Senior Editor, Down To Earth. Her concerns relate to the way power structures in society – business corporations, governments and lobbies – impact the lives of the powerless.
Articles by the Author
Delhi has been awfully late in adopting open source software, but the policy is finally there
A fascinating account of the men who ply the emblematic boats of Banaras and embody its very essence
There is no empirical evidence that patents serve to increase innovation and productivity
It seems like a lost cause but Kasturi Lal Chopra battles on. As president of the Society for Scientific Values (SSV), he leads the charge to clean up science in India which is plagued by rampant plagiarism and other scientific misconduct. It's a task that he has undertaken since the 1980s when, together with a small band of scientists, he formed the society to end the unethical practices. Chopra, 81, is an eminent physicist known for his pioneering work on thin films for which he holds four US patents. After stints at Defence Research Board of Canada and the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin, he taught at IIT-Delhi. But the scientist is best known for reinventing the decrepit IIT-Kharagpur to make it the premier institute of its kind. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, he says the biggest hurdle to inculcating scientific values is government indifference. Excerpts
Relying solely on gross national income to determine priorities in global health is not working any more
Manufacturers cry foul as they receive notices from state boards to pay royalty
The strategy to push public health, innovation and intellectual property is a tough challenge because of funding constraints
P PARDHA SARADHI is tenacious. This mild-mannered professor at the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Delhi (DU) has exposed some extraordinary cases of misdemeanour by its senior professors. As a result, Saradhi claims, he has been harassed by the university which suspended him and tried to tarnish his reputation by charging him with academic lapses and sexual misconduct. Saradhi is a recipient of the National Bioscience Award and says he was the first in India to develop transgenic mustard but his scientific achievements have been overshadowed by his high-profile case against former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Saradhi talks about what drives him. Excerpts
Why US firm's super expensive drug sofosbuvir costs so much and how it can be made at a tenth of current price
Department of Science and Technology has no idea where GM lines in a high-profile case came from and who gave permission for research
US biotech giant's claim on a natural tomato is its latest patent to be revoked by Europe after soy and wheat
Supreme Court upholds India's first compulsory licence but government baulks at giving the second
FOR three decades and a half, Veena Shatrugna has worked on nutrition and health issues, specially those concerning women. She has campaigned vigorously against the brahmanical influence on the ‘balanced diet’ prescribed by the government to meet the calorie needs of the poor, calling it a cereal overload that has led to myriad health problems. In a conversation with Latha Jishnu, the nutritionist explains the politics of food that has left a legacy of abiding malnutrition. Excerpts:
Indians are eating more meat and enjoying it. Higher incomes, global food chains and a vast population of young people indifferent to religious taboos are shattering myths about "vegetarian India", finds Latha Jishnu. But this appetite for meat has environmental and political fallouts
Martin Luther King's seminal speech on Black rights in 1963 is still not in the public domain because of strict copyright enforcement
The trade facilitation agreement paves the way for fresh pressures on developing countries such as tariff cuts on industrial products
There is conflict of interest as US patent owners schedule meetings with Indian judiciary and patent regulators
Government sidelines its committee of experts to set up new panel to review India's intellectual property rights policy
Why generics maker Cipla has asked government to revoke Novartis patent on respiratory ailment drug
Canada's exclusive licensing rights of its Ebola patent to a US firm are holding up global development of a vaccine
The Nagoya Protocol promotes community stewardship of genetic resources. India needs to foster this
India has enough laws to protect its intellectual property rights. It is the implementation that is wanting
ICAR has asked for Rs 245 crore to promote intellectual property rights but is not doing due diligence on patent claims
The National Research Centre on Meat has odd ideas on what can be patented
The electric carmaker's decision could spur a revolution in green vehicles and in the way patents are viewed
The US government appears to have a cure and (almost) a vaccine for the deadly disease
The fracas over India's refusal to meet the deadline on trade facilitation exposes rich nations' double standards
Patting ourselves for our ability to arrive at makeshift solutions will not take us far
Norman Uphoff, professor emeritus of government and international agriculture at Cornell University, US, likes to say that the system of rice intensification is a virus. He says he caught the virus in 1990 and that it took a full three years for the virus to set in. Uphoff, 73, is talking about SRI, the system of rice intensification, a bug that he caught in Madagascar from a French priest Henri de Laulani who had brought about what he calls a paradigm shift in the way the crop is grown. It is a virus that the American academic has over the past 15 years spread to millions of farmers in 53 countries. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Uphoff talks about the problems of agriculture scientists. Excerpts
