Only Subscribed user can access the archives

Get full access to our 16 year old archives

Subscribe Now

Already subscribed? Sign In

COVER STORY

02-07-2004

fl211300-Cover

Briefing

From to death

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

The policies that have come to govern the peasant economy have made the peasant unable to cope with even mild shocks in production, and his plight is aggravated by the state abdicating its role, particularly in extending institutional credit and framing meaningful tenancy laws.

EVEN suicide does not appear to relieve the peasant in <149>Andhra Pradesh of his debts. Travelling across Telengana and Coastal Andhra where <149>this correspondent met at least a dozen peasant <149>families of suicide victims. he did <149>Not come across <149>a single case in which the death provided deliverance from debt. Barely days after the death, the creditors - <149>moneylenders,<149> dealers of fertiliser<149>s, pesticides and seeds and even "friends" and "relatives" - <149>continued to press the families to clear the debts of . Despite the grief, the families take great care<149> when <149>speaking <149>in about their creditors. Not a word is spoken in rancour. In fact, it appears that they are at the mercy of the lenders like never before.

20040702006901301jpg

Peasants in Andhra Pradesh, particularly the small and marginal ones, are in the grip of a predatory commercialisation of agriculture. This has changed the face of rural indebtedness. In particular, the "withdrawal of the state" either as a facilitator or as a provider of inputs, extension services or credit has been the key element of the pernicious policies which <149>have brought <149>wreckedthe peasant economy. Of course, the "withdrawal" has not happened accidentally.

The policies have not only effected a quantum jump in crucial inputs such as power, but allowed full play to seed, fertiliser <149>and pesticide dealers. A crucial part of the "package" has been the peasant's lack of access to credit from institutional sources - nationalised banks, cooperatives and the <149>specialised rural banks. Credit from these sources has virtually frozen in the last few years.

Prices of inputs in Andhra Pradesh are among the highest in the country. That is not difficult to fathom considering the fact that the input suppliers are also the chief suppliers of credit to farmers. M. Kodandarama Reddy, associate <149>professor <149>of political <149>science <149>in Osmania university<149>, says the typical input dealer acts like a "mini-World Bank". "He rarely lends cash. Inputs are supplied and adjusted against the outstanding amounts that the peasant owes him." This means that the borrower has no control overdetermining whether <149>the price or quality of the inputs is acceptable to him<149>. In parts of Nalgonda district, which has reported 20 suicides since the new <149>government assumed office, peasants have dug borewell after borewell in a desperate search for water. The money advanced by private moneylenders is paid directly to the rig operator, enabling them to collude against the peasant.

N. Narasimha Reddy, Nalgonda district president of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam (APRS) and former MLA representing the Communist party <149>of India (Marxist), told Frontline that even peasants supposed to be covered by the ayacut of the Nagarjunasagar Left Bank Canal had suffered serious crop losses in the last <149>three years. He observed that an average farmer with about three acres had struck at least 3-<149> borewells going down to 250-300 feet, each attempt costing them <149>at least Rs. <149>10,000. He observed: "Forget about credit, the state <149>machinery has not even deployed technical personnel such as geologists to help the farmer locate water."

Local residents said "water diviners" had a field day. One technique, apparently a popular one, involves the "diviner" walking across <149>the farm carrying a coconut in his palm. The stalk supposedly supright at the spot where the bore is drilled. This bizarre technique even stipulates that the blood group of the "diviner" be O positive blood group<149>.

20040702006901302jpg

It is important to situate the ongoing agrarian crisis in the context of the statistical fact that more than 80 per cent of the landholdings are up to<149> five acres (two hectares). Although some have argued that the crisis in agriculture has affected even sections of the middle and rich peasantry in parts of the state<149>, it is obvious that the small and marginal peasant and tenant cultivators have borne the brunt of the crisis. These sections have <149>particularly that of the collapse of institutional credit.

It is evident that advances made by formal sources of credit in the last few years have fallen far below the targets that they set for themselves. The shortfall is particularly <149>obvious in the release of term loans. One of the main components of such advances is meant for enabling the peasant to develop irrigation facilities. A substantial part of this, according to bankers, is meant for digging wells. In 2003-04 the government declared that 451 of the 1127 mandals were affected by drought. In 2002-03 1041 mandals were declared to be <149>drought-hit,<149> and in 2001-02 941 mandals were affected by drought. The fact that term lending reached <149>only <149>about 50 per cent of the target in the last <149>three years, when the peasants in the state <149>have <149>suffered acute water shortage for crops highlights the gross failure of the institutional credit mechanism. It is obvious that institutional credit failed the peasantry at the time when it was needed most.

THE plight of Sooramma (about 65) from Thorrur village of Palakurthy mandal in Warangal district illustrates the plight of a small farmer in a desperate search for water. Her son Choppa Venkanna committed suicide in 2000. On May 22 her daughter-in-law also took her own life unable to bear the insults of lenders. Sooramma said that although her <149>son has<149> about 3.5 acres, of which 1.5 acres is officially <149>classified as wetland, water is in short supply. During <149>the last <149>six years, the family has attempted six borewells, all of which failed. In <149>his <149>desperate search for water, her son <149>even built a small check dam on a portion of his <149>field. But the debts mounted to Rs. <149>1.8 lakhs, of which only <149>Rs. <149>18,000 was extended by the branch of a nationalised bank in nearby town. Reeling under the pressure of moneylenders in the village, she <149>sought fresh loans at an interest rate of 30 per cent per annum. "I am even willing to sell my land, but there are no buyers," she said.

Vasudeva Rao, Warangal district secretary of the APRS, observed that the withdrawal of the state in the "fullest sense of the term" had heaped misery on the poor and marginal peasant. He alleged that agricultural cooperative banks in the district had siphoned off credit meant for small borrowers towards<149> non-agricultural activities such as weaving, and even as long-term loans to the rich peasants. Narasimha Reddy pointed out that institutional credit for agriculture in Nalgonda amounted to only Rs.170 crores against a requirement of Rs. <149>500 crores. "This huge gap is filled by private moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest."

The condition of a tenant farmer is even more precarious. Having little or no land, he is forced to pay high rents to absentee landlords<149> who supplies also his <149>seed, pesticide, fertilizer and credit. In the Krishna and Godavari delta areas of coastal Andhra Pradesh, where tenancy is as high as 60-80 per cent of the cultivated area, rents take away more than half of the farmer's produce. Tenancy is entirely based on an oral agreement - mooza vani kowlu. There are no papers and no<149> proof remains <149>to show that the land is being <149>cultivated by the peasant. The high rents, coupled with rising input costs and the high cost of informal credit, have made life extremely precarious for poor tenants, many of whom graduated from the ranks of agricultural workers in the last few decades. The commercialisation of agriculture,<149> and the high rents mean that tenants are unable to cope with even relatively mild shocks in production. Since they have no documents which <149>recognise his <149>rights as a <149>cultivator, the peasant is <149>entirely outside the ambit of the formal credit market. In fact, several peasants in the heartland of the Green Revolution in West Godavari district told Frontline that they were not able even to collect compensation from the government for crops lost owing to cyclones and inundation during the monsoon. They said the money was pocketed by their landlords because they held the land in their names. Tenancy reforms, to feed the poor peasant's acute hunger for land, is obviously an urgent requirement. But it is not even on the radar screens of the political class. It is not even a demand that is being articulated by the poor peasant, who is hopelessly marginalised and is in utter despair.

It is well-<149>accepted, even in government circles, that the credit institutions indulge in "ever-greening" of their accounts. P.S.M. Rao, an officer in the Nagarjuna Grameen Bank in Nalgonda, told Frontline that a substantial portion of loans advanced by institutions was really not "fresh advances". He explained that the bank or credit cooperative asked the peasant to clear his old dues including interest, upon which it <149>extended the same amount again as a "fresh" loan to the farmer. "In effect, the bank merely makes a book adjustment, while managing to show an increase in its credit disbursement.<149>" Malla Reddy, general secretary of the APRS, said that he was aware of many cases in which such "adjustments" accounted for 50 per cent of the credit supposed to have been distributed by the primary credit cooperatives in a year. "I know this well because APRS members heading many such cooperatives have come under pressure from the state <149>apex <149>level bank, the Andhra Pradesh Cooperative Bank, to do this."

20040702006901303jpg

Studies of indebtedness among small farmers have shown that the rate of recovery of loans from small and marginal farmers is higher than that for loans made to large farmers.

P.S.M. Rao said that the banks, increasingly under the sway of a liberal financial regime, were discouraged from lending to small farmers. "The policy is oriented to the logic that it is better to lend to a small number of large borrowers than to a large number of small borrowers," he said. "Wilful default by small farmers," he pointed out, "is not a serious problem. They do not evade repayment of their dues. What is needed is a little consideration and an appreciation of his difficulties."

The clich in elementary textbooks on the Indian economy describe the plight of the Indian peasant thus: He is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.

Maybe it is time that he is described as one who is born in debt, lives in debt and is driven to death by debts.

Acres of despair

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

Name: Sunka Mallesam Age: 35 Village: Chilpur Mandal: Station Ghanpur District: Warangal Date of death: May 27, 2004

A CROWD is assembled under a shamiana as the priest conducts the ceremony on the tenth day after the death of Sunka Mallesam, a marginal farmer. He tried raising cotton on the three acres that he owned. In order to provide a measure of insurance from the repeated failure of the cotton crop in this part of Warangal district, he also leased three acres and grew maize and paddy on it. His brother Raja Komariah (40) migrated to Khammam five years ago to work as a construction worker. He preferred to leave his three acres fallow and migrate rather than suffer repeated losses like his brother by cultivating the "treacherous crop", cotton.

20040702007800801jpg

Finding water for cultivation was always a problem, and it drove Mallesam to death. Komariah said that Mallesam spent about Rs.30,000 on digging a borewell, laying pipelines and installing a motor in May 2003. Although the bore ran 90 metres deep, there was no water. A desperate Mallesam dug another borewell in January 2004, which also turned dry. By then the total debts he had piled up in trying to procure water amounted to more than Rs.75,000. In what turned out to be a gamble, he invested Rs.35,000 on the cotton crop.

Rajamma (27), Mallesam's wife, said that he was already burdened by debts incurred in 1998 when their daughter suffered from "brain fever". The couple had spent Rs.40,000, borrowed mainly from friends and relatives, to treat her. Komariah said that they managed to repay some of the earlier loans but their debts amounted to Rs.96,000 at the time Mallesam took his own life.

Damera Ramanathan (45), whose field was adjacent to Mallesam's, said that they used to discuss their debts. He said he too had debts, amounting to over Rs.40,000. He too suffered losses because of failed borewells. Ramanathan said Mallesam had told him that he proposed to migrate to Bhadrachalam to work as a "coolie". "I persuaded him not to migrate, but I do not know whether I gave him the right advice," Ramanathan said. They met for the last time 15 days before Mallesam died. Mallesam said he had sold his two bullocks for about Rs.6,000. On the morning of May 27, Mallesam was found lying near his well. Barely conscious, he told a neighbour that he had consumed pesticide. He died soon after.

Ramanathan, who normally grows cotton or chillies on his two acres, said agriculture was laden with risk. "Water is not the only problem," he said. "A good harvest means poor prices, but a bad harvest is bad in every way." He sold his chilli crop at Rs.1,200 a quintal in March 2004, but the current price is Rs.4,000. He pointed out that although the official procurement price of chillies had increased to Rs 2,600 from Rs.2,000 last year, his failed crop would not get him anything anyway.

The ruling "market rate" for credit in Chilpur is between 2.5-3 per cent a month, which works out to 36 per cent interest on an annual basis. Mallesam's loans were taken mostly from friends and relatives, but he had also borrowed from a farmer in a nearby village. Mallesam's father Sunka Venkatiah said that the loan taken from the farmer bothered him more than anything else as the lender demanded early repayment. Mallesam had sought time in the past by signing a promissory note enabling him to rollover the debts. But this obviously could not go on indefinitely. Four days before he committed suicide, Mallesam signed a promissory note mortgaging his next crop and agreeing to pay compound interest on the accumulated debt. His father said: "He must have known that his crop would not fetch him anything. He just ran out of hope."

Asked if the lenders exerted any pressure in the days before his death, Mallesam's family is reticent. His neighbours explain that violence was never really needed to recover loans from desperate borrowers. The existence of a cooperative bank at Venkatadripet, 2 km away, does not seem to have been an option for Mallesam. Venkatiah said that most people avoided the cooperative bank because of the threat of attachment if dues were not repaid. Mallesam's neighbours said that windows of the houses would be broken and taken away and even television antennas would be seized if the loans were not cleared. Nationalised banks located in Ghanpur also do not issue fresh loans if earlier loans are not repaid. In short, public institutions do not offer a flexible repayment schedule when the borrower is in difficulty. In contrast, the private lender is willing to extend credit, but at a very steep price. Even that eventually drives the borrower to a corner. The family also said that it had not received any succour from the government. It fears that the lenders will descend on them if it got anything at all from the government.

Cotton farmers in Warangal district reaped a bitter harvest in recent times. More than 600 cotton farmers have committed suicide in the district in the past five years. Vasudeva Reddy, district secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam, said 22 of the 51 mandals were hit by drought in the past 10 years. The failure to develop other sources of irrigation has meant that the burden of arranging water for cultivation fell heavily on individual farmers. The failure of the government, the credit cooperatives and the nationalised banks to provide crop loans or credit for borewells has forced the peasantry to seek loans from moneylenders on usurious terms. Peasants like Mallesam have taken enormous risks in their search for water, and have paid with their lives, said Vasudeva Reddy.

Komariah said the lenders did not approach them during the elections, but came soon after. Mallesam's neighbours say that the lenders normally come after the ceremonies are over. The family is bracing itself for more trouble in the days ahead.

The immediate way out

UTSA PATNAIK cover-story

The depth of indebtedness of the farmer and the nature of the agrarian crisis have not been fully realised by the State government. It should take measures on a war-footing to give immediate relief to deeply indebted and starving households.

THE new government in Andhra Pradesh, headed by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, which assumed office less than a month ago, has announced some ad hoc measures to deal with the agrarian distress created by the incorrect economic reform policies pursued by the former Telugu Desam Party government in the past six years. With the price of cotton falling from 1996, and input costs, including power tariffs, increasing, the lakhs of farmers who had shifted from food crops to cotton or other cash crops, availing themselves of mainly high-cost private credit, have faced ruin. Their problems have been compounded by private agents supplying spurious seeds and pesticides, and a decline in public development expenditure, reducing their employment prospects. The measures announced by the new government include free power to farmers, ex-gratia payments to families affected by suicides, and partial waiver of institutional loans. There are proposals to expand institutional credit and step up rural investment.

20040702004302501jpg

However, the depth of indebtedness and the general nature of the current agrarian crisis has still not been fully appreciated, and the sense of urgency that is required to tackle the problem is lacking. The measures announced are ad hoc and insufficient, and the proposals are medium or long-term ones, which will benefit only those farmers who have time on their side. But what of those thousands of farmers who have already reached the end of their tether? Think of a farmer who has accumulated a total of Rs.1 lakh or more in high-cost loans from private sources over the last five years, whose crop has failed, who has already sold land, who cannot access more credit, who cannot find enough wage-paid work as rural labour to make ends meet, leave alone pay even the interest on earlier loans, and who has no ration card because his family is not categorised as poor. Such farmers are not confined to the small or marginal farmer category alone. Fieldwork interviews carried out by researchers show cases of deeply indebted families with 15 to 20 acres, unable to borrow any more money to raise crops, whose members are trying to survive by working as hired labour but are unable to get enough work since the situation is the same with full-time labourers.

More than 150 cases of suicides by farmers have been reported in the past three weeks, and the trend will continue unless the government takes comprehensive measures on a war-footing to give immediate relief to deeply indebted and starving households. These measures are fairly obvious. The government should immediately launch food-for-work programmes, starting with not only the drought-affected districts but also coastal districts like Guntur, which have recorded high levels of suicide by farmers. This is essential for providing immediate relief to indebted, distressed farmers, as well as rural labourers.

The government should also immediately set up a Farmers' Debt Relief Commission, headed by a senior administrative officer designated as Debt Relief Commissioner, with provision for enough staff to man offices set up in every taluk and block . The job of the Commissioner would be to invite indebted farmers to apply for relief, with speedy disposal of cases. The relief would be in the form of a sanction letter, which banks should be instructed to honour, allowing the farmer to draw a new loan. These loans, thus guaranteed by the government (a proportion of which could be grants in the case of acute distress) would enable distressed farmers to rollover their existing private debt and prevent them from taking the extreme step of suicide.

All the arbitrary conditions in force at present for issuing Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards should be made available to all those who wish to apply. As high as 86 per cent of the rural population of Andhra Pradesh was in poverty in 1999-2000, with an intake of less than 2,400 calories daily, and the situation at present is worse, not better.

However, it is incorrect to say that poverty declined in the 1990s. The policies of the previous government have led to a massive increase in poverty, and the task of restoring purchasing power to the people is formidable. Immediate food-for-work programmes to give relief from rural distress are essential because formulation and implementation of any employment guarantee scheme will take some time. The Planning Commission estimate of rural poverty for Andhra Pradesh in 1999-2000 is 11 per cent of the population only, but this is based on the inappropriate procedure used by all official and most academic estimates, which value the quantities consumed by people 30 years ago (quantities required to give 2,400 calories at that time) and apply a price index to update that old poverty line.

Quite apart from the problem of a base year for amounts consumed, which is far back in time, the very method of applying a price index to an old "poverty line" is bound to give perverse results in recent years, when falling employment and falling output prices have been the major causes of distress. The more prices fall, actual agrarian poverty rises and distress intensifies, the lower is the rise in the price index and the lower the official "poverty line"; hence the greater "poverty reduction", as per the faulty official method. Falling prices do not benefit labourers because their employment decreases and, consequently, earnings decline even faster.

20040702004302502jpg

Poverty should be measured by looking directly at the current data on consumption. A direct inspection of such data shows that 86 per cent of the rural population of Andhra Pradesh on average consumed 2,381 calories or less . Thus, the official estimate of 11 per cent excludes 75 per cent of the people, who are actually poor, from those it recognises as the poor, and these huge numbers are being denied BPL ration cards. The official estimate means that the very definition of poverty based on a calorie norm has been silently given up; from the basic data we can calculate that people, who are now officially considered to be "poor" are those whose intake is less than 1,600 calories. The cut off point for the official poverty line for the year concerned was less than Rs.280 a month, while a realistic point should be Rs.600 a month.

At the All-India level, 75 per cent of the rural population is found to have an intake below 2,400 calories. Where the major part of the population is undernourished, targeting makes no sense and a universal Public Distribution System is an essential step for enabling the deprived to access food.

A QUESTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

K.R. VENUGOPAL cover-story

The continuing neglect of the life-and-death problems faced by the farmers in Andhra Pradesh constitutes a serious violation of human rights enshrined in the Constitution and various international covenants. A policy regime that recognises farmers' rights as human rights is the need of the hour.

THE Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations in 1948 affirms in Article 3 that everyone has the right to life. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, which India has ratified, affirms in Article 6 that every human being has the inherent right to life. The Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1986 affirms that equality of opportunity to development is a prerogative of individuals within a nation and that states have a duty to formulate appropriate development policies that aim at the well-being of all individuals on the basis of their meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom. It also calls for state intervention for the realisation of the right to development by ensuring equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources.

20040702004902701jpg

The UDHR affirms in Article 21.2 that everyone has the right to equal access to public services in one's country. Article 11.2(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966, which India has ratified, refers to reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilisation of natural resources. Article 25 of the UDHR stipulates that everyone has the right to security in the event of widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond one's control.

Discrimination is an attitude that is frowned upon by every instrument in the universe of human rights. And equality of treatment and dignity in every circumstance of life is upheld in these instruments.

India's Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, defines human rights as "the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India".

In the current context of farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh, what strikes one most is the fact that these farmers had taken their own lives. In doing so, they forfeited their right to life, a right and freedom acknowledged as most precious by Justice Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago. The Supreme Court of India in any number of judgments has held that the right to life guaranteed in Article 21 of our Constitution includes "the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living, i.e., the means of livelihood". The life so guaranteed, "does not connote mere animal existence or continued drudgery through life" but a right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation.

There are several reasons why farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have taken their own lives. The major reasons among these are absence of adequate and timely credit, especially institutional credit, driving farmers into the arms of the usurious moneylenders, inadequate crop insurance schemes that lack timely reimbursements and exclude non-loanees, spurious seeds and insecticides and fertilizer pricing. These permanent features of our system have been compounded by continuous droughts, leading to ill-directed investments in failed borewells and failed crops and driving the farmers to desperation. There are regional variations but what has been constant is the non-recognition of the need to tackle all these problems together as a package, with appropriate regulatory, supervisory and extension mechanisms in place, strict discipline in tapping groundwater and provision of full credit requirements and insurance cover for failed wells.

THERE are other structural issues as well. Tenant farmers cultivate more than 60 per cent of the land in Andhra Pradesh. However, their landlords ensure that there is no record to show this. In the absence of a recorded tenancy, the tenant is unable to secure any institutional credit for his agricultural operations and is driven to the moneylenders. This leads to gross exploitation. Everyone associated with agriculture knows this truth but there has been no effort at enforcing a transparent regime of agrarian relationship. The situation that is affecting the tenant cultivators in Andhra Pradesh is a negation of Article 11.2(a) of the ICESCR. Their situation defeats the overall objective of the amendment to Article 31 of the Constitution. This is also a violation of Article 38(2) in Part IV of the Constitution, which lays down, as a fundamental principle of governance, that the state shall in particular strive to minimise the inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people. It is also a violation of Article 39(b) and (c) which state that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good and that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.

Credit is certainly a material resource that enhances agricultural income and is vital for those with little or no assets. The Supreme Court has also reiterated the well-recognised paradigm that in the context of agrarian reforms, the greatest incentive for maximum production is the feeling of identity and security, which is possible only if the ownership of the land is with the tiller (AIR 1987 SC1518). All this has to be viewed in the context of Article 48 of the Constitution, which casts a responsibility on the state to organise agriculture on modern and scientific lines. Even if the state is lacking in the political will to take up land reforms, it should, along with the banking system, explore methods such as group security to nullify the veto that the landlords exercise today on credit to the tenants. The banking system should play a lead role here to rectify the tilt that exists in favour of the non-farm sector - a tilt distinguished by gargantuan non-performing assets (NPAs).

The total volume of agricultural credit requirements estimated by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) for Andhra Pradesh is about Rs.11,000 crores. Many experts place the actual requirement at about Rs.20,000 crores. Against this, even by NABARD's estimates, the actual flow will not exceed about Rs.9,000 crores. This serious gap is compounded if one realises that the actual credit flow was around Rs.7,900 crores in 2003-04 - a gap of 28 per cent in the credit "targeted" for disbursement. Add to this the gap in policy and implementation as the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) announcement that no security is required for loans up to Rs.50,000 for production loans, while public sector and cooperative banks insist on such security on the field. Farmers' associations say that lending to the agriculture sector does not even touch 10 per cent whereas the guidelines stipulate 18 per cent of total lending. There are three different rates of interest charged by banks depending on whether they are in the cooperative or public or private sector. The Expert Committee on Farmers' Suicides in Karnataka says: "...the preference to borrow from moneylenders when compared with formal institutions, clearly reflects that the opportunity cost of going through the process is equal to the difference between formal and informal lenders."

Juxtaposed with the flourishing market for informal credit, these facts show that there is neither equality nor equity in the availability of credit to the farmers. This is a violation of the principle governing the rights mentioned in the Declaration on the Right to Development. Banks should consciously promote equal access to credit to all the farmers. In canalising credit micro-level efforts must be directed at specifically reaching tenants and small and marginal farmers.

LET us look at two typical cases that I looked into on behalf of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Anantapur district in 2002. Boya Narsimhulu of Cheyyedu committed suicide at the age of 48. His widow, Lakshmamma (40), has four children - two girls and two boys. They had five acres of dry land with no water facility. Groundnut, their normal crop, failed for five years successively, affected by `Bud Necrosis'. He had contracted a debt of Rs.1,50,000 (principal alone) including that borrowed from as many as 15 farmers at an interest rate of 24 per cent and Rs.40, 000 from the Primary Agricultural Society and Rs.30,000 from a public sector bank. Incidentally, the economic condition of the agricultural families in the two married daughters is also now in the doldrums.

Crop failure was the sole reason for her husband's suicide, says Laksmamma. Her husband was constantly worried and burdened by the thought of his debts. She was in dire straits as the creditors were pressing her hard for repayment of the debt. The only way she could do this was by selling her 5 acres, which would render her a destitute for life. She was reduced to the position of a daily wage labourer at Rs.20 for 9 hours of work a day but such work was hard to come by because of drought conditions. Often she was without work. Her son, Jayaram (17), who had studied up to the Standard VII, went to work in a quarry from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a maximum wage of Rs.50 a day, depending on availability and out-turn. For two months prior to my meeting them, there had been no food-for-work programme in the area. Jayaram benefited by this programme for a few days earlier but it had been stopped.

In the case of Pullalarevu Prabavathi of Ramanepalli village, the public sector bank from whom her late husband had borrowed Rs.20,000 had been demanding repayment and suggesting that she sell away her five acres of dry land, which would render her destitute for all time to come. She had other debts amounting to Rs.2.30 lakhs, borrowed from about 20 private creditors. Prabavathi was working as a coolie for a daily wage of Rs.20; that is, when such work was available at all. She said that sheer hunger, in the context of crop failure, forces people (like her husband) to borrow but credit is very hard to come by even at rates ranging from 25 to 36 per cent.

The point that should be remembered at all times in such a context is that the entire burden of the loss of a breadwinner owing to these dysfunctional policies and the failure of extension is borne by the women and children of the families concerned. If this burden is not lifted off their shoulders by the state, the rights assured for them in the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1967, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, all get compromised. Failure of the state in this regard discredits democracy itself. Failure to rehabilitate the agricultural system also postpones the welfare of the rural labour and other poorer sections of the population, especially jeopardises the whole range of rights, though these rights are being slowly ceded to them in terms of the various constitutional provisions both in Chapter III and Chapter IV in areas like the right to food, health, minimum living and fair wages and equal remuneration, thanks mainly to the intervention of the Supreme Court.

To the extent there was failure on the part of the state to go to the rescue of such families of suicide victims, there has been a breach of Article 25 of UDHR.

20040702004902702jpg

AS Leader of the Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, the present Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, had taken up the question of farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh in September 2001 by way of a complaint with the NHRC. He argued that the loss of lives was on account of state negligence and failure to implement policies leading to violation of human rights. The main thrust of his complaint was that the State government's failure in its "duty to supply seeds of quality, power, fertilizers and pesticides" to the farmers and that it supplied spurious seeds to the farmers, particularly groundnut seeds in Anantapur district.

This resulted in crop failures, which trapped the farmers in huge debts, but the government itself through its instrumentalities such as the cooperative and commercial banks and through application of the Revenue Recovery Act had been pressuring the farmers to repay loans leading to their humiliation, social ostracisation and eventually suicide. Hence a prayer was made to the NHRC, inter alia, to direct the Government of Andhra Pradesh to pay a compensation of Rs.1 lakh each to the families of the deceased and declare that there was violation of human rights.

If we read the rights that the Constitution and the various international instruments provide to citizens in the context of the predicament faced by the farmers of Andhra Pradesh, the conclusion is inescapable that continuing neglect of the serious problems faced by the farmers would attract Section 12(a)(ii) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, namely, negligence in the prevention of violation of human rights. There are judicial precedents of grant of compensation by way of relief where the deceased was the only breadwinner of the family if gross negligence on the part of the authorities to provide protection was shown, though the context might be different. However, as seen by us, here we have a plethora of actors involved in the tragedy that has unfolded over the years.

The central conclusion that emerges is that there has been failure of policy at the Central and State levels considering that under the Constitution under Schedule 7 both these governments have responsibilities for agriculture, banking and a host of other related issues that are at play. Normally responsibility has to be fixed on governments and individuals for neglect.

If we have to pinpoint the neglect then we have to say that the Central and State governments simply neglected agriculture. This is some thing every agricultural economist has observed during the past decade. The compensation that they should pay to the farmers of Andhra Pradesh in particular, and of the rest of India in general, should help restore agriculture to its rightful place in the scheme of governance. As for those families who can be identified as genuine victims of neglect, the present State government in Andhra Pradesh has extended certain immediate relief. What is further required is an agricultural policy regime that recognises farmers' rights as human rights and develops policies that would stand the test of such rights.

K.R. Venugopal, a former Secretary to the Prime Minister, is a Special Rapporteur for the National Human Rights Commission. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of the NHRC.

Stress on women's studies

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

IN its 20 years of existence, the Mother Teresa Women's University, Kodaikanal, was buffeted between Kodaikanal and Chennai. But with the State government allocating 55 acres (22 hectares) of land at Attuvampatti and another 55 acres at Rifle Range in the Kodaikanal hills, the university is poised for rapid growth. "This is a major achievement after I took over [in 2002]," says Vice-Chancellor Dr. Anandhavalli Mahadevan. Praising the government for providing land, she said "it acted fast". Infrastructure development is taking shape now with a few departments already functioning at Attuvampatti. Dr. Anandhavalli started several courses in sciences after she took over, for "you cannot afford to alienate women from science and technology". The courses include M.Sc. in Biotechnology with specialisation in Medicinal Plants, M.Sc. in Physics with specialisation in Astrophysics, and M.Sc. in Visual Communication.

20040702004811001jpg

Dr. Anandhavalli has a doctoral degree in Environmental Sciences. She has research interests in Future Studies, Environmental Impact Assessment, and Women's Studies. She has trained about 600 teachers in Environmental Education. She was Special Officer (Planning and Development) in the Madurai Kamaraj University from 1999 to 2001.

Since she "basically believes in networking with other organisations", the university has signed memoranda of understanding with several organisations for undertaking joint work. For instance, an MoU with the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), allows the university's students to work in the CIMAP's six laboratories. Similarly, an arrangement with the Indian Institute of Astrophyiscs, Bangalore, has enabled students specialising in Astrophysics to use the Institute's observatory at Kodaikanal.

The university has redesigned the curriculum with compulsory papers on Women's Studies in order to enhance gender sensitivity.

A QUESTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

K.R. VENUGOPAL cover-story

The continuing neglect of the life-and-death problems faced by the farmers in Andhra Pradesh constitutes a serious violation of human rights enshrined in the Constitution and various international covenants. A policy regime that recognises farmers' rights as human rights is the need of the hour.

THE Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations in 1948 affirms in Article 3 that everyone has the right to life. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, which India has ratified, affirms in Article 6 that every human being has the inherent right to life. The Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1986 affirms that equality of opportunity to development is a prerogative of individuals within a nation and that states have a duty to formulate appropriate development policies that aim at the well-being of all individuals on the basis of their meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom. It also calls for state intervention for the realisation of the right to development by ensuring equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources.

20040702004902701jpg

The UDHR affirms in Article 21.2 that everyone has the right to equal access to public services in one's country. Article 11.2(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966, which India has ratified, refers to reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilisation of natural resources. Article 25 of the UDHR stipulates that everyone has the right to security in the event of widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond one's control.

Discrimination is an attitude that is frowned upon by every instrument in the universe of human rights. And equality of treatment and dignity in every circumstance of life is upheld in these instruments.

India's Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, defines human rights as "the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India".

In the current context of farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh, what strikes one most is the fact that these farmers had taken their own lives. In doing so, they forfeited their right to life, a right and freedom acknowledged as most precious by Justice Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago. The Supreme Court of India in any number of judgments has held that the right to life guaranteed in Article 21 of our Constitution includes "the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living, i.e., the means of livelihood". The life so guaranteed, "does not connote mere animal existence or continued drudgery through life" but a right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation.

There are several reasons why farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have taken their own lives. The major reasons among these are absence of adequate and timely credit, especially institutional credit, driving farmers into the arms of the usurious moneylenders, inadequate crop insurance schemes that lack timely reimbursements and exclude non-loanees, spurious seeds and insecticides and fertilizer pricing. These permanent features of our system have been compounded by continuous droughts, leading to ill-directed investments in failed borewells and failed crops and driving the farmers to desperation. There are regional variations but what has been constant is the non-recognition of the need to tackle all these problems together as a package, with appropriate regulatory, supervisory and extension mechanisms in place, strict discipline in tapping groundwater and provision of full credit requirements and insurance cover for failed wells.

THERE are other structural issues as well. Tenant farmers cultivate more than 60 per cent of the land in Andhra Pradesh. However, their landlords ensure that there is no record to show this. In the absence of a recorded tenancy, the tenant is unable to secure any institutional credit for his agricultural operations and is driven to the moneylenders. This leads to gross exploitation. Everyone associated with agriculture knows this truth but there has been no effort at enforcing a transparent regime of agrarian relationship. The situation that is affecting the tenant cultivators in Andhra Pradesh is a negation of Article 11.2(a) of the ICESCR. Their situation defeats the overall objective of the amendment to Article 31 of the Constitution. This is also a violation of Article 38(2) in Part IV of the Constitution, which lays down, as a fundamental principle of governance, that the state shall in particular strive to minimise the inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people. It is also a violation of Article 39(b) and (c) which state that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good and that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.

Credit is certainly a material resource that enhances agricultural income and is vital for those with little or no assets. The Supreme Court has also reiterated the well-recognised paradigm that in the context of agrarian reforms, the greatest incentive for maximum production is the feeling of identity and security, which is possible only if the ownership of the land is with the tiller (AIR 1987 SC1518). All this has to be viewed in the context of Article 48 of the Constitution, which casts a responsibility on the state to organise agriculture on modern and scientific lines. Even if the state is lacking in the political will to take up land reforms, it should, along with the banking system, explore methods such as group security to nullify the veto that the landlords exercise today on credit to the tenants. The banking system should play a lead role here to rectify the tilt that exists in favour of the non-farm sector - a tilt distinguished by gargantuan non-performing assets (NPAs).

The total volume of agricultural credit requirements estimated by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) for Andhra Pradesh is about Rs.11,000 crores. Many experts place the actual requirement at about Rs.20,000 crores. Against this, even by NABARD's estimates, the actual flow will not exceed about Rs.9,000 crores. This serious gap is compounded if one realises that the actual credit flow was around Rs.7,900 crores in 2003-04 - a gap of 28 per cent in the credit "targeted" for disbursement. Add to this the gap in policy and implementation as the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) announcement that no security is required for loans up to Rs.50,000 for production loans, while public sector and cooperative banks insist on such security on the field. Farmers' associations say that lending to the agriculture sector does not even touch 10 per cent whereas the guidelines stipulate 18 per cent of total lending. There are three different rates of interest charged by banks depending on whether they are in the cooperative or public or private sector. The Expert Committee on Farmers' Suicides in Karnataka says: "...the preference to borrow from moneylenders when compared with formal institutions, clearly reflects that the opportunity cost of going through the process is equal to the difference between formal and informal lenders."

Juxtaposed with the flourishing market for informal credit, these facts show that there is neither equality nor equity in the availability of credit to the farmers. This is a violation of the principle governing the rights mentioned in the Declaration on the Right to Development. Banks should consciously promote equal access to credit to all the farmers. In canalising credit micro-level efforts must be directed at specifically reaching tenants and small and marginal farmers.

LET us look at two typical cases that I looked into on behalf of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Anantapur district in 2002. Boya Narsimhulu of Cheyyedu committed suicide at the age of 48. His widow, Lakshmamma (40), has four children - two girls and two boys. They had five acres of dry land with no water facility. Groundnut, their normal crop, failed for five years successively, affected by `Bud Necrosis'. He had contracted a debt of Rs.1,50,000 (principal alone) including that borrowed from as many as 15 farmers at an interest rate of 24 per cent and Rs.40, 000 from the Primary Agricultural Society and Rs.30,000 from a public sector bank. Incidentally, the economic condition of the agricultural families in the two married daughters is also now in the doldrums.

Crop failure was the sole reason for her husband's suicide, says Laksmamma. Her husband was constantly worried and burdened by the thought of his debts. She was in dire straits as the creditors were pressing her hard for repayment of the debt. The only way she could do this was by selling her 5 acres, which would render her a destitute for life. She was reduced to the position of a daily wage labourer at Rs.20 for 9 hours of work a day but such work was hard to come by because of drought conditions. Often she was without work. Her son, Jayaram (17), who had studied up to the Standard VII, went to work in a quarry from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a maximum wage of Rs.50 a day, depending on availability and out-turn. For two months prior to my meeting them, there had been no food-for-work programme in the area. Jayaram benefited by this programme for a few days earlier but it had been stopped.

In the case of Pullalarevu Prabavathi of Ramanepalli village, the public sector bank from whom her late husband had borrowed Rs.20,000 had been demanding repayment and suggesting that she sell away her five acres of dry land, which would render her destitute for all time to come. She had other debts amounting to Rs.2.30 lakhs, borrowed from about 20 private creditors. Prabavathi was working as a coolie for a daily wage of Rs.20; that is, when such work was available at all. She said that sheer hunger, in the context of crop failure, forces people (like her husband) to borrow but credit is very hard to come by even at rates ranging from 25 to 36 per cent.

The point that should be remembered at all times in such a context is that the entire burden of the loss of a breadwinner owing to these dysfunctional policies and the failure of extension is borne by the women and children of the families concerned. If this burden is not lifted off their shoulders by the state, the rights assured for them in the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1967, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, all get compromised. Failure of the state in this regard discredits democracy itself. Failure to rehabilitate the agricultural system also postpones the welfare of the rural labour and other poorer sections of the population, especially jeopardises the whole range of rights, though these rights are being slowly ceded to them in terms of the various constitutional provisions both in Chapter III and Chapter IV in areas like the right to food, health, minimum living and fair wages and equal remuneration, thanks mainly to the intervention of the Supreme Court.

To the extent there was failure on the part of the state to go to the rescue of such families of suicide victims, there has been a breach of Article 25 of UDHR.

20040702004902702jpg

AS Leader of the Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, the present Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, had taken up the question of farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh in September 2001 by way of a complaint with the NHRC. He argued that the loss of lives was on account of state negligence and failure to implement policies leading to violation of human rights. The main thrust of his complaint was that the State government's failure in its "duty to supply seeds of quality, power, fertilizers and pesticides" to the farmers and that it supplied spurious seeds to the farmers, particularly groundnut seeds in Anantapur district.

This resulted in crop failures, which trapped the farmers in huge debts, but the government itself through its instrumentalities such as the cooperative and commercial banks and through application of the Revenue Recovery Act had been pressuring the farmers to repay loans leading to their humiliation, social ostracisation and eventually suicide. Hence a prayer was made to the NHRC, inter alia, to direct the Government of Andhra Pradesh to pay a compensation of Rs.1 lakh each to the families of the deceased and declare that there was violation of human rights.

If we read the rights that the Constitution and the various international instruments provide to citizens in the context of the predicament faced by the farmers of Andhra Pradesh, the conclusion is inescapable that continuing neglect of the serious problems faced by the farmers would attract Section 12(a)(ii) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, namely, negligence in the prevention of violation of human rights. There are judicial precedents of grant of compensation by way of relief where the deceased was the only breadwinner of the family if gross negligence on the part of the authorities to provide protection was shown, though the context might be different. However, as seen by us, here we have a plethora of actors involved in the tragedy that has unfolded over the years.

The central conclusion that emerges is that there has been failure of policy at the Central and State levels considering that under the Constitution under Schedule 7 both these governments have responsibilities for agriculture, banking and a host of other related issues that are at play. Normally responsibility has to be fixed on governments and individuals for neglect.

If we have to pinpoint the neglect then we have to say that the Central and State governments simply neglected agriculture. This is some thing every agricultural economist has observed during the past decade. The compensation that they should pay to the farmers of Andhra Pradesh in particular, and of the rest of India in general, should help restore agriculture to its rightful place in the scheme of governance. As for those families who can be identified as genuine victims of neglect, the present State government in Andhra Pradesh has extended certain immediate relief. What is further required is an agricultural policy regime that recognises farmers' rights as human rights and develops policies that would stand the test of such rights.

K.R. Venugopal, a former Secretary to the Prime Minister, is a Special Rapporteur for the National Human Rights Commission. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of the NHRC.

