|Thursday, June 1, 2000,
aid to kisans
anguish at Kurukshetra
June 1, 1925
IN its supreme wisdom the Centre has slashed the annual aid to kisans in Punjabs border districts by as high as 12 per cent from Rs 8 crore to Rs 7 crore this year. This is against Chief Minister Badals demand for Rs 9 crore, Rs 3000 for every 30,000 acres in the three districts of Amritsar, Ferozepore and Gurdaspur. How New Delhi arrived at the amount is not clear, but it seems the Centre was attracted by the figure of Rs 1 crore, which the state government wanted as an increase. Rs 1 crore it shall be even if it is a reduction and not an addition! Also, this year more bridges 25 in all will come up across the drain and if the promised grants are forthcoming, schools, bridges and toilets as well. Of course, this generous mood will not cost much, about Rs 20 crore, but it sounds good and projects the government as kisan-friendly. There is also the promise to step up recruitment of youth from these villages to para-military forces and lay some roads for the smooth movement of BSF personnel. Both Defence Minister Fernandes and BSF DGP Rammohan were present at the meeting from where these decision emerged. That was a clear give-away: the Centre treats the problems of the kisans with land beyond the concertina wire fence as a security problem, pure and simple. Once this argument enters the thinking, flexibility of approach flies out of the window and decisions tumble out with military precision.
The fence is a monument
to the darkest period in the state in recent years. It is
also a monument to whimsical thinking and action of the
uniformed forces. At the height of militancy the sole
objective was to stop the flow of men and arms from
across the border. Also to choke smuggling. So the fence
came up dotted with border observation posts. The trouble
is not along the border but has a life of its own. The
land on the other side of the bench but on this side of
the international border has thus become a security zone.
There are openings in the fence for farm workers to cross
and get to work. When they return home in the evening,
all are frisked frisked after work in their land
in remote villages. This is to prevent smuggling through
third party. All this can be done only during the day and
hence there is no night duty! Flood in the drain adds
much misery which will end once bridges come up. Schools
and hospitals (actually primary health centres) are
adds-on and part of the indifferently run poverty
alleviation and rural development schemes. Any sense of
satisfaction at these much- delayed relief measures will
surely be reduced by the cut in cash assistance. But the
bright side is that this handout has become an annual
obligation. It is long due. Incidentally, what about a
review of the very concept of a fence in view of the
dramatically changed situation in Punjab? Also why not
find a permanent answer to the questions the farmers
raise every year?
THE acquittal by a special court in Chennai on Tuesday in the colour TV scam must have come as a big relief to AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha. She was earlier sentenced to a year's prison term in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case on charges of granting exemption from rules to enable an entrepreneur to build a seven-storey hotel at Kodaikanal (the sentence was suspended by the High Court). A conviction in the TV scam case would have been a debilitating political setback. Since the state government is going in appeal against her acquittal, it will be premature for her to say that "truth has prevailed". But what is significant is that the prosecutors have proved that huge bribes were paid to public servants in the case. Among those against whom damning evidence of accepting bribes from television companies to the tune of Rs 10 crore has been found in the purchase of 45,302 colour TV sets by the Jayalalitha regime in 1995 are party MP T.M. Selvaganapathy and three IAS officers. In his 134-page judgement in Tamil, the Judge has held that a decision taken at a Cabinet meeting could not be characterised as a criminal conspiracy. Ms Jayalalitha is also facing trial in the Tansi land, coal import and the Rs 66.65-crore disproportionate assets case. The former Chief Minister is perhaps on the weakest wicket in the assets case. She has all along held that these cases are politically motivated. She may get some sympathy as a woman in trouble but has not really been able to wash off the stigma that corruption during her regime had reached its peak. The ostentatious display of wealth by her is part of folklore. The road to her political comeback is going to be long and bumpy.
