The onion glut and the government inaction a big worry for farmers!

onionLasalgaon, 45 km from Nasik is, as everyone knows, India’s largest onion market and everyday hundreds of Lorries proceed towards the market complex there. There ensues bidding for price fixation. The story is old and told many times and everyone also knows how the prices are manipulated by traders and how the price fluctuations, rise and fall, is now, even now we have to correct is, a routine and the many overdue corrections and new steps to regulate the onion prices on rational lines and also ensure a fair price to farmers.

All attention and news breaks are only, so far, only about the rise in onion prices for urban consumers, the middle and the vocal classes.

Not for the voiceless, the helpless and also the most exploited farmers, the producers. How long this sort of exploitation and injustice to go on?

Only the Modi government and the new ministers and experts who operate the agri ministry must answer. As we can all see for themselves there is only deadly silence and inaction, sorry to say so, prevails.

Right now, at Lasalgaon, there is a severe glut in onion supplies. There is for long this criticism that traders form a cartel and they fix the prices and there are other middlemen who also indulge in price manipulation. Money and political; clout, says observers, play roles.

Yes, all this has been said already and yet there is no breakthrough news about how the new government hopes to put in place a new mechanism.

This year’s price, says NAFED, the critical marketing federation, would be Rs.Rs.3,000 to Rs.4,000/ql-which didn’t happen owing to rise in production, and almost the supply doubled this year. The ridiculous low was 5 paise for a kg! A Minister for Co-Operation Subhash Deshmukh says his onion crop is rotting! Onion cultivation is very traditional, this year the crop and its output almost doubled! So, the excess supplies and price fall.

But the whole issue here is how to ensure a stable onion price and what are the urgent infrastructure steps to be taken. We have no direct knowledge of the ground realities.

But in principle, in these days of revolutionary agri, infrastructure tech, we must be able to construct enough godowns to stock the oversupply in cold storage facilities. Why this is not done?

There must be either the Chief Minister or the minister concerned to speak out and ensure there is some calming and stabilising news coming out of the Mantralaya.

The government’s first step was to raise the Minimum Export Price(MEP) to $ 1,150/MT. But then the higher price is more than needed to sell competitively at the export markets. “There is no consistency in our approach towards onion exports” says Mr.Patil of the NAFED.

One more reason pointed out here is that Indian exporters don’t ensure guaranteed supply and prices. So, importers over the years we believe have turned elsewhere, to Pakistan and China. China is the world’s largest producer of onions, second comes India. Iran also a big producer and yet we have to ensure that we become reliable exporters.

Patil says further that the Union government is keen to serve the urban consumers and in this process the country lost its status as a reliable onion exporter nation. So, one simple insight emerges.

How to build up a long-term, why, even a mid-turn export strategy of improving our stocking capabilities. There seems no other short-cut. Also, we hear often that onion has become today not just an agricultural commodity but also a political tool.

It is great pity the issue has been reduced to this level of cheap politics. We are not here to provide any solution, so simply.

But common sense says that we have to decentralise the onion trade and also give some state level export organisations and also engage some corporate in the exporting of this heavily serious, farmers-related common agriculture commodity.

Blaming the governments, politicians is an easy way out, But such a mindset is plainly irresponsible. There must be a way out. Some structure like amul milk marketing and also some export consortium or some private-public participation must be worked out.

The trade minister Ms.Nirmala Seetharaman must take some steps.
Indian trade bodies also can help with ideas. Indian agriculture is now thriving owing to various factors.

There is dynamism in the agri sector, world trade scene is also changing.

Please come out with some positive steps and relieve the distress situation in which onion farmers thrown into.

Media freedoms must be responsible freedoms!

venkiah-naiduWe welcome the senior minister in Modi government for speaking out on certain sensitive issues like press freedoms. Our democracy today faces many challenges and distortions.

Sometimes, it is small media that behaves responsibility. Big houses are driven by profit and so many distortions set in. Press freedoms must take note of the pressures to sell and survive.

In the West, large print media names are closed down. In India the scene seems different. In totalitarian countries, there are official newspapers. In India, we see commercial interests distorts news, paid news is dished out as news. Media barons also hobnob with big industrialists and serve their business interest. We need a regulation of the big corporate buying into media ventures. This is another worry. So, we need to study, establish commissions to examine the many issues that face media industry that doesn’t serve the common man as we all imagine.

