|Wednesday, May 31, 2000,
parties to the fore
Australia and regional stability
visit to Wagah
Kumar earns ridicule
May 31, 1925
NATIONAL parties are fast yielding political space to dominant regional forces across the country. In the 11 Assembly and one Lok Sabha byelections, the BJP has drawn blank, the Congress has won two, both from its stronghold, and the rest have gone the way of state-level parties. This fact is powerfully underlined by the two tall winners; Mrs Rabri Devi trounced her rival by 61,819 votes in Raghopur in Bihar and Mr Abhay Chautala, a scion of a well-known political family of Haryana, recorded a victory margin of over 86,000. It would not do to talk of family seats any more; pocket boroughs are known to spring a nasty surprise. Come to think of it, that is precisely what happened in Soron in Etah district of UP. This Assembly constituency has monotonously returned first the Jan Sangh and then the BJP nominees. It was the death of sitting BJP man Omkar Singh that led to the byelection and to his son, Mr Dabendra Singh, entering the fray. Had the old alliance of the Brahmins and Lodh Rajputs remained intact, the younger Singh would be headed for Lucknow with the returning officers certificate. As it is, he is trying to recover from a shattering defeat which sent him to the fourth spot. What is deeply troubling for the party is that the winner belongs to the Rashtriya Kranti Party floated recently by Mr Kalyan Singh, who is sworn to driving the BJP out of power in the state. For now he has managed to drive it out of Soron. Obviously Mr Kalyan Singhs Lodh castemen have deserted the BJP, dealing a second blow. This en bloc walkout shows that it is skilful caste mobilisation rather than stress on social harmony under the saffron umbrella that had broadened and deepened the BJP base in UP. This uneasy coalition threatens to come apart. The party has to do a lot of fence-mending during the next 12 months if it wants to remain a major political force. The Congress can do nothing as it had been pushed to the fifth position with a miserable tally of votes. As is to be expected, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP put up a good show and should these two come together, as if by a miracle, national parties would have to go into exile, as the latter-day Sharyuparins.
A law of inverse proportion is in operation in Bihar. The more the Yadav couple is legally heckled and persecuted, the stronger the family becomes. Just before the polling, Mrs Rabri Devi was chargesheeted but her husband was released after three months of remand. Their political opponents must have fondly hoped that the growing criminal cases would reflect in the electoral appeal. In a manner of speaking, they did but to their advantage. The wife has doubled her husbands victory margin and he is a formidable leader. Her success is entirely his as is that of another RJD contestant and an alliance party, the Marxist Coordination Centre. The NDA has nothing to show for its loud campaign. What is the secret of this success? It has to be one of the three. The people do not believe in the CBI-filed and income tax-related cases; they do, but do not consider the charges germane to politics and elections; and they realise the significance of the cases but continue to be under his sway. Anyway, the good people of Bihar have set on its head the ancient belief that elections are an opportunity to reward good work and repose faith in good men. Not anymore.
THE Atal Behari Vajpayee government may find itself in a quandary after three significant developments vis-a-vis its performance on the economic reforms front.The latest of the three is the discussion held at former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's Bhondsi Ashram, near New Delhi, on Saturday where five ex-Prime Ministers, including the host, presented their assessment of the economic reforms. Mr Chandra Shekhar, Mr V.P. Singh, Mr Inder Kumar Gujral and Mr Deve Gowda expressed their viewpoints on expected lines, describing what the government was doing as "reckless globalisation, mindless liberalisation and wholesale disinvestment". What was, however, startling was Mr Narasimha Rao's criticism under whose Prime Ministership the reforms process was set in motion in 1991. Mr Rao, who was not present at the meeting, used the occasion through his two papers to tell the country that his idea of economic reforms was not the "reckless" type being witnessed today. His was the "middle path" aimed at ensuring the welfare of all. This is totally unconvincing as the policy initiatives taken by his government with Dr Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, as the architect of the reforms, lacked the needed safeguards for the interests of the poor.The Bhondsi initiative appears to be directed towards creating a national consensus on this aspect of the reforms process.
