Monday, June 28, 2010

Quality seed at affordable prices

Recently we have witnessed the high drama and tussle between the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat & Maharashtra and the MNCs & Indian seed majors on the issue of increasing the prices of Bt cotton seeds.

For the 2010 sowing season, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have fixed an unchanged maximum retail price (MRP) of Rs 650 for every packet of Bt cotton seeds incorporating Monsanto's ‘Bollgard-I' (BG-I) trait and Rs 750 a packet in the case of second-generation ‘Bollgard-II' (BG-II) technology. Whereas Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan governments have not enacted price control legislations or issued any formal orders. In 2002, when Bt cotton was first introduced in the country, a packet of BG-I seeds was being sold at Rs 1,600. Of this, the trait fee accruing to the technology provider, Monsanto alone constituted Rs 725. Since then, the MRPs have dropped to Rs 750-925 even for BG-II packets. Monsanto has also been forced to slash its trait fee to Rs 144 for BG-I and Rs 225 for BG-II in North India, where MRPs are higher and to Rs 96 for BG-I and Rs 150 for BG-II in other States. The price fixed by the Government will force the industry to cut down production. MMB, JK Agrigenetics and Nath Biogene filed separate petitions in the Andhra Pradesh high court last month to stop the government from capping royalty charged on seed technology transfer. Only MMB's petition has been heard as yet.

Even Union Agriculture Ministry has given up the arms and is not in favour of any sort of curbs of the seed prices. Their grouse of the Seed Bill, which aims to regulate the quality of seeds, does not monitor their prices, crucial for farmers. But the ministry assures to redraft the bill following complaints by MPs, states and farmer groups giving a thought to the price issue and compensation clause. The seed sector is governed by State's rules and it has to be aptly respected by the ministry and the stance should not to be diluted without the consent of all the states and stakeholders. At present, most states do not control the prices of seeds sold by hybrid seed companies. The companies fix their own prices and the growers are often been exploited on the falsified promises by the companies.

The MNCs have indirectly issued even a warning that seed price controls may impact the availability of quality seeds on time. These words are derogatory and are too mean in a democracy like India. We can’t allow the Corporations to hijack the whole agricultural system of a country like India where about two thirds of the population derives their income from farm activities.

But the apprehensions, expressed by corporates about hampering of investment in R&D and eventually seed shortage can be well taken care of and given consideration in the Seed Bill amendment as price limitation would hamper future advancements in germplasm enhancing technologies resulting in non-availability of good quality seeds to the farmers in the future. Hybrid seeds production is a very labour-intensive affair and the labour costs have almost doubled in the last 2-3 years and added with the inflationary pressure, the prices should be revised by at least 30- 35%. Otherwise, it is difficult to expect seed growers to keep supplying adequate material, as expressed by Industry persons. Keeping these views in mind, the affordability issue should also be given a consideration by the Ministry or, Court. The upward price revision has a bearing on various stakeholders including seed growers, seed companies, farmers and lastly in price control. Therefore, the Government could consider a mutually agreeable formula that is linked to market driven prices.

Experts agreed that fixing prices wasn’t a viable option for keeping seed prices affordable to farmers, but regulation was necessary to prevent cartelization. Seed prices aren’t completely determined by market forces. There are political factors at play too. But there has to be a balancing act somewhere and government must ensure that competition prevails, without resorting to blanket price fixing. As seed is the primary vital input for a successful agricultural production, its timely and qualitative supply at an affordable price can only usher in production at sufficient levels.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The politics of MSP

Amidst the unstoppable price rise of almost all essential commodities, Government has hiked the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for mainly for the pulse crops. MSP of pulses seen a substantial hike of Rs 700 to a maximum of Rs 3,170 a quintal but support for paddy has been increased by a meagre Rs 50 a quintal. The newly announced MSP for pulses, considered to be the wholesale market benchmark, is just about 30--50 per cent of retail prices of some varieties like moong, urad and arhar that are being sold for up to Rs 100 a kg in retail market.

The highest increase was given for the widely consumed arhar dal (tur), the MSP for which has been increased to Rs 3,000 a quintal from Rs 2,300 last year. The MSP for moong, another popular variety, has been increased to Rs 3,170 per quintal from Rs 2,760. Support price for urad has been increased to 2,900 a quintal from Rs 2,520 last year. The hike in MSP for arhar is Rs 200 more than what the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) had recommended for the season. Arhar dal prices had skyrocketed to about Rs 100 a kg a year ago and even now it is ruling between Rs 80-90 a kg. Moong is selling above Rs 100 a kg in the retail market.

India is a net importer of pulses despite being the largest producer. The country produced 14.77 million tonnes in 2009-10 against a requirement of 18-19 million tonnes. Unlike in the case of paddy and wheat, the government does not procure pulses from farmers, but it intervenes if prices fall below the MSP.

