Deccan Herald

  • Bt Cotton cultivation in India: Some facts

    There are attempts to attribute everything good with cotton cultivation to GM cotton and on those grounds, bring in other GM crops.

  • Tardy progress in NREGS

    Prolonged political instability in Karnataka leading up to the imposition of the Presidents rule last November appears to have adversely impacted the implementation of various welfare schemes in the State. According to an updated status report on the implementation of the UPA government's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the State has dropped seventeen positions, from 2nd position last financial year to 19th position during the current fiscal year.

  • Forests or roads?

    Wider roads will lead to increase in traffic, cutting of innumerable trees on the 65 km path, confrontation with wild animals and, above all, increased pollution.

  • Tank in trouble

    Bosga Tank, that supplied water to the entire city of Gulbarga for over five decades, is now in a pathetic state. It is about time the tank was revived, writes Chandrahas Kotekar. Every living being on earth requires water, air and light. Without these, there is no life. At the same time, a village's neglect towards its water bodies - rivers, tanks and wells - means an apathy towards progress.

  • Poverty is poison

    Paul Krugman Poverty rates are lower in European countries than in the US. Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain: that was the opening of an article in Financial Times, summarizing a research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  • Focus on farm sector

    By Devinder Sharma Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram should address the woes of those ailing farmers in the budget. General elections are around the corner. It is therefore more of a political compulsion than the requirements of a prudent fiscal policy that should have automatically diverted public funds for the ailing agrarian sector. Unfortunately, the game plan all these years has been to ignore agriculture and instead pamper the bloated rich of big business to grow richer. No budget is complete without the Finance Minister reminding the country, with possibly a catchy phrase thrown-in, the Herculean task his budget will perform in addressing the agrarian crisis. P Chidambaram is no exception. He often quotes a couplet from the writings of some of the best-known poets, saints and thinkers of south India. After all, 60 per cent of the population is still directly engaged in farming. Despite all these efforts to rescue agriculture, the annual budget has truly been a carnival for the rich and beautiful. As the veteran economist Kamal Nayan Kabra reminds us: "Indeed, the corporate income tax foregone by the government is trivially less than the total amount spent by both the central government and the 28 state governments on all rural development schemes.' Accordingly, in 2004-05 Rs 2.06 lakh crore was the revenue loss from the numerous tax concessions, exemptions and incentives, the total excise, customs and personal income tax and corporate income tax exemptions. In 2005-06, these exemptions amounted to Rs 2.35 lakh crore. For the debt-ridden farmers, and despite reports of farmers suicides regularly pouring in from various parts of the country, the Finance Minister will gloat while announcing that he has managed to meet the target of providing Rs 2.25 lakh crore as farm credit in 2007-08. Ironically, this is less than the total revenue loss of Rs 2.35 lakh crore incurred a year earlier from tax exemptions for India Inc. Isn't it therefore strange economics? What millions of farmers get is simple gratitude (and credit), whereas a few hundred rich walk away with almost an equal amount as direct income (money saved by way of tax exemptions is like money earned). Why can't the industries be asked to avail more credit, and let the direct income be for the farmers? I have often wondered as to how does the economist justify more credit to farmers who are already reeling under the burden of non-repayment of credit. Well, everyone knows that farmers are committing suicide because they cannot repay back the loans. Mounting indebtedness is the reason behind the death toll on the farm. Why can't the Finance Minister make an honest effort to pull these farmers from the credit trap? Why can't the Finance Minister actually provide farmers with more steady and assured monthly income? After all, like all of us what the farmers too need is a monthly take-home income package. The first step that needs to be taken is to write-off the outstanding dues of small and marginal farmers owning less than 5 acres of land in irrigated areas and 20 acres in un-irrigated regions. There is already a talk of writing-off Rs 65,000-crore, including Rs 25,000-crore, which the nationalised banks fear would be the non-performing asset. The accumulating losses that the farm sector has been incurring year after year are much higher than this amount. Such bad debts need to be immediately struck off so as to provide a new lease of life to the debt-ridden farmer. In fact, the UPA government should have done this soon after it came into power in May 2004. At the same time, lowering the interest rate for farm loans to 4 per cent across board is also required. In China, the interest rate for credit to small farmers has been abolished. Along with this, what is more important and does not require any fiscal outlay is the need to abolish the draconian law that was enacted during the British Raj. Between 1904 and 1912, the British had framed Public Demand Recovery Act, under which farmers could be jailed for defaulting the State for a paltry sum. So much so that even the jail expenses were to be borne by the farmers. The banks have very cleverly used the same provisions for debt recovery in agriculture. Striking out the bad debt needs to be accompanied by a new farm policy that guarantees against making this a recurring exercise. Unless the government ensures that the National Food Security Mission and the Rs 25,000-crore fund it has set aside for agriculture as per the recommendation of the National Development Council are diverted to a nationwide Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) programme, the cycle of mounting indebtedness and then writing-off loans will not end. Replacing the current system of fertiliser subsidy wherein the government reimburses the industry for production expenses can make a beginning. Fertiliser subsidy, which is expected to touch Rs 50,000-crore in the near term, should in future be provided directly to farmers. What is acting as a roadblock for implementing this recommendation is the lack of political consensus. Farmers should be encouraged to utilise this subsidy for shifting to organic means of production. Such an initiative will drastically reduce the cost of production, rejuvenate the soils, provide income to farmers and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Mangalore SEZ fate to be decided on Thursday