One can understand that there is a strong case for course correction. But if the government takes any step which emits wrong or confusing signals to the captains of industry and trade, without whose cooperation no economic reforms programme can be successful, this will amount to inviting disaster for the country. The government's performance in the eyes of the former Prime Ministers may obviously not be up to the mark as they want nothing less than a change in the direction and thrust of the policy as such. But representatives of industry are appreciative of the measures the NDA government has been taking ever since its formation. According to the CII Director-General, Mr Tarun Das, there is a big jump in his organisation's rating of the government on a scale of 10 from 4 on February 29, when the Union Budget was presented, to 7.5 today. Business leaders are happy that the government has not buckled under pressure from various quarters, including its allies and the Sangh Parivar outfits like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch. All this has led to the revival of the feel-good factor in the economy, which may quicken the pace of investment from within the country and abroad (FIIs).
The third development is
the United Nations economic and social survey report
forecasting a 6.9 per cent growth rate for the current
year against a mere 5.9 per cent last year. The world
body's economists who finalised the prestigious report
took into consideration specially the fiscal stimulus,
export performance, industrial capacity utilisation and
improved capital flows to give their verdict. In the
coming two years the government's performance may be even
better, as they see it, showing 7.1 or 7.2 per cent
growth. The overall scenario is, therefore, comforting.
But what about the truth- though treated as a
charge that the benefits of the economic reforms
are not reaching the poor, specially those in the rural
areas? Even the UN survey has pointed out the neglect of
aspects like social security. Judged from this angle, the
former Prime Ministers' lament cannot be ignored,
whatever the reaction of the people whose interests clash
with those of the disadvantaged living in India's
villages and urban slums.
HAPPENINGS in Fiji are acquiring surreal contours, with an army coup taking place 10 days after a failed businessman George Speight grabbed power at gunpoint in a civil coup while holding Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry and several of his Cabinet colleagues hostage in the Parliament complex. The situation is so fluid is that it is hard to establish the loyalty of various groups, but it can be assumed from the sketchy information available that the army is not in league with the Speight group, although it has accepted one of the main demands of the rebels and annulled the 1997 multi-racial Constitution which allowed an ethnic Indian Prime Minister to come to power. Mr Speight has reportedly said that he does not recognise the authority of the new military rulers while at the same time he is holding talks with them. The military action came after a night of looting and arson by Speight supporters. The way President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara handed over the reins of power to the chief of Fijis military force, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, shows that he is opposed to the reign of terror let loose by the armed supporters of Mr Speight. The proclamation of martial law may help control the situation if the military force indeed is behind Cdre Bainimarama. But the first priority is to ensure that Mr Mahendra Pal Chaudhry is rescued unharmed. Equally important is the safety of the Fiji Indians who have been living in fear in capital Suva and other places. They have not been able to go anywhere else because several embassies have stopped issuing visas. The Indian Mission in Suva continues to function but is not in a position to safeguard the interests of the people of Indian origin. In any case, these are Fijian citizens and India cannot intervene on their behalf. The diplomatic pressure that Delhi can mount also has to be extremely subtle because of the sensibilities involved. It is for Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the Commonwealth to determine what type of trade and military sanctions can bring the usurpers of power to heel. It is similar sanctions which had worked when General Rabuka, the present head of the Great Council of Chiefs, had staged a coup in 1987.
It is perhaps because of
the effectiveness of the past international sanction that
neither the President nor the army has taken a stridently
anti-Indian community stand which was the hallmark of the
Rabuka regime. Still, the removal of a democratically
elected Prime Minister is a highly objectionable matter
and the international community has to counter it with a
fitting response quickly and effectively. People of
Indian origin are also living in large numbers in
countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, it is
their forefathers who went there nearly a century ago.
