perpetuity without environmental and social harm. The criticism against the green revolution was that it increased fertilizer and pesticide usage, drained water and so on. Evergreen revolution is what needed in our country now. The smaller the farm, the greater the need for marketable surplus and therefore we have to ensure that we are producing more and more. You must not use too much fertilizers, only ecologically sustainable farming, which is nowadays called green sustainable agriculture.

Bt cotton works against some of the butterflies like Lepidopteran pest. it doesn’t solve all the problems in cotton.”

We can meet the requirement. It’s a very historic transition from a ship-tomouth existence to committing our own homegrown 60 million tonnes (of food grains). It’s procurement that sustains production. Our average yield today is less than half of what China produces. So we have what’s called the untapped reservoir. The reservoir is very high. China doesn’t have a reservoir – it’s already exhausted. We can produce up to 500 million tonnes. The Food Security Bill, on the one hand, will insulate poor consumers from hunger, and on the other, stimulate poor farmers. Urban people and the Planning Commission do not understand the structure of agriculture; it’s not a food-producing machine – it’s the basis of livelihood. It’s the livelihood support for 70% of the country’s population.

Food and Agriculture organization of the United nations, while acknowledging the attainment through green

Despite several measures carried out by the government, farmers’ suicides in major agriculture belts remain alarming. Government has only packages. There should be more social protection schemes. The government social protection schemes are not effective. The agrarian crisis occurs from the uneconomical and uncertain state of farming. There is no proper insurance. We have given a number of suggestions in the Farmers’ Commission as to how to deal with this; starting with how to strengthen the social protection schemes.

MARCH 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |29

Cover story


T The debate over the safety of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam has continued for several decades now. But what spurred the recent controversy that has led to a bitter political feud between Kerala and Tamil Nadu?

hey nicknamed it ‘water bomb’, and it is hanging like the sword of Damocles and gifting people with sleepless nights. For many years, the aging Mullaperiyar dam has been a nightmare for people living close to it along the Periyar River. Recent earth tremors that came with loud noises, leaving cracks on the walls of houses, have only increased their fear. They believe the dam will burst if there is an earthquake of high-magnitude, and they will be washed away.

The silent protest fast that the people been staging for the last five years at a makeshift pandal in the Karikulam Chapathu village, a few kilometers away from the dam site, demanding a new dam, got loud recently with a number of political outfits joining them. Cashing in on this situation, various political outfits in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala staged protests, vied each other in fasting and took it into an abusive level, worsening the state of affairs.

The dam in distress The bone of contention: Mullaperiyar Dam



Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, “Such small tremors at Idukki, won’t have any effect on Mullaperiyar dam. It’s he 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam, the bone of contention around 60 km away from Mullaperiyar. The argument that between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala for several this would create leakage in the dam is baseless.” He says no decades, was built across the Periyar River in 1895 with earth tremors have been recorded near the dam or beneath the a mixture of lime, surki, rubble masonry and mortar. This dam so far. “But inactive faulty zones ( zones that are capable was built as per a lease deed for 999 years, executed between of generating significantly destructive earthquakes) can be the Maharaja of Travancore and the Madras Presidency in found here. We can’t ignore the possibility of mild quakes.” 1886 to divert the waters of the Periyar While rubbishing those creating panic River to the Vaigai Basin in Tamil Kerala argues that the dam is among people predicting earthquakes and Nadu for agriculture. A composite old and threatens the life of destruction of the dam, he acknowledges gravity dam, the Mullaperiyar is 176 nearly 35 lakh people living that the dam has to be rebuilt taking into ft high from the foundation and has account its aging structure. a length of 1200 ft. Ith as a storage downstream; they demand the Meanwhile, Dr John Mathai, senior capacity of 15.66 TMC (thousand construction of a new dam. scientist with Centre of Earth Sciences million cubic feet). Studies, Trivandrum says, “In a short span of time, as many as Kerala argues that the dam has outlived its life and four events have been recorded. This indicates the formation threatens the life of nearly 35 lakh people living downstream; of a high pressure level. There are faulty zones identified in they demand the construction of a new dam. Countering the region. So an earthquake of high magnitude cannot be this, Tamil Nadu says, after the strengthening measures ruled out.” The region comes under earthquake-prone Zone 3. carried out, the dam is as safe as a new dam and Kerala’s Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Indian Institute arguments are incorrect. of Technology, Delhi, said the dam would collapse if an Seismic Threat earthquake with a magnitude of more than 5 on the Richter he latest worry of people living near the dam site is Scale hits the place within 16 kms of the dam when the the sequence of tremors felt in the region. Pointing at reservoir level is 136ft. However, this study has been the cracked walls of his neighbor Mathukutti’s newly rubbished by Tamil Nadu. “IIT study is the best example for constructed house at Vallakadavu, 3 km downstream from professional dishonesty and technical fraud. It’s irrelevant,” the dam site, Mathew Thomas says, the recent tremors were says Veerappan, State Secretary of Tamil Nadu PWD Senior strong and came along with a loud noise. “Tremors have Engineer’s Association. become very common here. Most nights, we come out and sit Water Level

Epicentre of controversy




educing the water level at the dam has been suggested as the primary step to curtail the possibility of a disaster. Kerala has demanded bringing down the water level from the current 136-plus ft to 120 ft, which Tamil Nadu is objecting to. “The water level has to be brought down immediately. Tamil Nadu Government should understand the gravity of the imminent disaster. Letting the water level going up would be an unwise move,” says NK Premachandran, former Kerala Minister for Water Resources.

outside the house fearing a collapse,” he says. Vallakkadavu in Tamil Nadu. is the first human settlement downstream of the aging dam and the first village likely to be hit in case Such small tremors at of a dam burst. Some experts are of the view that tremors of this magnitude are negligible and unlikely to have any effect on the dam. Says CP Rajendran, geologist at the 10| MEDIA VOICE | | JANUARY 2012

Idukki, won’t have any effect on Mullaperiyar dam. It’s around 60 km away from Mullaperiyar”

Meanwhile, the Farmers’ Organizations from Southern Tamil Nadu have opposed this move. “The lowering of water level will affect the agriculture adversely. If lowered any bit from 142 ft height, we will suffer from acute shortage of water,” says Sukumaran, a farmer from Cumbum They point at Central Water Commission(CWC) report permitting the raising of the water level in 2001. Relying on CWC committee report, the Supreme Court had given permission to increase the height of the dam from 136ft to 142ft. But to counter this,

Protestors symbolically take control of the shutter in Kumily, Kerala, from where the water is being released to Tamil Nadu the Kerala Government had passed a legislation amending the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, which empowers the Kerala Dam Safety Authority “to suspend the functioning of any dam, to decommission any dam or restrict the functioning of any dam if public safety or threat to human life or property, so require”. As per this, 136ft has been fixed the maximum water level of Mullaperiyar dam. “The ulterior motive of Kerala Government is to break the agreement and stop water to Tamil Nadu. Why don’t they trust the CWC report and respect the Supreme Court decision to raise the water level?” asks Veerappan. According to Tamil Nadu, the question of bringing down the water level doesn’t have any relevance after the CWC findings. About 68,558 hectares in the five districts of Southern Tamil Nadu—Theni, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Dindigul and Sivaganga – benefit from the waters of Mullaperiyar. According to Veerappan, when the water level was152ft, they used to get 10.5 TMC water, but with the reduction in height to 136, only 6 TMC water is available now. By his account, Tamil Nadu has lost Rs4,200 crore in the last 35 years.

A New Dam


ne of the major demands put forward by the Kerala Government and people living along the banks of the river is the construction of a new dam near the existing one. The proponents of the idea say a new dam is indispensable since the old dam that has outlived its life expectancy (the life guaranteed when it was built was 50 years) was built when technology was in its infancy, and seismicity and other technical aspects were not taken into account. “A new dam is the only way out. The dam has faroutlived its expected life. It’s in a dangerous condition,” says N K Premachandran. He points to two studies conducted by IIT Delhi and Roorkee IIT. IIT Roorkee studied the possibility

There have been about 200 notable reservoir failures in 20th century in the world so far. The following is the major dam failures through 1965: (source: Central Water Commission)

Approximate number of significant failure

Year Period to 1900 1900 to 1909 1910 to 1919 1920 to 1929 1930 to 1939 1940 to 1949 1950 to 1959 1960 to 1965

38 15 25 33 15 11 30 10

of flooding and concluded that a possible flood will lead to the overflow and later breakage of the dam. IIT Delhi studied earthquake effects and said an earthquake with a magnitude of more than 5 on the Richter Scale can break the dam. However, some term this as Kerala’s ploy to own the custody of the dam. “Kerala’s intention is to take control of the dam. All the fracas was created for this,” says Veerappan. According to Premachandran, what Tamil Nadu fears is, if a new dam is built, the deal will have to be renewed, according to which they will get the required quantity of water for agriculture, but not for generating electricity.

Kerala has demanded bringing down the water level from the current 136 plus ft to 120 ft, which Tamil Nadu is objecting to. JANUARY 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |11

The feasibility of another dam at a seismically active region is questioned by many. But proponents of the dam say the new one will be built taking into account the seismicity and other technical aspects.

Controversy over movie ‘Dam 999’, a Hollywood movie by a Malayali director with the theme of a dam breakage, further whipped up the controversy. After Tamil Nadu banned the movie screening in the state stating it’s creating tensions between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the director approached the Supreme Court to revoke its ban.

It’s estimated that if the Mullaperiyar dam fails, nearly 30 lakh people living downstream in five districts of Kerala would be affected. Also, Idukki, Cheruthoni, Kulamavu and Lower Periyar dams would be in danger.

A f i ve - m e m b e r empowered committee headed by former Chief Justice of India A S Anand was constituted on February 2010 after Supreme Court’s direction to study the issues of Mullaiperiyar Dam, and is yet to submit its report. Meanwhile, Kerala has signed up IIT-Roorkee to conduct a dam break analysis on Mullapperiyar dam. It has been given six months to come out with the report.

Dam politics


xploiting the situation created out of the panic of people living near the dam site, politicians from Kerala went so far as to predict the explosion of the dam and the killing of people. Although this has created awareness among the people in the rest of the State, those affected say they are not carried away by the political gimmicks. “We appreciate their solidarity. We have been fasting for five years. No one came then. Today, they are gaining political mileage out of this issue,”says Mathew of Vallakadavu. The scenario is not very different in Tamil Nadu as well. With Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and Dravidar Kazhagam along with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam giving passion-rousing speeches and instigating violence, there seems to be efforts from all sides to gain maximum mileage out of this issue. Before it goes even out of their hands, it’s high time the Central Government or the Supreme Court intervenes to resolve the situation amicably.

The issue so far • 1886 Oct: lease indenture for 999 years was made between Maharaja of Travancore and Secretary of State for India for sharing Periyar water

• 1887-1895: Mullaperiyar Dam constructed across Periyar River. Water diverted through tunnel to Vaigai basin in Tamil Nadu. • 1970: Agreement made to permit Tamil Nadu to generate power

• 1979: Concerns raised about dam’s safety. • 1979: Central Water Commission chairman 12| MEDIA VOICE | | JANUARY 2012

recommends strengthening works of dam. Advised to lower water level to 136 ft.

• 1980: CWC recommends raising water level upto 145 ft after cable anchoring.

1986: CWC proposes additional measures to strengthen the dam. Opines water level could be raised to 152 ft.

• 2000: All cases in Kerala and Tamil Nadu

High Courts on Mullaperiyar transferred to Supreme Court. SC directs Union Minister for Water Resources to solve the issue amicably

• 2000 June: Expert Committee with members from both states and CWC formed to study on dam’s safety. • 2001 March: EC opines water level can be raised from 136 ft. to 142 ft. • 2006 February: SC permits TN to raise water level of dam from 136 ft. to 142 ft. • 2006, March: Kerala passes the Kerala

Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act 2006; It prohibits raising of water level beyond 136 ft.

• 2006 March: TN filed a suit in SC praying for declaring Kerala legislation null • 2006, Nov, Dec: Union Minister (WR) held talks with CMs of both states; no consensus reached.

• 2008, April: Nine-member committee constituted to monitor seepage at the dam headed by CWC. TN objected to it • 2008 July: Kerala submits in SC the

hydrological review studies done by Delhi IIT professor. The report said the dam is hydrologic ally unsafe. CWC termed this study well founded.

• 2009 May: Kerala sets up a committee to study the issue. It suggests construction of new dam, opined it’s unsafe. • 2009 July: CWC sets up a team to visit

the dam to assess condition. The visit never materialized.

• 2009 July: Kerala announces its decision to

built new dam, intimates TN about it. TN says no, opines the existing dam after strengthened, functions like a new dam.

• 2009 Nov: Supreme Court directs to place this before a constitution Bench; orders both states to maintain status quo • 2010 Feb: SC directs Central Govt. to

constitute empowered committee and submit report within six months.