The MSP for paddy (common variety) has been increased to Rs 1,000 per quintal from Rs 950 last year, while the new MSP for Grade A variety stands at Rs 1030 per quintal from Rs 980. And for other crops, like oilseeds and coarse grains the same has been not given much significance and the support price has been raised to Rs 50 to Rs 150 on an average.

Agriculture Ministry clarified that higher MSP was meant as an inducement to farmers to go for increasing the acreage for cultivation of pulses, for which India is a net importer and the sharp rise in prices is on account of higher commodity prices globally. But since MSP being in existence, there have been little changes in the pulses coverage and on the other hand the area got reduced / stagnated, which utters the falsify the claims of the ministry and some other supporters.

This is perhaps in the pious hope that an assured higher minimum price would encourage growers to expand acreage for the legume. Nothing much really, if the recent past is any guide. Between 2007 and 2009 kharif, MSP for the three pulses was raised (45-55 per cent); but output numbers are far from impressive. If anything, output of the three pulses actually declined from 2007 levels. This does not come as a surprise. Acreage has stagnated. Output is trapped between 13 million and 15 million tonnes. Yields continue to be rather low at about 600 kg per hectare. In developed economies pulses yields are in excess of 1,500 kg/ha. These data also contradicts the claims made by the Krishi Bhawan to encourage the production of agriculture produces by announcing a rise in the MSP. According to a recent analysis provided by the Religare Commodities, sustained increase in the MSP over the years has failed to get reflected in the increased production over past several years. The report revealed that MSP has not far been able to achieve the desired goal in absence of the vigorous procurement operations and public distribution system.

India's first target should be to attempt to raise pulses yields by 150 kg/ha to about 750 kg/ha. On 24 million hectares, such a small increase in yield would generate 35 lakh tonnes of additional production, the quantity the country imports at present. India can, therefore, become less reliant on imports even by raising yields marginally.

It is the progressive states of Punjab and Haryana, which always lobby and ask for the more and more hike in the MSP and all freebies / waivers either water, fertilizer subsidy. free power / electricity. These states agriculture has become MSP dependent and support based, and all the state’s policy are very much linked to it. It is not uncommon to see Punjab farmers and politicians protesting and staging dharnas before Delhi on the issues of paddy and wheat MSP and procurement. But still they are proud to be termed as the granaries of India and never mind introducing themselves with the lines “We feed the whole Nation”. It has not to be forgotten the huge compensation the GOI making to them to run the show. Pulses should be aggressively promoted in the grain mono-cropping areas of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh where soil health needs to be restored and an impending ecological disaster avoided. Pulses offer an ideal option for crop rotation to break the rice-wheat-rice cycle. Either by incentivising or through law, crop rotation should be stipulated. Till how many years we would see the monopoly of Punjab and Haryana over the maps of Indian agriculture at the cost of others.

We are heading towards assembly elections in 4-5 major states, so it is government’s clear bait of appeasement for the rural population, particularly in the pulse producing belts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar etc. So MSP become the weapon against already suffering masses and whenever there is opportunity it has milked accordingly by the ministry and the govt in seat/ power/ charge.

Any crop specific program/ endowments and subsidies only lead to the mono-cropping either it being the green revolution or, any subsidy / MSP based supports. While higher MSP may be a motivating factor, it is simply not good enough to boost output. A growing population with rising purchasing power may well be able to afford pulses at the current high prices and have other protein choices. But it is the poor who are genuinely hurt by higher prices of pulses; and it is the poor who certainly deserve to consume more pulses because of their malnourishment or under-nourishment. In the last five years, New Delhi has done almost nothing worthwhile to mitigate this huge nutrition problem of the poor.

While Govt. is virtually unmoved and unfazed on the issue of price rise lot of talks/ presumptions since last one and half years period, with little action on the front and only putting restriction on the import-export would not able to tame the same and bring any solace to masses. Farm loan waiver, Subsidies, MSP causing much harm to the agriculture rather than doing any good for the sector and the farmer at a large. So, it is the clear politics rather economics decision that is sensitizing the ever-increasing MSP for the agricultural produces. The decision has been taken under the political groups’ pressure but govt. should not succumb to the tactics. The government is probably on the mistaken road to fix the problem of inadequate production through the MSP mechanism, without investments in basic infrastructure. A mere increase in MSP, however steep, is unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hope, Monsoon would not deceive INDIA this season as lot on stakes due to continuous droughts, loss in prodn and after that mis-management of the hard produced precious grains. The price rise and inflation touching new heights and all the sector expects agriculture to perform for the rise of economy. But still we are too much dependent on the Monsoon vagaries , which have been reduced by bringing more areas under large scale irrgn project, micro-irrgn provisions and endowments and better remunerations to the dryland farmers. Govt neglected the Goldmines and gone with the MSP and (Un) Green policies targeting rich & prosperous belts of Punjab and Haryana.Policymakers, including our beloved Prof Swaminathan and Abhijit Sen has to look beyond the current things. They talk Climate change, Biodiversity and what not but forget the present miseries of the farmfolks and common man

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

'Justice' for Bhopal is just political farce

"Trust me: if thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau riche, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in an Indian prison, rather than in America, protected by his company, and the company that his company keeps. But only the poor died in Bhopal. We treat our poor as dispensable chattel whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus, since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is class war."