They may have social and cultural affinity with the
country of their origin but they are the citizens of the
countries of their adoption. Ethnic tension and ethnic
divide are very much a reality but these cannot be
allowed to spin out of control. What has happened in Fiji
may become a sort of precedent, reducing the people of
Indian origin to second-rate citizens. That would be a
shocking victory of xenophobia, which the civilised world
can ill afford.
CAN Punjab continue to lead India in agriculture? The answer to this vexing question is both yes and no. Yes, if adequate investments are made in agricultural research, education and extension (for developing, refining and disseminating the steady stream of agrotechnologies), appropriate steps are taken for qualitative improvements in general rural education (for having educated and trained farmers capable of adopting knowledge-intensive sophisticated technology), and priority is accorded to the conservation of natural resources. Our progress hinges on human capital, land and water. If we fail to develop human resources and conserve soil and water, Punjab will not be able to maintain the lead.
Agriculture in Punjab, like many parts of the world, has changed from a resource-based to science-based system. The technical change has accounted for a major proportion of agricultural output growth since the mid-sixties. In view of the shrinking resource-base and increasing population, this trend must be fostered and accelerated. It should be accompanied by the maintenance of ecological integrity of the agricultural system.
Technology-led growth requires investments in human resource development, technology generation (agricultural research), technology dissemination, education, physical and institutional infrastructure. Equally important in the education and training of farmers who have to adopt sophisticated technology. Government investment in productivity enhancing activities such as agricultural research and development, and rural infrastructure (including roads and electricity) has made major contributions to the reduction in rural poverty and growth of agricultural productivity in Punjab. Spending on agricultural research and extension had the largest impact on agricultural productivity growth and also resulted in large benefits for the rural poor. Government spending on education had the third largest impact on rural poverty reduction, largely as a result of the increase in non-farm employment and rural wages that it induces.
The future agriculture will be highly competitive, knowledge-intensive and market-driven. Consequent to the WTO agreements, liberalisation of the agricultural trade has resulted in new opportunities and threats to Punjab agriculture. We are likely to gain in some crops/enterprises but constant efforts for improving quality (to meet international standards) and enhancing cost effectiveness (increasing productivity, reducing costs) in these crops/products are essential. Liberalisation of agricultural imports, which will gain momentum in the years to come, will subject our farmers to competition from outside. Thus, there is an urgent need to increase the competitiveness of our agricultural produce.
Unlike the Green Revolution which was supply-driven and based on the adoption of generalised recommendations by farmers, the future growth of agriculture will be demand-driven. Science has an important role to play in broadening the range of options available to the farmers. Obviously, we have to develop and continuously update location-specific, cost-effective, globally competitive and eco-friendly technologies for increasing cereal, vegetable, fruit and livestock production and for processing agricultural, horticultural and livestock products. We need to have a modernised, robust, well-funded and revitalised system in the state for technology generation, assessment, refinement and dissemination to capitalise on the latest developments in biotechnology, genetic engineering, information technology, etc. At present Punjab is spending about 0.5 per cent of the state domestic product from agriculture (including livestock) on agricultural research and education against 2 per cent in developed countries. Adequate public investment in agricultural research, education and extension is, therefore, crucial. If this is not done Punjab will lose its leadership role in agriculture.
The changing face of agriculture in future will require a farmer to make very complex decisions such as the following:
«What technological options could be used profitably in his situation, keeping in view the potential resource constraints in terms of land, capital, labour and knowledge?
«How to manage different technologies? (e.g. how to make optimal use of new inputs on his farm?)
«How and when to change his farming system? (e.g. diversifying from crop production to mixed farming or vegetable or animal production).
«When, where and in what form is there demand for agricultural produce/products?
«What are the quality specifications he should achieve to get good value for his produce and how to meet them? (e.g. for export markets, organic farming, chemical residues)
«How, when and where to buy inputs and sell products?
«How to find quickly the most relevant and reliable knowledge and information?
«What are the feasible off-farm income generation options available for him and how far can he depend on them?
