Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture visit Vidarbha
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture led by its chairman basudep acharji visited Vidarbha on Friday to understand the impact of the Genetically Modified (GM) cotton on the country’s peasantry.
Coming close on the heels of PM Manomohan Singh's support for biotech in the agriculture sector, this visit has raised the hackles of farmers’ groups in suicide country where an average of three farmers ends their lives daily.
In an open letter to Yadav, the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) which works closely with farmers in distress has welcomed the visit, but added, “We are sure that the first-hand look will surely help the committee in taking a position on all the issues concerning the producers, which, in turn, will aid the Parliament in formulating policies that serve the interests of the people (in this case, farmers) rather than serving a few business houses.”
The letter goes on to charge, “We have witnessed that in all such previous official visits – from the Planning Commission’s fact finding mission in February 2005, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tour in June 2005, to several other high profile official visits, the administrative machinery hijacks the itinerary giving them only an official view of the issue,” and suggests, “We hope you will also visit farmers, farm widows and activists.”
The VJAS, in fact, insists the government has sufficient reasons to ban climate-sensitive crops like GM cotton which is linked to and responsible for many farmer suicides.
It has since been officially admitted by the Agriculture Ministry that dry and arid land cotton farmers who opted for Bt cotton across 40 lakh hectares are likely to lose Rs10,000 crores according to the initial estimate of crop failure by Maharashtra state government.
“It is imperative that a ban be brought with immediate effect,” says Kishore Tiwari who heads VJAS.
“Unless the government does so, it is mocking the farmers who’ve died and their bereaved. Its soft pedaling the issue only confirms suspicions that the government is working in cahoots with agro MNCs aggressively pushing Bt Cotton. Its officers want to keep the issue of farmer suicides alive since they get to make to money with corruption in the compensation as has been borne out in the past.”
It will be recalled that in an interview to Science magazine, the Prime Minister had said: “Biotechnology has enormous potential, and in due course of time we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase the productivity of our agriculture. But there are controversies. There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces.”
Tiwari termed Maharashtra Chief Minister Prathiviraj Chavan’s announcement that of a bailout package of Rs2000 crore a case of “too little, too late.”He pointed out, “In 2005-2006 when Bt cotton was grown in in only 4 lakh hectares, the government compensated farmers for crop loss to the tune of Rs220 crore. By that standard this is lesser.”
Bt Cotton was first approved for commercial cultivation in nine states by Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). Now Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s has himself admitted that average yield of Bt Cotton in dry land areas of Maharashtra is only 125 kg.
“We are hoping that unlike farmers’ long-standing complaints, the Centre and State will take Pawar who is a senior member of the cabinet more seriously. Mere compensation is only first aid, actual treatment will need the uprooting of Bt Cotton which has shown a poor record consistently since 2005, completely,” added Tiwari.