Friday, February 26, 2010

Budget 2010-11: Far short of expectations

R. Ramakumar

Given the adverse global and domestic economic environment, particularly the economic and food crises, Budget 2010-11 had a number of expectations attached to it. First, it was expected to protect the Indian people from the adverse consequences of the crisis, by way of strengthening the social security system and raising social sector expenditures. Secondly, it was expected, particularly in the wake of double-digit food inflation, to put in place a universal system of food security. Thirdly, it was expected to sustain and further expand the fiscal stimulus package as a demand booster.

On all the three counts, the budget is a major disappointment. In fact, the budget begins with the statement that it is not the state’s responsibility to provide social services to its citizens. According to the Minister, the role of the government is only that of an enabler in the period after economic reforms. Indeed, this confused world view consistently guides the recommendations in the budget.

To begin with, the total revenue expenditure is slated to rise by only 5.8 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. Between 2008-09 and 2009-10, the revenue expenditure had risen by 12.8 per cent. This reduction in the growth of spending is in line with the calibrated exit strategy from the stimulus package suggested by the 13th Finance Commission (FC). Thus, the budget has begun the process of returning to the neo-liberal dogma of reducing deficits by cutting expenditures. The FC recommendation for States to return to their fiscal correction path by 2011-12 has already ended the possibilities of fiscal expansion at the State-level.

Given this overall context of stagnant revenue expenditure, the Minister left for himself little room to raise social sector expenditures in any substantive way. Thus, if the revenue expenditure on social services grew at 13.3 per cent between 2008-09 and 2009-10, it grew at a slower rate of 11.2 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

There are variations across sectors in the distribution of this reduced growth of expenditure. The growth of expenditure on ‘General Education’ shows a rise from 6.3 per cent between 2008-09 and 2009-10 to 21.6 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. However, this rise appears to be an illusion. In 2009-10, the actual expenditure was about Rs 3000 crore less than what was budgeted for General Education; the higher growth between 2009-10 and 2010-11 appears to be a result of the lower base year expenditure than a real increase. On the other hand, the growth of expenditure on ‘Medical and Public Health’ shows a fall from 21.6 per cent to 13.4 per cent. Similarly, for Water Supply and Sanitation, the growth of expenditure fell from 102 per cent to 39 per cent.

If we consider the flagship schemes of the central government in the social sector, the slow and inadequate rise of expenditures become clearer. For NREGS, there has only been a meager increase of Rs 1000 crore (or 2.5 per cent) in allocation over 2009-10. The insignificant additional expenditure for NREGA appears specious, since the recent Presidents’ Address actually held the scheme responsible for higher food prices. Was additional expenditure on NREGA held back to control food prices?

Similarly, for the National Rural Health Mission, the increase is only of Rs 1500 crore. For the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the increase is of Rs 1900 crore, an amount hardly adequate for meeting the requirements of right to education for all children. Given these trends, the delays in reaching the investment targets of 6 per cent of GDP in education and 3 per cent of GDP in health are going to be inordinately large.

The lack of seriousness in raising social sector expenditures is also clear from the various tax exemptions given away. The total revenue foregone of the government (by way of various tax exemptions) has risen from Rs 4.1 lakh crore in 2008-09 to Rs 5 lakh crore in 2009-10. In 2010-11, about Rs 26,000 crore is to be lost by way of direct tax exemptions to the urban elite and real estate companies. Ironically, the same budget thrusts new indirect taxes – that are considered regressive and against the poor – worth Rs 60,000 crore on the people.

Food security is another critical area totally sidelined in the budget. This is surprising, given the background of high food prices. The expenditure on food subsidy, so essential in sustaining the PDS for the poor, has actually been cut in absolute terms by Rs 424 crore. The Minister, in the speech, had given great emphasis on introducing a food security bill. In the light of the absolute cut in spending, the sincerity of the UPA government in bringing in a meaningful food security bill stands in serious doubt.

It is not just that the PDS is sought to be weakened in the times of high food prices. The budget also contributes to the upward pressure on food prices by raising indirect taxes on petroleum products. There is to be a 5 per cent increase in the customs duty on crude petroleum and Rs 1 per litre increase in the central excise duty on petrol and diesel. In para 18 of the budget speech, the Minister actually accepts the fact that the “gradual hardening of the fuel product prices” is getting increasingly transmitted to not just food prices but also non-food prices. The raising of fuel prices in the same budget speech shows nothing but a callous attitude to the problem of food prices.

In sum, the union budget for 2010-11 misses the grade on most counts that matter to the poor. The overconfidence that it displays in having addressed the global slowdown, even in the face of a negative growth rate in agriculture, is misplaced. In the midst of the crisis, the poor have been left to fend for themselves. Far from protecting the standards of living of the poor, the “enabling government” is increasingly disabling their capabilities to protect livelihoods.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Tragic Death of WR Varadarajan / ഡബ്ല്യു ആര്‍ വരദരാജന്റെ നിര്‍ഭാഗ്യകരമായ മരണം

Prakash Karat

THE death by suicide of W R Varadrajan has shocked the entire party and a wide circle of trade union workers and supporters. WRV, as he was popularly known, was a talented trade union leader who was one of the all-India secretaries of the CITU. He was till the February Central Committee meeting a member of the Central Committee and a member of the Tamilnadu state committee. He served as a member of the state legislature for a term and was a good speaker and writer.

