Cattle trade ban: another disruptive action by Centre

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

The order of the Central government banning sale of cattle in public markets for slaughter is another disruptive measure of Modi government after demonetisation. It will strengthen the organised sector to the detriment of the unorganised sector.

Of course, it has political objectives as the decision will please the Sangh Parivar outfits. The decision will be hitting a large number of people, including middlemen, who are engaged in trading of cattle and meat. A large section of them are Muslims. This will provide political capital for the BJP to go for its larger objectives.

The ban has been brought in a devious manner under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as the Centre did not have powers to regulate trade in meat directly. That power rests with the State governments.  Reasons being offered by various quarters for banning trade in cattle for slaughter through markets such as Supreme Court order, need to prevent cruelty against animals and ensuring of the source of meat (traceability) are bogus or devious.

The Supreme Court order did not say that trade through markets should be banned. It will not ensure benign treatment of animals. Traceability of meat reaching slaughter houses could have been ensured through the market mechanism itself. (Note that the farmers are now required to produce several documents to trade in cattle). Ensuring traceability of both agricultural and meat products is a positive measure towards consumer protection and food safety. However, it is wrong to argue that traceability could be ensured by bypassing the market.

The BJP government do plan to ensure traceability and that is the larger story. As the meat business moves into big hands, their sourcing would become traceable. They will do it for their own interest and enforcement of regulation in this respect is easy.

However, small traders, their workmen and farmers who have to sell cattle for slaughter will be the victims. Like demonetisation, the results are not entirely predictable. Middlemen will find new ways to carry on their trade. A new network may emerge for purchase of cattle for slaughter from homesteads. However, the shift will hit those in the business of meat trade on a small scale and farmers at least in the short term. Farmers will not get remunerative prices until a mechanism that could fetch them competitive prices emerge. Prices of even the draught cattle sold though markets may come down as prices in markets are determined, to a great extent, by the value of meat.

However, meat prices are not going to come down. In fact, it is likely to go up in States such as Kerala, which is dependent on inter-State movement of cattle for slaughter, owing to shortages. These movements could be stalled because of restrictions imposed by the Centre.

The requirement of documentation will dissuade farmers from selling even draught animals through market. Eventually, cattle markets, as we know today, may die out with mechanisation of farm sector, and the trade will pass on to organised sector.

The net effect of all these is that meat production will move into the hands of meat production and marketing companies. The positive and negative effect of this shift is another issue. The point is that the measure will cause disruption affecting thousands of ordinary folk. The Centre had done it without even consulting the State or arriving at a consensus.

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Opposition parties in the State are protesting against the measure on the ground that it hurts people’s food choices. This is not very true as sale of meat has not been banned, though Kerala may face some shortages of meat on a short-term.

It is high time that the politicians cared to study the larger objectives and implications of the Central government’s policy before reacting to this. In a country like India, a quick shift of meat from unorganised to organised sector is not desirable. The farmers are already committing suicides owning to wrong policies followed by governments. Similar thing is going to happen to small traders though we can expect that they would be resourceful enough to survive.

As to the farmers who find it difficult to market their cattle for slaughter at remunerative prices, formation of cooperatives on the model of Amul may be an option. Kerala government will be better advised to develop such a cooperative set up instead of going for a legal battle with the Central government. This is not to say that the government should not oppose the Central government’s policy.

It was another ordeal for endosulfan victims

endosulfan stir

Endosulfan victims and their mothers on hunger strike before the Secretariat

The hunger strike by endosulfan victims and mothers before Kerala Secretariat ended last week after the Government conceded most of their demands.

However, the demands conceded were the ones that the government had conceded as back as in January 2014 following their dharna before the Chief Minister’s residence. Implementation was lagging and the victims had to launch another stir to get yet another assurance that they would be implemented.

The only concrete gain from the agitation was a specific decision to include about 600 more persons from Kasaragod district under the government’s list for providing compensation. Whether other promises would be kept within the term of the present government is to be seen.

In fact, the approach of successive government to the endosulfan problem had been far from satisfactory. It is more than five years since the National Human Rights Commission recommended compensation and other measures. Still the compensation has not reached all.

Though it was a problem that should have been addressed on a war footing, governments often chose to ignore the problem. It was convenient for them to do so, because the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala was responsible for aerial spraying of endosulfan. None of the officials who were responsible for using such dangerous methods of application of pesticides in a populated area, and that too in excess quantities and over water bodies, were never held accountable.