«What are the implications for his farming if the input subsidies are phased out and/or if the trade in agriculture is liberalised?
To make decisions, a farmer will require information from different sources and will often need help to integrate this information in the context of his farm. Training and technical support have to be provided to the farmers to adopt different enterprises which will require a high degree of skill and knowledge.
Upto the seventies the standard of education in the village schools were good. Students from these schools were able to successfully pursue higher studies in professional colleges/universities and constituted the bulk of the technical personnel in engineering, medicine, agriculture and allied fields. They had an empathy for the peasantry. However, the quality of education in the rural areas has declined during the last two decades. At present, the system of education is not producing the desired results. If Punjab is to maintain its number one position in agriculture, it will be imperative to improve knowledge and skills of the farming community. Special efforts have to be made to improve the standard of education in rural schools. In addition to traditional education, attention should be focused on vocational training for high-tech agriculture, industry and the service sector.
Land resources being limited, an increase in cropping intensity was essential for increasing the cropped area. But intensification has resulted in a number of pests attacking the crops at different stages of growth. Only an educated and well-trained farmer can identify the pests and apply the correct dose of the recommended pesticide at the appropriate stage by using suitable equipment. Nature has build up an excellent biological balance in the agro-ecosystem. Whenever pest outbreaks occur, natural enemies like insect parasites, birds and other predators bring the pest population to low levels which minimises pest damage to the crop. For exploiting the natural balance to his advantage, a farmer has to use need-based pest management strategies involving cultural, biological and chemical control measures. This is not expected of a farmer who is not educated and cannot read the warning label on the pesticide container.
Similarly, the use of hybrid seeds of crops like maize and vegetables is necessary for obtaining higher yields. Production of these costly seeds can be taken up by the farmers only if they understand the bases of hybrid seed production and are aware of the losses if slight mistakes are made like not timely detasselling in the case of maize, resulting in a seed which is of a very poor quality. Consequently, all the effort, time, labour and investment are wasted. Several such examples can be given. Dairy farming is an income support enterprise for small farmers and cannot be run as a commercial venture if they are not properly educated and trained. Balanced nutrition, the ability to identify the field symptoms of deficiencies (e.g. zinc, iron, manganese, sulphur which have appeared because of overexploitation of soils) and their amelioration cannot be successfully accomplished by farmers who are not educated and well informed. Cattle health and pregnancies are also adversely affected by these deficiencies. At the cost of repetition it must be stated that unless rural school education is improved and unless soil and water resources are conserved to maintain adequacy and quality of ground-water and fertility of soil, there is absolutely no way that Punjab will be able to use new technologies for producing high yields and reducing the cost of production. The high cost of production, even if we obtain higher yields, will throw Punjab farmers out of the economic competition arena in the globalised and free market.
Another issue which needs to be debated and appreciated is the pressure of population on land. Because of our inheritance laws, land-holdings are getting subdivided and smaller, and in many cases have reached a level where they have become uneconomical even if all the technologies are applied. For example, about 30 per cent farmers are cultivating up to 1 HA of land. Agricultural census figures for 1981 and 1991 indicate that the number of such holdings is increasing by 10,000 annually a very alarming situation indeed. Farmers have no option but to continue tilling small pieces of land. Except that such small farmers are self-employed (of course, highly underemployed), they are worse off than landless labourers who are able to get year-around employment. The current population and education policies need to be drastically changed. Up to the middle school level (8th standard) every child should be provided education with comparable facilities both of quality teachers and teaching aids in rural and urban areas. Thereafter there must be competitive culling process brilliant students can opt for higher education whereas others must be provided some selected vocational training in high/higher secondary schools which will enable them to get into industry/service sector. Otherwise, we will continue to produce graduates who will be unable to compete for jobs and will also be unfit for farming.