In the February meeting, based on the recommendation of the Tamilnadu state committee, disciplinary action was taken against WRV by the Central Committee. This resulted in his being removed from the elected positions he held in the Central Committee and the state committee. It was after this that WRV committed suicide, presumably on the night of February 11.

There is a great deal of sadness within the party and amongst all of us who had worked with him, at this tragic end of a comrade who had so many qualities and who had made an important contribution to the development of the party in Tamilnadu and to the trade union movement. It is natural that the manner of his death should raise a number of questions within the party and outside. Unfortunately, a section of the media is utilising this tragic event to launch an attack on the CPI (M) by purveying half-truths, distorting facts and by indulging in baseless speculation. The Polit Bureau felt that it is necessary to place the facts and explain how and why the disciplinary action was taken against WRV.

The Tamilnadu state committee received a complaint from a woman against WRV of alleged sexual harassment. This was in September 2009. As per the procedure in the party, since it involved a member of the state committee, the state committee decided to set up a three-member committee to enquire into the matter. The three members, who are all state committee members, included a member of the Central Committee, who was the convener and another member belonging to the state secretariat.

After the enquiry, the report of the committee was placed before the Tamilnadu state committee on November 25, 2009 for its consideration. The secretariat, on the basis of the enquiry report’s findings, recommended action against WRV. As is the practice, WRV as a member of the state committee, against whom the charges were levelled, was given an opportunity to explain his position to the state committee. After the discussion, the Tamilnadu state committee endorsed the enquiry committee’s findings and proposed that WRV be removed from all elected positions. Since WRV was also a member of a higher committee, the Central Committee, the Tamilnadu state committee could not take the decision but sent its findings and recommendations for action to the Central Committee as per the provisions of the party. The matter was taken up for consideration by the Central Committee at its meeting held from February 4 to 6, 2010 at Kolkata.

The Tamilnadu state committee’s report and resolution and all materials pertaining to the case were circulated to the Central Committee members along with the letter sent by WRV defending his position (excerpts of the letter of WRV have been published in some newspapers). When the matter was taken up for consideration, WRV was given the opportunity to defend his stand. After a two-hour discussion, the Central Committee decided to uphold the Tamilnadu state committee’s recommendation for disciplinary action. None of the 74 members of the Central Committee present opposed the action being taken. Five members recorded their abstention during the vote.

WRV responded to this by saying that he would submit to the decision of the Central Committee and that he would also exercise his right to appeal to the Central Control Commission.

The above narration of the course adopted in the disciplinary action against WRV is well known to the party members. But it is being spelt out to clear misconceptions which have been purveyed by some motivated reports in the media.

What are the misconceptions and half-truths being purveyed?

It is alleged that WRV was driven out of the party. WRV was not expelled from the party. A disciplinary action involving removal from elected positions would mean that he would be placed in a suitable party committee. In this case, the Tamilnadu state secretariat had discussed on February 12 that he should be co-opted in the South Chennai district committee and, given his capacity, he should work on the trade union front. The purpose of this specific disciplinary action, which does not entail either suspension or expulsion from membership, was to enable WRV to continue to work in the party and contribute according to his capabilities. There are innumerable instances of party leaders and cadres who have faced disciplinary action and then worked and corrected their errors and assumed higher responsibilities in the party. The attempt therefore to portray the disciplinary action as a “hounding to death” a party leader is not only baseless but seeks to use the tragic event to malign the party and its leadership.

If the party had not taken cognisance of the complaint and the concerned woman had gone public with her charges, the same media quarters would have gone to town attacking the CPI (M) for ignoring a sexual harassment charge against one of its leaders.

The party has been accused of either being “opaque,” for not explaining the reasons for the action, or, contrarily, of having “publicly shamed” WRV. Since WRV had not been removed from the party, the Central Committee did not make the charges against him public. This was because WRV was expected to continue to hold positions in the party and discharge his responsibilities. The CPI (M) does not believe in “publicly shaming” its cadres. The effort in the case of WRV was to help him to correct his lapses and continue working for the party. The episode has also been used to denigrate the party’s organisational principle of democratic centralism.

The case of WRV has been cited as an instance of “centralism” and “authoritarian” action. In fact, the procedures cited above in the disciplinary action prove the contrary. It is the state committee, under which he was directly working, which enquired and initiated the action. The higher committee, the Central Committee, came into the picture only when the state committee requested action. The democratic procedure is also underlined by the fact that no arbitrary actions are taken on discipline. There is a proper enquiry and the comrade concerned is allowed to present his or her case and be personally heard by the committee.

The other effort being made is to link the action against WRV with the rectification campaign launched by the party. The matter concerning WRV had no connection whatsoever with the rectification campaign. In fact, the complaint was lodged before the Central Committee had adopted the rectification campaign decision. The rectification campaign is meant to pinpoint wrong trends in the party and correct them. It is not about initiating disciplinary action against individual members.