India slams mania for patents and says open-source models work better to spur innovation
System of crop intensification, specially in rice, has shown sizeable savings in water and seed usage. Yet its adoption has not spread despite incentives
A Dutch institute's patent application on the MERS virus raises concerns about public health
A study by Indian scientists finds lowland flooded rice ecosystems can store vast amounts of carbon but the jury is still out on whether these can be called carbon sinks
Royalty payments to firms like Suzuki and Monsanto are sucking out huge sums from India
The US is targeting India's patent law because it is inspiring other countries to follow suit
A small publisher of Collected Works has run afoul of Marxists by asserting copyright
US continues to target India over its intellectual property regime, especially in pharma, green tech sectors
River pollution and sewage are top of the agenda for all parties, but Latha Jishnu who spent several days on the campaign trail in Varanasi is sceptical if they can clean up the Ganga or the holy city
India does not have to be apologetic about its patents law, which is fully compliant with WTO requirements on intellectual property protection
India’s foremost demographer had a lively interest in a host of societal issues, specially the state of the aam admi
With the US pulling out of the control of the Internet, the world is debating a multi-stakeholder model of governance
Ambedkar’s works have been published widely and yet pose a copyright conundrum
India’s foremost demographer had a lively interest in a host of societal issues, specially the state of the aam aadmi
Vocational education in India seems to be caught in a time warp. In contrast, China has a well-designed system in place
India has a youth bulge in its population, accounting for the largest number of young working age people in the world. This demographic dividend can be a tremendous force for economic growth if India can ride the wave. But to do so, 500 million young people need to be schooled and skilled. To make them productive, the government also needs to create 100 million jobs very quickly. If not, the consequences could be catastrophic, finds Latha Jishnu who has tracked the massive skilling mission under way. From Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Alok Gupta and Soma Basu report on what these populous states are doing to harness the energy of their vast youth population
Global organisations and academics defend India’s IP laws and call for US to back off
Nearly 40 years ago, Marc Van Montagu of Ghent University in Belgium, along with fellow researcher Jeff Schell, discovered that Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the plant tumour-inducing soil microbe, carries a rather large circular molecule of DNA, which they named “Ti plasmid”. This led to their development of the first technology to transfer foreign genes into plants in a stable manner, laying the foundation for the nascent molecular biology sector to develop tools that could genetically engineer plants. In 2013, Montagu was awarded the World Food Prize (WFP) in a belated recognition of his pioneering discovery.
Montagu, professor emeritus at Ghent and founder-chairperson of the university’s Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach, is a firm proponent of genetically modified (GM) crops, which he believes are the only way to feed the world’s burgeoning population. He was recently in India at the invitation of the agrobiotech industry lobby group, ABLE-Ag, to push for the introduction of GM crops in India. He addressed several meetings organised by the leading public agriculture research institutes in the country, with the repeated message that only GM crops could feed the world—a view contested by many leading scientists, including the 1995 WFP winner Hans Herren (see ‘Agroecology is the only way’, Down To Earth, December 31, 2012). In an interview to Latha Jishnu of Down To Earth, Montagu, now 80, dilates on the need for scientists to speak up about the benefits of GM technology to counter what he famously terms “the irrational fear of GM food”. Excerpts
Roche’s injunction against Biocon’s breast cancer drug signals the tough road ahead
From secure manhole covers to Internet tracking systems, NSA has an arsenal of patents
Companies will benefit most from steep hike in farm credit
Japan’s Sapporo brewery patents Indian barley gene without giving benefit to farmers
The Sherlock Holmes case highlights the stranglehold of copyright laws in the US
Songs have been the subject of copyright and trademark battles. In India composer A R Rahman is holding up a film for using his song Jai Ho as its title
Trade facilitation is a major imposition on developing countries with little likelihood of promised benefits
Mani Shankar Aiyar is known for the many controversies sparked by his provocative comments and controversial ideas. As Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas in the first UPA government of Manmohan Singh, he rattled the global energy markets by vigorously promoting a compact of Asian countries to ensure their energy security. Aiyar’s most quoted statement that “the 21st century will indeed be the Asian century only if Asian countries join hands in a continent-wide bid at bringing Asia together and keeping Asia together” was made in Beijing in January 2006. In the second part of his interview with Latha Jishnu, the former minister, now a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, reveals the politics of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and why India finally pulled out of the project. Excerpts:
