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Friday, May 23, 2008

BJP and interpreting Karnataka

This afternoon BJP is in a high and it shows.

That they will win Karnataka was a foregone conclusion for anyone interacting or travelling in that state as I have done in the last year. If they find a strong enough leader, (I am not sure it is Yedayurappa) such as Modi, Karnataka could be for keeps like Gujarat.

But, it is important not to over do this victory. It is not an entry in the southern states for BJP, they do have seizable presence in Kerala already, but, A.P. and T.N. are different ball game. T.N. has after Kamaraj never ever been ruled by a central political party. Congress pretends to have some following, but, has always done piggy back on either DMK or AIADMK. BJP followed suit. Now the plank in which the two parties built their loyal base is eroded, but, it has been fragmented among castes, the vanniyars with Ramdoss and family, the nadars with Sarath Kumar, some of the middle communities with Vijayakanth, the dalit vote being split among 2 or 3 groups each having its own strong base. T.N. with all these splits will see only coalition government in the coming elections and the national parties can only be part of these and stand to gain very little, except that they may benefit in the centre if they have more partners each that much less powerful locally (so that they don't have to put up with the pressure tactics of Karunanidhi as the UPA is doing now). BJP anyway doesn't have any great leaders in TN of the stature or popularity of the glam brigade of cine actors others parade normally.

A.P. I am not sure, but, it is a two way with Naidu and Reddy as established strong leaders, and if anything Congress has always had much deeper roots in A.P.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

what does the lopsided development do...

An interesting news item below:

Around noon, the officials stopped a high-end black Mercedes that was going above 120 km per hour, well above the permissible 80 kmph limit. The moment officials confronted the car’s uniformed driver, a well-dressed middle-aged woman coolly asked the officer what the amount she had to pay as fine was. The cops told her that the penalty was Rs500. She took out two crisp notes of Rs500 denomination and handed them over to the officer. She said, ‘One note for this offence, the second is for the next one which I will be committing after you let me go.”

While the cop was writing down the receipt, the lady in the back seat lowered the window glass and said, “By the way, I did not buy this Mercedes to drive at 80 kmph on the super Expressway.” In a flash, the Mercedes was out of sight, roaring down the road to Pune at a high speed.

Even as the bewildered cops were busy discussing the woman’s attitude, another group of officers stopped a Skoda Octavia, which apparently was going at 150 kmph. A tall, young man came out of the silver car and wanted to know the reason for him being stopped. On being told that he was speeding, the man burst into a hearty laughter. “High speed, are you kidding me? I am from the United States. Over there, we drive at 120 mile per hour. Your 150 km per hour is nothing compared to that,” he bellowed.

Source: Just Samachar - Read the full story by clicking the link

The lopsided development in this country means that people can afford Merc and drive at high speeds with no reverence for the law of the land and if the law objects, it can easily be bought over. The exposure to foreign lands and its culture combined with affluence and an unwritten agreement that the foreign land is better means that any regulation that is different from that can be dismissed off. Both are clearly seen in this news report.

Judicial Accountability

The statement of H.R. Bharadwaj - the union Law Minister on the wives of the Judges is one of the most MCPd I have heard in recent times. How can this man be part of a cabinet that is brining in the women's reservation bill!

Union Law Minister H R Bhardwaj though said the judges were doing nothing wrong. "They (judges) also need comfort, they also need to go out. Why they should be deprived of it? How can you deprive the wife? You are a woman. You should understand,” Bhardwaj told CNN-IBN’s correspondent.

Some time back there was this news item where the CJI was quoted as saying that the RTI does not apply to his office!! I was surprised that this quote was not challenged, later saw that Tahelka had carried a news item on this with interviews from others including his predecessors where they opined otherwise. During the same time I found another news report from the CJI again where he said on the issue of declaration of assets by sitting judges of Supreme Court stating that, 'they present information regarding their new assets in a sealed envelope to me'. Not saying as to what he does do with this sealed envelope which was rather surprising!

Well, here is a result of a smart RTI by the CNN-IBN from the law ministry on the extravagant spending by the CJI himself. It is time that someone started to look seriously at the accountability of the Judiciary in this country.

New Delhi:
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, KG Balakrishnan, wants judges to be kept out of the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Now an RTI application put in by CNN-IBN has thrown up interesting details of how judges have extended their holidays, often for personal purposes, at Government expense.

Ironically, the urge to travel starts at the top. Balakrishnan, after taking over as Chief Justice, made at least seven trips abroad in 2007 traveling First Class with his wife with the air fare alone costing over Rs 39 lakh.

For instance, during his 11-day trip to Pretoria, South Africa in August 2007, the Chief Justice took the following route - Delhi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Capetown, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, where the judge finally didn't go and returned via Dubai to Delhi.

The air fare alone cost Rs 5.70 lakh and did not include the stay, TA, DA or Entertainment Allowance. Entertainment Allowance itself was over Rs 80,000.