As to rehabilitative and remediative measures, the government could not even do what the voluntary agencies could. It is notable that even the BUDS schools set up by the government did not have facilities for use by physically challenged persons. Even western closets were absent.

As the water bodies were contaminated, the government took no steps to supply pure drinking water to the affected area for two decades after the problem became known. When Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission was implemented in kasaragod district, the villages chosen for the project were not the endosulfan affected. Decontamination was never attempted. In fact, the remaining stocks of endosulfan with the Corporation are yet to be removed safety from the area.

This blog has said that the settlement two years ago was aimed at fooling the victims. This time also, the situation is only marginally better.

Kurinjippoo revolution and its political implications

Munnar town

A view of Munnar town

The strike by women tea estate workers in Munnar in Kerala for bonus, now nicknamed after neelakurinji flowers, was a resounding success. (The workers did not face any police brutality unlike the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia.) Its political implications are significant and will be watched for long.

Notably, it was the recognised trade unions— rather than the tea company (Kannan Devan Hills Plantation), which had to give in to women power as hundreds of unorganised women labourers from the estates thronged the roads of Munnar virtually paralyzing traffic and economic activities in the town including tourism. Politicians and trade union leaders who spoke against them had to eat their words. This was the result of the unions betraying the workers for long.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had to convene urgent meeting with the women’s representatives, keeping away the trade unionists, to settle the strike. The labourers were demanding 20 per cent bonus this year and company was refusing to pay that saying that its profits had come down. However, company is a captive unit of Tata Global Beverages and profits depended on at what prices tea was being sold to the Tata group company.

The argument of the trade unions that the women made a mistake in agreeing to a reduced the bonus component of 8.33 per cent and the balance as ex-gratia has no much merit. They say that next year they would be able to start the negotiations from 8.33 per cent bonus component against 10 per cent promised by the company this year. But, next year’s outcome will depend on what force the women are able to muster next year. However, an immediate concern to them will be forthcoming negotiations on daily wages which is one of the lowest among agricultural labourers in Kerala. The workers are demanding daily wages of Rs. 500 which is about double the current wages. Minimum wages of women agriculture labourers in Kuttanad is Rs. 330 a day while that of men is Rs. 560 a day.

The estates workers may be on the way for substantial gains in this respect as Labour Minister Shibhu Baby John had to swallow his remarks that such a wage level was not feasible in tea plantations. The women labourers are now trying to form a union of their own. They may succeed given their will power. But there is no guarantee that the new union too will not go the way of existing unions which had sacrificed workers’ interests for personal gains of their leaders. May be it is better for the women to remain ‘unorganised’.

However, a crucial development to watch will be whether some of these women will emerge as contestants in the forthcoming panchayat elections. If they do, it could cause considerable worries to the political parties and unions, and rewrite history. Emergence of an alternative to the unions in Munnar like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi could not be ruled out. If that happens, the established political parties will be the losers.

Related:
New York Times: Hopes, and Homes, Crumbling on Indian Tea Plantations

Farmers in distress

Farm landsPrime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposition for farmers falls short of requirements.

There is little doubt that the several of the measures being taken by the Central government, whatever is their positive impact on the economy, will hit the farmers, small traders and the even pensioners. So, measures are needed to protect them.

As to farmers, the government is taking certain steps one year after coming to power. They are already late as could be seen from the suicides of farmers in Maharastra, Telangana, Karanataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

The proposed crop insurance scheme will go a long way in helping the farmers if implemented properly. First of all, wide coverage of the scheme encompassing all sections of the farmers should be ensured. Secondly, compensation should be made within 30 to 45 days in the case of crop loss. This should be mandatory with delay in making the payments attracting penal interest.

However, it should be noted that the insurance scheme would be of help only in the in the case of crop loss/failure while fluctuation in prices of farm produce is a bigger problem faced by the farmers. The government should bring in better instruments to ensure remunerative prices. Indian farmers do not like to be on welfare.

Every crop in the country suffers from sudden fall in prices one time or another. Even rubber is no exception as could be seen from recent developments. Often the fall in prices of rubber are caused by imports and international developments such as fall in prices of petroleum. Fall in prices of rubber wood has compounded the problems as farmers used earnings from clear-felling of plantations to fund replanting.