Power play in Uttar Pradesh

politics

Inspired by its victory at the Centre, the Congress is apparently working on a plan to upstage the Samajwadi Party by changing the political equations in the State.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN recently in Lucknow

THE stated purpose of Rahul Gandhi's visit to Amethi on June 8 was to thank the people of the constituency for electing him to the Lok Sabha with a massive majority. But by the time he concluded his visit it was evident that the visit had objectives beyond thanksgiving. In fact, the most important message that emanated from the new representative of the Nehru-Gandhi political parivar had nothing to do with the celebration of a victory. It was a clarion call to Congress workers "to prepare for a long battle to change the Samajwadi Party-led government in Uttar Pradesh".

20040702005003001jpg

To those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Uttar Pradesh politics and the manoeuvres that political players in the State are capable of, the call would have sounded bizarre. On June 8 the Congress was supporting the S.P.-led government from outside and the S.P.'s political posture towards the Congress-led government at the Centre was a similar one. From time to time, both parties have stated that the mutual support is founded on their "commitment to fight and defeat the communal politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party". Yet, the unmistakable emphasis of Rahul Gandhi's exhortation was that the progress of the new Congress campaign would be independent of such tactical gestures.

For the record, Rahul Gandhi's reasoning was that he and his party were not happy with the State government's record on development and the maintenance of law and order. Normally, a supporting party would use its influence on the government to correct the deficiencies in governance. But Rahul Gandhi's assertion was that only a change in government would improve the situation.

The friction between the Congress and the S.P. has its genesis in the struggle to capture the secular political space in Uttar Pradesh. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the S.P. emerged victorious in this struggle by winning 36 out of the 80 seats in the State while the Congress got only nine. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), an ally of the S.P., won three seats, which added to the tally of the non-Congress secular formation. However, the creation of a Congress-led government at the Centre has brought about a qualitative change in the situation, particularly from the perspective of the Congress. The party feels that now that it is in power at the Centre it can change the equations on the ground in its favour. Informed sources in the party told Frontline that a strategy had been evolved to achieve the objective. It is founded on the premise that the Congress can emerge as a major secular force in India's most populous State only by marginalising the S.P. The efforts to keep the S.P. out of the ruling coalition at the Centre despite the party's willingness to join the Ministry were a reflection of the new Congress strategy.

Amar Singh, general secretary of the S.P., told Frontline as early as the third week of May that the Congress was working on a design to weaken his party despite the fact that it had proved its secular credentials by defeating the BJP comprehensively in U.P. He had pointed out that the Congress planned to use personal and political insults to run down the S.P. In his opinion, even the "communication gap" that resulted in the Congress president's "oversight" in extending an invitation to S.P. president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav for the dinner meeting of anti-BJP parties was part of the design.

Whatever be the merits of Amar Singh's contention, there is little doubt that Rahul Gandhi's exhortation from Amethi is one of the clearest signs yet of the developing anti-S.P. campaign. Indications from Congress insiders are that the campaign is likely to unfold on several fronts. Efforts to wean the RLD from the S.P. alliance were under way even as members of the 14th Lok Sabha were being sworn in. The informal discussions between the Congress and the RLD centred on a firm proposal to induct RLD president Ajit Singh into the Cabinet and a tentative offer to give the position of Minister of State to an RLD MP. A senior Uttar Pradesh Congress leader explained: "The induction of the RLD into the Central Ministry would naturally weaken its alliance with the S.P. and that would give a fillip to the Congress' efforts to gain greater political and organisational strength." However, the deal could not be finalised as speedily as visualised because of problems within the 13-member RLD legislature party in Uttar Pradesh. By all indications, as many as eight of the 13 MLAs are not ready to come out of the ruling coalition in the State. The Assembly has 391 members at present, with 12 seats remaining vacant. Even if the Congress and the RLD withdraw support the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Ministry will still have a majority of six members. The Congress plan is further hampered by the new anti-defection law, the provisions of which ensure that even the five RLD MLAs who may wish to cross over to the Congress camp cannot do so without losing their position as MLAs. But with elections slated to be held by mid-July for the 12 Assembly seats that are vacant, the Congress will have to effect the changes it desires in party equations as early as possible. The Congress plan is to bring about an understanding between itself, the RLD and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by that time. The Congress and the BSP held two each of the 12 seats, while the RLD held one. The S.P. had five seats and the BJP three.

The view of the Congress is that if the alliance can make decisive gains in the byelection, it will be less difficult to force the S.P. out of office. The party's perception is that if it succeeds in working out the alliance, it will be able to alter substantially the socio-political equations at the grassroots. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the S.P. led in 160 of the 403 Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh while the BSP was ahead in 100 seats. The Congress led in 47 Assembly segments, the BJP in 60 and the RLD in 22. Significantly, the Congress came second in over 50 seats.

20040702005003002jpg

The S.P. emerged as the largest party because of its large support base among the Yadav community and Muslims. The new following it has gained among the upper-caste Thakur community was another important factor that strengthened its electoral position. The Congress calculation is that a BSP-RLD-Congress alliance would persuade a large chunk of Muslims to move away from the S.P. and ensure a decisive shift by the Brahmin community, which supported the BJP until the 1999 elections, in favour of the Congress. Senior Congress leaders feel that the perceived shift by sections of the Yadav community, particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh, towards the BSP is another favourable factor. Four BSP candidates from the Yadav community won the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from S.P. strongholds, including Azamgarh. The Yadav community in the region helped an S.P. dissident, Bhaleshwar Yadav, to win as an independent from the Padrauana constituency. The Congress plans to mobilise sections of the Yadav community opposed to the S.P. under the leadership of former BJP State Minister Ashok Yadav, who joined the Congress recently.

For the moment, how far these moves will succeed is in the realm of conjecture. This is particularly because the Congress still lacks a leader with a Statewide appeal and an organisational machinery capable of taking up political tasks with efficiency. Ashok Yadav, the Congress' answer to Mulayam Singh Yadav, contested the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from Sambhal and forfeited his deposit; he secured merely 12,063 votes. The winner, Ram Gopal Yadav of the S.P., polled 3,57,049 votes. Although the party is projecting Rahul Gandhi as a leader with national appeal, it is significant that he campaigned only in those seats where the Congress had some chance of winning. In fact, his campaign did not make an impact even in seats such as Rampur, Pratapgarh or Sultanpur, where Congress candidates were considered `sure' winners. The S.P. won the first two seats while the third went to the BSP.

However, these facts need not deter the Congress. Given it new clout at the Centre, the party is likely to go all out to upstage the S.P. in Uttar Pradesh.

A man and a mission

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

DR. K. CHOCKALINGAM, Vice-Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, believes he has a mission: to shore up the academic and administrative standards of the university. When he assumed office in December 2001, his first task was to give the university "a mission statement".

20040702005210801jpg

The university has set out to achieve three tasks: to provide quality education to the rural people and the unreached; to attain excellence in teaching, research and extension activities; and to inculcate and promote human values so as to create a "culture of lawfulness". The last mission is close to Dr. Chockalingam's heart, for he has more than 30 years of teaching and research experience in Criminology and Victimology. He has stared a Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Dr. Chockalingam has guided about 50 Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A. students in their dissertations, besides directing eight research projects. He participated as an Invited Expert from India in the United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, held in Milan in 1985, Cairo in 1995 and Vienna in 2000. He was awarded the prestigious Max Planck Research Fellowship three times - in 1992, 1995 and 1998. "I strongly believe that educational institutions should nurture in young minds the respect for law," he says.

Chockalingam has paid attention to several aspects of the university: publication of examination results on time; streamlining the Directorate of Distance Education; boosting the infrastructure; creating endowments for invited lectures; periodic upgradation of syllabus; and introduction of a choice-based credit system.

"What is unique about Manonmaniam Sundaranar University is that it has classified the allied subjects [for the undergraduate courses] into four categories. This provides flexibility in the choice of subjects," he said. For instance, the university offers two groups of allied subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Computer Application, Information Technology, Zoology and Botany. The student can choose one subject from each group. "In this system, the teacher has a big responsibility to guide the student. This system helps the student prepare for the Civil Services examination or any other competitive examination." In order to educate students on social problems and environmental issues, the university insists that every student do a project on Social Value Education and Environmental Sciences.

Dr. Chockalingam is trying to get the private sector to contribute to the university's infrastructure development. The Dina Thanthi group has contributed Rs.1 crore towards the construction of a building to house the Departments of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Business Administration. A library building has come up at a cost of Rs.85 lakhs. Work has begun on the construction of a building for the Centre for Information Technology. The university's Sri Paramakalyani Centre for Environmental Studies situated at Azhwarkurichi is funded by the Amalgamations Group of companies. "They have donated more than 100 acres of land. They have also given Rs.50 lakhs for the construction of the centre's building," Dr. Chockalingam said.

Says he: "The fruit of our hard work came in the form of assessment by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. We got B++ grade, with an institutional score of 80 to 84 per cent."

A fillip from industry

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

The entry of industrialists, who have started 47 self-financing engineering colleges and 174 arts and science colleges in the region, brings about a qualitative change in higher education.

THE best that has happened to education in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu in the past 20 years is that industrialists of the region have had the vision to found colleges. The private engineering colleges, fashionably called self-financing colleges as they generate their own resources, are run with the fees charged from students.

20040702005311601jpg

The nine southern districts of Madurai, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Theni, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari have 47 self-financing and two government-run engineering colleges. There are 174 arts and science colleges, affiliated to four universities, in the region. The two oldest engineering colleges in the region are the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, an autonomous institution, and the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology at Karaikudi. Both are affiliated to Anna University.

The trail-blazers among the self-financing engineering colleges are the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, the National Engineering College, Kovilpatti, and the Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering at Krishnankovil near Srivilliputhur, all founded in 1984. The Sri Kaliswari College, located near Sivakasi, is the latest arts and science college to be established in the region. It was started in 2000-01. Kodaikanal, known for its residential schools, had its first arts and science college when the Kodaikanal Christian College was set up in 1994.

Entrepreneurs who established these colleges obviously took the business of education seriously. These institutions have proper infrastructure: massive campuses, spacious buildings, well-equipped laboratories, huge playfields and so on. All of them are co-educational. They have a good record of placement for students. Their students involve themselves in rural uplift. They help villagers in desilting water tanks, cleaning up temple compounds and addressing civic problems. A striking feature of the engineering colleges is that girls account for 35-80 per cent of the students, depending on the discipline of study. Some of these colleges have placement cells and career improvement programmes.

According to people who run these colleges, there is a paradigm shift in the choice of students for courses. Undergraduate courses in Chemistry, Mathematics, English Literature, History, Politics, Sociology and Philosophy are not preferred. Only the government and aided colleges offer these courses now. There is big demand for job-oriented courses. But the interest in B.Sc. (Physics) has revived. Demand for seats in Information Technology has tapered off. Diploma courses in Event Management are fast catching up.

As one enters the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, what is striking is the vastness of the campus - all of 310 acres (124 hectares). (MEPCO stands for Metal Powder Company. M/s Carl Schlenk A.G. is a German organisation. MEPCO Schlenk Charities founded the college in October 1984.) It has 2,100 students and 144 teachers. The college offers seven undergraduate and eight postgraduate courses. It ranks second among the 243 engineering colleges affiliated to Anna University. "The demand for seats is mainly in Electronics and Communication Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology, Computer Science and Engineering, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and IT. This is the order now. The demand for seats in EEE and Mechanical Engineering are almost on a par," said Professor S. Balakrishnan, Principal-in-Charge.

The college has signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) with academic, research and industrial organisations (such as the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Tiruchi; the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai; and the Defence Research and Development Organisation) for training students, conducting research and undertaking project work. Prof. Balakrishnan said: "We have received 27 projects from government agencies and industries. Some of them relate to the latest technology. We have already completed 50 per cent of the projects, valued at Rs.2.25 crores." The projects include labyrinth design and high voltage, high current testing units for the IGCAR and impact analysis for the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

"Campus placement is at a high level. Almost all our students get jobs in major industries/companies," Prof. Balakrishnan said.

THE tall buildings of P.S.R. Engineering College rise out of nowhere in the rural wilderness. There is silence all round. The nearest town, Sivakasi, is 25 km away. But seats in all disciplines in the college are full. The college was established in 1999 by the P.S. Ramasamy Telugu Minority Educational and Charitable Trust, Sivakasi, for spreading higher education in the region. The campus covers 30 hectares. According to R. Solaisamy, correspondent, the trust has so far invested Rs.10 crores in infrastructure. The college has a central library with about 20,000 volumes in engineering and science; separate libraries in various departments; well-equipped laboratories; and horticulture and vegetable farms. Of the 1,287 students, 50 per cent are from rural areas. "They prefer our college because we don't charge capitation fees/donations, and we charge low [tuition] fees," said a college official. The trust offers free education to poor students on merit. Every year, about five students receive scholarships from the trust. There are other scholarships too.

P.S.R. Engineering College offers five undergraduate courses and a postgraduate course (in Computer Applications). The degree programme includes B.Tech. in Industrial Biotechnology. It will offer B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from this academic year. There are plans to start a master's degree programme in Business Administration. The college will soon start a three-month certificate course in IBM Mainframe and is drawing up plans to start M.E. in Computer Science and Electronics and Communication Engineering.

The Raja College of Engineering and Technology is situated at Veerapanjan, a suburb of Madurai. The Arun Ram Kumar Educational Trust, chaired by G. Nagarajan, founded the college in 1995. The college offers six courses at the undergraduate level, including B.E. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and Computer Science and Engineering. It also offers MCA, MBA and M.E. courses (Computer Science and Engineering). It has plans to start M.E. programmes in Power Electronics and Drives, and Embedded Systems. An important feature of the college is its Centre for Human Resource Development and Placement where students are trained in personality development and communication skills.

As one drives towards Nagercoil from Tirunelveli, what attracts one's attention is the massive, aesthetically designed buildings at Vadakkangulam. This is home to the Rajaas Engineering College, formerly known as the Indian Engineering College. The latter was established in 1984 by the Selvam Educational and Charitable Trust. Dr. S.A. Raja is the founder-chairman of the Rajas Group of Institutions, which includes the Rajaas Engineering College, the Rajas Dental College, the S.A. Raja Pharmacy College, the Jayamatha Engineering College and so on. The Rajaas Engineering College offers seven courses in B.E., including Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering, and IT. It has M.E. courses in Structural Engineering and Applied Electronics, and MBA and MCA.

According to S.A. Joy Raja, chairman of the Rajaas Engineering College, seats are in demand this year for Mechanical Engineering. Information Technology was not a preferred subject now, he said. "The moment the demand for seats in Information Technology went down, the demand for Mechanical Engineering shot up." About 2,000 students are enrolled in the college. There are 100 seats in the Rajas Dental College.

The PET Engineering College is situated at Valliyur in Tirunelveli district. The Popular Education Trust founded the college, which offers undergraduate engineering courses in Computer Science and Engineering; Electronics and Communication Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; and IT. The college plans to start a course in Marine Engineering. It has a broadband Internet laboratory, latest licensed software such as Auto CAD and Mechanical Desktop. There is an English Laboratory for training students in spoken and written English.

The Sri Kaliswari College and the Kodaikanal Christian College are poised for expansion. Both offer compulsory value-added courses, and have longer working hours than other colleges.

The Sri Kaliswari Trust's ambition is to contribute to the cause of education. The trust belongs to Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, a leading manufacturer of fireworks in the country. A.P. Selvarajan, correspondent and secretary of the college, said: "When we celebrated the founding of 75 years of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, we wanted to do something memorable. So we established the college. The products of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works have an image. We want to provide the same quality to the education imparted in the college." The college has a 17-acre (6.8 ha) campus, with imposing buildings. To start with, the college offered three undergraduate courses. Today - in its fifth year - it offers 12 undergraduate programmes, one postgraduate course, and five certificate courses. It will start three postgraduate courses, in Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Computer Science, this academic year.

"We prefer to start more postgraduate courses because we want to concentrate on research and development," said Selvarajan. "We have to compete with aided colleges. So we have to introduce innovative courses. And quality education is our aim. We don't want to earn profit from education." At the undergraduate level, the courses offered include the regular B.Com course, the vocational B.Com (C.A.) course with Computer Applications, the bachelor's degree in Bank Management, Business Economics and Computer Applications, and B.Sc. courses in Biotechnology and Computer Science.

Students of the college should compulsorily study a certificate course in both second and third year of their undergraduate courses. They include courses in Industrial Safety; Matches and Fireworks; Communicative and Functional English; Advertising, Sales Promotion and Sales Management, and Computer Applications. Hindi is compulsory. The college has set up a laboratory for training students in spoken English.

The Kodaikanal Christian College was born out of an altruistic motive of a single individual - Sam Abraham - to serve the cause of education. He founded the college with five degree programmes. Within three years, the college had a postgraduate programme. "To my knowledge, this is the best private college in the hills. It has been a long struggle because parents living on the hills are happy to send their children to schools on the hills but when it comes to college education, they want their wards to study in the plains. I have arrested this trend," he said. He is the founder-chairman of the college and the founder-trustee of the House of Abrahams Charitable Trust.

The college offers five degree programmes: Bachelor of Computer Science, Bachelor of Computer Applications, B.Sc in Hotel Management and Catering Service, Bachelor of Business Administration, and B.Com. At the postgraduate level it offers M.A. in Media Communication Management and Christian Studies, Master of Foreign Trade, Master of Social Work, Master of Business and Technology, and Master of Information Technology and Computer Science. Students can opt for postgraduate diploma examinations in American Studies, Computer Applications and Journalism and Mass Communication.

What sets apart the KCC from other colleges in the region is the variety of enrichment courses and additional diploma courses that undergraduates should compulsorily study in addition to their regular subjects. The enrichment courses include Spoken English and Public Speaking, Functional Mathematics, History of Ideas, Value Education and Computer Applications. The additional diploma courses relate to the main course of study. For instance, a student of B.Com. should get a diploma in Tax Planning, Financial Analysis and Budgeting; a student of Hotel Management and Catering Science should study Travel and Tourism and Craft courses; and all students are expected to obtain a diploma in Total Quality Management.

"Of late, students are choosy... They get jobs because of the diplomas they choose. So we have what is called add-on courses," Sam Abraham said. They include Computer Hardware and Networking, Film Appreciation, Editing and Journalism, Desktop Publishing, Event Management and Web Designing. Besides, the students have to execute project work, take part in "Youth Parliament" and present papers at seminars. "We push them hard... But we see the blossoming of the students." The co-educational institution has 300 students and 43 teachers. Sam Abraham also runs the Kodaikanal Christian Matriculation and Higher Secondary School.

The Tandem Institute of Computer Education, Madurai, is in its fourth academic year. According to S. Sundara Pandian, its director, its divisions include Tandem Infotech, which is a software development company that provides project services; the Tandem Institute of Computer Technology, which is the authorised training centre for C-DOT; and the Tandem Institute of Network Technology, where internationally certified hardware, software and networking courses are taught. Students are trained here to write a variety of online examinations. It is, therefore, an authorised prometric training centre. Tandem has similar training centres in Coimbatore and Chennai.

Sundara Pandian, who is a CISCO Sales Expert, said there were international courses such as CCNA, A +, MCSC, Linux + and CCNP. The duration of the courses varied. On an average he had 100 students a day. J. Sridhar, a final-year B.E. student of Tandem, passed 17 examinations in international certificate courses and received 10 certifications. The courses in demand now are Java, .Net and CCNA. The Tandem Institute is headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram. It has opened an office in Dubai and will have another in South Africa.

Succour for the starving

Apart from immediate relief measures such as the opening of gruel centres, long-term measures to provide food security are essential to ensure that starvation deaths do not occur.

in Nalgonda

THE pathos of Darawath Kamili (32), a tribal woman, Bangaru Ramachary (45), a carpenter, and Ganji Yadagiri (42), a handloom weaver, is identical in many ways.

20040702005502001jpg

They were engaged in agriculture and allied activities until 2001, when a series of droughts started and forced them to look for other means of livelihood. They were unable to keep the wolf from the door and the severe trauma of this experience and the malnourishment caused by abject poverty finally resulted in their death after brief spells of illness.

Family members, neighbours and friends termed their passing as "starvation deaths", but the district administration concluded firmly that they had died "due to illness".

Nalgonda district, known for the famous Telangana peasants' armed struggle, has been in the news in recent times for all the negative reasons - a dangerously high fluoride content in groundwater, the sale of girl children, `countless' sunstroke related deaths and a drought that has had a devastating effect on marginalised sections of the population such as agricultural labourers, rural artisans and tribal people.

The district has a population of 32.4 lakhs, of which 28 lakh people live in the drought-affected rural areas. At least 3,73,183 families live below the poverty line; 1,80,414 of these can be categorised as the poorest of the poor. The Scheduled Tribes, who constitute 9.7 per cent of the population, are bearing the brunt of the unprecedented drought conditions.

Kamili's case is a classic example of the impact the prolonged drought has had on the downtrodden sections and demonstrates the fallout of the official way of dealing with things. According to K.R. Venugopal, special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Kamili, the sole bread-winner in a family of four in Lal thanda (village) in Mathampally mandal, died of hunger on February 10.

Acting on a report that appeared in The Hindu on February 18 titled, `When death stalks thandas', the former Indian Administrative Service officer visited the village on February 24 and conducted an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death. After interacting with many tribal people, including Bhukya Kanta, a fellow migrant of Kamili and a witness to the happenings prior to her death, Venugopal submitted a detailed report to the NHRC stating that the incident was an instance of the violation of the right to life.

Further, the tribal people told Venugopal that between June 2003 and January 2004 six persons, including Kamili's brother Banawath Peeka, had died of starvation.

But the district administration did not take cognisance of his report. Instead, it filed a case against the local fair price shop dealer for his failure to disburse rice to the tribal people and suspended three revenue officials for failing to supervise the distribution. A report sent by the district administration to the Chief Minister's secretariat stated: "Non-supply of rice was nothing to do with Kamali's death".

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Cherupally Sitaramulu, who investigated the death of Yadagiri of Kattangur, asserts that the latter died from starvation. "He had no food for the five days prior to his death (May 16). The severe slump in the industry made him jobless," Sitaramulu said. "As many as 11 weavers in Pochampally, Siripuram, Koyyalagudem, Kattangur, Munugode and Nakrekal died of hunger-related ailments in the last two years," he pointed out.

District Ryothu Sangham (District Farmers' Association) secretary Bontala Chandra Reddy said: "The officials may write off our version citing ridiculous reasons, but our inquiries made it clear that at least seven starvation deaths occurred in Bhongir, Huzurnagar and Garidepally mandals in recent times."

Drought has become a perennial feature of life even in the Nagarjunasagar ayacut area, where ryots prospered from cultivation. Farmers from the non-ayacut areas do not have any problem in seeking alternative employment during the rainy season, but the comparatively prosperous ayacut farmers consider it below themselves to look for other sources of livelihood.

Says Venepalli Panduranga Rao, the Alagapada village sarpanch who caught media attention by holding a referendum in the village on his style of functioning: "If the rain plays truant this season too, we are going to witness starvation deaths en masse in the ayacut area. The lives of farmers are in the hands of the rain gods." According to him, farmers in drought-hit villages can afford only one meal a day because of financial troubles that resulted from consecutive crop failures. Some farm labourers in Settipalem village endorsed the statements of the sarpanch. One farmer warned: "The situation is alarming. One can see that at weddings and other social gatherings, where food is served, there are big crowds nowadays. Thousands of lives will be at stake if emergency drought relief measures are not taken up."

In the absence of a social security system, and owing to the failure of the administration to detect scarcity conditions and spot the needy, hunger-related deaths are occurring at regular intervals in the district.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government of the day claimed that it had distributed a whopping 1,65,668 tonnes of rice under the food-for-work programme over the past two years and that 45,252 persons had been covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yogana scheme since March 2001. However, there are allegations that most of the rice stocks were appropriated by TDP leaders and cadre.

Says K. Nageswar of the Journalism Department at Osmania University, Hyderabad: "As the noted economist Amartya Sen observed, what causes hunger in India is the widely prevalent poverty and inability of a large section of the population to buy enough food or establish entitlement over an adequate amount of food. Nalgonda is turning out to be a classic case for persistent undernourishment and endemic hunger."

According to Julakanti Ranga Reddy, the CPI(M) MLA elected from Miryalaguda, where hundreds of daily-wage workers have been rendered jobless because of a crisis in the region's rice mills, people who suffer the most are those who are disinclined to migrate to other places in search of work. "The agricultural labourers and others belonging to the weaker sections, who are not venturing to migrate, are suffering silently. In fact, they are dying owing to mental trauma rather than physical ailments," he observed.

Taking up land reforms on a war footing, completion of hitherto neglected irrigation projects, modernisation of lift irrigation schemes, effective management of the Krishna waters, and the opening of trauma care centres are some immediate steps that have to be taken. More important, gruel centres should be opened on a massive scale. Although the supply of free power and the waiver of power dues have brought some cheer to the farmers, the government should come out with a concrete plan to save landless agricultural labourers, rural artisans, tribal people and other vulnerable sections from the jaws of death.

The State government should order a probe into the starvation deaths and implement a package to provide succour to the bereaved families. A drought management mechanism should be kept ready to meet any exigency in the near future.

Relief package, long-term measures

cover-story

Interview with N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh.

Apart from announcing relief measures, the State government has constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, to formulate a comprehensive relief package to help the State's farmers who are in distress and to prevent suicides. The Ministers for Home, Revenue and Cooperation are the other members of the committee.

20040702005601701jpg

Excerpts from an interview he gave B. Chandrashekhar:

What are the relief measures initiated by the State government to help farmers in distress?

To begin with, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy waived the dues of agricultural power bills to the tune of Rs.1,280 crores and announced free power supply worth Rs.450 crores per annum to the farm sector, immediately after taking the oath of office. Besides, an interim relief package has been announced to help the families of farmers who committed suicide.

Could you explain the relief package?

As per GO [Government Order] No.421 issued on June 1, the State government has decided to provide economic support and rehabilitation to the distressed family members of farmers who have committed suicide. An ex-gratia of Rs.1 lakh will be given in cases of farm-income-related suicides of farmers. It would be deposited in the joint account of the legal heir[s] of the deceased farmer and the MRO [Mandal Revenue Officer] concerned and the amount could be utilised in three years for the generation of farm-related income. Besides, another Rs.50,000 would be given for clearing debts as a one-time settlement to the lenders. The package would be implemented in the case of all suicides arising out of farm-income-related issues, which occurred between July 1, 1998 and June 1, 2004.

How can the farmers approach the government for help?

We have already set up helplines in all districts for counselling farmers in distress. We want to build confidence among them. In Anantapur, 1,072 farmers called up the helpline between May 22 and June 10, and a similar number of written representations seeking financial assistance were received.We would take steps to prevent harassment by the lenders till the kharif crop is harvested, after receiving the calls. In a special SLBC [State Level Bankers' Committee] meet convened by the Chief Minister recently, the bankers were urged to reschedule the loans and allow the farmers to clear them in four to six instalments without interest. They were also urged to issue fresh loans. A task force was formed by bankers and NABARD [National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development] to work out the modalities.

Are there any plans to waive loans or invoke the Rural Indebtedness (Debt Relief) Act?

I agree that the humiliation resulting from harassment by moneylenders is the main reason for the farmers' suicides. They charge interest at exorbitant rates ranging from 24 per cent to 60 per cent. But, at the same time, the farming community depends on private moneylenders for 75 to 80 per cent of its financial needs. Institutional credit meets only 20 to 25 per cent of its needs. However, we are planning to bring in legislation fixing a ceiling on the interest rate - not beyond 12 per cent - charged by private moneylenders.

In spite of all these measures, why do you think there has been a spurt in suicides since the second fortnight of May?

The farmers are in severe distress owing to the debts piled up over the years. They are taking the extreme step after suffering from humiliation and exhausting all their resources to pull their lives together amidst exploitation and a prolonged drought. It is ridiculous to say that the farmers are ending their lives for the sake of just Rs.1.5 lakhs given as a relief package by the government. Nobody does that. A mass campaign has been launched to instil confidence among the farmers.

What are the short-term relief measures?

The government would supply groundnut and soyabean seeds with subsidies and an amount of Rs.40 crores has already been released for the purpose. In Anantapur, 3.17 lakh quintals of groundnut seeds would be supplied. Steps would also be taken to save the farmers from spurious seeds and pesticides. A meeting was held with companies recently and they were warned against any mischief. In all, 26,000 samples of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers would be checked for quality. Crop insurance of Rs.208 crores was finalised, including Rs.117.8 crores for Anantapur district. Besides, the farmers not covered by insurance schemes would be given an input subsidy of Rs.500 an acre for a maximum of five acres.

And the long term measures?

We would take up cloud-seeding on a permanent basis. We are also chalking out a time-bound programme to complete 26 pending irrigation projects in a time-frame of five years. We have taken up the issue of changes in the crop insurance scheme. The Union Agriculture Minister has responded positively. We are also planning to introduce insurance schemes for failed borewells. We seek the opinion of all parties, farmers, intellectuals and other sections of society to find a permanent solution to the farmers' suicides. With all these efforts, we are firm in our commitment to put an end to the suicides.

Priority to accreditation

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

WHEN Dr. P. Kanniappan took over on June 9 as the Vice-Chancellor of the Alagappa University in Karaikudi, he had his priorities set: "My first priority is to get the university accredited with the National Assessment and Accreditation Council." The second one is to give equal importance to teaching, research and extension.

20040702005811401jpg

"Since I have worked in a university [Gandhigram Rural Institute] where extension work was done to a large extent, I would like to have a three-dimensional approach. All the three components - teaching, research and extension - must be present equally." He said he would request every member of the faculty to take up applied research and extension-oriented projects.

Dr. Kanniappan has both academic and administrative credentials. He was Professor of Mathematics at Gandhigram Rural Institute and was its Registrar from September 30, 2000 until he took up his present position.

The Vice-Chancellor said extension work would involve the local people. Several projects could be executed in coordination with women's self-help groups, he said. Dr. Kanniappan said he had plans to establish linkages between the Alagappa University on the one hand and other universities, non-governmental organisations and service-organisations on the other so that there was a sharing of expertise and resources. "This will improve our academic standards," he said. He plans to strengthen the university's Department of Biotechnology, especially in the field of rural biotechnology.

While conceding that the Directorate of Distance Education "is an important organ for resource-creation", Dr. Kanniappan made it clear that there would be no compromise on quality.

Distress and kidney sale

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

IN 2000, Andhra Pradesh was rocked by revelations that more than 26 debt-ridden farmers of Guntur district had sold their kidneys. Many of the cases were reported from the Palanadu region in Guntur district, where peasants grew cotton and chillies.

20040702005901802jpg

Deep in debt following periodic losses suffered because of poor crop yields and low prices for chillies, Sheikh Hassan (45), a farmer-turned-agricultural worker of Kambampadu village in Macherla mandal, sold his kidney that year. He had taken two acres on lease to grow chillies, but his crop failed and he ran up debts amounting to more than Rs.25,000. He and three others were taken by a "kidney broker" to Delhi, where, after medical tests, his kidney was removed. After returning to the village he was paid Rs.50,000, "as promised" by the broker.

Sheikh Hassan told Frontline that he heard about the possibility of "getting some money" by selling his kidney from two other persons in the village. In fact, one of them, a relative, had sold his kidney a couple of years earlier. Hassan said he needed the money badly to cover the cost of his two daughters' marriage and also to clear his debts. A year after the removal of his kidney, Hassan stopped taking land on lease as he was unable to work hard. He is now an agricultural worker, earning about Rs.30 a day, when he finds employment and is able to work. He still has to clear debts amounting to about Rs.15,000, the money he borrowed for the marriage of his daughters and the 24-30 per cent annual interest accumulation on earlier debts.

Hassan said he experienced severe back pain and was unable to lift heavy objects. He went to the local government hospital where the doctor told him "the pain would continue life-long". Unable to find money for regular visits to the doctor, Hassan now gets the medicines directly from the local medical shop if and when he can afford it. His wife is the main breadwinner of the family now. She manages to get 90-120 days' work a year.

Duggimpudi Chinna Venkat Reddy (45) of Rentachintala sold his kidney six years ago. The broker, "Eluru" Raju, contacted him through Murthy, a chilli merchant in Guntur, who acted as a sub-broker. Incidentally, Venkat Reddy used to sell his chilli crop to Murthy. Venkat Reddy, who had no land of his own, used to lease seven acres to cultivate cotton and chillies. His investments used to amount to more than Rs.20,000 for each crop. He complained that the poor quality of inputs (sand in the fertilizer, kerosene in the pesticide, and spurious seeds) and lack of water in his well resulted in a series of poor harvests.

20040702005901801jpg

Venkat Reddy said he was promised Rs.1 lakh for his kidney, but he received only Rs.40,000 from Raju. He said that at least 10 others accompanied him to Delhi, where, after a series of medical tests, his kidney was removed. He said that he did not consult his family about the sale, fearing that they would object to it. His health deteriorated immediately after the surgical removal of his kidney. Unable to do sustained work or heavy physical work, and because of his mounting debts, Venkat Reddy sold his house in 2001.

K.B. Prasad, a mechanic in a cement plant in Macherla, told Frontline that as many as 40 cases of kidney sales had been reported from the area in the past few years. The area suffered severe drought for the past several years. The highest number of cases have been reported from Rentachintala mandal in the Palandu area. Prasad said that tenant cultivators were particularly vulnerable because of the serious risks they faced in cultivation. Ironically, the area has abundant black soil, ideal for growing cotton, but poor irrigation facilities neutralise this advantage. Water is scarce here although the Nagarjunasagar irrigation project is barely 25 km away. Dealers of inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers advance money to the farmers at high rates of interest. Prasad says that the rates could reach up to 60 per cent in some places.

He says the State Agriculture Department "has totally failed the farmer". Many posts have been lying vacant for a long time, he alleges. Moreover, peasants who approach nationalised banks and credit cooperatives have to pay commissions to their staff. There is a chilli yard at Macherla, established by the Agriculture Department. But it is virtually defunct. The majority of the farmers sell their produce in Guntur, where the bigger commission agents, acting in collusion, set the market price.

Tenant cultivators have increasingly taken to commercial crops in the past 25 years. Prasad noted that this had made agriculture "an extremely risky proposition" for this section of the peasantry. The government failed them by not making extension services available to them, especially when they needed them badly, Prasad said. Reports of suicide by farmers have regularly come from Guntur district since 1987. Prasad said that at least six cases had been reported from Veldurthy, adjoining Macherla, since May 25.

"Death by suicide," he said, "is among the most horrible consequences of the policies of the government. What is even more shocking is that the government ignored the repeated cries of distress of the peasantry."

In 2000, Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, then the Leader of the Opposition, had remarked that suicide deaths and the sale of kidneys by farmers "clearly show that there is no place left for farmers in the State". Will he make agriculture sustainable for these poor farmers now?

The hotel management boom

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

THE popular perception of a hotel is often wrong, and M.S. Sha, a graduate from the Welcomgroup School of Hotel Management, Manipal, says he is determined to correct it. "My aim is to educate people and change their view of hotel management," he says. Sha established the Annai Fathima Institute of Hotel Catering Administration at Alampatty near Madurai, in 1992.The institute has 494 students and 60 employees, including teachers. Its campus has kitchens, classrooms with stained glass panels, a five-star hotel room and so on.

20040702006111801jpg

In Tamil Nadu today there is a boom in the study of hotel management and in catering training so much so that even arts and science colleges offer courses in these. Of the 100 catering institutes, only about 15 have proper infrastructure and qualified staff. Several catering colleges function from residential houses. Job opportunities for students passing out of established hotel management and catering institutes are aplenty. They can get jobs in star hotels in India and abroad, run guest houses for corporate houses or cafeterias in institutions, land jobs on ships, or be self-employed.

"There is an ever-growing demand for seats in these institutes. The human race will need food as long as it exists. So there is a permanent need for this calling. We simulate the conditions of a five-star hotel here so that the students get the right ambience during training," says A.S.D. Jeiprakash, principal of the Annai Fathima Institute. Hotel management does not amount to just cooking food and serving it to guests. "It is total hospitality care," he says.

The Annai Fathima Institute, which is affiliated to the Madurai Kamaraj University, has come a long way since its establishment. It moved to its sprawling campus at Alampatty about two years ago. The Institute offers a string of courses, which include a three-year diploma course (after Plus 2) in Hotel Management and Catering Technology; a one-year postgraduate diploma in Hotel Management and Catering Science; a two-year course in Front Office and Hotel Operational Management; one-year postgraduate diploma courses in Accommodation Operations Management, and Food and Beverages Management; a one-year diploma course in Food and Beverage Production and Food and Beverage Service; a craft course in Bakery and Confectionery; B.Sc. in Hotel Management and B.A. in Tourism and Hotel Management. It runs a three-year diploma course in Hotel Management and Catering Technology in collaboration with the Mandarin Training Centre of Mandarin Hotels of Malaysia. Sam Abraham, chairman, Kodaikanal Christian College, and Sha can be called the pioneers of hotel management and catering training in the State. In 1990, Sam Abraham founded the Kodaikanal Catering and Hotel Management Institute, "the first of its kind in the private sector". When he advertised for teaching posts for the institute, he received about a thousand applications. He shortlisted 35 persons for interview but only one turned up. Seven students joined the course that year.

"At the end of the one-year certificate programme, managers from Taj Coromandel and Welcomgroup, Chennai, came to the campus for recruitment as there was a need for trained manpower in the hotel industry," he says. Sam Abraham praises Sha and other teachers who worked in the Kodaikanal Institute during those teething years. The institute has wound up but Sam Abraham offers B.Sc. in Hotel Management and Catering Science in the Kodaikanal Christian College. A student of the course has to do additional diplomas in Travel and Tourism and craft courses.

In 1992, only four institutions offered a course in Hotel Management and Catering - the government-run Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition at Taramani, Chennai; the Food Craft Institute at Thuvakudi, Tiruchi; the SRM Institute of Hotel Management; and the Kodaikanal Hotel Management and Catering Institute. The Sri Kaliswari College established by the Sri Kaliswari Fire Works near Sivakasi, offers B.Sc. course in Hotel Management from this academic year.

Sha stresses the need for a separate university for hotel management and catering science. Each big hotel is an industry by itself and is related to tourism as well, he points out.

A case for moratorium

cover-story

Interview with B.V. Raghavalu, CPI(M) State secretary.

B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), argues for an immediate moratorium on debt repayments by farmers. He points out that this is the surest way of stemming the tide of suicides in the State. However, the Congress government is vacillating on the issue because it is afraid of alienating the neo-rich who have gained a stranglehold on rural life in the past 10-15 years, he says. Excerpts from an interview he gave V. Sridhar:

20040702006201901jpg

Suicides by peasants have been reported since 1987. What is significant about the spate of suicides in the past few weeks?

Suicides are being reported from across the State, from almost all the districts. Previously, such deaths were confined to a few districts - Anantapur, Mahbubnagar, Warangal and Nalgonda - basically the drier parts of the State or to peasants growing a particular crop, for instance, cotton or chilli. Now, suicides are being reported from even the Krishna and Godavari delta areas. This shows that the agrarian crisis has intensified and extended throughout the State.

What led to this situation?

In the past two to three years droughts have occurred throughout the State. The Krishna delta has also been affected severely by poor flows in the river. Peasants lost heavily after making investments in the past two years. This has never happened on this scale in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, tenant cultivation is rampant. Such peasants have been severely affected by debts. They pay very high rents and the landlords insist on payment of rent immediately after the harvest. Tenants borrow mostly from moneylenders. The Telugu Desam Party government did not recognise the seriousness of the problem.

How far is the lack of water responsible for the plight of the peasantry?

This grim situation is only partly because of the problem of water scarcity. The previous government blamed the rain god for the peasants' problems. But there is human failure on a massive scale, which has aggravated the problem. The government could have helped the farmer to raise a different set of crops in the context of the drought. It could have reduced the tenants' burden by providing loans to them. Instead, it egged the peasantry on to grow crops for which the land was not suitable. It made false promises to the peasantry.

How has the commercialisation of agriculture affected different strata of peasantry in the State?