By M J Akbar

Cynicism is never irrational. The irrational, often wrong, sometimes right, are impelled by instinct, heart or even conscience. Cynics are morality-proof. They prefer data to truth.

Delhi has set the gold standard for cynicism. It operates on four axioms: public memory is a dwarf; anger is effervescent; media can be massaged at the appropriate moment; any public crisis can be assuaged with crumbs, while the promotion of private interests continues off-screen.

Jairam Ramesh’s promise of a Green Tribunal in Bhopal is a classical instance of a crumb dipped in the pickle of hypocrisy. Where was this or any other tribunal in the last 26 years when the dead, the deformed and blind babies and the stillborn fetuses were a reminder that justice must be done? Or is this tribunal meant for the next onslaught by the dogs of chemical war upon the sleeping slums of Bhopal? Who was Veerappa Moily trying to fool when he claimed that the case against Warren Anderson had not been closed? Why doesn’t he keep the case open for a few more years, until God closes the chapter by taking Anderson away to whichever destination has been allotted to the butcher of Bhopal? A Group of Ministers has been appointed — merely to buy time until the return of amnesia.

The true Bhopal verdict was delivered within four days of the tragedy, in December 1984, not on June 7, 2010, when Anderson was smuggled out of Bhopal on a state government aircraft and then put on a plane to America. Since then we have witnessed a pretend-justice farce played out by government, police and the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The last is most culpable, since we hold a Chief Justice of India like A M Ahmadi to higher standards of probity than we do politicians or policemen. Ahmadi got his proper thank you note after he retired.

Chief judicial magistrate Mohan Tiwari’s judgment served only one useful purpose. The sheer scale of its magnanimity towards the accused lit a fuse under the volcano of collective guilt. The lava is spewing from myriad crevices, scorching and burning many-layered masks that have hidden deceit for a generation. As memories were stoked, officials, some perhaps frustrated by the fact that their silence had not been rewarded, revealed how successive governments had intervened to slow down the judicial process and sabotage any chance of Anderson’s extradition. Union Carbide and its collaborators, including Indians of course, have sustained themselves with a lie, that it was an Indian disaster since the plant was built and run by Indians. The design is an exact replica of an American plant, and an American who was terrified of being tried in India was in charge of management.

The political establishment assumed that June 7 would be just another day in a long calendar, possibly punctuated by an occasional, futile scream. The court was fortified, and entry denied to petitioners, victims and media. My one memory of this courtroom, gleaned from television, shall be of the smug grin of an obese policemen laughing at two old women, their faces contorted by rage and frustration, who knew that the system which had stolen their lives had also cheated their children in death.

Trust me: if thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau riche, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in an Indian prison, rather than in America, protected by his company, and the company that his company keeps. But only the poor died in Bhopal. We treat our poor as dispensable chattel whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus, since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is class war.

Is it surprising — or not? — that while even the Obama administration jumped in with some gratuitous advice, Dr Manmohan Singh had nothing to say? Perhaps the Prime Minister would have been repetitive. In essence, the signal from Washington and Delhi is the same: forget the dead, get on with multinational life.

Barack Obama was not elected to ensure justice for the Indian victim. He is in the White House to protect American business, and defend the two-laws theory that motivates American international relations, whether in war or peace. When 11 American workers were killed in an oil rig blow-up in the Gulf of Mexico, Washington demanded $1.5 billion from BP. Nearly 20,000 dead in Bhopal, half a million affected, and the total compensation is $470 million. Do the math. Obama has promised to penalize BP for the current oil spill to the extent of many billions of dollars. Magistrate Manoj Tiwari wants only Rs 5 lakh as reparation from Carbide for mass slaughter.

When Exxon was fined $5 billion for the Alaska oil spill, nearly $40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every affected sea otter. The victims of Bhopal are, so far, entitled to $200 each.

Don’t do the math. It may turn you into a cynic.