Mani Shankar Aiyar is known for the many controversies sparked by his provocative comments and controversial ideas. As minister for petroleum and natural gas in the first UPA government of Manmohan Singh, he rattled the global energy markets by vigorously promoting a compact of Asian countries to ensure their energy security. Aiyar’s most quoted statement that “the 21st century will indeed be the Asian century only if Asian countries join hands in a continent-wide bid at bringing Asia together and keeping Asia together” was made in Beijing in January 2006. Within days, however, he was stripped of his portfolio. In his 21-month tenure, Aiyar was successful in negotiating a regional deal with Myanmar and Bangladesh to get gas to India. In a detailed conversation with Latha Jishnu, the former minister now a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, discloses how the deal was stitched together only to be scuttled by the ministry of external affairs. Excerpts:
South Asia is looking at an energy abyss. Millions of its people have no access to electricity or any other energy. This has put the brakes on the high growth rates in what should have been a dynamic region. High dependence on petroleum import coupled with mismanagement of their energy sector has made the SAARC countries extremely vulnerable. Cooperation could be a way out. Latha Jishnu travels across Pakistan to find out if India and its largest neighbour can set aside their mutual distrust and find solutions for the energy security of the region. From Bangladesh, Sayantan Bera brings a more hopeful report as he visits the site of the region’s latest inter-country power exchange between India and Bangladesh. Ankur Paliwal analyses the mood in Nepal and Sri Lanka along with the prospects of a South Asian grid
IBM’s claim of patent violation by Twitter reflects the madness in software litigation in the US
India and G-33 are pushing for reform of the agriculture subsidy system but the US and EU have a different agenda for the upcoming Bali meet
How a rare African algae collected by a French academic turns into a commercial bonanza for an equity firm in Hong Kong. Are there any benefits for Côte d’Ivoire which provided it?
In the agriculture research hierarchy, Swapan Kumar Datta occupies the second rung, one of eight deputy director generals (DDGs) in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the apex organisation. As DDG crop sciences division he is the most powerful of them of all with 12 national institutes, nine project directorates, three bureaus and two national research centres under his control apart from the 27 all-India coordinated research projects and India-wide network projects that are his responsibility. Datta says he is “not a typical scientist” at ICAR which he joined just four years ago having worked in institutes in Switzerland and the Philippines for two decades.
Datta is controversial for his statement that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources should be opened up to the private sector and for what critics allege is his refusal to take action against tainted scientists under him. In several meetings with Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood, the plant biologist, who is a strong champion of genetically modified (GM) crops as the answer to the stagnation in India’s agriculture, talks frankly about the issues scientists have with the system. Excerpts:
M S Swaminathan, popularly known as the father of India’s Green Revolution, has been associated with national agricultural research system (NARS) since 1947 when he was a student at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). After getting PhD from Cambridge University, he joined IARI, of which he became director, and then director general of ICAR. A believer in the need to articulate clear, goal-oriented research, Swaminathan tells Latha Jishnu what has changed since his time. Excerpts
Agricultural science has ossified in India. Despite a vast network of public research institutions and agriculture universities across the country, nothing of significance has emerged from this system to galvanise farming in recent decades, barring perhaps new strains of basmati rice. Weak basic research, excessive centralisation and control of the national research system by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are the root cause for this state of affairs but underpinning it all are harmful government policies rooted in ensuring food security. Caught in these bureaucratic rigidities are the science and scientists. Lax standards, poor monitoring and unpunished scientific fraud have destroyed ambitious research projects and shaken the morale of the public research system, find Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood
How human rights can be used to challenge oppressive intellectual property laws
Awards are finally coming to K Vinod Prabhu, 54, a plant breeder, for his work on building resistance in wheat, mustard and rice through the molecular marker route. Prabhu, head of genetics at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi, has bagged the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for outstanding research, the top agriculture research award given by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). And there is fertiliser company Coromandel International’s Borlaug Award for 2012, shared with his colleague A K Singh, well-known for developing several strains of basmati. The Kidwai award citation says Prabhu was “an effective team member in developing breeding strategies and methodologies that led to the release so far of 17 varieties: eight of wheat, two of barley, five of mustard and two of basmati rice”. In an interview with Latha Jishnu, Prabhu explains how he pioneered the concept of pyramiding minor genes to provide rust resistance at IARI. The geneticist is quite often to be found in the rice and wheat fields of Punjab and Haryana because he likes to know what the farmer is growing. For his pains, he once got bitten by a dog when he ventured into a standing crop of rice near Panipat. As he puts it, “my product goes directly to the farmer without any further manipulation or processing. So, I always keep the farmer in mind.” Excerpts from the interview