During the past decade, because of the policies of the State and Central governments, nearly eight to nine lakh pumpsets have been installed in the State. Meanwhile, power tariffs have been increased drastically. The water table has also fallen sharply in the dry parts of the State. The cropping pattern has changed. Earlier, millets were grown by peasants for their personal consumption. Now, they grow cotton, sugarcane, mustard, castor and vegetables. The commercialisation of agriculture and the change in cropping pattern have forced the peasants to depend on the market. Output prices fluctuate a lot now. In the past five years, prices of every single crop suffered a collapse. Meanwhile, input costs have increased sharply. Credit released by institutional sources failed to provide the cushion that the peasants desperately needed. They are forced to borrow from private moneylenders.

How were tenant cultivators affected? How have conditions of tenure changed in the last decade?

The extent of tenancy has also increased sharply during the last 10 to 15 years. They are not protected by the State. There are many reasons for the increase in tenancy. Most of the rich peasants and landlords, holding between 15 and 30 acres, migrated to urban areas and their children even went abroad. Most of the land went into the hands of neo-rich peasants, who emerged during the last decade. This section prefers to lease out the land and charge exorbitant rents. In many parts of the delta areas, as much as 80 per cent of the land is leased out. This has happened in the dry areas also, like in parts of Telangana and Rayalseema. In Telengana, because of the extremist activity of the People's War, sections of the rich peasantry have migrated to urban areas and leased their land. Tenants are also increasingly cultivating commercial crops and have been exposed to market fluctuations. The change in agrarian relations in the last 10 to 15 years has also added to the problems faced by poor peasants on account of commercialisation of agriculture. The rising number of suicides is nothing but the result of the cumulative burden that poor peasants have had to shoulder as a result of these changes in rural Andhra Pradesh.

How does moneylending fit into this picture of agrarian relations?

A decade ago, the rural elite consisted of a "trinity" - the landlord, the supplier of inputs and the traders who purchased the output from the peasant. These three would combine to exploit the peasantry. Now, exploitation has taken a different form. The rich peasants, who have leased out the land, have migrated to the mandal headquarters. There they have set up shops to sell seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs to the peasant. In return, the peasant mortgages his output to them. Thus, a single entity in the rural economy now controls the land, and has interests in the markets for inputs, credit and output. These new entrepreneurs now also control the business of politics.

The neo-rich - they are very different from the old type of moneylenders - have become powerful. They constituted the main base of the TDP. But they may change their loyalties now.

How do you think the new government should handle the deep-rooted agrarian crisis?

The rate of suicides in the State increased sharply after the new government assumed office. Some attributed the spurt to the package announced for families of those who had committed suicide. They have implied that the peasants committed suicide so that their families could take advantage of the package. My point is that the peasant was already heavily burdened and did not see any hope on the horizon. The incentive package could at best have been the last straw on the camel's back.

The government did not address the problem in a comprehensive manner. It only gave attention to those who had already committed suicide. It ignored the fact that every small and marginal farmer in the State is a potential suicide victim.

What are the immediate steps that are needed?

The government should have immediately announced some kind of moratorium on repayment of loans by peasants. The government wavered on this. Although the Chief Minister mentioned a six-month moratorium, there has been no follow-up action on the matter. The powerful neo-rich section exerts a tremendous pressure on the government, preventing it from taking the measures that will provide relief to the peasantry. The government says that it does not want to hurt the small moneylenders. But that is only an excuse to protect the big moneylenders. There can be ways to protect small lenders. For instance, those who have lent up to Rs.10,000 can be outside the purview of the moratorium. But the government is using the small lender as an alibi for not announcing a moratorium.

The government is also not taking measures that found a place in the provisions of the Rural Indebtedness (Debt Relief) Act, which has lapsed. The Act was in force between 1979 and 1989. The legislation empowered the government to announce a two-year moratorium on debts of farmers, irrespective of whether the money was borrowed from public or private sources. Those applying pressure on borrowers could be prosecuted under the Act. The Act had to be renewed every two years by the government, but it lapsed in 1989. If the Act is invoked, it will prevent the harassment of the peasantry. The easiest and fastest way to provide relief to the peasantry would be to invoke the legislation. But these solutions to the problem impinge on the interests of the neo-rich, who are also active in both the main political parties in the State, the Congress and the TDP. The intentions of the government may be good, but it also has to reckon with the powerful lobbies of the rich at work. That explains the procrastination of the government on the issue of declaring a moratorium.

It is a crisis rooted in economic reforms

cover-story

Interview with Professor Utsa Patnaik.

The spate of suicides in rural Andhra Pradesh has caused consternation among policy-makers and specialists in agrarian studies. Utsa Patnaik, Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is one of the leading academics who have studied the problem deeply and extensively as part the larger crisis facing Indian agriculture today. Utsa Patnaik has written extensively on capitalism and the agrarian question. Her publications on these subjects include The Agrarian Question and the Development of Capitalism in India (New Delhi, 1986) and Peasant Class Differentiation (New Delhi, 1987). Excerpts from an interview she gave T.K. Rajalakshmi:

20040702006302201jpg

From a purely historical perspective, farmers' suicides appear to be a relatively `new' phenomenon. How do you view this in the context of the agricultural policies pursued over the last one and a half decades?

There may be various reasons for the farmers' suicides but the most important one seems to be the very high levels of indebtedness; indebtedness of the kind which became unviable where farmers were reduced to a situation in which they sold land, had no collateral to pledge, were unable to think of paying the interest on the loans leave alone any part of the principal. The question is why should there have been this phenomenon leading to high indebtedness particularly since 1988. Obviously, it is not really the long-term problem of a high degree of concentration of land and other assets or that there are very large numbers of poor, marginal and landless farmers. Those long-term factors are not what we have to look out for. We have to look at much more specific factors which have come into existence just during the economic reforms period.

And the major factors have been twofold. If we look at it from the side of input costs, we find that economic reform policies have led to a phenomenal rise in input costs. Fertilizer subsidies have been removed - the supply of fertilizers has been handed over to private agents and the government has withdrawn from this. Secondly, the cost of credit has increased enormously after the implementatation of the Narasimham Committee report. The treatment of agriculture and the small-scale industry as priority sectors for lending at low cost interest rates from the banking system has been given up. Perforce, farmers have been forced to turn more and more to private moneylenders who obviously charge high rates of interest and are much more inflexible in rolling over of debts than an institutional lender would be. Then there were the famous power tariff hikes which the previous TDP [Telugu Desam Party] government undertook directly as part of its Structural Adjustment Programme which it adopted after taking money from the World Bank.

On the side of material inputs, and on the side of credit, there has been a very sharp squeeze on the farmer with sharply rising input costs. On the output side, trade liberalisation played a role. In the 1990s, global prices of commercial crops, including rubber and cotton, were rising. In response to that, since the government's policy also was to increase exports from the agriculture sector as far as possible, unregulated export of raw cotton was allowed. If you look at the three years before 1990-1991, then 34,000 tonnes of raw cotton was being exported. The moment this sector was opened up, in a single year there was a jump of 3,74,000 tonnes in the export of raw cotton - more than a tenfold jump in a single year. This has been fluctuating but on the average for the three or four post-reform years it has been over two lakh tonnes. So, obviously, when you have a very sudden export surge like that and with output not increasing that fast, the raw cotton crisis trebled. It affected the handloom weavers because yarn prices also trebled.

This was the period from roughly 1990 to 1995-1996 when many thousands of farmers, in fact lakhs of small farmers, were switching from food crops to cotton as the world prices were rising. Many of them had not cultivated cotton before. This has been established by various research studies carried out, where the families of the suicide victims admitted to not having traditionally cultivated the crop before. They said that they had gone for cotton cultivation expecting high profits. There was this sudden expansion of area under cotton these farmers could not afford to do so except on the basis of credit. They took loans and the amount of loans they took to produce cotton was much higher than they had taken in the past, as they would have grown rain-fed food crops on the same land, which would not have cost much for production. So the switch to an exportable commercial crop led to a scenario of rising indebtedness. But at that time, people were very hopeful. World prices were on the rise and they hoped that they would get output which they would be able to export at a good price and repay as well. And that was the expectation with which loans were rolled over and given year after year as well.

But when the government withdraws from pesticide and fertilizer supply and winds up extension services under the dogma of letting the free market have its sway, many fly-by-night operators come into the picture. No regulation or overseeing of the quality of the inputs has been taking place. But the real time that things started going wrong was when the output was not as expected. But, most importantly, the world prices started crashing from the end of 1996 onwards and by 2001 it was practically at half the level it was in 1995. So there was a scenario where farmers had gone in for a heavy level of indebtedness and had been forced to do so by private moneylenders at a high cost due to a withdrawal of low-cost institutional lending. At the same time, the input prices went up and output prices crashed. This is a readymade scenario for agrarian distress.

All these factors are directly related to economic reform policies and trade liberalisation. The government did not intervene with any valorisation programmes or with any programme of buying up cotton at a fair price from the farmers. It could have done so, but it was operating with the dogma of leaving everything to the free market. This went on year after year and the fall in prices became a prolonged phenomenon. From the end of 2001, prices started rising slightly but the rise is really nothing compared to the earlier fall. And creditors started foreclosing on the debts. How does a farmer, heavily indebted, deal with this? First he will sell off all his collaterals, he will borrow more from another moneylender to pay off the first loan, but if his crop is pest-affected, his credit-worthiness also comes down. So, in a sense, many farmers have found themselves at the end of their tether.

It is the small and marginal peasants who are committing suicide. These sections are out of the ambit of institutional credit. What are the kind of changes that led to the situation where they became more and more dependent on informal credit. And in what way is the nature of the current indebtedness different from previous situations, including that in colonial India?

In the early 1990s, these sections were not out of the ambit of institutional credit. In institutional credit, I would include not only the banking sector but the cooperative societies as well. I don't have the data with me right now but if one looks at the data of what proportion of banking credit has been going to the rural areas, there appears to be a sharp fall. The number of beneficiaries in development programmes like the IRDP [Integrated Rural Development Programme] in the 1990s has also come down sharply. It is not that the farmers were always out of the ambit of institutional credit. The whole point of bank nationalisation in 1969 and the sharp extension of credit to the rural areas was to get them inside the ambit. They have been thrust outside the ambit again especially after the financial sector reforms. The main impact of this had been felt in the second part of the 1990s. The entire gamut of policies that has led to the withdrawal of the state, leaving everything to the market, has been completely disastrous. Seed and fertilizer costs have gone up, all input costs have got up and the farmer has virtually no protection from falling prices.

If you ask about history, there is an interesting parallel that one can find with what happened during the cotton boom. In 1861, when the American Civil War broke out and supplies of raw cotton from the United States to the manufacturing centres in Britain and Europe were cut off, they turned to alternative sources of cotton and India was a major source. Suddenly the prices of global cotton went up and the Indian farmer, being always very price responsive, switched over from food crops to cash crops. Immediately, there was a huge expansion of areas growing cotton and a switch from food crops like jowar and ragi to cotton. In order to do so, they borrowed from the sahukars [moneylenders].

When the Civil War ended, the global prices crashed. The story repeats itself in 1996. So one can see this thing being repeated in Andhra Pradesh at least. But what happened was that when the people switched from food crops to cash crops, the food prices went up. With the crash in cotton prices, the farmers found that they could not pay the sahukars. And the sahukars began to foreclose the debts. This led to the Deccan Riots. What happened then was that the Indian farmers actually took on the sahukars and unitedly fought against them, but this time they seem to be taking it out on themselves. They actually attacked the moneylenders and burnt their records. This is an interesting contrast of what happened during the colonial period and what has happened now. It seems they were more optimistic then than they are now. I don't recall any history book mentioning farmers' suicides in that period. Even in the non-cotton growing areas, farmers growing food crops suffered but there are no records of any suicides.

Agricultural workers in coastal Andhra Pradesh over the last 10-15 years have rented out land at very high rates - often 60 per cent of the produce in kind. Many suicides among the peasantry have been reported from this region as well. What explains this apparent "irrationality" of the peasant?

No, it is not irrational. When one is in a situation of being a poor landless peasant, one has to make a living somehow. One either does it by leasing land and cultivating it or tries to get work as hired labour. When the market for hired labour is characterised by a very high level of unemployment and by uncertainty of getting sufficient days of employment, there is no guarantee of making a livelihood. But this also means that people without land are unable to make a living out of wages and therefore are going back to the practice of leasing land on terms that are very harsh. The levels of unemployment are much higher now than they were 10 years ago. The government's development expenditure in rural areas has gone down very sharply. In the pre-reform period, that is the Seventh Plan period, the average expenditure on rural development expressed as a percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] was 14.5 per cent. By 1999-2000 this came down to less than 6 per cent of GDP. In absolute terms, there has been a reduction of Rs.30,000 crores annually. In Andhra Pradesh also, there was a very significant fall in rural development expenditure. The rate of growth of employment all over came down very drastically.

In your opinion, how have the different sections of the peasantry - small, marginal, rich and landlord - been affected by the government's policies. How have they gained or lost in the last 10-15 years?

In the first two or three years, the rising costs of inputs and falling prices of crops would have affected the small and the medium farmers. But as the period of agrarian distress gets prolonged, it begins to affect every section of the farming community. They do not get access to BPL [Below Poverty Line] ration cards as they own land. Another major factor has been this exclusion from the access to PDS [public distribution system] with the introduction of Targeted PDS. By now it is a generalised agrarian crisis. Some case studies in Andhra Pradesh have shown farmers owning 20 acres getting zero output from their land. The male members try to get work as agricultural workers in that they compete with the full time agricultural workers. So, finally, the income that they get is very little.

Agrarian studies appear to have disappeared from the radar screens of social scientists at a time when rural India has gone through a churn in the last decade. What explains this?

Very true. This is partly to do with the whole market orientation of research. When I started my academic career in the early 1970s, agrarian studies in India had a very important role to play and there were any number of students interested in it. But one of the problems with this neo-liberal paradigm has been to divert the attention of research from this vital area. Even the interest in other productive sectors of the economy like the small-scale sector or the manufacturing sector has got diluted. The emphasis is much more on the financial and the service sectors rather than the real sectors of the economy. But in more recent years, precisely owing to the impact of the neo-liberal policies as well as the WTO [World Trade Organisation] discipline added to these policies and the impact on agriculture, there is a revival of interest. Students who have gone into international economics now come back and say, "Oh I see, so agriculture is an important subject." There are people who are again going into this area, but approaching it from the other end - not from internal class relations but from the international economy back to their own economy.

An amendment challenged

Is the removal of the domicile requirement for candidates and provision for secret ballot for elections to the Rajya Sabha in contravention of the Constitution? The Supreme Court will decide after the ongoing election process.

in New Delhi

ON June 9, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and P. Venkatarama Reddi vacated the stay imposed by another Bench on June 4 on the Election Commission (E.C.) proceeding with elections to fill the vacancies in the Rajya Sabha. On the forenoon of June 4, the E.C. had set the process for the elections in motion through the issue of a presidential notification. Yet the Vacation Bench, comprising Justices Ruma Pal and B.N. Agrawal passed the order on a petition filed by former member of the Rajya Sabha and columnist Kuldip Nayar challenging the amendments made to the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The amendments dispensed with the requirement that the State from where a candidate sought election to the Upper House was his or her domicile and also the system of secret ballot.

20040702006512801jpg

The interim order passed by the Bench on June 4 was apparently flawed because under Article 329(b) of the Constitution, the court should not have interfered with the election process that had already commenced. The clause excludes the jurisdiction of courts to entertain any matter relating to elections, which can be questioned only by an election petition under the law after the completion of the election process. On June 9, the two-Judge Bench admitted the "flaw" thus: "We do not think that there are compelling reasons to stop the election process at this stage; especially in view of the presumption of constitutionality of the impugned provisions" (of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act, which has been challenged). The Bench admitted the writ petitions filed by Kuldip Nayar and former Member of Lok Sabha Inder Jit for detailed consideration after the court's vacation in July.

The Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2003 (No. 40 of 2003) amended Section 3 of the Representation of People Act by substituting the words "in India" in the place of "in that State or territory". The Act introduced a provision in Section 59 to the effect that "the votes at every election to fill a seat or seats in the Council of States shall be given by open ballot". Kuldip Nayar, in his petition, challenged the first part of the amendment as affecting the federal features of the Constitution and the second part for compromising free and fair elections. He argued that both features formed crucial aspects of the Constitution, which, according to the Supreme Court, was beyond the purview of Parliament's amending powers.

Another petition, filed by Inder Jit, challenged the first part of the amendment. He argued in his petition that the nomenclature itself ("Council of States") was a reflection of the federal character of the Rajya Sabha, and that a candidate by being elected merely by the members of the State Legislative Assembly did not ipso facto become the true representative of that State - unless the candidate was in living contact with areas within the State. "A representative not ordinarily resident and not belonging to the State concerned cannot effectively represent the interest of the State as he would not be aware of the living, ground realities of the State," he contended.

The amendment, supported by all parties barring the Left, used as its justification the "fact" that there were "numerous" instances where persons who were normally not residing in a particular State had got themselves registered as voters in that State, simply to contest an election to the Council of States. The Election Commission also felt that a precise definition of "ordinarily resident" was very difficult, and emphasised that it was for the political parties, acting through Parliament, to arrive at the best possible solution.

However, the figures made available to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs showed that during the period from 1988 to 1993, only 10 per cent of the members of the Rajya Sabha were elected from outside their States of residence - that is, this 10 per cent were ordinarily residents of State A whereas they were elected from State B on a questionable declaration that they were in fact ordinarily resident of State B. It has been found that there are now 18 Rajya Sabha members who hail from States other than the one from which they were elected. The amendment, it is feared, would make it easier for political parties to open the floodgates for "outsiders" to get elected to the Rajya Sabha, and thus change its very character as the Council of States.

In the past, several members of the Rajya Sabha have found it expedient to circumvent the domicile requirement to get elected from States they did not belong to. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a member of the Rajya Sabha from Assam, after having acquired a residential address in Guwahati to fulfil the domicile requirement. Other prominent Congress leaders guilty of violating the spirit of this domicile requirement include Union Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal. The guilty Bharatiya Janata Party leaders include former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, former Law Minister Arun Jaitley and former Minister of State O. Rajagopal.

Inder Jit pointed out in his petition that representatives of the States had on innumerable occasions brought to the attention of the House and the treasury benches matters of concern in respect of the States in which they were ordinarily resident, whereas it was not the case with members hailing from other States.

The Bill preceding the enactment of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act (Act 40 of 2003) was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, chaired by Pranab Mukherjee, the present Defence Minister. The committee made two main points in its 90th Report presented to Parliament on July 23, 2003. First, it stated that there was a "lack of consensus" on the question of removal of the residential qualification. Second, it stated that "in view of the divergent perceptions in the Committee on the subject matter of the Bill", it was "of the considered view that the government should explore the possibility of evolving a consensus on the issue before piloting the Bill in Parliament".

However, as Inder Jit points out, no such effort was made to forge a consensus during the intervening period of almost nine months, from July 23, 2002 to April 8, 2003, when the Bill was taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill, which concerned the Rajya Sabha vitally, was discussed by the House for not more than two hours and seven minutes. The Lok Sabha passed the Bill on August 18, 2003, despite strong protests from leading members of the House, including the present Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

The object and reasons of the Amending Act show that the provision relating to open ballot in the election has its origins in the report presented by the Ethics Committee of Parliament in 1998, wherein it had recommended the examination of the issue. Allegations of money power made in the media in respect to biennial elections to the Council of States in March-April 2000 also gave rise to the Act, the government had claimed then. The Amendment, however, has led to criticism that it legitimises corruption by party bosses rather than individual candidates, as was the alleged practice earlier.

The proponents of open ballot to the elections argued in the Select Committee of Parliament that for electors like Members of the Legislative Assemblies, there was no rationale for secrecy, which was basically meant for ordinary voters in the polling booth for the general elections. The important thing was to ensure "purity of election", it was pointed out. The Legislative Department contended before the Committee that the system of open ballot would ensure purity of election, as political parties would be in a position to take appropriate disciplinary action against legislators who cross-voted by defying party whip.

The then Attorney-General, Soli J. Sorabjee, had opined to the committee that the open ballot scheme was permissible constitutionally as "the system of voting by secret ballot is neither an indispensable concomitant nor a sine qua non of free and fair elections".

With the Supreme Court slated to pronounce on the constitutionality of these amendments in the process of Rajya Sabha elections, the legitimacy of the current elections can be called into question if the petitioners win their case. However, it is a moot question whether all the 65 elected candidates would lose their seats in the Rajya Sabha if the Supreme Court declares the entire Amendment Act unconstitutional. Legal experts point out that the court could not unseat these candidates without making them parties to the case. As two biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha have been held after the enactment of the amendment, it would be unfair to give retrospective effect to the court's ruling so that it applies only to the victorious candidates in this election, they say.

Whatever the outcome of the case in the Supreme Court, those emerging victorious in this round of Rajya Sabha elections, are sure to find in the June 9 interim order of the court a Damocle's sword hanging over their yet-to-begin tenures.

Pesticide, the last resort

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

Name: Reddy Ranga Rao Age: 45 Village: Velpuru Mandal: Thanaku District: West Godavari Date of death: May 23, 2004

REDDY RANGA RAO was an agricultural worker until about seven years ago, when he started leasing land and became a "cultivator". He still had no land, but at least he had others working for him on land in Velpuru, in the heart of the Green Revolution region. The village appears prosperous. Some of the houses are palatial. Bullock-drawn ploughs are passe here. But Reddy Ranga Rao committed suicide on May 23 by consuming pesticide.

20040702006601001jpg

Reddy Ranga Rao started cultivation by growing paddy. Two years later he attempted to grow sugarcane. He suffered severe losses as rodents destroyed the entire crop. His wife, Ramalakshmi (40), said that the failure of the crop was disastrous because sugarcane needed more investment than paddy. "The loss we suffered then continues to burden us now in the form of outstanding loans," she said.

Although he shifted back to paddy cultivation, he never recovered from the setback, which led to mounting debts. Ramalakshmi said the last rabi season yielded only 15 bags of paddy, compared to the normal yield of 25 bags an acre (each bag of 75 kg). The rent for the land was 30 bags an acre (for two seasons). Ramalakshmi said that the decline in output was mainly because Reddy Ranga Rao could not buy pesticides and fertilizers in adequate quantity and at the appropriate time. Reddy Ranga Rao not only had to contend with a poor crop but also had to manage the daunting task of procuring paddy to pay the rent.

Both husband and wife were agricultural workers before they were married. "We took the lease only because we thought that cultivation would be better than agricultural work," said Ramalakshmi. Moreover, the fact that very little employment was available during the rainy season prompted them to lease the land from an influential family in Thanaku, which owns a rice mill in the town. A middleman in the village fixed the "deal". Ramalakshmi said the landlord lent money for inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. The family also used to borrow from moneylenders.

Ramalakshmi said the family never really recovered from the "sugarcane shock" it received five years ago. Reddy Ranga Rao borrowed Rs.50,000 before the last kharif season. Part of the money was meant to repay existing debts and the remaining was to be invested in the crop. Part of the Rs.50,000 came from the rice mill owner, but substantial amounts were also drawn from an "iron shop" owner and a worker who had headed for Singapore. The interest on the loans was 24 per cent. At the time of his death Reddy Ranga Rao owed Rs.15,000 to the rice miller, about Rs.60,000 to various moneylenders, and 60 bags of paddy to the landlord.

The landlord cancelled the lease after his death. Reddy Ranga Rao used to work as a servant in a landlord's house when he was a boy of about 15. He was paid about 25 bags of paddy annually as wages. He performed various tasks for the landlord, which included grazing cattle and doing household work. His wife said that he "managed' to quit this work and became an agricultural worker. "Life as an agricultural worker did not seem risk-laden when we leased land for cultivation," said Ramalakshmi.

Ten days before he committed suicide, Reddy Ranga Rao told his wife that "he had no hope of a good crop". On May 19 he returned home late, sat on the cot, played with his nine-month-old granddaughter and then complained of uneasiness. He was taken to a private hospital in Thanaku and, after three days there, was taken to the government hospital.

Reddy Ranga Rao died on May 23. The Mandal Revenue Officer visited the family on May 23 and the Joint Collector the following day. Ramalakshmi said they expressed their sympathies but did not promise anything. But the moneylenders came immediately after his death and asked for the repayment of loans. She promised them that she would pay them if she received any assistance from the government. Significantly, Ramalakshmi said that the frequency of the visits by the moneylenders had come down noticeably in the weeks before the elections. But she said the visits became more frequent after the elections, although they were not unduly aggressive. Ramalakshmi said that she did not know whether the moneylenders came more often after the elections because they feared that the new government would waive the loans of farmers. She said: "I do not know tenancy laws, but I wish there is some way out of the mooza vani kowlu system (oral tenancy, one in which the tenant has no registered rights to the land that he/she is cultivating)."

Hounded by moneylenders

in Anantapur

Name: Vallem Jayarami Reddy Age: 52 Village: Regadi Kothur Mandal: Bukkaraya Samudram District: Anantapur Date of death: May 23, 2004

"They [private moneylenders] used to bother us every day by asking my husband when he was going to repay the loans. The harassment was so severe that my husband decided to end his life," said Pullamma, the wife of Vallem Jayarami Reddy, who committed suicide by consuming poisonous pills used for preserving seeds. He died in the general hospital in the district headquarters.

Like lakhs of other families of farmers in the drought-ravaged Anantapur district, the family of Jayarami Reddy, which included four children, was neck-deep in financial problems owing to the heavy losses it suffered following the failure of crops year after year since 1998. The family, with five acres (two hectares) of landholding, has a debt burden of about Rs.4 lakhs now.

Jayarami Reddy had a smooth sailing until 1997. Although two acres of his landholding is in the tail-end ayacut of the Tungabhadra Right High Level Canal (HLC) he never got any water in recent years. But, in spite of the fact that he did rain-fed cultivation, his family was able to lead a respectable life.

"We borrowed money from private lenders within the village and in the surrounding villages at 24 per cent interest per annum for the construction of a house in 1997. The next year we borrowed [Rs.10,000] from the cooperative society and from private moneylenders for cultivation on 10 acres taken on lease," explained Shankar Reddy, the elder son of the deceased farmer, who has taken to milk vending now.

The family incurred a loss of Rs.80,000 with the cultivation of a spice crop on the 10 acres as there was a total crop loss. "Perhaps this was the beginning of their problems," says Thirupal Reddy, another farmer of the village.

Since then the family has been taking land on lease and cultivating crops such as sunflower, paddy and groundnut. But to its misfortune, there was scanty rainfall year after year, and it got hardly any returns. The debts piled up. Apart from private moneylenders, Jayarami Reddy took loans from Andhra Bank and a cooperative society.

As the problems mounted, the younger son of the farmer, Chiranjeevi Reddy, migrated to Vijayawada in search of a livelihood in 2001, only to return a year later. He was unable to get sufficient work and to adjust to the working conditions there. The farmer's self-respect took a further beating when he was jailed on a complaint by some moneylenders two years ago.

Crop losses forced Jayarami Reddy to hand over his bullocks and cart to a moneylender last year. He also made futile attempts to irrigate his land by sinking five borewells.

"He had attempted suicide six months ago but I prevented it by snatching the poisonous pills," says Pullamma.

Moneylenders have stopped hounding the family following the government's warning to them not to bother farmers this year. "But we don't know when they will resume the harassment," says Pullamma. "We don't know how to overcome the problems."

LETTERS

cover-story
New agenda

This refers to your Cover Story ("New Agenda", June 18). We welcome the new government headed by Manmohan Singh. In a historic step, Sonia Gandhi declined to be Prime Minister. She needs to be congratulated for this mature and wise decision. At one stroke, she took the wind out of the Bharatiya Janata Party's sails. Manmohan Singh had an enviable record as Union Finance Minister. He pushed through economic reforms with an approach that was open, straightforward and professional. Nobody can doubt that he has the national interests at heart.

Bijoy Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government faces many tough challenges from within and without. The mandate is for a change. The Common Minimum Programme constitutes a "new agenda" with six basic principles of governance.

The Prime Minister has to play a balancing act, keeping the coalition partners together to achieve targets and give a human face to reforms.

The damage done to education by the previous government needs to be reversed. A comprehensive farm policy with investment in agriculture, with an emphasis on non-farm employment opportunities is necessary. Technology has to be used with required structural changes to benefit the common man.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram

The article "Coalition pangs" (June 18) has brought out the initial hiccups faced by the UPA government. Although the government formation exercise went on smoothly, except for objections from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Ram Vilas Paswan, the UPA should have avoided the induction of "tainted" leaders into the government.

But the positive aspect is the role played by the Left in the formation of a secular government, which has not allowed others to flex their muscles.

Mulayam Singh Yadav's supporters should have been included in the government since the Samajwadi Party played an important role in defeating the communal forces in Uttar Pradesh.

Hari Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu

Protecting whistle-blowers

This is with reference to the article "Defending the whistle-blower" (June 18). Integrity at the top is an imperative to avert victimisation of the whistle-blower. Needless to say, no law can protect whistle-blowers in the private sector. All complaints would be treated as "motivated or vexatious" there.

R. Sajan Aluva, Kerala

A whistle-blower acts like a torchbearer in the fight against the darkness of corruption. Since such selfless persons are subjected to pressure and torture, they should be given proper protection under the law. Any law on protecting the whistle-blower should ensure not only his/her anonymity but also protection in the event of accidental leakage of his/her name. The case of Satyendra Dubey reveals the gravity of the situation.

Ake Ravikrishna Hyderabad

Psephology

Pollsters got it all wrong because even the biggest survey contacted only 51,000 people, while 350 million voters exercised their votes ("Pollsters versus voters", June 18). The media's judgment was clouded by their peers. They, as all the prosperous, chattering classes, wanted Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win.

Kamalendra Singh Udaipur

Education

This is with reference to the article "Astrology on a pedestal" (June 18). One can very well look at the issue as a matter of freedom of expression, especially academic freedom. There is a school of thought in the United States, which tilts towards academic freedom when it comes into conflict with the issue of "separation of Church and state". Given this, while decrying the irrationality of astrology, one would have to cede grudgingly to its propagation through academic means.

Raghuram Ekambaram New Delhi

Iraq

Aijaz Ahmed provides an honest and clear argument in his essay "Empire's Nightmare" (June 18). Applying the political theory of nationalism and imperialism to the current political situation in Iraq, the writer seeks to present the Iraqis' struggle as a form of "new-wave resurgent nationalism" or "neo-nationalism". The Iraqis have shown the world what it is to face foreign rule, which the entire world has criticised as "uncivil" and "immoral".

The war was started under the pretext of ousting Saddam Hussein who had stored weapons of mass destruction in his country (It has been proven that the reasons were farcical). While the predators' proclaimed aim was to bring a just, peaceful and equitable reign in Iraq, they ended up brutalising the whole country.

Stuti Saxena Nainital, Uttaranchal

The barbaric abuse of prisoners by the U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and at home in America reminds me of the horrendous tales of Idi Amin's Uganda ("The American Gulag", June 18). U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has owned up full responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, saying, "I am accountable for them." He should have resigned immediately after taking this. But he did not. Then what did he mean by the word "accountable"?

K.P. Rajan Mumbai

Cyber crime

The article on cyber crime by the veteran policeman of yesteryear, R.K. Raghavan, was an eyeopener ("Catching the Cyber Criminal", June 18). The article will be useful not only for the police fraternity, but also for modern IT technocrats.

Vinod Tuli Received on e-mail

Verdict 2004

Your Editorial "India Shines" (June 4) was engrossing and the analysis in-depth. The Indian voter has given a clear, decisive verdict against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In its haste to retain power by banking on the catchy "India Shining" phrase and the "Vajpayee Factor", the BJP had ignored the silent majority's wish to live with dignity (with food, shelter, water and employment).

Sonia Gandhi, who has created history by proving that she is not after power, has led the nation's oldest party back to power. The victory of the Left parties in their strongholds of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, against both the Congress and the NDA is a "heartening feature".

The Congress should take immediate steps to revamp the organisation in States where it lost ground, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee Faridabad

Your Editorial rightly warns that the prospects of the Congress-led dispensation will depend to a great extent on its acting speedily and intelligently on the realisation that this election was lost by the NDA on mass livelihood issues.

Your Editorial also predicts that the Congress-led government has got a sporting chance of completing a full five-year term if it functions on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and respects the spirit of the mandate.

Now that the CMP, which promises "reform with a human face", has been formally released by the Manmohan Singh government, it brightens the government's chances of survival. Having worked out a bold programme on paper, the United Progressive Alliance must start implementing it in a progressive and time-bound fashion.

While the commitment to increase spending on health, infrastructure building and agriculture is commendable, the question is: where the money will come from.

Onkar Chopra New Delhi

Congress comeback

The article "Misreading the mandate" (June 4) highlights the wrong interpretations of verdict 2004 by the BJP. This happened in the case of the 1999 verdict also. The party presumed that it could rule the country for ever. As a result, it changed its ideology and went against what the people desired of it. The same is the case of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. At the same time, Naveen Patnaik managed to win the people's trust. The emergence of Sonia Gandhi as a national leader is the main outcome of Verdict 2004. The BJP has to reckon with this, notwithstanding its objections to her foreign origin.

C.P. Velayudhan Nair Kochi

The results of the 13th Lok Sabha elections are unprecedented. Nobody had predicted the victory of the Congress-led coalition in this much-hyped poll. All the opinion and exit polls had predicted the victory of the BJP-led NDA coalition. But there was resentment among the voters against the anti-farmer, anti-poor policies of the NDA government. The BJP tried to create a "feel good" myth on the basis of statistics and advertisements, but it was rejected by the cautious voters of the country.

The NDA government failed to create employment opportunities and contributed to an environment of fear among the minorities. These were the major reasons for its defeat. The NDA was drubbed in key States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Hopefully the Congress-led government will solve the major problems facing the country, especially unemployment, poverty, overpopulation, corruption and riots. The Congress should learn a lesson from its past mistakes, which kept it out of power for eight years. It should also revive its organisation. The BJP should also analyse its defeat and play the role of an effective Opposition.

Akhil Kumar New Delhi

This referes to the article "Liberation at Last" (June 4). How does the author define liberation? Why does the article not talk about the liberation of millions of people of Bihar, who do not even have the basic necessities of life? There is no rule of law in Bihar, but the article supports the Rashtriya Janata Dal just because it is a secular party. What about corruption and the daily killing of people? If communalism is bad, then so is casteism. We should criticise both.

If the Left parties' economic policies are right, then why is the West Bengal government inviting foreign capital into the State? With the Left ruling West Bengal for more than 25 years, why does the State not have the highest standard of living in the country?

If the people have rejected the NDA, they have not accepted the Congress and the Left parties either. It is mainly the anti-incumbency factor that has led to this verdict. Both the Congress and the BJP lost the elections in States where they previously ruled.

Raj Mahto Received on e-mail

Transit of Venus

This refers to your article "A celestial spectacle" (June 4). As a teacher of Physics, I know that explaining the phenomenon of the transit of Venus is quite difficult.

But the author has done it in a lucid language. Though the inferior and superior conjunctions of Venus have been explained very clearly, an illustrative diagram could have been included.

A.K. Bose Kolkata

Succour for the starving

Apart from immediate relief measures such as the opening of gruel centres, long-term measures to provide food security are essential to ensure that starvation deaths do not occur.

in Nalgonda

THE pathos of Darawath Kamili (32), a tribal woman, Bangaru Ramachary (45), a carpenter, and Ganji Yadagiri (42), a handloom weaver, is identical in many ways.

20040702005502001jpg

They were engaged in agriculture and allied activities until 2001, when a series of droughts started and forced them to look for other means of livelihood. They were unable to keep the wolf from the door and the severe trauma of this experience and the malnourishment caused by abject poverty finally resulted in their death after brief spells of illness.

Family members, neighbours and friends termed their passing as "starvation deaths", but the district administration concluded firmly that they had died "due to illness".

Nalgonda district, known for the famous Telangana peasants' armed struggle, has been in the news in recent times for all the negative reasons - a dangerously high fluoride content in groundwater, the sale of girl children, `countless' sunstroke related deaths and a drought that has had a devastating effect on marginalised sections of the population such as agricultural labourers, rural artisans and tribal people.

The district has a population of 32.4 lakhs, of which 28 lakh people live in the drought-affected rural areas. At least 3,73,183 families live below the poverty line; 1,80,414 of these can be categorised as the poorest of the poor. The Scheduled Tribes, who constitute 9.7 per cent of the population, are bearing the brunt of the unprecedented drought conditions.

Kamili's case is a classic example of the impact the prolonged drought has had on the downtrodden sections and demonstrates the fallout of the official way of dealing with things. According to K.R. Venugopal, special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Kamili, the sole bread-winner in a family of four in Lal thanda (village) in Mathampally mandal, died of hunger on February 10.

Acting on a report that appeared in The Hindu on February 18 titled, `When death stalks thandas', the former Indian Administrative Service officer visited the village on February 24 and conducted an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death. After interacting with many tribal people, including Bhukya Kanta, a fellow migrant of Kamili and a witness to the happenings prior to her death, Venugopal submitted a detailed report to the NHRC stating that the incident was an instance of the violation of the right to life.

Further, the tribal people told Venugopal that between June 2003 and January 2004 six persons, including Kamili's brother Banawath Peeka, had died of starvation.

But the district administration did not take cognisance of his report. Instead, it filed a case against the local fair price shop dealer for his failure to disburse rice to the tribal people and suspended three revenue officials for failing to supervise the distribution. A report sent by the district administration to the Chief Minister's secretariat stated: "Non-supply of rice was nothing to do with Kamali's death".

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Cherupally Sitaramulu, who investigated the death of Yadagiri of Kattangur, asserts that the latter died from starvation. "He had no food for the five days prior to his death (May 16). The severe slump in the industry made him jobless," Sitaramulu said. "As many as 11 weavers in Pochampally, Siripuram, Koyyalagudem, Kattangur, Munugode and Nakrekal died of hunger-related ailments in the last two years," he pointed out.

District Ryothu Sangham (District Farmers' Association) secretary Bontala Chandra Reddy said: "The officials may write off our version citing ridiculous reasons, but our inquiries made it clear that at least seven starvation deaths occurred in Bhongir, Huzurnagar and Garidepally mandals in recent times."

Drought has become a perennial feature of life even in the Nagarjunasagar ayacut area, where ryots prospered from cultivation. Farmers from the non-ayacut areas do not have any problem in seeking alternative employment during the rainy season, but the comparatively prosperous ayacut farmers consider it below themselves to look for other sources of livelihood.

Says Venepalli Panduranga Rao, the Alagapada village sarpanch who caught media attention by holding a referendum in the village on his style of functioning: "If the rain plays truant this season too, we are going to witness starvation deaths en masse in the ayacut area. The lives of farmers are in the hands of the rain gods." According to him, farmers in drought-hit villages can afford only one meal a day because of financial troubles that resulted from consecutive crop failures. Some farm labourers in Settipalem village endorsed the statements of the sarpanch. One farmer warned: "The situation is alarming. One can see that at weddings and other social gatherings, where food is served, there are big crowds nowadays. Thousands of lives will be at stake if emergency drought relief measures are not taken up."

In the absence of a social security system, and owing to the failure of the administration to detect scarcity conditions and spot the needy, hunger-related deaths are occurring at regular intervals in the district.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government of the day claimed that it had distributed a whopping 1,65,668 tonnes of rice under the food-for-work programme over the past two years and that 45,252 persons had been covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yogana scheme since March 2001. However, there are allegations that most of the rice stocks were appropriated by TDP leaders and cadre.

Says K. Nageswar of the Journalism Department at Osmania University, Hyderabad: "As the noted economist Amartya Sen observed, what causes hunger in India is the widely prevalent poverty and inability of a large section of the population to buy enough food or establish entitlement over an adequate amount of food. Nalgonda is turning out to be a classic case for persistent undernourishment and endemic hunger."

According to Julakanti Ranga Reddy, the CPI(M) MLA elected from Miryalaguda, where hundreds of daily-wage workers have been rendered jobless because of a crisis in the region's rice mills, people who suffer the most are those who are disinclined to migrate to other places in search of work. "The agricultural labourers and others belonging to the weaker sections, who are not venturing to migrate, are suffering silently. In fact, they are dying owing to mental trauma rather than physical ailments," he observed.