• 2010 April: Ministry of Water Resources

constitutes empowered committee. Report is due

Cover story


Living on the

Edge The dam controversy has affected the daily lives of people in Idukki. These days, little Aksa doesn’t sleep much. Often awakened by disturbing dreams, she asks her mother Shali whether they will die if the dam bursts. Like Aksa, people living in Karikulam Chapathu, a village on the banks of Periyar River in Idukki district of Kerala, fear that any serious damage to the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam, situated a few kilometers away, would wash their village away. Mullaperiyar Dam, which has remained the bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over its unstable condition for several decades, became the centre of a controversy yet again, after a series of tremors were recorded in the region. The tremors are said to have increased the leakage in the dam. The entire village is bathed in fear. Except for the intermittent noise from the microphone and slogans at the makeshift protest pandal, where the villagers have been on a fast for the past five years, there is an uneasy calm prevailing. “We live in constant fear. Even the noise from a passing truck, wake up at night,” says Stephen, a Tamil migrant settled in the village. Stephen runs a cloth shop at Chapathu, but he hardly has any business. The issue has visibly affected people’s daily life here. “People from outside do not prefer doing

“We live in constant fear. Even the noise from a passing truck, wake up at night.” 14| MEDIA VOICE | | JANUARY 2012

A boy from Vallakadavu, Idukki, takes part in the protest demanding the construction of a new dam

Notable Dam Failures in India

(source: Report on Dam Safety Procedures, Central Water Commission) Name of the dam

Kaddam Panshet Khadakwasla Chikkhole Machhu

Height (metre)

22.5 53.0 20.0 36.7 II 24.1

Year of completion

Year of failure

1957 1961 1875 1968 1975

1958 1961 1961 1972 1979

business here. Nearly 38 shops have been A few kilometers away from Chapathu lies closed over a period of time,” says Stephen. Vallakadavu, a village with a population of about They say young men find it difficult to get 15,000 people. The mood here is somber. Vallakadavu, marriage proposals because parents refuse hardly three kilometers from the dam site, would to marry off their girls and send them to this be one of the first villages to be affected if anything region. “Two generations of people have lived untoward happens to the dam. in constant fear. How long can we continue like Pointing to the water spillage from the dam that this?” asks a visibly agitated Sarojini Amma. forms a shallow stream at the back of her house, At least some well-off families have shifted Janitha says, “See, the water level has increased to other parts of the state. Most people from even with the mere spillage from here are migrant labourers the dam. Imagine if it breaks. We in the cardamom and tea The lack of disasterare living each day in anticipation of plantations. preparedness is death.” Her family, which migrated bothering the villagers. from Rajapalayam in Tamil Nadu a After the recent furor, elected representatives and No one knows what to do few generations ago to work in the activists of different political in the event of a disaster. tea plantations in the region, consists parties joined the fast, at of 20 members. “Our relatives in the pandal, demanding the Chennai are urging us to shift decommissioning of the existing dam and the there. But our roots are building of a new one. This has taken the whole here and it’s difficult to protest to a new level with various outfits arranging move out.” meetings and protest marches at various centres According to the in the district. villagers, nearly 60 The lack of disaster-preparedness is bothering percent of the people the villagers. Geetha, a secretariat employee, says are Tamil migrant no one knows what to do in the event of a disaster. labourers. The makeshift “There are no classes conducted on this. Nothing protest pandal is filled has been done to allay the fear of the people.” She with villagers who hold finds it hard to convince her children to go to school; placards and shout out they fear the dam will burst when they are at school. slogans urging Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Meanwhile, Mullaperiyar Samara Samiti, a protest Jayalalithaa to look into forum that has spearheaded the five-year-old fasting, their plight. says they are not going to give in. “We won’t back The roadside protest out until an assurance towards the building of a new Mathukkutti Alanchery’s house dam is got,” says the forum’s convenor, PD Joseph. meets, huge banners developed cracks, reportedly after demanding action from the recent tremors in Idukki district governments, cut-outs of political leaders and protest marches that sometimes become violent have once again brought the issue to the limelight, but people hope this doesn’t remain yet another prop for political gamesmanship, as in the past.

janitha from Vallakadavu, three kilometres downstream Mullaperiyar Dam

Rosamma, Vallakadavu JANUARY 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |15



‘Kerala’s fears are misplaced’ Kerala entrepreneurs flush with petro-dollars earned in the Arabian Gulf countries have turned their attention to exploiting wildlife tourism. They had a foretaste of this potential when the waters of the Mullaperiyar Dam, following the lowering of its storage level from 152 ft to 136 ft to undertake renewal of the dam in 1979. Though this land belonged to Tamil Nadu, Kerala politicians encouraged its illegal occupation by entrepreneurs and setting up of wildlife tourist resorts and other enterprises.

Sam Rajappa is a

senior journalist and has written extensively on the Mullaperiyar issue


Reason for the sudden uproar over Mullaperiyar issue The Mullaperiyar dam was built at a time when technology was at its infancy. It outlasted its promised life of 50 years. After the recent tremors, there is fear among the people about its safety. Hence Kerala proposes to build a new dam taking into account technical aspects. It promises water for Tamil Nadu. But somehow they don’t trust the assurance. Kerala doesn’t need a dam; we could very well decommission the existing one if our intentions were bad. We understand the concerns of farmers and been magnanimous. They should also be generous, understand the anxiety of people living downstream a water bomb. They should come forward for discussion.

was stated that after certain renovation works recommended by the Central Water Commission, the storage level will be restored to its original height after the work was completed. Kerala refused to honour its commitment. What is worse, the reclaimed land, part of the 8,591-acre water-spread under the 1886 Lease Deed, has been put to construction activities. A Kerala government document on the new dam says: “There is a limit to the number of years one can keep dams in service through maintenance and strengthening measures. In the case of the Mullaperiyar dam, it has to be there for another 884 years for diverting water to Tamil Nadu as per the lease deed.”

In 1970, long after the composite Kerala State was formed by annexing the entire Malabar region of the Age is not the factor to determine the erstwhile Madras Presidency; Chief Minister safety of a dam. It is the maintenance. Kallanai C Achutha Menon approached the Tamil Nadu (Grand Anicut) built across the Cauvery near government for improving the terms of the the temple town of Srirangam in Tiruchirapali 1885 lease agreement. On 29 May, 1970, two district, built by Karikala Cholan more than supplementary agreements were signed between 1,900 years ago, is still in service, irrigating Kerala and Tamil Nadu. One was to increase the entire delta region, considered the granary the annual lease rent from Rs.5 to Rs.30 per of Tamil Nadu. Pennycuick acre with a provison to revise chose the same materials it every 30 years. The second ge is not the factor to the Chola Emperor used in was to allow Tamil Nadu to determine the safety of a Kallanai to construct the generate hydroelectric power dam. It is the maintenance. Mullaiperiyar dam. India using Mullaperiyar waters on Kallanai built across the Cauvery has about 40 dams as old as, payment of charges to Kerala is more than 1,900 years old, but some even older than, the based on quantum of electricity is still in service. India has about Mullaperiyar dam, which generated. 40 dams as old as, some even are still functional. The The Kerala government, older than, the Mullaperiyar dam dams across the mighty after completing the 71-tmcft that are still functional. Godavari and the Krishna, capacity of Idukki dam in built by Arthur Cotton, 1976 to generate 800 MW another British employed hydroelectric power, found the dam was not by the colonial rulers, are much older than the getting filled as expected for two consecutive Mullaperiyar dam but are still functional. The years during north-west monsoon or the south- people of coastal Andhra, unlike their Kerala east monsoon. It was after that Kerala raked counterparts, are not living in constant fear of up the safety issue of Mullaperiyar for the death by drowning. first time, in 1978. The few townships in this The fear psychosis that has gripped the sparsely populated, forested stretch between people of Idukki, Kottayam, Allapuzha and the two dams like Kumuli, Elapara and the Ernakulam districts is the direct result of media like are all located in higher altitudes than the management by the political class in Kerala. Mullaperiyar reservoir located at an altitude Using state-of-the-art techonology, renovation of 2,790 feet. The villages on the banks of the work was completed in 1994. Periyar, Chapath with 580 houses and Upputhura having 420 houses are protected by 16 ft high Mullaperiyar today is a 17-year-old dam, still retention walls. The Tamil Nadu government in its teens and not a doddering 116-year-old agreed to Kerala’s request to lower the storage dam, and the people of Kerala can rest assured level of the Mullaperiyar from 152 ft to 136 ft. It that nothing untoward is likely to befall them.


‘TN must come forward for discussion’

James Wilson, Age-old dams such as Kallanai built across member of Mullaperiyar Special Cell, Government of Kerala

Cauvery and Dowleswaram barriage in Andhra Pradesh still function well.

structural stability analysis of the baby dam, a saddle dam of one third height of the main dam, and concluded that that the Mullaperiyar reservoir is safe for water levels up to 142 feet. Moreover, they checked the structural stability of the dam only against earthquakes and not flood conditions. So Kerala has objected to the findings of the committee.

Kerala state advocate general recently admitted in the Kerala High Court that water in Mullaperiyar dam can be accommodated in the Idukki dam in case of a catastrophe. The gross storage capacity of Mullaperiyar at full reservoir level (FRL) is 70.5 TMC and that of Mullaperiyar’s is 11 TMC. The argument is that Idukki is never filled up to its FRL, and hence the water from Mullaperiyar could be accommodated at Idukki. More than six times in the last 30 years Mullaperiyar and Idukki storages together crossed the gross storage of Idukki reservoir. So if Mullaperiyar dam fails at this stage, Idukki dam would not be able to contain the water and will collapse. Even if this possibility is kept apart, what would happen to the nearly 75,000 people living between Mullaperiyar and Idukki? The advocate general goofed up in the court.

They can’t be compared with Mullaperiyar. Kallanai is just a 18 feet diversion structure; it can’t be categorised as a dam. Dowleswaram is 15 feet high. Both can’t be compared with 176 feet high Mullaperiyar dam. They don’t qualify for a large dam. Even if they break, the impact will be far minimal compared to Mullaperiyar. Also, world over several masonry gravity dams More than six times in the have failed. Khadakwasla and last 30 years Mullaperiyar Morvi in India are examples. and Idukki storages together So the argument that masonry crossed the gross storage of Idukki dams are stronger and the reservoir. So if Mullaperiyar dam possibility of failure is less is fails at this stage, Idukki dam untrue.

Will the reduction in water level affect Southern Tamil Nadu’s agriculture?

Pre 1971 when the water level was 152ft Tamil Nadu drew 19.277 TMC of water from the reservoir. Post would not be able to contain the 1971, when the water level The dam site is not recorded water and will collapse.” was reduced to 136ft, the as a major earthquake prone state drew 21.434 TMC of zone. Then why this panic? water. This was admitted by chairman of Cauvery It’s true the tremors were mild, between 2 Technical Cell and Tamil Nadu’s witness in and 4 in Richter scale. The real concern is the Supreme Court on Mullaperiyar R Subramanian. increasing frequency of quakes. There are active Further, pre-1971, over 55% of the year, there faulty zones identified. IIT Roorkee study says an was water spillage through spillways. But post earthquake with a higher magnitude will break 1971, this us come down to 41%, which means Tamil Nadu’s water management techniques the dam. These concerns can’t be overlooked. have become better. According to government It’s on the basis of Mittal committee report records, the irrigation has improved from 1.71 that the Supreme Court had ordered to raise lakh hectares in 1979 to 2.31 lakh hectares in the water level after conducting strengthening 1992-93. This was mentioned in the ‘History of measures. the Periyar Dam with century long performance’ The committee neither did carry out Non written by A Mohanakrishnan who was associated Destructive Tests nor did test any core samples of with the issue. the Main Mullaperiyar Dam. They took physical (As told to Renitha Raveendran) samples, conducted non-destructive tests and JANUARY 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |19





Low production in paddy-growing states may help Punjab clear its pending stock SUKHDEEP KAUR CHANDIGARH, OCTOBER 22


HILE other states are giving out distress signals of foodgrain scarcity, triggered by drought and flood fury, Punjab is not only looking at a good harvest but also hoping to gain from this adversity. With forecasts for paddygrowing states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar predicting lower than targeted production of the staple this year and paddy crop of Andhra Pradesh being hit by floods, Punjab will be feeding deficient states as well as the country’s Public Distribution System. This will bring it a much-needed relief from the problem of storing its plenty. Starting October, movement of Central pool stocks out of the state

has picked up to 15 lakh metric tonnes (MT) per month, including 7.5 lakh of wheat and rice each. For a state which has the task of storing and preserving huge stocks — a total of 145 lakh MT of Central pool stocks (111 MT wheat and 35 lakh MT rice) were lying in the state as on October 1 and another 137 lakh MT paddy is likely to be procured during the ongoing season — higher off-take by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is helping to ease off its storage crisis. “Since the last three months, the FCI has been moving 9.5 lakh MT of food stocks out of the state on an average. From October, the movement has gone up to 15 lakh MT per month,” said Aseem Chhabra, Deputy GM, Punjab FCI. Even at this pace, Punjab will be left with 53 lakh MT of wheat by the time fresh procurement starts in April 2010.

How Philippines mountain slopes were converted into rich Bt Corn fields

Agriculture its mainstay, the archipelago gave away the slopes to farmers, hastened the spread of GM crops VIVEK DESHPANDE NAGTIPUNAN (QUIRINO, PHILIPPINES), OCTOBER 22


HE gentle mountain slopes in this fascinatingly beautiful place at once catch the attention not merely for their idyllic setting and extremely hospitable people that reside in their lush green shadows but also for a revolutionary trend in the agriculture they now practice along these inclines. As one winds through the serene terrains of Cagayan valley in northern Philippines, none can escape the hypnotising effect of the slopes covered with rows of standing corn crops. The Philippines government has left no stone unturned to ensure that the corn farmers produce more, for their own self and for the country whose economy’s mainstay is agriculture. The country, with over nine crore people to feed, has only smallscale local industries and no big manufacturing units worth the name. Like the capital Manila, swanky malls and super shops can be found dotting the roadside market lines in most small towns that house rows of shanties amidst rich mansion, but the products sold here come from outside. And so, Philippines was quick to adopt biotechnology to boost its economy. Besides Bt Corn, the country has cleared Bt Cotton, maize, potato, soyabean, Argentine canola and sugar beet for use. Authorities claim that introduction of Bt Corn in the province, that also produces rice like most other parts of the 7,000-odd islands’ archipelago, has led to the production rising by four tonnes per hectare to 12 tonnes per hectare in less than five years, increasing their incomes from a meager 10,000 Pesos (Philippines currency) to 30

to 40,000 Pesos annually. Across Philippines, Bt Corn is now sowed on over 4 lakh hectares. “I am thankful to biotech corn. I yield 5,750 kg in my half hectare and earn about 57,000 Pesos out of it,” says Hermoso Juan from Diduyon village. “I was able to start swine production in my backyard and am generating additional income from it too,” he adds. Wilson Payahna, too, talks of the rich harvest he has reaped ever since he switched from the conventional white corn variety that succumbs easily to the deadly corn borer pest to Bt Corn. Farmers here use the “herbicide tolerant” Dekalb 9132 Bt hybrid developed by Monsanto. In the past five years, the government has helped hasten the process with whatever it could do. Apart from its National Committee on Biosafety working overtime to test the product for its safety, the government quickly handed ownership certificates to the local tribal farmers who now legally own the mountain slopes, akin to the process India has undertaken under the Tribal Act. Using weedicides, the grassland slopes were converted into regular crop fields and the way was paved for Bt Corn. “Being something that’s eaten, unlike Bt Cotton, Bt Corn required thorough testing. Only after it was found safe, was it released for use,” says Saturnina Halosa, Chairperson of Biotechnology Advisory Team of the Department of Agriculture. “Human body doesn’t have receptor cells for the Bt toxin and hence, it is safe to consume,” she adds. After corn, Philippines is set to introduce a biotech rice variety called golden rice.