American business lobbies are spreading falsehoods about India’s patent policies—and glossing over their double standards
The protection of Geographical Indication is not a guarantee that the artisan or producer will benefit; traders can corner the premium
The most controversial aspect of the food security law is the restructuring of the public distribution system to cover an unprecedented 67 per cent of the population, most of them in the poorer states. LATHA JISHNU, JYOTIKA SOOD and SUCHITRA M explain why there are winners and losers in the new dispensation and how states with better PDS will have to find huge resources to keep their numbers intact
Patent settlements bring cheaper generics to market early and cut healthcare spending
Book >> The Power Of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy In India • by M V Ramana • Penguin/Viking • Price Rs 699
Say regulatory system has grave deficiencies; challenge agriculture ministry’s claims
Supreme Court’s expert panel of scientists for ban on herbicide tolerant crops for India
The Indian patent office has once again rejected the biotech seed giant’s claim for a method to produce stress-tolerant transgenic plants
Patent law, domestic content rules in solar and ICT policy come under attack
The US Supreme Court’s verdict in the Myriad case keeps everyone happy
A growing taste for foods from across the globe is adding hugely to India’s import bill for groceries and raising health concerns
About nine million women went out of the job market in the rural areas between 2009-10 and 2011-12, a grim facet of the employment crisis in the countryside
Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in the food and environment programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is among the most frequently cited experts on agricultural biotechnology. There is a reason for this. Gurian-Sherman is objective and meticulous in his analysis that is enriched by a long and varied experience with US government institutions and later with public interest and environmental advocacy organizations such as Center for Food Safety and UCS.
At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gurian-Sherman was responsible for assessing human health and environmental risks from transgenic plants and microorganisms and developing biotechnology policy and at the Food and Drug Administration he was on its inaugural advisory food biotechnology subcommittee.
In an interview to Latha Jishnu, the plant pathologist who has conducted post-doctoral research on rice and wheat molecular biology at the US Department of Agriculture laboratory in Albany, California, explains how biotech giant Monsanto’s unapproved GM wheat could have contaminated a farmer’s field in Oregon. Gurian-Sherman also explains why GM contamination is widespread across the world. Excerpts:
Upset by the Supreme Court’s endorsement of India’s patent law, the American drug industry is lobbying with Obama to tighten the trade screws on Delhi
Monsanto’s unauthorised GM wheat in the US has spooked the world, but contamination is widespread
EU court says there is nothing wrong allowing business lobbies to get documents denied to parliamentarians and public interest groups
Angelina Jolie’s dramatic disclosure has focused attention on gene patenting which has become a problematic legal question
In a replay of Bt cotton saga, Monsanto's Roundup Ready Flex is being grown in at least three states without clearance
Clothing giant Gap’s trademark infringement notice to an NGO selling products made from recycled waste is a curious case
Bluntness marks Ashish Bose who has destroyed more myths about India’s development and population growth than anyone else. No government, says the country’s foremost demographer, is capable of tackling the population problem because it is incapable of understanding the issue or doing anything about it. Since the infamous nasbandi (sterilisation) programme of Sanjay Gandhi which led to the defeat of Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election, governments have been afraid to take the problem head on.
In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Bose minces no words in dismissing the current fixation of the government—and the world —with India’s demographic dividend. This is a term used to describe the period when a greater proportion of the population of a country is young and in the working age-group. This enables the state to cut spending on dependants and is expected to spur economic growth. But, far from providing a dividend, the number of the young in India will be a demographic nightmare, he warns. “We have millions of anguta chhaaps (people who sign with their fingerprints because they are illiterate) and what is the outlook for them?” Bose, 82, pioneered the study of population at Delhi’s Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) where he headed its Population Research Centre for decades. He has sifted through enormous amounts of data, classified and segregated it, and written dozens of books and magazine articles that have helped us understand how and where our numbers have grown and why.