Taking up land reforms on a war footing, completion of hitherto neglected irrigation projects, modernisation of lift irrigation schemes, effective management of the Krishna waters, and the opening of trauma care centres are some immediate steps that have to be taken. More important, gruel centres should be opened on a massive scale. Although the supply of free power and the waiver of power dues have brought some cheer to the farmers, the government should come out with a concrete plan to save landless agricultural labourers, rural artisans, tribal people and other vulnerable sections from the jaws of death.

The State government should order a probe into the starvation deaths and implement a package to provide succour to the bereaved families. A drought management mechanism should be kept ready to meet any exigency in the near future.

Relief package, long-term measures

cover-story

Interview with N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh.

Apart from announcing relief measures, the State government has constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, to formulate a comprehensive relief package to help the State's farmers who are in distress and to prevent suicides. The Ministers for Home, Revenue and Cooperation are the other members of the committee.

20040702005601701jpg

Excerpts from an interview he gave B. Chandrashekhar:

What are the relief measures initiated by the State government to help farmers in distress?

To begin with, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy waived the dues of agricultural power bills to the tune of Rs.1,280 crores and announced free power supply worth Rs.450 crores per annum to the farm sector, immediately after taking the oath of office. Besides, an interim relief package has been announced to help the families of farmers who committed suicide.

Could you explain the relief package?

As per GO [Government Order] No.421 issued on June 1, the State government has decided to provide economic support and rehabilitation to the distressed family members of farmers who have committed suicide. An ex-gratia of Rs.1 lakh will be given in cases of farm-income-related suicides of farmers. It would be deposited in the joint account of the legal heir[s] of the deceased farmer and the MRO [Mandal Revenue Officer] concerned and the amount could be utilised in three years for the generation of farm-related income. Besides, another Rs.50,000 would be given for clearing debts as a one-time settlement to the lenders. The package would be implemented in the case of all suicides arising out of farm-income-related issues, which occurred between July 1, 1998 and June 1, 2004.

How can the farmers approach the government for help?

We have already set up helplines in all districts for counselling farmers in distress. We want to build confidence among them. In Anantapur, 1,072 farmers called up the helpline between May 22 and June 10, and a similar number of written representations seeking financial assistance were received.We would take steps to prevent harassment by the lenders till the kharif crop is harvested, after receiving the calls. In a special SLBC [State Level Bankers' Committee] meet convened by the Chief Minister recently, the bankers were urged to reschedule the loans and allow the farmers to clear them in four to six instalments without interest. They were also urged to issue fresh loans. A task force was formed by bankers and NABARD [National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development] to work out the modalities.

Are there any plans to waive loans or invoke the Rural Indebtedness (Debt Relief) Act?

I agree that the humiliation resulting from harassment by moneylenders is the main reason for the farmers' suicides. They charge interest at exorbitant rates ranging from 24 per cent to 60 per cent. But, at the same time, the farming community depends on private moneylenders for 75 to 80 per cent of its financial needs. Institutional credit meets only 20 to 25 per cent of its needs. However, we are planning to bring in legislation fixing a ceiling on the interest rate - not beyond 12 per cent - charged by private moneylenders.

In spite of all these measures, why do you think there has been a spurt in suicides since the second fortnight of May?

The farmers are in severe distress owing to the debts piled up over the years. They are taking the extreme step after suffering from humiliation and exhausting all their resources to pull their lives together amidst exploitation and a prolonged drought. It is ridiculous to say that the farmers are ending their lives for the sake of just Rs.1.5 lakhs given as a relief package by the government. Nobody does that. A mass campaign has been launched to instil confidence among the farmers.

What are the short-term relief measures?

The government would supply groundnut and soyabean seeds with subsidies and an amount of Rs.40 crores has already been released for the purpose. In Anantapur, 3.17 lakh quintals of groundnut seeds would be supplied. Steps would also be taken to save the farmers from spurious seeds and pesticides. A meeting was held with companies recently and they were warned against any mischief. In all, 26,000 samples of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers would be checked for quality. Crop insurance of Rs.208 crores was finalised, including Rs.117.8 crores for Anantapur district. Besides, the farmers not covered by insurance schemes would be given an input subsidy of Rs.500 an acre for a maximum of five acres.

And the long term measures?

We would take up cloud-seeding on a permanent basis. We are also chalking out a time-bound programme to complete 26 pending irrigation projects in a time-frame of five years. We have taken up the issue of changes in the crop insurance scheme. The Union Agriculture Minister has responded positively. We are also planning to introduce insurance schemes for failed borewells. We seek the opinion of all parties, farmers, intellectuals and other sections of society to find a permanent solution to the farmers' suicides. With all these efforts, we are firm in our commitment to put an end to the suicides.

Distress and kidney sale

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

IN 2000, Andhra Pradesh was rocked by revelations that more than 26 debt-ridden farmers of Guntur district had sold their kidneys. Many of the cases were reported from the Palanadu region in Guntur district, where peasants grew cotton and chillies.

20040702005901802jpg

Deep in debt following periodic losses suffered because of poor crop yields and low prices for chillies, Sheikh Hassan (45), a farmer-turned-agricultural worker of Kambampadu village in Macherla mandal, sold his kidney that year. He had taken two acres on lease to grow chillies, but his crop failed and he ran up debts amounting to more than Rs.25,000. He and three others were taken by a "kidney broker" to Delhi, where, after medical tests, his kidney was removed. After returning to the village he was paid Rs.50,000, "as promised" by the broker.

Sheikh Hassan told Frontline that he heard about the possibility of "getting some money" by selling his kidney from two other persons in the village. In fact, one of them, a relative, had sold his kidney a couple of years earlier. Hassan said he needed the money badly to cover the cost of his two daughters' marriage and also to clear his debts. A year after the removal of his kidney, Hassan stopped taking land on lease as he was unable to work hard. He is now an agricultural worker, earning about Rs.30 a day, when he finds employment and is able to work. He still has to clear debts amounting to about Rs.15,000, the money he borrowed for the marriage of his daughters and the 24-30 per cent annual interest accumulation on earlier debts.

Hassan said he experienced severe back pain and was unable to lift heavy objects. He went to the local government hospital where the doctor told him "the pain would continue life-long". Unable to find money for regular visits to the doctor, Hassan now gets the medicines directly from the local medical shop if and when he can afford it. His wife is the main breadwinner of the family now. She manages to get 90-120 days' work a year.

Duggimpudi Chinna Venkat Reddy (45) of Rentachintala sold his kidney six years ago. The broker, "Eluru" Raju, contacted him through Murthy, a chilli merchant in Guntur, who acted as a sub-broker. Incidentally, Venkat Reddy used to sell his chilli crop to Murthy. Venkat Reddy, who had no land of his own, used to lease seven acres to cultivate cotton and chillies. His investments used to amount to more than Rs.20,000 for each crop. He complained that the poor quality of inputs (sand in the fertilizer, kerosene in the pesticide, and spurious seeds) and lack of water in his well resulted in a series of poor harvests.

20040702005901801jpg

Venkat Reddy said he was promised Rs.1 lakh for his kidney, but he received only Rs.40,000 from Raju. He said that at least 10 others accompanied him to Delhi, where, after a series of medical tests, his kidney was removed. He said that he did not consult his family about the sale, fearing that they would object to it. His health deteriorated immediately after the surgical removal of his kidney. Unable to do sustained work or heavy physical work, and because of his mounting debts, Venkat Reddy sold his house in 2001.

K.B. Prasad, a mechanic in a cement plant in Macherla, told Frontline that as many as 40 cases of kidney sales had been reported from the area in the past few years. The area suffered severe drought for the past several years. The highest number of cases have been reported from Rentachintala mandal in the Palandu area. Prasad said that tenant cultivators were particularly vulnerable because of the serious risks they faced in cultivation. Ironically, the area has abundant black soil, ideal for growing cotton, but poor irrigation facilities neutralise this advantage. Water is scarce here although the Nagarjunasagar irrigation project is barely 25 km away. Dealers of inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers advance money to the farmers at high rates of interest. Prasad says that the rates could reach up to 60 per cent in some places.

He says the State Agriculture Department "has totally failed the farmer". Many posts have been lying vacant for a long time, he alleges. Moreover, peasants who approach nationalised banks and credit cooperatives have to pay commissions to their staff. There is a chilli yard at Macherla, established by the Agriculture Department. But it is virtually defunct. The majority of the farmers sell their produce in Guntur, where the bigger commission agents, acting in collusion, set the market price.

Tenant cultivators have increasingly taken to commercial crops in the past 25 years. Prasad noted that this had made agriculture "an extremely risky proposition" for this section of the peasantry. The government failed them by not making extension services available to them, especially when they needed them badly, Prasad said. Reports of suicide by farmers have regularly come from Guntur district since 1987. Prasad said that at least six cases had been reported from Veldurthy, adjoining Macherla, since May 25.

"Death by suicide," he said, "is among the most horrible consequences of the policies of the government. What is even more shocking is that the government ignored the repeated cries of distress of the peasantry."

In 2000, Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, then the Leader of the Opposition, had remarked that suicide deaths and the sale of kidneys by farmers "clearly show that there is no place left for farmers in the State". Will he make agriculture sustainable for these poor farmers now?

A case for moratorium

cover-story

Interview with B.V. Raghavalu, CPI(M) State secretary.

B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), argues for an immediate moratorium on debt repayments by farmers. He points out that this is the surest way of stemming the tide of suicides in the State. However, the Congress government is vacillating on the issue because it is afraid of alienating the neo-rich who have gained a stranglehold on rural life in the past 10-15 years, he says. Excerpts from an interview he gave V. Sridhar:

20040702006201901jpg

Suicides by peasants have been reported since 1987. What is significant about the spate of suicides in the past few weeks?

Suicides are being reported from across the State, from almost all the districts. Previously, such deaths were confined to a few districts - Anantapur, Mahbubnagar, Warangal and Nalgonda - basically the drier parts of the State or to peasants growing a particular crop, for instance, cotton or chilli. Now, suicides are being reported from even the Krishna and Godavari delta areas. This shows that the agrarian crisis has intensified and extended throughout the State.

What led to this situation?

In the past two to three years droughts have occurred throughout the State. The Krishna delta has also been affected severely by poor flows in the river. Peasants lost heavily after making investments in the past two years. This has never happened on this scale in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, tenant cultivation is rampant. Such peasants have been severely affected by debts. They pay very high rents and the landlords insist on payment of rent immediately after the harvest. Tenants borrow mostly from moneylenders. The Telugu Desam Party government did not recognise the seriousness of the problem.

How far is the lack of water responsible for the plight of the peasantry?

This grim situation is only partly because of the problem of water scarcity. The previous government blamed the rain god for the peasants' problems. But there is human failure on a massive scale, which has aggravated the problem. The government could have helped the farmer to raise a different set of crops in the context of the drought. It could have reduced the tenants' burden by providing loans to them. Instead, it egged the peasantry on to grow crops for which the land was not suitable. It made false promises to the peasantry.

How has the commercialisation of agriculture affected different strata of peasantry in the State?

During the past decade, because of the policies of the State and Central governments, nearly eight to nine lakh pumpsets have been installed in the State. Meanwhile, power tariffs have been increased drastically. The water table has also fallen sharply in the dry parts of the State. The cropping pattern has changed. Earlier, millets were grown by peasants for their personal consumption. Now, they grow cotton, sugarcane, mustard, castor and vegetables. The commercialisation of agriculture and the change in cropping pattern have forced the peasants to depend on the market. Output prices fluctuate a lot now. In the past five years, prices of every single crop suffered a collapse. Meanwhile, input costs have increased sharply. Credit released by institutional sources failed to provide the cushion that the peasants desperately needed. They are forced to borrow from private moneylenders.

How were tenant cultivators affected? How have conditions of tenure changed in the last decade?

The extent of tenancy has also increased sharply during the last 10 to 15 years. They are not protected by the State. There are many reasons for the increase in tenancy. Most of the rich peasants and landlords, holding between 15 and 30 acres, migrated to urban areas and their children even went abroad. Most of the land went into the hands of neo-rich peasants, who emerged during the last decade. This section prefers to lease out the land and charge exorbitant rents. In many parts of the delta areas, as much as 80 per cent of the land is leased out. This has happened in the dry areas also, like in parts of Telangana and Rayalseema. In Telengana, because of the extremist activity of the People's War, sections of the rich peasantry have migrated to urban areas and leased their land. Tenants are also increasingly cultivating commercial crops and have been exposed to market fluctuations. The change in agrarian relations in the last 10 to 15 years has also added to the problems faced by poor peasants on account of commercialisation of agriculture. The rising number of suicides is nothing but the result of the cumulative burden that poor peasants have had to shoulder as a result of these changes in rural Andhra Pradesh.

How does moneylending fit into this picture of agrarian relations?

A decade ago, the rural elite consisted of a "trinity" - the landlord, the supplier of inputs and the traders who purchased the output from the peasant. These three would combine to exploit the peasantry. Now, exploitation has taken a different form. The rich peasants, who have leased out the land, have migrated to the mandal headquarters. There they have set up shops to sell seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs to the peasant. In return, the peasant mortgages his output to them. Thus, a single entity in the rural economy now controls the land, and has interests in the markets for inputs, credit and output. These new entrepreneurs now also control the business of politics.

The neo-rich - they are very different from the old type of moneylenders - have become powerful. They constituted the main base of the TDP. But they may change their loyalties now.

How do you think the new government should handle the deep-rooted agrarian crisis?

The rate of suicides in the State increased sharply after the new government assumed office. Some attributed the spurt to the package announced for families of those who had committed suicide. They have implied that the peasants committed suicide so that their families could take advantage of the package. My point is that the peasant was already heavily burdened and did not see any hope on the horizon. The incentive package could at best have been the last straw on the camel's back.

The government did not address the problem in a comprehensive manner. It only gave attention to those who had already committed suicide. It ignored the fact that every small and marginal farmer in the State is a potential suicide victim.

What are the immediate steps that are needed?

The government should have immediately announced some kind of moratorium on repayment of loans by peasants. The government wavered on this. Although the Chief Minister mentioned a six-month moratorium, there has been no follow-up action on the matter. The powerful neo-rich section exerts a tremendous pressure on the government, preventing it from taking the measures that will provide relief to the peasantry. The government says that it does not want to hurt the small moneylenders. But that is only an excuse to protect the big moneylenders. There can be ways to protect small lenders. For instance, those who have lent up to Rs.10,000 can be outside the purview of the moratorium. But the government is using the small lender as an alibi for not announcing a moratorium.

The government is also not taking measures that found a place in the provisions of the Rural Indebtedness (Debt Relief) Act, which has lapsed. The Act was in force between 1979 and 1989. The legislation empowered the government to announce a two-year moratorium on debts of farmers, irrespective of whether the money was borrowed from public or private sources. Those applying pressure on borrowers could be prosecuted under the Act. The Act had to be renewed every two years by the government, but it lapsed in 1989. If the Act is invoked, it will prevent the harassment of the peasantry. The easiest and fastest way to provide relief to the peasantry would be to invoke the legislation. But these solutions to the problem impinge on the interests of the neo-rich, who are also active in both the main political parties in the State, the Congress and the TDP. The intentions of the government may be good, but it also has to reckon with the powerful lobbies of the rich at work. That explains the procrastination of the government on the issue of declaring a moratorium.

It is a crisis rooted in economic reforms

cover-story

Interview with Professor Utsa Patnaik.

The spate of suicides in rural Andhra Pradesh has caused consternation among policy-makers and specialists in agrarian studies. Utsa Patnaik, Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is one of the leading academics who have studied the problem deeply and extensively as part the larger crisis facing Indian agriculture today. Utsa Patnaik has written extensively on capitalism and the agrarian question. Her publications on these subjects include The Agrarian Question and the Development of Capitalism in India (New Delhi, 1986) and Peasant Class Differentiation (New Delhi, 1987). Excerpts from an interview she gave T.K. Rajalakshmi:

20040702006302201jpg

From a purely historical perspective, farmers' suicides appear to be a relatively `new' phenomenon. How do you view this in the context of the agricultural policies pursued over the last one and a half decades?

There may be various reasons for the farmers' suicides but the most important one seems to be the very high levels of indebtedness; indebtedness of the kind which became unviable where farmers were reduced to a situation in which they sold land, had no collateral to pledge, were unable to think of paying the interest on the loans leave alone any part of the principal. The question is why should there have been this phenomenon leading to high indebtedness particularly since 1988. Obviously, it is not really the long-term problem of a high degree of concentration of land and other assets or that there are very large numbers of poor, marginal and landless farmers. Those long-term factors are not what we have to look out for. We have to look at much more specific factors which have come into existence just during the economic reforms period.

And the major factors have been twofold. If we look at it from the side of input costs, we find that economic reform policies have led to a phenomenal rise in input costs. Fertilizer subsidies have been removed - the supply of fertilizers has been handed over to private agents and the government has withdrawn from this. Secondly, the cost of credit has increased enormously after the implementatation of the Narasimham Committee report. The treatment of agriculture and the small-scale industry as priority sectors for lending at low cost interest rates from the banking system has been given up. Perforce, farmers have been forced to turn more and more to private moneylenders who obviously charge high rates of interest and are much more inflexible in rolling over of debts than an institutional lender would be. Then there were the famous power tariff hikes which the previous TDP [Telugu Desam Party] government undertook directly as part of its Structural Adjustment Programme which it adopted after taking money from the World Bank.

On the side of material inputs, and on the side of credit, there has been a very sharp squeeze on the farmer with sharply rising input costs. On the output side, trade liberalisation played a role. In the 1990s, global prices of commercial crops, including rubber and cotton, were rising. In response to that, since the government's policy also was to increase exports from the agriculture sector as far as possible, unregulated export of raw cotton was allowed. If you look at the three years before 1990-1991, then 34,000 tonnes of raw cotton was being exported. The moment this sector was opened up, in a single year there was a jump of 3,74,000 tonnes in the export of raw cotton - more than a tenfold jump in a single year. This has been fluctuating but on the average for the three or four post-reform years it has been over two lakh tonnes. So, obviously, when you have a very sudden export surge like that and with output not increasing that fast, the raw cotton crisis trebled. It affected the handloom weavers because yarn prices also trebled.

This was the period from roughly 1990 to 1995-1996 when many thousands of farmers, in fact lakhs of small farmers, were switching from food crops to cotton as the world prices were rising. Many of them had not cultivated cotton before. This has been established by various research studies carried out, where the families of the suicide victims admitted to not having traditionally cultivated the crop before. They said that they had gone for cotton cultivation expecting high profits. There was this sudden expansion of area under cotton these farmers could not afford to do so except on the basis of credit. They took loans and the amount of loans they took to produce cotton was much higher than they had taken in the past, as they would have grown rain-fed food crops on the same land, which would not have cost much for production. So the switch to an exportable commercial crop led to a scenario of rising indebtedness. But at that time, people were very hopeful. World prices were on the rise and they hoped that they would get output which they would be able to export at a good price and repay as well. And that was the expectation with which loans were rolled over and given year after year as well.

But when the government withdraws from pesticide and fertilizer supply and winds up extension services under the dogma of letting the free market have its sway, many fly-by-night operators come into the picture. No regulation or overseeing of the quality of the inputs has been taking place. But the real time that things started going wrong was when the output was not as expected. But, most importantly, the world prices started crashing from the end of 1996 onwards and by 2001 it was practically at half the level it was in 1995. So there was a scenario where farmers had gone in for a heavy level of indebtedness and had been forced to do so by private moneylenders at a high cost due to a withdrawal of low-cost institutional lending. At the same time, the input prices went up and output prices crashed. This is a readymade scenario for agrarian distress.

All these factors are directly related to economic reform policies and trade liberalisation. The government did not intervene with any valorisation programmes or with any programme of buying up cotton at a fair price from the farmers. It could have done so, but it was operating with the dogma of leaving everything to the free market. This went on year after year and the fall in prices became a prolonged phenomenon. From the end of 2001, prices started rising slightly but the rise is really nothing compared to the earlier fall. And creditors started foreclosing on the debts. How does a farmer, heavily indebted, deal with this? First he will sell off all his collaterals, he will borrow more from another moneylender to pay off the first loan, but if his crop is pest-affected, his credit-worthiness also comes down. So, in a sense, many farmers have found themselves at the end of their tether.

It is the small and marginal peasants who are committing suicide. These sections are out of the ambit of institutional credit. What are the kind of changes that led to the situation where they became more and more dependent on informal credit. And in what way is the nature of the current indebtedness different from previous situations, including that in colonial India?

In the early 1990s, these sections were not out of the ambit of institutional credit. In institutional credit, I would include not only the banking sector but the cooperative societies as well. I don't have the data with me right now but if one looks at the data of what proportion of banking credit has been going to the rural areas, there appears to be a sharp fall. The number of beneficiaries in development programmes like the IRDP [Integrated Rural Development Programme] in the 1990s has also come down sharply. It is not that the farmers were always out of the ambit of institutional credit. The whole point of bank nationalisation in 1969 and the sharp extension of credit to the rural areas was to get them inside the ambit. They have been thrust outside the ambit again especially after the financial sector reforms. The main impact of this had been felt in the second part of the 1990s. The entire gamut of policies that has led to the withdrawal of the state, leaving everything to the market, has been completely disastrous. Seed and fertilizer costs have gone up, all input costs have got up and the farmer has virtually no protection from falling prices.

If you ask about history, there is an interesting parallel that one can find with what happened during the cotton boom. In 1861, when the American Civil War broke out and supplies of raw cotton from the United States to the manufacturing centres in Britain and Europe were cut off, they turned to alternative sources of cotton and India was a major source. Suddenly the prices of global cotton went up and the Indian farmer, being always very price responsive, switched over from food crops to cash crops. Immediately, there was a huge expansion of areas growing cotton and a switch from food crops like jowar and ragi to cotton. In order to do so, they borrowed from the sahukars [moneylenders].

When the Civil War ended, the global prices crashed. The story repeats itself in 1996. So one can see this thing being repeated in Andhra Pradesh at least. But what happened was that when the people switched from food crops to cash crops, the food prices went up. With the crash in cotton prices, the farmers found that they could not pay the sahukars. And the sahukars began to foreclose the debts. This led to the Deccan Riots. What happened then was that the Indian farmers actually took on the sahukars and unitedly fought against them, but this time they seem to be taking it out on themselves. They actually attacked the moneylenders and burnt their records. This is an interesting contrast of what happened during the colonial period and what has happened now. It seems they were more optimistic then than they are now. I don't recall any history book mentioning farmers' suicides in that period. Even in the non-cotton growing areas, farmers growing food crops suffered but there are no records of any suicides.

Agricultural workers in coastal Andhra Pradesh over the last 10-15 years have rented out land at very high rates - often 60 per cent of the produce in kind. Many suicides among the peasantry have been reported from this region as well. What explains this apparent "irrationality" of the peasant?

No, it is not irrational. When one is in a situation of being a poor landless peasant, one has to make a living somehow. One either does it by leasing land and cultivating it or tries to get work as hired labour. When the market for hired labour is characterised by a very high level of unemployment and by uncertainty of getting sufficient days of employment, there is no guarantee of making a livelihood. But this also means that people without land are unable to make a living out of wages and therefore are going back to the practice of leasing land on terms that are very harsh. The levels of unemployment are much higher now than they were 10 years ago. The government's development expenditure in rural areas has gone down very sharply. In the pre-reform period, that is the Seventh Plan period, the average expenditure on rural development expressed as a percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] was 14.5 per cent. By 1999-2000 this came down to less than 6 per cent of GDP. In absolute terms, there has been a reduction of Rs.30,000 crores annually. In Andhra Pradesh also, there was a very significant fall in rural development expenditure. The rate of growth of employment all over came down very drastically.

In your opinion, how have the different sections of the peasantry - small, marginal, rich and landlord - been affected by the government's policies. How have they gained or lost in the last 10-15 years?

In the first two or three years, the rising costs of inputs and falling prices of crops would have affected the small and the medium farmers. But as the period of agrarian distress gets prolonged, it begins to affect every section of the farming community. They do not get access to BPL [Below Poverty Line] ration cards as they own land. Another major factor has been this exclusion from the access to PDS [public distribution system] with the introduction of Targeted PDS. By now it is a generalised agrarian crisis. Some case studies in Andhra Pradesh have shown farmers owning 20 acres getting zero output from their land. The male members try to get work as agricultural workers in that they compete with the full time agricultural workers. So, finally, the income that they get is very little.

Agrarian studies appear to have disappeared from the radar screens of social scientists at a time when rural India has gone through a churn in the last decade. What explains this?

Very true. This is partly to do with the whole market orientation of research. When I started my academic career in the early 1970s, agrarian studies in India had a very important role to play and there were any number of students interested in it. But one of the problems with this neo-liberal paradigm has been to divert the attention of research from this vital area. Even the interest in other productive sectors of the economy like the small-scale sector or the manufacturing sector has got diluted. The emphasis is much more on the financial and the service sectors rather than the real sectors of the economy. But in more recent years, precisely owing to the impact of the neo-liberal policies as well as the WTO [World Trade Organisation] discipline added to these policies and the impact on agriculture, there is a revival of interest. Students who have gone into international economics now come back and say, "Oh I see, so agriculture is an important subject." There are people who are again going into this area, but approaching it from the other end - not from internal class relations but from the international economy back to their own economy.

Pesticide, the last resort

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

Name: Reddy Ranga Rao Age: 45 Village: Velpuru Mandal: Thanaku District: West Godavari Date of death: May 23, 2004

REDDY RANGA RAO was an agricultural worker until about seven years ago, when he started leasing land and became a "cultivator". He still had no land, but at least he had others working for him on land in Velpuru, in the heart of the Green Revolution region. The village appears prosperous. Some of the houses are palatial. Bullock-drawn ploughs are passe here. But Reddy Ranga Rao committed suicide on May 23 by consuming pesticide.

20040702006601001jpg

Reddy Ranga Rao started cultivation by growing paddy. Two years later he attempted to grow sugarcane. He suffered severe losses as rodents destroyed the entire crop. His wife, Ramalakshmi (40), said that the failure of the crop was disastrous because sugarcane needed more investment than paddy. "The loss we suffered then continues to burden us now in the form of outstanding loans," she said.

Although he shifted back to paddy cultivation, he never recovered from the setback, which led to mounting debts. Ramalakshmi said the last rabi season yielded only 15 bags of paddy, compared to the normal yield of 25 bags an acre (each bag of 75 kg). The rent for the land was 30 bags an acre (for two seasons). Ramalakshmi said that the decline in output was mainly because Reddy Ranga Rao could not buy pesticides and fertilizers in adequate quantity and at the appropriate time. Reddy Ranga Rao not only had to contend with a poor crop but also had to manage the daunting task of procuring paddy to pay the rent.

Both husband and wife were agricultural workers before they were married. "We took the lease only because we thought that cultivation would be better than agricultural work," said Ramalakshmi. Moreover, the fact that very little employment was available during the rainy season prompted them to lease the land from an influential family in Thanaku, which owns a rice mill in the town. A middleman in the village fixed the "deal". Ramalakshmi said the landlord lent money for inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. The family also used to borrow from moneylenders.

Ramalakshmi said the family never really recovered from the "sugarcane shock" it received five years ago. Reddy Ranga Rao borrowed Rs.50,000 before the last kharif season. Part of the money was meant to repay existing debts and the remaining was to be invested in the crop. Part of the Rs.50,000 came from the rice mill owner, but substantial amounts were also drawn from an "iron shop" owner and a worker who had headed for Singapore. The interest on the loans was 24 per cent. At the time of his death Reddy Ranga Rao owed Rs.15,000 to the rice miller, about Rs.60,000 to various moneylenders, and 60 bags of paddy to the landlord.

The landlord cancelled the lease after his death. Reddy Ranga Rao used to work as a servant in a landlord's house when he was a boy of about 15. He was paid about 25 bags of paddy annually as wages. He performed various tasks for the landlord, which included grazing cattle and doing household work. His wife said that he "managed' to quit this work and became an agricultural worker. "Life as an agricultural worker did not seem risk-laden when we leased land for cultivation," said Ramalakshmi.

Ten days before he committed suicide, Reddy Ranga Rao told his wife that "he had no hope of a good crop". On May 19 he returned home late, sat on the cot, played with his nine-month-old granddaughter and then complained of uneasiness. He was taken to a private hospital in Thanaku and, after three days there, was taken to the government hospital.

Reddy Ranga Rao died on May 23. The Mandal Revenue Officer visited the family on May 23 and the Joint Collector the following day. Ramalakshmi said they expressed their sympathies but did not promise anything. But the moneylenders came immediately after his death and asked for the repayment of loans. She promised them that she would pay them if she received any assistance from the government. Significantly, Ramalakshmi said that the frequency of the visits by the moneylenders had come down noticeably in the weeks before the elections. But she said the visits became more frequent after the elections, although they were not unduly aggressive. Ramalakshmi said that she did not know whether the moneylenders came more often after the elections because they feared that the new government would waive the loans of farmers. She said: "I do not know tenancy laws, but I wish there is some way out of the mooza vani kowlu system (oral tenancy, one in which the tenant has no registered rights to the land that he/she is cultivating)."

Hounded by moneylenders

in Anantapur

Name: Vallem Jayarami Reddy Age: 52 Village: Regadi Kothur Mandal: Bukkaraya Samudram District: Anantapur Date of death: May 23, 2004

"They [private moneylenders] used to bother us every day by asking my husband when he was going to repay the loans. The harassment was so severe that my husband decided to end his life," said Pullamma, the wife of Vallem Jayarami Reddy, who committed suicide by consuming poisonous pills used for preserving seeds. He died in the general hospital in the district headquarters.

Like lakhs of other families of farmers in the drought-ravaged Anantapur district, the family of Jayarami Reddy, which included four children, was neck-deep in financial problems owing to the heavy losses it suffered following the failure of crops year after year since 1998. The family, with five acres (two hectares) of landholding, has a debt burden of about Rs.4 lakhs now.

Jayarami Reddy had a smooth sailing until 1997. Although two acres of his landholding is in the tail-end ayacut of the Tungabhadra Right High Level Canal (HLC) he never got any water in recent years. But, in spite of the fact that he did rain-fed cultivation, his family was able to lead a respectable life.

"We borrowed money from private lenders within the village and in the surrounding villages at 24 per cent interest per annum for the construction of a house in 1997. The next year we borrowed [Rs.10,000] from the cooperative society and from private moneylenders for cultivation on 10 acres taken on lease," explained Shankar Reddy, the elder son of the deceased farmer, who has taken to milk vending now.

The family incurred a loss of Rs.80,000 with the cultivation of a spice crop on the 10 acres as there was a total crop loss. "Perhaps this was the beginning of their problems," says Thirupal Reddy, another farmer of the village.

Since then the family has been taking land on lease and cultivating crops such as sunflower, paddy and groundnut. But to its misfortune, there was scanty rainfall year after year, and it got hardly any returns. The debts piled up. Apart from private moneylenders, Jayarami Reddy took loans from Andhra Bank and a cooperative society.

As the problems mounted, the younger son of the farmer, Chiranjeevi Reddy, migrated to Vijayawada in search of a livelihood in 2001, only to return a year later. He was unable to get sufficient work and to adjust to the working conditions there. The farmer's self-respect took a further beating when he was jailed on a complaint by some moneylenders two years ago.

Crop losses forced Jayarami Reddy to hand over his bullocks and cart to a moneylender last year. He also made futile attempts to irrigate his land by sinking five borewells.

"He had attempted suicide six months ago but I prevented it by snatching the poisonous pills," says Pullamma.

Moneylenders have stopped hounding the family following the government's warning to them not to bother farmers this year. "But we don't know when they will resume the harassment," says Pullamma. "We don't know how to overcome the problems."

LETTERS

cover-story
New agenda

This refers to your Cover Story ("New Agenda", June 18). We welcome the new government headed by Manmohan Singh. In a historic step, Sonia Gandhi declined to be Prime Minister. She needs to be congratulated for this mature and wise decision. At one stroke, she took the wind out of the Bharatiya Janata Party's sails. Manmohan Singh had an enviable record as Union Finance Minister. He pushed through economic reforms with an approach that was open, straightforward and professional. Nobody can doubt that he has the national interests at heart.

Bijoy Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government faces many tough challenges from within and without. The mandate is for a change. The Common Minimum Programme constitutes a "new agenda" with six basic principles of governance.

The Prime Minister has to play a balancing act, keeping the coalition partners together to achieve targets and give a human face to reforms.

The damage done to education by the previous government needs to be reversed. A comprehensive farm policy with investment in agriculture, with an emphasis on non-farm employment opportunities is necessary. Technology has to be used with required structural changes to benefit the common man.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram

The article "Coalition pangs" (June 18) has brought out the initial hiccups faced by the UPA government. Although the government formation exercise went on smoothly, except for objections from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Ram Vilas Paswan, the UPA should have avoided the induction of "tainted" leaders into the government.

But the positive aspect is the role played by the Left in the formation of a secular government, which has not allowed others to flex their muscles.

Mulayam Singh Yadav's supporters should have been included in the government since the Samajwadi Party played an important role in defeating the communal forces in Uttar Pradesh.

Hari Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu

Protecting whistle-blowers

This is with reference to the article "Defending the whistle-blower" (June 18). Integrity at the top is an imperative to avert victimisation of the whistle-blower. Needless to say, no law can protect whistle-blowers in the private sector. All complaints would be treated as "motivated or vexatious" there.

R. Sajan Aluva, Kerala

A whistle-blower acts like a torchbearer in the fight against the darkness of corruption. Since such selfless persons are subjected to pressure and torture, they should be given proper protection under the law. Any law on protecting the whistle-blower should ensure not only his/her anonymity but also protection in the event of accidental leakage of his/her name. The case of Satyendra Dubey reveals the gravity of the situation.

Ake Ravikrishna Hyderabad

Psephology

Pollsters got it all wrong because even the biggest survey contacted only 51,000 people, while 350 million voters exercised their votes ("Pollsters versus voters", June 18). The media's judgment was clouded by their peers. They, as all the prosperous, chattering classes, wanted Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win.

Kamalendra Singh Udaipur

Education

This is with reference to the article "Astrology on a pedestal" (June 18). One can very well look at the issue as a matter of freedom of expression, especially academic freedom. There is a school of thought in the United States, which tilts towards academic freedom when it comes into conflict with the issue of "separation of Church and state". Given this, while decrying the irrationality of astrology, one would have to cede grudgingly to its propagation through academic means.

Raghuram Ekambaram New Delhi

Iraq

Aijaz Ahmed provides an honest and clear argument in his essay "Empire's Nightmare" (June 18). Applying the political theory of nationalism and imperialism to the current political situation in Iraq, the writer seeks to present the Iraqis' struggle as a form of "new-wave resurgent nationalism" or "neo-nationalism". The Iraqis have shown the world what it is to face foreign rule, which the entire world has criticised as "uncivil" and "immoral".

The war was started under the pretext of ousting Saddam Hussein who had stored weapons of mass destruction in his country (It has been proven that the reasons were farcical). While the predators' proclaimed aim was to bring a just, peaceful and equitable reign in Iraq, they ended up brutalising the whole country.

Stuti Saxena Nainital, Uttaranchal

The barbaric abuse of prisoners by the U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and at home in America reminds me of the horrendous tales of Idi Amin's Uganda ("The American Gulag", June 18). U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has owned up full responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, saying, "I am accountable for them." He should have resigned immediately after taking this. But he did not. Then what did he mean by the word "accountable"?

K.P. Rajan Mumbai

Cyber crime

The article on cyber crime by the veteran policeman of yesteryear, R.K. Raghavan, was an eyeopener ("Catching the Cyber Criminal", June 18). The article will be useful not only for the police fraternity, but also for modern IT technocrats.

Vinod Tuli Received on e-mail

Verdict 2004

Your Editorial "India Shines" (June 4) was engrossing and the analysis in-depth. The Indian voter has given a clear, decisive verdict against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In its haste to retain power by banking on the catchy "India Shining" phrase and the "Vajpayee Factor", the BJP had ignored the silent majority's wish to live with dignity (with food, shelter, water and employment).

Sonia Gandhi, who has created history by proving that she is not after power, has led the nation's oldest party back to power. The victory of the Left parties in their strongholds of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, against both the Congress and the NDA is a "heartening feature".

The Congress should take immediate steps to revamp the organisation in States where it lost ground, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee Faridabad

Your Editorial rightly warns that the prospects of the Congress-led dispensation will depend to a great extent on its acting speedily and intelligently on the realisation that this election was lost by the NDA on mass livelihood issues.

Your Editorial also predicts that the Congress-led government has got a sporting chance of completing a full five-year term if it functions on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and respects the spirit of the mandate.

Now that the CMP, which promises "reform with a human face", has been formally released by the Manmohan Singh government, it brightens the government's chances of survival. Having worked out a bold programme on paper, the United Progressive Alliance must start implementing it in a progressive and time-bound fashion.

While the commitment to increase spending on health, infrastructure building and agriculture is commendable, the question is: where the money will come from.

Onkar Chopra New Delhi

Congress comeback

The article "Misreading the mandate" (June 4) highlights the wrong interpretations of verdict 2004 by the BJP. This happened in the case of the 1999 verdict also. The party presumed that it could rule the country for ever. As a result, it changed its ideology and went against what the people desired of it. The same is the case of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. At the same time, Naveen Patnaik managed to win the people's trust. The emergence of Sonia Gandhi as a national leader is the main outcome of Verdict 2004. The BJP has to reckon with this, notwithstanding its objections to her foreign origin.

C.P. Velayudhan Nair Kochi

The results of the 13th Lok Sabha elections are unprecedented. Nobody had predicted the victory of the Congress-led coalition in this much-hyped poll. All the opinion and exit polls had predicted the victory of the BJP-led NDA coalition. But there was resentment among the voters against the anti-farmer, anti-poor policies of the NDA government. The BJP tried to create a "feel good" myth on the basis of statistics and advertisements, but it was rejected by the cautious voters of the country.

The NDA government failed to create employment opportunities and contributed to an environment of fear among the minorities. These were the major reasons for its defeat. The NDA was drubbed in key States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Hopefully the Congress-led government will solve the major problems facing the country, especially unemployment, poverty, overpopulation, corruption and riots. The Congress should learn a lesson from its past mistakes, which kept it out of power for eight years. It should also revive its organisation. The BJP should also analyse its defeat and play the role of an effective Opposition.

Akhil Kumar New Delhi

This referes to the article "Liberation at Last" (June 4). How does the author define liberation? Why does the article not talk about the liberation of millions of people of Bihar, who do not even have the basic necessities of life? There is no rule of law in Bihar, but the article supports the Rashtriya Janata Dal just because it is a secular party. What about corruption and the daily killing of people? If communalism is bad, then so is casteism. We should criticise both.

If the Left parties' economic policies are right, then why is the West Bengal government inviting foreign capital into the State? With the Left ruling West Bengal for more than 25 years, why does the State not have the highest standard of living in the country?

If the people have rejected the NDA, they have not accepted the Congress and the Left parties either. It is mainly the anti-incumbency factor that has led to this verdict. Both the Congress and the BJP lost the elections in States where they previously ruled.

Raj Mahto Received on e-mail

Transit of Venus

This refers to your article "A celestial spectacle" (June 4). As a teacher of Physics, I know that explaining the phenomenon of the transit of Venus is quite difficult.

But the author has done it in a lucid language. Though the inferior and superior conjunctions of Venus have been explained very clearly, an illustrative diagram could have been included.

A.K. Bose Kolkata

From debt to death

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

The policies that have come to govern the peasant economy have made the peasant unable to cope with even mild shocks in production, and his plight is aggravated by the state abdicating its role, particularly in extending institutional credit and framing meaningful tenancy laws.

