Wednesday, January 30, 2008

हमारी अग्यानता की जड़ें गहरी व मज़बूत हैं ?

- अगर हमारी अग्यानता की जड़ें गहरी व मज़बूत हैं ? -
- तो क्या आगे का पथ सरल व आसान हो सकता है ?
- शुरुआत कहाँ से की जाय ?

१ - किसके लिए ? -
२ - मसीहा या पथ ? -
३ - लक्षण क्या अौर कैसे ? -
४ - आधुनिक, सरल व साधनों के अनुरूप ? -
५ - ग्यान की कमी, साधनों की कमी, या विश्वास की कमी ? -

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Plane from Punjab for Punjab Da Puttar ?

Escape from Punjab : By Devinder Sharma

I was at a dinner with a Punjabi family in the outskirts of London. Mohinder Singh’s youngest brother who had only a few months before made it to England was visibly upset: “You are the only Punjabi I know who keeps on going back to India. Why don’t you stay here permanently?”

When I told him that I am often invited to UK to speak at various conferences, and yet I don’t want to settle here legally or illegally, he couldn’t believe me. “There are instances when I am abused on the streets by the whites if that is what you are meaning, there was also this bizarre incident of one of the white teenager’s pissing on me while I lay on the beach one day but bhai ji this is still heaven. Come on, think about it again!”

Surinder Singh, the youngest brother in the Punjabi family I am talking about, is not the only one who feels he has crossed over to heaven. Millions of Punjabis’ cherish the dream to escape from Punjab. Legally or illegally, they are willing to take all kinds of risks. Such is the desire and desperation to escape that scores of villages in the ‘migration belt’ of Punjab -- Phagwara, Jalandhar and Kapurthala districts – are empty. Almost all houses in these villages remain locked throughout the year.

Punjabis are by nature enterprising. Defying all academic norms of ‘distress migration’ or the ‘pull or push factor’ in migration, most Punjabis believe that migration is the best form of economic growth. They have seen this happening with generations of migratory workers who made it to the plantation sector in Southeast Asia or as industrial workers in England, Canada and to some extent as farm workers in New Zealand, California, Germany and Italy.

It was in early 1980s that I first tracked a group of asylum seekers who had landed in East Berlin (than part of the German Democratic Republic). Once in East Berlin, they would crossover to West Berlin by train where with the help of some lawyers they would have their papers ready. A majority of those who followed this escape route were apprehended at West Berlin. While their papers were being scrutinised, these migrants would be lodged in what was then popularly called ‘flower houses’ – an apology for a dingy accommodation herding some 20-25 people in one room.

The German government provided them with subsistence allowance as long as they were in the ‘flower houses’. Realising that migrants were ‘saving’ from even such paltry amounts ostensibly to send some money back home, the government finally provided them with food stamps that could be exchanged in the grocery stores. I remember asking one of the Punjabi migrants who was awaiting deportation back to India as to why did he take the risk. His reply still reverberates in my ears: “My parents have sold off the land to collect money for my travel. They are under the impression that within months of my landing in Europe, I will start minting money. I therefore save as much as possible from my daily allowance so that I don’t let their dream die.’

The unsavoury trend still continues. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, illegal trafficking has found new escape routes. Whether it is through Morocco, Egypt or Turkey or whether it is through sports and culture, the fact remains that Punjabis are more than eager to escape. After all, what makes them so desperate that they are willing to take the risk of their life? Why is that Punjabis, who are economically well off as compared to the rest of the country, are still not satisfied? Is something terribly wrong with the underbelly of Punjab that we don’t see?

Punjab is undoubtedly the food bowl of the country. It is the harbinger of the Green Revolution that swept through well-endowed regions of the country. For 40 years now, ever since Green Revolution began, the nation has eulogised the Punjab farmer. Newspapers have reported time and again about the visible prosperity ushered in through intensive agriculture. Magazine articles have featured the opulent life style of prosperous Punjabi farmers. Not many of the feature writers however tried to look beyond the false sense of pride the farmers exhibited. Not many journalists tried to explore the reasons behind the new- found prosperity -- not because of agriculture but because of monthly remittances or their side business activities.

Punjab’s underbelly was gradually caving in. Agriculture had turned not only unremunerative but also highly unsustainable. Intensive farming had led to the collapse of Green Revolution. Farmers were pumping in more chemical inputs to maintain their crop harvests. Over the years indebtedness began growing to phenomenal levels. A recent Punjab Agricultural University shows as many as 89 per cent of Punjab farm households are reeling under debt. The per farm family debt today stands at a staggering Rs 1,78,934. In other words, for every hectare of land holding, the outstanding debt is Rs 50, 140.