In any case, judgements
in the corruption cases involving politicians have
stopped being a barometer of their innocence or
otherwise. The popular belief is that they are just rich
and powerful enough to hoodwink the legal system. What
they are to be worried about is the larger moral,
political and social fallout. At the same time,
realisation must be dawning on at least some of the
leaders that even if you can wriggle out of nine out of
10 cases, the 10th one can be their undoing. Even
otherwise, the botheration of fending off all these cases
can be quite a burden, wiping out a sizeable chunk of
assets that one may have accumulated on the sly. The
signals going out may be faint but are quite clear that
it does not really pay to be corrupt. Thick-skinned
politicians may not turn squeaky clean all of a sudden
but at least they are pragmatic enough to realise that
they have to be accountable at some stage. If gaping
loopholes in the legal system are effectively plugged,
much-needed probity in public life can some day become
THOSE who thought that Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray would be punished for his role in the post-Babri Masjid riots in Mumbai have a reason to feel disappointed. The Maharashtra government has confirmed the disappearance of crucial files related to the case. Big fish do not eat big fish; and if they happen to breathe politics through their gills, they make it a point not to betray their class. The Indian political class has evolved an effective one point strategy for collective survival. It consists of politicians attacking their "business" rivals in public, and promising them protection in private for their acts of transgressions. If the one point survival strategy looks like a straight lift from the crooks code of conduct, the similarity is incidental. The victims of the communal carnage which visited Mumbai in 1993 were promised justice. Congress leaders were more vociferous than members of other "secular" parties in condemning the "diabolical game" of the Shiv Sainiks and members of the Sangh Parivar for spreading communal hatred in the country. The Nationalist Congress Party had not been born and Mr Sharad Pawar took the lead in promising a relentless crusade against the forces of communalism as a "dedicated soldier" of the Congress. Political compulsions have now forced the Congress and the NCP to enter into an uneasy alliance for sharing power in Maharashtra. Both Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Deputy Chief Minister Chagan Bhujbal had promised legal action against Mr Thackeray and his supporters, accused of having instigated the worst-ever communal riot in Mumbai.
Of course, it is
possible that the crucial files may have been made to
disappear by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine
when it was in power. The Shiv Sena-BJP's opposition to
the setting up of the Srikrishna Commission for
investigating the riots and subsequent institution of
cases against the culprits is well documented. They had
disbanded the commission before a combination of
political and public pressure forced them to revive it.
The findings of the commission were made public after
much dithering. But Justice Srikrishna's recommendations
for action against whom, including Mr Thackeray, there
was sufficient evidence of direct or indirect complicity
in organising the carnage were predictably ignored. The
Congress-NCP coalition had promised to undo the mischief
and bring the guilty to book. That is why Mr Deshmukh and
Mr Bhujbal would have to come clean about the
circumstances in which the crucial files went missing
from the safe custody of the state's home department. The
case, registered at Dadar Police Station, was the only
one which the Shiv Sena-BJP had failed to kill before
demitting office. But what good is an "alive"
case if the files containing clinching evidence are made
to disappear? Necessary "orders" have been
issued for "reconstructing" the files. By the
time the "reconstruction" job is completed it
may be time for fresh assembly elections. In any case, it
is not for the first time that politically inconvenient
files have gone missing. At some point of time the book
on Indian political tricks may begin to describe
"missing, "disappeared" and
"destroyed" as polite expressions for
describing what in common parlance is called
LAND and water are the critical resources for agricultural production. Although the high productivity levels of rice and wheat in Punjab undergirdle the national food security system, these have been achieved at the cost of over-exploitation of underground water resources, excessive mining of soils and increased cases of weeds, diseases and insects. As agricultural demands on the resource base intensify, greater attention needs to be given to sustainability and the containment of the potentially adverse environmental impact of the present technologies.
Continuous cultivation of rice and wheat on the same soil has resulted in the depletion of nutrients from soils. This is a natural phenomenon because the removal has not been replenished by additions. Our soils are inherently low in organic matter which has been further depleted by intensive cultivation and the practice of burning combine harvested rice and wheat straw. During the sixties high yields could be obtained with the application of nitrogen alone, but now deficiencies of phosphorus, zinc, iron, manganese and sulphur are widespread.
To ameliorate multinutrient deficiencies and imbalances, Punjab farmers are now using about 1.38 million tonnes of NPK fertilisers in addition to 25,000 tonnes of zinc sulphate every year. Depletion of certain minerals in the soil-plant system has resulted in the emergence of specific mineral deficiencies in farm animals. Molybdenum-induced copper deficiency as well as phosphorus, iodine and manganese deficiencies have been widely identified in dairy animals from different parts of the state. In the case of copper alone, more than nine copper-responsive disorders have been recorded in dairy animals and sheep which are adversely affecting production and reproductive efficiency, resulting in economic losses to the livestock farmers. Fluorosis and selenosis are endemic in some parts of the state. It is, therefore, of paramount importance to restore health and resilience of Punjab soils by strengthening soil testing laboratories and educating the farmers about improving soil quality by using integrated methods of nutrient management, and by training them in the identification and amelioration of nutrient deficiencies in the field. This may ultimately enable us to achieve higher cropping intensity and increase livestock productivity on a sustainable basis.