EVEN suicide does not appear to relieve the Andhra Pradesh peasant of his debts. Travelling across Telengana and Coastal Andhra, this correspondent met at least a dozen peasant-families of suicide victims. Not a single case was found in which the death provided deliverance from debt. Barely days after the death, the creditors x moneylenders and dealers of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds and even "friends" and "relatives" x continued to press the hapless families to clear the outstanding debts of the deceased. Despite the grief, the families are cautious in talking about their creditors. Not a word is spoken in rancour. In fact, it appears that they are at the mercy of the lenders like never before.

20040702006901301jpg

Peasants in Andhra Pradesh, particularly the small and marginal ones, are in the grip of a predatory commercialisation of agriculture. This has changed the face of rural indebtedness. In particular, the "withdrawal of the state" either as a facilitator or as a provider of inputs, extension services or credit has been the key element of the pernicious policies that have wrecked the peasant economy. Of course, the "withdrawal" has not happened accidentally.

The policies have not only effected a quantum jump in the cost of crucial inputs such as power, but allowed full play to seed, fertilizer and pesticide dealers. A crucial part of the "package" has been the peasant's lack of access to credit from institutional sources x nationalised banks, cooperatives and specialised rural banks. Credit from these sources has been virtually frozen in the last few years.

Prices of inputs in Andhra Pradesh are among the highest in the country. That is not difficult to fathom, considering the fact that the input suppliers are also the chief suppliers of credit to farmers. M. Kodandarama Reddy, Associate Professor of Political Science in Osmania University, says that the typical input dealer acts like a "mini-World Bank". "He rarely lends cash. Inputs are supplied and adjusted against the outstanding amounts that the peasant owes him." This means that the borrower has no control over determining the price or quality of the inputs. In parts of Nalgonda district, which has reported 20 suicides since the Congress government assumed office, peasants have dug borewell after borewell in a desperate search for water. The money advanced by private moneylenders is paid directly to the rig operators, enabling them to collude against the peasants.

N. Narasimha Reddy, Nalgonda district president of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam (APRS) and former Member of the Legislative Assembly representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told Frontline that even peasants supposed to be covered by the ayacut of the Nagarjunasagar Left Bank Canal had suffered serious crop losses in the past three years. He observed that an average farmer, with about three acres had struck at least three or four borewells going down to 250-300 feet, each attempt costing him at least Rs.10,000. He observed: "Forget about credit, the State machinery has not even deployed technical personnel such as geologists to help the farmer locate water."

Local residents said "water diviners" had a field day. One technique, apparently a popular one, involves the "diviner" walking around the farm carrying a coconut in his palm. The stalk supposedly stands upright at the spot where the bore is to be drilled. This bizarre technique even stipulates that the blood group of the "diviner" should be O positive.

It is important to situate the ongoing x agrarian crisis in the context of the statistical fact that more than 80 per cent of the landholdings are about five acres (two hectares). Although some have argued that the crisis in agriculture has affected even sections of the middle and rich peasantry in parts of the State, it is obvious that the small and marginal peasant and tenant cultivators have borne the brunt of the crisis, particularly that of the collapse of institutional credit.

It is evident that the advances made by formal sources of credit in the last few years have fallen far below the targets that they set for themselves. The shortfall is obvious particularly in the release of term loans. One of the main components of such advances is meant for enabling the peasant to develop irrigation facilities. A substantial part of this, according to bankers, is meant for digging wells. In 2003-04, the government declared that 451 of the 1,127 mandals were affected by drought. In 2002-03, 1,041 mandals were declared drought-hit and in 2001-02, 941 mandals were affected by drought. The fact that term lending fell short by about 50 per cent of the target in the past three years, when the peasants in the State suffered acute water shortage for crops, highlights the gross failure of the institutional credit mechanism. It is obvious that institutional credit failed the peasantry at the time when it was needed most.

20040702006901302jpg

THE plight of Sooramma (about 65 years old) from Thorrur village of Palakurthy mandal in Warangal district illustrates the plight of a small farmer in a desperate search for water. Her son Choppa Venkanna committed suicide in 2000. On May 22, her daughter-in-law also took her own life, unable to bear the insults of moneylenders. Sooramma said that although they own about 3.5 acres, of which 1.5 acres is classified officially as wetland, water is in short supply. In the past six years, the family has attempted to dig six borewells, all of which failed. Venkanna, in his desperate search for water, even built a small check dam on a portion of the field. But the debts mounted to Rs.1.8 lakhs, of which merely Rs.18,000 was extended by the branch of a nationalised bank in a nearby town. Reeling under the pressure of moneylenders in the village, Sooramma sought fresh loans at an interest rate of 30 per cent per annum. "I am even willing to sell my land, but there are no buyers," she said.

Vasudeva Rao, Warangal district secretary of the APRS, observed that the withdrawal of the state in the "fullest sense of the term" had heaped misery on the poor and marginal peasant. He alleged that agricultural cooperative banks in the district had siphoned off credit meant for small borrowers to non-agricultural activities such as weaving, and even as long-term loans to the rich peasants. Narasimha Reddy pointed out that institutional credit for agriculture in Nalgonda amounted to only Rs.170 crores against a requirement of Rs.500 crores. "This huge gap is filled by private moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest."

The condition of a tenant farmer is even more precarious. Having little or no land, he is forced to pay high rents to the absentee landlord, who often supplies also seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and credit. In the Krishna and Godavari delta areas of coastal Andhra Pradesh, where tenancy is as high as 60-80 per cent of the cultivated area, rents take away more than half of the farmer's produce. Tenancy is entirely based on an oral agreement x mooza vani kowlu. There are no papers or proof to show that the land is cultivated by the peasant. The high rents, coupled with rising input costs and the high cost of informal credit, have made life extremely precarious for poor tenants, many of whom graduated from the ranks of agricultural workers in the last few decades. The commercialisation of agriculture and the high rents mean that tenants are unable to cope with even relatively mild shocks in production. Since they have no documents that recognise their rights as cultivators, the peasants are entirely outside the ambit of the formal credit market. In fact, several peasants in the heartland of the Green Revolution in West Godavari district told Frontline that they were not able even to collect compensation from the government for crops lost owing to cyclones and inundation during the monsoon. They said that the money was pocketed by their landlords because they held the land in their names. Tenancy reforms, to feed the poor peasant's acute hunger for land, is obviously an urgent requirement. But it is not even on the radar screens of the political class. It is not even a demand that is being articulated by the poor peasant, who is hopelessly marginalised and is in utter despair.

It is well accepted, even in government circles, that the credit institutions indulge in "ever-greening" of their accounts. P.S.M. Rao, an officer in the Nagarjuna Grameen Bank in Nalgonda, told Frontline that a substantial portion of loans advanced by institutions was really not "fresh advances". He explained that the banks or credit cooperatives asked the peasant to clear his old dues including interest, upon which they extended the same amount again as a "fresh" loan to the farmer. "In effect, the bank merely makes a book adjustment, while managing to show an increase in its credit disbursement," he said.

20040702006901303jpg

Malla Reddy, general secretary of the APRS, said that he was aware of many cases in which such "adjustments" accounted for 50 per cent of the credit supposed to have been distributed by the primary credit cooperatives in a year. "I know this well because APRS members heading many such cooperatives have come under pressure from the State apex-level bank, the Andhra Pradesh Cooperative Bank, to do this."

Studies of indebtedness among small farmers have shown that the rate of recovery of loans from small and marginal farmers is higher than that for loans made to large farmers.

P.S.M. Rao said that the banks, increasingly under the sway of a liberal financial regime, were discouraged from lending to small farmers. "The policy is oriented to the logic that it is better to lend to a small number of large borrowers than to a large number of small borrowers," he said. "Wilful default by small farmers," he pointed out, "is not a serious problem. They do not evade repayment of their dues. What is needed is a little consideration and an appreciation of his difficulties."

The cliche in elementary textbooks on the Indian economy describe the plight of the Indian peasant thus: He is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.

Maybe it is time that he is described as one who is born in debt, lives in debt and is driven to death by debts.

A politician's `perception'

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

CHANDRU Srinivasan (39), a tenant farmer of Relangi village under Eragavaram mandal in West Godavari district, committed suicide on May 24 by consuming pesticide. He and his two brothers had inherited about 0.4 acres from their father. His bother Durga Rao sold his share of land and migrated to Raichur district in Karnataka where he leased 20 acres (eight hectares) to cultivate paddy. Durga Rao moved away from the village because the "rents were too high to make farming a viable livelihood".

20040702007301401jpg

Chandru took five acres on lease in this fertile area. Last year he leased three more acres and grew paddy, but the crop was washed away in heavy rain. Last year's kharif crop yielded 20-22 bags (of 75 kg each) and rabi 30 bags but he had to pay his landlord a rent of 26-28 bags an acre for both crops. Durga Rao told Frontline that the rents were so high that his brother's debts piled up to Rs.1.7 lakhs by June 2003. Most of the money was borrowed from moneylenders, paddy commission agents and rice millers. Although the sharp increase in input costs added to his burden, the real problem was the high rents charged by the absentee landlords.

According to Chandru's widow Venkatalakshmi (35), the lease has been cancelled. With three young daughters - all of school-going age - she said her life was at a crossroads. "The pressure from the lenders was not as severe as the pressure we face following my husband's death," she said.

Just as this correspondent stepped out of the bereaved family's house, he saw Sriranganatha Raju, who had been elected to the Legislative Assembly from Attili constituency (in which Relangi falls), coming in a victory procession. Asked about the suicide deaths by peasants in the area, the Congress MLA said: "There is no problem here, the land is fertile and water is available at a depth of 30 feet." Pressed further, he said the "debt problem" was only because "people are living beyond their means". On the high rents charged, he said: "This is because of competition for land. It is natural that the rents will be high if people compete for land."

20040702007301402jpg

Sriranganatha Raju is a leading rice miller and president of the West Godavari Rice Millers Association. "Suicide deaths in the village are not because of any agricultural crisis. They are happening now perhaps because of the package announced by the government," he said.

An agrarian tragedy

Liberal economic policies in the field of agriculture, more than drought, have resulted in the alarming number of suicides by farmers in Andhra Pradesh. The tragedy is symptomatic of a deep churning in the peasant community.

V. SRIDHAR in Telengana and Coastal Andhra

A TRAGEDY of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Andhra Pradesh. According to the Andhra Pradesh Ryothu Sangham, close to 300 peasants in the State have committed suicide after the Congress government headed by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy assumed office on May 14. (The government has put the figure at 194, for a month after May 14.) Although peasants have committed suicide in the State in the past, the significance of the latest round of deaths lies in the fact that they have been reported from every single district, barring Hyderabad.

20040702007600401jpg

"Drought" is the favourite explanation of do-nothing politicians, in the face of mass deprivation and death by starvation or suicide. But the fact that suicides have been reported from even the better irrigated districts has exposed the argument that scarcity of water, in a vague and generally deceptive sense, is responsible for farmers committing suicide. Instead, the stunning sweep of death across the State has brought to the fore all that is wrong in the lives of the peasantry.

Death has hit farmers in varying agro-climatic zones. Unlike the rounds of suicides in 1987-88, 1997-98 and 2000, when peasants growing particular crops such as tobacco, cotton, chillies and groundnut died, this time death stalks everywhere. No crop appears safe and no section of the small peasantry appears insulated. The overwhelming proportion of the death toll is among small and marginal farmers and tenant cultivators, who have no claim on the land they cultivate and who pay exorbitant rents to landlords.

20040702007600402jpg

It is becoming increasingly evident that nothing but a reversal of the agrarian and agricultural policies pursued in the past decade or so, under the garb of liberalisation, will stem the curse of death. While politicians and bureaucrats waffle on what the peasant actually needs, the issue of an unqualified moratorium on repayments of loans by small peasants - whether from private or institutional sources - has become literally a life-and-death question. This will determine whether lives will be saved in the days ahead.

The Chief Minister, who led from the front the Congress' surge back to power, reacted immediately by announcing on the floor of the State Assembly a relief package for affected families. He followed this up with several other promises on June 13, when he launched the Rajiv Palle Bata, a biweekly mass contact programme. He promised 150-180 days of work in a year to agricultural workers and the limiting of the interest rates of loans drawn by farmers to 12 per cent.

However, on the key issue of a moratorium on loan repayment, Rajasekhara Reddy continues to remain unclear. The fact of the matter is that institutional credit has virtually collapsed in Andhra Pradesh and the peasants are at the mercy of powerful moneylenders, who are acting in collusion with a range of interests that dominate life in the countryside (see separate story). Less than 20 per cent of the borrowings by small and marginal farmers come from credit cooperatives and state-owned banks, the remaining being provided, at a minimum rate of interest of 24 per cent, by moneylenders; fertilizer, pesticide and seed dealers; rice mill owners; landlords; and "relatives and friends". However, the Chief Minister has announced that the state machinery, particularly the police, would intervene to prevent harassment of peasants by moneylenders. He has assured farmers that they "will be spared of trouble from lenders till you harvest a good crop".

WHAT explains the unprecedented number of suicides in such a short duration? Several theories float in Hyderabad. The theory popular among sections of bureaucrats, politicians and the intelligentsia is that the peasants have committed suicide because of the assistance package announced by the Chief Minister. N. Chandrababu Naidu, former Chief Minister, who steadfastly clung to the notion that a relief package for victims would spur more farmers to their death, remarked on June 2 that the "unusual spurt" in the number of suicides after Rajasekhara Reddy assumed office was because of the package.

Another explanation is that it is simply because the media, particularly the Telugu language press, is reporting such deaths in a much more systematic manner than before. Some Telugu papers have listed the number of suicides in their district editions. However, media critics note that there has been no attempt to collate and analyse the information at a broader level to highlight the issues at stake. In fact, observers note that even the English dailies published from the State have reported the deaths in a more systematic fashion than in the past.

However, the most plausible reason for the spate of suicides appears to be related to the fact that farmers are engaged in the task of planning their next crop. May and June are months when they prepare for sowing the kharif crop in late June and July, when the monsoon arrives in most parts of the State. Those sympathetic to the plight of the farmers argue that small and marginal farmers across the State have reached the end of the road. Unable to clear their existing loans or to get fresh loans for the next season, and seeing no hope on the horizon, they have taken their lives, they say.

The shortage of water, often nonchalantly labelled "crop failure", misses the point that far too many things are wrong with agriculture. Over the past 10 to 15 years, as Utsa Patnaik points out, the state has stepped back from its role as a promoter of agriculture. Significantly, the state has not only vacated the space that truly belongs to it as the custodian of the poor and marginal farmers, but actively facilitated the entry of the landed gentry to occupy this vital space. This is felt in every aspect of the agricultural sector in the Andhra Pradesh today.

20040702007600403jpg

In the area of irrigation, for instance, much of the incremental addition to irrigation capacity in the last 15 years has come from well irrigation. This means that the burden has fallen on individual farmers. Experts agree that the current crisis, particularly in the Telengana region, reached its logical conclusion with the depletion of groundwater resources. Farmers in this region have repeatedly made heavy investments in borewells and failed. The State has not only failed to provide irrigation facilities, but actually imposed a squeeze on credit for such purposes when it was needed most. As a result, peasants, in a desperate search for water, have had to borrow at usurious rates of interest.

The state, by failing to regulate the supply of inputs, has also seriously jeopardised the interests of farmers. Spurious seeds have been a major problem. All that the state has done is to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with seed companies. In fact, the state has no control over the quality of seeds. The large number of suicides in Warangal, for instance in 1997-98, were caused by the widespread use of spurious cotton seeds provided by private seed companies. Similar complaints about adulterated pesticides and fertilizers have been reported from across the State. It is estimated that fertilizer costs have increased fourfold since 1992. The problem with seeds is not confined to their quality; farmers now pay much more. Paddy seed prices, for instance, have doubled since 1990; prices of cotton and chilli seeds have increased fourfold during the same period. The rise in the cost of inputs, apart from the sharp increase in electricity charges during the Chandrababu Naidu regime, has placed the farmer in Andhra Pradesh at a disadvantage when compared to those in other States.

The liberalised policies, which are geared more towards creating a pan-Indian primary commodity market with a unified price, in alignment with global prices, have clearly worked against farmers in the State. The cotton farmer in Warangal district, for instance, was cajoled into producing cotton by the state more than a decade ago. Prof. Sudarshan Reddy, who participated in an inquiry into the suicides by farmers in the district in 1997-98, said that the state encouraged the farmer to grow cotton but has since then left him in the lurch. The state did this despite the soil conditions being unsuitable for cotton cultivation.

20040702007600404jpg

Rising costs of cultivation have meant that the cost of production of paddy in Andhra Pradesh is higher by about 16 per cent when compared to the cost in Punjab; the cost of growing cotton is higher by more than one-third when compared to that in Gujarat; and the costs of groundnut production is 38 per cent higher in the State when compared to that in Gujarat. Severe fluctuations in the prices of produce have added to the uncertainty in the lives of farmers. Although the State has several Agricultural Market Committees, which are supposed to act as procurement agencies and provide remunerative prices, it is obvious that they are defunct. In 2002, a committee, which conducted an inquiry into the phenomenon of farmer suicides in the State reported that these committees were procuring an insignificant portion of the total produce in the State.

THE burden of the agrarian crisis has obviously fallen on the small and marginal farmers. More than 80 per cent of the landholdings are of sizes up to two hectares and constitute 43 per cent of the cultivated area. Moreover, tenant cultivators with little or no land pay exorbitant rents to landlords. High rents charged by absentee landlords in coastal Andhra Pradesh, amounting to more than half the annual produce of the farmer, is a serious burden on the peasantry. The rising cost of cultivation, coupled with the risks associated with it, has not only added to the burden on the peasantry but made life uncertain for the poor peasant. The tenant's plight is worse because, apart from the rack-renting by landlords, he is also totally outside the loop of the formal credit mechanism.

B.V. Raghavalu, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), pointed out that the rich peasants, though they have migrated to urban centres, not only retain their hold over the land but also have established their control over the markets for inputs, the produce, and credit. The Rajasekhara Reddy government's ambivalence over declaring a complete moratorium on the repayment of debt by the peasantry is to be seen in the context of the sway that these elites have established over state policy in the last couple of decades.

20040702007600405jpg

The Chief Minister's promise of a moratorium appears inadequate at this stage for two reasons. First, past experience of such declarations by the State indicates that it has little leeway with institutional sources of credit since the onset of liberalisation in the financial sector. For instance, the Chandrababu Naidu government did announce a debt relief package after the wave of suicides in 1997-98. However, by October 1998, the institutions rescheduled the loans to the extent of only Rs.182 crores against a target of more than Rs.700 crores. However, the more significant problem in implementing a moratorium pertains to the fact that most poor peasants are now almost entirely dependent on the lenders who also control markets of every sort in their villages.

So far the Rajasekhara Reddy government has remained silent on the issue of how a moratorium on repayments by farmers to private lenders is to be implemented. Although the Chief Minister has promised that the police would stand by the farmer if he is pressured by moneylenders, matters are not so simple. This would imply that the government ought to be prepared to face a backlash from moneylenders, who would stop lending to farmers. The State government does not seem to have planned for this eventuality. The annual State Credit Plan, finalised on May 7, envisages only a 16 per cent increase in crop loans and a 20 per cent increase in term loans for the agricultural sector. There is also a general consensus that institutional credit accounts for only 15-20 per cent of the total credit requirements of the peasantry. It is thus obvious that there is no concerted attempt to increase institutional credit to a point where farmers are able to breathe freely without continuing to be under pressure from the moneylender.

AN increase in the suicide rate in a population is generally known to indicate acute stress that people undergo during a phase of social churn. More pertinently, the phenomenon of suicides among sections of the peasantry - not only in Andhra Pradesh but also in Punjab, Karnataka and Rajasthan - indicates that the Indian peasantry is going through a deep churning. It is also obvious that this churning has been caused by the neo-liberal prescription for agriculture.

A shaky start

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

After making a few controversial pronouncements initially, the External Affairs Minister has tried to reassure the nation and the world that the new government's foreign policy will be based on broad national consensus.

EXTERNAL Affairs Minister Natwar Singh seems to have stirred up yet another controversy just weeks after taking office. On a visit to Washington, he said that the Indian government would take a "fresh look" at the question of sending troops to Iraq. During his first interaction with the media in early June, Natwar Singh had said that a seasoned diplomat always thought twice before answering questions. After taking over, he had virtually ruled out the despatch of Indian troops to Iraq, saying that many countries in the United States-led coalition had withdrawn their troops from that country.

20040702003003601jpg

It, therefore, came as a surprise when Natwar Singh, after a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Colin Powell, in Washington said: "Although there is a resolution of the Indian Parliament, in which we had given our opinion that we were against sending troops to Iraq, now the situation is changed." He went on to add that there is a resolution "unanimously passed and there are Arab members in it. We will look at it very carefully". However, the Minister did emphasise that he was part of a coalition government and that the matter "will have to be discussed by the government and by the Cabinet Committee on Security".

Natwar Singh was in Washington to attend the memorial service for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. He had his first high-level contact with senior Bush administration officials during the visit. His comments on Iraq came after France and Germany refused the request of President George W. Bush at the G-8 summit for the despatch of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO) troops to Iraq.

Natwar Singh's statement in Washington has come in for scathing criticism from the Left parties and also from parties like the Janata Dal (Secular), which support the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from outside. "The Indian Foreign Minister's ambiguous remarks in Washington have to be clarified. The Manmohan Singh government must make it clear that there is no question of sending troops to Iraq to bolster the American occupation," the JD(S) said in a statement. It added that the remarks of the Minister were "uncalled for".

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau, in a statement, pointed out that for the past 14 months there had been an uprising going on in Iraq. "The Iraqi people have had no say in choosing their government. So, there is no change in the situation," said Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma has, however, denied that the government is considering the despatch of troops to Iraq. There are reports that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has ticked off some of her senior Ministers, including Natwar Singh, for speaking out of turn on sensitive issues.

NATWAR SINGH's comments on India-Pakistan relations immediately after taking over ruffled a few feathers, especially on the other side of the border. Natwar Singh was quoted as saying that the Simla Agreement was the "bedrock" of India's policy towards Pakistan. In his interaction with the media on a visit to his home State of Rajasthan, he seemed to suggest that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf should first consult his Foreign Minister before talking about the Kashmir problem and other issues relating to foreign policy.

Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment were taken aback when Natwar Singh suggested that the Sino-Indian border talks could be the model for the resolution of the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. Top Pakistani officials immediately issued statements that the Sino-Indian dispute was in no way comparable to the dispute over Kashmir. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri issued a statement advising Indian government officials to "observe a rhetoric restraint regime to avoid misunderstanding and not conduct diplomacy through the media".

To his credit, Natwar Singh was quick to clear the confusion. Addressing the media in New Delhi in the first week of June, he clarified that while the Simla Agreement continued to be the "bedrock" of bilateral relations between the two countries, the Lahore Declaration of 1999 and the Islamabad Declaration of January 2004 would also be the basis of negotiations to resolve the Kashmir dispute. He also emphasised that the government had made no "policy statement" on adopting the Sino-Indian model of negotiations in its dealings with Pakistan.

Natwar Singh downplayed talk about his alleged hawkish tendencies and said that he had a deep commitment to the peace process with Pakistan. He said that the Congress-led government would follow a more consistent policy towards Islamabad as opposed to the policies of the National Democratic Alliance government. He affirmed that his government would not talk about a "decisive" war with Pakistan and then change tack by offering the diplomatic olive branch. He reminded the media that the Congress did not support the snapping of sporting links, the banning of overflights and the scrapping of train and bus links with Pakistan following the attack on Parliament House in December 2002.

The External Affairs Minister said that New Delhi was not "shying away" from discussing the Kashmir issue. At the same time, he was critical of Islamabad's insistence on focussing primarily on Kashmir. He said that the government would avoid the "booby-traps and the high tension wires" that were characteristic of the relations between the two countries in the last five years. Natwar Singh also said that New Delhi would avoid the "personalised" style of diplomacy of the recent past. He pointed out that unlike in Pakistan, there is a "national consensus" in India on important foreign policy issues.

He said, rather undiplomatically, that India should not put all its eggs in one basket, in a reference to the NDA government's excessive dependence on personalised diplomacy involving Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf.

Natwar Singh said that Musharraf was under threat from his own people. "If God forbid that something happens to the General, Pakistan does not have a back-up."

He announced that the Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries would be held in the last week of June to be preceded by an experts-level meeting on nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) in New Delhi on June 19 and 20. It has also been announced that he will attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Foreign Ministers' meet to be held in Islamabad in the third week of July. Natwar Singh is expected to meet the Pakistani leadership during the visit.

20040702003003602jpg

Interestingly, Natwar Singh reacted positively to the question of the gas pipeline from Iran. The previous government had misgivings about the project as the pipeline had to pass through Pakistani territory. He said that India would be willing to consider the project if Pakistan provided India with security guarantees. Islamabad has always been keen on the project, looking at it as a major CBM and also a revenue-generating enterprise. The Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman reiterated in the second week of June that his country was ready to provide the guarantees necessary to expedite the project. Major Indian companies such as Reliance are said to be more than interested in the project. The United States may not be too enthused with this particular India-Pakistan CBM. It would have preferred the project to be undertaken by the U.S. company UNOCAL, which wanted to pipe gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan. UNOCAL had, in fact, hired certain influential former Indian diplomats as consultants. One of them today is holding a pivotal position in the United Progressive Alliance government.

During his first formal interaction with the media, Natwar Singh also mooted the idea of India, China and Pakistan having a common nuclear doctrine. He was replying to a question regarding security in the region in the context of the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998. Though he clarified that it was still at a "philosophical" stage, his public articulation on the subject caused some diplomatic ripples. The Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman politely described Natwar Singh's idea as "a new and innovative proposal requiring examination". Beijing too reacted with caution.

DIPLOMATIC observers are of the opinion that Beijing will not be too happy with the Indian Foreign Minister equating the two South Asian countries' nuclear programmes with that of China. China is a de jure member of the exclusive nuclear club. New Delhi's proposal also puts the three countries indirectly in the same political league. Beijing perceives itself as a superpower-in-waiting. Natwar Singh, however, clarified that his proposal was based on the plan put forward by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s for global disarmament.

Beijing, however, should be happy with Natwar Singh's outright rejection of the previous government's hurried welcome to the controversial anti-ballistic missile shield programme proposed by the Bush administration for Asia. It has been widely acknowledged that the plan is targeted at China. Natwar Singh, however, chose to absolve the NDA government of a foreign policy lapse; instead he placed the blame on "an individual". The External Affairs Minister at the time was Jaswant Singh. Natwar Singh said that the question about the country's nuclear doctrine should be directed at National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit, but added that India's nuclear programme was very transparent while Pakistan was running a clandestine proliferation programme.

NATWAR Singh, while emphasising the continuing relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in international affairs, said that there was a need to draw a distinction between the concept of non-alignment and the Non-Aligned Movement. He pointed out that India was non-aligned even before the creation of NAM. He said that those who question the relevance of NAM should ask the West about the rationale for the continuing expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to Central Asia, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War. NAM, he said, should focus on the issues of the day, such as terrorism, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), poverty and important problems faced by developing countries.

Natwar Singh stressed that the new government would continue with the Vajpayee government's policies towards Pakistan and China and would "improve" on them. The government, he revealed, was encouraging Chinese professionals to go to Bangalore to study software. He foresaw a huge increase in Sino-Indian bilateral trade. He also spoke positively about the idea of India, Russia and China getting closer in the international arena. He announced that J.N. Dixit would take over from Brajesh Mishra as the Special Representative for discussions with China on the border issue.

Natwar Singh has been going out of his way to dispel notions that he is by temperament anti-American. He has been telling the media that he wants to have the strongest of relations with the U.S. He seems to be willing to go the extra mile these days to show that his government values relations with the U.S. deeply. India was quick to accept the new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq passed in the second week of June. When the Congress was in the Opposition, the Bush administration had taken care to keep it in the loop on important issues. When Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the U.S. along with Natwar Singh before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the two leaders were given a high-profile welcome in the corridors of power. It is no secret that the Congress was wavering initially on the question of the despatch of troops to Iraq. Sonia Gandhi had, in fact, refused to give an audience to the then Iraqi Ambassador in New Delhi for more than two years, despite repeated requests.

SENIOR diplomats who interacted recently with the new External Affairs Minister came back with mixed feelings. Many Arab diplomats were impressed with Natwar Singh's openness and willingness to discuss issues on a one-on-one basis. His two immediate predecessors had time only for Western envoys. Many envoys from developing countries finished their terms in New Delhi without getting the privilege of meeting the Minister. African diplomats said that Natwar Singh was generally in a nostalgic mood when they met him as a group. He spent time talking about the heyday of Indian diplomacy during the eras of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

However, they said that he had no concrete proposals to offer to sub-Saharan Africa. Some European diplomats added that he had also nothing much to say about India's relations with the European Union. The envoys from Latin America were surprised when they were called for a meeting with the Minister along with diplomats from the U.S. and Canada. Natwar Singh then spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of India-U.S. relations. He did not delve into subjects such as NAM, though the next chairman of NAM is going to be from Latin America.

Many countries, especially those that won their independence after waging liberation struggles against colonial occupiers, were upset when the NDA government without any warning, de-recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is a full-fledged member of the African Union. The Indian government's move at that time had disappointed liberation movements such as the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), the People's Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) and the African National Congress (ANC), which today are running governments in Namibia, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa. They, as well as most of the political parties in power at the Centre, would like the Polisario Front fighting for the liberation of Western Sahara be invited to open an office in New Delhi. A diplomat currently based abroad recalled that Natwar Singh had expressed shock and anguish at the NDA government's decision to derecognise the SADR when they had gone to call on him. He was the Congress' foreign policy spokesman at that time.

The Left parties criticised the government after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's address to Parliament in the second week of June. They said that on some key issues of foreign policy, the text of the speech had meandered away from the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). The CPI(M) said that "undue importance" was given to ties with Israel in the President's address.

The party is also of the opinion that the new government has been taken in by the U.S. hard sell on Iraq and the promises of restoring "full sovereignty" to that country. Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat said that the CMP, agreed upon by the ruling coalition and the Left parties, had only talked about extending "unqualified support to Palestine". He said that his party was against the continuation of the "special relationship" with Israel.

Open doors

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

IT sounds a little like the improbable factoids that appear on the back of breakfast cereal packets: in the summer of 2002, the Government of India actually paid the Central Intelligence Agency mole in its ranks to meet his handlers in the United States.

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) defector Rabinder Singh's 2002 visit to the U.S. points to the dangers of the increasingly indiscriminate liaison between Indian and Western intelligence services, conducted under the pretext of counter-terrorism cooperation. Perhaps the most curious aspect of Rabinder Singh's 2002 government-funded visit to the U.S. is that he had no reason to travel there. The counter-terrorism course he attended focussed on hijacking and hostage negotiation, skills the South-East Asia analyst had no need of.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling for files on a dozen disappearances and suspect personnel in RAW's ranks, attention has focussed on the growing depth of the U.S.' ongoing multi-billion dollar facilitation of counter-terrorism cooperation. Intelligence officers, most of whom do not drive their cars from their homes to work, have been abroad to learn about everything from offensive-defensive vehicle-handling techniques to VIP protection - lessons useless for their normal day jobs. Notably, few of the officers who have shown a desire for such learning have attended the many courses available within the country.

Within India's intelligence establishment, there is growing concern about the unspoken costs of the new liaison and cooperation procedures. Under the National Democratic Alliance government, RAW, the Intelligence Bureau and the Defence Intelligence Agency were all authorised to make contact with their counterparts overseas, often with little monitoring. As a consequence, hundreds of Indian agents have been exposed, the term professionals use to describe individuals whose real jobs are known to foreign intelligence organisations. "As things stand," says a senior RAW officer, "we hardly have anyone left who can serve in a genuine, covert role."

Until recently, RAW alone was authorised to have such contacts - and the job was restricted to a select few within its ranks. From its inception in 1968, RAW's first boss, R.N. Kao, held meetings with his counterparts in the U.S., the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Much of the liaison was essentially political in character - what is today known as "back channel diplomacy" - but RAW's reconnaissance unit, the Aviation Research Centre received technical assistance from the U.S. in return for information on China. Through the 1970s, the character of liaison shifted with political trends, as India leaned towards the Soviet Union for its security needs.

The last years of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's time in power, and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's subsequent regime, saw a shift. Israel was one new axis of liaison. Avionics equipment for the ARC, for example, began to be sourced through Israel after RAW established contact with Mossad, and some training programmes were also conducted for the National Security Guard and the Special Protection Group. However, this contact was carefully monitored. RAW protests, for example, led officials to shoot down plans for an Israeli delegation to meet with Sharad Pawar, now Union Minister.

At once, links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) opened up in the wake of its support to terrorism in Punjab, and the near-war triggered by Operation Brasstacks. Brokered by Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan, whose wife was of Pakistani origin, a top Indian spymaster met ISI chief Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul in Amman and Geneva. General Gul, sources told Frontline, admitted that Pakistan would continue to offer arms to anti-India elements who sought its help - but would not initiate such activity. In return, Pakistan quietly handed over some soldiers who had sought shelter there after the mutiny which followed Operation Bluestar.

Now, however, the situation has been transfigured. Ongoing investigations of Rabinder Singh's case show just how easily liaison and training visits can be misused. Colleagues who went with him on the U.S. visit have told staff from RAW's Counter-Intelligence Security Division that the officer, whose family was in the U.S., generally spent his evenings alone. When other Indians officers would gather together in the bar or for dinner, Rabinder Singh would opt out, claiming he was visiting relatives. Although he submitted reports to RAW on all foreigners he met during the course of his visit, the organisation had no means of verifying the accuracy of the officer's statements.

What is clear is that the U.S., which has trained over 31,000 personnel from 127 countries since it began offering anti-terrorism assistance in 1983, is finding the access it is getting very useful. In 2002 alone, the last year for which figures are available, the U.S. hosted 80 courses for officers from India, along with 17 other countries in Asia and Africa. "Intelligence cooperation and liaison have always been chaotic," says former RAW officer and analyst B. Raman, "but we cannot afford complacency any more."

A contract controversy

The move to award a contract to a foreign consortium for the development of a container terminal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port faces legal and political challenges.

in Mumbai

ON April 14, just days before Maharashtra went to the polls, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of compromising national security by "doling out the first bulk terminal [of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust] to P&O, Australia, and the blatant gifting" of another terminal to a Danish shipping firm, Maersk, in association with Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) on a 30-year lease. Sharad Pawar substantiated his accusation quoting the presence of high security establishments in the vicinity of JNPT. He was referring to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), a high-risk site for terror attacks, Nhava Sheva, the Navy's biggest missile, torpedo and ammunition storage, preparation and supply depot on the western seaboard and the Mazagaon Docks, where warships and submarines are built.

20040702003603901jpg

Pawar was accompanied at the press conference by the retired former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, who was dismissed from service by the NDA government in 1999, over his insistence that the orders given to him were "unimplementable". Bhagwat alleged that often foreign firms acted as fronts for certain "agencies" and it was a security risk to permit them into sensitive areas. Clarifying that during his tenure at the Naval headquarters, the recommendation had been to extend the scope of the facilities around and at the Jawaharlal Nehru port for "national enterprises only", he said that the present situation was such that "a foreign enclave [was in existence] at JNPT".

On April 5, prior to Pawar's announcement, the Election Commission (E.C.) had put on hold the awarding of a contract for a container terminal project at JNPT. The Rs.900-crore JNPT project had been cleared and was expected to be awarded to the Maersk-CONCOR consortium. The bid was valid for a period of 30 weeks from March 25 till December 1, which meant that it could be awarded even after the elections. However, less than a month after the elections, three public interest petitions were filed in the Bombay High Court contesting the bid of the Maersk-CONCOR consortium to develop the third terminal.

The petition filed by Bhushan Patil, JNPT trustee and leader of Nhava Sheva Karmachari Sanghatana, was dismissed by the court on the grounds that the petitioner was extending himself into areas of policy that did not concern him. Patil's PIL had submitted that the port should itself take up the work of developing the third terminal in the economic interest of the country without leaving it to a third party. The other two petitions were filed by Tarun Tripathi, a Chartered Accountant from Navi Mumbai, and Arun Pal Singh Behl from Nagpur. The PIL filed by Tripathi argues that JNPT was making losses owing to the revenue-sharing arrangement, while Behl's petition raises security concerns that were earlier raised by Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar and Vishnu Bhagwat during the election campaign. While the first two petitioners made JNPT and the Ministry of Shipping as the respondents, Behl's petition includes the Government of India, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Home and others as respondents. It did not include the JNPT or the Ministry of Shipping.

JNPT currently handles over 2 million containers every year and the traffic is likely to go up to 2.7 million containers by 2005-06. The development of the third container terminal is expected to add 1.3 million containers to the overall capacity on its completion by 2005-06.

It is not clear whether it is an issue of conflicting business interests pulling political strings to get the deal or whether national interest is being jeopardised as alleged. Why a straightforward bidding process should be mired in PILs is not plain, considering a statement made by D.T. Joseph, Secretary, Shipping, in April after the E.C. had stayed the awarding of contracts. He had expressed confidence that the contract would be awarded after the elections. There was no ambiguity in the JNPT project and the new government was unlikely to review the project, he said.

Ignored warnings

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

ONE of the first things new intelligence agents are told is to forget what they might have seen in James Bond films: in real life, there ought to be no fancy cars, no diamond-wearing girlfriends, nor evenings hanging out in expensive bars. In the Research and Analysis Wing, though, they also seem to be told that the rules do not have to be taken seriously.

Successive chiefs of RAW ignored warnings from the organisation's in-house surveillance unit on its growing vulnerability to penetration. As early as the 1990s, the Counter-Intelligence and Security (CIS) Division launched a major study of a dozen "stay-backs", officers who either never returned to India from their foreign assignments or left for jobs abroad shortly after their retirement. Personnel compromised by inappropriate behaviour were also studied. CIS Division watchers found that officers with well-known records of alcohol abuse, dubious financial records and sexual misconduct had been sent on sensitive assignments.

RAW began to haemorrhage personnel from around the time of the Emergency. A former Indian Army officer who had been transferred to RAW had applied for leave in the early 1970s, but was refused permission to travel abroad. CIS Division watchers then found a notice in the Defence Services Officers' Institution announcing that his household goods were for sale. No action was taken, and the officer ended up taking asylum in a South American country after the Emergency was declared. A secretary to former RAW chief S. Sankaran Nair took asylum in the United Kingdom at the same time.

As the years went by, several other RAW personnel went the same way. Two officers who had served as personal assistants to RAW Directors, stayed on at the end of overseas postings. One of these first took premature retirement, claiming he intended to work in Mumbai in his brother's textile business. The ranks of stay-backs, however, were not limited to low-level staff. One 1957 batch Indian Police Service officer serving in RAW, who was posted to Canada, took a job with the provincial government of Ontario. The CIS Division noted that all these officers had been posted abroad towards the end of their careers, when financial temptations were at their highest.

A second string of scandals involved financial and personal misconduct. A woman officer recruited from the Income Tax Department was sacked after allegations surfaced of her taking bribes from overseas businessmen, under pretence of conducting an investigation into Bofors beneficiaries on the instructions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. CIS watchers also found that the officer had made a Rs.1,00,000 contribution to a South Indian temple, which she could not account for, and had also made an unauthorised visit to Hong Kong. Finally, it turned out that the officer had a romantic relationship with a colleague, then posted in Dhaka, with whom she went on to set up a business.

The couple's efforts to use their service contacts to further their export business finally forced the CIS Division to order all Embassies overseas not to have any dealings with them. In this and several similar cases, careful vetting and surveillance could have prevented embarrassment. One officer, for example, had to be removed from Oslo after problems related to alcohol abuse. CIS Division staff pointed out that the officer had been hired despite past knowledge of his alcohol problem, and the fact that he was facing a criminal investigation for his alleged role in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The officer was also reported for misbehaviour at a RAW annual day function prior to his overseas posting.

Safety concerns

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

Some recent lapses in safety at nuclear installations across the country lead the Department of Atomic Energy to review its safety procedures.

IS the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) slipping in its record of safety?

On April 17, three employees at the Waste Immobiliation Plant (WIP) at Tarapur in Maharashtra received doses of radiation from a tiny bottle containing a few drops of diluted highly radioactive waste. DAE officials alleged that another employee had "deliberately" placed the bottle on a chair that the three used at different times. The presence of the bottle was detected after instruments kept in the laboratory for measuring radiation registered more than the normal radioactivity.