A Communist Party’s organisation gives utmost priority to its cadres, especially those who have devoted their full time and life for the work of the party. Whenever comrades err in their judgment, or commit mistakes, the party looks at the entire contribution of the comrades concerned and disciplinary action is taken as a method to correct them. It is only as a last resort that a severe action like expulsion is taken. In the case of WRV, the party expected him to overcome his problem and make his full contribution to the party and the movement. It is a matter of regret that this was not what happened.


ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ ദാരുണ അന്ത്യം

പ്രകാശ് കാരാട്ട്

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വരദരാജന്റെ ആത്മഹത്യ സിപിഐ എമ്മിനെ മൊത്തത്തിലും ട്രേഡ് യൂണിയന്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തകരെയും അനുഭാവികളെയും നടുക്കി. ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി എന്ന് ജനങ്ങള്‍ക്കിടയില്‍ അറിയപ്പെട്ടിരുന്ന അദ്ദേഹം പ്രതിഭാശാലിയായ ട്രേഡ് യൂണിയന്‍ നേതാവും സിഐടിയു അഖിലേന്ത്യാ സെക്രട്ടറിമാരില്‍ ഒരാളുമായിരുന്നു. ഫെബ്രുവരിയില്‍ ചേര്‍ന്ന പാര്‍ടി കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിവരെ അദ്ദേഹം കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗവും തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗവുമായിരുന്നു. ഒരു പ്രാവശ്യം എംഎല്‍എയായി തെരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട അദ്ദേഹം മികച്ച പ്രസംഗകനും എഴുത്തുകാരനുമായിരുന്നു.

ഫെബ്രുവരിയില്‍ ചേര്‍ന്ന യോഗത്തില്‍, തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാന കമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ ശുപാര്‍ശപ്രകാരം ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി അച്ചടക്കനടപടി സ്വീകരിച്ചു. ഇതേത്തുടര്‍ന്ന്, പാര്‍ടിയില്‍ അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ തെരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട സ്ഥാനങ്ങളായ കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍നിന്നും സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍നിന്നും ഒഴിവാക്കി. ഇതിനുശേഷമായിരുന്നു ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ ആത്മഹത്യ. മിക്കവാറും ഫെബ്രുവരി 11ന് രാത്രിയായിരിക്കും ഇത് നടന്നതെന്നു കരുതുന്നു.

തമിഴ്നാട്ടിലെ പാര്‍ടിയുടെ വളര്‍ച്ചയ്ക്കും ട്രേഡ് യൂണിയന്‍ പ്രസ്ഥാനത്തിനും പ്രധാന സംഭാവനകള്‍ നല്‍കിയ, ഒട്ടേറെ കഴിവുകളുള്ള സഖാവിന്റെ ദാരുണമായ അന്ത്യം പാര്‍ടിക്കുള്ളിലും അദ്ദേഹത്തോടൊപ്പം പ്രവര്‍ത്തിച്ച ഞങ്ങള്‍ക്കാകെയും വലിയ ദുഃഖം പകര്‍ന്നു. അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ മരണം സംഭവിച്ച രീതി പാര്‍ടിക്കുള്ളിലും പുറത്തും നിരവധി ചോദ്യങ്ങള്‍ ഉയര്‍ത്തുന്നത് സ്വാഭാവികം. ദൌര്‍ഭാഗ്യവശാല്‍, അര്‍ധസത്യങ്ങള്‍ പ്രചരിപ്പിച്ചും വസ്തുതകള്‍ വളച്ചൊടിച്ചും അടിസ്ഥാനമില്ലാത്ത ഊഹാപോഹങ്ങള്‍ വഴിയും പാര്‍ടിയെ ആക്രമിക്കാന്‍ അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ ദാരുണമരണത്തെ ഒരുവിഭാഗം മാധ്യമങ്ങള്‍ ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നു. അതുകൊണ്ട് വസ്തുതകള്‍ അവതരിപ്പിക്കേണ്ടതും ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ അച്ചടക്കനടപടി സ്വീകരിച്ചത് എങ്ങനെയാണെന്നും എന്തുകൊണ്ടാണെന്നും വിശദീകരിക്കേണ്ടത് അത്യാവശ്യമാണെന്ന് പൊളിറ്റ് ബ്യൂറോ കരുതുന്നു.

ലൈംഗികപീഡനം ആരോപിച്ച് ഒരു സ്ത്രീയില്‍നിന്ന് ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിക്ക് പരാതി ലഭിച്ചു. 2009 സെപ്തംബറിലായിരുന്നു ഇത്. ആരോപണവിധേയന്‍ സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗമായതിനാല്‍, പാര്‍ടിക്കുള്ളിലെ നടപടിക്രമം അനുസരിച്ച്, സംഭവത്തെക്കുറിച്ച് അന്വേഷിക്കാന്‍ സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി മൂന്നംഗസമിതിയെ നിയോഗിച്ചു. ഇവര്‍ മൂന്നുപേരും സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗങ്ങളാണ്, ഇതില്‍ത്തന്നെ സമിതിയുടെ കവീനര്‍ കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗവും മറ്റൊരംഗം സംസ്ഥാനസെക്രട്ടറിയറ്റ് അംഗവുമാണ്. അന്വേഷണത്തിനുശേഷം, 2009 നവംബര്‍ 25ന് സമിതി അവരുടെ റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ പരിഗണനയ്ക്കായി സമര്‍പ്പിച്ചു.