Lost in numbers

■ Monthly amount spent by FCI on storage, maintenance of food stocks: First year: Rs 216 per quintal; 2nd year: Rs 447 per quintal ■ Wheat stocks lying in Punjab (Oct 1): 111 lakh MT ■ Wheat stocks in open plinths: 85 lakh MT ■ Rice lying in FCI godowns: 35 lakh MT ■ Procurement target for paddy this year: 137 lakh MT


Since between rice and wheat, it is the fairer grain that requires safer storage and the price differential between covered and open storage

is substantial, nearly two-third of total Central pool wheat in the state is stacked on open plinths. Though vulnerable stocks piled up on lowlying fields and mandi yards have

been cleared in September and those in rice mills and unscientific plinths are being moved out in October, still large quantity of wheat is in the open. A no-win situation for the

Punjab Food and Civil Supply department and the FCI which pays state agencies for its storage. PRESERVED, THEN SOLD AS ANIMAL FODDER:

The FCI pays Rs 216 per quintal

per month for storage and maintenance of one-year-old wheat which compounds to Rs 447 per quintal per month if the storage period goes up to two years. Add to it the cost of treatments like fumigation to keep it fit for human consumption. The longer open storage has resulted in loss of wheat worth millions of rupees to pilferage, rain, heat, rodents and pests and frequent treatments at times leave them just good enough to be sold as fodder for animals. During years of longer storage between 1999 to 2005, nearly 5.79 lakh tonnes of wheat, rice and paddy lying with Punjab FCI was declared damaged while 7.56 lakh tonnes of wheat had rotted under the custody of five state procurement agencies and was auctioned as fodder for animals.

Orissa bans Bt Brinjal citing small farmers’ interests and biosafety concerns DEBABRATA MOHANTY

The state



ESPITE the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee giving its nod to the commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal last week, Orissa government has made it clear that commercial farming of any genetically modified crop, including brinjal, would not be allowed in the state. “It (Bt Brinjal) is detrimental to the interest of the farmers. The Orissa government is strategic in its stand against GM crops — either Bt Cotton or Bt Brinjal. The state has over 100 varieties of locally-produced brinjal and those may be affected by Bt Brinjal production,” Orissa Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout said. He added that Bt Brinjal would adversely affect large number of poor and small farmers in the state in the long run. “The modified crops may help big farmers, but it would certainly not help the poor villagers who grow brinjal in their kitchen gardens,” Rout said. State Agriculture Secretary U P Singh said Orissa has taken a policy decision not to allow Bt Brinjal production. Singh claimed to have no information of GEAC approving the commercial production. “But that does not make any difference. It has all along been our stand that we would not allow Bt Brinjal or for that matter any GM crop in Orissa.” Singh under-

has over 100 varieties of locally-produced brinjal and those may be affected by Bt Brinjal production, says Orissa Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout

lined that nobody can force Orissa to go for commercial production of Bt Brinjal as agriculture is a state subject. Orissa government’s stance has been widely hailed by the anti-GM activists. “The people of Orissa will bless you for this momentous task to protect our favourite food and delicacy. Brinjal is a native crop of Orissa,” said Jagannath Chatterjee of Living Farms, a Bhubaneswar-based anti-GM initiative. Ker-

ala-based activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan said he was happy that Orissa is the second state after Kerala to oppose GM crop. But activists sounded words of caution saying loopholes in regulation and lax government supervision did not offer much hope. “The state government may not allow Bt Brinjal cultivation, but how would it stop Bt Brinjal seeds coming in through the neighbouring states. This has happened with Bt Cotton which is be-

ing grown in over 10,000 acres of area in Kalahandi, Raygada and Bolangir districts. The cotton farmers there are at great risk as their indebtedness are only increasing by the day,” said Debjeet Sarangi, an anti-GM activist of Bhubaneswar. Agriculture secretary U P Singh agreed that it was difficult to differentiate Bt Cotton seeds from non-Bt Cotton seeds. “Some years ago we had seized Bt Cotton seeds from Bargarh district. But that is not possible always,” he said. Incidentally, tests of Bt Brinjal are underway in the horticultural research station of Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar, under isolated conditions since winter 2008. Vice-chancellor of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, D P Ray told The Indian Express that the tests are being done over a 2,000 sq metre plot as part of the All India Vegetable Improvement Project of Varanasi-based Indian Institute of Vegetable Research. “The tests would continue for another two years and then the results would be sent to IIVR for analysis,” he said. Ray, who is a member of the state’s Committee on Biosafety, added that it would be harmful to allow commercial production of Bt Brinjal as there are more than 100 germplasms of the crop. “We have good biodiversity and those may be affected by Bt Brinjal,” he said.

‘There is scientific evidence to prove that GM crops have harmful effects’ they went public before we could properly go through it and raise any objection. I stand by my statement that GEAC wasn’t transparent, which is evident from the heedless haste with which it carried out the entire procedure in favour of the multi-national companies involved.



MID arguments for and against introducing genetically modified (GM) crops in India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory committee for transgenic crops under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, on October 14 granted in-principle approval to Bt Brinjal, the country’s first edible GM item to be cleared for cultivation. Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, the Supreme Court-appointed special invitee to the 30member GEAC, has on various platforms objected to introducing GM products in the country, citing health and bio-security issues. Dr Bhargava is a well-known scientist and the founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Excerpts of an interview with Dr Bhargava: GEAC has described the Bt Brinjal developed by Mahyco, partnered with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, University of Agricultural Sciences and the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, as bio-safe material. It claims that before the approval, it was put through large-scale field trials at various locations across the country. Then what is your objection? Biosafety cannot be guaranteed in a short span of time. It’s a long process. There are a whole lot of protocols to be carried out, which were not done in the case of Bt Brinjal. As far as a GM crop is concerned, there are nearly 30 tests to be done before giving it clearance. But only six-seven tests were done for Bt Brinjal so far, which is unac-

ceptable. Brinjal is not our staple food. An increase in production will bring down the price, adding to farmers’ woes. No socio-economic studies have been done in this regard. No proper toxicity and allergenic tests have been done. Those who argue for the introduction of it say that GM variety improves the pest resistance of crops leading to a 50 per cent reduction in yield losses. Some time back, The Indian Council of Agricultural Research had developed a bio-pesticide technology which had proved to be equally effective and prevented yield losses. There are scores of other ecofriendly and safe practices that are possible for sustainable pest management in crops like brinjal. My problem is when you have options


DR PUSHPA M BHARGAVA why go for something that has been rejected by many countries. It is learnt that only very few in the 30-member GEAC are opposing the introduction of GM crops. If it is really a serious threat, why is the majority for it? It has been reported that one of the dissenters in the panel opined the vector used in making Bt Brinjal was wrong and this alone disqualified the crop. There are three people who are openly opposing the move on different grounds. All the others have vested interests. Some may have links with bio-tech companies or have affiliations to bodies that sup-

port the move. It’s absolutely true that the vector used was wrong. The sample for testing has been provided by the seed company itself. How do we know the sample is of normal brinjal or Bt Brinjal? I had sent a proposal to GEAC on the need to set up a centre to conduct such studies. You had said GEAC did not give enough time to study the report before going public about the inprinciple approval to Bt Brinjal. You had alleged in the past that GEAC wasn’t transparent. The report was sent to us on the afternoon of October 9, which was a Friday. As my office is closed on Saturday and Sunday, I got the report in hand on Monday, October 12, and the very next day we had meeting in Delhi. Hurriedly after that

Some states like Orissa and Kerala have said no to GM crops. There are others who support it. But majority do not know what a GM crop is. Isn’t in a mess now? The major issue is that the prime stakeholders — farmers — have not been taken into confidence. There have been no discussions held with them. In Kerala, where people are well-informed, there wouldn’t be much problem and that’s why they oppose it. But what about other states where majority of the farmers are illiterates? One can’t differentiate between a normal brinjal and a Bt Brinjal. So if you don’t want to go for GM food still you have no option as there is no labeling law in the country now. The major contention of those who oppose GM food is about the health hazards. But countries like the US and Canada have been consuming GM food for years now. There is scientific evidence to prove that GM crops have harmful effects. The increasing number of GM food and increasing health problems in the US should be seen as a serious issue. In India, after the introduction of Bt Cotton, cases of allergy were reported. In Warangal, several cows had died after eating Bt Cotton plants. After scientists found it causes health hazards, many countries said no to GM crops.

Cover story nuclear jaitapur



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July 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |13

Cover story nuclear jaitapur

Madban’s Uneasy Silence: Averting


DISASTER The rice farmers of Madban quietly continue cultivating their paddy fields even as their lands are being taken over by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. By renitha raveendran Kunda Wadekar’s catch for the day. less than a kilometre from the project site, dhamwrewadi village is situated along dhamvre river. here, people’s lives largely revolve around the sea.


t’s barely a few days into the arrival of Southwest Monsoon. Farmers of Madban village are busy burning land to prepare it for paddy cultivation. On the other end of this vast land is a boundary wall being built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). Except for the noise of the one truck that’s carrying materials to its construction site, everything looks calm and peaceful. This is the picturesque Madban plateau in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, the epicentre of a huge controversy over a proposed 9,900 megawatt nuclear

14| MEDIA VOICE | | July 2011

power project. Once completed, it will be the world’s largest. Around 2,400 farmers from the project-affected villages -- Madban, Niveli, Mithgavhane, Karel and Ansure -- however are not willing to part with their land. Agitations, police firing, killing of an activist, arrests-nothing has deterred them. As the Monsoon season starts, they are going ahead with farming in the land. “This season also, we will cultivate paddy. As far as we are concerned, nothing has changed; we haven’t sold our land to anyone. No plant will come up,” says Utham

Pavaskar of Madban village, pointing to the burnt land that was acquired for the power project, according to authorities. “The land was acquired by NCPIL for the nuclear project. The villagers don’t have right to do farming there. The NPCIL can take legal action,” says Pradeep Raskar, Superintendent of Police, Ratnagiri, adding that the police are equipped to contain any aggression. Over 900 hectares have been acquired for the project.  Pravin Gavankar, a villager who owns around 60 acres in the project proposed land, says among the around

Cover story nuclear jaitapur · The proposed project to come up at Jaitapur in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra · The 9,900 MW reactors to be built by French company Areva · In all, six 1,650 megawatt electrical European Pressurised Reactors to be built. · The first two reactors will be operational by 2018-19 2,400 affected people, only 122 were willing to sell their land. “Those willing to sell their land are settled in far off places. These small pieces of land mean nothing to them,” he says. A compound wall construction of the project, which was stopped due to an agitation between the police and protesters, resumed a couple of days ago giving out a clear signal from the authorities that the project work will continue.


ccording to NPCIL, the land was handed over to them on January 22, 2010. “Pre-project activities like property fencing wall and soil investigation are under progress. Main plant construction is expected to start in 2013 and commissioning is expected in 2019,” reads an email statement by the NPCIL. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has raised the compensation package for the affected people to Rs 10 lakh per acre.

the safety of the reactor is one of the major reasons why they are opposing the project. Local resident Pravin Gavankar challenges the proponents of the plant. “They say it’s safe. If they are that smart, why didn’t they go and stop the calamity in Japan? We would rather die protesting.” Even experts are divided on the safety aspects of nuclear reactors. Dr CSP Iyer, former nuclear scientist with the Baba Atomic Research Centre, says “There is always a risk factor in any operation. I would say the probability of a nuclear accident is minimal when compared to a road or air accident.” He said the failure of the cooling system was the problem in Fukushima. “The alternate diesel plant built to support the cooling system at the plant site also failed. In the proposed EPR reactors in Jaitapur, they say they will have at least four diesel plants, two of which will be located in far off places so that in case of any crisis, the cooling system will continue to work. Then there won’t be any problem.” The project’s risk, points out

activists, could be further worsened by the untested reactor design that NCPIL is planning to implement. “European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design is not operational anywhere in the world. Why are they dumping this untested technology on us?” asks Dr Milind Desai, who lives in the project area.


ccording to Dr Iyer it’s a wrong argument. “The technology is not new. The philosophy of EPR is well known. Only that it’s an evolutionary design and the experience of running a reactor using the design is not available,” he says. However, Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, says, “My first objection (to the project) is that the EPRs to be built in Jaitapur, having not been commissioned anywhere in the world, is a non-existent reactor whose potential problems are totally unknown even to Areva, its developer, let alone India’s Nuclear Power Corporation.


The Fukushima shock

The nuclear crisis in Japan has sent many an alarming signal to the villagers. The apprehension about

amjad Borker, leader of fishing community at Sakri nate village in Jaitapur

Banwai, hailing from a village close to the rawatbhata nuclear power project in rajasthan was born without a hand. many children in the adjoining villages are born with such deformities. the photograph was taken by dr Surendra gadekar, an anti-nuclear activist, who surveyed and reported on the nearby village. road to controversy-- the proposed site for Jaitapur nuclear power park July 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |15

Cover story nuclear jaitapur RADIATION CONCERNS Various studies about nuclear radiation and its effects are yet another crucial concern for the villagers. They point at a survey conducted by Dr Surendra Gadekar, an anti-nuclear activist, at Rawatbhata nuclear power plant site in Rajasthan. The study revealed that a number of people living nearby the plant were suffering from diseases such as cancer and various deformities. “Villages close to the plant when compared to those farer recorded more number of miscarriages among women and high a villager protests the project

· Once completed Jaitapur’s will be world’s largest nuclear power project · The total cost of the project is under finalization · 938.6 hectares have been acquired for the project


reactor has to be physically built and then only it can be tested, and the EPR is therefore a totally untested reactor, even if Areva claims they have combined various best design features on paper in conceiving the EPR. Why should the people of Jaitapur be subjected to the high risk of proving an unknown reactor in their backyard?” He says if at all an appropriate nuclear power policy indicates the need for expanding our nuclear power sector, our foremost choice should be to build indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) of 700 MWe or 1000 MWe capacity, for which India has well-established design, manufacturing, construction and indigenous operation capabilities.   


