Punjabi Antenna

Informative shows on Bt brinjal
Randeep Wadehra

Agriculture in general and genetically-modified crops in particular dominated the talk shows like Masle (PTC News) and Khabarsar (Zee Punjabi), which devoted considerable time and effort in understanding the various aspects of Bt brinjal and Bt cotton-related controversies (Bt stands for Bacillus Thuringienses — a bacterium used in pesticides which is naturally available in the guts of caterpillars, moths or butterflies). Experts from such disciplines as agriculture, medicine and biotechnology explained the various environmental and health hazards that may ensue if such crops were allowed to be regularly cultivated on a large scale.

Fears were also expressed that dependence on the genetically modified crops would ensure monopoly on seeds of MNCs, opening up the prospects of neo-colonialism where the corporate sector would actually take over Third World countries. Although no economist was present in the discussions telecast by the two channels, the long-term economic effects, too, were mentioned. However, it was clear from the experts’ admissions that enough data was not available for coming to any conclusion regarding the desirability of going in for GM crops. Nevertheless the sentiment — uninformed or the result of disinformation campaign — was strongly against this new breed of agricultural products.

Two questions figured prominently: Has the insecticide lobby been stoking the recent fires of anti-Bt brinjal agitation in the country? Is there a veiled government agenda to take out the marginal farmers (who form about 70% of the farming community) from the agriculture sector and deploy them elsewhere?

The insecticide lobby definitely stands to lose substantially if Bt crops become acceptable for human consumption. Already, there are increasing numbers of scientific reports favouring these crops although the arguments against their consumption have not yet lost their potency. With further research and fine-tuning of the toxin factor, it is quite possible for genetically-modified crops to become staple diets globally. It is this scenario that has turned the pro-insecticide and anti-Bt lobbies desperate. Although the granting of permission to go ahead with Bt Brinjal farming has been postponed for the time-being, the sheer logic of feeding their burgeoning populations will force governments around the world to allow the cultivation of genetically-modified crops.

The second question might be merely speculative but one hard fact mentioned during the discussions needs to be seriously studied. The average monthly income of a farmer in India is less than Rs 3,000, whereas a government chaprasi’s monthly salary is Rs 15,000. This, in a nation where the farmer is often referred to as annadaata.

Are the Bhasha awards, given by the Punjab State Language Department, leading to unhealthy practices? This question was debated on the sets of Samwad (PTC News). The invited guests were such litterateurs as Piara Singh Bhogal, who has been recently given the Shiromani Punjabi Sahitkar Award and is a noted literary critic with dozens of books to his credit, including four novels, apart from several short stories; Dr Dalbir Singh Sirjana, who won the first ever Shiromani Punjabi Sahitak Pattarkar Award and runs the magazine, Sirjana, since even before Amrita Pritam started Nagmani; and Dr Sutinder Singh Noor, the eminent writer, poet, critic, and vice-president of the Bharatiya Sahitya Akademi as well as member of the governing council of the Punjabi Akademi.

While it is true that no award is free from controversy, the panellists pointed out that the Bhasha awards started attracting acrimony only after the prize money was recently jacked up several fold. Sifarish, including political pressures, is a potent tool in influencing the outcome. There were several suggestions to make the system immune to such pressures. But, the point is, no system can work without having people to man it, and there is no system that can cure human frailties.