Gandhi Chhadi set for Rs.300? Is Swachh Bharat Mission kidding?

So I decided to consider getting a “Gandhi Chhadi” [Gandhi stick] which is a long stick with a pointed metal tip that is useful to pick waste objects off the road without bending. It has been highlighted by Swachh Bharat Mission Urban since last year and a couple of addresses of manufacturers have been provided in a YouTube video.

On enquiry with the first supplier listed in the above video, it turns out they want Rs.300 for a set of these litter pickers and the Mission – yes, a whole Central govt Mission – has no distribution mechanism for this. So it can only be couriered.

Clearly, this shows the emptiness of such campaigns. This low tech device should have been outsourced for production, and made available for everyone to make, like a broom. In fact, modern versions of such pickers are today sold on Amazon, and these have a lever that operates as a gripper.

Not surprisingly, the Mission has not made known a plan to distribute even the old-style Chhadis to municipal workers, who have to keep bending everyday to pick up the trash that you and I toss around carelessly.

This is the one on sale on Amazon India for about Rs.500:


India at Copenhagen: What it must do

I believe the following are key issues that the Government of India and the State Governments must address quickly, to make a convincing case about our intentions to reduce carbon emissions:

1. Massively invest in solar energy – this will help meet the target of 20,000 MW of production, as well as take electricity to those who don’t have it. So far, the Government of India as a public stakeholder has paid lip service to the idea, and recently announced the above production target to make a case for Copenhagen.

2. Our transport policy is a major hole in our climate efforts – Most cities in India are running transport models designed for 50 years ago, and that too badly. There should be a cess on petrol in each State and the funds should go to fund buses first, and trains next (because buses can be deployed virtually off the shelf, and each of our cities needs thousands of affordable, comfortable buses). The transport operations should be brought under regulators with state governments not keeping them as restricted monopolies for political reasons. Common ticketing for bus and rail operations should be introduced on a war-footing, and in any case within one year. All roads in cities and towns must have clear, walkable footpaths, failing which they must be denied central assistance of any kind. In all new urban planning, bicycle pathways must be made compulsory. If necessary, overhead cycling tracks can be built on arterial roads, to encourage use of this green form of transport.

3. Buildings, which are increasing power demand, must be engineered by law to include green energy, and use solar energy optimally. This can be achieved through design passively, and actively by including solar photovoltaic generation as well as heating. At present, the building approvals process is handled by semi-literate people at the local bodies, and the urban development authorities are corrupt. This situation cannot continue.

4. The energy efficiency sector must be completely revitalised. A base must be created to manufacture LEDs light-emitting diodes, which are the best available technology to make the optimal use of electricity for lighting. India does not have a good manufacturing base.

5. The CFL lamp schemes promised for long, such as Bachat Lamp Yojana, must be implemented immediately.

6. Stop the loss of wetlands, which are important for water security, which is threatened by global warming.

7. Compel State Governments to manage organic waste without contributing to methane emissions in open landfills.

8. Provide for escalating power costs to consumers, to curb ostentatious use of power on air-conditioning. Essential consumption should be affordable, and the green alternatives such as CFLs, LEDs and energy-efficient gadgets promoted.

I believe that these and similar issues can be handled without the public giving up a good quality of life. What this needs is Government policy, not so much citizen sacrifice (although that will happen anyway because of environmental concern at the individual level). An issue like climate change requires Governments to lead from the front.

Neel Metal Fanalca’s farcical waste management in Chennai

Recently, Neel Metal Fanalca began a process of ostensible source-segregation of waste in its areas of operation in Chennai. I have had the benefit of examining the whole thing personally, in Kodambakkam.

Apparently under pressure to show source segregation of waste, NMF issued polythene bags to residents for storage of recyclable waste. The organic waste is to be handed over to the personnel of NMF each morning and evening, during one-hour window periods. The waste collector attracts the attention of residents by blowing a whistle repeatedly. The plan is farcical in the way it is implemented, though.

1. There is no downstream system to manage the waste. The organic waste is not composted as a measure of ‘disposal’, as required by the Chennai Corporation’s contract with NMF, but is simply shifted to the dumping ground.

2. No plan exists for recyclable waste. I found, for instance, that NMF personnel simply sell the waste to local ‘raddi’ shops in the vicinity, simply displacing the waste from their own bin to the street in front of the waste shop.

3. Waste in the form of CFL and tubelights (containing small amounts of mercury), batteries, other household chemicals are being dumped along with the organic waste.

In addition, the NMF crews also want the residents to put up their own waste bins in their respective apartment blocks or houses. This is a difficult proposal to implement, even if it was sound in other respects, which it is not for the reasons stated in 1 to 3 above.