Government rules permit travel only by the shortest route, yet the Prime Ministers Office, which sanctions these trips, did not ask why the Chief Justice wanted to go to tourist destinations like Nelspruit, Capetown or Victoria Falls.

Union Law Minister HR Bhardwaj says, " They also need comfort, they also need to go out. Why they should be deprived of it.''

And what about government rules that say judges cannot be accompanied by wives on work tours? "How can you deprive the wife? You are a woman. You should understand,” Bhardwaj tells the CNN-IBN correspondent.

Former chief justice YK Sabharwal's foreign travel was no different. The judge attended three conferences in 2005 to Edinburgh, Washington and Paris.

While the conferences lasted 11 days, Sabharwal was out for 38 days with 21 days converted into a private visit.

The travel plan includes a detour from Washington to Baltimore, Orlando and Atlanta, before rejoining the conference route in Paris.

The First Class air fare for Sabharwal entire trip was paid by the Central government.

The other judges too have traveled abroad costing the exchequer huge sums of money. Supreme Court judges Justices PP Naolekar and AK Mathur could not find a direct flight to Bangkok in November 2007.

Both judges and their wives spent Rs 5.5 lakh traveling First Class from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Singapore to Delhi.

This does not include 5-Star stay or the Entertainment Allowance of Rs 84,000 paid for a seven-day trip, even though the conference took just three days.

RTI queries have revealed other judges who spent big on single trips include:

  • Justice Ashok Bhan and wife: Rs 13.66 lakh on air fare in 2006.
  • Justice Arijit Passayat and wife: Rs 13.01 lakhs in 2006.
  • Justice HK Sema and wife: a single trip in 2007 that cost Rs 11.84 lakh
  • Justice BN Agarwal and wife took a trip in 2006 that cost Rs 11.77 lakh
  • Justice KG Balakrishnan and wife in 2006 as well, who cost the exchequer Rs 13 lakh.

The Supreme Court has an annual budget of Rs 1.65 crore for the foreign tours of its 26 judges, which is meant for important judicial conferences.

But who decides which conferences are important, whether spouses can go along, or whether private holidays can also be thrown in?

The details of foreign tours of the higher judiciary have been a secret until this RTI application.

While the Chief Justice might be against the judiciary coming under the purview of the RTI Act, the fact is it is the tax payer which is funding a majority of the tours of our judges.

Source: CNN-IBN

Monday, May 19, 2008

Follow-up on Air Deccan

Finally, Air Deccan (after the news item appeared on the TOI after a week) responded to the repeated request by the mother by simply stating that their on-board staff had 'requested' an 8 year old boy, and, obviously thought their job was done. I suppose they request you to fasten your seat belts, set your chairs straight and close the over head luggage bins and will henceforth not bother whether you complied with their request. Silly.

They 'noticed' that the child had dis-embarked and 'alerted' the ground staff, who incidentally when the the mother met them to ask for an explanation weren't aware of the minor travelling on the said flight! Now, the airline not only shifts the onus of the incident onto the child, but, also the parent conveniently by stating that the staff 'requested the handover formalities which was refused'!! Here is a mother who for a week has been saying that the airline has not bothered to do the hand over procedure, and now the airline conveniently blames the mother for that act of negligence on their part!!! In the earlier communication of course, their own ground staff do not refer to this 'refusal' by the parent!?! I think the casual and dismissive way in which the airline has dealt with this case shows their attitude and professionalism. This is a straight case of negligence of service to the consumer and will be seen thus in any consumer court in this country. But, either the low-cost airline cannot afford a lawyer or they don't have a good advisor for them to have come up with such a shoddy response after a week which even an 8 year old will not believe in.

Dear Mr. A C Batibrolu,

At the outset we would like to thank you for choosing to travel- Deccan.

This is with reference to your email dated 11th May 2008, with regard to your son’s flight reservation with us on Dn616, from Coimbatore to Mumbai sector, for 11th May 2008. At Deccan we try and ensure that every guest who travels with us has a positive experience to narrate. We sincerely regret that your overall experience with us has not been very pleasurable on account of the incident at MumbaiAirport

.We would like to clarify that your son was briefed by the cabin crew to remain seated after landing until all other guests disembark and one of the ground staff comes to escort him. We have learnt in the course of investigation that your child left his seat along with other guests got off the aircraft. The Cabin crew on board immediately alerted the ground staff and the child was traced in the arrival hall within a matter of minutes, by this time the child had met with his mother. Our staff in fact asked for the handover formalities to be concluded which was refused. Please be assured that unaccompanied minors are accorded high priority by us on board and at the airport. Our staff at both Coimbatore and Mumbai Airport and the crew on board took utmost care right from the check in till arrival at Mumbai. We do hope the above comes as a reasonable explanation to you

We look forward to your continued support.