On March 10, there was a "reactor power rise" in the first unit of the Kakrapara Atomic Power Station (KAPS) in Gujarat because "the operator failed in not tripping the reactor in time". (An operator of a nuclear electricity reactor is a graduate engineer and is akin to a pilot of an aircraft.) According to S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the operator had made "a mistake" in not tripping the reactor in time. The reactor shut down on its own, with the defence-in-depth mechanism coming into play.

20040702003809901jpg

The incident prompted NPCIL, which runs 14 nuclear reactors, to conduct refresher courses for operators at Kakrapara and the other nuclear power stations in the country and renew their licences to man the reactors. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which monitors safety in these nuclear installations, said that though the incident did not lead to any radiation leak or damage the reactor, it "reflected certain weaknesses in the safety culture at the plant and the need for improving the safety practices". NPCIL, as per AERB's directive, shut down the two reactors at Kakrapara, which generate 220 Mwe each, on April 22 and May 21 to carry out modifications.

Jain said that the first unit at Kakrapara was started up on June 5 at 2.39 p.m. after modifications were carried out in the reactor. It was operating at full power. Annual maintenance work was under way in the second reactor, which was also ordered to be shut down by the AERB. "We are doing annual maintenance work in the reactor, taking advantage of its shutdown to carry out modification work," Jain said. The second unit was expected to come on line on June 15.

On January 21, 2003, six employees of the Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant (KARP), about 50 km from Chennai, were exposed to radiation exceeding the AERB-prescribed annual dosage limit of 2 rem. A leak in a valve separating a high-level radioactive liquid waste tank and a low-level liquid waste tank led to the mixing of the two kinds of wastes and increased radioactivity in the area. There were no monitors to detect the radiation level in the enclosed area. The workers were not wearing the personal thermo luminescent dosimeters, which register the radiation doses received. (Frontline, August 29, 2003).

In the International Nuclear Event Scale, what happened at Kakrapara fell in Level 2, and the one at Kalpakkam between Level 1 and 2. The scale ranges from 1 (anomaly) to 7 (major accident). Any event between 1 and 4 is called an incident, and those above 4 are categorised as accidents. (The Chernobyl disaster was of Level 7 and the Three Mile Island disaster fell in Level 5.)

AERB could not intervene with what happened at WIP, and at KARP because these facilities come under the purview of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which is a strategic facility. After the May 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan, BARC and its satellite facilities were removed from AERB's purview. A BARC Safety Council was set up to oversee safety aspects in them.

BARC has several facilities located near the Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), which has two reactors of 160 MWe each. The WIP there was commissioned in March 1985. It handles liquid, solid and gaseous radioactive waste material generated in a nearby plant that reprocesses spent fuel from power reactors into plutonium. The liquid waste is stored in huge tanks in underground vaults and the integrity of the tanks and vaults is monitored all the time. The solid waste is vitrified, that is, it is converted into glass by heating, and stored in small capsules underground where the chances of flooding or earthquake are low. The gaseous effluents are treated and released through tall stacks into the atmosphere, which is monitored continuously.

In the April 17 incident at Tarapur, the liquid waste in the bottle, which was found embedded in the chair, contained caesium, strontium and so on. A BARC official alleged that "someone kept it there deliberately". He said: "It was a 10 ml bottle. It is so small and kept in such a way that a person sitting on the chair would not feel it. That is why it remained hidden." He blamed it on "rivalry among employees".

The three persons who sat on the chair received radiation doses ranging from 0.04 rem to 0.3 rem, which was "a very low exposure" compared with the permissible annual dose of 2 rem a year, said a BARC scientist. BARC safety committees were probing the incident.

The March 10 incident at Kakarapara, about 80 km from Surat, was more serious. The two 220 MWe units were operating at 170 MWe each. To take care of emergencies such as station blackout, there are back-up power systems that include uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and diesel generators. The UPS of the first unit had been taken out for maintenance when one of the relays in the unit malfunctioned, leading to over-voltage. This led to the failure of the control rod system (CRS), which controls the reactor's power. The CRS power fuse blew, making the controlling (regulating) mechanism unavailable. And because the operator failed to trip the reactor in such a situation, its power kept increasing from 73 per cent (170 MWe) to 98 per cent (almost 220 MWe).

According to AERB, what saved the day was that the reactor tripped (shut down) automatically on its safety systems. "However," it said, "it reflected certain weaknesses in safety culture of the plant and the need for improving the safety practices." Besides, it said "an erroneous operator action" inhibited a design feature of the reactor power control system. Luckily, the reactor systems remained healthy. There was no leak of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Jain told Frontline: "When the operator comes to know that the regulation (controlling) part is not available, he should trip the reactor." But he did not. "His judgment is not in line with the worst scenario safety culture. He may say the fuel is sound. As per our unambiguous approach, safety comes first." The AERB also felt that the operator's action "was not within the prescribed thinking of safety procedures".

20040702003809902jpg

Jain said there was "a structured, detailed training programme" for the operators. Each and every person associated with the operation of the reactors in the country underwent "rigorous training". After successful completion of this, they were given licences to operate the reactors for three to five years. After that, there was a system of re-licensing. Even the top brass including Station Directors were required to have the AERB's licence. "There is a system of retraining too... which is very rigorous," Jain said.

Jain added: "I have started brainstorming sessions with all Station Directors. We will take stock of the situation whether any policy decision, directive or action of ours, had influenced the operator to behave in a less than conservative fashion. Our approach is that the operators should behave in the most conservative fashion."

Jain asserted that it was "absolutely not" true that the NPCIL was flogging the reactors in its quest to show more capacity and this had led to the incident. He said: "Generally, there is a feeling that operators are `power-driven' and that they don't give weightage to safety. But our people are under instructions to take decisions, which should be in the most conservative direction with regard to safety. I don't have an answer why despite such a directive, such technical requirements, such training, the operator of the first unit behaved in that fashion. That is a mistake and we admit that."

A return to turmoil

Conflict resolution in Sri Lanka takes a back seat as the security situation in the East worsens, the peace process remains stalled, and the political uncertainty in Colombo deepens.

in Colombo

"Killing of intellectuals, journalists and friends of Tamil people is abominable. Even during this time of peace, anti-peace forces are engaged in barbaric activities. These actions are bound to lead the people of this island to a period of calamity and destruction."

- The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in a statement on May 31 condemning the killing of an Eastern journalist.

A YEAR-LONG lull in the peace process, the fast-deteriorating situation in the East and the legislative chaos in Colombo together appear to indicate a difficult phase ahead for the Sri Lankan polity. The situation in Eastern Sri Lanka has been deteriorating steadily since May.

20040702001605601jpg

The killing of Aiyathurai Nadesan, a senior journalist, in the Batticaloa on May 31 clearly indicates that the quest for peace in Sri Lanka's Eastern killing fields, swept by fresh turmoil following the March 3 rebellion by the former military commander of the LTTE for the region, V. Muralitharan alias Karuna, is likely to be a long and arduous one. Riding his motorcycle to the Inland Revenue Department on a quiet Monday morning, Nadesan, the part-time correspondent of a Tamil newspaper and a contributor to several news organisations, would not have realised that it would be a one-way journey.

At 9-30 a.m., Nadesan was shot dead by "unidentified gunmen" who opened fire on him with 9 mm pistols and fled the scene on their motorcycles. Nadesan fell from his vehicle and staggered into a drain. His body was fished out from the drain by passers-by, who informed the police.

The previous day, in his column in Sunday Virakesari, Nadesan had lamented the spiralling violence in the East that had claimed the lives of 35 people, including five civilians, since Karuna's revolt.

It is not yet clear who is responsible for the killings, but theories abound; the most popular one implicates a group of Karuna loyalists. But Karuna's precise whereabouts are still unknown although he is likely to be somewhere in the Eastern region. Clearly, the euphoria that the LTTE experienced after it brought Karuna's rebellion under control with the offensive on April 9 has waned. Suspicions of the involvement of the Karuna group were strengthened when LTTE cadre were shot dead in rebel-controlled Batticaloa last month. The killers could not be traced and after initially blaming "forces loyal to Karuna" the Tigers directly implicated collusive action by the Sri Lankan security forces and "forces opposed to the peace process" as being responsible for the act.

Earlier, K. Thambiah, a Professor of the Eastern University, was shot dead by "unidentified gunmen" at point-blank range. According to the police, the difficulty in identifying the assassins is a fallout of the intra-LTTE fighting. "It is the LTTE. The ground situation points to nothing else. The only problem is, which faction," a senior police officer told Frontline.

Ever since Nadesan's killing, an uneasy calm has prevailed in Batticaloa. According to informed sources in the East, the LTTE is yet to disband the eastern forces and close down the rebel `police stations'. The worsening ground situation in the East is also reflected in the fact that LTTE cadre were killed inside rebel-controlled territory and in government-held parts of Batticaloa. All the six civilian victims were shot dead in government-held areas. In addition, 21 LTTE members, seven supporters of Karuna, and police and Army informants have been killed across the district in both Army-controlled and rebel-held territories.

Although it is stuck on several fronts in the Eastern districts, the LTTE has not taken the killing of its cadre lightly. As Nadesan's body was being taken through LTTE-held northern Sri Lanka to his birthplace in Jaffna for the final rites, the Tigers paid him rich tributes and hailed him as a "nationalist". The political wing leader of the LTTE, S.P. Tamilchelvan, and other leaders paid their last respects and the cortege was escorted by LTTE cadre.

The LTTE condemned the killing and issued a warning to the government. "These actions are bound to lead the people of this island to a period of calamity and destruction," it said.

Nadesan's colleagues in the Sri Lankan Tamil media were of the view that the Tigers were simply turning his death to their advantage. Pointing out that any mediaperson working in the East had to toe a difficult line, a journalist said, "They have now made him a Tiger."

Political and military observers see the killing as an indication of the resumption of hostilities. "The East is never going to be the same again. We don't know which side is involved. This makes matters worse for us," a resident said.

According to a former militant, the situation in the East is completely different from that which existed before the rebellion. "Before March, the LTTE could sweep into government-controlled Batticaloa if required. Now the reverse could be a possibility," he said. Karuna's move to disband the rebel forces, he said, had dented the LTTE's capability. However, the Tigers maintain that all is well and that they can take on the security forces if the need arises.

The University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHR-J), in its latest report, has warned that given LTTE leader V. Prabakaran's "proclivity to provoke a war whenever he feels cornered, the prospect of one is nearer now". The report says that the LTTE leader is "almost exclusively dependent on his intelligence chief Pottu Amman and a handful of other northern cronies, backed by 500 or so northern cadres, to restore his control in Batticaloa."

Latest reports indicate that a change of guard in the LTTE in the East cannot be ruled out. Unconfirmed reports speak of leaders from Trincomalee and the Vanni being deputed to head the LTTE in the East, reflecting the deteriorating situation in the region.

Even as the East plunges into deeper turmoil, the larger process of conflict resolution remains mired in differences of opinion between Colombo and the Tigers. A prolonged stalemate in the peace process and a continued sense of overall insecurity in the East will make conflict resolution a more difficult task. The manner in which the current impasse would be tided over depends on how effectively the Eastern killing fields are insulated from the larger negotiating process.

POLITICAL battle lines have been sharply drawn in the island nation's 225-member Parliament. On June 8, when Parliament met for the fourth time since the April 2 elections, the race for numbers between the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the Opposition United National Front (UNF) was in evidence. With the UPFA continuing to be a minority group in Parliament, efforts have been on to reach the magic figure of 113, which would give it a one-seat majority in the House. Earlier, the UPFA lost the Speaker's post to the Opposition.

On June 8, differences between the government and the Opposition over the swearing in of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) MP Akmeemana Dayaratna Thera, a Buddhist monk, in the place of Kataluwe Rathanaseeha Thero, another monk who had resigned his seat, marred the proceedings of the House.

Rathanaseeha Thero, one of the nine JHU monks elected to Parliament, had opted out of the April 2 polls but made it to the House as his name was already listed in the ballot papers. He was among the two JHU monks who rebelled against his party's decision to abstain and voted in favour of the government's candidate in the April 22 election for the post of Speaker. Subsequently, Rathanaseeha went missing for a couple of days, and then came to Parliament and resigned his seat. The government charged a section of monks with "abducting" the MP.

No sooner had the Speaker, W.J.M. Lokubandara, invited Dayaratna to be sworn in than members of the treasury benches were on their feet. The government said that the Speaker was bound by the interim orders of the court. However, the Speaker maintained that he was not served the order and went ahead with the formalities.

This provoked the government MPs, who invaded the well of the House and physically blocked the MP-elect from moving towards the Speaker's chair. Dayaratna was then led through the Opposition benches to the Speaker's podium.

Meanwhile, an MP, reportedly from the treasury benches, grabbed the ceremonial mace, which symbolises the progress of a session, and ran away from the chamber. As the Speaker called for the names of two other MPs-elect to take their oaths, they refused, sparking a standoff. Later in the day, two Buddhist monks were admitted to a nearby hospital with "internal injuries". The government denied the Opposition's allegation of the monks having been assaulted. Said a senior Minister: "It was only a difference of view, we did not assault the monks."

With the mace still to be found, the proceedings of the House were stalled for four hours. The parliamentary sitting came to an end with Lokubandara adjourning the House until July 20. With the government and the Opposition sticking to their positions, a potential standoff between the judiciary and the legislature is in the offing.

Behind the noisy scenes within the Sri Lankan Parliament is the UPFA's elusive search for a majority. According to media reports, attempts by the UPFA to win over the eight-member Ceylon Workers' Congress have been futile with the latter demanding two key Ministries. Against this backdrop, the JHU has indicated that it will work along with the UNF in Parliament.

In addition to the Eastern impasse and the legislative drift, the LTTE's insistence that its proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) be discussed has resulted in peace talks being delayed. On the economic front, it means that international donor assistance amounting to $4.5 billion, to be distributed over four years, for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged economy will not be forthcoming.

A dubious power transfer

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The United Nations approves the U.S.-U.K. plan for the transfer of power in Iraq, but the legitimacy of the interim government is already being questioned by Iraqis and others in the Arab world.

HECTIC diplomatic and political activity was witnessed in early June as the Bush administration prepared to go through the motions of transferring power in Iraq by June 30. An interim Iraqi Prime Minster and a President, along with a Council of Ministers, have been approved by the United States and rubber stamped by the United Nations. The Security Council voted unanimously in the second week of June for the joint U.S.-United Kingdom draft resolution outlining the transfer of power. Washington and London had to present four drafts in two weeks to get the approval of the 15-member Council.

20040702001905401jpg

The permanent members of the Security Council, led by France, have been insisting on a clear-cut commitment about the status of the U.S. and U.K. troops in Iraq after the power transfer. France and Germany had submitted an amendment that would have given the Iraqi government virtual veto powers over U.S. military actions inside Iraq after June 30. The Bush administration accommodated the demands of the permanent members France, Russia and China by specifying in the resolution that "sensitive military operations" inside Iraq would be undertaken only after consultations between the U.S. and Iraqi authorities.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi had sent separate letters to the Security Council on the military arrangements after June 30. The letters pledged that U.S. commanders and Iraqi leaders would consult on and coordinate "fundamental security and policy issues including policy on sensitive offensive operations" through a new National Security Committee. They have not, however, clarified what would happen in case of disagreement between U.S. Army officials and the new Iraqi government. The U.N. resolution will give the Iraqi government the theoretical right to order the U.S. troops to leave the country. Top officials at the Pentagon have, however, made it clear that they have no specific time frame in mind for a pullout from Iraq.

The revised resolution presented by the U.S. and the U.K. gave the new government in Baghdad control of the Iraqi Army and police. The resolution also proposed that the mandate of the "multinational forces", that is, the U.S. and U.K. forces, would end by January 2006.

The first couple of drafts prepared by Washington and London did not mention a deadline for the withdrawal of the occupation forces or address the issue of control over Iraqi security forces. In the second week of June, Iyad Allawi said that the Iraqi Army would not be taking orders from the U.S. military. However, he stressed the need for the U.S. and British forces to stay on in Iraq. Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, the interim President, also said that his government would be seeking "full sovereignty" from the U. N.

Chinese Ambassador to the U.N. Wang Guangya said in New York that his country wanted the mandate of the multinational forces to end after the general elections scheduled to be held in January 2005. French Ambassador to the U.N. Jean Marc de La Sabliere wanted the U.S. to define clearly the areas in which the new interim government would be given a free hand.

Most Iraqis are unlikely to view the interim government led by Allawi favourably. A known Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informer, Alawi, like the rest of the Interim Governing Council to which he belongs, is seen by the average Iraqi as a puppet dancing on U.S.-controlled strings. Washington cleared Allawi's appointment despite the misgivings of U.N. Special Representative to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi, in his efforts to give the new government in Baghdad some credibility, wanted members of the present Interim Governing Council to be out of the reckoning for the top posts. Brahimi wanted a government comprising mainly technocrats.

20040702001905402jpg

Allawi, like the other contender for the top post, Ahmad Challabi, had misled the Americans about Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Allawi had said before the invasion, that the Iraqi government could deploy WMDs in 45 minutes. Brahimi had stated that the "dictator" of Iraq, Paul Bremer (the U.S. Pro-Consul), had chosen Allawi. According to reports in the U.S. media, the CIA's preference of Allawi took precedence over the Pentagon's liking for Challabi.

RECENT public opinion surveys have reflected the deep-seated Iraqi hostility to the U.S. occupation forces. According to a poll conducted by the Centre for Research, an Iraqi agency that works for U.S. companies, 88 per cent of Iraqis view the Americans as occupiers. As many as 57 per cent want the U.S. military to leave the country immediately.

As the countdown to the "handover" nears its end, the violence against the occupation forces and the Iraqi security forces assisting them, has increased substantially. The official number of U.S. military deaths has now exceeded 700. Car bombs have been exploding with chilling regularity outside U.S. military installations and police stations. The insurgents are targeting foreign mercenaries. Signs are that many of the recent attacks have been coordinated ones, involving Shia and Sunni militants.

Iraqis are sceptical about the assurances being given by the Bush administration about the eventual military withdrawal from Iraq. There are 136,000 U.S. troops in the country, occupying valuable real estate, including four acres in the heart of Baghdad, inside the "green zone". The U.S. is planning to build the largest CIA station in the world in Baghdad and have permanent military bases there. Top U.S. officials have said that the views of the new government in Baghdad will be taken seriously but made it clear that the U.S. troops will never be ordered around by it.

Allawi announced in the second week of June that nine of Iraq's major militias had agreed to "disband". He said that 60 per cent of the militiamen would be integrated into the security services. According to reports, the two Kurdish militias will be allowed to function from their home bases in the north. Iraqi Kurdish leaders are upset that the new U.N. resolution does not talk about "autonomy" for the Kurdish areas. The concession by the new government should make the two influential Kurdish factions represented in the government happy for the time being.

Allawi, unlike Challabi, is a proponent of the controversial policy of "re-Bathification" of the Iraqi security services. The only prominent militia that has been kept out is the one owing allegiance to the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Sadr has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the new government. Though there is an uneasy truce in the holy city of Najaf between the Mahdi militia and the U.S. troops, skirmishes between the two take place in other parts of the country. The U.S. forces have suffered a number of casualties in Sadr city, the stronghold of the radical cleric in Baghdad.

Attempts by Iraqi officials to recover control of the oil revenues from U.S. hands have been cold-shouldered by the U.N. Since the occupation of Iraq started, the Bush administration has been extremely secretive about the exploitation of Iraqi oil and the handling of oil revenues. "A daylight robbery is going on in Iraq," Muzhir al Dulaymi, a spokesman for the League for the Defence of Iraqi Rights, has been quoted as saying.

He alleged that three million barrels of oil is being taken out of Iraq illegally every day and shipped through the Al-Bakr port in Iraq and the Turkish port of Jihan. Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.K. Prince Turki al-Faisal told an Irish newspaper that U.S. officials had predicted a year ago that the war in Iraq would be financed by the oil produced in Iraq. "This indicated that there were those in America who were thinking in terms of acquiring the natural resources of Iraq for America," he said.

The Palestinian poet and writer Tamim al-Barghouti has written that Iraqis and other Arabs do not take the members of the new Iraqi government seriously. He said that when senior Iraqi officials like the new Prime Minister and the President thanked the U.S. for liberating Iraq and at the same time stated that the U.S. had gone too far, they were "accepting the colonial redefinition of Iraq; the Iraq created by the American occupation".

Barghouti echoed the generally held view in the Arab world that the new Iraqi government had been put in place to perform the same function the U.S. would have performed. "The men and women on the Iraqi Governing Council should know that they cannot play the British game again, precisely because it has already been played before. Their verbal attacks against the American occupation should fool no one."

Blair takes a beating

MICHAEL HINDLEY world-affairs

The public disquiet about Iraq and disapproval of Prime Minister Tony Blair's unflinching loyalty to the rightwing U.S. administration result in a seismic collapse in Labour support.

THE fact that three elections were held on one day, European Parliament, local and London Mayoral, meant that June 10 became quite a useful test of the state of the United Kingdom parties. However, interpreting the results was complicated by the fact that three separate voting systems were used. The local government elections were held under the traditional British "first past the post system". The elections to the London Assembly and for the London Mayoral race were held on the basis of voters being able to give a first and second preference votes, whereas the European Parliament elections took place on a complicated system of proportional representation (P.R.).

When the idea of different voting systems for different elections was first mooted, pessimists suggested that the British voters might get confused. Quite the contrary seems to have happened; the voters have very quickly worked out how to exploit the different systems to give themselves more choice.

The local government elections offer the more exact measure of party support because the voters are electing the representatives who run the local services, transport, social services and education.

The total votes cast show a seismic collapse in Labour support. Labour was expected to do badly but actually came third in the popular vote, scoring only 26 per cent, compared to the Liberal Democrats' 29 per cent and the Tories' 38 per cent.

It is the first time in British electoral history that a ruling party has come third in a nationwide poll.

Most damaging was the collapse of Labour support in traditional northern cities, long the bedrock of Labour. It lost Newcastle and Leeds for the first time in over 30 years.

The cause is not simply the continuous disquiet about Iraq but a growing perception that Prime Minister Tony Blair shows more loyalty to the most rightwing United States administration for decades than to his own party's sensitivities. Blair's moral conviction that history will absolve his decision to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq is dispiriting Labour activists who voted in large numbers for the openly anti-war Liberal Democrats and also for other more radical groupings, such as the Greens.

The London elections, though producing a victory for incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone, now happily returned to the Labour fold, offered a bitter comfort.

Livingstone, whom Blair predicted would be a "disaster" for London, proved much more popular than the party rejoined. He polled 35 per cent of the first preference votes whilst London only polled 25 per cent in the elections to the London Assembly. Livingstone also proved the old political adage that voters like an outspoken character and his election campaign contained one of his typical utterances, which delight his fans and horrify the image conscious New Labourites. On hearing of the assassinations of Westerners in Saudi Arabia, "Red" Ken opined that he would not be troubled to hear that the Saudi royal Family has been strung up from the lamp posts.

The London Mayoral race also produced the election's best quip, when Livingstone's Tory opponent, Steve Norris, said Livingstone was the only man this year to join the Labour Party.

BUT if the local election results were seismic in magnitude, the Euro results were a disaster off the Richter scale, not only for the Labour Party but for the Tories, too.

The P.R. system does give smaller parties a better chance and previous Euro elections have shown that the voters appreciate and can exploit the opportunity the election offers for thumbing their noses at the establishment.

In the total national vote, Labour came second with a mere 22 per cent, its lowest share since 1910. The Tories fared equally badly, polling 27 per cent, their lowest total since the Great Reform Act of 1832 extended the franchise. Such abysmal results produced another staggering statistic, that is, it is the first time in the modern era that less than half the electorate voted for the two major parties.

The main beneficiary of this widespread disillusionment was not the traditional third party, the Liberal Democratic Party either (it got 16 per cent) but the quixotic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which polled 17 per cent. Its only platform is to take the U.K. out of the European Union and it won seats in all regions, doing particularly well in the East Midlands where it was led by charismatic daytime TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk. In the 1970s, Kilroy-Silk was a dashing young Labour Member of Parliament, tipped to go far, but he gave up his career to go into day-time TV, which was regarded then, even more than nowadays, as strictly down-market in TV taste. He has built up a large fan base over the years and seemed to be settled into the life of a "C list celebrity". However, recent events in West Asia led Kilroy-Silk to make a wild-eyed attack on the Arab world saying Arab culture had produced nothing. He was promptly sacked by the British Broadcasting Corporation and emerged overnight as a convinced Euro-sceptic. In the East Midlands region, led by Kilroy-Silk, the UKIP polled a staggering 26 per cent.

The Greens also polled well, though they did not increase the two seats and as the votes rolled in, region after region showed more people voting for non-mainstream parties.

The old British political order of Centre-Left and Centre-Right block parties accruing mass support, inherited from the 19th century, is crumbling rapidly.

Michael Hindley was a Labour Party member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1999.

The long journey from Bhopal

other

From their basti in Bhopal to the boardroom of Dow Chemical Company in Michigan, U.S., Champadevi Shukla and Rashida Bee have travelled a long way. Their fight for justice for those affected by the Bhopal gas tragedy took them across the globe to the headquarters of Union Carbide Corporation in the U.S. Almost 20 years after a mixture of lethal gases from the Union Carbide plant leaked destroying the lives of thousands, Rashida and Champa are still struggling to defend their rights. They were recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for Grassroots Environmentalists, also known as the Green Nobel.

20040702001808201jpg

Champadevi and Rashida Bee spoke to Dionne Bunsha about their journey from humble beginnings to transnational activism. Excerpts from the interview:

How did you meet each other?

Rashida Bee: After the gas tragedy, there was a government scheme to provide employment for its victims. We both enrolled for work at a production centre for office stationery, and that is where we met, in 1986. Three months after we joined, the government wanted to close down the centre. The women workers decided to fight the government and asked us to lead the fight. We didn't know what to do, but have been fighting together since then. Those running the centre told us that we would have to talk to the government and go to the C.M. We didn't know who the C.M. was or anything. But we found out as we went along. We had to fight. It was a question of our survival. When we went to the C.M.'s bungalow, he assured us that we would be allowed to work at the centre and would be given jobs at piece rate. But the next month, they gave us only two days of work and paid us only Rs.6. We worked for the next three months but refused to take our wages. Finally, the government increased the wages from Rs.150 to Rs.200 a month. This was the beginning of our struggle for Bhopal's gas-affected people.

What else have you been fighting for?

Rashida Bee: Then we fought for women working in government sewing centres. The State had started these workshops to provide employment for gas victims. But later, it wanted to close them down. People suffering from so many diseases don't get any help. There is no medical treatment from the government. The government should provide employment for the gas-affected people. And Union Carbide should be brought before the court. We walked from Bhopal to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister in 1989.

We demanded that the jobs of women employed under government schemes should be made permanent, that they should get proper wages for their work. And there should be proper treatment for gas victims. We didn't breathe the gas willingly. The government allowed the company to be built. Many people's lives were destroyed owing to the gas leak. So we went to Delhi to put forward our problems. But the P.M. didn't meet us. So we came back and fought the government in the court. The case went on in the industrial tribunal for seven years. When we got the verdict, it said that we were in the wrong court. We should have gone to the High Court. The case went on for three years in the High Court, after which they said that we should have taken our case to the labour court. After three years in the labour court, in December 2002, we got a judgment that we should be made regular employees and given four years' back wages. The government didn't accept that. It appealed in the industrial court. We won there as well. Now the State has appealed in the High Court and the case is on. Other people doing the same work in government presses earn Rs.5,000, while the gas-affected women get only Rs.2,000. They tell us that because we are gas-affected they cannot make us regular employees. The regular employees were also affected by the gas. Everyone was affected by the gas, it's not that government employees didn't breathe it.

What are the unfinished battles?

Rashida Bee: Ever since Dow Chemical Company merged with Union Carbide in 2001, we want Dow Chemical Company to accept responsibility for the gas tragedy. We have four demands:

*Union Carbide's former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Warren Andersen should face trial in the Bhopal criminal court.

*Dow Chemical Company should accept responsibility for the treatment of children born with deformities and for people with long-term illnesses for the next two generations.

*Around 20,000 people are drinking poisoned water. Dow Chemical Company should remove the contamination of the groundwater and soil in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory and provide for the supply of safe drinking water.

*Many gas-affected people are not getting work. Dow Chemical Company should accept responsibility for their employment. The whole world should be aware that this company is the most dangerous and produces the most harmful gas. If it accepts responsibility for Bhopal, it will set an example for other polluting companies.

20040702001808202jpg

What was your life like before the gas tragedy?

Rashida Bee: I used to sit at home and make beedis. I hardly went out of the house. I didn't know anything about life. I had not ventured half a kilometre beyond my colony.

Champa Devi: I also used to work at home doing piece-rate garment sewing.

How have your lives changed?

Rashida Bee: Only when I ventured out of my house did I see the world. I feel I wasted my time before that. When I was awakened, I realised that you don't get anything in life without fighting for it. Women can do a lot if they want to. But they are locked inside the house. Their lives are destroyed. But they are not let out of the house. Women should realise their strength. We are no less than anyone else. We are not given the chance to do anything. We are just made to sit at home and make rotis. If women want, they can bring about a revolution in society.

Why women? Men can also do a lot.

Rashida Bee: Yes, they can. But they already have freedom. And yet they haven't done much. If women are given full freedom, then a revolution won't take long. But men don't want to give them freedom. So many women are kept behind purdah, kept under control either by their husbands or by their parents. They are not allowed to go anywhere, have never seen a school. I was never sent to school. I was married off when I was 13 years old. There are lakhs and crores of women like me, who are suppressed and not allowed to stand up [for their rights]. If all this is stopped, then a revolution will come soon.

How was your family affected by the gas?

Rashida Bee: Six people, including my father, died. One of my relatives gave birth to a deformed child. It didn't have ears and a nasal bridge, and had a damaged windpipe. It died after nine months. Doctors have said that she can't ever become a mother. Champadevi's son has a daughter. She was born with a cleft lip and a missing palate. She has had to undergo a series of operations. Everyone has some health problem. Some can't breathe properly, some have palpitations, some can't eat properly, some feel weak, get headaches, bone ache. Women have gynaecological problems.

Champadevi: My husband died. My son suffered a lot with lung disease. He committed suicide. I was very upset. I thought that there was nothing to live for. But when I saw that there were many other people suffering like me I realised that we have to put our sadness aside and come together. Only then will there be any change in our lives. If people want, they can do anything. When they know their rights, they can fight any odds.

What will you do with the prize money?

Rashida Bee: With the money that we have got from the Goldman award, we are going to set up a trust. The money will be used to treat deformed children, to create jobs for unemployed women, and to institute a prize for ordinary people fighting the crimes of big companies.

Has the prize helped?

Until now Dow Chemical Company has been accusing us of lying. They deny that there is anything wrong in Bhopal, everything is OK. But this prize has recognised that there still is a problem in Bhopal. And justice is necessary. It has given our struggle strength and credibility. And the world has come to know about and supported our fight.

What have you achieved in 20 years?

Rashida Bee: It doesn't feel like we have been fighting for 20 years. I feel like the struggle has just begun. Recently, we saw some results of our struggle. On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered the State government to supply clean water to those affected by groundwater contamination. On March 17, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal of the U.S. Federal Court in New York affirmed claims for damages to persons, damages to property, and claims for medical monitoring. The U.S. court has also decided that if the Indian government presents a statement asking for Union Carbide to clean up the toxic contamination, then the court may consider directing the corporation to clean up the soil and groundwater contamination. Leaders of the Democratic Party have offered full support to us and have submitted an amicus curiae brief in our support in the U.S. court. City councillors in Boston and San Francisco have expressed support to our struggle for justice. At the annual meeting of Dow this year, people holding 40 million shares [6 per cent of the total] presented a resolution demanding that Dow accept responsibility for the continuing disaster in Bhopal.

The whole world has joined our struggle.

Intolerance and resistance

The violence against Dalits and their decision to boycott the Lok Sabha elections in Kalapatti, near Coimbatore, highlight the problem of caste oppression and Dalits' resistance in Tamil Nadu.

APART from mass religious conversion, a form of collective social protest experimented with by Dalits in post-Independence India is the boycott of elections, the only occasion democratic polity has given marginalised sections such as Dalits and tribal people to assert their rights and press their demands, by virtue of their sheer numbers. In the case of poll boycotts, Dalits have to face immediate resistance from not only the oppressive castes but also from the ruling political dispensation, which takes the protest as a challenge to its authority. The disapproval of this mode of protest by the state is rooted in the fact that it was first resorted to by Left extremists, who do not have faith in parliamentary democracy. In the case of Dalits, tribes and other marginalised sections of people, however, decisions to boycott elections are taken locally, more in protest against the failure of the state machinery to redress their grievances than on any ideological grounds. This form of protest by Dalits is apparently in a nascent stage and is yet to prove its efficacy. When the people of Gundupatti in Dindigul district tried this in the 1998 parliamentary elections, the administration and the ruling party did not take kindly to it and reacted ruthlessly (Frontline, April 17, 1998).

20040702002104401jpg

A recent example comes from Kalapatti village on the outskirts of Coimbatore. During the run-up to the parliamentary elections, the Dalits of the village announced their decision to boycott the elections on the grounds that many of their grievances remained unaddressed. One of their principal demands was that they be allowed entry into the common village temple. The predominant caste-Hindus in the village have been resisting their demand for many years now. Neither the State government nor the Sangh Parivar, which wielded considerable influence among Dalits of the region, could do anything about it. The Dalits, however, were firm on their decision. It is said that when the president of the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) visited the village for campaigning, Dalits were indifferent to his visit, which infuriated BJP workers. The local caste-Hindus also were critical of the Dalits' boycott decision.

On May 16, a mob of 200 persons belonging to the predominant caste-Hindu community of Gounders, all armed with weapons, allegedly entered Shastri Nagar and New Colony, both Dalit settlements of Kalapatti village and ransacked about 100 Dalit houses, causing damage to television sets and other household items. They burnt down about 20 houses and damaged another 12. When the residents attempted to run for safety, they were assaulted with weapons such as long sticks, iron rods, knives and sickles. Fourteen persons, including two women and a 75-year-old man, were admitted to hospital with serious injuries. The attackers, during their two-hour operation, were also alleged to have attempted to assault a few women sexually. While attacking Dalits, they had also allegedly used abusive language against them.

Among the places attacked was the office of the Adhi Thamizhar Viduthalai Munnani. A photograph of B.R. Ambedkar was reportedly burnt down. School and university certificates and land pattas were burnt, according to the findings of some fact-finding teams, including those of the Tamil Nadu unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, the People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, and the Dalit's Human Rights Monitoring (DHRM). According to the reports of these teams, the assailants did not spare even cattle belonging to Dalits.

The police arrested 54 persons and registered cases against them under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of) Atrocities Act. The administration also arranged for relief measures and the interim payment of compensation. The study teams have, however, complained that the police arrived on the scene only two and a half hours after the incident, though the nearest police station is within 7 km of the village and some Dalit youth had informed them of the incident while the mob had been on the rampage.

Thol. Thirumaavalavan, Dalit leader and Viduthalai Siruthaigaal general secretary, who visited the village, saw the hand of the BJP behind the attack. Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders, who also held the same view, demanded the arrest of all those involved in the incident and payment of compensation to the victims.

20040702002104402jpg

Although the immediate provocation for the attack was an altercation between two persons while alighting from a "share autorickshaw", the underlying reason is believed to be the growing intolerance of the Dalit upsurge in the village owing to the active role played by some Dalit organisations. For over three years now, Dalits have been complaining that they are denied entry into the village temple, which is under the control of the Hindu Religious Endowment Board of the Tamil Nadu government. The fact-finding teams have also reported that Dalits, not only at Kalapatti but in many villages in the Coimbatore region, have long been victims of various forms of discrimination other than denial of entry into the common village temple. According to the report, the practice of supplying tea to Dalits in separate tumblers in tea shops; refusal of permission to use the common village roads, tanks and public wells; and caste-Hindu objection to Dalits using footwear are some of the discriminatory practices followed.

The attack at Kalapatti is significant in more than one respect. It is the first time that caste-related violence of such magnitude has been reported in the western region of Tamil Nadu. The Arunthathiyar, who form the predominant Dalit group in the region, are the most neglected Dalits in the State. Mostly cobblers and scavengers, they seem to be the poorest of the community, and have been victims of the worst forms of untouchability for centuries. Unlike the Pallars in southern Tamil Nadu and the Parayars of the northern region, a substantial number of whom have had some access to education and are increasingly becoming aware of their rights and privileges, the Arunthathiyars remain backward, socially, politically and economically. Only in recent times have they been organised under Dalit organisations.

20040702002104403jpg

Ironically, until recently, Hindutva forces were using Arunthathiyar youth for violent activities in and around Coimbatore. Dalit leaders say that the Kalapatti incident only shows that the Sangh Parivar, which is apparently losing its hold over the Arunthathiyars as is evidenced by the latter's decision to boycott the election in which the BJP was trying to retain its seat, and the predominant caste-Hindus are intolerant of these voiceless people achieving political awareness and organising themselves.

Conversion as protest

in Tuticorin

EVER since Dr. B.R. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with about five lakh Dalits in 1956, mass conversion has become a form of collective protest for Dalits across the country, a willing abandonment of what they consider an oppressive hierarchical social system. The rejection of a system as a form of protest gets reinforced by necessarily choosing one of the available alternative systems. In a society where religious sentiments are deep-rooted, leaving one's religion can be a hard choice. Conversions, therefore, take place at a slow pace. It is for this reason that a legal ban on conversions is often considered unwarranted.

20040702002204501jpg

In Tamil Nadu, the conversion of about 200 Dalit families to Islam at Meenakshipuram in Tirunelveli district in the early 1980s drew nationwide attention. Although all sorts of ulterior motives were attributed to their conversion, the converts remain loyal Muslims and claim that they now live with "greater social respect" than before, which they were yearning for. Yet no mass conversion has taken place since then.

Hindutva forces, however, have often raised the bogey of attempts by Muslims and Christians to convert Hindus on a large scale through pressure, force or allurement and demanded a ban on conversions. Although these forces could not use their influence with the State governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, they mounted pressure on the Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu to enact a law banning conversions. This was when a section of Dalits in Coimbatore district, frustrated that their decades-old efforts to get access to the village temples were of no avail, unfolded their plan to convert to Christianity. The State government responded with adding a new law to the statute book, the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Forcible Conversion Act, 2002. It met with all-round protest, but the government did not yield. However, after the election verdict went against the ruling party, Jayalalithaa announced that the Act would be repealed.

Understandably, the announcement drew protests from Hindu Munnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders.

20040702002204502jpg

In their eagerness to convince the Chief Minister of the need to keep the law intact, these organisations have blown out of proportion attempts by a group of young Dalits at Melamaanthai village in Tuticorin district to convert to Islam "of their own free will". Denying that there was any "force" or "allurement" from anybody, the Dalits say that though they have had a predominant presence in the village and their panchayat has had a Dalit head for many years, they are not treated by caste-Hindus as equals in any respect. They feel they do not enjoy social respect and this has been an affront to their self-respect. After listening to lectures by Dalit converts in the local mosque, where they go of their own accord, the youth are convinced that they can get in Islam what they cannot in Hinduism, and they have taken strong exception to the Hindutva organisations' charge that there has been a "play of money power" behind the conversion.

Although many Dalits in the village, including family members of those who have already opted to convert, have reservations about leaving the Hindu fold, they confirm that the caste-Hindus, even small boys, disrespectfully call Dalit elders by their names. "More than anything else, the verbal abuse hurts us," says Muniyandi (65). He does not rule out joining Islam, but says: "I have lived my life bearing all these insults. I will be happy if at least my children and grandchildren can live in peace with respect that is our due." Muniyandi, who has attended meetings addressed by Dalit converts, says that those who desire to join Islam do not expect any favours. "All they require is respect, respect that is due to them," he says.

