Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jai Ho Ramesh!

With the decision of announcing indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjals’ immediate commercialization by Jairam Ramesh, the incumbent Minister of State (I/C) become the darling of the masses. His well thought, argued and articulated decision might have surfaced the tussle within the cabinet, with the vehement attacks by none other the Mr. Irresponsible Sharad Pawar and Shri Prithviraj Chavan over the issue. Even the PM has backed his sheer heartedness and the responsibly taken decision. He single handedly took the situation in control with the consensus of majority stakeholders unlike own Agri Minister Sharad Pawarjee, the man who is still untouched by the feelings and reeling of a common man, when the food items and almost all the essentials’ prices reached to an unprecedented level.

Earlier too Mr Pawar commented that the proposed consultations has nothing to do with the Bt Brinjal and the GEAC’s recommendation is final approval and the very moment it was befittingly the words have been returned to him by Mr Ramesh saying that if he remembers then GEAC falls under the prerogative of Environment ministry and as such it has been constituted for the appraisal and not for the final say on the approval of the Genetically Engineered crops and other products. And it has been entrusted only the task of appraisal and recommendation, and not the final approval. I am here for the final say and it would be taken after consulting all the stakeholders and considering the views from everyone. GEAC has fallen as the first ire of people and the minister, and thereafter has been aptly rechristened as “Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee” from the dillemic nomination of “Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee” by the ministry.

It is very hard to realize that why the Marathi ministers, I mean Pawar & Chavan are supporting the MNC (Monsanto), is there any under the table deal among them or, just their association with Maha-grown seed giant Mahyco and thus to keep their Marathi proud high, keeping aside the lives of teeming millions. Why not Mr Pawar and Chavan be first fed with the newly developed Brinjal, in case they are so assured of the associated risks. Let the Scientists and the agents of Bt Brinjal be the best guinea pigs for the conduct of the health tests.

Many advocacy forums including the scientific fraternity of ICAR & CSIR are vehemently supporting the Bt Brinjal cause, irrespective of the Bt cotton experience, but it seems they have forgot the graveyard beneath the cotton success saga throughout the dry tracts of the country, Vidarbha, Telangana, Rayalseema, Northern Karnataka, Punjab etc. The researchers take the denial as their credibility issue and as their contribution to the society have been questioned. But why the compromise on environmental & health safety for the interests of these so called irresponsible researchers. Researchers should not take it as a case of battle lost, but it is just the re-designing of scientific strategies in the larger interest of the common man and the farming community, and instead it is a “win-win situation” for all including the science. Any research has to have some social angles/ dimensions other than the economic gains, which is blatantly violated/ refused in India. It has to be gauged on the parameters of acceptance as per the demand, local taste and tradition of a place, unlike the thousands innumerable varieties developed by the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) handful of which can be seen today in market and in the field, which is utter waste of money, resources and time. The time is ripe for the refinement of science by appropriating the reforms in the system. But for introducing any technology, it has to be taken to be taken for consultation before the stakeholders involved for the gauging the pros and cons of the same and no committee/ autonomous body having the authority to take the autonomous decision based on some lab tests and data provided by that too the producers, which needs to be scrutinized, before considered as reliable and base material for the appraisal purpose.

What is the hurry, when lots of things viz. health hazards, biodiversity risks and many other known & unknown effects are put on the stake and in the condition when there would be no “U” turn? The halt looked mature other than the half cooked speeches of the critics and some of the ministers, which is taken decisively after consensus among the aam admi and reknown scientists like MS Swaminathan, PM Bhargava etc. The Ministry of Agriculture, S&T and HR has to re-define their role and responsibility towards the society with sensible liability, which is running unilaterally with the futile efforts and he outcomes. Merely promoting biotechnology/ GM is not the panacea for food security, but has to have a better perspective for the same.

He became the first minister to initiate the concept of consultation in policy-making for making the consensus among all the stakeholders and considering multitude of issues. The man tirelessly travelled and chaired the consultations across the 7 states and even hurdled with abuses and curses by social organisations & farmers. But sometimes the curses only turns into the blessings in disguise, do prove in the case and given him the strength for steadfastly taking the issues without any sort of bias. Today the outcome is that Ramesh has emerged the champion of all and his tireless effort is clearly reflected in the decision report presented for which he conducted global reviews and consultations for addressing the cause of the ground zero people. The decision will surely have long term impact on the scientific research in India and has raised the bar for other ministries and organizations to show their final liability and duties towards the aam admi.