Thanking you
Deccan CEO

Shilpa Nathan
Customer Relations

Friday, May 16, 2008

Follow-Up: TOI reports the Air Deccan Goof-Up

Follow up to the earlier post on the Air Deccan goof-up, here is an article in this morning's Times of India, Mumbai edition.
Child walks out of airport, alone

16 May 2008, 0407 hrs IST,Manju V,TNN

MUMBAI: Children who fly alone are usually pampered silly by the cabin crew, but last week a Mumbai mother got a rude shock when she saw her eight-year-old son walk out of the airport unescorted and alone except for his baggage which he tugged along.

But while the mother may have gasped at the lapse, little Aniruddh was quite calm. After all, he was a frequent flyer and knew his way around Mumbai airport as well as any attendant. "He deplaned on his own, got into the passenger coach, walked into the terminal building, located the conveyor belt, picked up his luggage and walked out all alone. I shudder to think that he was in that crowded airport unescorted for over 30 minutes," says Anandhi Batibrolu, whose son flew Air Deccan's Coimbatore-Mumbai flight on Sunday. "The airline is supposed to take my signature after handing over my child," she adds. "I have registered a complaint with them."

The airline admitted that things had gone wrong. "We have a strict policy for unaccompanied minors but this lapse did take place and we have initiated action against those responsible," the spokesperson said.
A fortnight ago, Aniruddh, a third-standard student, had flown to Coimbatore on the same airline and was escorted right up to exit where his uncle waited to receive him.

"That was the first time I sent him unaccompanied. They charged Rs 500 per flight for the service and all went well when he flew to Coimbatore. He even bought sandwiches and cold drinks on the flight," says his mother.

According to her, things went wrong on the return flight after it landed in Mumbai at noon. The cabin crew apparently forgot that there was a minor on board and the other passengers, not noticing anything amiss, did not bring it to the staff's notice. Says Aniruddh, "I have flown a number of times with my mother and so I was not scared. When the others started deplaning, I got up and went with them." His mother is less stoic. "With the airport renovation on things are changing every day. In fact, he has not used the new 1B arrival. We always land in 1A," she says, heaving a sigh of relief that all had ended well.

For most airlines the rules for minors flying alone are more or less the same. When the air ticket reservation is made, the child is marked an unaccompanied minor. The parent/relative accompanies the child to the check-in counter and fills out a form of addresses and contact numbers. The airline takes the signature of the parent/guardian while taking and handing over the child. The adult accompanying the child is told to remain in the airport till the child boards and the aircraft departs from the gate. Some foreign airlines do not allow unaccompanied minors to travel on the last direct or connecting flight of the day.

While airlines do not have ready data on the number of unaccompanied minors they have flown, sources say that the number is going up.”Until two or three years ago, one came across only a case or two every month. Now, every week brings about four or five cases," said the airport manager of a domestic airline.

Source: Times Of India, Mumbai pages

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deccan Goof-up: Air Deccan's handling minor travelling alone...

Air Deccan in many ways has changed the way people transport in India and not to take the credit has contributed significantly to make many people believe that they can afford to fly now. I am one of the beneficiaries of the Air Deccan fuelled revolution of the Indian airways.

But, Air Deccan also has contributed significantly to the sense of risk and uncertainty associated with air travel in India. Many novel and earlier un-heard of errors are possible through Air Deccan. One of the recurring problems is the utter carelessness or irresponsible handling of issues by its staff. I have witnessed in quite a few airports and in-flight the staff looking completely clueless and nonplussed about how to handle a situation. I often wonder whether they are adequately trained and equipped to handle a situation.

Here is an instance of what happened to a young boy of age 8 a few days back travelling alone from Coimbatore to Mumbai. Deccan charges extra fee in the case of minors travelling alone to take care of them, which means to ensure that the child reaches and is back with its people safe wherever he / she is supposed to land. What would be a normal work for other airlines is charged (Rs. 500/- currently) and provided as a 'service' by Deccan, fine if people are willing to pay and the do a good job.

In this instance, the kid was permitted to de-plane at Mumbai on his own, board the bus to the lounge, collect his baggage and leave the airport. This on a day when the flight landed 10 minutes in advance. Thankfully, his mother had reached the airport in advance and could immediately sight him and take charge. But, the apprehension of the mother as to what exactly constituted this 'service' and why were the staff of the airline not to be seen anywhere and how could they allow this to happen elicited nothing more than a routine response from the airport authorities (see text below), and even worse when she spoke to the PR people in the airline company, they promised to get back to her in a week with a response!!!
Dear Mrs. A B,
This is to acknowledge your mail and to tender our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and anxiety caused to you and your son. Please be assured that we shall get back to you within 48hrs. with our detail findings and action taken.

Thanking you,
Yours sincerely,

Rajan Karnik
Sr. Manager - Airport Services
(an email received by the mother)

The questions posed by the mother are as follows:
1. What are the steps that the airlines take to ensure that a minor child travelling is taken care of, what constitutes the service?
2. How are the records pertaining to such travel maintained; despite her protesting, the staff of the airline did not bother to get her to sign the form filled-up during check-in at Coimbatore, so according to their own records, the child has NOT BEEN handed over to the guardian on arrival. But does this record matter, is it audited, how frequently and by whom?
3. How are the staff of the air line instructed/ equipped / trained to handle minors travelling alone?