The move of the Central government to allow 100 per cent foreign direct investment in rubber and coffee plantations could be of disadvantage to small farmers. The funds flow would be accompanied by technology flow also, and small farmers may soon lose competitiveness.

Poison in food

If we look at officials records, the banning of Maggi noodles will look as an isolated incident. Maggi was the first instant noodles to be introduced in India in 1982 and the pre-1982 generation had not tasted anything like that before. However, the food item had hardly been examined critically though sometimes perceived as unhealthy having several additives and preservatives in it.

When the dust settles down, Maggi will bounce back. Many Indians would not have even heard of the controversy and they will continue to relish the foreign food. The Maggi incident will not be a lesson for either the authorities or the people. In fact, there are thousands of products in the market which can be worse than Maggi.

The Food Safety and Standards Act was enacted in 2006 with more stringent provisions than the erstwhile Food Adulteration Act. However, during the past nine years, the authorities have not cared to strictly enforce the Act, but for occasional tests and warnings.

The problem is not confirmed to large packaged food manufacturers. Many food items such as vegetables and grains in the market are contaminated or adulterated. Items procured by large manufacturers cannot be free of contaminants and it is not easy to test all the items that go into production. Many smaller operators cannot even afford to do any testing at all.

It has been found that excessive quantities of pesticides are being used in vegetables cultivated in Tamil Nadu and grains in Punjab. Sometime back, all samples of packaged chilly power sold in Kerala were found to

Potassium dichromate used as an adulterant in chilly powder affects resperatory system, liver, kidneys,eyes, skin and blood.

Potassium dichromate used as an adulterant in chilly powder affects resperatory system, liver, kidneys,eyes, skin and blood.

have highly toxic and carcinogenic potassium dichromate in it. Even products of well known brands had it. It turned out that they were procuring chilly powder from North India and was merely packaging and marketing it in Kerala without any testing. (It was more profitable for them to buy the powder than buy the raw material for powdering in Kerala.)

Nothing was heard of prosecution in these cases. And it is not known whether chilly power sold in Kerala still has potassium dichromate. Pesticide residues and contaminants sometimes become undetectable after processing. All these point to the need for stricter food safety enforcement covering the source to final product.

 

Mainstreaming tribals

Attappady-- a view  Photo: Roy MathewChief Minister Oommen Chandy proposes to bring Attappady tribals to main stream as the government has failed to address their problems after six decades of ‘tribal development’.

Well, his plans are for the next generation. Children from the tribal hamlets are to be educated in special model residential schools and all eligible students given admissions to the Plus One and undergraduate courses.

This is a course of action that had been tried in countries such as USA, Canada and Australia which have invited protests. However, such protests over uprooting the tribals from their culture are muted in Kerala. Many anthropologists hold opinion against weaning tribal children away from their culture and mainstreaming them. But the questions whether they should be allowed to live primitive lives or proselytised to adopt modern lifestyle is an enduring question.

As to the immediate problem of malnutrition among tribals, the government has come up with an answer—community kitchens. Mr. Chandy’s view is that the tribals do not eat well. Many are so lazy that they are willing to cook. It is not clear whether the tribals would come regularly to the community kitchens to eat. Even if they do, that could make them lazier as far as cooking goes. Better, if community kitchens teach them how to cook and encourage them to do their own cooking.

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

But the real problem in Attappady is not that the tribals have not learned to cook or made eating cooked food a habit.  The real issue is alienation of their land, destruction of forests and restrictions on their access to forest resources including food materials. However, the Chief Minister refuse to acknowledge this and take strong measures to resume their lands despite court verdicts. Even problems like drunkardness stemmed from land issues. Alcoholism spread as a result of exploitative tactics of the settlers in Attappady.

Studies have reported that the deaths of infants in Attappady were not the result of alcoholism among their mothers. It happened because of malnutrition. The government wants now wants all tribal women to give birth at hospital to ensure the nutritional status of mothers and children. For this, vehicles are to be provided. On one hand, this is better said than done. Many tribals had failed to get timely medical attention not because of lack of schemes or vehicles but because the officials concerned did not care. On the other side, it is notable that Kerala is emphasising on hospital based deliveries when the West that promoted it is now going back to midwives and deliveries at home.

Agriculture development policies to befool farmers

Agriculture policy-- publicity photo

Publicity material showing submission of the draft agriculture development policy to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on July 11, 2013.