Disappointingly, Exnora International, which launched citizen-led initiatives in the 1980s to compost waste, is now a partner in the NMF scheme. This may be good in principle, but Exnora has not been given any solid role in deciding the waste management plan. What is more, EI is also relegating sustainable waste management to the back-burner by going along with the NMF model.

Time for the citizenry to ask the Chennai Corporation some searching questions, rather than treat waste as someone else’s problem.

Tamil Nadu farmers organise against Monsanto

The quiet “research sponsorship” diplomacy pursued by Monsanto in India has failed to wash with farmers. On April 3, many farmers’ organisations got together in Coimbatore to consider the gravity of the threat posed to hu

Dr. M.R.Sivasamy, farmer leader, addressing a meeting on Monsanto field trials at TNAU, Coimbatore, April 3, 2009

Dr. M.R.Sivasamy, farmer leader, addressing a meeting on Monsanto field trials at TNAU, Coimbatore, April 3, 2009

man health, agriculture, food safety and biosafety by Monsanto’s genetically modified crops. The verdict: catastrophic.

The senior farmer leader Dr. M.R.Sivasamy urged the farmers to destroy the open-field trials of  crops launched at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore, as a proxy for Monsanto.

This call is perfectly valid, considering that the GM companies have, in different instances, obdurately insisted on going ahead with open-field growing of crops (violating the permissions given to them), clandestine distribution of illegal GM cotton seeds (unearthed recently at Attapady in the Coimbatore-Palakkad forest border by Kerala government), and refusal to subject their crops to proper safety testing. Finally, Monsanto and its ilk does not have any liability for any damage that they cause in India under existing laws for biosafety.

Greenpeace has issued a statement on the impending arrival of GM food crops. Evidently, the entire p0pulation of Tamil Nadu is sought to be turned into lab rats by Indian subsidiary Mahyco-Monsanto, by plying its untested GM seeds for vegetables.

Do you know of any method to determine which brinjals in your local supermarket or green-grocer are Bt and which are not? Obviously not.

That makes you a lab rat for Monsanto, the same company that produced Agent Orange, a chemical used to destroy Vietnamese forests and vegetation (see this report in the BBC), rendering people seriously ill. It also dumped so much toxic Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Anniston, Alabama, US, that the local population fell sick and sued it. The company was asked to pay heavy damages — 700 million dollars — as a result. Read the full story here.

Generally, Monsanto tries to hide its past behind the screen that its chemical operations were under the charge of a new company, Solutia Inc. But the Washington Post reveals that the original Monsanto company had filed judicial papers undertaking to pay any damages that Solutia could not. (“Officials at Solutia Inc., the name given to Monsanto’s chemical operations after they were spun off into a separate company in 1997, acknowledge that Monsanto made mistakes…” says the Washington Post).

So if you get sick by being force-fed the Bt vegetables by Mahyco-Monsanto, you know what to do.  Get together and sue them. But why wait? Why eat them at all? Protest to the DMK government demanding an end to all GM agriculture and the declaration of Tamil Nadu as a GM-free state.

Also write a letter to Pasumai Vikatan at this address if you feel strongly moved by the issue. This magazine from the Vikatan group has been opposing GM and advocating organic agriculture, through detailed articles by and on the organics evangelist, Nammalwar.

Would you rather be force fed Monsanto Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal ?

When you read this piece by Ron Herring in The Hindu about GM crops, and then this piece by Ananth Krishnan in the same newspaper, you wonder, is  Herring a smart man? There is also this piece in the Times of India about GM fears when it comes to food. The March 2009 issue of Geo magazine carries a lengthy interview with Jeffrey Smith, about the way Monsanto is trying to muscle its way into the Indian agricultural scene.

The title of Mr. Herring’s piece gently chides people that they may be smart otherwise, but on GM, they are absolutely wrong. Of course, the author has nothing to offer by way of evidence and rests his argument on the somewhat simplistic premise that when farmers are opting for the crop in large numbers, it must be good. They have enough sense not to put their money into something that is a loser, goes the overall argument.

“The World According to Monsanto,” the documentary film has already nailed such lies by pointing out that India’s cotton seed market has been taken over by Monsanto to produce a virtual monopoly. There are also several anecdotes to show that farmers committed suicide in the areas where the company overran traditional agriculture.

The second piece linked above in The Hindu talks about the threat of Monsanto-Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal being introduced in India. Given the lack of traceability, labelling and food safety laws in India concerning GM, it is likely that organic brinjal will be hard to come by afterwards, except in pockets of resistance. Even these, Monsanto may overcome with its financial muscle or legal threats, of the kind it has used in the United States (see this article titled “Harvest of Fear” in Vanity Fair). There is also the celebrated case of Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Saskatchewan, Canada, in which Monsanto tried its seed mafia tactics and failed miserably.