Monday, May 12, 2008

GM Food in India: Bt Brinjal tests bio-safety shocking says expert

I had earlier blogged on the shocking videos about Monsanto, the global corporate that is trying to enter every kitchen in the world and take control of what everyone eats. In the videos it is evident how the corporate can be irresponsible about its data, particularly when it comes to getting approval from the regulatory authority. Authorities in the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of USA, whose approval is essential there, have on camera admitted that the decision on Monsanto was , 'political' and many questions remain on the safety test of its products.

When Monsanto entered India, they did a high speed take over of the seed industry by the act of simply buying out some of the major seed companies in the country including Mahyco, the countries largest producer of vegetable seeds. Yes, this is the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that enters the country which Mr. Chidambaram & C0., are all the time excited about. Much of the early day FDI (and perhaps even now) went into to Merger and Acquisition (M&A) of this kind. It did not produce any new jobs (indeed biotech industry is NOT a big employer, some other time on that) and instead it transfers the ownership of an existing asset from an Indian owner to a foreign owner, period.

Since then Mahyco is the leading proponents of GM Seeds in India. The Department of Bio-Technology (DBT) is the other major government agency involved with GM technology. Often one may find that there isin't much difference between the statements emanating from the two as DBT was not a centre of power until the GM technology and Monsanto came into India. The department was rejuvenated because of this technology about a decade back and since then has been happy to tow the corporate line. In India, Monsanto uses extensive PR and lobbying to get its seeds sold to the system.

So, to a politician, it is the magic seed that will 'eliminate poverty', 'provide more food', 'help overcome' all the problems that he wants to be seen eliminating. To the bureaucrat this is another area where he wields power over people and is called upon to decide their fate and to the scientist community that is reeling under the guilt of green revolution, this is a aphrodisiac that can make them go on for the rest of their lives / careers pursing a new found love. To many of the new generation technical savvy, who understand less of technology and follow more of it as a faith system, this is an unquestionable technology that needs to be integrated with lives. Monsanto plays to the ego of each of these categories very well, from central ministers to economic columnists to prophetic past-presidents, everyone tries to promote GM technology in India.

Here is a recent report on the un-reliable data that Monsanto has provided to GEAC, a regulatory body of the government in which the key people are from DBT!
Scientist P. Bhargava, special invitee to the regulatory body on GM crops, says Mahyco's field trial data on bio-safety "shocking"
NEW DELHI, MAY 6: The clearance for the first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, may not be smooth going by the recent developments in the apex regulatory body. One of the Supreme Court-appointed special invitees to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has raised strong objections to the quality of data provided by Mahyco in the final trials for Bt brinjal before its commercial release. He has also asked for a review of data on Bt cotton approved in 2002.

"The lack of data on health and bio-safety is shocking," said P. Bhargava, molecular scientist who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), now a special invitee to GEAC. He has asked for independent tests to determine safety rather than just the data that the company provided to seek clearance for the GM crop.
His letter to the GEAC chairman expressing strong reservations coincides with a protest in New Delhi on Tuesday by farmers from 15 states under the banner of 'Coalition for a GM-Free India' against allowing field trials for GM crops.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had sought the appointments of eminent scientists Bhargava and M.S. Swaminathan to the government's regulatory panel, saying it would usher transparency in the regulatory process. Swaminathan is yet to attend a GEAC meeting. The appointments followed an interim order on a petition by Aruna Rodrigues alleging that the government was liberalising norms for allowing multinational companies to go in for open field trials of GM foods and crops in India.
Bhargava has attended one meeting so far. Though he does not have a vote in the 29-member GEAC, his views are to be considered. When contacted, GEAC chairman B.S. Parsheera said: "It will not be possible to review the earlier decisions. He is welcome to make his observations on the cases that come up in subsequent meetings. The committee will take his views into consideration but the law that is laid down will be followed."
After a moratorium of more than a year by the Supreme Court on any field trials of GM crops in the country, the government had given the green signal for large-scale field trials of Bt brinjal in February this year. It was accompanied by a whole battery of additional tests to determine health and biosafety of release of the first GM food crop..
The data has been presented to the GEAC after the first season of trials. In one of the tests to determine the presence of Bt protein in cooked brinjal, Bhargava has pointed to "glaring" discrepancies. According to him, the results conclude that the Bt protein is unstable and does not remain when the brinjal is roasted or cooked and hence is safe for human consumption. According to Bhargava, the data for this test shows "negative" for Bt brinjal when cooked. When seen for non-Bt brinjal, it says "positive". "This is absurd. It can only happen because it is the company that is doing the tests. They are the ones who are providing both the Bt and the non Bt brinjal to the lab. How do we know if they are actually providing the right samples?" he said.
In the last meeting, when he raised these objections and asked for more advanced tests like DNA fingerprinting, GEAC members told him that institutions such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and state agricultural universities are involved in the monitoring and evaluation of field trials of Bt cotton. "I don't hold any brief for any NGO. Any scientists will vouch for the tests that I am asking for," he said.
"We at Mahyco R&D Centre, as well as scientists at other government research institutions around the country, have done extensive studies to assess the impact of these insect-tolerant plants and they have so far shown positive results," said a company statement from Mahyco.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