Today our ideas of press freedoms have completely changed. The old world ideas of press freedoms, as if the press had some dharma or morality to adopt.

We don’t have that environment in today’s world of all sorts of terrorism and violence and even other violent activities.
A recent report notes that India score high, the fourth place, in the worldwide rise in terrorist activities and the Maoists are mentioned as contributing to the rise in terrorist activities.

Also, our media industry has now become huge sector with nearly 900 TCV channels beaming all sorts of news breakthroughs and what not. Go to any language channel, the more the number, the more numbers the nonsense!

Yes, when you come to even the mature market like in Tamil, what you find is the ceaseless film series. Day in and day out it is only film series and what sort of films, all sorts, the more vulgar the songs and dialogues there more the visitors the series commands.  It reached a stage that recently the Madras high court has called for banning vulgar songs and dialogues as one case came up before the hon’ble court was about a teenager listening to a film song went on to commit violence, criminal act and the judge squarely blamed the TV channels broadcasting such vulgarity.

Tamil Nadu us a peculiarly corrupt society, a corrupt culture had gripped the film makers, the state is a heady mix of super stars are also becoming politicians, there are any number of film star-turned politicians. Dialogue writers also notorious to play the multi-act roles. As a result the culture, politics, film-making, song writers and actors and actresses turning to political party spokespersons.
What more you expect than plain stupidity when it comes to making quick money by a series of low-minded promises and deceiving the audiences when the films released.

And when it comes to mainstream news channels, only the owners seem to be again actors or men and women in power. So, all the news channels are not strictly news channels but only propaganda weapons. You get to hear only prejudiced, twisted plain brain washing!

So, strictly speaking there are no news channels operating on strict objectivity or even discussions by media experts or public figures.
The politicians never appeal and participate or answer questions. What sort of news you get?

No news, no analysis or any public commitment by leaders. The print media in Tamil(we take this particular language only as a test case)in no better. Again the tabloidization of the print media is almost complete and there is no other way ahead, it seems.
Here again you don’t see any free media operating.

The print media industry is afraid of the incumbent government in India. This is also so in even so-called progressive states like Kerala and West Bengal!

So, what leads to this press fear from press freedom? No values, no restraint on public conduct and hence you see some of the high profile corruption cases originate from these states!

And now if you throw in the terrorism issue there is no reliable reporting. To hide their business interests some print publications resort to too much religious reporting or sports, cricket is always the staple diet and the rest sometimes too many features like astrology, or pilgrim temples and so on.

So, the state of the media in India is very deplorable. The flow of information in many productive sectors, economy, industry and even culture, entertainment and leisure, travel are all left out.

Ironically press men and women, the working journalists face many hurdles. Some hurdles are defamation cases, privilege issues or sedition charges.

The Supreme Court came out against such steps government take to stifle the political opponents or take revenge against others who have some public interest in mind.

On the whole the new ideas voiced by hon’ble Naidu is welcome and we welcome new debates on press freedoms. Press freedoms in India has a long history. It started during the British days in the early 19th century. And so we have so many seditious laws!.

Now, in the new Independent India, we have to formulate a new policy. Let us hope Naidu would reform the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s structure. Debureaucratise, decentralise and liberalise!

How Britain didn’t understand Indian culture?

NPG x12958; John Ruskin by William Downey, for  W. & D. DowneyJust by chance I looked at a weekly supplement of my favorite newspaper. It is all on Arts & Culture and carries two interview pages of leading cultural personages, classical dancers, musicians and theatre personalities. All of them engaged my thought for a while. All my favorites are here and that led to a train of thought into arts and culture for quite a time!

And then I came from my reverie of sorts and I took the book that was lying in front of me since few days. It is none other than the vulnerable figure, John Ruskin(1819-1900). I assume that his name is familiar to at least some of the readers. For others I want to say here that Ruskin lived in the 19th century, when for Indians at any rate, the British Empire was at its great triumph. The two world wars were yet to come and impact. It was a century that saw the full flowering of the British talents. Education was invariably linked with culture and culture meant everything that shaped people, their notions of superiority in terms of etiquette and manners and high living.