Because of labour shortage, we use weedicides. Their use has become so intense that Punjab with 1.5 per cent of the geographical area of the country uses about 60 per cent of the weedicides used in India. As a result of the emergence of rice-wheat rotation as the predominant cropping pattern, and the high use of weedicides, several new weeds have emerged and some have developed resistance to weedicides. The increased weedicide load in the soil is also harmful for its health. We have to develop innovative practices or shift to other crops which smother the weeds. We may have to adopt mechanical control of weeds by developing appropriate tractor-drawn implements.
As a result of better economics of rice cultivation, the area under this crop has increased from 0.23 million HA in 1960 to 2.60 million HA in 1999. Although PAU recommends that for higher yields, rice should be transplanted during the first three weeks of June, many farmers have been going for early transplanting of rice, even during the months of April-May. Because of a very high evaporative demand, early transplanting of rice puts a big drain on the underground water which has been declining at the rate of 23 cm/year in the Central Plain zone. We are also facing the problem of the rising water-table in south-western districts which has adversely affected cotton production. Researches carried out at PAU have clearly shown that after the establishment of rice seedlings the irrigation to the rice crop should be given two days after the soaking of water. This results in considerable saving in irrigation water but farmers are not following this practice. For maintaining water balance in the state, about 30 per cent area needs to be shifted from rice to other crops, but at present we do not have any viable alternative because the yields and prices of alternative crops like soyabean, groundnut or maize do not compete with rice.
If we do not take immediate steps to check the receding water-table, we will be seriously jeopardising the future of agriculture in Punjab. If the present trends continue, about two lakh shallow tubewells will need to be replaced with submersible pumps during the next 15 years at a tremendous cost which many small farmers cannot afford. The lowering of the water-table will also drastically increase the demand for electricity which is already scarce in the state. Furthermore, the quality and quantity of water at lower depths is unknown. In order to fully harness the technological opportunities for conservation and exploitation of land and water resources, it may be imperative to have regulatory policies. No policy should be adopted which tends to induce tendencies for inefficient and wasteful use of irrigation water.
Punjab has traditionally been the land of small farmers. Due to the subdivision of land-holdings more than 50 per cent farmers in the state cultivate less than two hectare land, and about 80 per cent farmers are below the average per capita income of the state. In the foreseeable future Punjab will remain wedded to intensive small holder agriculture. For providing livelihood security to our people in this scenario, it is necessary to develop backward and forward linkages, to integrate agricultural development with non-agriculture and non-farm sectors, and to develop innovative institutional arrangements for sustained income growth. A growth strategy along this pathway requires very clear policy thrust on industries in the rural areas. In the long run, an exclusive focus on agriculture will not bridge the gap between rural and urban incomes regardless of the level of production achieved. Obviously, there is need to diversify from high-yielding to high-value crops and livestock such as fruits, vegetables, fishery, dairying, forest farming, bee-keeping and mushroom production. Value-addition to agricultural and livestock produce should be promoted in a big way. These diversification options are technically feasible and economically viable. However, the available infrastructure and institutional mechanisms are grossly inadequate to meet the requirements of these diversification options. Investments in the modernisation of rural techno-infrastructure, post-harvest handling and processing, market intelligence and the use of modern tools of information technology must be promoted in a big way to meet the emerging challenges.
India's Partition in 1947 resulted in a large-scale migration of population, disruption of economic activities and food shortages in Punjab. Immediately after Independence steps were taken for the rehabilitation of refugees, consolidation of land-holdings and improvement of irrigation facilities. Development and dissemination of agrotechnologies and simultaneous development of support services by the government during the sixties and the seventies resulted in a quantum jump in food production, popularly known as the Green Revolution.
As we have entered the new millennium, Punjab agriculture is again at the crossroads, and we are facing second-generation Green Revolution problems. There is need for making concerted efforts for effectively and expeditiously addressing the challenges faced by the agricultural sector. These include reducing pressure on land; improving the quality of education and making it more vocationalised; developing technologies which increase productivity, reduce the cost of cultivation and make our produce nationally and internationally competitive; and conserving soil and water the only natural resources the state has. The next 10 years are crucial for implementing need-based programmes, strengthening institutional mechanisms and undertaking policy initiatives for maintaining the number one position of Punjab in agriculture. If Punjab is unable to do this it will lose its leadership role.
