Monday, May 25, 2009

Numbers… don’t impress me much

Reading newspapers can be annoying at times for those who think. Here are two news reports recently published. One says that now farmers will cultivate marketing skills with the help of a World Bank project. The Maharashtra Agriculture Competitiveness project costing Rs. 650-crore includes animal husbandry, dairy development, fisheries besides agriculture and marketing. The scheme is meant for 33 districts in Maharashtra. The World Bank will loan 415-crore for this project, half of it will be interest- free and the bank will impart all the required proficiencies to our farmers… how kind the World Bank is! And, how interesting, that it repeatedly seeks to solve debt- caused problems by disbursing more loans!

The second one was about the deals signed by the Reliance Power with the Arunachal Pradesh state government. Four deals for hydropower projects have been signed. The piece reports that, with these deals, Reliance Power’s hydropower portfolio reaches 4,620 MW in Arunachal Pradesh. The author claims that it is one of the largest in the country’s private sector, compared to that of the state-owned NHPC’s 5,175 MW installed capacity.

So, what is annoying about these?
The first report projects a Rs. 650-crore World Bank scheme as the superlative plan to help debt-ridden farmers. And the second report seems impressed by the huge figures of installed capacities. But, neither of them evaluates the information on the basis of root-causes. And hence, do not leave space for the reader to form his opinion, but merely serve to promote the interests of project proponents.

The World Bank may teach our farmer marketing skills, but, is it only lack of marketing skills that has put Indian agriculture in trouble? Or do Indian farmers need to learn the know-how of farming their own soil from the World Bank?
What will be the cost of farm produce that will reach us consumers through sophisticated marketing channels? Will we afford it?
Instead of endlessly taking up such costly training schemes, how about reviewing and revising our misguided agricultural policy?

What is our ‘real’ requirement of electricity? Do we need large hydropower projects to fulfill it? Is it essential to have them in an ecologically fragile state like Arunachal? Did the government or the company check the ecological viability of these hydro power projects before signing the deals? And, what is the earlier performance of this power company?

Has the Maharashtra government taken these farmers into confidence, or that of Arunachal Pradesh, its local populations?
Can all strata of our society bear the environmental costs of such projects? Rather, in the first place, are we aware of the fact that electricity generation has a huge ecological cost, and so it is with modern agriculture and marketing techniques?

- Reshma

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Is it a mere positive political story?

Maharashtra government is planning to encourage Mahua wineries in Vidarbha. Wineries will be a part of a scheme which will include production of fuel oil, soaps using Mahua seeds.
As per the conventional definition of development such an industry will generate employment for locals. And, these wineries will exploit local resource which is abundant in the target region. That’s a good card to convince pro tribal environmentalists and organizations. So, this announcement would have been treated as “positive political news”.
But, that’s an old story as the announcement was made last year. What’s new is that recently a television journalist rang me up asking about Mahua tree. He wished to add an environmental aspect to this story! A political reporter working with a Marathi media thinking of a political announcement from environmental point of view is a rare thing to happen. I wish we get some more of them in near future!
Now let’s take a look at some points this TV reporter can add to his story; forest minister has announced that the government will give the winery license to whoever asks for it along with a slew of incentives. What does he mean by ‘whoever’? Why did he speak only of ‘a slew of incentives’? And, didn’t he speak of conditions to be imposed on outsiders to help involve more number of locals in the project?
Has the government included social and environmental costs in the production cost of the Mahua wine? I mean, Is the government - especially forest minister - aware of the fact that a large scale extraction of any natural resource does have long term impacts on the ecosystems, and so does the monoculture? What the government has planned to avoid these impacts?
Do the answers to these questions turn out to be satisfactory even after crosschecking with the experts (experts not related to the project or government of course)? And a ground reality checks… what say locals have on this offer? Do they want it?
Considering these points, now tell me will it remain a mere positive political story?

- Reshma