Anyway, one fact about Ruskin, the great art critics and social and moral reformer is that Mahatma Gandhi was drawn to his three lectures, collected in the name of “Unto this Last”. Now I am reading his autobiography, strangely named by him as ” Praeterita “. Yes, it is not easy to read it and I found at many times it is very high-handed prose indeed!

Now, what I want to tell here, to the Indian readers, in an education journal that when I went to Oxford in the late 1950s, John Ruskin’s books were still displayed in bookshops! Also, I soon discovered in my enthusiasm for Labour party and the Fabian Socialism that like Ruskin there were other early utopian socialists like William Morris and others. They had a common thread of the British belief in their mission to civilize the world, at least civilize their colonies! Anyway, I had come a long way from that early enthusiasm and also my innocence! Now, when I look back and reflect on what I learnt from Britain and from their own beliefs, I have changed a lot, it seems!

After I had travelled extensively in Europe and seen the other civilisations, say Rome and the Italian Renaissance towns like Florence, I have a very different view of the world. Now, in Ruskin’s autobiography what caught my attention and even the mild shock I experienced is that the Brits, as a people, were so sure of their view of the world. After all they were the centre of the world once and so they assumed there is no other world superior to their own. Though they also learnt lot from Greece and Rome, they didn’t tell us so, we Indians were fed with Macaulay system of education preparing a class of clerks and coolies to serve their lordships!

Yes, I just now read another book, titled as Ornamentalism, on how the Brits gave themselves funny names like OBE, KG etc. they changed their names to artificial ones so much so that the Indian maharajahs were made to kneel before the visiting royals and call themselves as knights and Sirs. Such nonsense paid them off well and their empire lasted, alas, not any longer and when they departed they left behind them the Lutyen’s bungalows in which reside our present masters, our low-level politicians with extensive lawns etc!

When I read through Ruskin’s autobiography my chapters naturally rushed to the ones on Ruskin’s visits to Rome and Florence. I myself was in Rome and Florence and so my interest in knowing what Ruskin has got to say on the same monuments I saw and appreciated. He was in Rome in 1840 (Nov 28-30, Dec.30).

Here are his own words. Ruskin on Roman Forum:
Saw the Forum, Colliseum and so on. I had no distinct idea what the Forum was(!) or even had been or how the three pillars or the seven, were concerned with it(!) or the Arch of Severus, standing without any road underneath or the ragged bloc of buildings above, with their tower of the commonest possible eighteenth century type. There was, however, one extreme good in all this that I saw, with whatever faculty was within me, exactly for what they were and though my religious instruction, as aforesaid, led me to suppose the malaria in the Campaign was the consequence of the papacy….”(page 241). In another place he says:

What the Forum and the Capitol had been I did not in the least care.” Ruskin was at the Vatican and saw the Sistine chapal. He says:”the whole lower storey of the Sistine, were entirely useless to me”. Raphael’s an ugly one”. “I paid no more attention to what any book said (unless I happen to agree with (!)On the subject of painting”. “The main wonders of Rome thus taken stock of”.(page 242).
On Florence(page237):This is on November 13th,1840: “I have just been walking or sauntering, in the square of the statues, the air perfectly balmy; and I shall not soon forget, I hope, the impression left by this square as it opened from the river, with the enormous mass of tower above,- or of the Duomo itself. I had not expected any mass of church, rather something graceful, like La Salute at Venice. Not that it is good as architecture even in its own barbarous style(!).The notion of magnificent figures in marble and bronze about the great square, thrilling”(pag238).

“At Florence then, this time, the new gate-like palaces were rightly hateful to me”(pag238..”The whole, a provocation and weariness, except for one master, M. Angelo”(page238. The one M.Angelo is none other than Michelangelo!

Ruskin is a great figure. But to say only this much on Michelangelo whose marble statue, David stands at the very square where Ruskin is standing! What to call? Ruskin’s audacity or a high superiority of his own understanding and appreciation of arts? Then about the great Uffizi gallery! (I didn’t visit it for the simple reason there was no time and it takes a few days to complete the journey! Anyway, Ruskin’s words on Michelangelo, Raphael and his comment on the great Uffizi gallery:”Uffizi collection in general, and unbecoming medley, got together by people who knew nothing, and cared less than nothing about the arts. On the whole, when I last walked through the Uffizi in 1882, I was precisely of the same opinion. It was not to be expected of me at that time to like either Angelico or Botticelli; and if I had, the upper corridor of the Uffizi was an entirely vile and contemptible place to see the great Madonna of the one or the Venus Marina of the other”(page 239 Now, what has these observations have to do with India?