Courtesy: Sunday Times of INDIA, June 13, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Monsoon, welcome

The south-west monsoon is likely to be normal this year. But the bottom line is that the dependence of agricultural output on monsoon rainfall has increased in the recent years, despite large public sector outlays in irrigation

Ramesh Chandra

As the south-west monsoon makes up three-fourths of the total rainfall in India, the 12-week period from June to September is crucial for the country’s food security, farmers’ incomes, price stability, power supply, water availability and several other socioeconomic and ecological services. Preliminary indications are that the south-west monsoon this year is likely to be normal, which offers a ray of hope to almost everyone in the country.

Now, it is an old adage that Indian agriculture is a gamble on monsoons. What has changed in recent years is that the stakes in this gamble have gone high and turned asymmetric, involving more losses than gains. Thus, the interest in the monsoon as well as its importance have increased considerably. Several factors explain this change. Since the beginning of the First Five-Year Plan in 1951-52, India has accorded high priority to development of irrigation potential.

Investments in medium and major irrigation and flood control continue to be some of the most important categories of public investments. During the five decades since 1951-56, irrigation and flood control have received nearly Rs 1,600 billion of public sector outlay. Besides, huge private investments have gone into groundwater irrigation.

As a result, area under irrigation has increased from 22.56 million hectare in 1951-52 to 85.6 million hectare now. Irrigation is now available for 44% of the area under cultivation compared to less than 18% at the beginning of Plan period. Despite this progress, 56% of the net cultivated area in India remains without irrigation, and dependent solely on precipitation for meeting water requirements for crops and other vegetation in this area. Second, irrigation cannot be sustained without monsoon rainfall as this is the main source of groundwater recharge and water available for surface irrigation. Poor rains put a lot of pressure on the aquifer, which in turn reduces water availability and raises the cost of water withdrawal. Similarly, surface irrigation is also heavily dependent upon the amount of water received through the monsoon.

Expansion in irrigation has contributed significantly to growth in agricultural output and has also insulated agriculture production from the shock of monsoon aberrations to some extent. But the situation in recent years has turned out to be different. Water flows in a large number of canals has reduced, some of the canals are running dry and in many a case the frequency of getting water from canals has reduced. Official statistics show that despite large investments made in the development of major and medium irrigation, the area under canal irrigation has shown a decline after the late 1990s. It is both sad and surprising that large public sector outlays on major and medium irrigation are not showing corresponding increase in area under irrigation. For these reasons, vulnerability of agricultural output to rainfall fluctuations and its dependence on monsoon rainfall has increased in recent years.

Another reason for the rising importance of the south-west monsoon is that crop production, crop practices and crop seasons have shifted towards more water-intensive uses. This has resulted in a tremendous pressure on demand for water in agriculture. Upstream water use in agriculture is also rising, leaving less water for downstream uses.

Demand for water in non-agricultural sectors is rising rapidly. Total demand for water in the country exceeds normal supply. Thus, poor rainfalls aggravate the pressure due to gap in demand and supply of water.

Estimates of groundwater status show that in about one-third of cases, groundwater withdrawal exceeds recharge levels, which is lowering the water tables. In the most agriculturally progressive state of Punjab, annual withdrawal of groundwater exceeds the recharge or replenishment by about 45%. All these developments indicate that our dependence on monsoon rains is rising. The deficiency and uneven distribution of monsoon rainfall is causing a lot of disturbance in the system.

Another important dimension of monsoon rains is that they are erratic 40% of the time for the country as a whole. Except in the north-eastern parts of India, drought-like situations have been faced at least once in five years across other regions—in some regions, the drought incidence has been once in 2-3 years. The experience of the last four decades shows that deviations in output from trend and in rainfall from normal move in the same direction in three-fourths of the years. This implies that excess rainfall above the long-run average generally has a positive effect on agricultural output; it is the negative deviation which is a matter of serious concern. Also, while excess rain involves modest gains, deficiency involves large losses.

Agricultural production today is much more commercialised than in the past. Crop failure, which does not leave farmers with enough income to pay for input costs and various kind of loans, often results in distress for farm families. Despite so much value remaining vested in water and the rising burden on water resources, we do not harness enough of what nature gives us. The next few weeks will experience torrential rains in several parts of the country, much of which will be lost as run-off. Very little is done to conserve and harvest the water when it pours over the country.

* The author is director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi. Views are personal

Wet earth and confusion

Agriculture has grown beyond the monsoon -- but it still mystifies

Yoginder K. Alagh

Memories are short. So now that the Central Statistical Organisation says that agriculture did not contribute negatively to growth, even in the perfect drought, we just nod and walk away. But quite recently there was a lot of breast-beating on the monsoon as the cause of all our troubles this year. There was a time when we knew that in a bad monsoon year the economy would decline by 2-5 per cent. Somewhere in the mid-’90s I pointed out that till the mid-’70s, in half the years growth was negative and in the other half 3-6 per cent — giving us the average Hindu growth rate. But since then we had only two years of growth less than 3 per cent. Understanding matters; it leads to policy responses which determine outcomes. There are actions the government takes which matter, and based on what the great think-tanks say, others take actions which matter too.