The seismically sensitive project location is another concern the locals and activists contend was not addressed by the authorities. The site falls under Moderate Risk Zone, Zone 16| MEDIA VOICE | | July 2011

III. “Since 1982, 92 earthquakes have happened here. The highest was in 1993, of 6.3 magnitude. The project is being built at the cost of people’s lives,” says Vaishali Patil an activist. According to a professor in the Earth Science department of IIT Bombay, who doesn’t want to be named, one should be cautious in undertaking any major project in the area. “The Madban plateau is made up of volcanic rocks of 2 km thickness, which means major earthquakes have happened in the past. True, the area is seismic- sensitive, and has had tremors several times. But they are not like the ones in Chile or Indonesia. One should be cautious in undertaking any major project in the area.” This is how NPCIL responded to the seismic concerns: “There is no earthquake activity around Jaitapur site in a radius of 39 km. This is based on the earthquake data collected from Koyna Bandhkam Vibhag and Maharashtra Engineering Research Institute from 1973 till date, as well as from NPCIL’s own micro earthquake recorders installed by National Geographical Research Institute around Jaitapur site which have not recorded any event of a micro earthquake or major earthquake within a distance of 39 Km around Jaitapur. The nuclear power project designs have inherent design margins for dynamic loads such as earthquake.”

nuclear projects in india

Cover story nuclear jaitapur number of people with deformities. Cases of chronic diseases are high. Diseases that are typically common in old age are now rampant among children,” says Gadekar, a former faculty at Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore.


eanwhile, this is the NPCIL’s response to radiation concerns posted on its website: “The radiation release to the environment is insignificantly low (in a nuclear reactor), and actually a small fraction of the limit set by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Nuclear power in India has an enviable track

record of 340 reactor-years of safe operation of 20 operating nuclear power reactors, with an installed capacity 4780 MW. It is pertinent to point that there has not been any nuclear accident in any of the plants in the country.”


ecently, Germany has decided to get rid of nuclear reactors in phases. While Switzerland and Italy are mulling over decommissioning their nuclear plants, China is reported be reviewing its nuclear reactors. 


Pointing at the dense plantations of famous Haapoos mangoes (Alphonso mangoes) at the terrain, Utham Pavaskar says, “Our place is famous for these delicious mangoes. Apart from rice cultivation, it’s a source of income for us. All these will go if the project comes up.” Many in the region share Pavaskar’s concerns. They feel the rich biodiversity and the rare species of plants in the vicinity will be destroyed by the project. Perhaps, there might be some truth in their reasoning. The area falls under the Western Ghats, one of the 34 bio diversity hotspots in the world. It’s under consideration by the UNESCO to be declared a World Heritage Site. Meanwhile, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for the project came under severe criticism. “NEERI, a supposedly neutral agency, has prepared a biased report, simply to push the project. For instance, it says Madban is a barren plateau with just a few species of grass. In reality, the plateau has a very large number of rare and endemic species of grass,” says Dr Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and head of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee, appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to study the Western Ghats. 


e says the report does not reflect the ground reality.  “NEERI had outsourced its biodiversity studies to the Dr. Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. The university study talks about several mangrove forests, but NEERI, in its report, removed this part and said the place hardly has any mangrove forests. NEERI has, thus, distorted the facts,” he adds. Activists and locals are wary of the urgency with which the environment clearances have been given to the project. More recently, environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s confession that he had to bend rules while giving environmental clearances to important projects under pressure from various quarters has raised many an eyebrow. July 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |17

Cover story nuclear jaitapur



he other end of the project site shares a picturesque boundary with the Jaitapur estuary in the Arabian Ocean. Around 8,000 people living in Sakhri Nate, one of the villages here, also oppose the project, but for a different reason – they fear the project would have major adverse impact on aquatic diversity and fish catch in the region. The water is abundant in mollusc, prawns, oyster,

around 8,000 fishermen from Sakri nate village depend on the catch from Jaitapur Creek for their livelihood. it is feared that warm water released from reactors of the project site nearby will contaminate the water in the creek. mussels, ribbon fish, lobster and mackerel. “Around 5,200 crore litres of water will be used from the sea for the plant’s cooling and the same will be released in 7 degree celsius to a part of the sea, which is a potential fishing zone. The fish variety here will not be able to withstand the temperature change,” says Amjad Borkar, the head of the fishermen’s community at

18| MEDIA VOICE | | July 2011

“NEERI, a supposedly neutral agency, has prepared a biased report, simply to push the project. For instance, it says Madban is a barren plateau with just a few species of grass. In reality, the plateau has a very large number of rare and endemic species of grass.” --Dr Madhav Gadgil, head of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee Sakhri Nate village. When they made representations to the authorities about their concerns they were informed that because they do not own any land in the project site, their case cannot be considered. “The sea is our farm land,” says Borkar. About 60-70% of the catch is exported to countries like China, Japan and Europe.  “We have people from other states and even Nepal employed here. Once the project is on, most of us will lose our job; we will have to go to the deep sea for fishing, which is dangerous,” says Faisal, another fisherman from the village. Meanwhile, a study conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, at the request of the government says, “Bioassay studies clearly indicated that slight change in ambient temperature upsets the behaviour and physiology of the biota and thus the heated effluents from the proposed nuclear power plant, can prove lethal to marine living resources.”


Activists allege that the state machinery has been using their power to suppress the voice of the protesters. “I was put in jail on false cases. They were bailable offences. You can’t put someone in jail for bailable offences,” says Kolse-Patil, a former Bombay High Court judge, who has been opposing the project from the beginning.


he authorities had issued prohibitory orders against protesters, which many see as violation of basic human rights. P.B Sawant, a retired Supreme Court Judge, who had protested the project says, “Police has been resorting to atrocities against people. Protesters were arrested midnight and put into custody without trials.” Sawant had a prohibitory order against him to enter the district. But Raskar says restrictions were necessary to maintain the law and order situation in the area. On April 18 this year, one person was killed in police firing, after nearly 700 locals protesting the project set a police station ablaze. While the authorities are resolute on taking the project forward, the uneasy silence in the villages of Madban plateau is sending out a clear message—come what may, they won’t part with their land. 

Sakri nate village

Powers behind

a pesticide

10| MEDIA VOICE | |january 2010

No end to endosulfan

India will have to say yes or no to endosulfan coming April, when the Conference of Parties (COP) of the Stockholm Convention meets to decide on a world-wide ban. Atleast 60 countries have already banned its use but Union Environment Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh says, a ban on endosulfan “will have national implications”, in other words, affect India’s agricultural production. By renitha raveendran


lease spare me, I don’t want to be interviewed.” This is how a senior scientist responded when Media Voice asked for her views on the pesticide, endosulfan. Ten years ago, a study done under her supervision on the people of Padre village in the Kasargod district of Kerala had shaken the world. The study had reported unusual cases of deformities among the villagers and an alarming level of endosulfan in soil, water, blood samples collected from the village. Following this study, reports establishing links between mysterious diseases in the villages (15) and the aerial spraying of endosulfan in government- owned cashew plantations in the district started pouring in. The study sparked a world-wide debate on the use of this low-cost pesticide, and greatly annoyed the US$100million endosulfan industry which then resorted to threats and court cases against the scientist. There was immense pressure on her to admit that her study was flawed, but, she didn’t

Endosulfan Endosulfan is a synthetic organochlorine compound commonly used as an agricultural insecticide. It is used to control chewing, sucking and boring insects, including aphids, thrips, beetles, foliar feeding caterpillars, mites, borers, cutworms, bollworms, bugs, white fliers, leafhoppers, snails in rice paddies, earthworms in turf, and tsetse flies. India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of the pesticide. Major crops to which it is applied include soy, cotton, rice, and tea. in kasargod around 500 people exposed to endosulfan have died. nearly 3,000 continue to suffer from various diseases. Common diseases found here are stag-horn limbs, scale-like skin, protruding tongues, eye deformities, extra fingers and toes, cleft palates, club feet and harelips, hydrocephalus, renal diseases, respiratory disorders, cognitive and emotional deterioration, blindness, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and infertility, artificial limb modification and stunted growth. budge. “I am not surprised that she refused to speak,” an activist working with Thanal, a Kerala-based NGO says. “Who would want to comment on something for which she/he has been harassed for ten long years, just for revealing the truth?” To what extent the industry can go to humiliate campaigners against the killer pesticide

is demonstrated by a cartoon drawn by Rajju Shroff of the Shroff Group that co-owns Excel Crop Care, the largest manufacturer of endosulfan in India. It shows a barely clad woman (which looks strikingly like a caricature of Sunita Narain) rushing out of a bathroom shouting, ‘Help, cockroach!’ A man watching this says, ‘I told you, Sunita, in public, we can attack the pesticide industry... we must use pesticide in our homes.’ Sunita Narain is the director of the Centre for Science and Environment that first broke the story on the endosulfan tragedy in Kasargod. Shroff has even given voice to his intention of taking on those he calls “environmental terrorists”! Beyond the academic embarrassments and vulgar jokes, there are real-time stories of plain, old legal harassment. “There are many SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits registered against most of us who are active in campaigning against endosulfan,” says Madhumita of Toxic Link. “There can’t be anything more humiliating than having to be present at the court every other day.” january 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |11

India’s total endosulfan production 1. Excel Crop Care 2. H.I.L. 3. Coromandal Fertilizers Total

endosulfan camp has official India’s support. Last October, in Geneva at the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) to the Stockholm Convention, India abstained during a vote for a global ban on the manufacture and use of endosulfan while 24 of the 29 participating nations supported such a ban. An observer at the Geneva meet and co-founder of the environmental organization Thanal, C. Jayakumar says he felt ashamed to be an Indian at the convention. “There, our government officials overtly supported the industry. This despite the horrendous images that came from the endosulfanaffected areas in Kasargod. They even lied. They told the gathering that there was no ban on endosulfan in any part of India.” Activists had to then produce official documents to show that endosulfan was banned in Kerala since 2004. Jayakumar recounts how the industry even tries to buy up the 12| MEDIA VOICE | |january 2011

Indian officials seen dining with S Ganesan, the general manager of Excel Crop Care, while activists staging protests against the pro-pesticide stand India has taken, at the Rotterdam Convention held in Rome in 2008. The Rotterdam Convention is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals.

victims. “Once, S. Ganesan of Excel Crop Care Limited approached me in the pretext of sharing some studies on endosulfan. During the conversation, he said he felt sorry for the people in Kasargod and appreciated Thanal for its work.

Qty. in MT (2007-08)



5500 1600 2400

1450 550 1500





Finally, he said his company was willing to give Rs 2,000 to each victim. He was clearly trying to influence them by giving them money, which I refused to accept.” Why is India batting for endosulfan? India is the largest producer, user and exporter of endosulfan in the world, making 4,500 tonnes of the pesticide annually for domestic use and another 4,000 tonnes for export. Besides Excel Crop Care, the partly government-owned Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL), and Coromandal Fertilizers are the other two main manufacturers. “HIL manufactures only around 15 per cent of the total endosulfan in India but private manufacturers use HIL as a shield to save their business,” Jayakumar points out. Ever since the story broke, as many as 19 committees were set up to study the effect of endosulfan on the health of Kasargod’s people, out of which only four were non-governmental. Among these are studies by the C.D.

Endosulfan warrior By renitha raveendran

red flag indicates countries that have banned endosulfan Mayee committee, the O.P. Dubey committee, two studies by the Kerala Agricultural University and a Kerala Plantation Corporation study. Just these five have outrightly denied endosulfan link to human health in Kasargod. Finally, now the Indian Council of Medical Research has been asked to do yet another study. According to one of the first studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health, fish, honeybees, frogs and birds can also be affected by endosulfan, i.e. biodiversity can be affected. This is supported by studies in other countries. “There is no point in setting up different committees if the government is not willing to take action, based on the already done studies,” says Dr. A. Achuthan, who has headed one such government committee. “It’s yet another ploy to push the pesticide,” says the eminent scientist and environmentalist. Achuthan recounts a personal experience that has led him to believe that the government has vested interest in the endosulfan

W Source: Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee report

industry. His committee’s report in 2001 had said that a direct relation between endosulfan and health hazards in Kasargod could not be established conclusively. However, and importantly, his report suggested further epidemiological studies to be able to reach such a conclusion. But this crucial point -of the need for further investigations -- was not read out at the findings of another committee, set up later. “The Dubey committee read out only the first part of the findings of my report and reached the conclusion that there was no link between the pesticide spraying and diseases,” says Achuthan. Like Jayakumar, Achuthan was also approached by the industry for a compromise. Kasargod’s, and all of India’s hopes now rest on the April meet of the Stockholm Convention. Sources: Indian Chemical Council Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific Thanal, Trivandrum Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention

hen the scientific committee under the Stockholm Convention submits its final report on the global banning of endosulfan at the Conference of the Parties meet in Geneva in April, 62-year-old Leelakumari Amma will be waiting with anxious interest in a far-away village in Kasargod. For someone who stirred the hornet’s nest by bringing to light the health problems of villagers, allegedly due to the aerial spraying of endosulfan in the nearby governmentowned cashew plantations, the outcome would mean a lot. “Nothing less than a blanket ban on the killing pesticide is acceptable,” Leelakumari insists. Her gutsy voice has the support of thousands of villagers, activists and experts. It sends out a clear message to the world that there is no bowing out in the battle against endosulfan. This voice wasn’t so loud two decades ago when she was the assistant agriculture officer at the Kerala State Agriculture Department office in the Periya region of Kasargod district, dotted with cashew plantations. All of a sudden, her family members started developing asthma, skin diseases, back ache and other health problems which were uncommon and unknown among people here before. The ailments persisted and in some cases, escalated

january 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |13

during the hour-long aerial spraying of endosulfan in the plantations that bordered her house. Things took an unexpected turn when Leelakumari decided to investigate the matter. What she found was shocking - many such illnesses, including neurobehavioural problems, were endemic in villages near the plantations. In the following months, appalling signs of health hazards came to light. “Fishes started popping up dead in the wells. We saw frogs and other small animals dead near the plantations, soon after the spraying ended,” she recounts with horror. The pesticide, she remembers, like snow, would stay in the air for a long time and fall on the houses, wells and the crops. Realising the gravity of the situation, she took up the issue with panchayat officials, plantation management and the agriculture minister of the State, but with no result. She persisted, however, and garnered support from villagers and environmental activists. Finally, she won a temporary lower court stay on the spraying of endosulfan in the plantations in 2001. In 2003, the Kerala High Court upheld the lower court order and the State run farm had to stop endosulfan spraying. Taking a cue from this, the State government too banned the use of the pesticide in Kerala in 2004. In the meantime, Leelakumari Amma’s brother died of a mysterious illness, believed to be caused by the pesticide. This further strengthened her resolve to fight against the killer pesticide. Refusing to give in to the pressures from the plantation management, pesticide industry and politicians crippled her, literally. She met with an accident in 2002, which is believed to be an organised murder plan. Nothing has, however, deterred Leelakumari from her battle for the villagers. “The government’s meager relief package is of no help for a victim, who has to spend huge sums on treatment of the disease affecting him or her due to this pesticide. The government should distribute plantation land to the victims and help farming without chemicals.” This is a well-thought out action plan for the future from a veteran of the endosulfan battle in Kasargod.