The British imperialism thrived on a sense of in-bred superiority of its own talents. What talents? They came as traders and ended up as barbarian rulers, right? So much of famine and deaths, poverty and degradation as a consequence of economic poverty and social helplessness. All these traits led to a sense of inferior status of the Indian people. All I want to point out here is that the British were boorish when it came to appreciating Indian history and civilization. Has any Briton wondered at the soaring heights of the Chola temples in Tanjore? Or, the Sanchi Stupa in M.P. Or, the Ajanta frescoes? Or for many other such Indian art and archeological monuments? It is painful Ruskin can be so casual about the Roman civilisation. No word on Michaelanglo, Leonardo da Vinci or Mona Lisa! While he praised and promoted the British painters, Whistler, Turner who are all now forgotten names outside British Isles.

A sort of British parochialism? It looks like that! Our ancient arts, temples and sculptures in stones and metals, Chola temples, bronzes to stone idols, Nataraja statues, are now widely famed human art achievements, comparable to what the Greeks produced. They are now spread in all world museums and private collections. Indian antique smuggling is now big business. If our arts heritage is not so unique why is then this smuggling trade? The British simply were an inferior race and they couldn’t appreciate Indian heritage.

Even great art genius like John Ruskin couldn’t appreciate the Greek and Roman heritage. This came as a shock to me when I read that great man’s autobiography. It is time, we Indians too study the Greek and Roman heritage and also take Indian heritage to world appreciation in all possible ways. This is the one great lesson I learnt by reading through John Ruskin.

What future for specialised media?

Development media, agri and rural media space?

power-goldThe famed Mumbai-based Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) completes 50 years, in fact, it was started earlier by the founder, the legendary Sachin Choudhury, in 1949,this August.

We have a lot of association, long memories and many of our older associates and friends have come from the EPW stable. In particular, the long-time editor, the most amiable Krishna Raj, was our long-time friend.

Whenever we visited the first call would be on Krishna Raj in his modest cubicle and there are others, one was our Oxford friend, she used to urge us at the very first instance to take out a subscription for the venerable journal!

There is much to say about the EPW story and here we won’t do it.
The point here is that Indian media scene is now radically changed. There is no space in India for any high-minded pursuit of ideals for ideals sake, right?
The Indian media scene is so changed, so commercialised, so much dominated not by the right people, we feel. It is one of a heady-competitive world of 99-odd TV channels, news channels alone proliferating in all languages and that is a huge industry space here, the language channels alone are differently segmented. If you take the Tamil language TV channels, it is almost deafening noise pollution here. The two Dravidian parties and their smaller cousins all go for 24/7 noise and film serials! TV watching is now almost a health hazard, it seems! There is no room for anything else, no news, and no reliable news at all. All plain and shameless brain-washing!

As for the print media, the major newspapers, the old and venerable ones are also now struggling and the only way forward, it seems, is to go for the tabloid versions!
Now, what is the future for such serious-minded EPW? As we see the more the academic standards fall, the more fall would be for the standard of contributions to journals like EPW.

Once, yes, it was a heady stuff. When economics played a dominant role in
the social sciences there came along names like K.N.Raj and Amartya Sen and many others like prominent Leftists like Romesh Thapar and Bengal academic-turned finance minister who wrote regularly. Krishna Raj used to cite the contributors whom he much admired.

Though we knew some these prominent luminaries these Leftist intellectuals brought about a very narrow and restricted mindset to bear on the ideology of the EPW. This narrow and restricted mindset also limited its readability and the saleability of the journal. By the way, there is no politics in the EPW name, not even much worthwhile economics. Indian economy has changed.

We need a new realistic goal of transforming the Indian economy, politics and society!

Now, as we are also in parallel field our media ventures also have similar challenges when it comes to survival in the open market. Of course you can’t run print media ventures just only on the profit motive alone and achieve anything other than increasing your profits!

Money-driven print media and values driven print media?
EPW is certainly a values- driven venture also. Thus we salute it. Lately, there is information about the declining readership. Donations and banks’ ads, EPW, have other donors.