അന്വേഷണസമിതിയുടെ റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ടിന്റെ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തില്‍ സെക്രട്ടറിയറ്റ് ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ അച്ചടക്കനടപടി സ്വീകരിക്കാന്‍ ശുപാര്‍ശ നല്‍കി. ആരോപണവിധേയനായ ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗമായതിനാല്‍, നടപടിക്രമം അനുസരിച്ച്, അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ നിലപാട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍ വിശദീകരിക്കാന്‍ അവസരം നല്‍കി. ചര്‍ച്ചയ്ക്കുശേഷം സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി അന്വേഷണസമിതിയുടെ കണ്ടെത്തലുകള്‍ അംഗീകരിക്കുകയും ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയെ പാര്‍ടിയുടെ തെരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട എല്ലാ സ്ഥാനങ്ങളില്‍നിന്നും നീക്കാന്‍ ശുപാര്‍ശ നല്‍കുകയും ചെയ്തു.

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിയിലും അംഗമായിരുന്നതിനാല്‍ അദ്ദേഹത്തിനെതിരെ നടപടി എടുക്കാന്‍ സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിക്ക് കഴിയുമായിരുന്നില്ല, പക്ഷേ, അവര്‍ കണ്ടെത്തലുകളും ശുപാര്‍ശയും പാര്‍ടിക്കുള്ളിലെ നിബന്ധനകള്‍പ്രകാരം കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ നടപടിക്കായി അയച്ചു. കൊല്‍ക്കത്തയില്‍ ഫെബ്രുവരി നാലുമുതല്‍ ആറുവരെ നടന്ന കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിയോഗത്തില്‍ ഇക്കാര്യം പരിഗണനയ്ക്ക് വന്നു. കേസുമായി ബന്ധപ്പെട്ട് തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ടും പ്രമേയവും എല്ലാ രേഖകളും ഇതോടൊപ്പം തന്റെ ഭാഗം ന്യായീകരിച്ച് ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി നല്‍കിയ കത്തും കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി അംഗങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് വിതരണംചെയ്തു (ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ കത്തിലെ ചില ഭാഗങ്ങള്‍ ഏതാനും പത്രങ്ങള്‍ പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്. ഈ കത്ത് പൊലീസ് കസ്റഡിയിലുള്ള ലാപ്ടോപ്പില്‍നിന്ന് ലഭിച്ചതാണെന്നു കരുതുന്നു).

പ്രശ്നം പരിഗണിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്ക് തന്റെ നിലപാട് വിശദീകരിക്കാന്‍ അവസരം നല്‍കി. രണ്ടുമണിക്കൂര്‍ നീണ്ട ചര്‍ച്ചയ്ക്കുശേഷം, അച്ചടക്കനടപടിക്കുള്ള തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ ശുപാര്‍ശ അംഗീകരിക്കാന്‍ കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി തീരുമാനിച്ചു. കമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍ ഹാജരായിരുന്ന 74 അംഗങ്ങളില്‍ ഒരാള്‍പോലും അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയെ എതിര്‍ത്തില്ല. വോട്ടെടുപ്പില്‍നിന്ന് അഞ്ചുപേര്‍ വിട്ടുനിന്നു. കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റിയുടെ തീരുമാനത്തിന് വഴങ്ങുന്നതായും കേന്ദ്ര കട്രോള്‍ കമീഷന് അപ്പീല്‍ നല്‍കാനുള്ള തന്റെ അവകാശം വിനിയോഗിക്കുമെന്നും ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി ഇതിനോട് പ്രതികരിച്ചു. ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ അച്ചടക്കനടപടി സ്വീകരിച്ച ഈ നടപടിക്രമം പാര്‍ടി അംഗങ്ങള്‍ക്കെല്ലാം നല്ലതുപോലെ അറിയാം. പക്ഷേ, സ്ഥാപിത താല്‍പ്പര്യത്തോടെ മാധ്യമങ്ങളില്‍ പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ച റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ടുകള്‍ സൃഷ്ടിച്ച അവ്യക്തത നീക്കാനാണ് ഇത്രയും വിശദീകരിച്ചത്.

ഏതൊക്കെയാണ് ഈ തെറ്റിദ്ധാരണകളും അസത്യങ്ങളും?