Still worse – tractors -- the symbol of prosperity have now turned into a symbol of suicides. Tractor owners are more heavily indebted with the average outstanding exceeding Rs 2 lakh. Marginal and small farmers owning tractors are still worse off. With the input prices climbing year after year and the output prices remaining static, Punjab farmers became a victim of the same economic policies that projected them as country’s heroes. No wonder, the average income of a Punjab farm family hovers around Rs 3,000 a month.

Over the years, intensive farming practices have pushed farmers deeper into debt. High-chemical input based technology has already mined the soils and ultimately led to the lands gasping for breath, with the water-guzzling crops (hybrids and Bt cotton) sucking the groundwater acquifer dry, and with the failure of the markets to rescue the farmers from a collapse of the farming systems, the tragedy is that the human cost is entirely being borne by the farmers. In Punjab, of the 138 development blocks, 108 have already been declared dark zones, the level of groundwater exploitation in these blocks has been in excess of 98 per cent against the critical limit of 80 per cent. The resulting destruction wrought on the natural resource base – soil health deteriorating, water table plummeting and pesticides contaminating the environment – agriculture has turned into a losing proposition. More and more Punjab farmers therefore began to abandon agriculture. With no job opportunities coming in handy, escape from Punjab became a viable alternative.

What is intriguing are the missing numbers. In 1990-91, there were 2.95 lakh marginal and 2.03 small operational landholdings. In ten years time, by 2000-01, these had come down to 1.23 lakh marginal and 1.73 lakh small operational holdings. A careful perusal would show that nearly 1.20 lakh farm families had moved out of agriculture in the ten years period. Where have these families gone? What alternative employment opportunities have they adopted? No one knows about that.

I am not suggesting that they had migrated in search of greener pastures. But with rampant corruption keeping them out of government jobs, the only avenue open for the Punjabi youth is to migrate. Whether they apply for a police constable job or for a bus conductor, they are invariably asked to cough out money. “If I have to pay Rs 20 lakh to Rs 35 lakh for a Class III government job, what do you expect me to do?” asks Manpreet Singh, a resident of Ropar district. “Isn’t it better that I spend the same money to pay to the travel agents to find me an escape to Europe or Canada?”

Punjab’s underbelly is certainly in an unforeseen crisis. It is time to feel the pain and anguish the youth are faced with. It is time to put the house in order. The sooner the better.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Maharashtra Govt Unhappy with PMO

PMO has sought a report on Maharashtra government's claim, that requests to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for additional funds for farmers, in the ''suicide belt'' of Vidarbha, have not been processed, and that funds had to be allocated from state coffers, to prevent relief measures from grinding to a halt.
The Maharashtra government's assertion has come as a shock for PMO, and on Thursday morning, an inquiry was initiated to trace what exactly were the facts of the case.
Maharashtra government's claim has come as a surprise, not the least because Maharastra is Congress-ruled, and its affidavit in Supreme Court, accused PMO of dragging its feet over the request for additional funds.
In its affidavit, Maharashtra government has said Rs 50 lakh was placed at the disposal of Six District Collectors in August, 2006.
''This amount has been disbursed to needy families and state government has been requesting PMO for additional funds.
State has even earmarked Rs 1.80 crore for the Chief Minister's Fund, with a view to keep the scheme running which otherwise (may have) had to be stopped for delay in receiving grants from PMO,'' the affidavit states.
The charge is hotly contested by PMO sources who said that an application may have been pending, but there has been no delay to warrant a claim by Maharashtra government that funds for distressed farmers were not being made available. The initial sum of Rs 3 crore was only a part of a large package and releasing a similar amount again was not a bother for Centre.
Given the politically sensitive nature of the case relating to suicide deaths of farmers being heard in Supreme Court, PMO has asked for a ''thorough report'' into the matter.
Maharashtra's claim may even be contested in court, but given that the PM had himself travelled to Vidarbha last year, and sought to intervene on behalf of the farmers, suggestion of callousness on part of his Office is seen to be embarrassing.
Some Congress sources also detect inner-party rivalries at work as criticism of the state government's response to the farming crisis has been traced to sections of PMO.
The state government's claim that PMO had been indifferent to its claims could be a way of getting back.
The incident also seems to reflect, a certain lack of regard for the PM's authority on part of the Maharashtra state government.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Swatantrata Diwas 2007

Distressed by the failure of economic policies to benefit Indian farmers, indebtedness, poverty and hunger among Indian farmers, respected economist and Indian Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 15 August 2006, Swatantrata Diwas, Tuesday assured them of remunerative prices for farm produce and every possible assistance to redress their distress.