If Punjab does not develop the human capital capable of using the latest technologies. (e.g. gene technology) to develop new farming practices, diagnosing field problems and adopting ameliorative measures, and if it continues over-exploitation of soil and water, it will not only lose the race (for which the milestones of success are economic competition and quality) but also face serious inequalities and grave problems of relative poverty with accompanying evils.
education: the challenges ahead
INITIATING a career in a satellite town used to have many handicaps even in the era when the number of jobs available in the government sector was significantly high. The modern era characterised by information technology, or what we refer as the IT revolution, has not delivered any tangible benefits to the residents of these areas. Of course, there are far too many so-called computer institutes in each of such towns. But there is lack of appropriate regulatory authority for controlling the quality of what is being taught in these institutes. No doubt, there is the Department of Information Technology in many states and also at the level of the Central Government, but it is not very effective so far. It is also clear that such mandatory regulatory authority having control over the quality of provisions by all computer shops (nee institutes) seems to be a matter of time.
The reasons for the ineffectiveness of IT education in these towns have more to do with the lack of suitably qualified trainers. The demand for quality IT professionals is tremendous in Indian metropolitan cities like Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore as also in most developed countries. In that case, either the quality trainers are lured to Indian metros or eventually migrate to greener pastures in the West. On the other hand, the students in most of the computer institutes in satellite towns are left high and dry.
At the end of getting a diploma from an IT institute located in any satellite town, that too with considerable spending, the students often find that what they did learn was insufficient on many counts. One, they did not do their projects in prestigious companies and, therefore, developed no idea of the applicability of their learning. Two, the courses were not updated and sometimes even the emphasis in the courses at institute was not on what was expected by the industry. Three, the level of motivation of other participants in the course could be lower than what could be found in Delhi. The institution never went at length to cultivate such skills as confidence-building, assertiveness, working in teams, problem solving, and the presentation of written and oral material or what we call as effective communication. The necessity of business skills such as marketing, finance, enterprise development and medical and legal transcription was never stated to be important.
Such a picture of pessimism would become far too gloomier if the level of benefits, which IT training has offered to our villagers, is quantified. The direct benefits to the individual villager are few. No doubt, the reach of the government to the villagers has improved at a pace which was unimaginable only a year ago. Riding the story of success of IT in rural development are the states of Andhra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Possibly Punjab and Haryana are likely to join the group sooner than later. This does not mean that the people in the towns and villages are becoming IT-literate at a faster pace. IT-literacy may be a rather far-fetched dream as many of the villagers are not literate in the crudest sense.
Democratisation of literacy, then education and along with it IT education are social obligations which the government must provide so that the quality of life of most of its citizens gets better. The difficulties could be many but we must overcome them. The core areas of human development are right to information, education and health. Realising that a large number of IT professionals will be required to be retained in small towns and villages for IT training, it is high time for the government, planners and the private sector to prioritise the provision of a sufficient number of quality trainers.
The only way that seems possible is training the trainers or what we can call IT teachers. While the trainers at a university and college with a Ph.D. degree, most of the times, have been found competent to teach, the situation in the schools, in particular, is alarming. Teacher-training academies that can train a variety of teachers for schools seems to be the answer. Courses can be offered at the levels of Junior Basic Teacher (JBT), Bachelor of Education and Master of Education in Information Technology. The problem can be best tackled by opening an institute of this nature in each state at the initial stage. This institute not only should train the teachers in IT but also in the areas where IT can have its practical use. Such areas may be business management, enterprise development, environmental management, agricultural management and health management. With such a mandate, the institute can bring IT to the centre of activity in most areas. This strategy will fit into a vision where Haryana can reap the maximum benefits as the dominant partner of the National Capital Region (NCR). It is time to get on the job!
WHEN, one day I spotted a parrot sitting on my ber tree its beauty enchanted me. I found its shining green colour, red beak, and the red lining around its neck, very attractive. Perched gracefully on a twig it was assessing the opportunities for enjoying tasty ber fruits. It watched the surroundings for a while and flew away. I wished it had stayed a little longer.