When the harvest came in, this column insisted that rice and kharif oilseeds will take a knocking this year. But actually the increase in rice prices this year is lower than it was last year. Also, the procurement of rice is almost at the same level as last year. Our guess was that rice production would be lower. But it turned out that above 40 per cent deficiency in rainfall was in irrigated areas of Punjab, Haryana and UP — and that the shortfall will be not be more than 12 per cent as compared to higher official figure is probably still not far off the mark. With a good rabi, the decline in agricultural GDP may be as low as 1 per cent, which means that the macro outcomes will be decided elsewhere.

This will not make or mar the larger performance of the economy, as we have said before, and the inflationary trend is policy-determined. Like the first half of the year it is extremely unlikely that agricultural value-added will be lower as a share of aggregate demand as shown by its share of private consumption expenditure.

But policy was determined by the focus that output loss would be as high as 4 per cent in agriculture; foodgrains would really suffer with a big fall in area; and there would be a lot of scare mongering. If one wanted to twist the knife, quotes are available aplenty, but that is not the issue. As the chief economic adviser has said, knowledge-based policies make a big difference. We got into the stimulus late year before last and that cost us, I believe, a per cent of GDP. We misread the effect of the kharif drought, and that cost us in opportunities lost. In a fast-growing, fast-changing economy, we desperately need to read the tea leaves, at home and abroad, better.

This is also shown by the fact that prices are rising for the agricultural sectors growing the fastest. Milk has the same weight as grains in the price index now, and eggs are as important as fruits and vegetables. India has to improve its literacy levels on Bharat. It would be nice if comment on agriculture, growth and inflation was at least remotely based on easily available facts. From the point of view of prices, the sooner the stimulus shifts to investment — as in the US, China, other BRICS and elsewhere — from government consumption, as in India, the better off we will be, especially given capital formation was falling until last year and there are no signs of revival this year, in spite of the budget.

According to the Met those parts of India where temple bells ring in joy if water is found at 50 ft will get 93 per cent to 101 per cent of its long-period average. I must say though, that at regional levels, the statistical accuracy of the Met’s long-term forecast work is less reliable.

In a year of the 2004-05 kind, when 13 of 36 agro-met regions had scanty and deficient rainfall, we can lose, as compared to the average, around 10 to 12 million tonnes of grain. There is a big hue and cry to scuttle food security plans. This is wrong. Food security is much too serious a business to put in a stop-go mode. The Congress president has done well to highlight the point that the programme should be targeted to those sections of the population identified from the hunger map of India. There is clearly enough grain for this. What we have to resist is the tendency of ministries to feather-bed their budgets with moneys loaded from these priorities.

Finally there is the documented lesson of the 1987 drought. Plan the works and expenditures. Otherwise as P. Sainath says, with expenditures in programmes leaking like a sieve, everyone loves a drought.

* The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Al Jazeera English - Focus - Journalism and 'the words of power'

By Robert Fisk

Power and the media are not just about cosy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents. They are not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly honourable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House and state department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the foreign office and the ministry of defence. In the western context, power and the media is about words - and the use of words.

It is about semantics.

It is about the employment of phrases and clauses and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history; and about our ignorance of history.

More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power.

Is this because we no longer care about linguistics? Is this because lap-tops 'correct' our spelling, 'trim' our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound like political speeches?

Let me show you what I mean.

For two decades now, the US and British - and Israeli and Palestinian - leaderships have used the words 'peace process' to define the hopeless, inadequate, dishonourable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people.

I first queried this expression, and its provenance, at the time of Oslo - although how easily we forget that the secret surrenders at Oslo were themselves a conspiracy without any legal basis. Poor old Oslo, I always think! What did Oslo ever do to deserve this? It was the White House agreement that sealed this preposterous and dubious treaty - in which refugees, borders, Israeli colonies - even timetables - were to be delayed until they could no longer be negotiated.

And how easily we forget the White House lawn - though, yes, we remember the images - upon which it was Clinton who quoted from the Qur'an, and Arafat who chose to say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. President." And what did we call this nonsense afterwards? Yes, it was 'a moment of history'! Was it? Was it so?

Do you remember what Arafat called it? "The peace of the brave." But I don't remember any of us pointing out that "the peace of the brave" was used originally by General de Gaulle about the end of the Algerian war. The French lost the war in Algeria. We did not spot this extraordinary irony.

Same again today. We western journalists - used yet again by our masters - have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan as saying that their war can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign. No-one asked them the obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese civilians in the Vietnam war? And didn't we - didn't the West - lose the war in Vietnam?