Youth in the village say that the drought has badly affected the people and that many of them are not employed. In the large number of salt pans close to this coastal village, Dalits are denied jobs, they complain. "They prefer to bring workers from other districts rather than give jobs to us," one of them says. Some of them do not hide their hopes that by shedding the Dalit tag, which is possible only when they leave Hinduism, they can ensure employment.

P. Kaalaadi, a functionary of the Dravidar Kazhagam in Tuticorin district, who owns a small provision shop adjacent to the village mosque, says that though he is a non-believer, he has been acting as a facilitator for those who intend to join Islam, because he has many Muslim friends. "After all, these boys are only eager to win back their self-respect. As a true follower of Periyar, it is my duty to help them," he says.

Even after the police, with whom the Sangh Parivar reportedly took up the issue, ruled out the use of force or money, Hindutva organisations have continued with their anti-conversion campaign through handbills and wall-posters. As a consequence, there have been regular patrolling by policemen and visits by intelligence officers in the village, the residents say.

Dalit and human rights activist M. Bharathan, based in Tirunelveli, says that conversions by Dalits do take place every now and then in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts, but not on a large scale. He does not think that all Dalits who opt for conversion do so just for money. In fact, they convert knowing full well that they will lose the benefits of reservation and concessions they at present enjoy. In his view, Dalits who convert are on the whole not economically dependent on caste-Hindus for survival; they have been victims of social oppression of one form or the other. Dalits who shun a confrontationist course for various reasons also go in for conversion.

Stoking regionalism

Minister for Coal and Mines Shibu Soren's move to shift the headquarters of two public sector giants from Kolkata to Ranchi raises questions of economic logic, among other things.

WITHIN days of the formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in New Delhi, a situation has arisen that can become a flashpoint in the relations between the Centre and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government in West Bengal. All political parties and trade union bodies in West Bengal are protesting against the move of Minister for Coal and Mines Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to shift the head offices of Coal India Ltd. (CIL) and the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) from Kolkata to Ranchi.

20040702002304801jpg

Left Front chairman and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Biman Bose said that such decisions should not be taken by an individual, but at the Cabinet level. "It is seen that whoever assumes the post of a Union Minister conveys the idea that all they are interested in is the development of their own State. Development is required in every State, but it should be done with a holistic view. It is important to realise that Ministers are first Indians and then representatives of their own States," he said.

Referring to Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's comment that he does not go to New Delhi "shopping" for packages for West Bengal, Bose said: "Like all States West Bengal also has its own demands, but we do not seek them at the expense of other States." He feels that an expert committee should be constituted at the Union level to look into this demand. "Ultimately what will they gain by shifting the CIL and DVC headquarters from Kolkata to Ranchi? I do not think it will help them in their development work in any way." According to Bose such demands undermine the purpose of collective responsibility and encourage parochial sentiments, which is "pernicious for the development of the nation as a whole".

Former Coal Minister and Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC) chief Mamata Banerjee said: "I have nothing against Jharkhand wanting to develop itself industrially. It has a lot of potential. But if everything is taken away from West Bengal, then how will our State survive? This demand is not at all fair. Besides, Kolkata, because of its location, is strategically very important. It is the gateway to the east and northeast of India. We will oppose this move till the end."

In the same vein Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Pankaj Banerjee of the NTC said: "This move will be stopped by any means. We want to know what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's stand is on this. If these demands of Shibu Soren are met, then it will ruin West Bengal as far as the two sectors of coal and power are concerned."

Though the issue goes beyond State-level politics, the NTC does not want to waste an opportunity to point an accusing finger at the Left Front government. Even though the NTC and the Left are on the same side as far as this issue is concerned, according to Pankaj Banerjee, "the CPI(M)'s protests are hollow and insincere".

West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary Manas Bhunia said: "Earlier also such demands were made, but they did not come through. From Shibu Soren's standpoint, it is an exercise in State politics. It has nothing to do with the Union government. Besides, Coal India and the DVC are not State concerns; they are national companies." Manas Bhunia too drew attention to the fact of Kolkata being "the nerve centre" of eastern and northeastern India and opined that the headquarters of CIL and the DVC should remain in the metropolis. "All the political parties in the State are protesting against this. CIL and the DVC are here and will remain here," he asserted. The West Bengal Congress hopes that the dispute will not snowball into a prestige issue for Shibu Soren and Jharkhand.

Trade unions in West Bengal are united in their condemnation of the move. Kali Ghosh, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said: "Shifting of the coal headquarters from Kolkata to Ranchi cannot take place. This is a populist slogan that Shibu Soren has adopted and it is not at all practical. What about all the people who work here? Will they be accommodated in Ranchi?" The CITU has been opposed to this move from the start and is ready to launch an agitation to prevent it from happening.

Akshay Mukherjee of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), a veteran labour leader in the coal industry, feels that shifting CIL's head office would set a bad precedent. "Any Minister from anywhere will then want to shift the head offices concerned to his own State. That would not be feasible. Besides, West Bengal would lose substantially in royalty and cess."

In 2002-2003, CIL registered a net profit of Rs.14.53 billion and a turnover of Rs.242.28 billion, as against the previous year's Rs.5.19 billion and Rs. 227.46 billion respectively. This increase was particularly impressive taking into consideration the huge losses of some of its larger subsidiaries like Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. (BCCL) and Eastern Coalfields Ltd. (ECL). "If any change takes place, it might adversely affect the profitability of those coal subsidiaries that are operating successfully," Mukherjee said.

With the majority of the skilled and unskilled workers in the coal industry hailing from Bihar and Jharkhand, it is suspected that provincial or parochial sentiments are at work behind this demand. In West Bengal alone the total workforce in the coal industry is more than 1.4 lakh. Workers from Bihar and Jharkhand form the majority of this.

SHIBU SOREN, however, considers the demand "fair and legitimate". On the issue the Coal Minister has the full support of all political parties in Jharkhand. Although the CPI(M) is not supporting this demand, the lone Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India (CPI) from the State, Bhubaneswar Mehta, is reported to have said that at a personal level he is not against it. The Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) units of Jharkhand stand firmly behind Soren on this issue, and Chief Minister Arjun Munda has assured his government's full support. Munda has even gone to the extent of giving the Centre two months to give its approval before the State government launches an agitation. Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee president Thomas Handsa said the issue of shifting the head offices, is a sentimental one for the people of Jharkhand and should be looked into "seriously".

On June 4, the Jharkhand Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution demanding shifting of the headquarters of CIL and the DVC "in the larger interest of the State" and also to correct a "historical error". The logic behind the resolution, according to State Power Minister Lal Chand Mahto, was that more than 70 per cent of the total number of consumers of DVC power are in Jharkhand and the three main subsidiaries of CIL, Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL), BCCL, and ECL - are all based in the State. This is not the first time that such a resolution was passed in the Jharkhand Assembly. In 2002, during the tenure of Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, a similar move was made.

Before the resolution was passed, a section of the Assembly wanted to include Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL) too in the list. However, the demand was turned down based on the argument that SAIL's operations were more national in character and its inclusion might dilute the urgency of the first two demands. The demand to have the SAIL head office in Ranchi is also not new. According to Water Resources Minister Ram Chandra Kesri, it has been there since Karpoori Thakur's tenure as the Chief Minister of undivided Bihar.

The CIL came into being in 1975 after the nationalisation of the coal industry. Around that time there was a move to establish the company's headquarters in Delhi. However, that plan was dropped and Kolkata was seen as the ideal place for the head office, which would act as a lynchpin to all its subsidiaries. Logistically, it was also seen to be the most convenient place, as there were two railway headquarters in the State - the Eastern and the South Eastern - and the Kolkata port was the nearest port to all the important collieries.

Perhaps the hidden agenda of the Jharkhand government is to get a share of the cess and other revenues consequent on such transfer. But if this example is followed, it will have an adverse impact on the economy. For it is common knowledge that most of the metropolises act as magnets for the poor from neighbouring States and the financial burden of providing urban infrastructure devolves upon these metropolises.

`This will be a pro-poor government'

other

Interview with Karnataka Chief Minister Dharam Singh.

On Dharam Singh, the new Chief Minister of the first coalition government in Karnataka, rests the task of giving leadership and stability to a still-shaky working arrangement between alliance partners who till a month ago were in political opposition. The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) alliance in Karnataka is cemented by the shared desire to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which emerged as the single largest party in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, out of power. But that common cause apart, the alliance is for the present rife with disagreement and discord. The JD(S) demands a larger profile in government on the grounds that the Congress lost the elections. The Congress, on the other hand, has been calling the shots primarily because of the backing it has from the government in New Delhi, and its claim to winning a few more seats than the JD(S).

20040702002504201jpg

The protracted bargaining for portfolios between the alliance partners has resulted in a major loss of credibility for the coalition. A fully-working government is not in place even as late as a month after the elections. P.G.R. Sindhia, a senior JD(S) leader who is Minister for Large and Medium Industries, summed up his party's predicament to Frontline: "There is still heartburning within the party over the alliance, and we are certainly not happy over the way portfolios have been allocated, but on the other hand the survival of the government is dependent on the survival of our new friendship."

The Congress and the JD(S) have come to a preliminary understanding on the sharing of just 10 key portfolios, with neither side particularly happy with the arrangement. While the JD(S) wanted the Home Ministry to be given to Sindhia, the Congress did not want to surrender this key portfolio either. It was ultimately retained by the Chief Minister himself. Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was given the Finance portfolio in addition to Excise, Planning, Institutional Finance, Statistics, and Science and Technology. Sindhia was allotted Large and Medium Industries, Infrastructure Development and Civil Aviation. Senior JD(S) leader M.P. Prakash was given Revenue and Parliamentary Affairs. H.D.Revanna, the son of JD(S) president and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, has been given the portfolios of Public Works and Energy. D. Manjunath of the JD(S) was given Higher Education. Three of the five Congress Ministers, namely K. Srinivasa Gowda (Agriculture), Prakash B. Hukkeri (Agricultural Marketing) and Tanvir Sait (Labour and Haj) are first-time Ministers. Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Congress leader and in charge of the Home portfolio in the government of S.M. Krishna, has been given the Water Resources and Transport portfolios.

The coalition government faced the first session of the Legislative Assembly with a government comprising just 10 Ministers. Significantly, the disagreement between alliance partners was over sharing the high-profile Ministries that have large revenue outlays. The social welfare and development-oriented Ministries and departments lie unallocated. Considering that the failure to deliver on its development goals was a major factor contributing to the defeat of the last Congress government, the low priority accorded to these Ministries is significant. Indeed, according to Chief Minister Dharam Singh, these will only be filled in another two weeks at the earliest, after the elections to the Legislative Council and the Rajya Sabha.

The first challenge thrown before this half-constructed coalition Ministry was, predictably, the demand to release the Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. Without a full government structure in place, the consultative process that usually precedes a formal response from the Chief Minister was not there. The opportunity to use the new political equation between the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) at the Centre to offer a new and less rigid approach to the Cauvery tangle, particularly in a season that has seen the early onset of the monsoons, was therefore lost. On the Cauvery issue, there is of course no difference of opinion between the Congress and the JD(S). It is all very well to have the DMK as an ally at the Centre, but the "interests of the Karnataka farmers come first" said the Chief Minister firmly, a view that the Deputy Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, endorsed fully.

Excerpts from an interview Dharam Singh gave Parvathi Menon:

There is a low public confidence level in your government as it has taken almost four weeks for the alliance partners to iron out disagreements on portfolio allocation. How do you propose to address this?

This is the first coalition government in the history of Karnataka. Let us frankly admit that the people rejected the Congress in the State. The single largest party is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then the Congress, and then the Janata Dal (S). The results came on May 13 and we had a core group meeting and a lengthy discussion on May 14 of All India Congress Committee members and State leaders of the party on what we should do. We took the stand to prevent the BJP from coming to power. For that we decided to go for an alliance with secular parties. In discussions between H.D. Deve Gowda and our leaders, they finally agreed to power-sharing on the Maharashtra model. All that took time. Then, there was the unexpected development after Congress president Sonia Gandhi's election as Congress Parliamentary Party leader. All our party leaders were busy in Delhi for 15 days during that time. Some time was also taken in the implementation of the Maharashtra model.

So these were the practical difficulties, the starting problems. Now things are okay.

But you still have a large number of portfolios that have not been allocated.

We will do that after the Legislature session, in about another two weeks, after the Rajya Sabha elections on the June 24 and the Legislative Council elections on June 21.

How stable is your government? It is, after all, an alliance of two parties that fought each other during the elections.

Yes, but this model is very successful in Maharashtra where the NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] and the Congress came together. For the time being, we must share power as we are temperamentally together.

In these elections the vote appears to have been against the impact of policies pursued by the previous Congress government. How is your government going to be different in terms of its priorities and agenda?

During S.M. Krishna's chief ministership a lot of development took place. Nowadays, we can't understand the way elections work in the State and the Centre. In Madhya Pradesh the Congress government got defeated because of bijli and sadak, although we had made progress in both sectors.

Our experience shows that we must give top priority to rural areas. This government will be a pro-poor government. We have to give confidence to our vote bank, meaning the backward classes, the Schedules Castes and the minorities, who had moved away from the Congress.

The conditions stipulated by the terms of the World Bank loan to the State may not allow you to do that.

This is a decision that the Cabinet will have to take.

There are two issues that all governments in Karnataka have had to deal with in the last 10 years. The first one is the settlement of the Cauvery dispute, and the second one is in apprehending forest brigand Veerappan. Regarding the first, will your government offer a new approach to resolving the Cauvery problem now that the DMK is your ally at the Centre?

No doubt we are allies in the Centre. Today [June 11], a DMK-led delegation even came to meet me. But we are not going to surrender the State's interests. The first and foremost duty of this government is to protect the farmers' interests. That is our first priority.

There is a general perception that when it comes to the Cauvery issue, politicians in Karnataka, cutting across party lines, are intransigent and even hawkish. So you have an opportunity to counter this impression.

There is the impression that the storage position in our reservoirs is okay now. Even yesterday when I met Madam [Sonia] Gandhi I told her that this is not the case. I told the DMK delegation that we are all friends, but we have to discuss the release of water.

Why are you opposed to the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) meeting?

We are already releasing water according to the Interim Order. Already 3 tmc ft has been released this month. Tamil Nadu is demanding more water. For that, we have to take all parties into confidence.

At some point, your government will have to contend with the Veerappan phenomenon. What will be your approach to dealing with him?

When I was Home Minister in 1990 under Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, and S.B. Chavan was Union Home Minister, we took the help of the Border Security Force. We conducted joint operations with Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But today, the Veerappan issue has become a political issue and I know that people are anxious that he be caught.

A crucial intervention

A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court orders the completion of construction of the portion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal in Punjab and directs the Union government to hand over the task to a Central agency.

in New Delhi

THE two-and-a-half-decades-old controversy about the completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and the sharing of its waters between Punjab and Haryana is threatening to snowball into a major crisis following a Supreme Court order laying down a strict deadline for the completion of the canal. However, if executed, the court's decision might help settle the welter of cases filed on the matter since 1979.

20040702002604701jpg

On June 4, a two-Judge Bench comprising Justices S. Ruma Pal and P. Venkatrama Reddi directed the Union government to mobilise a Central agency to take control of the canal works from Punjab within a month from the date of the order; ordered Punjab to hand over the works to the Central agency constituted by the Union government within two weeks; ordered the setting up of an empowered committee to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of the decree within four weeks from the date of the order; called for the construction of the remaining portion of the canal; and ordered the Central and Punjab governments to provide adequate security for the staff of the Central agency.

The 78-page order makes some serious observations on the conduct of the Punjab government in the construction of the canal. The court places the onus for the delay in the completion of the canal on Punjab. Since 1983, as many as seven deadlines have gone unheeded. The first suit in the matter, filed by Haryana in the Supreme Court in 1979, submitted that the court issue directions to the Punjab government to complete the construction of the canal. Another suit, filed in September 1996, sought the issuance of directions to the Punjab/Union government to ensure the completion of the canal at an early date. On January 15, 2002, the apex court directed the Punjab government to construct and complete the canal within a year. The order was not complied with. A day before the deadline lapsed Punjab moved the court asking the State to be absolved of the responsibility on the grounds of changed circumstances.

The SYL canal project owes its genesis to a Union government notification of March 24, 1976, under Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, which provided for the division of waters between Punjab and Haryana. The 214-kilometre-long SYL canal, it was envisaged, would be constructed with 122 km of it running through Punjab and the remaining 92 km through Haryana. The cost of the construction was to be met by the Central government. The Haryana government completed its portion by 1980 but the Punjab government failed to complete the portion falling in its territory. As early as 1979, Punjab filed a suit challenging the Union government's notification.

Even as the suits were pending before the court, the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan entered into an agreement with the Union government on December 13, 1981, that the canal would be implemented in a time-bound manner and that all canal-related work in Punjab would be completed within two years from the date of signing of the agreement. However, Punjab failed to honour the agreement. In 1985, the "Punjab Settlement" or the Rajiv-Longowal Accord was arrived at. It took note of the disputes between Haryana and Punjab, including that on the sharing of water, on which it was agreed that the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan would continue to get the same amount of water they used to get from the Ravi-Beas system as of July 1, 1985.

The claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding the sharing of excess water was referred for adjudication to a Tribunal presided over by a Supreme Court Judge. It was agreed that the construction of the canal would be completed by August 15, 1986. However, the deadline for the completion of construction expired.

The construction of the canal has always been kept distinct from the issue of sharing of waters. The issue of the sharing of waters was referred to the Waters Tribunal through a Central government notification of April 2, 1986. The Tribunal, allocating the Ravi-Beas waters between Punjab and Haryana, submitted its report on January 30, 1987. However, Punjab filed an application before the Tribunal asking for a review of its decision, which remains pending.

Haryana filed a second suit in 1996 pleading for a decree that would make the various settlements and agreements brokered since 1976 on the issues of construction of the canal and the sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters binding on Punjab. Punjab's response was that the canal was unnecessary because Haryana was to get additional water from other rivers and hence the State had no right to water from the Ravi. However, the Union government averred that the Punjab portion of the canal had to be completed at the earliest.

On January 15, 2002, the apex court decreed the suit in favour of Haryana and issued a mandatory injunction to Punjab to complete the construction of the canal and to make it functional within a year. In the event that Punjab failed to meet the deadline, the Union government would have to get it done through its own agency as soon as possible. Notwithstanding the urgency of the court's order and the long-standing nature of the problem, there was little progress on the matter. On January 13, 2003, two days before the deadline was to expire, Punjab filed a suit seeking to dissolve the obligation on its part to construct the canal. It cited several reasons, including "changed circumstances" and the unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court decree. Haryana filed an application under Order XXIII Rule 6 of the Supreme Court Rules, for the rejection of the pliant and the summary dismissal of the suit. On August 13, Haryana filed a second application seeking a direction to the Union government to carry out its obligations under the apex court decree.

20040702002604702jpg

Dismissing the suit filed by Punjab and allowing Haryana's application for the implementation of the apex court's January 2002 order for the construction of the canal, the two-Judge Bench observed: "It is manifest that the suit has been filed only with a view to subvert the decision of this court with all the disingenuousness of a private litigant to resist its execution." The Bench further observed: "Punjab was required to complete the canal by January 15, 2003 by the decree. Instead of accepting the decree in good grace, every possible step has been taken to thwart the decree." Article 131 of the Constitution, the Judges held, had given the court the exclusive jurisdiction to decide such a dispute strictly on legal considerations and in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution. "To resist the execution of the decree on the ground that it would have a political fallout would result in subversion of the Constitution, an endorsement of anarchy and the disintegration of the country," the Bench noted.

Punjab raised the plea of militancy in the past and has done the same thing in recent times. In fact, in 1990, work on the canal in Punjab came to a halt after a chief project engineer and an officer were shot dead by militants. Several former Chief Ministers of Punjab have often urged the Centre not to decide the issue of water sharing in a hurry as it could lead to violence. However, taking cognisance of all these factors, the Supreme Court stated: "The vague plea relating to the possible rise of militancy by the construction of the canal is not an acceptable defence at all." The court also ruled that the construction of the canal was not a water dispute.

The court's order has unnerved the Congress-led government in Punjab, coming as it does in the wake of the severe reverses suffered by the party in the recent Lok Sabha elections. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh immediately constituted a core group and has demanded the setting up of a fresh Tribunal to adjudicate the issue of water-sharing.

Legal and political observers aver that eventually the main issue will be the sharing of water. While the underground water in southern Haryana is brackish and drinking water from the Yamuna is supplied once in 45 days, in areas like Sirsa there is an excess of water supply for irrigation. Hence even if the construction of the canal is completed, several problems will remain to be resolved.

Threat to a valley's silence

Silent Valley, one of the few remaining tracts of undisturbed tropical evergreen forests in India, is once again testing the resolve of environmentalists and the never-say-die dam builders of Kerala.

in Thiruvananthapuram

THE war is not over, after all. Silent Valley, one of the few remaining tracts of undisturbed tropical evergreen forests in India and the focus of the beacon green movement of the late 1970s, is once again testing the resolve of environmentalists and the never-say-die dam builders of Kerala.

20040702003204001jpg

Barely had the spirited campaigners of the 1970s celebrated the 20th anniversary of the declaration (in 1984) of their green paradise as a National Park (in place of a hydro-electric project originally proposed there) and its subsequent international acceptance as a core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, was a pro-dam "public hearing" organised at Mannarkad, the nearest town in drought-hit Palakkad district. The May 21 "hearing" was held at the initiative of the State government to discuss the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on an all-new hydro-power project in Silent Valley. The dam is to be built across the Kunthipuzha, the river that originates and cuts through the Silent Valley, at Pathrakkadavu, about 3.5 km downstream of Sairandhri, the site originally proposed over two decades earlier.

Well-known environmentalists and representatives of organisations like the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), which played a key role in the anti-dam agitation of the 1970s, were not allowed inside the venue of the public hearing or had the microphone snatched away from them and were booed down when they started to speak against the project. "Local citizens", among them people's representatives from the nearby Mannarkad and Kumaramputhur panchayats, who argued (just as in the 1970s) that the project would bring much-needed development and jobs to the locality, alone were allowed to be heard by the hecklers, many of them reportedly "brought there for a purpose". A doughty crusader of the 1970s, environmentalist and poet Sugatha Kumari, had to be escorted out of the venue by the police, when the pro-dam mob threatened to attack her. The same day, a report favouring the Pathrakkadavu project was prepared by some officials on the basis of the public hearing, to be sent to the government.

The new dam is to be located outside the Silent Valley National Park, but, significantly, only a kilometre beyond the park boundary. According to the EIA report, unlike the original Silent Valley project that was conceived as a storage scheme that would have submerged 830 hectares, including 500 ha of pristine tropical evergreen forests and envisaged the generation of 240 MW of electricity and irrigation of about 100,000 ha in Palakkad and Malappuram districts, the new project is to be a run-of-the-river scheme meant to generate 70 MW of electricity based on the surface flow of the Kunthipuzha.

The report, prepared by a Thiruvananthapuram-based private environmental agency, says that the location of the project, though only a kilometre from the Silent Valley National Park boundary, "has the special feature of a sharp gradient dissociating the park sector from the proposed sector by which there is hardly any harmful impact on the park area from the development scheme". The site of the powerhouse is also a "safe" 4 km downstream, it claims. The EIA says the project would have a "negligible" water spread of only 4.10 ha. "All the component structures of the proposed scheme have been planned outside the National Park with the involvement of 22.16 ha of forest land." The powerhouse is to be located in an "agri-horticulture area" "with scanty habitation" on the right bank of the Kunthipuzha. The report concludes that the project, "technically feasible and economically viable" would not involve "major negative environmental concerns which cannot be remedied through proper management".

In short, the argument is that since the new project is smaller in scale and is to be located outside the boundary of the National Park, it would cause very little damage in Silent Valley, a biological hotspot described by ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali as "one of the richest, most threatened and least studied habitats on earth" during the anti-dam campaign of the late 1970s.

The Silent Valley Hydro Electric Project was scrapped and a National Park established there in 1984 after it was convincingly established that the proposed dam would cause extensive and irremediable damage to the unique ecology and biodiversity of the region. A small committed group of environmentalists were then famously able to steer the course of events away from the eager influence of the proponents of the dam, who were hotly contesting the biodiversity value of the valley and claiming that the dam would generate the much-needed employment and electricity in an industrially backward State.

The anti-dam activists were, however, able to show, even with the inadequate data available then, that the area protects a wealth of plants and animals, many of them rare and unique, which were the last remaining example of flora and fauna that had evolved to the fullest possible extent in a tropical rainforest undisturbed by human interference. One of the many endangered valley residents, the lion-tailed macaque, the most threatened species of monkeys in the world, therefore, later came to symbolise the Silent Valley agitation. The green lobby was also able to argue compellingly that the deforestation in evergreen Silent Valley would result in decreased rainfall and more dry spells and to the degradation of land, and that the electricity proposed to be generated through the project could in fact be obtained through other means.

NEARLY three decades later, even though several extensive studies have reinforced the early stand of the ecologists about the riches of the Silent Valley, a strange argument is now being raised by the pro-dam lobby, which seems to accept the uniqueness of the biodiversity of the valley yet claim that the forests within the 89 sq km administrative area of the National Park alone need to be protected and that the contiguous regions could be utilised otherwise, "for development". Therefore, their proposal is for a new dam at a location just outside the National Park boundary, which, environmentalists say, is "at the most constricted part of the already dangerously degraded buffer zone of the National Park". They say that the notified National Park area, an artificial administrative unit, is but only a small portion of the naturally occurring contiguous biodiversity-rich forest landscape, extending across many ridges and valleys, including the Kunthipuzha valley, and that protecting the park area alone would not guarantee the long-term protection of the ecosystems or the plant and animal diversity within them.

Moreover, they say, rainforest diversity is highest in forests situated at lower elevations, one of the main reasons why the earlier project was abandoned, and that it is applicable with regard to the new proposal too. According to the EIA report, over a 1,000 people would require accommodation in the vicinity of the project area for over four years of project construction. They also argue that, given Kerala's track record, the construction period is likely to be much longer, and the presence of workers would have a debilitating effect on the already tenuous buffer zone ecosystem of the National Park. The EIA report itself cautions about such a problem, that the presence of nearly 1,100 migrant labourers over an extended period could result in the degradation of the forest and that the impact of the project on the wildlife in the area should also be "an important concern".

20040702003204002jpg

The proposed project also means yet another dam in the most severely damaged (and the second largest) river basin in Kerala, that of the Bharathapuzha, of which the Kunthipuzha is the only tributary still with some lean season water flow. The tributaries of the Bharathapuzha originate in the highly denuded slopes of the Western Ghats and in recent years, almost all of them (except the Kunthipuzha), impounded by irrigation dams, have failed to provide water to their command areas even immediately after a monsoon. There are 11 dams in the Bharathapuzha system and the proposed project would severely restrict the already scanty stream flow in the Kunthipuzha. Environmentalists argue that as the unprecedented drought that swept Palakkad and Malappuram districts a few months earlier (Frontline, March 26) indicates, the new project could prove to be the final human intervention that kills the Bharathapuzha, the only source of water for the scores of villages and towns in the two northern districts of the State.

Opposition against the new proposal is also targeted at the argument that additional power generation is such a pressing developmental or survival issue in Kerala. The State could survive the worst drought period in recent memory with a mere half-an-hour peak-period load shedding alone, when all the hydro-electric projects except Idukki nearly stopped power generation with scanty storage in the reservoirs. Anti-dam activists say that the almost-dry Kunthipuzha during the summer of 2004 should have been proof enough of its low electricity generation potential. The EIA report gives a highly exaggerated picture of the water available in the river for power generation and the cost of construction and of the electricity that would be produced, they argue.

Champions of the saga of Silent Valley have no doubt about the agency behind the new proposal. It is the "same old villain", the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), the debt-ridden public utility that sustains a curious web of politicians, officials, contractors and real-estate and forest "business interests" and mounting "transmission and distribution (T&D) losses", the curbing of which alone would find enough electricity and obviate the need for more ecological destruction in Kerala. Yet, cries against "environmental extremism" and "monkey-or-man?" slogans are already in the air. The wheel has turned full circle. The unfortunate debate over the future of Silent Valley is being revived.

The last act

VIJAY PRASHAD obituary

Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004.

RONALD REAGAN departed from public sight a decade ago. In November 1994 he wrote his last letter to the American people in which he disclosed his degenerative Alzheimer's disease, and begged leave from an electorate that had twice sent him to the White House. "I now begin the journey," he wrote, "that will lead me into the sunset of my life." In many ways Reagan had asked his country to bid him farewell ten years ago. Little had been heard from him since. It came as a surprise then to hear that he had died, at age 93, surrounded by his family. Most of us had almost forgotten that he was still alive.

20040702003309701jpg

If Reagan had died a century ago, the press would have marked his death solemnly. When Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War hero and President, ailed in 1885, The New York Times followed the last six months of his illness with frequent dispatches (with titles such as, "Sinking into the Grave" and "Astonishing his Family"). When he died, The New York Times titled a reflective story on his last hours "A Hero Finds Rest", and then closed the series with concern for the well-being of his wife: "Mrs. Grant bore up with fortitude, the purpose of lessening her pain by accustoming her to the sight of the General in his coffin seems so far to have been well devised. Its thorough efficacy, however, has yet to be tested." There was no exaggerated eulogy about his greatness, nothing about his Civil War triumphs.

No such dignified departure for Reagan, whose passage had to be marked by the deluge of second-by-second news entertainment. The minute Reagan died, the media ploughed ahead with its pabulum. Without a break, his advisers and his devotees came on the air to tell us that the greatest American ever born had just died. The New York Times, which had been restrained a century ago, offered this gem: Reagan "was almost always popular, and, many now say, usually right. Reagan lived long enough to enable many of his old lieutenants, and some more dispassionate chroniclers as well, to argue that he had also been right on some of the bigger questions of his time."

The advocacy group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reminds us that Reagan enjoyed an average approval rating of about 52 percent less than that of former presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, George Bush I, and Bill Clinton. He was not always popular with the electorate even though he won a landslide to be re-elected in 1984. Part of Reagan's mystique is that even when he was unpopular, he turned on his cinematic charm and acted as if all was good in the world.

BORN in 1911 in a small town in the mid-western state of Illinois to Irish-American parents of moderate means, Ronald "Dutch" Reagan had a mediocre college career that turned into a job as sportscaster in an Iowa radio station. Drawn to the movies, Reagan moved to Hollywood to become the "Errol Flynn of B-Movies", to act in a series of unspectacular films. Reagan left his faltered film career for politics, initially as president of the Screen Actors Guild. The guild post allowed Reagan to denounce radicals within Hollywood and to begin an anti-communist crusade that lasted through his political life.

Reagan's livelihood came as spokesperson for General Electric (GE), the conglomerate that made consumer products and military hardware. While with GE, Reagan cultivated friends among the ultra-Right of the Republican Party, who wanted the United States to cut taxes, build a strong military and decimate international communism and liberalism.

In 1964, Reagan ran the California effort to elect Barry Goldwater to the U.S. presidency on the Republican ticket. Goldwater's ideology stood him far outside the national consensus: he was against disarmament and "useless domestic programmes", and he was for "limited nuclear war", positions that led to his crash before the electorate. Reagan learnt an important lesson from this: maintain the substance, but alter the style. In the conservative National Review, Reagan wrote: "Time now for the soft sell to prove our radicalism was an illusion."

The myth machine went to work. In 1976 Senator Paul Laxalt wrote: "Ronald Reagan is one of the great national leaders of our time, perhaps of any time. [He] has risen from humble beginnings to touch the hearts and claim the loyalties of millions." Laxalt did not mention Reagan's divisive tenure as Governor of California, where he trod on the civil liberties of students and on those who fought hard for equal rights. When the working poor, who were mainly Black and Chicano, took to the street in a general strike against property in 1968, Governor Reagan laid out the philosophy that animated his police department: "Nation-wide experience has shown that prompt dealing with disturbances leads to peace, that hesitation, vacillation and appeasement leads to greater disorder." Hit hard, and negotiate with the dead.

California's current budget crisis and anti-immigrant ethos can be attributed to the Reagan years. A group of oil, automobile, pharmaceutical and chemical industry executives backed Reagan's gubernatorial campaigns and they extended themselves into his three presidential runs, once unsuccessfully in 1976 and then twice to success in 1980 and 1984.

Only the 15th president to be re-elected, Ronald Reagan enjoyed a compliant Democratic legislature, but also a Republican Party that eulogised him before he stopped speaking. He was the hero of the establishment. Which is why The New York Times said that he knew how to tackle the "bigger questions of his time".

WE now hear that Ronald Reagan saved the world from communism. The media offers this nugget without any analysis of the contradictions within the U.S., or of how finance capital gnawed at the foundations of the Soviet economy. Reagan's entire foreign policy record is reduced to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. This is of course a travesty of history. Reagan escalated the arms race, increasing the U.S military budget by almost 50 per cent between 1981 and 1984 ($264 billion). In 1982, Reagan called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) "the focus of evil in the modern world", and he proceeded to threaten it with intermediate missiles from Europe, with an expansion of the U.S. military ability and with a crackdown on any anti-American or non-aligned Third World power.

Reagan authorised the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon to give "stability" and weaponry to the brutal pro-U.S. dictatorships of El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, the Philippines, and South Africa. The dictators and oligarchs of these and other countries became close friends of the Reagans, including Ferdinand Marcos, whose wife Imelda led a procession to the U.S. Embassy in Manila to lay a wreath for Reagan. When Israel pulled out of Beirut after participating in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the camps of Sabra and Shatila, the U.S. marines filled the vacuum only to be repulsed. Reagan quickly invaded Grenada to distract attention from the Lebanese fiasco, and then in 1986 he authorised the bombardment of Libya (that killed Gaddafi's infant daughter). The cornerstone of Reagan's policy was the illegal trade with Iran to arm the brutal contras of Nicaragua, whom Reagan continued to call "freedom fighters" even after human rights organisations found them to use terror tactics against non-belligerents. This is the non-controversial short-list.

Authorised history has already forgotten that it was Ronald Reagan's regime that reached out to Saddam Hussein in 1983, both to solicit him to "strengthen regional stability" (as the National Security Decision Directive [NSDD] 99, July 12, 1983, notes), and to sell him weapons and chemicals for weapons. By late November 1983, the U.S. government knew that Iraq had used chemical weapons against the Iranian army. Yet, Reagan did not mention this when he signed the NSDD 144: "Because of the real and psychological impact of a curtailment in the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf on the international economic system, we must assume our readiness to deal promptly with actions aimed at disrupting that traffic." The only chemical product that made it into that note was petroleum. Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld (then the head of a large pharmaceutical company) as an envoy to meet Saddam Hussein in December 1983. They met, shared their hatred for Syria and Iran and discussed safe oil routes to the Gulf. Nothing about chemical weapons again.

In March 1984, Rumsfeld returned to Iraq as Reagan's envoy, and on the day that he met Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, the U.N. reported that Iraq had routinely used mustard gas and a nerve agent on Iranian soldiers. No criticism or questions from Rumsfeld. Reagan's NSDD 139 from April 1984 suggested that the U.S. should offer "unambiguous" criticism of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, but at the same time "place equal stress" on the Iranian military infiltrations, and desist from offering a break in relations if the use of chemical weapons does not stop. If Saddam Hussein ever had weapons of mass destruction, Reagan is one of those who harboured his terror.

One of Reagan's stock phrases as President was, "It's morning in America." He had pledged to get Americans to believe in America again: where "America" meant the free enterprise values that Reagan took as his ideal.

The mythology of Reagan shows him as an optimistic politician who made American smile after the drab Carter years. Parts of America did smile in the Reagan years, but the bulk of it mourned in their America. Reagan's first domestic act was to attack the union movement. He fired the striking air traffic controllers, the only union to have endorsed him for President. Reagan's war on labour had an enormous impact: by 1983, a third of union contracts accepted wage cuts, while by 1987, three quarters of contracts swallowed concessions of all kinds. In 1986, Reagan's Immigration Bill did not offer a liberal transit for immigrants into the country, but it allowed them in to undercut the union movement, and it created a climate for anti-immigrant violence. Reagan did not own up to any of this. He pioneered the tactic of `smile and deny'. When his "supply side economics" created havoc among working people, Reagan wrapped himself up in the flag, praised the hard-working American and dismissed criticism.

Early in his tenure, Reagan cut taxes and created the means for the upward distribution of wealth. To finance this, he cut $110 billion from social programmes in his 1981 Budget. The Congressional Budget Office reported that almost half of this loss had to be borne by families that survived on under $10,000 a year - in other words, by the very poor. In 1983, the Census Bureau reported that poverty levels had increased to 15 per cent, so that 35 million Americans lived on poverty wages, a figure that had not been so bad since 1965. Faced with these facts, in 1986, Reagan told the nation: "I don't believe that there is anyone that is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them. It is by people not knowing where or how to get this help." The denial of reality marked Reagan's callous disregard for the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic and for the slow erosion of federal protections for women's rights: on most issues, Reagan smiled and denied the question.

In 1966, Reagan told his aide Stuart Spencer: "Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close." The media made sure that Reagan had one hell of a close, but they did it as if his life was all about show business. In the blather, we forget that the Reagan Revolution bequeathed us with a world that is infinitely more dangerous and divided than ever before. George Bush Senior was a poor second act after Reagan left office. The true heir to Reagan is Bush's son, another fake cowboy with an attitude whose distaste for the world is matched by his desire to reshape it in his image. Reagan the original is gone. We are now characters in the serial.

Working for rural uplift

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

DR. G. PANKAJAM became the Vice-Chancellor of the Gandhigram Rural Institute in 2001. She was brought up in Gandhigram and she received her doctorate from Madurai Kamaraj University. She has 33 years of teaching experience, including 16 years as the Principal of Lakshmi College of Education, Gandhigram. Dr. Pankajam's research on child development earned her a Fulbright Fellowship in 1995. She has guided 52 M.Ed. and M.Phil., and two Ph.D. students.

20040702004111201jpg

"Gandhigram is getting plenty of funds from a lot of agencies because we are proving that we can perform," she said without a trace of boast.

A development profile of this deemed university, situated near Dindigul, for the past three years shows that it has in fact performed. It received five-star status from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC); introduced 13 new academic programmes; started five part-time and certificate courses; began 27 refresher courses; founded the Distance Education Centre; and revamped the choice-based credit system for students. It did all this without losing sight of its basic objective of "motivating its students to work for rural uplift".

The GRI insists that every student spend a week every year in a village, study a problem and find a solution. Introduced in April 1998, the Village Placement Programme has four objectives: providing opportunities to students to understand the different facets of rural society; enabling them to relate classroom learning to field realities; sharing development information with people; and facilitating projects that will benefit villagers. On an average, about 1,000 students and 90 teachers take part in every Village Placement Programme. Their activities include shramdhan (voluntary service), conducting surveys, popularising science, chlorinating drinking water, and constructing soak-pits and roads.

"We have taken up extension work in 100 villages around Gandhigram," Dr. Pankajam said. The GRI has taken up participatory sustainable agriculture development in 65 villages to propagate organic farming and agro-forestry.

Besides conventional courses, the GRI offers M.Phil. in Gandhian Thought and Peace Science, Rural Industries and Management, Development Sociology, and Futurology. It offers M.Sc. courses in Dairy Science and Geo Informatics; diplomas in Khadi and Handloom Technology, and Building Science and Technology; and a certificate course in Medicinal Plants.

The curriculum is a combination of both theoretical foundation and extension experiments. "The Geo Informatics course will be oriented towards rural development and identifying research projects in rural areas," Dr. Pankajam said.

A centre of excellence

SHASTRY V. MALLADY advertorial

THE Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) is putting in place an on-campus correction path to mould itself as a university designed for the future. It has been correcting itself in both administrative and academic matters and has emerged as one of the pioneers in frontier areas of study such as Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Genomics. The MKU has been recognised as a centre of excellence in genomic sciences by the University Grants Commission and has received an initial grant of Rs.5 crores.

20040702004211201jpg

"This is a university with 35 years of standing. This is the place where job placements have become easy owing to the credibility and quality of the courses offered," says Vice-Chancellor Prof. P.K. Ponnusamy. Big names in the field of Information Technology like IBM visit the campus for recruitment, he says.