World According to Monsanto: A Film all must watch, with links

Shocking World by Monsanto is a well made documentary which exposes the company comprehensively. I don't know whether the movie is available in full anywhere, but, it is available in 12 parts as short clips of approximately 8-9 minutes each in You Tube. It completely destroys our faith in the regulatory system in USA and shows how the system could be bought over, subverted or just subjugated by a greedy corporate which wants to have its way. Needless to say, it follows everywhere else across the world including India. The movie follows the journey of Monsanto across the US, in Washington among the power brokers, in research institutions and the few scientists who dared to protest against it, in farm lands where farmers have been sued by this company and among regulatory agencies which seem to have succumbed with no resistance in front of the company. The movie later follows the journey of Monsanto to India and Mexico to show how the Bt Cotton farmers in India and Corn farmers in different parts of Latin America meet similar fate when the MNC that employs over 16,000 people in about 50 countries decides to have its way.

We in India need to be aware of this story because we are getting big-time into GM now. Bt Cotton made an illegal entry (in Gujarat) and was pushed as a political decision on us a few years back while the decision was still being made by the government (some Latin American governments seem to have gone through a similar situation). The story of the continuing suicides among the cotton farmers after Bt Cotton has almost become 100% across the country today is appearing in our newspapers everyday. With the Bt Brinjal up for commercial approval and other products on the pipeline, we need to know how this control has come about.

Here under I provide with a short summary of each of these clips along with a link to the same. Please take time to view it if you care to know what is it that you are eating and are likely to eat made of. It only takes about a couple of hours.

Part - I: Starts with the history of the company of Monsanto, how it hid for decades the toxic PCB dumping it was doing in USA. Also talks about how it had to withdraw the word, 'biodegradable' from its 'Roundup' herbicide.

Part -II: More on the status of victims of the PCB dumping, horrible to watch the victims who are helpless in the most powerful consumer movement country, USA. How the company settled its suit with the community after decades with pittance in compensation. The clip ends with classified documents that show that the company was not willing to forego even a dollar of loss and would rather the public suffer and ends with question, 'how could you believe a company that lies like this?'

Part - III: further investigation on Roundup Ready Soybean. Admitting by the former Secretary of Clinton administration how it was not a scientific decision but a political decision to approve biotech products and even at the highest levels when he attempted to suggest stricter regulations for biotech engineered foods,he was 'slapped around'. Also admission by an executive of FDI regarding how it was a political decision to keep GM food at par with the non-GM food.

Part - IV: Uncovers how the person especially recruited by FDA to formulate the GM Food policy was till then working with Monsanto and had just finished drafting for them as to how should a industry favourable regulatory regime be. Also interesting to watch the video footing of the Vice President of George Bush Sr. announcing the de-regulation policy in biotechnology because, 'we have been leaders and want to continue to be so', clearly the USA unleashed on itself and the world this technology as a ego ride for a 'de-reg' fancy President. Ends with an investigation of the Bovine Growth Harmone and how it was introduced. The scientist from FDA who questioned the data was side tracked and later fired, threatened by the Monsanto lawyer that if he were to reveal any company secrets in his defence, he will be sued.

Part - V: '...we got 44,000 documents from the FDAs own files and it shows that the FDA has been lying since 1992 to the world...claiming that the genetically modified foods are as safe as their non-GM counterparts', statement by a lawyer who asked for and examined FDA documents on GM Food.

Part - VI: Starts with Dr. Arpad Putszai, Scientist from Britain saying how he found that the problem was, 'not with the transgene, but, with the technology'. He was fired for saying on BBC interview based on his own scientific understanding that, 'it is unfair to use your fellow citizens as guinea pigs' the day after the interview. This part goes on to question the sheer power with which Monsanto steam-rolls its opponents including on the issue of dioxine exposure and the deadly 'agent orange' which the company produced and was used by US Army in the Vietnam War. There is shocking clipping of preserved child emroyos severely deformed.

Part - VII: 'They had all the data and then decided how they wanted to interpret it, this is never done', says a lawyer in the context of Monsanto's lies on the issue of dioxine exposure. He states that in a series of studies they where the same set of people with cancer appeared under 'exposed to dioxine' in one study appeared under, 'not exposed to dioxine' in another study and then these studies were used to prove that cancer occurs equally among those exposed or un-exposed to the dioxine. Many were denied compensation because of this.
An Eurpoean Scientist who reviewed the Monsanto paper on effects of GM feeding by animals (which according to him became the 'base for substantial equivalence') says how the paper contained many ambiguous terms. He says, 'lot of data that they should have shown, they didn't...if there was nothing to hide there you should be willing to share'.
It examines the claims of Monsanto on the issue of intellectual property and presents a US Government report that documents more than '100 lawsuits and many bankarapcies' due to the agressive stand of the company in dealing with farmers in whose fields the traits of their products appear.