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയെ പാര്‍ടിയില്‍നിന്ന് പുറന്തള്ളിയെന്ന് ആരോപിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു. അദ്ദേഹത്തെ പാര്‍ടിയില്‍നിന്ന് പുറത്താക്കിയിട്ടില്ല. തെരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട സ്ഥാനങ്ങളില്‍നിന്ന് നീക്കിയെന്ന പാര്‍ടി അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയുടെ അര്‍ഥം അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ഉചിതമായ പാര്‍ടികമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്തുമെന്നായിരുന്നു. ഇക്കാര്യം ഫെബ്രുവരി 12ന് ചേര്‍ന്ന തമിഴ്നാട് സംസ്ഥാന സെക്രട്ടറിയറ്റ് യോഗം ചര്‍ച്ച ചെയ്യുകയും അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ദക്ഷിണ ചെന്നൈ ജില്ലാകമ്മിറ്റിയില്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്തണമെന്ന് തീരുമാനിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. അദ്ദേഹം ട്രേഡ് യൂണിയന്‍ മുന്നണിയില്‍ തുടരണമെന്നും തീരുമാനിച്ചു.

പാര്‍ടിയില്‍നിന്ന് സസ്പെന്‍ഡ് ചെയ്യുകയോ പുറത്താക്കുകയോ ചെയ്യാതെ സ്വീകരിച്ച അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയുടെ ലക്ഷ്യം പാര്‍ടിപ്രവര്‍ത്തനം തുടരാനും തന്റെ കഴിവുകള്‍ അനുസരിച്ചുള്ള സംഭാവന നല്‍കാനും ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്ക് അവസരം നല്‍കുക എന്നതായിരുന്നു. അച്ചടക്കനടപടി നേരിട്ടശേഷവും പാര്‍ടിയില്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുകയും തെറ്റുകള്‍ തിരുത്തുകയും കൂടുതല്‍ ഉയര്‍ന്ന ഉത്തരവാദിത്തങ്ങള്‍ നിര്‍വഹിക്കുകയും ചെയ്ത എണ്ണമറ്റ പാര്‍ടി നേതാക്കളുടെയും കേഡര്‍മാരുടെയും അനുഭവം മുന്നിലുണ്ട്. അതുകൊണ്ട് അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയെ ഒരു പാര്‍ടി നേതാവിനെ 'വേട്ടയാടി മരണത്തിലേക്ക് നയിച്ച' സംഭവമായി ചിത്രീകരിക്കുകയും ഇതിനെ പാര്‍ടിക്കെതിരെ ഹീനമായ പ്രചാരണം നടത്താനുള്ള അവസരമായി കാണുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നത് ശരിയല്ല.

ഈ സംഭവത്തിനു കാരണമായ പരാതി പാര്‍ടി ഗൌരവത്തോടെ എടുക്കാതിരിക്കുകയും സ്ത്രീയുടെ ആവലാതി പരസ്യമാവുകയും ചെയ്തിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ ഇതേ മാധ്യമങ്ങള്‍തന്നെ പാര്‍ടിയുടെ ഒരു നേതാവിനെതിരായ ലൈംഗികപീഡന പരാതി അവഗണിച്ചെന്ന് ആരോപിച്ച് സിപിഐ എമ്മിനെ ആക്രമിക്കുമായിരുന്നു. അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയുടെ കാരണം വിശദീകരിക്കാതിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ പാര്‍ടി 'സുതാര്യമല്ലെന്ന' ആരോപണം ഉയര്‍ന്നേനെ, മറിച്ചായപ്പോള്‍ ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയെ 'പരസ്യമായി അപമാനിച്ചെന്ന' ആരോപണം.

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വി പാര്‍ടിക്കൊപ്പം നീങ്ങിയിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ അദ്ദേഹത്തിനെതിരായ കുറ്റം കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി പരസ്യമാക്കില്ലായിരുന്നു. എന്തെന്നാല്‍, അദ്ദേഹം പാര്‍ടി സ്ഥാനങ്ങളില്‍ തുടരുകയും ഉത്തരവാദിത്തങ്ങള്‍ നിര്‍വഹിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുമെന്നാണ് കരുതിയത്. പാര്‍ടി കേഡര്‍മാരെ 'പരസ്യമായി അപമാനിക്കുന്നതില്‍' സിപിഐ എം വിശ്വസിക്കുന്നില്ല. ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ കാര്യത്തില്‍ നടത്തിയ ശ്രമം അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ വീഴ്ചകള്‍ തിരുത്താനും പാര്‍ടിക്കുവേണ്ടി പ്രവര്‍ത്തനം തുടരാനും സഹായിക്കുക എന്നതാണ്.