Yet now we western journalists are actually using - about Afghanistan - the phrase 'hearts and minds' in our reports as if it is a new dictionary definition rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four decades, in some cases used by the very same soldiers who peddled this nonsense - at a younger age - in Vietnam.

Just look at the individual words which we have recently co-opted from the US military.

When we westerners find that 'our' enemies - al-Qaeda, for example, or the Taliban -have set off more bombs and staged more attacks than usual, we call it 'a spike in violence'. Ah yes, a 'spike'!

A 'spike' in violence, ladies and gentlemen is a word first used, according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2004. Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporise on it, we relay it on the air as our phrase. We are using, quite literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon. A spike, of course, goes sharply up, then sharply downwards. A 'spike' therefore avoids the ominous use of the words 'increase in violence' - for an increase, ladies and gentlemen, might not go down again afterwards.

Now again, when US generals refer to a sudden increase in their forces for an assault on Fallujah or central Baghdad or Kandahar - a mass movement of soldiers brought into Muslim countries by the tens of thousands - they call this a 'surge'. And a surge, like a tsunami, or any other natural phenomena, can be devastating in its effects. What these 'surges' really are - to use the real words of serious journalism - are reinforcements. And reinforcements are sent to wars when armies are losing those wars. But our television and newspaper boys and girls are still talking about 'surges' without any attribution at all! The Pentagon wins again.

Meanwhile the 'peace process' collapsed. Therefore our leaders - or 'key players' as we like to call them - tried to make it work again. Therefore the process had to be put 'back on track'. It was a railway train, you see. The carriages had come off the line. So the train had to be put 'back on track'. The Clinton administration first used this phrase, then the Israelis, then the BBC.

But there was a problem when the 'peace process' had been put 'back on track' - and still came off the line. So we produced a 'road map' - run by a Quartet and led by our old Friend of God, Tony Blair, who - in an obscenity of history - we now refer to as a 'peace envoy'.

But the 'road map' isn't working. And now, I notice, the old 'peace process' is back in our newspapers and on our television screens. And two days ago, on CNN, one of those boring old fogies that the TV boys and girls call 'experts' - I'll come back to them in a moment - told us again that the 'peace process' was being put 'back on track' because of the opening of 'indirect talks' between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ladies and gentlemen, this isn't just about clichés - this is preposterous journalism. There is no battle between power and the media. Through language, we have become them.

Maybe one problem is that we no longer think for ourselves because we no longer read books. The Arabs still read books - I'm not talking here about Arab illiteracy rates - but I'm not sure that we in the West still read books. I often dictate messages over the phone and find I have to spend ten minutes to repeat to someone's secretary a mere hundred words. They don't know how to spell.

I was on a plane the other day, from Paris to Beirut - the flying time is about three hours and 45 minutes - and the woman next to me was reading a French book about the history of the Second World War. And she was turning the page every few seconds. She had finished the book before we reached Beirut! And I suddenly realised she wasn't reading the book - she was surfing the pages! She had lost the ability to what I call 'deep read'. Is this one of our problems as journalists, I wonder, that we no longer 'deep read'? We merely use the first words that come to hand ...

Let me show you another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East.

We are told, in so many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in the Middle East are 'competing narratives'. How very cosy. There's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories. 'Competing narratives' now regularly pop up in the British press. The phrase is a species - or sub-species - of the false language of anthropology. It deletes the possibility that one group of people - in the Middle East, for example - are occupied, while another group of people are doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly 'competing narratives', a football match, if you like, a level playing field because the two sides are - are they not - 'in competition'. It's two sides in a football match. And two sides have to be given equal time in every story.

So an 'occupation' can become a 'dispute'. Thus a 'wall' becomes a 'fence' or a 'security barrier'. Thus Israeli colonisation of Arab land contrary to all international law becomes 'settlements' or 'outposts' or 'Jewish neighbourhoods'.

You will not be surprised to know that it was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance as secretary of state to George W. Bush, who told US diplomats in the Middle East to refer to occupied Palestinian land as 'disputed land' - and that was good enough for most of the American media.

So watch out for 'competing narratives', ladies and gentlemen. There are no 'competing narratives', of course, between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, however, you'll know the West has lost.

But I'll give you a lovely, personal example of how 'competing narratives' come undone. Last month, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of one and a half million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns the Toronto Globe andMail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us, "hotly dispute" that this was a genocide. So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres".

Of course, I spotted her specific problem straight away. She could not call the massacres a 'genocide', because the Turkish community would be outraged. But equally, she sensed that 'massacres' on its own - especially with the gruesome studio background photographs of dead Armenians - was not quite up to defining a million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the 'deadly massacres'. How odd!!! If there are 'deadly' massacres, are there some massacres which are not 'deadly', from which the victims walk away alive? It was a ludicrous tautology.