14 | MEDIA VOICE | |january 2011

A surviving numbness By renitha raveendran

Photo courtesy: Madhuraj, Nandu Nellachery hafi forces water down his autistic son’s throat, to coldly demonstrate that the 10-yearold Naseeb cannot drink without choking. This father’s remoteness to his son’s discomfort leaves any bystander seething. But, this is the sorrow of people in the cashew belt of Kasargod area -- their indifference to their own sufferings. For more than two decades, it has been a long, deadening fight. Naseeb is the youngest among the Shafi-Aamina couple’s seven children. The family was exposed to the endosulfan spraying while they lived in Muliyar, a place surrounded by the cashew plantations. After at Bovikkanam, another edosulfanthe pesticide horror came out in affected 12-year-old Unnikrishnan the open, they sold their plot and walks ceaselessly while his mother shifted to the far-off Mooladukkam. Prema tries to stop him for a perfect But it was already late. Six of the camera shot. Unnikrishnan doesn’t seven children the couple turned talk, and cannot sit still. “He is out to be mentally retarded and the epileptic,” says Prema, unknowingly seventh, is autistic. It is expensive. framed in a telling frame of “Naseeb’s treatment alone cost us desolation, in front of an unfinished huge amount,” says Shafi and then house. “Sometimes he drools,” pointing at the partially collapsed she looks puzzled, but vapidly so. rented house that they live in, adds, Numb is the only way to survive an “Life, as you can see, is a struggle.” unending misery. Moving a little towards north



The truth sayers

of the world T

he 21st century would be largely marked for its sweeping regime changes brought about by the common man’s unrelenting revolts in different countries across the world.Notably most of these uprisings were against the corrupt and despotic rulers who looted the country leaving its people in endless poverty. Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, people stood together, battled against the tyranny and sacrificed lives in their efforts to eliminate the wrongdoers. This wouldn’t have been possible without the altruistic and devoted initiatives of lone warriors. Some have grown as the face of the oppressed mass, others still remain the force behind - unrelenting and indomitable. Media Voice traces some of the truth-speakers of the world whose crusade against corruption, non-transparency in governance and misdeeds of big corporates, has become a thorn in the flesh for many.




Occupation: Occupy Wall Street/ adboosting anti-consumerism Name: Kalle Lasn Age: 69 Job Description: Journalist

An Estonian environmental and anti-consumerist activist, Kalle Lasn is a writer-filmmaker living in Canada. The editor of Adbusters magazine that has campaigned against offending corporate through spoof advertisements, Kalle Lasn was the first to call for Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Kalle Lasn talks to Renitha Raveendran on the movement that has spread to many countries and has seen participation from lakhs of people across the world. Excerpts from the interview:

impression is that America is world’s greatest place and all is well here. But there is a lot of injustice happenings here. Corporate in the Wall Street have large control over the government.

But one criticism about the movement is that it really doesn’t suggest a solution. What do you aim to achieve through this then? When we started off, it worked perfectly. The movement became national conversation. By mid October, the movement started picking up in other countries as well. We didn’t have a clear agenda or a solution when we began; that’s the whole mystic and mystery of the movement. The second phase (of the movement) will begin soon. This will suggest solutions.

Is it sort of becoming a revolution now? The movement has spread to many countries now. This is a battle against corporate who control the world economy. Governments are run by them. People must realise this. The first phase of the movement was overwhelming.

founder of Adbusters, an ad-free anti-consumerist magazine known for its spoof ads against big corporate. How was Adbusters born? Adbusters was born 20 years ago as an environmental campaign group. It was a time when the trees were being cut in Canada in large numbers and forests destroyed. But government-sponsored multimillion ad campaigns said otherwise. We tried to buy air time on TV channels to tell the truth to the public. But we were refused permission.

Adbusters Magazine

People were looking for an opportunity to speak up against economic inequality. Then happened protests in Tunisia and other Arab countries demanding regime change, and against injustice and corruption. “ Kalle Lasn

What inspired the idea Occupy Wall Street movement? In the beginning what did you aim to achieve through this protest? The excitement began building within us a few years ago. There was a lot of stirring happening among people against anarchism in the economic front. People were looking for an opportunity to speak up against economic inequality. Then happened protests in Tunisia and other Arab countries demanding regime change, and against injustice and corruption. This inspired us; we thought there is no point in whining and complaining instead we should act. Then we planned something similar in North America. The general 14| MEDIA VOICE | | FEBRUARY 2012

You started activism with anti-consumerist movement nicknamed culture jamming. How easy or difficult is it to penetrate into the minds of people who can’t even imagine of a non-consumerist world? It’s not very easy. We put in lots of ideas. This was born out of a new vision for a better society. It’s a team work and a lot of brainstorming goes into planning. We make advertisements, small clippings and short films to reach out to people. It’s not easy at all. We have used social networking sites to reach out. It takes a lot of pain to make this vision possible.

The world came to know about you first as the co-


he magazine describes itself “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.” It has launched several international campaigns such as, Buy Nothing Day, TV Turnoff Week, Blackspot shoes Campaign and Occupy Wall Street. They are known for spoofing popular advertisements to get the message across.

Thus our inability to get air time on TV channels lead to the birth of Adbusters.

How successful were you in getting the message across through Adbusters? Are you taken seriously? Yes, of course. We are taken seriously. We could bring in a lot of changes. People started becoming aware of what’s happening around them. For instance, the Occupy movement was started by young people. They knew that their future would be at stake if not acted now.

You must have faced the wrath of big corporate. You have been criticized as anti-development many times. It’s very hard to be a green activist. In the beginning we were worried about our job. But that’s how it is. Climate change is the biggest market failure. It’s more important than ever to protect our environment, our water and this planet. There is hell lot of things to do. There is no time to worry. See how Occupy movement has turned out to become. The young people realised that there will be full of political and ecological corruption.

Are you not worried? (laughs). You have to enjoy it. Look at the Gandhian leader of anti-corruption movement in India; they know what they are doing is right. Similarly, we love what we do; so no time to worry.

Kalle Lasn is all set for the second phase of Occupy Wall Street demonstration FEBRUARY 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |15


Marching towards a free Tibet Name: Tenzin Tsundue Age: 37 Job Description: Writer, General Secretary of Friends of Tibet

Tenzin Tsundue has grown to become the most popular young face of exiled Tibetans in India after his repeated high-wire acts to attract world’s attention towards the issue of Tibet’s freedom. In 2002 during Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s visit in India, Tsundue climbed the scaffolding outside the hotel in Mumbai where the Premier stayed and displayed a banner that read ‘Free Tibet: China, Get Out’ while shouting pro-Tibetan slogans. Tsundue repeated this act again in 2005 when Wen Jiabao visited Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. After that his movement was restricted by the police. However this brought home the message; international and national media gave wide coverage to these acts. For the young Tibetan activists fighting for the freedom of their country from the Chinese rule, Tsundue has been a role model. “We look up to him always. He is a lone fighter but very bold and highly dedicated to the cause,” says Tenzin Dolkar, a Student for Free Tibet activist. What makes him unique among other Tibetan activists is his image as a writer. His activism through writings has been widely acknowledged. Currently, he is the general secretary of Friends of Tibet organisation. Tenzin Tsundue speaks to Renitha Raveendran about freeing Tibet How did you become an activist? What was the motivation? I was a born in a roadside tent where my parents worked as road construction labourers in the remote regions of upper Himachal. Inheriting the legacy of the Tibetan freedom struggle, I grew up with a lot of earnestness and anxiety in Tibetan refugee school. I wanted to be a freedom fighter from childhood. I have listened to the stories of Khampa warriors fighting the Chinese invasion, but ours is a nonviolent struggle now where the best soldier stands strongly on the principles of nonviolence. Truth is our weapon and inner discipline our uniform. Activism was


in 2002 and 2005 respectively. In both the events we were initially planning to do only a sit-in protest where public gathered. But this was only becoming symbolic and there was no way the visiting Prime Ministers would know that the Tibetans were protesting China’s ongoing brutal occupation of Tibet, so I hatched up this creative actions which attracted more media attention than the visiting Chinese Premiers.

its neighbouring country with mutual respect as we have done for the past thousands of years. We are not against China, nor do we hate Chinese, in fact we sympathise with the Chinese who are themselves brutally suppressed by their own government.

Apart from Tibet’s freedom what else are you fighting for its people?

Much of my work is located within the community. Freedom of Tibet is not just about freeing the country from foreign occupation. In fact, the struggle constantly builds and rebuilds our inner strength which has much to do with justice within The way China the community. Overall people’s is running the political awareness and education occupation in raise the level of public participation countries like Southern in politics, especially the youth. If the Mongolia, East youth of a nation is unable to relate to Turkestan, Manchuria their national struggle, the country is bound to see its end soon. Tomorrow, and Tibet, China is when Tibet is independent my work maintaining the same kind of control over its as an activist will continue to work for human rights, environment and own teeming millions social justices within the community. of people.”

Through your struggles how far could you expose to the world the sufferings Tibetans have undergone? The Chinese government makes desperate attempts to show that they have brought developments to Tibet and keep saying that Tibetans have benefited from their “liberation” of Tibet from old feudal society. But it is the Tibetans inside Tibet who again and again rise up protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet, even at the cost of their lives. They may be under pressure to conform to PRC’s one China policy, but they have won the hearts of the people around the world.

Thirty years ago when the first generation of exile-born Tibetans were growing, many feared they may not be able to relate to the struggle. Paradoxically, today, young Tibetans bring into the struggle their new education, skills, international experience and contacts. The youth has not only taken on mantle of the struggle but taken it forward to a new level winning support from the international community and slowly making space in the hearts of the Chinese people. But we still lack in intellectual understanding of the struggle and strategic nature of our activism therefore much of our work still remains symbolic or at mundane repeated protests actions.

Tenzin Tsundue the natural choice for me; it’s life commitment either I free Tibet, or I die fighting. As a symbol of this pledge, I am wearing this red band which I will take off when Tibet regains its independence, until that day I will work every single day of my life.

Your high-wire protest acts in the past invited world attention. Why do you adopt such unique style of protests? How much has this helped spreading awareness about Tibetan issue? Both the building climb protests happened during visits by Chinese Prime Ministers Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao

Do you think the Tibetan youth are moving away from the cause? Do you think there should be a change in the way of protests being carried out now?

How far will this fight continue? Do you really believe Tibet will be free one day?

You are one of the very few well-known Tibetan writers. How has this helped fighting for the cause?

We fight not because the change we seek is perceivably feasible but because we must, it’s our duty to fight this foreign occupation and we will fight this until justice it done. The way China is running the occupation in countries like Southern Mongolia, East Turkestan, Manchuria and Tibet, China is maintaining the same kind of control over its own teeming millions of people. And this dictatorial regime has no future. Our vision is to live with China as

My writing is my voice. My poems and essays once written are published and sold by the activists; in that way the poet feeds the activist. I write essays to argue my points, but poetry flowers in its own sweet time, sometimes taking many years to write one. I have so far made three compilations; the fourth one is coming out soon. My writings go where my feet can’t take me to, and they reach deeper into the hearts of people where my protest slogans can’t reach. FEBRUARY 2012 | | MEDIA VOICE |19


Tilting against the Windmill In their efforts to create awareness about social issues and expose lies, Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, two professors, came together. By impersonating the erring officials and spoofing advertisements of big corporate entities, they attracted the attention of the world. Their spoof campaign forced the United States Chamber of Commerce to revisit their climate change policy and their impersonation of the Dow Chemical spokesperson owning up the responsibility of Bhopal tragedy and announcing compensation for victims created ripples across the world.


he duo is widely known as the Yes Men, whose campaigns have huge support from the people across the globe. Though they have landed in trouble several times for taking digs at large corporations, the duo has rarely been sued, about which they say, “Our targets, while horrible, aren’t entirely stupid.” In their efforts in exposing lies of erring companies and officials who exploit the laymen, the duo has made films and written books, which they say, has helped a lot in creating awareness. The Yes Men—known by their alias

Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum—speak to Renitha Raveendran

How was the idea Yes Men born and when? What was the inspiration behind this war against wrongdoers?

Name: Jacques Servin aka Andy Bichlbaum Age: 48 Occupation: Professor Name: Igor Vamos aka Mike Bonanno Age: 43 Job Description: Professor

Andy and Mike met a number of years ago under harrowing circumstances too lengthy and, well, harrowing to describe on the Internet. The inspiration behind the war against wrongdoers was the transgression.

How many people are involved in the campaign and what are their profiles? Do you have any volunteers? We both have jobs as university professors, but at the moment we have a few full-time employees and lots and lots of volunteers who are as difficult to herd as cats.

Your Web site reads, “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.” How far have you been successful in bringing them

to book or creating awareness about their wrongdoings?

or other Asian countries and why?

We regularly get mainstream press attention for wrongdoing that they are trying to hide. According to the advertising and PR industry, that has a concrete value, and an effect on the audience. We do what we do to change minds, and gain support for the legal action that is needed to stop these outlaws.

We have not done much in Asia because we have so much to do at home. I’m sure it’s not any more difficult to carry out these kinds of actions in Asia though... probably about the same, for someone who can write well in the appropriate language.

How effective is mischief to get the message across when compared to traditional way of protests? How has this been accepted? Are you taken seriously? After some point, do you think you might have to switch the modus operandi?

Are there any issues in India that you would like to go after?

Mischief is good bang for the buck. A few people can get a lot of attention. We are taken seriously, especially by those whom we target. We have been taken seriously enough to be sued, but only once, by the US Chamber of Commerce. We don’t have to switch our modus operandi until we succeed in being part of the global revolution.

We have lots “mailing of folks on our lists who

contribute to make events happen, either with skills or with money.“

You must have obviously faced the wrath of many big corporates. Please share with us some of your bad experiences and how you dealt with it? Have you ever been sued? Isn’t what you are doing illegal?

We are not doing anything illegal, but all the same, we have been sued. The case is still pending. The US Chamber of Commerce is the largest lobbying organization in the world, so they don’t really risk brand damage by suing us.

Do the people directly/indirectly support you in any way? How much has it helped you?