The draft Agriculture Development Policy of Kerala, drawn by a drafting committee chaired by K. Krishnankutty, tries to befool the farmers at least in respect of the highlighted policy initiatives.

The flagship proposals are what is called Actio apportum (translated into Malayalam as Avakasa Labhom) cess, to be routed to small and marginal farmers of paddy, and incentive to farm workers. This is described as a legal demand of right for sharing revenue or profit generated out of farm produce when it is traded.

However, this is nothing but a less-than-5 per cent subsidy for paddy production, totalling to about Rs. 400 crores annually. This amount could very well have been provided as a direct subsidy from government after collecting one per cent value added tax on rice. Still better, it should have been funded from revenues gathered elsewhere.

The policy, on the other hand, proposes collection of Re. 1 a kg as cess at the end point of sale of rice and payment to the farmers through Agriculture Department. The traders/millers would pass on this cess to the consumers or the farmers themselves by reducing the procurement price of paddy. So, this Actio apportum could just be a mirage.

The real right of the farmer is to get remunerative prices in the market place or through procurement by government. The policy has only usual bureaucratic proposals like “Price Fixation Authority” and minimum support price to address that. The experience so far is that procurement has not actually worked well because funding procurement has not been a priority for government.

The cess proposal would only serve to increase the size of bureaucracy especially in the Agriculture Department. There would have to be separate accounting and even a vigilance mechanism to detect evasion. A portion of what is collected as cess will vanish this way. The proposal also has a flaw in that the benefit is proposed to be limited to small and marginal farmers. Paddy production is to be sustained and it is not always the marginal farmer who can achieve that. So, all paddy cultivators would have to be provided with subsidies.

It also leads to a dichotomy in policy. The government had been lifting tax on rice in past budgets with the avowed objective of helping the poor. Now, it is thinking of a cess instead. Tax on branded rice, which is not consumed by the poor, would have been the best option to raise funds for subsidy.

Cover design of the draft policy

Cover-page design of the draft policy document on agriculture development, Kerala.

The incentive proposed for agriculture workers is Rs. 6 a day. For an agriculture worker earning around Rs. 600 a day, this is a pittance. The Agriculture Department will have to maintain accounts and keep tab on the status of the worker and days of work done by him to make the payments. This is when the Department’s job is increasingly becoming disbursement of incentives and subsidies instead of providing extension services.

The real objective of the Latinisms and rhetoric about farmers’ rights is votes in the forthcoming elections. The politicians can claim that the present government has, for the first time, recognised the right of the farmers (called Actio apportum ) for a share in the profits of middlemen who are buying rice for Rs. 22 a kg and selling at exorbitant rates (up to Rs. 90 a kg.)!

Publicity material about the policy speaks of improving the status of farmers. However, actually the policy equates farmers to Class IV employees of government by proposing income guarantee “to the tune of that received by a Class Four Employees in State service”!

The policy proposes that farm lands should be reserved for agriculture, banning sale or use for no-agricultural purposes. Such a restrictive land use policy could be detrimental to the development of the State. Kerala could not remain an agrarian State for long (as the examples of developed societies show). So, some agriculture land would have to be used for industrial and infrastructure development. Anything that prevents establishment of agro-industries and production of value added products at the farm level would even be harmful.

So, implementation of this policy would have to fine-tuned, keeping overall development of the State in view. What actually is required is measures to check land being purchased and sold for short-term profit. Leaving land fallow should be discouraged by imposing higher tax on uncultivated land. Such a policy could be imposed by offering the low tax rates only for land certified to have a certain level of crop density.

Another proposal is to provide yield and sex assured animals to livestock farmers. Genomic section programmes are to be used to produce sexed semen that will ensure that only female of the species is born. It ought to be examined whether this would impact diversity which is crucial to prevent mass casualties from unanticipated diseases.

Alternatives to endosulfan

The recommendations of 100 alternatives to endosulfan, approved by the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants on October 18, should be an eye-opener for governments and agricultural scientists who were arguing that there were no cheap alternatives.

endosulfan_boyIt is notable that the Committee has also recommended non-chemical alternatives which could indeed work out to be a cheap alternative. This is the first time that a Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention recommends non-chemical alternatives to a chemical proposed for elimination under the Convention.

The Union Agriculture Ministry has long been arguing that there is no alternative to endosulfan and hence it should be banned only in Kerala and Karnataka where intensive use had affected the health and well-being of people. However, evidence is emerging that endosulfan was indeed causing harm to people in other States such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Punjab also. It is high time that the ministry looked at the alternatives suggested by the Committee and promoted ecosystem-based approaches on pest management as well as technical interventions using natural plant extracts in a big way.