In the end, I told this little tale of journalistic cowardice to my Armenian audience, among whom were sitting CTV executives. Within an hour of my ending, my Armenian host received an SMS about me from a CTV reporter. "Shitting on CTV was way out of line," the reporter complained. I doubted, personally, if the word 'shitting' would find its way onto CTV. But then, neither does 'genocide'. I'm afraid 'competing narratives' had just exploded.

Yet the use of the language of power - of its beacon-words and its beacon-phrases -goes on among us still. How many times have I heard western reporters talking about 'foreign fighters' in Afghanistan? They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them 'foreign fighters'. And then immediately we western reporters did the same. Calling them 'foreign fighters' meant they were an invading force. But not once - ever - have I heard a mainstream western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 'foreign fighters' in Afghanistan. And that most of them, ladies and gentlemen, are in American or other Nato uniforms!

Similarly, the pernicious phrase 'Af-Pak' - as racist as it is politically dishonest - is now used by reporters when it originally was a creation of the US state department, on the day that Richard Holbrooke was appointed special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the phrase avoided the use of the word 'India' whose influence in Afghanistan and whose presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story. Furthermore, 'Af-Pak' - by deleting India - effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the conflict in south-east Asia. It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US local policy on Kashmir - after all, Holbrooke was made the 'Af-Pak' envoy, specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir. Thus the phrase 'Af-Pak', which totally deletes the tragedy of Kashmir - too many 'competing narratives', perhaps? - means that when we journalists use the same phrase, 'Af-Pak', which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the state department's work.

Now let's look at history. Our leaders love history. Most of all, they love the Second World War. In 2003, George W. Bush thought he was Churchill as well as George W. Bush. True, Bush had spent the Vietnam war protecting the skies of Texas from the Vietcong. But now, in 2003, he was standing up to the 'appeasers' who did not want a war with Saddam who was, of course, 'the Hitler of the Tigris'. The appeasers were the British who did not want to fight Nazi Germany in 1938. Blair, of course, also tried on Churchill's waistcoat and jacket for size. No 'appeaser' he. America was Britain's oldest ally, he proclaimed - and both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.

But none of this was true.

Britain's old ally was not the United States. It was Portugal, a neutral fascist state during World War Two. Only my own newspaper, The Independent, picked this up.

Nor did America fight alongside Britain in her hour of need in 1940, when Hitler threatened invasion and the German air force blitzed London. No, in 1940 America was enjoying a very profitable period of neutrality - and did not join Britain in the war until Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in December of 1941.


Back in 1956, I read the other day, Eden called Nasser the 'Mussolini of the Nile'. A bad mistake. Nasser was loved by the Arabs, not hated as Mussolini was by the majority of Africans, especially the Arab Libyans. The Mussolini parallel was not challenged or questioned by the British press. And we all know what happened at Suez in 1956.

Yes, when it comes to history, we journalists really do let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride.

Today, as foreigners try to take food and fuel by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should be reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel - our own servicemen dying as they did so - to help a starving population. That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today. Which western journalist - and we love historical parallels - has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?

Look at more recent times. Saddam had 'weapons of mass destruction' - you can fit 'WMD' into a headline - but of course, he didn't, and the American press went through embarrassing bouts of self-condemnation afterwards. How could it have been so misled, the New York Times asked itself? It had not, the paper concluded, challenged the Bush administration enough.

And now the very same paper is softly - very softly - banging the drums for war in Iran. Iran is working on WMD. And after the war, if there is a war, more self-condemnation, no doubt, if there are no nuclear weapons projects.

Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words of power - though it is not a war since we have largely surrendered - is that it isolates us from our viewers and readers. They are not stupid. They understand words, in many cases - I fear - better than we do. History, too. They know that we are drowning our vocabulary with the language of generals and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the Brookings Institute experts, or those of those of the Rand Corporation or what I call the 'TINK THANKS'. Thus we have become part of this language.

Here, for example, are some of the danger words:











· CHANGE AGENTS (whatever these sinister creatures are).

I am not a regular critic of Al Jazeera. It gives me the freedom to speak on air. Only a few years ago, when Wadah Khanfar (now Director General of Al Jazeera) was Al Jazeera's man in Baghdad, the US military began a slanderous campaign against Wadah's bureau, claiming - untruthfully - that Al Jazeera was in league with al-Qaeda because they were receiving videotapes of attacks on US forces. I went to Fallujah to check this out. Wadah was 100 per cent correct. Al-Qaeda was handing in their ambush footage without any warning, pushing it through office letter-boxes. The Americans were lying.

Wadah is, of course, wondering what is coming next.