ജനാധിപത്യ കേന്ദ്രീകരണം എന്ന പാര്‍ടിയുടെ സംഘടനാതത്വത്തെ ഇകഴ്ത്തികാണിക്കാനും ഈ സംഭവത്തെ ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നു. ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ കേസ് 'കേന്ദ്രീകരണത്തിന്റെയും' 'ആധിപത്യപ്രവണതയുടെയും' ഉദാഹരണമായി ചൂണ്ടിക്കാട്ടുന്നു. സത്യത്തില്‍, നേരത്തെ വിവരിച്ച നടപടിക്രമം ഈ ആരോപണം തെറ്റാണെന്നു വ്യക്തമാക്കുന്നു. അദ്ദേഹം നേരിട്ട് പ്രവര്‍ത്തിച്ചിരുന്ന സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റിയാണ് പരാതി അന്വേഷിച്ചതും നടപടിക്ക് തുടക്കമിട്ടതും. സംസ്ഥാനകമ്മിറ്റി നടപടി ആവശ്യപ്പെട്ട് അപേക്ഷ നല്‍കിയപ്പോള്‍മാത്രമാണ് കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി രംഗത്തുവന്നത്. അച്ചടക്കനടപടിയുടെ കാര്യത്തില്‍ ഒത്തുതീര്‍പ്പിന് സ്ഥാനമില്ലെന്ന സത്യത്തിന് ജനാധിപത്യപരമായ നടപടിക്രമം അടിവരയിടുന്നു. ശരിയായ അന്വേഷണം നടത്തുകയും ആരോപണവിധേയനായ സഖാവിന് ബന്ധപ്പെട്ട കമ്മിറ്റികളില്‍ തന്റെ നിലപാട് വ്യക്തമാക്കാന്‍ അവസരം നല്‍കുകയും ചെയ്തു.

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിക്കെതിരെ സ്വീകരിച്ച നടപടിയെ പാര്‍ടി ആരംഭിച്ച തെറ്റുതിരുത്തല്‍ പ്രക്രിയയുമായി ബന്ധപ്പെടുത്താനും ശ്രമം നടക്കുന്നു. ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയെ സംബന്ധിച്ച പ്രശ്നത്തിന് തെറ്റുതിരുത്തല്‍ പ്രക്രിയയുമായി ബന്ധമില്ല. തെറ്റുതിരുത്തല്‍ പ്രക്രിയക്കുള്ള തീരുമാനം കേന്ദ്രകമ്മിറ്റി എടുക്കുന്നതിനുമുമ്പേ ഈ പരാതി ലഭിച്ചിരുന്നു. പാര്‍ടിയിലെ തെറ്റായ പ്രവണതകള്‍ തിരിച്ചറിഞ്ഞ് തിരുത്താന്‍വേണ്ടിയാണ് തെറ്റുതിരുത്തല്‍ പ്രക്രിയ. വ്യക്തിപരമായി ആര്‍ക്കെങ്കിലും എതിരായി നടപടി സ്വീകരിക്കാന്‍വേണ്ടിയല്ല. ഒരു കമ്യൂണിസ്റ് പാര്‍ടി ഏറ്റവും മുന്തിയ പരിഗണന നല്‍കുന്നത് അതിന്റെ കേഡര്‍മാര്‍ക്കാണ്, പ്രത്യേകിച്ച് പാര്‍ടി പ്രവര്‍ത്തനത്തിനായി ജീവിതംതന്നെ സമര്‍പ്പിച്ചവര്‍ക്ക്. സഖാക്കളുടെ തീരുമാനം പിശകുകയോ തെറ്റ് ചെയ്യുകയോ ഉണ്ടായാല്‍ ബന്ധപ്പെട്ട സഖാവിന്റെ മൊത്തത്തിലുള്ള സംഭാവന പരിഗണിച്ചശേഷമാണ് അവരെ തിരുത്താന്‍ പാകത്തിലുള്ള അച്ചടക്കനടപടി സ്വീകരിക്കുക.

ഡബ്ള്യു ആര്‍ വിയുടെ കേസില്‍ താന്‍ നേരിട്ട കുഴപ്പങ്ങള്‍ മറികടക്കാനും പാര്‍ടിക്കും പ്രസ്ഥാനത്തിനും പൂര്‍ണതോതിലുള്ള സംഭാവന നല്‍കുന്നത് തുടരാനും അദ്ദേഹത്തിന് സാധിക്കുമെന്ന് പാര്‍ടി കരുതി. ഖേദത്തോടെ പറയട്ടെ, അങ്ങനെയല്ല സംഭവിച്ചത്.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Frontline coverage of Bt Brinjal

Very interesting cover story in Frontline on Bt Brinjal:



The GM debate


The moratorium declared on the introduction of Bt brinjal in India sets off an intense debate on GM crops, particularly GM foods.


Back from the brink


But the proposed biotech Bill can push India into the arms of the agri-biotech industry with serious consequences.


Legal struggle


Two petitions in the Supreme Court against GM food help make the government accountable.


Pulls and pressures


The fact that there are groups supporting GM food crops in the major political parties points to the commercial interests behind them.


Farmer as priority

Interview with K. Varadarajan, general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha.


‘I support Bt brinjal’

Interview with Prof. Govindarajan Padmanabhan, former Director of the Indian Institute of Science.