Part - VIII: About the Gene Police and how they destroy farmer families in America. As the documentary progresses, it switches to India, Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh which is a large cotton growing area. Here two agronomists debunk the claims of Monsanto both about higher yields and Bollworm pest resistance. It also tells the story of how the cotton seed price has now shot up now by 400% and how there is almost no other seed available for the Indian farmer today. This clip ends with the funeral processing of a 25 year old farmer, who relied on the company's promise and bought Bt Cotton after borrowing heavily and suffered huge loss. He committed suicide by drinking a litre of pesticide.

Part - IX: This clip starts with the Vidharbha situation and has two of the known farmer activists of that region, Kishore Tiwary and Dr. Tarak Kate profiling the entire region and showing how the spread of Bt Cotton has also been the spread of suicide among farmers. There is a typical cotton market scene where farmers are protesting against the dropping prices for cotton. This is followed by an interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva where she spells out the difference between the first and second Green Revolution, she says that there are two major differences, the first one had a hidden agenda to promote chemical inputs consumption however the primary state goal being higher food production, food security, this one has only one objective, to promote the return of investment for Monsanto. The first one was imposed by a coalition of government and international agencies, the second one is just imposed by one company, Monsanto, this is what she calls, 'Monsanto revolution'. This is followed by an interview with Scientist Chapela in Mexico about how they were shocked to realize that now all varieties of corn are contaminated by the GM ones corn in the most corn diverse part of the world, Mexico.

Part - X: This part continues to investigate how the Mexican diversity is under severe threat thanks to the gene-transfer through the pollens carried through the wind from transgenic corn crops to traditional ones. Though Mexico has banned the GM Corn, thanks to treaty signed between Mexico with USA and Canada, it cannot avoid the entry of GM Corn into its territory. The heavily subsidised GM Corn from the US costs lesser than the locally grown indigenous varieties. This clip shows how farmers are troubled and already abnormal occurances and diseases are observed among the corn crops across Mexico. Farmers are afraid that in future they may have none of their ancestral varieties and may have to buy seeds, pesticides and fertilizers from Monsanto.

Part - XI: When Chapela came up with his findings, there was an internet based war to ensure that almost anything can be written to defame him. The Norfolk based GM Watch shows how fake (non-existent) scientist names appeared in the web in networking sites and biotech promoting sites with articles defaming the study and trying to initiate hate against anyone who dared to stand against the company, Monsanto. As the GM Watch executive says, 'it shows the determination of a company that wants to push its products in every part of the world and it will destroy the reputation of anyone who stands in its way'. Then the scene moves to Paraguay, where a helpless government had to legalise GM Soya in 2005 because the gene-transfer from the GM crops that had illegally entered the country had contaminated their entire non-GM crops and thereby rendering their exports no longer possible. The Agricultural Secretary of the country opines that Monsanto very well could have been involved with the 'unorthodox' entry of the crop. It shows how the small farmers in this country are fighting a losing battle against Monsanto and against their lands being turned into 'Green Deserts', as they put it, where the entire area is covered with a single mono-crop and no other crop grows there at all.

Part - XII: The last of the clips shows the helpless small farmers in Paraguay and how even small children and farm animals get affected by the large scale usage of the Round-up herbicide in their farms. Of course, Monsanto would not like this video and it is unlikely that this video will be viewed by many who are already under the influence of this company globally.

The film ends with the audio recording of a Monsanto representative refusing to meet the team that made the movie. Sure, one can almost see a PR initiative coming from Monsanto globally defaming the team that made this movie, everyone who featured in it, (most of them have already been defamed enough)and also you tube for retaining these clips.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Day for protest on GM Food

This morning the first thoughts were that later today there will be a group trying communicate to an uncaring nation about the dangers of permitting GM Food into our kitchen through a protest at New Delhi (in front of Jantar Mandir, 10 a.m.).

Genetically Modified Foods are a solution to a problem that is non-existent. Scientifically, Technically, Socially, Ethically, Economically and Environmentally it is a bad initiative. Yet it is being pursued for one single reason - it is commercially more secure for the companies who developed it. And these companies are today associated with the politically powerful nations who can dictate what ought to be done and not be done to solve global problems of both real and imaginative nature.

It is often said that the choice of 'data' is the prerogative of the person who uses it. All kinds of social, economic and political data have been used to promote this technology that has been founded on corporate greed.

Hence you find that the infestation of a certain pest (bollworm) and the consequent consumption of pesticides among the cotton farmers is a problem that ought to be addressed ONLY by inserting a gene of a bacteria on the cotton itself that will resist the pest. This is akin to saying that if you had a skin of a mountain goat you can withstand the cold in the mountains very well, so maybe humans in the mountains will need a goat's gene in their bodies, it will also save on the money people spend on the woollen. What is the issue, spending on wool? living in such tough conditions in the mountain? or reducing all solutions to the artificial transfer of the gene between species?