There are so many issues in India to go after – the list is endless. Since India has been liberalizing, it is easier and easier for those with money to control and manipulate things to the detriment of the less wealthy. There are plenty of horrible things going on that should be stopped.

How far your projects have been successful in resolving any troubles caused by major companies? Please mention a few examples. Please name some impacts of your campaigns.

Our impacts are almost entirely educational. There are circumstantial changes... for example two weeks after we impersonated the US Chamber of Commerce and announced that they were changing their position on climate legislation, they actually did change their position to support a climate bill that was in congress. But we can’t claim to have caused them to do that.

What are the ongoing/ future projects lined up? Do you think this mode of campaign should happen across the world? Right now we have a thing called the Yes Lab. The Yes Lab is a system for making more of us. We train people all over the world to do the kinds of things we do. It’s working!

We have lots of folks on our mailing lists who contribute to make events happen, either with skills or with money. You have made movies and published books. How

Other than Dow Chemicals, have you ever carried out /indirectly spearheaded any campaigns in India? If yes, could you detail them? What about other Asian countries? How easy/difficult is it to carry out such campaigns in India

much has it helped to reach out to the people? Has it helped the campaign at all?

Yes, the movies and books reach people and they really sink in. These are chances to make a sustained impact that starts with an individual, but continues to grow.

Igor Vamos (left) and Jacques Servin of Yes Men 22| MEDIA VOICE | | FEBRUARY 2012



Tibetan Government in exile:

Uncertain transitions By renitha raveendran


am a Tibetan at heart, but now I am an Indian citizen”, said 25-year- old Namgyal Dolkar, when she became the first Tibetan to secure an Indian citizenship in December 2010. Despite the emotional appeal of her statement, Dolkar’s act was merely 16| MEDIA VOICE | |March 2011

illustrative of a larger political crisis that the Tibetan movement in India is facing. On the 52nd anniversary of their Lhasa uprising against China (commemorated on March 10), there are many challenges -- the Dalai Lama’s talk about his retirement after leading the movement for around 60 years, the recent allegations of financial misconduct by his political successor and the 25-year-old Karmapa Lama, and a new generation of exiles who are at odds with the culture and politics of the movement. Against this backdrop, the election to the Prime Minister’s office for the Tibetan government in exile, which is to be held on March 20,

gains significance. SHIFT IN POLICY? There is a call for a lessmoderate, aggressively political leadership instead of the pacifist,

Many feel that after Dalai Lama’s era ends, things might be different. spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama among Tibetan youngsters. National Director of Students for Free Tibet (SFT), Tenzin Choedon says there is frustration brewing among the youth. “We are certainly not for a moderate approach. We want complete

independence. Although we are a non-violent movement, we can’t ignore the anger among the youth against Chinese policies.” They want a strong political leader. “Now, the ultimate leader is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Even the decisions of the Parliament have to pass through him. The Prime Minister doesn’t have much say in political affairs. There is confusion between rationalism and faith. It’s a complicated situation”, says Tenzin Choeying, a law graduate. Many feel that after Dalai Lama’s era ends, things might take a different turn. “I am not sure whether we will be able to continue the peaceful path, considering the violence unleashed by the Chinese on the Tibetan

people under its rule”, says another student. CULTURAL DECAY Tenzin Tashi is employed at a BPO in Bangalore. He speaks Hindi well; in fact, he says his Hindi is better than his Tibetan. He has an Indian girlfriend who he is planning to marry soon. Ask him about the Tibetan issue, he says, he is not involved much in the struggle and protests. His sort many not be large in number. But there are those who are drifting away from the cause, and migrating to other countries in search of better jobs. Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Penpa Tsering, however, does not sound too worried. “It’s not very easy to take all of them

Photos by Tenzin Tsephel, Nandu Nellachery

Gyuto Tantric Monastery, residence of Karmapa Lama

along. True that some have deviated from the cause, which is not good for the movement. But they are very few in number. Once Tibet is free, I think all of them would like to come back”, he says. But studies contradict his optimism. One conducted by the Planning Commission of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in 2009, titled ‘Demographic Survey of Tibetans in Exile-2009’, showed a sharp increase in the number of Tibetan exiles, especially the younger ones, opting to settle in countries outside South Asia (India, Nepal and Bhutan). A significant number of families in Bylakuppe in Karnataka, the biggest Tibetan settlement in the country, have migrated to the West. “I am not against people going to the West to earn money, but they should understand that money cannot buy freedom (for Tibet). If they go to the West and forget the Tibetan cause, it is a bad thing”, Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile member Karma Yeshi was reported to have said about the survey findings. But it is the pragmatic difficulties of being ‘stateless’, that drove Dolkar (interestingly, a descendant of a 7th Century Tibetan king) to apply for her Indian citizenship. And also, she was the first to use India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act which has been around since 1986. POLITICS OF EVIL WORSHIP There was a case filed against the Dalai Lama in the Delhi High Court in 2008 by a group of monks. It said that there was no religious freedom for the Tibetan community under the Dalai Lama after he banned the worship of the spirit of a Lama called Dorje Shugden. However, the court rejected the petition in April 2010 on technical grounds. The story of Shugden goes like this: Ge-luk Lama was a very important learned Tibetan Lama

March 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |17

Celebrating Tibetan festival in Bylakuppe, Karnataka

during the 16th century and was also a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who was the head of the Ge-luk sect. One day, the former was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Some of his followers believe that he was killed by the then Dalai Lama. Some others claim that he killed himself in order to become a furious protector of the Ge-luk tradition. Gradually, the sect of this dead Lama gained many followers and enmity continued between the Dalai Lama’s followers and his. In the later years, the conflict between the two groups became severe. Several Tibetan monks were brutally murdered and the community became deeply polarised. In 2007, the Dalai Lama declared that Buddhists could not worship Shug-den and those who did practice it must leave the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. He even urged monks to take a pledge that they would not worship what he called “the evil spirit”. This angered monks of this sect even more. But behind the religious smoke screen, a political battle appears to be keeping the Shugden affair alive and strong. Of late, Shugden worship has turned out to be the expression of political discontent among a section of monks against the Dalai Lama’s rule. Tibetan history says, whenever there were politically powerful heads, the Shugden resistance was strong. A section of monks among the Tibetan community are said to be opposing the present 14th Dalai Lama’s restrictions and controls and fan this fire. “These monks are against His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his followers. It is highly possible that 18| MEDIA VOICE | |March 2011

according to a 1998 survey the total population of Tibetans in exile is 127,935.

the recent controversy concerning the Karmapa Lama could be the handiwork of these evil-worshipping monks. They would have done it to tarnish the image of the Karmapa Lama”, says a Tibetan activist requesting anonymity. Whatever the reality, there is no doubt that these rebels have grown to become a threat to the unity of the Tibetan movement. THE KARMAPA A Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The historical seat of the Karmapas is Tsurphu Monastery in the Tolung valley of Tibet. Outside of Tibet, this sect’s seat of power is the Dharma Chakra Centre at the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Usually, three high-ranking monks find reincarnation. Due to a difference of opinion following the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981, two candidates were chosen as Karmapa by two opposing groups. These two candidates now perform ceremonial duties independently, but, they are not allowed inside the Rumtek Monastery,

because of the confusion. Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, who was approved by the Dalai Lama and also the Chinese authorities as the 17th Karmapa Lama, enjoys the largest support from the community and lives in India. Dorjee was accused of spying for China this January, especially after currencies from different countries including China, worth Rs 6 crore, were seized by Enforcement Directorate officials from one of the offices at Gyuto Monastery where the young Karmapa resides. The Tibetan Government-in Exile rubbished the allegations. “It’s baseless. He is under surveillance by the Indian police all through the day. How can he be a spy?”, asks Tsering Youdan, a member of the Tibetan Parliament. On February 11, however, the Himachal Pradesh government absolved the Karmapa of being involved in the foreign currency case, saying he has no links with the money seized from the Gyuto Monastery. “The huge foreign currency recovered during raids from the Gyuto Monastery, the transit home of the Karmapa, are donations and offerings from devotees and the Karmapa has no links with it as the affairs of the trust are managed by trustees”, Chief Secretary Rajwant Sandhu told reporters in Shimla. The alleged ‘benami’ land transactions by some Tibetans, Ms. Sandhu said, “were being probed and the law would take its own course”. The Karmapa is seen as a potential successor to the Dalai Lama, at least until the next Dalai Lama is recognized and ready to take over the position (usually the incumbent Dalai Lama chooses a

National Director of Students for Free Tibet: Tenzin Choedon

child as a successor). The Karmapa, therefore, needs to maintain an impeccable moral image as the youth icon for the Tibetan diaspora and its future relationship with India. THE PM ELECTION At a time when the movement is facing many serious challenges, the selection of the highest political figure in the Parliament-in-Exile is crucial. The final choice has to be made from three educated and comparatively younger candidates, running extensive campaigns across the world. Lobsang Sangay, one of the three final candidates with highest number of votes in the preliminary polls held in October 2010, is a senior research fellow at the Harvard School of Law. He has secured a total of 22,489 votes. Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, another candidate, is a visiting scholar at the Stanford University and was Prime Minister in the ‘90s. For the first time, the streets of McLeodganj in Dharamshala are filled with banners and posters, announcing the visions and programmes of the various Prime Ministerial candidates, and vigorous debates and discussions on the merits of these academic contenders are regular. “All these years, someone from a religious background was chosen as Prime minister. This time it is different. The election campaign and debates are very aggressive. The need of the hour is a strong leader as Prime Minister”, says activist Tenzin Dolkar. Extensive campaigning is happening through social networking sites, blogs and websites as well. Although the Tibetan Parliament is very similar to the Indian, election to the Prime Minster’s office is different. Here, people directly elect the Prime Minster. The last election to the PM’s office was held in 2001. Change is in the air for the Tibetan communities in exile, as well as for those living in Chinese Tibet. Finding the right people to provide leadership for this change is proving a daunting task for the communities at a time when more than spiritual leadership is the need of the hour and a decision needs to be taken on the call for independence or autonomy for Tibet.


Courting controversy

At the turn of the Century a young boy left his home and country. A year later, he described his escape: “On December 28, 1999, under the cover of a dark night, my senior attendant and I escaped from my monastery in Tibet and fled to India to seek refuge. The decision to leave my homeland, monastery, monks, parents, family, and the Tibetan people was entirely my own--no one told me to go and no one asked me to come.” The boy was just 14 years old. A decade later, he is at the centre of an international row, suspected of being China’s man in Dharmashala.


Media at Gyuto Monastery on January 29

here was fear everywhere, even in the eyes of the little monks clad in maroon robes, who were circumventing the Gyuto Monastery on the morning of January 29. Anxious eyes followed policemen in khaki and media persons loitering around for a scoop. It was, perhaps, for the first time that a Tibetan monastery in the country was raided for unaccounted sums of money and a high monk had come under the police scanner. The office of the 25-year-old, 17th Karmapa Lama, Ugyen Trinley Dorje had just been accused of financial mishandling of nearly Rs 7 crore. Misfortune came at a bad time too. It was a crucial period for Tibetans in exile. Various Tibetan organisations and groups in India were preparing to stage worldwide

protests and events to mark the 52nd Tibetan Uprising Day on March 10. And election to the office of Prime Minister for the Tibetan Governmentin-exile was due on March 20. Only a few visitors were allowed inside the office of the Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery in Sidhbari, near Dharamshala to seek his blessings. He is the reincarnated head of Tibetan Buddhism’s Kagyu sect. This Media Voice correspondent was the first journalist to meet the Karmapa Lama on the morning of January 29, amidst speculations that he would be arrested. All the visitors were frisked by the Himachal Pradesh police. Electronic equipment, and even pens, were not allowed inside the Lama’s room. The queuing and security checkup left the devotees, most of them unaware of the developments, in awe. contrast to the In contr uneasy silence outside, in his cosy room the Karmapa Lama, the man at the centre of controversy, clad in a maroon robe, looked composed and calm. “So, you are from Chennai?” he asked, fixing his spectacles firmly on his nose. “Are you worried about the recent developments?”, this reporter asked. A thoughtful reply came: “No. Not much worried. The truth will come out soon.” But he replied March 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |19

in the affirmative when he was asked whether he thought he was being framed. “Yes, may be, sort of”, he said. However, as the Karmapa Lama was barred from speaking to the media, he did not say much on the controversy. Talking about his transition from the little nomad boy Apo Gaga from Eastern Tibet to the third most revered spiritual leader in the Tibetan community today, he said, “I have changed a lot. I am no more a boy. I have left parents and friends behind and I came here. As a child, I realised that I was different from other children of my age. I was kindhearted.” The recognition of the 17th Karmapa Lama itself was a controversy with more claimants to the title. Ugyen Trinley Dorje, approved by the Dalai Lama as the 17th Karmapa Lama, however, is not allowed to enter the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, the traditional seat of the Karmapa Kagyu lineage outside of Tibet, owing to the controversy. “A different mechanism should be evolved to identify the successor. The process of reincarnation that has been followed is not relevant in the present age”, he said about the controversy. Within Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa ranks third after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Controversies are nothing new to Dorje. As a teenager, he fled China through dangerous and snowy passes in the Tibet-Nepal boarder and reached India after he was pressurised by China to denounce the Dalai Lama. One of the reasons why Dorje is popular among the Tibetan diaspora is because of his youth and sturdy, serious look. He is considered the future political face of Tibet in exile, after the Dalai Lama. Considering the frail health of the aging Dalai Lama and the fact that Dorje is the most popular face of Buddhism after him, Dorje’s political stand and opinion are taken seriously by the Tibetans. “I can’t really say that I represent them. But this generation is different. They have unique qualities and courage, it’s good. They are the future”, said the monk, who is also popular for his craze for rap music and video games. Chinese policies towards Tibetans are rigid, and the Karmapa calls on the Tibetan youth to properly understand the real situation. “I can’t

talk about politics. But people should understand the real scenario and do whatever they can to improve the situation. I believe, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, should carry out peace dialogues with the Chinese”, Dorje added. The Karmapa had invited the wrath of China by being vocal against the hydroelectric projects the country is setting up in Chinaruled Tibet. “It’s not just about Tibet. Environment is for everyone. It’s beyond politics. It’s a very important issue that has little public attention. We are planning to carry out more awareness programmes”, Dorje, who has been active in environmental initiatives in Dharamshala, insisted.

Karmapa had invited the wrath of China by being vocal against the hydroelectric projects the country is setting up in Tibet.