Maybe by this he meant that a "Bharat Kisan Budget" would be soon launched by a separate Kisan Mantri, just as "Indian Budget" is announced by the Finance and Sensex Minister.

The Budget in India, on last day of February, is an annual excercise to balance the Government Account Books, expenditure versus incomes. It has been a central feature of Indian urban growth, political economy, industrial subsidies, giving incentives to stock markets, traders, businessmen, launching Poverty alleviation schemes for non farming rural and urban poor, launching Food Support measures for Dalits, for announcing Employment Guarantee schemes and other social support measures, and for giving export incentives to exporters and businessmen.

Till now it was assumed that the Budgets delivered by Indian Finance Minister would be able to arrest rural decline. Sixty years of Finance Ministry budgets, have proven the total futility of this excercise for Indian farmers, who are considered only as bonded producers chained to the farms.

On pre Budget Day, all top Indian Industrialists and businessmen, have their photo taken with the Indian Finance Minister. Special journalists and media are given the task of analyzing the Budget proposals. The Left parties make some suggestions about arresting inflation, protecting Navratnas, arresting food prices and oil prices.

Indian farmers do not not even get a ten minutes interview because the Finance Minister is more busy meeting top industrialists, businessmen, traders, commerce federation chiefs, political parties and before he finalizes the books of the Budget.

Rapidly increasing income gaps, also show that while enriching industrialists who have their photo taken with Finance / Sensex Minister on pre Budget Day, and consolidating economic power in urban areas, farmers have been growing more and more indebted and victims of vagaries of nature, moneylender, industrialists and traders.

Distressed by this situation, and also the futility of the National Commission on Agriculture headed by Dr Swaminathan, that nobody gave any attention to, the British educated Indian Prime Minister, gave a speech from his heart on 15 August 2006.

"We need to understand, if we want better prices for farmers, so that they earn a better livelihood, the prices of what they produce and sell will have to go up" the prime minister said in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort here.

"In order to ensure that the needy and the poor do not get adversely affected, our government is committed to ensuring adequate availability of essential commodities at affordable prices to them"' he added.

"We certainly cannot grudge our farmers better incomes when incomes of other sections of society are rising."

The prime minister said he was aware of the acute distress the Indian farmer was facing on account of heavy debt burden, adding that an expert group had recently been constituted to look into this issue.

"I see that our farmers in many parts are in a crisis, not managing to eke out a decent living from their land. When I visited Vidarbha, the plight of the farmers there made a deep impact on me," he said.

'The agricultural crisis that is forcing them to take the desperate step of committing suicide, needs to be resolved. We need to think about how we can provide a decent livelihood to our farmers.'

"I am confident that in a few months, we will take concrete measures to help our farmers overcome the burden of crushing debt," the economy background Prime Minister asserted.

Reiterating his promise in his Independence Day address two years ago, of a new deal for rural India, he said while much had been done in this regard such as doubling of farm credit, much more remained to be accomplished.

"Importantly, we must ensure that more people get employment in manufacturing and services so that the disproportionate burden on agriculture in providing a livelihood to two-thirds of our population gets reduced."

The prime minister said the government was also reviving the cooperative banking system, and would pay special attention to horticulture, animal husbandry, cotton, sugarcane and other crops.

"We are trying to reach institutional credit to each and every farmer so that they are out of the clutches of moneylenders" he said.

"A National Fisheries Development Board has been set up to increase the livelihood of fishermen. Agricultural research is being improved and Krishi Vigyan Kendras will soon be functioning in every district of the country by the year end."

The above were the most optimistic economic prescriptions this economist turned politician Indian Prime Minister could offer.
Two years from that speech, the Indian Prime Minister, now faces a daily toll of debt ridden and suicidal farmers in rural India, with still no clue as to how to stop these suicides.
Despite his best intentions, he has failed, even as his Sensex Minister has his photograph taken with the top Indian industrialists, visiting foreign delegations, commerce and trade bodies, and his Cricket Minister celebrates the rise of Indian cricket.

Each year this budget has ensured that government books are balanced, Navratnas books are balanced, Industrialists books are balanced. Even while inflation is arrested, poverty alleviation measures are taken, and hypothetical small number of jobs are created in food retail, Call Centres and manufacturing urban centres.
But gaping holes are left in farmer books and the pages are removed from the accounts books of farmers.

Maybe the Indian Prime Minister is now planning to announce a Kisan Budget on 15 August 2007, where the Kisan Books of Incomes and Expenditure, will be balanced, and a new chapter of Indian independence, after six decades of one sided Sensex Budgets, will be opened for the prosperity of rural India. and this time there will be photos with farmers on pre Budget Day of 14 August 2007.