Suddenly, brinjals which are grown across the country in India and is cooked in a thousand different ways has become a crop in contention. Or the pesticide consumption of brinjal crop has become an issue - we are told that it too suffers from pest attacks and to resist pests, it needs to be secured through artificial bacteria gene inserted into its gene code. Similarly, across India children suffer from Vitamin-A deficiency, we are told that they urgently need supplements and what is best way to do it, of course, artificial gene transfer from a vitamin-A rich flower into whatever they eat, if their staple is rice, then we will insert it into rice, and pronto, we have the media savvy scientists proclaiming with bleeding hearts that they now have the 'Golden Rice' to save the blinding children of India.

Remember when last time a man took it upon himself to only maintain superior species in the world, we had the second world war. But, he was a stupid dictator, not a business man, when a business man wants to do the same, he doesn't waste time annihilating the not qualified, he just provides then with solutions to become better and makes money in the process. It was called fascism when a dictator does it, it is called by whatever name the business people want it to be known as now, because they are not any business people, they are the most powerful ones in the world too.

Did we not manage pests in cotton and brinjal plants without pesticides? Did we not know how to over come the problem of Vitamin-A deficiency in our children?

Across the state of Andhra Pradesh last few years farmers have proved through a process in thousands of hectares of land how without use of chemical pesticides they can manage their pests. A technique called NPM (No chemical Pest Management) that originated in the farmers' fields and till date has neither received any university or research organization's contribution to its growth! They have proved that it is possible to do pest management without pesticides very successfully. They have done this through many techniques that were developed by farmers who decided that they wanted to save on the money being spent on the chemicals unnecessarily.

Green leafy vegetables and papaya are some of the riches sources of vitamin-A in the world. There was a internationally funded project across India to promote the consumption of these by poorer communities by planting these in their neighbourhood, this project funding I am told suddenly stopped when the powerful gene-transfer agents started their bid to sell the gene-transferred rice to the Indian government. Even today this would be the easiest solution as both green leafy vegetables and papaya are available easily in most parts of the country. there are cultural issues that often limit people in consuming papaya, this can be addressed through awareness drive through the powerful visual media.

NPM, growing green leafy vegetables and similar such initiatives have on limitation. They transfer the power of the lives of the people to themselves, they make people self-sustaining and hence a threat to the global corporate agenda. The global corporate agenda today requires that life of anyone be lived in accordance with the marketing requirements of the companies. That we are aware of what are marketing requirements of different companies promoting various goods in our areas and adhere to their needs makes us a 'good' consumer citizen. If we resist, rebel or just refuse to use their goods, they we are 'not with' them. And their world view is divided simply as 'those who are with us and those who are not with us', as one of their big poster-boy neatly summarised it.

Hence the promotion of GM crops has been both presenting selective and convenient data to create a 'problem' situation that we were not aware of till it was presented thus to us and to rubbish any other 'solution' that comes from people who are not with the corporate agenda. One big beneficiary has been the media and the public relations industry, for they have been given the work of changing the perception of the world on this issue. Perhaps never before in history did a 'solution' need to be promoted with such large investment on publicity. But, never before in history did we have a 'solution' that also had to create widespread 'problems' so that it can sell itself.

As a farmer from a non-powerful nation, Indian farmers have limited choice. I was told that, Andhra Pradesh farmers this year found when they went to the shops to buy their cotton seeds that the only seeds stocked were the Bt Cotton seeds, almost in unison all the seed companies (most of them taken over or distantly owned or dictated by few global major corporates) and government seed units have ONLY stocked up Bt Cotton for selling this year. They don't have the negotiating power nor the economic might to fight this injustice. Soon, we the consumers will have even lesser choices. We will have the entire super market shelf stocked with GM Foods.

The problems that arise out of GM Food consumption is not yet fully known. Only recently one university has dared to state that a new form of disease that is spreading in parts of USA, which is inexplicable and un-curable could be possibly due to GM Food consumption. Only recently another university report states that GM Crops actually do not enhance the productivity. China has already suffered growth of giant weeds in GM fields. Environmentally, the presence of a non-natural gene-transfer across species organism affects other life forms around and disturbs the entire ecological balance, however, over stating any ecological concern today means being labelled 'eco-terrorist', a label that is most used in the GM debates to completely stonewall any further arguments on some issues.

While the PR force of the biotech majors rubbish everyone who counters them as a terrorist of one form or another, the scientists have come up with a convenient terms and explanations. So, anyone talking of a detailed testing or inconvenient data is dismissed literally at times from their jobs and as being 'un-scientific'. A new term, 'substantiative evidence' is used against 'precautionary principle' to sell the technology. In ordinary language it means, 'look we don't have adequate evidence that such and such a product could have such and such side effect, so, if you fear that it will have a unhealthy consequence and want to take precautions, that is not fair, after all there is not enough evidence, let is use it as wide spread as possible (and the corporates recover their investments) and then if there is adequate evidence (and there could be another opportunity to sell 'solution' to that 'problem') then we will see'. Of course it doesn't matter that in the process quite a bit of eco-system as we know today, agri-culture a it was practiced in many old countries and policies, people life styles and public opinions have to be modified, so what, these of are no consequence in front of the corporate greed and their power today.