The Kerala government has the responsibility to present the findings of various studies and the recommendations of the Committee before the Supreme Court which is considering the case for ban on endosulfan across the country. It is not clear whether the Court has changed its earlier view that no more studies are needed to establish the link between endosulfan and the health effects on people. However, it apparently want expert opinion on nation-wide ban. It is notable that India is already committed to phase out of endosulfan being a party to the Stockholm Convention.

POP Review Committee approves 100 alternatives to endosulfan
Assessment of alternatives to endosulfan
POPRC Report on alternatives
Endosulfan– Spray of Death


 

 

Endosulfan: the denouement

The Supreme Court has finally said it: no more studies are needed (to establish the link between the broad spectrum pesticide endosulfan and the health effects on people).  This is apparently the results of work done by Dr. Mohammed Aisheel and others in compiling a large bibliography of studies on endosulfan besides recent studies by Kerala government and various research establishments.

The studies showed   that the endosulfan could cause large number of diseases reported from Kasaragod district of Kerala and Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and the mechanism of action of the pesticide in human body. Studies may still be needed to conclusively establish that some of the diseases manifesting in the district is indeed caused by endosulfan.

endosulfan

A severely handicapped child who is getting assistance as an endosulfan victim

That is, while endosulfan as cause of many diseases is established, it may be more difficult to establish that the very diseases in a person or group are caused by endosulfan. The disease can be caused by other factors and these needed to be eliminated to prove the latter. However, the Supreme Court is satisfied with the evidence at hand and ordered continuing of the nation-wide ban on endosulfan on the basis of the precautionary principle.

It is notable that the Union Agriculture Commissioner maintained in his report prepared for the committee appointed by the Supreme Court that said that the problems were confined to Kerala and Karnataka and recommended ban only in these two States.  They had even taken the line of the endosulfan manufacturers that endosulfan is safe to pollinators which goes against the findings of the Kerala Agriculture University.

It is also notable that much of the data and studies linking endosulfan to various diseases were available when the O.P. Dubey and C. D. Mayee committees appointed by the Central government declared that no link had been established between the use of endosulfan in the estates of Plantation Corporation of Kerala and the health problems reported from the Padre village. The Director of Agriculture of Kerala Government, who was a member of the Mayee committee, signed the committee report. This was despite the findings of the expert committee (headed by Dr. P. K. Sivaraman), appointed by the Kerala government, which was before him.  The report was submitted in August 2003 and the Director signed the report in December 2004, hardly ten days before then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy visited Kasaragod promising succor to the endosulfan victims.

The victims are yet to get the package promised to them except for sanction given for a project funded by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). Though it has been shown that the aerial spraying of endosulfan was done disregarding the rules and without valid requirement for pest management, no action had been taken against any of the officials culpable of poisoning entire villages.

Endosulfan: spray of death
Endosulfan: brochure published by Kerala Government (13 MB)
Endosulfan: a Kerala story

 

Poisoned food

Every man has a right to food as implicit in the right to employment. However, this right is being denied not only to the poor but also to others also these days.

Almost all the food items sold in public markets are poisoned. The situation usually goes beyond mere adulteration. High levels of red and yellow category pesticides including organo-chlorine and organo phosphorous pesticides found in vegetables and fruits. There are reports from Tamil Nadu that some farmers cultivate vegetables differently for own use and sale.Mangoes

Pesticide is applied at every stage on vegetables for sale. Coconut too has become unsafe with the use of aluminium phosphide.  Some of these applications are quite unnecessary or by way of extreme action to prevent pest attack. The consumption of vegetables treated thus has resulted in high incidence of various diseases, including impotency and kidney failure.

Pesticide is being applied even on fish to keep away flies. Fomalin is being used to prevent rotting.  Milk also comes with pesticides and formalin besides a number of chemicals used for preservation including antibiotics. These can cause serious health problems. Very few dairies supply milk that is not dangerous.

Similar is the case with meat. Quality checks are only in paper while producers and traders use all sorts of methods to increase yield.  The government had been failing to act the new food adulteration law, citing various excuses including absence of laboratories for routine checks.  The real reason for lack of enforcement is, however, the nexus among traders, politicians and officials.