(To be concluded)
Australia and regional stability
AUSTRALIAS peacekeeping role in East Timor has significantly bolstered the countrys morale. Indonesia lost East Timor, a former Portuguese colony occupied by Jakarta in 1975, following a popular referendum against its rule last year. Jakarta-sponsored mayhem, that followed the referendum, necessitated a UN-mandated force to enforce peace. The force thus assembled was overwhelmingly Australian, commanded by Maj-Gen Peter Cosgrove. On his return to Australia, General Cosgrove has become quite a celebrity receiving honours and awards. He is a much sought-after guest at public functions. And he has now been promoted to become the countrys army commander by superseding some of his senior colleagues. He is also slated to become Australias armed forces chief in the next couple of years.
The tale of Maj-Gen Cosgroves rise is not just about him. It is about a new mood in Australia, where its peacekeeping role has almost been elevated to a military victory of sorts. And Maj-Gen Cosgrove represents that public face. He seems to reflect Australias glory. This is a bit sad when a country has to conjure up imaginary victories for its morale. As Richard McGregor, a senior Australian journalist (now leaving to work with a British newspaper), has commented, I am not sure if I am the only one, but has anyone else been surprised, perhaps even a little wary about the speedy beatification of Maj-Gen Peter Cosgrove?... (After all) East Timor was no Stalingrad. Disarming a bunch of ill-organised militias does not rank as one of Australias great military triumphs.
Maj-Gen Peter Cosgroves elevation and adulation against the backdrop of Indonesias humiliation in East Timor will hardly be welcome news in Jakarta. And might even appear sinister, with Canberras strong overtones of a higher regional military role. The recent scrambling of Indonesian military planes to intercept Australian FA-18 fighters on a flight to Singapore was a dangerous example of mutual suspicions between the two neighbours. There have been earlier reports of similar incidents. Mercifully, open military clashes have been avoided so far. But the suspicions remain.
There are fears in Jakarta that East Timor might become an Australian military base to subvert Indonesia. There are charges of intelligencegathering, aerial surveillance and ferrying of arms to Indonesias rebel territories. It might all be exaggerated, indicative of Indonesias rebel territories. It might all be exaggerated, indicative of Indonesias general sense of malaise. But there is a strong perception there that, in the wake of East Timor, Australias intentions are no longer benign.
And this is not helped by reports that Australia is building up an amphibious assault force that will allow the Navy to land and support troops far from the Australian mainland for the first time since World War-II.
Indeed, there is a view in Australia that Indonesia is unravelling. But it will be a prolonged process with the countrys dominant Javanese establishment fighting it out to maintain the territorial status quo. And this will create serious problems for Australia. For instance: Development of an alliance with Indonesia and Malaysia to save the Javanese empire will leave Singapore exposed and vulnerable, with serious implications for Australias security.
It is not entirely surprising that the alarm bells are ringing in Jakarta. According to an article in Jakarta Post, quoted in the Australian press, East Timor is part of a US plan to establish a NATO-type military alliance in the region. Prime Minister John Howard has already sought to cast Australia in the role of a regional deputy to the USA as the global policeman.
Jakarta aside, Mr John Howards description of Australia as Americas regional deputy wouldnt go well with Beijing either.
The centrality of
Australias US-connection is nothing new. The main
difference now is that the Howard government, compared to
its Labour predecessor, is de-emphasising Asias
importance in Canberras scheme of things. According
to Foreign Minister Downer, Australia is keen on
practical regionalism as against
cultural regionalism that ties Asian
countries, based on an emotional, historical and
cultural community of interests. In other words,
Australia sees itself as an outsider with its own
European heritage. And if this outsider image
is behind Australias new forward
defence policy, it doesnt speak well for
regional strategic stability.
A visit to
THE year 1941 of the Christian era. My father along with the other members of the family had gone to Rawalpindi to attend his cousins wedding. His maternal uncle had given him a gift. A small clock. Till recently, it had been always there on the mantle. A few months older than me, the little timekeeper was a constant reminder of the fact that Rawalpindi was once an integral part of India.