‘Dreams cannot be jailed’ Even at the age of 82, Ama Ade’s bad memories of Chinese atrocities during the Tibetan Uprising in 1959 are incredibly lucid and clear. She has traveled far and wide but she still hopes to go back to her beloved Tibet and unite with her daughter one day.


wenty seven years in prison, witnessing nearly 12,000 jail-mates dying of starvation and after nearly five decades now, touring the world to share with people what she had been through -- the 82 years of Ama Ade’s life is a collage of experiences that speak volumes about protests, betrayal and pride. Born in one of the royal families in the Kham province of Tibet, she

Although he likes India and its people, the restrictions to travel freely, and his entry into the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim being barred has hassled him. “It’s difficult. I understand that I have this Karmapa title attached to me and that’s why the restrictions. But I am a religious leader. Buddhism is not just about repeating chants. It’s also to practically serve the society. So, I will have to interact with people and assume the role of a social leader at times. It would be nice if I am not restrained from visiting people”, he said. “I am reading about Indian culture and learning Hindi. My Hindi teacher has some knee problem and isn’t coming these days”, he said smiling. Perhaps, it was the only time Dorje, known to be a bit of stiff personality, smiled during conversation. Worried about the future of Tibet, especially at a time when the Chinese “make everything complicated for the people of Tibet” the Karmapa still holds faith in his supreme leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “He will make everything successful for us”, he said. -- RR ama ade March 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |21

was in the forefront of the antiChinese agitation when Chinese troupe marched into Tibet to quell the 1959 uprising and take control of their land. “We blocked their entry into our region. All Tibetans participated in the protests”, recalls Ade. The five-decade old scary images of arms and blood seem to haunt her still. Along with 300 other women, Ade was taken away by the Chinese army. “More than anything else, I was worried about my children. They were too young to understand anything”, Ade says. She had a onemonth-old daughter and a four-yearold son then. Twenty seven years is a long time in a prison, especially for a woman with two children. It was all the more difficult for Ade, who wasn’t allowed to connect with the outside world. The sight of her dear fellow inmates dying of starvation terrified her further. “Nearly 12,000 people died of starvation, merely three years into the prison term”, she says. “But somehow, I held on. Dream of a free country kept my spirit alive”, she adds. Finally, in 1985, Ama Ade was released by the Chinese authorities. But what welcomed her back was not-so-good news. Her husband, who was also from a royal family, had been poisoned to death and her son had committed suicide. The 27-yearold daughter could not recognise her. Ade was under constant watch by the authorities and realised that continuing to live in Tibet was a bad idea. Leaving her daughter for the second time was a hard decision, but the daughter was also under close watch and Ade thought being with her would ruin her happiness too. Ade, thus, left Tibet and fled to India in 1988. Ade now lives in Dharamshala. She also travels to different countries to share her Uprising Day experience with Tibetans, to keep them motivated. She has traveled to 14 countries since she came to live in India, to talk about Tibet. Sitting at the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre in Dharamshala, when Ade talks eagerly about her dream of receiving His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his chief residence in Tibet -- the Potala Palace -- one is left amazed at the spirit that has not grayed with age. -- RR 22| MEDIA VOICE | |March 2011


Penpa Tsering

Keeping the nearly two lakh Tibetans in exile in different parts of the world under one umbrella for over five decades had not been easy for the Central Tibetan Administration, headquartered in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Penpa Tsering, its Speaker and the key man in negotiations with China, talks about the challenges ahead.

INDEPENDENCE VS AUTONOMY The Dalai Lama is for autonomy and we feel the middle way approach adopted by him is pragmatic. However, there are debates going on. Some movements, especially youth movements like the Tibetan Youth Congress, advocate total independence. But one thing we should realise is that our opponent (China) is very strong; economically, politically and militarily. So our moves must be highly calculated ones. Also, we think seeking autonomy is more practical. TESTING TIMES Keeping a 52-year-old movement intact is not easy. Some are deviating from the cause, and some are moving to the West seeking citizenship; it’s a big challenge. Another worrying factor is the transformations happening inside Tibet (China-ruled). The existence of the nearly five million population inside Tibet has been challenged in many ways. Most nomads have been resettled to the prevailing towns and cities, destroying their livelihood and culture. Communism, as a subject of study, has been forced on even monks. There are stringent restrictions on their movements. The Chinese are rebuilding heritage structures and have introduced Mandarin in one of the provinces, which will soon be mandatory in other provinces as well. In short, there is destruction of language, tradition and culture happening inside Tibet. DIALOGUES WITH CHINA: We are always ready for talks,

but, China is not coming forward. In 2008 we submitted to them a Memorandum of Regional National Autonomy of Tibetan people, which had all the details of our demands. China found some issues with the memorandum, but, nothing happened even after we sent a clarification note wherever required in the document. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has called for better interaction between the Chinese and Tibetan people. UN INTERVENTION: The UN is a human body without legs and hands. But, it has taken note of human rights violations in Tibet. We should remember that China has veto power in the UN. Last year, when I met the Asian Director of the UN in Geneva, I asked her about the Tibetan issue. She said she was helpless. ROLE OF INDIA, USA: India has maintained a strategic silence. Perhaps, it too has its own domestic issues to resolve. But, of late, people have been more aware about the Tibetan cause and very sympathetic towards us. In fact, the US has been forthcoming and supportive. Last time when the Chinese President visited the US, Tibet didn’t find mention in the joint statement, but, later Obama said China should try to resolve the issue through dialogues. In fact, they have a Tibet Policy Act passed in 2001 to “support the aspirations of the Tibetan people and to safeguard their distinct identity” -- RR --



Newsline PUNE

Flu scare grips city, Puenites stay put at home Central railways begins H1N1 awarenss drive

Musical resurgence Of dresses and derby ... pg 8

... pg 3




Swine flu: 15 against 49, officials differ on numbers Oinam Anand



Artisans decorate pots for the Dahi Handi festival that marks the birth of Lord Krishna Sandeep Daundkar

VEN as there was a rush of people to the 23 screening centres in Pune and PimpriChinchwad areas and at Naidu Hospital and Aundh Hospital, the city registered 15 new swine flu cases on Saturday — according to Additional chief secretary (health) Sharvari Gokhale — at Aundh Hospital, Naidu Hospital and Sassoon General Hospital’s critical ward as against 39 cases registered on Friday. However, Dr Ashok Laddha, nodal officer appointed by the state government put the figure for Saturday at 49, wherein he mentioned that Naidu Hospital had 25 fresh cases, Aundh Hospital 21 cases and Sassoon Hospital three. Gokhale said the situation in the state was better with only 18 fresh cases being registered on Saturday, which she said was a “good sign”. But Dr Laddha, citing figures for the entire state given by the state swine flu control cell for Saturday, said that of the 33 suspected cases in Naidu Hospital, 25 tested positive, in Aundh, out of 28 admitted, 21 tested positive, and Sassoon Hospital had three cases as the final tally, taking the total tally in Pune to 49. In Mumbai, Kasturba Hospital registered 20 positive cases out of the 32 admitted and Satara had seven positive cases of the 10 admitted, Dr Laddha added. On Saturday, a team from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases was in the city to take stock of the situation. State surveillance team officer Dr R R Katti said the team was here to assess the situation. Meanwhile, Gokhale added


A couple outside the quarantine ward at Naidu Hospital on Saturday

Three more test positive at Sassoon Hospital The three suspected cases admitted to Sassoon Hospital on Friday have tested positive for swine flu. A 42year-old teacher from Daund who was visiting Pune, a 19-year-old from Kasba Peth and a 13-year-old girl from Ahilyadevi School at Shaniwar Peth have tested positive for H1N1 on Saturday. Meanwhile, the doctor and chemist admitted on Thursday are critical but stable. Superintendent at Sassoon Dr P Pawar said three patients were admitted on Friday and all have tested positive. The teacher from Kedgaon in Daund was in the city for last one week. He first went to a hospital in Hadpsar at an OPD but soon contracted pneumonia and was brought to Sassoon. Dr Pawar said he has been put on ventilator. Late on Saturday evening a pregnant woman was admitted with symptoms of swine flu and her throat and nasal swabs were sent for test. Reports are awaited, Pawar said.

that private hospitals that have all the amenities as laid down by the Union Health Ministry will be considered for taking in patients.

‘I was forced to buy tea with LPG cylinder’ NISHA NAMBIAR AUGUST 8


HIS resident of Aundh had to pay Rs 333 instead of the regular Rs 311 for her Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) LPG cylinder on Friday. Reason: Vilasini Arvind Menon was forced to buy a 100-gm Tata tea premium packet worth Rs 22 by the agency. Though BPCL has a

Sandeep Daundkar

scheme of giving grocery products at much less than the actual Maximum Retail Price (MRP), it was not supposed to be a forced one. However, Menon was strictly told to buy the tea packet or else face a problem with the services henceforth. “With such a warning, I bought the tea packet,” said Menon. Her son Deepak Menon said this was like bullying customers. He also checked with R&D CC agency in

Ganeshkhind and the dealer and was told that they were asking all the clients to buy the tea packet. “I want the top management to look into it,” he said. When Newsline contacted the agency, one of the clerks said they had plenty of tea packets dumped in the shop and were thus forced to push them onto the customers. “What do we do with so many packets,” he said. Chairman of R&D CC

Menon with the tea packet she was forced to buy society L N Bhujbal said he had a stock of tea packets

In red light area, a high-risk group

and hence asked the agency to give it to the clients. “But I did not tell them to force people to buy them,” he added. BPCL territory manager Anil Shukla said he would take necessary action against the agency. “For the last four years BPCL has had schemes to sell grocery products at cheaper rates. It clicked very well. But this is not compulsory. I am surprised at the attitude of the chairman of R&D CC,” he said.

IN the wake of swine flu spreading in Pune, over 3,000 sex workers in the city’s red light area are a worried lot. Many sex workers in Budhwar Peth are HIV positive and they remain one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to contracting the H1N1 virus. “The immunity level of an HIV positive person is low. There is a possibility of them being infected by the H1N1 virus faster than a normal person. They come under the high risk group. Their profession also brings them in close contact with an affected client. Immediate prevention measures should be taken in such vulnerable areas,” said Dr Anil Jayawant, resident medical doctor, Pune Cantonment Board. Sex workers said for the last couple of days there has been a decline in the number of people visiting the brothels. “Most of the sex workers here are not aware of the flu,” said Payal, a 25-year-old sex worker. She added that a few sex workers who were down with flu didn’t take it seriously. NGOs working in the area said they were doing their best to create aware-

ness. According to Tejaswi Savekari , director, Saheli, an NGO working with sex workers in Budhwar Peth, there has been around 50 per cent decline in the visit here. “We are doing our best to create awareness, but the authorities need to take preventive measures,” she said. Though there are private doctors in the area, most of the sex workers visit the NGO’s in-house doctors. Dr Savera Pawar, project co-ordinator and medical officer of Kayakalpa, another NGO, said she hardly got any flu cases in last one week. “We tried to brief as many sex workers as possible. But I have not got any flu case in last one week. Usually, people don’t visit the clinic just for flu,” she said. With stories doing the rounds that the virus can be sexually transmitted, some sex workers have stopped entertaining clients. “I am worried about my children getting affected. This is definitely hurting my daily income, but I have to take care of my child too,” said Saira, another sex worker. Dr Jayawant said though the virus cannot be sexually transmitted, a sex worker coming in contact with an affected client will be at high risk.


1 The poverty of imagination


Subir ghosh

here is something perverse in the fact that the politics of poverty always brings out the poverty in the politics of the day. So when the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, told the Supreme Court about the commission’s desire to fix Rs 32 a day as the poverty line in urban India, the ensuing debate metamorphosed into all about politics. Number-crunching, when about an emotive issue such as poverty, is less of an exercise in economics, and more of political one-upmanship. It also brings to the fore the bitter truth of whether one sees poverty as a manifestation of bad politics. Or, stay blind. The Planning Commission’s decision to whip up its own arbitrary yardstick for defining poverty was met with a number of earlier measures that had been arrived at. For the ordinary person this is confusing. After all, a person who wears two wristwatches can never be sure of the correct time. You cannot be sure which benchmark is accurate. All you can do is go by the level given out by the person you like. Or perhaps, his/her ideological bent of mind. Depending on whom you want to believe, the number of people living below the poverty line (BPL) in India can vary between 400 million and 800 million. The critics of the first figure argue that this is done to underplay the real state of poverty in the country. Those who mince no words about the second contend that empirical evidence in Shining India suggests otherwise.