As consumers who want to control our food choice, we vehemently oppose the attempts by Monsanto Mahyco to force feed us their GM brinjal. The UPA Government, which has otherwise done well in several spheres including reduction of rural poverty, should firmly resist any attempts to hijack people’s diets by Monsanto, and turn this country into a long-term feeding trial for GM research. That unenviable distinction has already been earned in America, and we are content to let them keep that status.

India should reject any products that contain GM ingredients. It should confine all GM activity to controlled environments, and not open fields where they threaten biodiversity with permanent alteration.

We say no to GM and no to Monsanto and their attempts to engineer our food.  The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Government of India should ban the sale of any food containing GM, until independent research has validated it. The self-generated evidence put forth by Monsanto is self-serving, suspect and hence liable to be rejected even on ethical grounds.

Will Tamil Nadu legislators fend off Bt Brinjal ?

Today, the lawmakers of Tamil Nadu got a ‘gift’ that threatens to become a rarity — brinjal untainted by the Bt genes bombarded into them by Monsanto-Mahyco.

Activists demanding a ban on the genetically modified variety of vegetable -which may turn up unannounced at your local green grocer as well as the local More, Daily, Reliance Fresh and other outlets – presented the non-GM variety to the MLAs and pressed for a ban.

Here is the press release issued by Greenpeace:

Activists Gift ‘last GM free Brinjals’ to 150 Tamilnadu MLAs Demand GM food be banned in Tamil nadu until proven safe

Chennai, 28th January, 2009: Fifteen activists from the Safe Food Alliance confronted 150 MLAs who were on their way to the Assembly today, and demanded that they address the issue of Genetically Modified food crops in the state. They requested the MLAs to raise the question of the controversial GM corn and Bt Brinjal being field tested in the Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, in the Assembly.

Armed with brinjal bouquets and gift notes, the 15 activists met the 150 MLAs while they were leaving for the Assembly, at the MLA hostel in the government estate campus and gifted them symbolically the last set of GM free Brinjal available. The protest comes in the context of the Central Government preparing to commercialise Bt.Brinjal, the first GM food crop in the country, within 2 months. “TNAU, Coimbatore has been aggressively researching GM food crops. Many eminent scientists like Dr. Bhargava, special invitee of the Supreme Court in the genetic engineering approval committee and Dr. Gilles Eric Seralini, from University of Caen, France have said that Bt Brinjal may present a serious risk for human and animal health and the release should be forbidden” stated Jai Krishna, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace.

Vettavalam Manikandan of the Tamil Nadu farmers association, who was part of the campaign said that States like Kerala have already taken a stand to ban GM crops and states like Uttarkhand, Nagaland have declared themselves organic.

“Tamil Nadu lags behind in protecting its consumers and farmers. Considering the risks involved in this outdated technology, TN should immediately ban trials of GM crops” he added. The TamilNadu Agricultural University is presently conducting trials of Bt Maize belonging to Monsanto in its campus, in spite of a recent Austrian Government Research study proving that this particular variety of maize could cause reproductive disorders.

The University’s interest towards the farmers welfare has been questioned many times in the last two years with farmers’ organizations even branding the University as “Owned by Monsanto”. “With the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University choosing a contractual job of conducting field trials for the Agri Biotech giant, Monsanto, over research for farmers benefit, they are squandering public resources and taxpayers money towards the profit of foreign companies. We have no option other than to ask our elected representatives to regulate the University and stop all field trials” said Jai Krishna.

The activists from the Safe Food alliance demanded that the MLAs ensure that:

1. All GM crop approvals and field trials be stopped immediately.

2. Genetically engineered foods be subject to long term and intergenerational tests before an open air field trial is permitted in Tamil Nadu.

3. State agricultural universities (SAU) disengage any partnership research on GM crops with any private companies. 4. Medicinal Herbs, staple crops like rice and other culturally significant crops should be declared as NOT to be genetically engineered.

Add your own voice to this protest and write to your local newspaper demanding a ban. Don’t wait for your food supply to be taken over by profiteering GM companies.

Monsanto Mahyco’s GM brinjal unsafe, The Hindu reports

Many comprador agricultural scientists, many more commentators with an axe to grind and some misguided middle class consumers are willing to accept genetically modified foods/crops and even endorse them.

It is difficult for some odd piece of evidence in this shrill commercial scenario to catch attention, but here it is: one report pointing out that Monsanto-Mahyco’s Bt brinjal is not as harmless as it is made out to be. ‘Genetically modified brinjal unsafe’ says The Hindu today.

Of course, we would have to wait a while longer for more evidence to emerge. Until then, GM campaigners and scientists will be laughed off, just as climate-change scientists were derided two decades ago.

The simple argument against GM agriculture is this:

  • Crops can continue to be grown without any risks in the conventional way.
  • The seed business cannot be handed over to a few companies who will then seize control of the food supply.
  • There is no law yet to protect consumers who may suffer the consequences of any GM crop.