At that time, we were slaves. Of the English. But, the country was one. We were one people. All Indians. Living together. As one nation. We had fought together. Against the foreign ruler. For the independence of the country. A large number of persons had courted arrest. Suffered imprisonment. Even beating and bullets. Also insult and torture. And the sacrifices were not in vain. We had succeeded. The year 1947 had brought independence. We had become a free country. That was good. But, India was partitioned. A part of it was severed. That was sad. In fact, very painful.
A man-made border separated the two people. Just the small, lifeless pillars of brick and mortar. Raised along an invisible boundary line. And then the barbed wire fence. The iron gates. All to ensure that men, women and children do not cross from one side to the other. And these barriers exist at different places. Wagah is one of the many. At a distance of about 30 km. From Amritsar. The pillars and gates symbolise the division of one country into two. The separation of people who were born and brought up together.
What did Wagah look like? I did not know. I had heard stories but not seen the place. Despite the fact that I am a born Punjabi. I was curious too. Finally, the holidays, an almost permanent feature in our country, provided the opportunity. The family was together. The children and grandchildren too. We made a trip. And what a sight! Just two gates. Separated by a narrow strip of road. The two flags flying. As the sunset draws close, the men on both sides get ready to beat the retreat. They are smart, young and handsome. They go through the motions. There are large number of people watching. On both sides. They clap to applaud the smart turnout of the officers. Each side taking some pride in its men.
We watch. There are many with cameras. They are busy recording every moment and movement. The people on both sides look alike. They see each other and smile. All speak the same language. Eat and enjoy the same food. Man to man, they like each other. Some amongst them have fond memories of good moments. Spent together. And then, both are poor. Both depend on foreign aid. Yet, both sides are spending more on arms to fight than on food to feed the poor and needy. Both utilise the aid to arm the armies. At the end of each day, both are left with men without arms. Sad and handicapped.
The faint childhood memories come back. I recall the day when a young and goodlooking lady who lived next door had come to say goodbye to my mother. The two had hugged each other. Then, they had actually cried. Audibly. As if two dear ones were parting company. Both were sad. But soon, the two people who had worked together, were at war with each other. And since then we have continued to fight. Almost continuously. We have been at war. With each other. At what cost? To what end? Each day, both are left with the cripples and widows. They have their own tales of woe to tell. We can only hear and cry.
Kumar earns ridicule
THE return of Nitish Kumar to the Union Cabinet as Agriculture Minister has made him a subject of ridicule in Bihar, a state where he failed to last in the Chief Ministers post for even 10 days.
Kumar, who belongs to the Samata Party which is a partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had quit the Agriculture Ministers post before becoming Bihar Chief Minister in March.
When he realised he could not prove his majority in the Assembly, Kumar stepped down from the Chief Ministers post and pledged not to run back to New Delhi to resume ministerial duties there till he had rid Bihar of the jungle raj of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Kumars inclusion in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Saturdays reshuffle has added to Yadavs political arsenal. Nitish is an opportunist, said the RJD chief of the man who was once among his closest aides. He always claimed he would not leave the State but as he cannot live without power he joined the Union Cabinet.
However, Kumar told a private news channel that he would remain closely associated with Bihar politics even as a Union Minister. I shall be working for Bihar and its developments despite being in the Union Government, he said.
But political analysts here say Kumars re-inclusion in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayees Cabinet will further erode the NDAs credibility in Bihar.
The NDA was formed by the Samata Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar to challenge Laloo Yadav. The formation received a shot in the arm when the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) of Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav decided to join as well. The various parties brought to the table support from different groups cutting across the caste spectrum to break Laloo Yadavs traditional backing from Muslims and members of his own Yadav community.
When the NDA won 30 out of Bihars 54 parliamentary seats last year, most expected the formation to sweep the February Assembly polls in the state. But before they could face the Assembly election, things began to go wrong.
It all started with the on-again, off-again merger of the Samata and JD(U). Nitish Kumar, who had earlier agreed to the merger, suddenly realised he personally stood to lose from it as Paswan was a more formidable politician, political analysts noted.