"Our strength is in the four wings - university departments, affiliated colleges, the Directorate of Distance Education [DDE] and community outreach programmes," he says.

The MKU has a successful track record in distance education or correspondence course. Its DDE is an institution by itself. "We are extremely happy that our numbers (1.10 lakh enrolments) in the DDE are growing steadily. We are gearing up to meet the increase in volume," says Prof. Ponnusamy.

The thrust of the DDE has of late been on IT, in order to give a student-friendly service. With automation becoming the buzzword, the university in the first phase has provided the six study centres in Tamil Nadu with hardware and software to enable a smooth link with the DDE headquarters in Madurai. "The aim is to bring them under the Online Management and Monitoring System. The Salem and Chennai centres have already been brought under the system," he says. The next step is to focus on the 44 information centres located in other States and get them "linked". With the new facility, students can e-mail their grievances to the centres. The actual process of computerisation began two years ago and already the records of 40,000 students enrolled in the Madurai centre have been computerised. At the moment, the MKU is acting with foresight to bridge the distance.

Pointing to the growing stature of the university, the Vice-Chancellor referred to the grant of Rs.4.8 crores sanctioned by various agencies in the past two months.

Setting high standards

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

The emphasis is on quality and innovation in the area of higher education in southern Tamil Nadu, where four universities, a large number of colleges affiliated to them, and a deemed university have to work hard to survive in a climate of intense competition.

A SILENT revolution is under way on the higher education scene in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. There are four universities - the Madurai Kamaraj University, the Mother Teresa Women's University, the Alagappa University and the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University - and a deemed university (the Gandhigram Rural Institute), 49 engineering colleges (47 in the self-financing category), 174 arts and science colleges (which include government-run, aided and self-financing institutions) and several catering institutes that cater to the educational needs of the people of Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts.

As the competition is tough, innovation in curriculum has become the key to the survival of these institutions. Add-on courses, enrichment classes, compulsory diploma/certificate courses, project reports, extension work and laboratories for training students in spoken English and Hindi add value to the regular courses on offer. With biotechnology, bioinformatics and gene technology courses in demand, a race is on among the colleges and universities to establish medicinal farms, bio-energy plantations, herbal gardens, nurseries for aromatic plants and so on.

20040702004510701jpg

It was Madurai Kamaraj University that pioneered the concept of distance education in the country, in 1971. Its Directorate of Distance Education (DDE), which offers 61 courses, is an institution by itself. About 1.10 lakh students from all over India are on its rolls. It has 44 information centres across the country and six admission centres in Tamil Nadu and offers new courses every year. Its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. P.K. Ponnusamy, said: "The thirst for higher education is always there. We are extremely happy that enrolment in our DDE has remained steady. An enrolment of over one lakh students from every nook and corner of the country is a matter of pride."

The MKU has 18 schools of speciality subjects covering all disciplines, 74 departments and well-networked affiliated colleges. Several departments have projects funded by national agencies. The university has a national flavour on its campus. There are now 76 research projects funded by 19 national and international agencies to the tune of Rs.11.7 crores. There are national facilities in the MKU supported by the Union government's Department of Biotechnology. These are the Centre for Genetic Engineering, the Bioinformatics Centre, the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology, the Centre for Blue Green Algae Research and the Biomass Centre.

The Gandhigram Rural Institute started its Distance Education Centre in January 2003. Its Vice-Chancellor, Dr. G. Pankajam, is proud of the fact that the centre will tie-up with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to convert homes into virtual classrooms through EDUSAT (educational satellite) when it is deployed in orbit in August. "This is a new venture. With our expertise in rural development, rural economics, panchayati raj, teaching, research and extension, we shall provide the software. Uplinking will be done from Gandhigram through ISRO, which will provide the technical input," she said. The centre plans to offer socially relevant programmes to the unreached sections of society.

Gandhigram was founded in 1947 by a team of dedicated Gandhians led by Dr. T.S. Soundaram and Dr. G. Ramachandran. In 1956, the Gandhigram Rural Institute (GRI) was established on the Gandhigram campus as one of the premier rural institutes, administered by the National Council for Rural Higher Education, Union Ministry of Education. The GRI was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's concept of basic education (nai talim). Its three objectives are: to provide instruction and learning and to promote a classless and casteless society; to provide for research and advancement, and for the dissemination of knowledge; and to function as a centre for extension work, leading to integrated rural development. The GRI became a deemed university in 1976.

The Mother Teresa Women's University has authored the concept of "off-campus programmes" through its DDE. These are job-oriented degree courses in Clinical Biochemistry, Clinical Microbiology, Laboratory Technology and Hospital Administration. The university offers about 60 such programmes, some of which require students to undergo full-time internship in hospitals. Its Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Anandhavalli Mahadevan, said: "The UGC (University Grants Commission) appreciated these off-campus programmes. We ensure quality by inspection." The DDE has opened study centres in academic institutions to make higher education accessible to women. There are about 100 study centres in different parts of the country.

An important component of the Alagappa University, Karaikudi, is its DDE, which was established in 1992. It offers undergraduate, postgraduate and M.Phil. courses in the disciplines of Management, Computer Applications, Science, Education and Language. It has 52 courses of study. The DDE's M.Phil. programme in Library and Information Science is in big demand. The university offers week-end programmes to employed persons. "This is a special feature," says its Registrar Dr. R. Dhandapani. Two "distinctly popular" programmes are M.C.A. and M.Sc. in Computer Science. About 100 students enrol in these two courses every year. When admissions close this year, the DDE would have a student strength of about 75,000. It has 150 study centres across the country. There are also centres in Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai. The university will soon open study centres in Sri Lanka and African countries.

The Alagappa University was formed in 1985 from institutions founded by educationist and philanthropist Dr. Rm. Alagappa Chettiar. Between 1946 and 1956, Alagappa Chettiar established at Karaikudi the Alagappa Arts and Science College, the Alagappa College of Physical Education, the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology and the Alagappa College of Education. When the Alagappa University was formed in 1985, all the four institutions were affiliated to it. Today, the university has 21 colleges affiliated to it. These are situated in Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. It has a student strength of 7,200. It has 14 departments offering postgraduate, M.Phil. and Ph.D. programmes. About 1,200 students are pursuing their postgraduate and M.Phil. courses in the university.

According to the Registrar, the university has important departments such as Women's Studies, Bank Management and Corporate Secretaryship. He said the Alagappa College of Education received about 3,000 applications for the 115 seats in its B.Ed programme. The university's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Area Studies is located at Thondi, an ancient port. It conducts an M.Sc. programme in Oceanography and Coastal Studies there.

THE credit for nursing the DDE in the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, back to its health should go to its proactive Vice-Chancellor, Dr. K. Chockalingam. "A full-time Director has been appointed. A lot of backlog has been cleared," he said. The new programmes offered through the DDE include M.A. in Criminology and Police Science, which is the first of its kind in the country; M.Sc. in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Life Sciences; and M.Phil. in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

20040702004510702jpg

The university, established in September 1990, is named after a renowned Tamil scholar, P. Sundaram Pillai. There are 59 colleges affiliated to it and these are situated in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts. There are about 50,000 students in these colleges and the university departments. Some of the important courses offered include M.Sc. in Biotechnology, Environmental Biotechnology, Microbiology, and Electronic Media; M.Phil. in Geo Marine Technology, and postgraduate diplomas in Private Detective and Security Management, and Criminology and Criminologistics.

The university has a novel scheme under which students who cannot pursue their higher studies in the formal university system can obtain job-oriented diplomas from community colleges. There are 30 such community colleges offering diplomas in four-wheeler mechanism, refrigeration, medical laboratory techniques, dairy management and technology, office management and accounts, and so on. The university sends teams to check the quality of the education imparted by the community colleges.

WHILE it is true that distance education has brought higher education to the door-step of those who cannot afford to study in day colleges, can it be said that self-financing engineering and arts and science colleges set up in rural areas attract students from villages? Until about 25 years ago, students from small towns would go to Chennai, Tiruchi, Madurai, Coimbatore or Palayamcottah, a twin-town of Tirunelveli, to pursue their collegiate education.

20040702004510703jpg

Have the 250 engineering colleges and hundreds of arts and science colleges that have amorphously sprung up all over the State arrested the flight of students to the cities?

For instance, the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College is situated in rural environs, about 15 km from Virudhunagar, the P.S.R. Engineering College at Sevalpatti village, about 25 km from Sivakasi, the National Engineering College at Kovilpatti, the Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering at Krishnankovil near Srivilliputhur, and the Rajaas Engineering College at Vadakkangulam in Tirunelveli district. The MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, the National Engineering College and the Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering are first-generation self-financing engineering colleges, which have established themselves well. An analysis of the about 225 self-financing engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu would reveal that they have not made engineering education available to students from the villages in their vicinity.

The reason is simple: rural students cannot afford the high cost of engineering education offered by these self-financing colleges. Almost exclusively, these colleges have attracted students from big cities and towns. The latest fad among some of these colleges is to advertise that they have "mineral water plants" on their campuses, or that they have built massive indoor stadiums.

Stress on women's studies

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

IN its 20 years of existence, the Mother Teresa Women's University, Kodaikanal, was buffeted between Kodaikanal and Chennai. But with the State government allocating 55 acres (22 hectares) of land at Attuvampatti and another 55 acres at Rifle Range in the Kodaikanal hills, the university is poised for rapid growth. "This is a major achievement after I took over [in 2002]," says Vice-Chancellor Dr. Anandhavalli Mahadevan. Praising the government for providing land, she said "it acted fast". Infrastructure development is taking shape now with a few departments already functioning at Attuvampatti. Dr. Anandhavalli started several courses in sciences after she took over, for "you cannot afford to alienate women from science and technology". The courses include M.Sc. in Biotechnology with specialisation in Medicinal Plants, M.Sc. in Physics with specialisation in Astrophysics, and M.Sc. in Visual Communication.

20040702004811001jpg

Dr. Anandhavalli has a doctoral degree in Environmental Sciences. She has research interests in Future Studies, Environmental Impact Assessment, and Women's Studies. She has trained about 600 teachers in Environmental Education. She was Special Officer (Planning and Development) in the Madurai Kamaraj University from 1999 to 2001.

Since she "basically believes in networking with other organisations", the university has signed memoranda of understanding with several organisations for undertaking joint work. For instance, an MoU with the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), allows the university's students to work in the CIMAP's six laboratories. Similarly, an arrangement with the Indian Institute of Astrophyiscs, Bangalore, has enabled students specialising in Astrophysics to use the Institute's observatory at Kodaikanal.

The university has redesigned the curriculum with compulsory papers on Women's Studies in order to enhance gender sensitivity.

A man and a mission

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

DR. K. CHOCKALINGAM, Vice-Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, believes he has a mission: to shore up the academic and administrative standards of the university. When he assumed office in December 2001, his first task was to give the university "a mission statement".

20040702005210801jpg

The university has set out to achieve three tasks: to provide quality education to the rural people and the unreached; to attain excellence in teaching, research and extension activities; and to inculcate and promote human values so as to create a "culture of lawfulness". The last mission is close to Dr. Chockalingam's heart, for he has more than 30 years of teaching and research experience in Criminology and Victimology. He has stared a Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Dr. Chockalingam has guided about 50 Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A. students in their dissertations, besides directing eight research projects. He participated as an Invited Expert from India in the United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, held in Milan in 1985, Cairo in 1995 and Vienna in 2000. He was awarded the prestigious Max Planck Research Fellowship three times - in 1992, 1995 and 1998. "I strongly believe that educational institutions should nurture in young minds the respect for law," he says.

Chockalingam has paid attention to several aspects of the university: publication of examination results on time; streamlining the Directorate of Distance Education; boosting the infrastructure; creating endowments for invited lectures; periodic upgradation of syllabus; and introduction of a choice-based credit system.

"What is unique about Manonmaniam Sundaranar University is that it has classified the allied subjects [for the undergraduate courses] into four categories. This provides flexibility in the choice of subjects," he said. For instance, the university offers two groups of allied subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Computer Application, Information Technology, Zoology and Botany. The student can choose one subject from each group. "In this system, the teacher has a big responsibility to guide the student. This system helps the student prepare for the Civil Services examination or any other competitive examination." In order to educate students on social problems and environmental issues, the university insists that every student do a project on Social Value Education and Environmental Sciences.

Dr. Chockalingam is trying to get the private sector to contribute to the university's infrastructure development. The Dina Thanthi group has contributed Rs.1 crore towards the construction of a building to house the Departments of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Business Administration. A library building has come up at a cost of Rs.85 lakhs. Work has begun on the construction of a building for the Centre for Information Technology. The university's Sri Paramakalyani Centre for Environmental Studies situated at Azhwarkurichi is funded by the Amalgamations Group of companies. "They have donated more than 100 acres of land. They have also given Rs.50 lakhs for the construction of the centre's building," Dr. Chockalingam said.

Says he: "The fruit of our hard work came in the form of assessment by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. We got B++ grade, with an institutional score of 80 to 84 per cent."

A fillip from industry

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

The entry of industrialists, who have started 47 self-financing engineering colleges and 174 arts and science colleges in the region, brings about a qualitative change in higher education.

THE best that has happened to education in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu in the past 20 years is that industrialists of the region have had the vision to found colleges. The private engineering colleges, fashionably called self-financing colleges as they generate their own resources, are run with the fees charged from students.

20040702005311601jpg

The nine southern districts of Madurai, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Theni, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari have 47 self-financing and two government-run engineering colleges. There are 174 arts and science colleges, affiliated to four universities, in the region. The two oldest engineering colleges in the region are the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, an autonomous institution, and the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology at Karaikudi. Both are affiliated to Anna University.

The trail-blazers among the self-financing engineering colleges are the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, the National Engineering College, Kovilpatti, and the Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering at Krishnankovil near Srivilliputhur, all founded in 1984. The Sri Kaliswari College, located near Sivakasi, is the latest arts and science college to be established in the region. It was started in 2000-01. Kodaikanal, known for its residential schools, had its first arts and science college when the Kodaikanal Christian College was set up in 1994.

Entrepreneurs who established these colleges obviously took the business of education seriously. These institutions have proper infrastructure: massive campuses, spacious buildings, well-equipped laboratories, huge playfields and so on. All of them are co-educational. They have a good record of placement for students. Their students involve themselves in rural uplift. They help villagers in desilting water tanks, cleaning up temple compounds and addressing civic problems. A striking feature of the engineering colleges is that girls account for 35-80 per cent of the students, depending on the discipline of study. Some of these colleges have placement cells and career improvement programmes.

According to people who run these colleges, there is a paradigm shift in the choice of students for courses. Undergraduate courses in Chemistry, Mathematics, English Literature, History, Politics, Sociology and Philosophy are not preferred. Only the government and aided colleges offer these courses now. There is big demand for job-oriented courses. But the interest in B.Sc. (Physics) has revived. Demand for seats in Information Technology has tapered off. Diploma courses in Event Management are fast catching up.

As one enters the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, what is striking is the vastness of the campus - all of 310 acres (124 hectares). (MEPCO stands for Metal Powder Company. M/s Carl Schlenk A.G. is a German organisation. MEPCO Schlenk Charities founded the college in October 1984.) It has 2,100 students and 144 teachers. The college offers seven undergraduate and eight postgraduate courses. It ranks second among the 243 engineering colleges affiliated to Anna University. "The demand for seats is mainly in Electronics and Communication Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology, Computer Science and Engineering, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and IT. This is the order now. The demand for seats in EEE and Mechanical Engineering are almost on a par," said Professor S. Balakrishnan, Principal-in-Charge.

The college has signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) with academic, research and industrial organisations (such as the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Tiruchi; the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai; and the Defence Research and Development Organisation) for training students, conducting research and undertaking project work. Prof. Balakrishnan said: "We have received 27 projects from government agencies and industries. Some of them relate to the latest technology. We have already completed 50 per cent of the projects, valued at Rs.2.25 crores." The projects include labyrinth design and high voltage, high current testing units for the IGCAR and impact analysis for the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

"Campus placement is at a high level. Almost all our students get jobs in major industries/companies," Prof. Balakrishnan said.

THE tall buildings of P.S.R. Engineering College rise out of nowhere in the rural wilderness. There is silence all round. The nearest town, Sivakasi, is 25 km away. But seats in all disciplines in the college are full. The college was established in 1999 by the P.S. Ramasamy Telugu Minority Educational and Charitable Trust, Sivakasi, for spreading higher education in the region. The campus covers 30 hectares. According to R. Solaisamy, correspondent, the trust has so far invested Rs.10 crores in infrastructure. The college has a central library with about 20,000 volumes in engineering and science; separate libraries in various departments; well-equipped laboratories; and horticulture and vegetable farms. Of the 1,287 students, 50 per cent are from rural areas. "They prefer our college because we don't charge capitation fees/donations, and we charge low [tuition] fees," said a college official. The trust offers free education to poor students on merit. Every year, about five students receive scholarships from the trust. There are other scholarships too.

P.S.R. Engineering College offers five undergraduate courses and a postgraduate course (in Computer Applications). The degree programme includes B.Tech. in Industrial Biotechnology. It will offer B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from this academic year. There are plans to start a master's degree programme in Business Administration. The college will soon start a three-month certificate course in IBM Mainframe and is drawing up plans to start M.E. in Computer Science and Electronics and Communication Engineering.

The Raja College of Engineering and Technology is situated at Veerapanjan, a suburb of Madurai. The Arun Ram Kumar Educational Trust, chaired by G. Nagarajan, founded the college in 1995. The college offers six courses at the undergraduate level, including B.E. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and Computer Science and Engineering. It also offers MCA, MBA and M.E. courses (Computer Science and Engineering). It has plans to start M.E. programmes in Power Electronics and Drives, and Embedded Systems. An important feature of the college is its Centre for Human Resource Development and Placement where students are trained in personality development and communication skills.

As one drives towards Nagercoil from Tirunelveli, what attracts one's attention is the massive, aesthetically designed buildings at Vadakkangulam. This is home to the Rajaas Engineering College, formerly known as the Indian Engineering College. The latter was established in 1984 by the Selvam Educational and Charitable Trust. Dr. S.A. Raja is the founder-chairman of the Rajas Group of Institutions, which includes the Rajaas Engineering College, the Rajas Dental College, the S.A. Raja Pharmacy College, the Jayamatha Engineering College and so on. The Rajaas Engineering College offers seven courses in B.E., including Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering, and IT. It has M.E. courses in Structural Engineering and Applied Electronics, and MBA and MCA.

According to S.A. Joy Raja, chairman of the Rajaas Engineering College, seats are in demand this year for Mechanical Engineering. Information Technology was not a preferred subject now, he said. "The moment the demand for seats in Information Technology went down, the demand for Mechanical Engineering shot up." About 2,000 students are enrolled in the college. There are 100 seats in the Rajas Dental College.

The PET Engineering College is situated at Valliyur in Tirunelveli district. The Popular Education Trust founded the college, which offers undergraduate engineering courses in Computer Science and Engineering; Electronics and Communication Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; and IT. The college plans to start a course in Marine Engineering. It has a broadband Internet laboratory, latest licensed software such as Auto CAD and Mechanical Desktop. There is an English Laboratory for training students in spoken and written English.

The Sri Kaliswari College and the Kodaikanal Christian College are poised for expansion. Both offer compulsory value-added courses, and have longer working hours than other colleges.

The Sri Kaliswari Trust's ambition is to contribute to the cause of education. The trust belongs to Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, a leading manufacturer of fireworks in the country. A.P. Selvarajan, correspondent and secretary of the college, said: "When we celebrated the founding of 75 years of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, we wanted to do something memorable. So we established the college. The products of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works have an image. We want to provide the same quality to the education imparted in the college." The college has a 17-acre (6.8 ha) campus, with imposing buildings. To start with, the college offered three undergraduate courses. Today - in its fifth year - it offers 12 undergraduate programmes, one postgraduate course, and five certificate courses. It will start three postgraduate courses, in Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Computer Science, this academic year.

"We prefer to start more postgraduate courses because we want to concentrate on research and development," said Selvarajan. "We have to compete with aided colleges. So we have to introduce innovative courses. And quality education is our aim. We don't want to earn profit from education." At the undergraduate level, the courses offered include the regular B.Com course, the vocational B.Com (C.A.) course with Computer Applications, the bachelor's degree in Bank Management, Business Economics and Computer Applications, and B.Sc. courses in Biotechnology and Computer Science.

Students of the college should compulsorily study a certificate course in both second and third year of their undergraduate courses. They include courses in Industrial Safety; Matches and Fireworks; Communicative and Functional English; Advertising, Sales Promotion and Sales Management, and Computer Applications. Hindi is compulsory. The college has set up a laboratory for training students in spoken English.

The Kodaikanal Christian College was born out of an altruistic motive of a single individual - Sam Abraham - to serve the cause of education. He founded the college with five degree programmes. Within three years, the college had a postgraduate programme. "To my knowledge, this is the best private college in the hills. It has been a long struggle because parents living on the hills are happy to send their children to schools on the hills but when it comes to college education, they want their wards to study in the plains. I have arrested this trend," he said. He is the founder-chairman of the college and the founder-trustee of the House of Abrahams Charitable Trust.

The college offers five degree programmes: Bachelor of Computer Science, Bachelor of Computer Applications, B.Sc in Hotel Management and Catering Service, Bachelor of Business Administration, and B.Com. At the postgraduate level it offers M.A. in Media Communication Management and Christian Studies, Master of Foreign Trade, Master of Social Work, Master of Business and Technology, and Master of Information Technology and Computer Science. Students can opt for postgraduate diploma examinations in American Studies, Computer Applications and Journalism and Mass Communication.

What sets apart the KCC from other colleges in the region is the variety of enrichment courses and additional diploma courses that undergraduates should compulsorily study in addition to their regular subjects. The enrichment courses include Spoken English and Public Speaking, Functional Mathematics, History of Ideas, Value Education and Computer Applications. The additional diploma courses relate to the main course of study. For instance, a student of B.Com. should get a diploma in Tax Planning, Financial Analysis and Budgeting; a student of Hotel Management and Catering Science should study Travel and Tourism and Craft courses; and all students are expected to obtain a diploma in Total Quality Management.

"Of late, students are choosy... They get jobs because of the diplomas they choose. So we have what is called add-on courses," Sam Abraham said. They include Computer Hardware and Networking, Film Appreciation, Editing and Journalism, Desktop Publishing, Event Management and Web Designing. Besides, the students have to execute project work, take part in "Youth Parliament" and present papers at seminars. "We push them hard... But we see the blossoming of the students." The co-educational institution has 300 students and 43 teachers. Sam Abraham also runs the Kodaikanal Christian Matriculation and Higher Secondary School.

The Tandem Institute of Computer Education, Madurai, is in its fourth academic year. According to S. Sundara Pandian, its director, its divisions include Tandem Infotech, which is a software development company that provides project services; the Tandem Institute of Computer Technology, which is the authorised training centre for C-DOT; and the Tandem Institute of Network Technology, where internationally certified hardware, software and networking courses are taught. Students are trained here to write a variety of online examinations. It is, therefore, an authorised prometric training centre. Tandem has similar training centres in Coimbatore and Chennai.

Sundara Pandian, who is a CISCO Sales Expert, said there were international courses such as CCNA, A +, MCSC, Linux + and CCNP. The duration of the courses varied. On an average he had 100 students a day. J. Sridhar, a final-year B.E. student of Tandem, passed 17 examinations in international certificate courses and received 10 certifications. The courses in demand now are Java, .Net and CCNA. The Tandem Institute is headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram. It has opened an office in Dubai and will have another in South Africa.

Priority to accreditation

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

WHEN Dr. P. Kanniappan took over on June 9 as the Vice-Chancellor of the Alagappa University in Karaikudi, he had his priorities set: "My first priority is to get the university accredited with the National Assessment and Accreditation Council." The second one is to give equal importance to teaching, research and extension.

20040702005811401jpg

"Since I have worked in a university [Gandhigram Rural Institute] where extension work was done to a large extent, I would like to have a three-dimensional approach. All the three components - teaching, research and extension - must be present equally." He said he would request every member of the faculty to take up applied research and extension-oriented projects.

Dr. Kanniappan has both academic and administrative credentials. He was Professor of Mathematics at Gandhigram Rural Institute and was its Registrar from September 30, 2000 until he took up his present position.

The Vice-Chancellor said extension work would involve the local people. Several projects could be executed in coordination with women's self-help groups, he said. Dr. Kanniappan said he had plans to establish linkages between the Alagappa University on the one hand and other universities, non-governmental organisations and service-organisations on the other so that there was a sharing of expertise and resources. "This will improve our academic standards," he said. He plans to strengthen the university's Department of Biotechnology, especially in the field of rural biotechnology.

While conceding that the Directorate of Distance Education "is an important organ for resource-creation", Dr. Kanniappan made it clear that there would be no compromise on quality.

The hotel management boom

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

THE popular perception of a hotel is often wrong, and M.S. Sha, a graduate from the Welcomgroup School of Hotel Management, Manipal, says he is determined to correct it. "My aim is to educate people and change their view of hotel management," he says. Sha established the Annai Fathima Institute of Hotel Catering Administration at Alampatty near Madurai, in 1992.The institute has 494 students and 60 employees, including teachers. Its campus has kitchens, classrooms with stained glass panels, a five-star hotel room and so on.

20040702006111801jpg

In Tamil Nadu today there is a boom in the study of hotel management and in catering training so much so that even arts and science colleges offer courses in these. Of the 100 catering institutes, only about 15 have proper infrastructure and qualified staff. Several catering colleges function from residential houses. Job opportunities for students passing out of established hotel management and catering institutes are aplenty. They can get jobs in star hotels in India and abroad, run guest houses for corporate houses or cafeterias in institutions, land jobs on ships, or be self-employed.

"There is an ever-growing demand for seats in these institutes. The human race will need food as long as it exists. So there is a permanent need for this calling. We simulate the conditions of a five-star hotel here so that the students get the right ambience during training," says A.S.D. Jeiprakash, principal of the Annai Fathima Institute. Hotel management does not amount to just cooking food and serving it to guests. "It is total hospitality care," he says.

The Annai Fathima Institute, which is affiliated to the Madurai Kamaraj University, has come a long way since its establishment. It moved to its sprawling campus at Alampatty about two years ago. The Institute offers a string of courses, which include a three-year diploma course (after Plus 2) in Hotel Management and Catering Technology; a one-year postgraduate diploma in Hotel Management and Catering Science; a two-year course in Front Office and Hotel Operational Management; one-year postgraduate diploma courses in Accommodation Operations Management, and Food and Beverages Management; a one-year diploma course in Food and Beverage Production and Food and Beverage Service; a craft course in Bakery and Confectionery; B.Sc. in Hotel Management and B.A. in Tourism and Hotel Management. It runs a three-year diploma course in Hotel Management and Catering Technology in collaboration with the Mandarin Training Centre of Mandarin Hotels of Malaysia. Sam Abraham, chairman, Kodaikanal Christian College, and Sha can be called the pioneers of hotel management and catering training in the State. In 1990, Sam Abraham founded the Kodaikanal Catering and Hotel Management Institute, "the first of its kind in the private sector". When he advertised for teaching posts for the institute, he received about a thousand applications. He shortlisted 35 persons for interview but only one turned up. Seven students joined the course that year.

"At the end of the one-year certificate programme, managers from Taj Coromandel and Welcomgroup, Chennai, came to the campus for recruitment as there was a need for trained manpower in the hotel industry," he says. Sam Abraham praises Sha and other teachers who worked in the Kodaikanal Institute during those teething years. The institute has wound up but Sam Abraham offers B.Sc. in Hotel Management and Catering Science in the Kodaikanal Christian College. A student of the course has to do additional diplomas in Travel and Tourism and craft courses.

In 1992, only four institutions offered a course in Hotel Management and Catering - the government-run Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition at Taramani, Chennai; the Food Craft Institute at Thuvakudi, Tiruchi; the SRM Institute of Hotel Management; and the Kodaikanal Hotel Management and Catering Institute. The Sri Kaliswari College established by the Sri Kaliswari Fire Works near Sivakasi, offers B.Sc. course in Hotel Management from this academic year.

Sha stresses the need for a separate university for hotel management and catering science. Each big hotel is an industry by itself and is related to tourism as well, he points out.

Priority to accreditation

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

WHEN Dr. P. Kanniappan took over on June 9 as the Vice-Chancellor of the Alagappa University in Karaikudi, he had his priorities set: "My first priority is to get the university accredited with the National Assessment and Accreditation Council." The second one is to give equal importance to teaching, research and extension.

20040702005811401jpg

"Since I have worked in a university [Gandhigram Rural Institute] where extension work was done to a large extent, I would like to have a three-dimensional approach. All the three components - teaching, research and extension - must be present equally." He said he would request every member of the faculty to take up applied research and extension-oriented projects.

Dr. Kanniappan has both academic and administrative credentials. He was Professor of Mathematics at Gandhigram Rural Institute and was its Registrar from September 30, 2000 until he took up his present position.

The Vice-Chancellor said extension work would involve the local people. Several projects could be executed in coordination with women's self-help groups, he said. Dr. Kanniappan said he had plans to establish linkages between the Alagappa University on the one hand and other universities, non-governmental organisations and service-organisations on the other so that there was a sharing of expertise and resources. "This will improve our academic standards," he said. He plans to strengthen the university's Department of Biotechnology, especially in the field of rural biotechnology.

While conceding that the Directorate of Distance Education "is an important organ for resource-creation", Dr. Kanniappan made it clear that there would be no compromise on quality.

The hotel management boom

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

THE popular perception of a hotel is often wrong, and M.S. Sha, a graduate from the Welcomgroup School of Hotel Management, Manipal, says he is determined to correct it. "My aim is to educate people and change their view of hotel management," he says. Sha established the Annai Fathima Institute of Hotel Catering Administration at Alampatty near Madurai, in 1992.The institute has 494 students and 60 employees, including teachers. Its campus has kitchens, classrooms with stained glass panels, a five-star hotel room and so on.

20040702006111801jpg

In Tamil Nadu today there is a boom in the study of hotel management and in catering training so much so that even arts and science colleges offer courses in these. Of the 100 catering institutes, only about 15 have proper infrastructure and qualified staff. Several catering colleges function from residential houses. Job opportunities for students passing out of established hotel management and catering institutes are aplenty. They can get jobs in star hotels in India and abroad, run guest houses for corporate houses or cafeterias in institutions, land jobs on ships, or be self-employed.

"There is an ever-growing demand for seats in these institutes. The human race will need food as long as it exists. So there is a permanent need for this calling. We simulate the conditions of a five-star hotel here so that the students get the right ambience during training," says A.S.D. Jeiprakash, principal of the Annai Fathima Institute. Hotel management does not amount to just cooking food and serving it to guests. "It is total hospitality care," he says.

The Annai Fathima Institute, which is affiliated to the Madurai Kamaraj University, has come a long way since its establishment. It moved to its sprawling campus at Alampatty about two years ago. The Institute offers a string of courses, which include a three-year diploma course (after Plus 2) in Hotel Management and Catering Technology; a one-year postgraduate diploma in Hotel Management and Catering Science; a two-year course in Front Office and Hotel Operational Management; one-year postgraduate diploma courses in Accommodation Operations Management, and Food and Beverages Management; a one-year diploma course in Food and Beverage Production and Food and Beverage Service; a craft course in Bakery and Confectionery; B.Sc. in Hotel Management and B.A. in Tourism and Hotel Management. It runs a three-year diploma course in Hotel Management and Catering Technology in collaboration with the Mandarin Training Centre of Mandarin Hotels of Malaysia. Sam Abraham, chairman, Kodaikanal Christian College, and Sha can be called the pioneers of hotel management and catering training in the State. In 1990, Sam Abraham founded the Kodaikanal Catering and Hotel Management Institute, "the first of its kind in the private sector". When he advertised for teaching posts for the institute, he received about a thousand applications. He shortlisted 35 persons for interview but only one turned up. Seven students joined the course that year.

"At the end of the one-year certificate programme, managers from Taj Coromandel and Welcomgroup, Chennai, came to the campus for recruitment as there was a need for trained manpower in the hotel industry," he says. Sam Abraham praises Sha and other teachers who worked in the Kodaikanal Institute during those teething years. The institute has wound up but Sam Abraham offers B.Sc. in Hotel Management and Catering Science in the Kodaikanal Christian College. A student of the course has to do additional diplomas in Travel and Tourism and craft courses.

In 1992, only four institutions offered a course in Hotel Management and Catering - the government-run Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition at Taramani, Chennai; the Food Craft Institute at Thuvakudi, Tiruchi; the SRM Institute of Hotel Management; and the Kodaikanal Hotel Management and Catering Institute. The Sri Kaliswari College established by the Sri Kaliswari Fire Works near Sivakasi, offers B.Sc. course in Hotel Management from this academic year.

Sha stresses the need for a separate university for hotel management and catering science. Each big hotel is an industry by itself and is related to tourism as well, he points out.

Biotechnology and a pioneer

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

THE Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU), Madurai, can rightly be called the pioneer in biotechnology education in the country. It was the first to introduce a postgraduate course in the subject, in 1985, almost immediately after the National Biotechnology Board (NBTB) introduced biotechnology as a focus area of support. Five universities began formal postgraduate courses in biotechnology in 1985 under the NBTB-University Grants Commission programme of manpower development in the field.

Today, 104 colleges offer biotechnology at the B.E./B.Tech level. In Tamil Nadu alone, 36 colleges offer B.E. or B.Tech. in the subject. Dr. K. Dharmalingam, Senior Professor and Head of the Department of Genetic Engineering, School of Biotechnology, MKU, attributes the current craze for studying biotechnology to the popularisation of the course in the wake of the industries' interest in the subject. He recalled how the M.Sc. course in Biotechnology met with strong protest in the 1980s, mainly from those not involved in teaching programmes. "Today, biotechnology is included even at the Plus 2 level," he pointed out.

Self-financing engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are competing with one another to introduce B.Tech in Industrial Biotechnology. Not to be left behind, arts and science colleges offer B.Sc. in Biotechnology although the Department of Biotechnology is against teaching biotechnology at the undergraduate level.

While "logically there is nothing wrong" in offering B.Tech or B.E. in Biotechnology, Dr. Dharmalingam said, the MKU discouraged colleges affiliated to it from starting B.Sc. in Biotechnology. Advancing reasons for this, he said: "It is an inter-disciplinary course where you need experts in chemistry, statistics, mathematics, microbiology, botany and zoology." It would be difficult to find experts to teach the subject at the undergraduate level as "biotechnology requires a level of knowledge at the master's level, not at the undergraduate level," he said. Besides, it would be difficult to design a curriculum at the undergraduate level. An "ideal" solution could lie in a dual-degree course that lasted four years, he said. For instance, a student could do B.Sc. in Microbiology for three years and do an advanced course in biotechnology in the fourth year. "That is what we are considering," he said.

The Mother Teresa Women's University, Kodaikanal, has already started experimenting with this double-degree programme. Its Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Anandhavalli Mahadevan, said the university would offer a "conceptual degree" at the end of three years of study and a vocational degree at the end of the fourth year. For instance, a student completing B.A. in Geography could study Tourism in the fourth year; a student completing B.Sc. in Botany or Zoology could study Biotechnology in the fourth year; and those who studied B.A. English Literature could do Visual Communication or Mass Communication in the fourth year. The Sri Kaliswari College located near Sivakasi would start an M.Sc. programme in Biotechnology this academic year. A.P. Selvarajan, correspondent and secretary of the college, said: "We have invested Rs.1 crore to start this course. But we know the returns will be low." This forward-looking college is putting up a herbal garden for initiating research in biotechnology. Selvarajan said a separate garden was under development for the Energy Plantation Programme, approved by the Department of Biotechnology, run through the MKU's Department of Plant Sciences.

S. Sampath, adviser to the Sri Kaliswari College, said the college had acquired 40 acres (16 hectares) near Kariapatti. It was developing a bio-energy plantation on eight acres, and on another eight acres it was growing endangered plants

The Alagappa University, Karaikudi, established a Department of Biotechnology two years ago. Dr. T. Kanniappan, Vice-Chancellor, said he would take steps to strengthen the department, especially by enabling it to take up work in rural biotechnology. According to Dr. R. Dhandapani, Registrar, 60 per cent of the first batch of M.Sc students, who would pass out this year, had already received placement.

Working for rural uplift

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

DR. G. PANKAJAM became the Vice-Chancellor of the Gandhigram Rural Institute in 2001. She was brought up in Gandhigram and she received her doctorate from Madurai Kamaraj University. She has 33 years of teaching experience, including 16 years as the Principal of Lakshmi College of Education, Gandhigram. Dr. Pankajam's research on child development earned her a Fulbright Fellowship in 1995. She has guided 52 M.Ed. and M.Phil., and two Ph.D. students.

20040702004111201jpg

"Gandhigram is getting plenty of funds from a lot of agencies because we are proving that we can perform," she said without a trace of boast.

A development profile of this deemed university, situated near Dindigul, for the past three years shows that it has in fact performed. It received five-star status from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC); introduced 13 new academic programmes; started five part-time and certificate courses; began 27 refresher courses; founded the Distance Education Centre; and revamped the choice-based credit system for students. It did all this without losing sight of its basic objective of "motivating its students to work for rural uplift".

The GRI insists that every student spend a week every year in a village, study a problem and find a solution. Introduced in April 1998, the Village Placement Programme has four objectives: providing opportunities to students to understand the different facets of rural society; enabling them to relate classroom learning to field realities; sharing development information with people; and facilitating projects that will benefit villagers. On an average, about 1,000 students and 90 teachers take part in every Village Placement Programme. Their activities include shramdhan (voluntary service), conducting surveys, popularising science, chlorinating drinking water, and constructing soak-pits and roads.

"We have taken up extension work in 100 villages around Gandhigram," Dr. Pankajam said. The GRI has taken up participatory sustainable agriculture development in 65 villages to propagate organic farming and agro-forestry.

Besides conventional courses, the GRI offers M.Phil. in Gandhian Thought and Peace Science, Rural Industries and Management, Development Sociology, and Futurology. It offers M.Sc. courses in Dairy Science and Geo Informatics; diplomas in Khadi and Handloom Technology, and Building Science and Technology; and a certificate course in Medicinal Plants.

The curriculum is a combination of both theoretical foundation and extension experiments. "The Geo Informatics course will be oriented towards rural development and identifying research projects in rural areas," Dr. Pankajam said.

A centre of excellence

SHASTRY V. MALLADY advertorial

THE Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) is putting in place an on-campus correction path to mould itself as a university designed for the future. It has been correcting itself in both administrative and academic matters and has emerged as one of the pioneers in frontier areas of study such as Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Genomics. The MKU has been recognised as a centre of excellence in genomic sciences by the University Grants Commission and has received an initial grant of Rs.5 crores.

20040702004211201jpg

"This is a university with 35 years of standing. This is the place where job placements have become easy owing to the credibility and quality of the courses offered," says Vice-Chancellor Prof. P.K. Ponnusamy. Big names in the field of Information Technology like IBM visit the campus for recruitment, he says.

"Our strength is in the four wings - university departments, affiliated colleges, the Directorate of Distance Education [DDE] and community outreach programmes," he says.

The MKU has a successful track record in distance education or correspondence course. Its DDE is an institution by itself. "We are extremely happy that our numbers (1.10 lakh enrolments) in the DDE are growing steadily. We are gearing up to meet the increase in volume," says Prof. Ponnusamy.

The thrust of the DDE has of late been on IT, in order to give a student-friendly service. With automation becoming the buzzword, the university in the first phase has provided the six study centres in Tamil Nadu with hardware and software to enable a smooth link with the DDE headquarters in Madurai. "The aim is to bring them under the Online Management and Monitoring System. The Salem and Chennai centres have already been brought under the system," he says. The next step is to focus on the 44 information centres located in other States and get them "linked". With the new facility, students can e-mail their grievances to the centres. The actual process of computerisation began two years ago and already the records of 40,000 students enrolled in the Madurai centre have been computerised. At the moment, the MKU is acting with foresight to bridge the distance.

Pointing to the growing stature of the university, the Vice-Chancellor referred to the grant of Rs.4.8 crores sanctioned by various agencies in the past two months.

Other Issues

View All
Oct 9,2020