We can make a difference. And the difference will start with our life style, our choice of the what we consume. Locally grown food, preferably organic and of local variety, brought through the local vendors, bought and home cooked (and not ready-to-eat off-the-shelf food) are the first small steps to stepping out of the corporate greed agenda that is GM Food. Of course, this means time taken off from our often busy schedules. This time invested by many adds up, it adds up to erode the corporate markets thereby their greed and ultimately changes their course. If we don't have that extra time to alter our food consumption habits, we may not have much choice tomorrow, it is estimated that almost 85% of the American food is GM Food, we are not that bad yet, but, it is not too far away too.

You may not take time to symapthize with those who protest against GM food crops in Delhi today, you can however choose to live healthy by simply investing that extra time for your own benefit and incidentally the world will benefit too, it is as good if not better than tax exemption for spending on yourself. It is our choice.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Recent Photo that I saw, self-explanatory

Saw this in a blog of some one in Canada...just shows how fast internet can spread ideas and visuals that are telling.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Prof. G. D. Agarwal decision on fast unto death on the issue of Ganga

Environmental issues across India are least in the priority of those promoting 'development'. The commercialization of the mundane and the sacred has placed them both at the same level in the eye of those who perceive them -affordable and accessible. Obvious outcome being what is faith for some is nuisance or business opportunity for others. The sense of helplessness that surrounds those who interrogate development deeper is intense and incommunicable. A few perhaps can express it in words, a few lives lived in pursuing certain ideals can protest through a different route. Here is someone who has chosen to die to call attention to an issue that is fast losing its meaning as an issue. To stop us and question 'development'.

Please share this information with as many as possible and create a debate on what is real development.

Pawan Kumar Gupta []
Sent: 01 May 2008 09:04 PM

Dear friends,

I am writing this letter not only to inform you of a monumental decision taken by a person I regard highly but also to let you know about him and the context.

Professor G.D. Agarwal, now about 80 but in robust health, has been residing in Chitrakoot for almost 20 -25 years now. He has taught Environmental Science in IIT Kanpur for a number of years. He also served as a Dean at IIT Kanpur for a number of years. After that, at the request of Nanaji Deshmukk he served as a faculty member of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural University set up by Nanaji in Chitrakoot. He worked here without accepting any pay in an honorary capacity as a service to the country. He is one of those legendary teachers whom their students remember even after years. He has inspired many most prominent among them was late Anil Agarwal who founded Centre of Science and Environment, which is now being looked after by Sunita Narain. He was founder member secretary of the Pollution Control Board. But above all Prof. Agarwal is man of deep understanding and high integrity inspiring hundreds of his students the world over.

Prof. Agarwal has a deep understanding of Indian tradition and environment and thus has a very different perceptions about most environment related issues, more rooted and appropriate for our country and the world as well. He has been deeply disturbed, like many others, about the manner in which Ganga has been treated by successive governments over the years. We have been tampering with the Ganga, in particular the Bhagirathi (tehri dam is only one among many glaring examples) resulting it in only running like a trickle many times (because of the damning of the flow). At times there has been no water even in haridwar. This is a severe blow on the faith of a large majority of people in this country. And faith is a big thing. It gives tremendous strength to cope with adversities in life. It unites people. Dr. agarwal is much pained by what we are doing to the Ganga and the implications it may have on our people and our country. Having done the damage that we have done by building the Tehri dam he feels now at least the Ganga between Gomukh and Uttarkashi should be left alone, but we are tampering with it even in those areas. He has also been very disturbed about the river linking scheme of our government(s).

Unfortunately on such issues of so called ‘development’ all governments, all political parties (Congress, Samajwadi, BJP, the Communists) have similar views and hence the schemes go on undisturbed, with change in governments. It is almost a global phenomena – the way our elite, the powerful perceive ‘development’.

Under the circumstances he has decided to go on fast unto death from June 17th (Ganga Dusserra). He will find a suitable place in uttarkashi and start his fast from that place. He has written a letter to a few people close to him informing them of this decision and the reasons thereof asking them to pray for him to help him in his resolve. Dr. Agarwal is not a publicity seeker. He has not reached his decision in a hurry but after deliberating and contemplating about it for a long time.

I am writing this letter only to inform you and to request you to, if possible, try and talk about the reasons behind the decision of Prof. Agarwal with people you know. Faith has become a dirty word but is it so? Ganga is not only an environmental issue but much bigger than that. I know for a fact that during the month of Shravan (august- Sept) when people come top Haridwar to pick up Ganga water and carry it to different shiv temples – these people have amongst them not only upper caste Hindus but the so called scheduled clastes as well as a sprinkling of Muslims amonst the devotees! It is a strange country – this India _ we do not seem to know it fully as most of us have become alientated (thanks to the kind of education we have received).


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