Media success is a mix of many things. Ultimately, what the media venture achieves, what gives fulfilment are all in the realm of one’s particular vision, public good and call it whatever way you find agreeable.

Vadamalai Media’s constituency is agriculture and rural India. Its commitment is defend this constituency and seek justice, freedom and equity and equality of opportunities and the fundamental rights of the people who constitute this constituency.

How many media ventures that purportedly seek the pubic good? How many succeed? How many fall out on the way?

Such questions can’t be answered to the satisfaction of all. But we can at least see the public perception and the public opinion of the people in this constituency in whose name all our otherwise powerful and influential personages, the powerful politicians and the corporate heavyweights operate, make promises, seek to sell their promises, and products and services and hog the limelight, name and fame!

So long there is injustice and poverty and even after making it in life people seek meaning and a place in life the agriculture and the rural India sectors would come to their minds.

It is this dream of a new India that is free of the many disabilities and also an India that is driven by great and noble ideals, our media venture would have served its purpose!

There is a new rural revolution!

Internet consumers in rural India will simply explode!

farmerThis will bring about a sea-change in the way rural consumers, why, even the producers to produce, to sell and buy through the new MNC food retail companies!  Public sector vs. private sector!

Welcome to MNC Food Retail investments! The government recently announced 100% FDI, foreign direct investment, in trading of food products that are produced and manufactured in India through retail trading including eCommerce! This is good news for farmers and rural consumers, we like to reiterate! Now, agriculture is not often talked about, not even mentioned.

But the food processing sector is getting attention. This is for the simple reason that large MNCs in the retail sector eye Indian market as their best bet.
Fine, they are welcome. For farmers too such an open market would only give them to realise the maximum profits. This is after all what the farmers also want.

The Prime Minister in his Independence Day speech narrated for long his government’s achievements. Fine. He, at the end of the day, seemed to be imagining that it is the government that has a lot to do. From building toilets to roads and much else. Rural electrification he cited in particular and soon came the rude shock of the particular village he mentioned by name, Nagla Fatela near Aligarh in UP and it came as a shock for the simple reason that the particular village was living in darkness when the PM was mentioning this name! Nagla Fatela has so many houses, 150 houses were getting power through ‘katia’, illegal connections while the rest, 450 of the houses in the same village remain in the dark! Power supply in the rural areas is beset with non-payment of tariff, theft and also too much politics, too much populism to win votes! This is not just peculiar to UP but also in all states.

And TN, one of the advanced states has the perennial problems of a debt-ridden state electricity board!

There are critical issues in power generation, distribution, distribution of subsidies, to take care of a poor society with so many poverty traps.
So, you have to be realistic but the point here is that even Mr.Modi with his friend determination to reform things, India would remain for some more time in the old mindset.
Now, the PSUs are again an inheritance from the first phase of our industrialisation. Even now, the PSUs, in some strategic sectors, oil, gas, telcom and some other critical areas like atomic energy has to be in the public sector.

But then some PSUs like Air India and Bharat Sanchar Nigam, to take two examples, not to mention PSU banks, the need for further reforms is urgent.Why delay Air India privatisation? So too the TTDC hotels, the remaining ones?

Privatisation of some sectors is now timely. In agriculture and rural development, there is a need for radical thinking. Take for example, the latest Internet spread.
There is a detailed study of how many segments that will be benefited and impacted. Mobile phones, health, life and motor insurance and direct to home TV segment, all these would grow multiple times!

So, the new announcement that such retail giants like Walmart, other MNCs are keen to invest in rural retail. In our view such a new thrust to rural expansion would only do good for the farmers who produce but as of now unable to sell for a profit will change now. As per the latest report that by 2020, rural Internet users will make up 48% of all connected consumers in India. By 2015, they are the rural consumers, 120 million. By 2020 thy will grow by a steep 315 million! This is rural revolution!

The food processing sector would get a boost by the coming of MNC giants.Doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022 is the goal, said food processing secretary Avinash Srivatsava. 100 new cold chains are expected to come up in the country with investment of nearly 3,000 crores, said the secretary.

There are several concessions like 100% tax exemption for the first five years, preference to companies with 26 % foreign equity, loan up to Rs.100 crores through Nabard etc are also announced.