Global spread


There has been a steady growth of the commercialisation and acceptance of genetically modified crops worldwide.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Genetic Modification Technologies: Debate is on who Controls the Technology

Amit Sengupta

WHILE the controversy on genetically modified foods rages in India, very similar issues are being debated in many parts of the world. In India the contention is around the permission sought to be given for introduction of a modified form of Brinjal, called Bt Brinjal. A very similar debate is now raging in Europe, where a genetically modified form of rice is being sought to be introduced by Bayer. At the heart of the debate surrounding genetically modified food, lie several contentious issues. These relate to concerns about safety when GM foods are consumed by humans, the impact on naturally occurring species when GM crops are cultivated on a large scale, and the control of such technologies by giant multinational corporations.


In order to understand the different dimensions of all these issues, we need to understand the technology that goes into the production of genetically modified plants and other living organisms. Humans are unique on this planet in that they are the only species that have developed the capability to actively change the way in which nature works to produce and nurture a large variety of living organisms. Other species also cause changes in nature -- for example grazing animals can change patterns of plant cover, insect populations can predate upon and destroy specific plant species, etc. But only humans are capable of directing changes in nature, with the conscious intent to bring about changes in existing living organisms.

This endeavour by human beings is by no means recent. All the food that we consume is derived from plants and animals that have been changed in particular ways through the method of selective breeding. The early varieties of “wild” maize, wheat and rice that the early humans cultivated, have been transformed by selective breeding into varieties that have desired characteristics. Such characteristics may have to do with better survival of a plant variety in a specific agro-climatic region, better yields, better perceived qualities such as aroma, taste, etc.

Let us for example examine the history of rice cultivation – arguably the most important food grain in the world. It is believed that rice was first domesticated in the Yangtze river valley about 12,000-11,000 years ago. Domestication followed the earlier practice of collection of the grains of wild rice that grew in the wild. Within a few thousand years, two distinct varieties (known as indica and japonica today) were being cultivated in Central China. From there it is believed to have traveled to South East Asia, and South Asia about 5,000 years ago. Farmers have continued to breed for desired qualities, giving rise to the large variety of rice today, ranging from the sticky rice consumed in Japan to Basmati rice cultivated in India and Pakistan. All of these had their origins in the wild grass that grew more than ten thousand years ago in Central China. Selective breeding has been utilised in the case of a large variety of domesticated animals as well. That is the reason we see such a variety of cattle, horses, dogs, etc. around us. Over a period humans added to their repertoire the process of hybridisation, to produce desired plant varieties. It differed from selective breeding in that new varieties were developed by breeding between two different varieties.


The technology of selective breeding and hybridisation is possible because of the way in which living beings are constructed. All living organisms have within their cells, genes, that determine its diverse characteristics. Even within the same species, no two individuals are exactly similar. This is easy to understand if we look around and see how different two human beings can be, even though they are members of the same species. This is also the case with plants and animals. The reason for the differences lie in the genes – while the genes of two individuals in a species are very similar, they are never exact copies. If we remember that a living organism has hundreds of thousands of genes, it is easy to understand that a difference in even a few hundred of them can result in two very different individuals. This is the underlying explanation regarding how selective breeding or hybridisation works. Thus, in a large field of rice, a few plants would grow taller than the others – which means that these plants have genes that make them grow tall. If the farmer were to save the seeds of only these plants and grew them the next season, he would get a larger number of plants that were taller. Over several generations he would have produced a variety that would be taller than the variety he started with. In the case of hybridisation, the farmer would cross two different varieties with characteristics he wants to preserve. He could , for example, cross a variety that is drought resistant with one that provides high yields. The resulting species would have both the desired qualities.

How then are genetically modified varieties different from what has been produced by humans for thousands of years? The perceived need for genetic modification arose from the fact that the techniques discussed above still depend on nature to do most of the work. A farmer can try to select for, say a tall variety of grain, but he is never sure that he will always get a new variety that is better. He may also end up with a taller variety, but that which has other undesirable qualities that he does not want. This uncertainty is related to the thousands and thousands of genes in any variety and the extremely complex way in which they interact and produce the characteristics of an individual. Moreover, the process takes many years, and generations of breeding before a satisfactory new variety is produced. Genetic modification arose as a method of “short circuiting” this process. It also arose in a situation when we now understood much better how genes work, as well as with the development of techniques that can actually change one or a few genes inside a living organism. Techniques for genetic modification, thus, substitute the “mixing of genes” that nature does with actual manipulation of the genes inside a laboratory.

Genetic modification involves the insertion or deletion of genes inside the cell of a living organism. The genes, thus transferred could be derived from the cells of an organism of the same variety – this process is called cisgenesis. Alternatively, the transferred genes could be derived from an entirely different species – this process is called transgenesis. To do this, there are procedures which involve attaching the genes to a virus or physically inserting the extra gene into the cell of the intended host with a very small syringe, or with very small particles fired from a gene gun. Other methods exploit natural forms of gene transfer, such as the ability of Agrobacterium (a naturally occurring bacteria) to transfer genetic material to plants, or that of lentiviruses to transfer genes to animal cells. As we can now see, genetic modification can do what nature can never (or very rarely) do – i.e. transfer the genes of one species into another.