After an hour or so, a group of parrots descended on my tree. The parrot that I saw earlier must have invited them! They screeched in tandem, announcing their arrival and started devouring the fruits. My wife also came out as I watched the scene. She observed the loss of fruits. She clapped to scare the birds. They flew away openly expressing their displeasure through loud collective screeches. I did not quite like my wifes action. I told her: This tree was not grown by your father-in-law. We have come to acquire the tree just by chance. It happens to be on the compound of the house that has been allotted to me by the university. These birds too have a right to consume the fruits.
As the fruits ripened, the frequency and number of parrot visitors increased. We realised that they would finish the fruits and nothing would be left for us. There was, now, a conflict between the objectives of enjoying the aesthetic beauty of the graceful birds and our eating tasty bers. When there is a conflict between mundane and sublime interests, often men go in for the mundane. The same happened in this situation also. We decided to protect the fruits from the rampaging birds. We used all the methods thought effective by us and also others advised by our friends to stop the parrots. But, all our efforts were in vain. The parrots left practically nothing for us. They come and destroy the yield every year. They do the same to our guavas.
I would not mind the parrot sharing the fruits with us in some equitable manner. But, I did not like the way they wasted the fruits. They would cut the fruits into pieces, take the seeds, crush them and eat the giris inside the seeds. A heap of wasted fruits, the parts that humans eat, would be littered on the ground everyday. I wonder if the parrots have learnt this profligacy from humans, as they have lived in their close company as pets for long!
The parrots imitate
their masters. One has to try hard to teach the parrots
to recite Gods name: Mitthoo, Ram Kaho.
But they pick up abuses quickly, almost spontaneously.
Perhaps, that is how and why the parrots adopt wasteful
methods of consumption! Man destroys invaluable forests.
He depletes limited natural wealth. He pollutes his
environment for an unmindful pursuit of conspicuous
consumption goals. May be, the parrots have quickly
learnt the undesirable human behaviour!
When Arjuna first appears on the scene one cannot fail to be struck by the painful moral isolation of his position. No one around him seems to share in the least the great sorrow that weighed him down. He poured forth all the anguish of his soul to his confidant Krishna. He felt overwhelmed by the burden of the solemn duty of revenge enjoined on him by his friend and guide.
Krishna thought that Arjuna was bound, hand and foot, by the trammels of conventionality, and the exigencies of the time required the destruction of the old structure and the building of the new one. Evil and injustice must be fought at all cost. But Krishna found Arjuna mistaking the shadow for substance.
Seeing Arjunas eyes full and distressed with tears, Krishna smiled. What a smile it was! It is a thousand pities indeed that no great painter or poet has cared to capture the enigmatic or perhaps inscrutable smile in his creative work. Perhaps it requires the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare to produce such a work of creative excellence. Vinci's Mona Lisa smile is our priceless cultural treasure.
Up to the 10th chapter Arjuna keeps asking Krishna quite a number of questions which agitate his mind about duty, action and the meaning of life. The problem is how to live and what to do with one's life. Arjuna's questions are precise, significant and still relevant. There is a timeless quality about them. Questions and answers are co-relative and form a lively and meaningful dialogue between a versatile shisya and a philosophic and sagacious guru.
Arjuna is a dialectician, and Krishna by grasping the nettle of Arjuna's doubts, explains his point of view through illustrations, historical precedents, and by his philosophical discourse on divine knowledge. It is in the 11th chapter that Arjuna completely surrenders to Krishna, the Godhead visitant, but this he does not after seeing the manifestation of his Divine Power with the help of Divine eyes given to him for the purpose to understand the Ultimate.
The Gita has many surprises to give to its readers, and every time we read it we find it telling us things unexpected and startlingly new. The central point of the Gita is brilliantly presented by Sanjay in the last but one verse of the Gita when he says: 'Wherever there is Krishna, Yoga's Lord, wherever is Partha, the archer, assured are there prosperity, victory and happiness. So I think'.
It is the harmonious combination of philosophic poise and fervent action that fulfils the purpose of life; a fusion of Bhakti and Shakti. What could be a greater lesson for a nation? But unfortunately throughout history we have forgotten it, much to our peril, at most crucial times.
The writer is an eminent historian
AT a meeting of the Empire Cotton
Growing Corporation held recently, Coil. French is
reported to have stated that to improve Indian cotton it
was necessary to employ British University men in the
Indian Agriculture Service. It is remarkable how the
clamour for high posts in India is being encouraged in
England. If Englishmen are to be employed even for
regulating the growth of agricultural produce, what
should become of Indians who are educated and who acquire
technical qualifications? There should be a limit to this
sort of aggression and a strong protest should be made
against this tendency.
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