    The state government has said the Centre has been satisfied with the outcome of the public hearing regarding the Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) and a final meeting on the crucial environmental management plan (EMP) of the project has been fixed for February 28. "If we get the approval after the Thursday's hearing, work can start on the project,' Karnataka Governor's advisor Krishna Kumar informed Deccan Herald. The meeting will be held by the technical committee of the Expert Committee for Infrastructure Development and Miscellaneous Project, set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The farmers have been opposing the acquisition of land. They have urged the Government to reject the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report on the project. According to the advisor, a total of 1,750 acre, out of the 2500 acre needed for the SEZ, has already been acquired. "The government has issued notification for 300 acre for acquisition. We are discussing the issue with the farmers,' he added. On the public hearing, Krishna Kumar said the Union ministry has prepared the report on the EIA of the project and circulated it to the gram panchayats. "The GPs wanted the copies in Kannada and we have translated and given these copies. The ministry has concluded that the public hearings were held as per law. The meetings were held in January and February. Now the technical committee will hear the EMP. If we get the approval after the meeting, we can start work on the project. We have come a long way in the last 2-3 months regarding this multi-product SEZ,' Kumar stated. Promoters The Rs 35,000 crore SEZ is being set up by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) as anchor co-promoter using a special purpose vehicle owned by its subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), which will hold a 46 per cent stake. The other equity-holders are the Karnataka Government, Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited. ONGC would hold 26 per cent of the equity in the incorporated company. The State government would hold 23 per cent and the balance 51 per cent would be jointly owned by KCCI and IL&FS. The New Mangalore Port Trust (NMPT) is understood to have shown interest to join the SEZ, subject to approval from the Ministry of Shipping, Road and Transport. If NMPT joins, the combined equity of KIADB and NMPT would be 23 per cent. The MRPL has envisaged projects such as an LNG terminal, C2-C3 separation units and aromatic and olefin complexes in the petrochemical component of the SEZ. The SEZ will also include a refinery, a power plant, a gas terminal and a pipeline.