Well, I have to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that all those 'danger words' I have just read out to you - from KEY PLAYERS to NARRATIVES to PEACE PROCESS to AF-PAK - all occur in the nine-page Al Jazeera programme for this very forum.

I'm not condemning Al Jazeera for this, ladies and gentlemen. Because this vocabulary is not adopted through political connivance. It is an infection that we all suffer from - I've used 'peace process' a few times myself, though with quotation marks which you can't use on television - but yes, it's a contagion.

And when we use these words, we become one with the power and the elites which rule our world without fear of challenge from the media. Al Jazeera has done more than any television network I know to challenge authority, both in the Middle East and in the West. (And I am not using 'challenge' in the sense of 'problem', as in '"I face many challenges," says General McCrystal.')

How do we escape this disease? Watch out for the spell-checkers in our lap-tops, the sub-editor's dreams of one-syllable words, stop using Wikipedia. And read books - real books, with paper pages, which means deep reading. History books, especially.

Al Jazeera is giving good coverage to the flotilla - the convoy of boats setting off for Gaza. I don't think they are a bunch of anti-Israelis. I think the international convoy is on its way because people aboard these ships - from all over the world - are trying to do what our supposedly humanitarian leaders have failed to do. They are bringing food and fuel and hospital equipment to those who suffer. In any other context, the Obamas and the Sarkozys and the Camerons would be competing to land US Marines and the Royal Navy and French forces with humanitarian aid - as Clinton did in Somalia. Didn't the God-like Blair believe in humanitarian 'intervention' in Kosovo and Sierra Leone?

In normal circumstances, Blair might even have put a foot over the border.

But no. We dare not offend the Israelis. And so ordinary people are trying to do what their leaders have culpably failed to do. Their leaders have failed them.

Have the media? Are we showing documentary footage of the Berlin airlift today? Or of Clinton's attempt to rescue the starving people of Somalia, of Blair's humanitarian 'intervention' in the Balkans, just to remind our viewers and readers - and the people on those boats - that this is about hypocrisy on a massive scale?

The hell we are! We prefer 'competing narratives'. Few politicians want the Gaza voyage to reach its destination - be its end successful, farcical or tragic. We believe in the 'peace process', the 'road map'. Keep the 'fence' around the Palestinians. Let the 'key players' sort it out.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not your 'key speaker' this morning.

I am your guest, and I thank you for your patience in listening to me.

Robert Fisk, The Independent newspaper's Middle East correspondent, gave the following address to the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum on May 23.

Bhopal victims got a delayed and degraded justice.

Down with the Judiciary and the partial Govt, which virtually nailed before the corporate / MNC's political lobby and money-power. For the direct murder of 15'000 +, only the sentence of 2 years.
Why the case of culpable homicide has not been leveled instead the negligence one, as lobbied by CBI....The agency in defensive mode and the heat is on the govt.

How can the govt & judiciary going to justify this???

It can be termed a historic blunder by UPA govt and they have to pay a heavy price for the gross violation of Human rights and the undignified pronouncement...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sharad Pawar- the most Unwel-come Minister

Now the IPL wrath on Pawar, pray he should go for the good of the cricket and Indian Agriculture, as the man has virtually spoiled the work-culture and made the corruption a rampant practice in Ministry and ICAR system. From ground zero to the apex body ICAR and SAUs gone corrupt and inefficient during his 2 tenures and the appeasement become the rule of the day.

No cognition of talent and if you are ready to bribe some Rs 15- 20 lacs to the Ministers and VC then you are welcome to the corrupt and lethargic, unproductive world of farm scientists..
Since the new DG, ICAR Dr Ayyappan has got over the reign of the apex body, it is fully hijacked by the Ministry and almost a gag order has been imposed upon the organisation. Even the ministry ordeal/ fatwa has been posted on the top of the ICAR's web (, re-minding that ICAR falls under the Dept of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Ministry of Agriculture, GOI. It is well known that Mr Pawar owns half of the Maharashtra's sugar mills and vine-yards, and whatever scheme/plan money trickles down it goes to the home sweet home.

Even people not able to speak up properly are now holding the seats of Asst Professors in many of the Universities and clearing NET is not a big thing. Here, I don't like to mention the names of the persons or, Universities but I can say in shame that Mr. Pawar is the most corrupt Agri Minister India ever had.

UPA have to come hard on him and dare to expel/ suspend him with taking the confidence of other partners on the grievous charges of corruption, diverting & mis-utilizing the funds for personal gains, polluting the brains, brain-washing the naive scientists, promoting corporatization of agriculture without a thought of the local situations, overtaking the rights of an autonomous organization for his personal nefarious gains etc.

We understand it's the coalition compulsion, but the novel profession of agriculture and the dependent people can not be put on the alter as it's not some-one's personal asset.