Why keep the public in the dark?

Indian agriculture is at a critical stage. After years of self-reliance and self-sufficiency as ensured by the Green Revolution, we seem to be reversing some of the national consensus. The so-called second Green Revolution of which the PM and his colleagues seem to be imagining without fully working out the implications of the now Evergreen Revolution as envisaged or promised by the India-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture is full of fundamental questions. Why there is so much secrecy here?

What sort of agreement is this? With the powerful agricultural economy of the world? Already the USA is pressing India to relax its wheat import norms, allow its not so high quality wheat infested with “exotic weeds”, as against the Australian wheat Indian had contracted. There is already  pressure building up on India  to import more wheat, preferably from the USA.
Here again, as in the nuclear deal, there is a long history. It doesn’t mean that India should abandon these deals. There of course seems to be a change of mind in the USA and there is a wide consensus to do business with India. That is a positive development. And also, it is time we in India realise that our future agricultural growth and prosperity of our farmers depend upon the growth of our international farm trade.

But there are also some anxieties in sections of the thinking sections of India over the other partnerships with the USA. India has a few such partnerships. One is the US-India agri pact, the so-called India-US Knowledge Initiative. In the Rajya Sabha, MPs pointed out rightly that food security is as important as the energy and strategic security. Of course the ruling party MPs gave support for what the government did but the tone of the debate shows clearly that everyone is not clear about many aspects of the deal.

This pact was finalised in February, says media comments, without Parliament and the Indian Cabinet having any knowledge or participation. The two who are involved are the Prime Minister and his trusted confident, Montek Ahluwalia, the Dy. head of the Planning Commission. Under this pact India is to invest Rs.350 crores and the US investment is not known. What is causing concern is the fact that on this initiative well-known US MNCs, Wal-Mart and Monsanto are on its board. US ambassador, the indiscreet David Mulford says the most important pact is this. Why? Under this pact the US, or rather the US MNCs will have important roles to enter the Indian agri sector and” exploit’ its vast resources, they would commercialise so many of the Indian resources, including the human resources! Institutional capacity building, agri-processing and marketing, emerging technologies and natural resources management. The co-chairs of the agreement are however, the ICAR chief and the administrator of the US department’s foreign agriculture services, one Ellen Terpstra. The most worrying part of the agreement is not the least the popular hype given by willing servants of vested interests and favours seekers. They have coined the most misleading phrase, the Evergreen Revolution!

Surely, these happenings are a slap on the face of the self-respect and self-reliance that governed our agriculture development strategy so far.

There are great hunger pockets, malnutrition pockets, backwardness in key social sectors. In W.Bengal, the status of the social sectors is a mockery and yet the so called  Left intelligentsia had kept up a studied silence. The  work plan finalised at the second meeting  held on Feb 13-14 of the board meeting has flashed out details about four broad areas of co-operation that were agreed upon in the first meeting in Washington last December. The Delhi meeting again didn’t go into details but those who are observing the initiative fear that the US might pressurise India to open up the Indian agri sector for a range of research and developments in new technologies, new marketing techniques and new products (GM seeds?)  And other services.

Agriculture for India represents not only India’s sovereignty, India’s emergence as an independent country and  also a core component of  our claims to Super Power status. Yes, India is an agriculture power. One hopes our present regime (largely urban-driven, retired bureaucrats) with no stakes whatever in the future of the rural India doesn’t treat this  sector in any light-hearted manner.

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