This was closely followed by intense squabbling among NDA partners over seat-sharing for the Assembly polls. After that the NDA leaders engaged in another tug of war over who would be Chief Minister if the alliance won.
The confusion caused by all this helped Laloo Yadav who quietly consolidate his position by pointing out that the NDA was a deeply divided house. The writing was on the wall when the NDA partners jointly managed to win only 122 seats in the 324-member Assembly against the RJDs tally of 123.
Nitish Kumar was elected leader of the NDA in the Assembly. He won the support of small parties supporting the cause of creation of Jharkhand and some independent legislators and staked claim to forming the government. Governor Vinod Pande swore Kumar in as Chief Minister and gave him 10 days to prove his majority, something the NDA leader failed to do.
In the period he got to secure support for his government, Kumar lost the respect of many in Bihar by wooing legislators with known criminal records like Suraj Bhan Singh and Rajen Tiwari, both of whom had won the Assembly polls as Independent candidates from behind bars.
rainfall to hit tea crop
INDIA is unlikely to achieve its 950 million kg target for tea production this financial year with irregular rainfall stunting growth of the bushes, officials here say.
The Central Government and the Tea Board of India, the apex body of the tea industry, had last week announced an increase of 45 million kg in the target for 2000-01 over last years projected tea production of 905 million kg.
But the mood in the heart of tea country in Assam, which accounts for nearly 55 per cent of the total annual production, seems far from upbeat with the region experiencing uneven rainfall.
The crop position was not satisfactory during the first flush which ended last week as there was a long dry spell, coupled with soaring temperatures, during mid-April to mid-May, Robin Barthakur, Secretary-General of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association (ABITA), said.
Planters say tea production will show an upward trend only when there is enough rain at night followed by a rise in temperature and humidity during the day.
Hit by severe dry spells in states like Assam and West Bengal, tea output had fallen short of the production target of 905 million kg to stand at 805 million kg in 1999-2000.
The mood is not really upbeat this time as well and we do not have great expectations as far as achieving the projected target this year also due to the inadequate rainfall, Kalyan Phukan, the chairman of ABITA, said. Let us hope for weather conditions favouring us (as then) we shall be able to recover during the second flush beginning now till the first half of August.
The targetted tea production in Assam during the first flush, which ended on May 22, fell short by at least 35 per cent.
To achieve the target, the Tea Board of India and the Central Government have announced measures like financial assistance to the tea industry through development schemes such as encouraging the extension of plantations, replanting, rejuvenation pruning, creation of irrigation facilities and better drainage.
India is the largest producer and exporter of tea in the world, sending 205 million kg overseas last year.
India is also a tea importer, buying the beverage from nearly 20 countries with Indonesia topping the list at 4.36 million kg in 1998-99, followed by Turkey at 2.51 million kg. Other major import sources for India are Bangladesh at 540,000 kg, Kenya at 440,000 kg and Sri Lanka at 390,000 kg.
THE speech made by Sir Malcolm Hailey at the inauguration of the Lahore Health Exhibition furnishes much food for thought to all who are anxious to promote the cause of public health. His Excellency rightly observed that no department of health, and no agency for the provision of curative medicine, can really secure health to a people who do not apply the primary laws of hygiene and health.
Though we are not prepared to absolve the Government of its share of responsibility for popular ignorance of the primary laws of health and hygiene, we hope the people will appreciate and take the fullest advantage of the lectures and exhibitions that are being held throughout the Province.
As Sir Malcolm Hailey himself stated, no one expects any immediate or dramatic results to flow from these activities; but all attempts at the diffusion of knowledge about public health are to be welcomed, and if these attempts are persisted in along right lines, much good can be expected in the near future.
Poverty and ignorance are the two main causes of disease and abnormal rate of mortality; and while the former can only be removed as the result of far-reaching efforts extending over a long period, ignorance can surely be dispelled in a comparative short time if earnest, energetic and well-directed attempts are made in that behalf.
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