Roti, Kapda aur Makan. And inflation….. Poverty is something that makes us uncomfortable. Most of us are haunted by the word that flashes images of shabby figures that refuse to leave until you shell out a few coins. Poverty means children in ugly clothes poking annoyingly at you at a railway station or in a long-distance bus. But beyond that, there are untold, uglier faces of poverty hidden from us. After all, we are living in an India that tries its best to pretend that poverty has reduced drastically over the last few years.



omplex econometric calculations make little sense to an ordinary person. It would be a better idea to look at the politics that drive such financial gerrymandering. The answer will invariably lie in the “why” of the game. The “what” part of it, in this case, is secondary. So why does one need a Below Poverty Line (BPL) level? The answer is simple – it implicitly suggests that this figure provides the benchmark to assess how many citizens qualify as eligible for state subsidies or support. It is always in a ruling dispensation’s political interest to keep the figure as low as possible. You cannot afford to say that you have 800 million poor people in a country whose Prime Minister is obsessed with achieving a double digit growth mark. There is another compelling reason for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to keep the figure low. The government is desperately short of cash; it cannot afford to give out doles, even if they were justified. The intention is nothing about eradication of poverty. As of now, the Planning Commission and the Ministry of

Rural Development have agreed that data collected by the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), 2011 will be the basis for identifying those deemed eligible for entitlements under various central government programmes. What this unwittingly admits is that the so-called success of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) schemes that were said to have been instrumental in the UPA-II returning to power in 2009 was not as successful as it was made out to be. The joint communiqué issued by Ahluwalia and Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had said, “The present state-wise poverty estimates using the Planning Commission methodology will not be used to impose any ceiling on the number of households to be included in different government programmes and schemes.”Irrespective of what comes out of the SECC results, you can already see the “scheme” of things here.


hat this means is that the poverty line, which will be estimated later this year by the Planning Commission, will not be considered for determining entitlements under various government programmes. Be that so, why would you need a poverty line at all? The current poverty line used in the country was defined way back in 1973-1974 as the expenditure needed to consume 2,400 calories a day in rural areas and 2,100 calories a day in urban India. Since then, the government has just updated the monetary value based on price indices. The update doesn’t account for food habit changes. What comes through is that poverty line estimates are essentially starvation line estimates. If you earn less, you will die of hunger. The intricacies and pitfalls of methodologies about poverty are one thing, but when you look at it through a hunger prism, the issue becomes one of politics, probably one that is fraught with dangerous consequences. The India Chronic Poverty Report, that was released recently, argues that those who are chronically poor may pass on poverty to their next generation. Moreover, people residing in tribal and forested areas are likely to remain poor forever, fomenting violent conflicts in future. You cannot afford to miss the Maoist angle here. This study had drawn its conclusions from a three-decade tracking of poor households in rural India. It also pointed out why poverty becomes chronic – there is inequality in efforts made to prevent people from sinking into poverty and also getting them out of it. Of the 29 poverty alleviation programmes studied, only nine were deemed adequate.


ow look at this again in the backdrop of the prediction that people in tribal and forested or degraded forest regions are more likely to remain poor forever. These are precisely the areas that are today being denuded and ravaged in the name of development – that of the manufacturing sector. The poor are incessantly being robbed to feed the rich. And then, experts have the gall to wonder why the regions inhabited by the poor are turning violent. The answer may lie in Aristotle’s assertion: The mother of revolution and crime is poverty. NOVEMBER 2011 | | MEDIA VOICE |13

Betel leaves and beyond

Tough Times

renitha raveendran It’s barely eight in the morning. With a mattock hanging on his shoulder and a rubber basket in hand, Chathu Ettan, as he is fondly called, is all ready for work. He takes out a broad betel leaf from his waist pocket and spreads a bit of slaked lime on it rather skillfully. Before putting it in the mouth along with a piece of areca nut and tobacco, he points at a shovel to carry it with me.


ith the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and ever-increasing fuel prices, Media Voice tries to find out what it means to be an ordinary citizen in today’s India. Our reporters stepped into the shoes of laymen only to feel the heat. Each of them spent a day with an aam admi to understand how the price hikes of essential goods and services hit them badly. The government’s tall claims of attaining steady inclusive growth over the years seem to be fake, as it failed to take along a vast section of the society, the aam admi. We met people who toil through the day but earn peanuts and spend the entire life paying back loans. We recommend the UPA government’s great economists and policy makers to spend a day with them, in case if they are still finding it difficult to determine a sensible poverty line cut-off.

Chronicles of a gate keeper by Prabha Zacharias name: Ramanand Jha age: 55 Occupation: Security Guard Monthly income: Rs 6500/Monthly living expense: Rs 7500 (approx)

Ramanand Jha, or just plain ‘Jha’ as everyone knows him, is in charge of the safety and security of the residents in an upper-middle-class gated housing complex of North Delhi. His day at the gate starts at seven in the morning. He chats with everyone who passes through the gate: maids, office goers – anyone and everyone who crosses the gate on their way in or on their way out. It is during these very brief conversations that the residents drop requests to accept and keep gas cylinders if it arrives in their absence, make electricity bill payments, arrange for water tankers in case of shortage etc. By ten in the morning, almost all the masters and mistresses of the houses leave for their jobs. That is when Jha gets his first break of the day. However, he is bound to this gate like a genie to the bottle. This short man with an authoritative tone is the official custodian of gossip inside 14| MEDIA VOICE | | NOVEMBER 2011

Walking behind this 82-year-old labourer from North Kerala’s Kunnummakkara, I am awe-struck when he tells me, in between spitting out the deep red betel-lime juice, that he started working at the age of 15. From cutting stones to agriculture labour, there is hardly any unskilled labour that this 82-year-old man hasn’t laid his hands on. However, at his age he is not able to work as hard as earlier.

Prabha Zacharias with Ramanand Jha this gated community. Around one, he has his home made meal of roti, sabzi, and dal which he brings in a tiffin box. After lunch, he visits the various households collecting his money, informing people about police verifications for various state purposes, UID card applications et al.

This man may not be representative of Kerala’s labour woes. But he certainly belongs to those for whom owning a decent house or even affording cooking gas is bound to remain a dream.

A steep hike in the price basic commodities has affected his family very badly; they are cutting down on nutritious foods, sticking to the most inexpensive vegetables.

name: Chathu age: 82 Occupation: Agricultural labourer Daily expense: approx -- Rs 180 Daily income: approx -- Rs 150

In his own words:

“It is becoming really tough to manage the finances every month. Rs 3,000 is what I pay as a rent. My son is working in a steel factory in Kundli. He gets another Rs 3,000. Together we have to feed five members of the family. How long can we survive like this? I don’t know! Some day perhaps I will leave everything and go back to my village. But then, what is left in the village for me? Everything has changed everywhere. Who survives with farming these days? May be if you are poor, you shouldn’t exist anymore or something. I don’t know!”

The three live in a small mudwalled house. “I have applied for a government housing scheme to rebuild the house. I am waiting for approval from the authorities,” says Chathu. His house was electrified recently. They use firewood for cooking. “Since we don’t have any trees here, we buy firewood,” he says. For a half day’s work he gets paid Rs 250. He doesn’t get work all days a week. On an average, he gets to work four days a week, explains Chathu. A tea break, a few more hours of work and the sun almost reaches at its zenith. A visibly exhausted Chathu winds up for the day.

For a person who stays outdoors for a major portion of his day, this man has just two pairs of summer clothes and two pairs of winter clothes. When he has to feed five members in his family, where does he have the money for his personal sartorial needs?

“Rs 6,500 is what I get a month. And I work for 12 hours a day. Everything in Delhi has changed. Earlier, there used to be those cheap buses, now all you have is luxury buses, low floor and air conditioned! It is fun to take your family on a city ride in a fancy bus once in a while. But it is not fun when you have to pay more than your salary to just get to work. It is insane! The city became very pretty after the Common Wealth Games, but very very expensive, too. Those cheap buses are banned now. A year back, I could go to anywhere in Delhi with just Rs10 and now I have to pay Rs 20 just to reach here. And there is no bonus, no provident fund, no nothing!

says the measly old age pension they receive is not even sufficient to buy vegetables or fish, forget about the huge medical expenses he has to bear every month. His elder sister Chirutha, 90, suffers from age-related illness. His younger sister Kaylani, 69, who used to work as a housemaid, had to stop working after she met with two accidents. The medical expenses, according to Chathu, come to around Rs 3,000 a month.

Renitha Raveendran extends a helping hand to Chathu

Down in the dumps nisary Mahesh

The day’s work is at Nalini Teacher’s tapioca and plantain garden. These tapiocas and plantain trees were planted by Chathu a few weeks ago. “Before the October-November rains, it’s the right time to fertilise them. Tapiocas can be harvested by December-January,” he explains, before starting the work. Chathu loosens the soil beneath each tapioca and plantain tree carefully with the mattock and directs me to sprinkle the organic fertiliser—a mix of cow dung, neem cake and ash prepared by him. Usually he doesn’t have any helper and does all the jobs by himself. By spitting the remains of betel liquid and gulping down water from a kettle, he grumbles about the porcupine menace. “They eat up tapiocas,” he says. When engrossed in work, it’s hard to make him talk. Amazed at the work being done by him even at this age, I am curious to know how he is able to do it. “Because I have no other options. Else a family of three will starve.” Slowly, Chathu recounts his battle for survival. Having the responsibility to look after two unmarried ailing sisters, he

As I walked through the rugged street of my hometown, Thrissur, in Kerala, 20 or so neat, but poorly dressed men and women, and bare-chested children greeted me with wide smiles and anxious eyes. Devaki introduced herself and the others. Without waiting much, we moved out for the mission of the day. Devaki represents a group of women- an indispensable, yet invisible part of society –who engage in door-to-door waste collection and taking it to transit points fixed by the urban local bodies. They have been collectively outsourced as micro entrepreneurs by Clean Kerala Units, of ‘Kudumbasree Mission’. Under State Poverty Eradication Mission, these programmes aim for the empowerment of women

Nisary Mahesh learning the tricks of the trade from Devaki


from poor families through a wide range of group activities. The three ladies got into a trailer parked nearby. As Devaki drove, she unfolded her life and work. “For every 1,000 houses, a group of 10 women has been assigned for waste collection. Each group will have two vehicles with a person in charge of each one,” she explained. The first shift of five women starts from 6.30 am and continues through 12.30 pm covering 500 houses and the second shift from 12.30pm to 6.30pm, covering the remaining houses. Our first destination was a posh residential apartment in the city. There were separate boxes kept for plastic and non-plastic wastes. “Corporation has offered two baskets to every house to put plastic and non plastic wastes separately” says Devaki. But inside, everything was messed up. “We keep telling them not to do this but no one listens. It would be easy

name: Devaki age: 36 Occupation: Garbage Collector Monthly income: Rs. 5,000/Expenditure: Rs. 5,000/for us if they keep their waste segregated,” she complains. All loading and unloading operations are done manually even though the rules prohibit it. Devaki explains how one of her colleague had to be hospitalised as she cut herself while going through the waste in which broken glasses were dumped. “We aren’t provided gloves and we are supposed to buy these ourselves”.

She earns Rs.5000/- a month as collection from these houses. The money earned by the five women in their group is used for paying loan installment of the vehicle, which comes to Rs.13000/- a month. Their take-home is the remaining money from which they have to pay for the fuel. “As fuel rates are hiked, our take-home will be zero. We cannot raise our rates, so we manage with the earnings we get by selling bottles, plastics etc collected from the waste,” she says smilingly. Her husband is a mason, who has work for a maximum of 10 days a month, and she sends her three children to school. “As we live in a joint family, every adult goes to work and their incomes are pooled to make things work,” says Devaki, who dreams of a better future for her kids and a house of her own. But still, despite all concerns, Devaki is happy, because she has the confidence in herself. She beams that none of her friends dare to drive a tractor trailer like her.

Life in the times of inflation by Janani Sampath “Rupees 32 a day,” laughs Kumudha. “With that money my husband can buy three idlis, a bowl of sambaar and tea for breakfast.” She points out to Amma, a woman in her seventies who does odd jobs in the colony. Amma doesn’t accept Rs 30 for work. “She makes more or less Rs 50, you know? “Kumudha gets back to work. She has been working in my house for five years now. Kumudha is among those numerous people who work as maids in cities like Chennai. There are no clear figures that indicate the exact population of housemaids in the city, as they are part of the floating population from the surrounding districts. In her forties, Kumudha lives with her husband, who works as driver in a travel company, and three daughters in the Water Tank colony, Kotturpuram. Her eldest daughter Sudha began working as an administration staff with an electronic goods company in Chennai, just six months ago. Her younger daughters study in a city-based college.

The waste is to be disposed at a corner of the city in Laloor. Several strikes were made by the residents there, not permitting the vehicles to dump the garbage there. For her work, she collects Rs.50/- a month from each house. 16| MEDIA VOICE | | NOVEMBER 2011

set up her shop in the temple premises. The makeshift shop, which sells flowers and other items used for worship, is one of the many shops that dot the area around the famous Muthyalamma Temple in Shivajinagar in Bangalore.

But another sad fact is, there are people who refuse to pay this. “We do not collect garbage if the fee is not paid. They then resort to throwing it on the road,” she raises her voice in rage. “The corporation slaps fine on us if unattended garbage heaps are found in their areas. That is why nobody comes forward to do this job,” she says.

As a domestic help in two households in Nandanam, she earns around Rs 2000 a month. The total income of her family, including her husband’s and elder daughter’s is Rs 9000. She takes me to the house she works for. It is same set of chores in both places- washing clothes, utensils, sweeping and mopping. I look at her with surprise. Where does she get all the energy to do it, I wonder.

Kumudha being helped by Janani Sampath I ask her if she doesn’t feel any pain at the end of the day. If I don’t work, it pains, she laughs.

name: Kumudha age: 45 Occupation: Domestic Help Monthly income: Rs.2,000/Expenditure: Rs.7,000/-

On an average day, Satyavathi buys around 200 coconuts and over five tolas of jasmine, marigold and wild tulsi from the nearby Old Market. A wholesale flower seller delivers flowers every morning, while other things are purchased the previous evening, so that she can set up her shop really early in the morning. She says, “Comparing to other days, I make a good profit on auspicious days like Tuesdays and Fridays. With so many shops around, you can’t really earn the same every day but I make anywhere between Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,500 on most days.” At 56, Sathyavathi is quite active and takes just 20 minutes to arrange the entire shop. The table in front of the shop is laden with puja baskets, which she sells at Rs.25; it includes a string of marigold, camphor, incense sticks, coconut, a bunch of bananas and a packet of turmeric and kumkum powder.

After wrapping up work in two hours, we head to Kumudha’s house. Water Tank colony is a settlement of people belonging to lower-income groups. We are welcomed by a group of women thronging the water pump. People in the housing board complex work as domestic helps, drivers, plumbers and electricians. Price and its related effects summarise the struggle of every household in this area. “I spend at least Rs 100 on vegetables and provisions, every day. One day one vegetable is selling at a higher price and then we think we will avoid buying it; the next day some other item’s price has shot up. One cylinder of cooking gas lasts for just 27 days; I spend almost eight hundred rupees for every 45 days,” says Rajeshwari, Kumudha’s neighbour

Sathyavathi has three daughters, all of whom are married and a son who works at a private company in Bangalore. “Ours is a joint family and it’s not easy taking care of everybody’s needs and managing the shop simultaneously but thankfully, Rajeshwari, my sister-in-law is very supportive and helps me out with the cooking. We take turns to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. We share all our work, that’s how it keeps our bond intact,” she explains. She pays a monthly rent of Rs. 2,000 to the temple authorities

“My daughters take the bus to college and work. At the rate petrol prices have gone up, they can’t even think of taking the auto for a day. For a distance of two kilometres auto drivers charge Rs 50,” Kumudha says. She quickly adds, “We have medical expenses too; it is almost Rs 500 per month and if somebody falls sick in my home, you can add a few more hundreds to it.” She heaves a long sigh, “It is easy for people to say make a budget and limit your expenses. But, they don’t realise, our income doesn’t increase as rapidly as cost of living.”

No bed of roses by Lavanya Srinivasan Sathyavathi wakes up by 6.30 am, cooks breakfast for the family of seven members and rushes to the neighbourhood temple to make it in time for the maha-mangalarti. After offering her prayers to the neighbourhood deity, she proceeds to

Lavanya Srinivasan gets lessons from Sathyavathi



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