Need for a National Authority on Hunger Elimination

Despite the remarkable progress in the country with high economic growth, impressive food production, advanced technologies and enviable human resources, the country is seriously confronted with the most challenging problem of hosting over 240 million ‘hungry’ people, with 66th position on Global Hunger Index (GHI) among 88 countries in the world. The fact that India could reduce hunger only marginally (about 25%) over a period of 18 years (1990-91 to 2007-08) made the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Washington to make a statement that ‘India’s performance was lack luster’ on hunger elimination. This reflects badly on the inadequate attention given to ‘hunger’.

The major contributing factor for GHI of 23.7 is the high percentage of underweight children (43.5%) below five years in the country. The most disturbing report that 70% of children between six and 59 months after birth are anemic (3rd National Family Health Survey 2005-06), made the honest Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to admit frankly that ‘it is a matter of National shame’. A recent report by Dr.Karin Holshof, UNICEF India Representative on the seriousness of the problem with 61 million children fighting under nutrition, is an eye opener. In spite of the schemes on health and nutrition of children, it is estimated that 20% of Indian children (over 25 million) die due to under nutrition during the five years after birth. Already India’s record on the percentage of underweight children is the highest in the world, with Madhya Pradesh topping the list (59.8%), followed by Jharkhand (57.1%), Bihar (56.1%) and Chattisgarh (47.6 %). Out of the 17 Indian States analyzed, four are grouped under ‘serious hunger’ (Punjab, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Assam), while 12 are under ‘alarming hunger’ (Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand) ; with Madhya Pradesh alone under the ‘extremely alarming hunger’ category, similar to Ethiopia.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that 1.02 billion people are chronically ‘hungry’ in the world. In the recently convened World Summit on Food Security in Rome, although the attention was focused on the rise in food prices across the world, the summit failed to bring out tangible commitments by rich countries on ‘hunger’ issues. In order to create awareness on the seriousness of chronic ‘hunger’ and solidarity with people who go to bed without food, the Secretary General of United Nations Ben Moon and the Director General of the FAO Jaques Diouf observed a 24 hour fast in November which attracted worldwide attention, but the Indian Government failed to observe any such demonstration in spite of adverse situations in the country. The sad comments were that ‘despite all the promises made concrete actions on hunger has been lacking’ and FAO concluded that ‘in the absence of strong measures another global food crisis cannot be excluded’. The Indian Government has to take note of the adverse situations arising out of climate change exemplified by unprecedented drought and floods which have the potential to increase the number of hungry people.

India with over 1.15 billion population out of which almost 200 million are chronically hungry, with high percentage of children, cannot afford to ignore the problem anymore. The long term implication of the present underweight children below five years will be on the future generation of youth, whose physical and mental health are essential to take up the responsibilities of Nation building activities. For sustaining the developmental activities during the ensuing decades, the children born, say from 2009 – 2010 onwards need utmost care in a holistic way – health, education, environment, character build up and skill development which ensure leadership qualities. In fact, all those born during early 2000s must undergo frequent health checkup for midterm corrections of nutritional disorders. It is well established that ‘good nutrition early in life is a key input for human capital formation, a fundamental factor for sustainable and equitable economic growth’. So, the child care should be the top priority for the Government. It is a daunting task, but acquires National priority as youth are great National asset for ‘India Tomorrow’ for ensuring peaceful life.

Therefore, the attention should be on the most sensitive States like Madhya Prdaesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh to rescue the lives of millions of children with underweight and to prevent the problem in other States too. An effective health and nutrition program for children (and mothers) from the infant to juvenile to youth stages is the need of the hour. A weak youth force will be an impediment for the entire Nation’s progress. It is, therefore, high time that the Honorable Prime Minister personally examines the situation in depth and initiates action to establish a ‘National Authority on Hunger Elimination’ (NAHE), with adequate funds and exclusive powers – administrative and financial and enhanced human resources with the ultimate goal of making India hunger-free by 2020. The NAHE must function as a high power coordinating unit with concerned ministries – food and agriculture, health, education, environment and finance. As the present poverty alleviation programs did not seem to yield the desired result in terms of minimizing ‘hunger’ among millions of the poorest of the poor, the NAHE might be expected to achieve the goal better and in shorter time frame. India should strive hard to get its name erased from the list of GHI of the IFPRI with exemplary time targeted programs. For this, extraordinary political will is the only answer under the dynamic leadership of the Prime Minister.

Dr.V.Rajagopal, Retired Director, CPCRI & Founder of Hunger Elimination and You movement (HEYm), Tirupati, E mail :