  • Bountiful crop proves bitter

    There seems to be no end to sugarcane farmers' misery in the State who every year face the problem of excess production. The farmers this time have taken to the streets expressing their displeasure with the sugarcane package announced by the government. Karnataka stands fourth in the country in the cultivation of sugarcane but the State is yet to see a sugarcane policy or a scientific basis for fixing the minimum support price. The farmers blame the sugar mills, the factory owners in turn blame the government, the government feels that the mill owners and farmers are both at fault for not coming to a consensus, thus completing the vicious cycle. Elected representatives on their part keep using the sugarcane pricing issue to fuel anger among the farmers (to keep the vote bank intact) but there is no permanent solution to the problem. Deccan Herald presents a lowdown on the state of affairs from the eyes of various stake-holders. The sugar industry in Karnataka can be divided into two groups - unorganised sector which comprises of the producers of the traditional sweeteners such as gur and khandasari and the organised sector which consists of the sugar mills. Farmers' woes: *Dictatorial attitude of sugar mills. Last year a majority of mills refused to implement the statutory minimum price fixed by the government. The State government had directed all co-operative sugar mills to pay farmers Rs 1,200 for a tonne of sugarcane. Except two or three mills, others paid only between Rs 600 and Rs 800 a tonne. *No action was initiated against mills which did not follow the State government directions. *The dues owed to farmers by the mills exceed Rs 160 crore *The recently announced sugarcane package does not solve the problem of growers being offered a low price for their produce or the glut in sugarcane production. * No policy for use of by-products like molasses and bagasse Mill owners' take *The sugar market has fallen. Paying Rs 1,200 per tonne for sugarcane as demanded by farmers is suicidal. * Mills have been accumulating losses. *The recovery (sugar content) is less than 9 per cent compared to 11 pc in other states. Hence rates prevalent in other states cannot be implement . * There is no proper distribution of mills especially in the sugarcane growing belt * No scientific basis for arriving at the minimum support price The way out *A comprehensive sugar policy that spells out the cropping pattern. *Farmers could be allowed to take up production of jaggery on a large-scale to utilise the excess sugarcane. *Govt should announce minimum support price for jaggery at Rs 1,500 a quintal. The present price of Rs 600 a quintal is not remunerative. *Mismanagement of mills need to be curbed.

  • Catalogue of life

    Scientists will comprehend bio-diversity with clarity. Together technology and networking have enabled an encyclopedia of life that was launched last week to catalogue every one of the 1.8 million known species on earth. Beginning with 30,000 species uploaded last Tuesday, the site will evolve with the cooperation of scientists and people into a database to become a useful resource. The mega initiative will help to comprehend and preserve the biodiversity of life on earth. The content drawn from several sources is authenticated by scientists using software tools that will mine scientific literature for regular updates. From general information for the interested layman, the site goes into in-depth details with the help of photos, video, scientific references, maps and text of 25 species ranging from the tomato to the peregrine falcon. Natural history libraries the world over are scanning their extensive literature to provide additional information on several listed species. As an interactive site, it invites comments and suggestions. Having already generated tremendous interest, the website logged 11.5 million hits the day it was launched and eventually their computers crashed. The idea was first formulated by reputed thinker of this century, E O Wilson in an essay in 2003. A global effort that will be a global resource, the $12.5 million project is funded by the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations. Efforts have hitherto been restricted to species on the brink of extinction, or in species/subject specific works. As the developers acknowledge, this is a task that relies heavily on technology and would not have been possible even five years ago. But as is evident with the world shrinking daily into a compact networked global village, access to information is easier than before. Such an immense work has not been attempted and will not be easy either. But with the available software tools today, the job is not impossible. Standing as the planet does on the brink of a tipping point, thanks to global warming, a critical concern is that several species may bid adieu forever unless something is done. The encyclopedia by bringing together various facts on diverse species will help scientists understand the inter-dependence of life in its many forms and the role of biodiversity with greater clarity. Significantly the scientific initiative signals a trend towards globalisation of knowledge which is accessible to anyone anywhere at the click of the keyboard. Small steps towards larger goals remind us more than anything else that we belong to one planet. Boundaries, nationalities, races, classes and languages become insignificant trivia on such a map.

  • Wood fest concludes

    The 5th edition of the Indiawood, Asia's largest sourcing ground for wood working machinery, tools, accessories, products and materials which concluded on Tuesday, evoked a good response from the Indian as well as the foreign wood working industry. Wood working machinery, tools, products and accessories worth Rs 1,000 crore were sold during the five-day event. Nearly 400 exhibitors participated, and over 400 machines from 31 countries were on display.

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