We can understand better how the technology is utilised if we take the case of Bt Brinjal. Bt Brinjal is a modified variety of Brinjal created by the insertion of a gene [Cry 1Ac] from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (hence the name Bt) into Brinjal. The gene is inserted into the Brinjal cell using Agrobacterium. The Bt gene makes the Brinjal plant produce a toxin that is harmful to common pests that afflict Brinjal crops, such as the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera). The underlying theory is that if the Brinjal plant is protected from common pests in this manner crop yields will be better and the need for insecticides would be reduced. The technology has been developed by the giant agri-biotech multinational corporation – Monsanto. In India the trials on Bt Brinjal have been conducted by Mahyco -- Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company. Mahyco is part of a joint venture with Monsanto, through Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech.


The concern that has been raised regarding introduction of genetically modified varieties in nature relates to the possible impact on natural varieties. Experience now shows that there is no fool proof method of avoiding contamination of naturally occurring varieties with genetic material from genetically modified ones. Once the GM varied is allowed to be cultivated on a large scale, it would eventually, transfer some of its genetic material to natural varieties growing in other fields. This means that, over time, as more and more GM plants are introduced into nature, existing varieties would incorporate their genetic material. This could be a concern if we are not completely sure about the long term harmful effects of an artificially introduced gene, in terms of its long term survival and other characteristics. So, theoretically, an artificially inserted gene may cause the destruction of the entire crop, or may have other harmful ecological effects, for example on insects that help in pollination. As other natural varieties are also likely to be contaminated, there would then be no turning back. One the crop is out in the open and widely cultivated, there is no way of recalling it. This is why very stringent tests, at the stage of development of a GM variety, are necessary, to allay fears that the inserted gene that is set loose on nature will not fundamentally damage nature itself.

Moreover, GM technologies lend themselves to monoculture and erosion of biodiversity. With widespread use of GM plant varieties, huge swathes of land may be taken up for plantations of GM crops. The danger of severe dislocations in food supply, if the variety were to fail, is something that needs to be factored in. Such a danger is a powerful reason to institute steps to protect the diversity of plant varieties that still exist in the planet.

The second concern particularly relates to those GM varieties that are intended for human consumption. For obvious reasons, we need to be cautious that GM plants that are used for food, do not cause harm when ingested by humans. Over thousands of years, humans have leant through experience, which plants are fit for human consumption. Here we seek to compress the process into a short span of a few years. Thus, transparent and clear evidence needs to be produced to show that the new GM variety being introduced does not cause harm to humans when they are introduced. Further, different countries have different ways of dealing with regulations related to GM foods, once they are allowed to be marketed. The United States and Canada do not require labeling of genetically modified foods. However the European Union, Japan, Malaysia and Australia require such labeling so consumers can exercise choice between foods that have genetically modified, conventional or organic origins. This requires a labeling system as well as the reliable separation of GM and non-GM organisms at production level and throughout the whole processing chain.

The difference in approach is evident from the fact that GM crops account for only 0.05 per cent of total area under cultivation in the EU while it constitutes 18 per cent of US agriculture. The US produces 96 per cent of the world’s edible GMOs and is the principal driver of GM foods across the world. The European approach, in a nutshell, is that because we don’t know enough about the technology, long-term assessments of the environmental and health impact are necessary.

Clearly, there is no single consensus today on how GM foods are to be used or regulated and many countries leave the choice to individual consumers. In India too, we need to develop our own guidelines based on a public debate.

The third, and perhaps most important concern, relates to the control of GM technologies. Today biotechnology has become the preserve of giant transnational corporations, and they control much of the technology. This holds true for technologies related to genetic modification of plants as well. GM technologies have the potential to transform the vary nature of agriculture, especially in developing countries such as India. Traditionally farmers save seeds from their fields, to be used in the next season. Farmers also share seeds among themselves, using a variety of arrangements. The technology of hybridisation changed many of these practices, as farmers now have to buy hybrid seeds from seed companies or depend on government supplies. GM technologies are poised to add another layer of dependency, where farmers would have to depend on global monopolies such as Monsanto. The scenario of a few giant corporations controlling agriculture across the globe, and deciding who can eat and who shall starve, is to say the least, frightening.

The concern is also linked with the manner in which the public funded research system in India is being increasingly made subservient to the needs of private corporations, many of them foreign owned. If India really wishes to take advantage of advances in science and technology they have to be based on local needs and need to be backed up by indigenous efforts at developing our own technologies. A short cut, that is predicated on dependence on transnational corporations, especially in an area such as food, is fraught with obvious dangers.


The present debate on Bt Brinjal in the country straddles all the major concerns we list above. At the heart of the issue is the fact that there are serious apprehensions that Monsanto and its partner in India have not been transparent in disclosing the findings of their trials related to safety and economic benefits of Bt Brinjal. For good reasons, many are also suspicious of the complicity of the present government in such a non-transparent process, given its public acknowledgment of a pro business mindset. When Jairam Ramesh laments that the debate on Bt Brinjal has become one between pro and anti technology groups, he is missing the mark completely, perhaps deliberately. The debate is on who controls the technology and on whose side the government is – on the side of the people or on the side of corporations such as Monsanto.

(from People's Democracy, February 07, 2010)