But the emeritus professor’s forte is not just numbers. He is a sharp observer of economic and sociological phenomena and a great believer in field research. Once, when he lay ill in a Delhi nursing home, he stated a survey about Kerala nurses that uncovered eye-opening facts about their social and economic profile. Bose is a fascinating raconteur who has dozens of delightful anecdotes about his encounters with prime ministers, lesser ministers and bureaucrats on the population issue. Excerpts from the interview
US Supreme Court says that planting and harvesting Monsanto’s patented seeds amounts to making additional copies of the company's patented invention
India is learning that there is a heavy price to be paid for the large number of bilateral investment treaties, or BITs, it has signed in the hope of attracting foreign investment. In recent months, a slew of global investors upset with policy changes made by the government are seeking huge compensation from India in international arbitration. They are using provisions of the various BITs to seek not just monetary damages but also revocation of regulatory measures and key decisions such as on taxation.
Latha Jishnu outlines the threats such treaties pose by highlighting the most alarming investor complaints that have been filed worldwide against the state. If India does not review its investment policies and trade agreements and build in adequate safeguards, it could be in for worse shocks
The Supreme Court judgment in the Novartis case clearly upholds India’s patent laws, not weakens the patent regime
Supreme Court upholds amended law that bars patents for insignificant improvements to an existing drug—in this case anti-cancer drug imatinib mesylate
LATHA JISHNU discovers how indigenous communities in Ecuador are fighting to protect Amazonia from oil extraction
Budget outlays will not do much for job creation or readying youth for skilled work
Roche’s Herceptin will be a test case for government and generics industry as India readies to issue compulsory licences for life-saving drugs
Budget 2013 pushed up allocations for agriculture, but it will not help farmers
Specialist attachés are strenuously pushing maximalist intellectual property rules worldwide
In an increasingly digital world, the issue of Internet freedom and governance has become hugely contested. Censorship and denial of access occur across the political spectrum of nations, even in liberal democracies. In the run-up to the just-concluded World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, there was a frenzied campaign to ensure that governments kept their hands off the Internet. It was feared the International Telecommunications Union, a UN body, was aiming to take control of the Internet. That hasn’t happened. But the outcome in Dubai has highlighted once again the double speak on freedom by countries that claim to espouse it and by corporations interested in protecting their interests, says Latha Jishnu, who warns that the major threat to the Internet freedom comes from the wide-ranging surveillance measures that all governments are quietly adopting. Dinsa Sachan speaks to institutions and officials to highlight the primacy of cyber security for nations, while Moyna tracks landmark cases that will have a bearing on how free the Net remains in India
Inquiry panel finds Bt cotton project had serious flaws, scientists were unethical
Are Geographical Indications safeguarding the interests of growers and artisans?
New flexibilities make public interest safeguards integral to drug patent rights
Revocation of Pfizer, Roche patents for lacking inventive step signals healthy trend
Weeks after expert committee recommended moratorium Supreme Court agrees to agriculture ministry's request to add new member to panel
A third front has opened up in their war on Australia’s cigarette packaging rules
Experts to study socio-economic aspects of GMO release
Compromise on resources salvages CBD conference; marine protection gets big boost
Supreme Court-mandated expert committee recommends new tests in thorough overhaul of India’s regulatory regime
Iconic museum files patent claim on fungi to control leafcutter ants—a well-known fact
Michael Antoniou, head of the Nuclear Biology Group in the UK, has been studying the health effects of genetically modified (GM) crops since 1995. He hastens to add, however, that he does no research himself on the issue since his specialisation is human molecular genetics, a subject he teaches at King’s College London School of Medicine. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, he explains why the new research by Seralini et al on long-term toxicity of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and Roundup-tolerant GM maize has important pointers to human health risks
Findings of the Seralini lab on effect of Monsanto’s GM maize on rats set off a global furore
Balakrishna Pisupati is in the hot seat as chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), where he has to deal with regulatory and conservation issues against the backdrop of a precipitous loss of biodiversity and increasing cases of biopiracy.
He comes well equipped for that task, being among a handful of people in the country with two decades of experience in dealing with issues of conservation and formulating policy at the local, national, regional and global levels. He has had stints at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UN University’s Institute of Advanced Studies based in Yokohama, Japan, and with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Before taking over as NBA chairperson, Pisupati was directing UNEP’s project on biodiversity, land law and governance programme from Nairobi where he served as the focal point for UNEP multilateral environmental agreements. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, he explains the various challenges he is tackling.
Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a useful weapon against wrongful patent
AquAgri pays highest sum in royalty but benefits do not reach people
India is hailed as a pioneer in implementing the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity—fair and equitable sharing of the benefits resulting from the use of genetic resources—and its laws to conserve biodiversity and protect traditional knowledge have been held up as examples for the world. Latha Jishnu looks at how well the regulations are working in practice and the issues that people and institutions are grappling with to safeguard the country’s ecological heritage. Jyotika Sood travels across Madhya Pradesh and M Suchitra to Kerala to discover that people are yet to benefit from the natural wealth around them because building awareness at the grassroots has barely begun
The Convention on Biological Diversity, 20 years on, is still struggling to stem the precipitous decline in biodiversity. After missing the 2010 target of reducing biodiversity loss, it is now pulling out all stops to meet the Aichi Targets, named after the Japanese prefecture where new goals for protection were set two years ago. As time runs out to protect the world’s ‘natural capital’, the forthcoming CBD conference in Hyderabad will discuss innovative ways of financing biodiversity from partnerships with business to payments for ecosystem services. Will this save the planet, asks Latha Jishnu
Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will extend restrictive intellectual property laws globally
The US appeals court has upheld the patents for isolated human genes, ignoring scientists’ warning that it would obstruct vital research and discovery
When agronomist Ralladoddi Hampaiah was advisor to the Russian government, he discovered how easy it was to take genetic resources out of India. And also how easy it was to bring in such material—bypassing quarantining regulations and other critical formalities. He once took 100 seeds of maize for testing to Russia from Delhi, and at Moscow airport he was grilled thoroughly about the seeds, their origin and certification. On his return from Russia, he brought in an enormous quantity of seeds, all of 15 kg, but was waved through customs! No questions asked. That was in 1993 before the international convention on biodiversity came into being. But not much has changed since then, although India has passed its own laws on biodiversity conservation and has regulatory systems in place, says the man who is now chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board. Coming to the post after a long innings with private seed companies, most of it with Pioneer Seeds, a multinational owned by DuPont, Hampaiah has a clear understanding of how the industry works. Everyone is stealing germplasm, alleges the official who has been in the news for several controversial actions, including a case against Monsanto. In a freewheeling conversation with Latha Jishnu, Hampaiah says biopiracy is a major concern, but shortage of funds and experts are hampering the work of state boards. Excerpts:
Tirupati temple wins its Geographical Indications case on a specious logic; registry order sidesteps fundamental issues
There is disquiet over government scheme to wean traditional millet farmers on chemical inputs
Legendary scientist James Watson files court brief against lunacy of gene patents
Foreign investment in existing pharma companies will be allowed with riders
Loopholes in the Biological Diversity Act being used to export India’s genetic material
Organic is all the rage. Organic food, cosmetics, clothes and even organic medicines. But mostly it is food. There are speciality stores that sell only such items, while supermarket chains are stocking more of these products which are sold at a premium and come with certification that it is grown without chemical inputs and synthetic additives. But as Middle India discovers the virtues of naturally grown food, thanks to increasing awareness about the dangers of high pesticide use in conventional farming, it raises fundamental questions about Indian agriculture and the path it needs to take, especially in view of climate change concerns. Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood go to the roots of the organic phenomenon to understand the changes taking place in farmers’ fields and the policies that are driving organic agriculture, or holding it back
The Brazilian lawsuit against Monsanto’s royalty on soybean seeds exposes the irrational way in which laws apply to GM crops
CICR banks on traditional solutions to Vidarbha’s cotton crisis
Government takes seven years to admit Bt cotton has failed in Vidarbha and return to Desi varieties
German Pirate Party’s strong showing in the May elections is a sign that anti-IPR movements resonate with the people
Amending the Copyright Act to give directors, composers and musicians rights over their work has corrected a historic wrong but trouble is brewing
Move to rein in Internet censorship falters; ISPs continue to block websites
Deepak Pental, former vice-chancellor of Delhi University and currently director of the university’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, is as controversial as scientists can get in India. He has come under flak from fellow scientists who ripped apart his paper “Detrimental effect of expression of Bt endotoxin Cry1Ac on in vitro regeneration, in vivo growth and development of tobacco and cotton transgenics” (written with 10 other scientists) and published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Biosciences. However, the lobby against genetically modified (GM) crops loved it because it bolstered their case and they distributed the paper widely. But Pental continues to be in the cross-hair of the anti-GM activists who oppose his GM mustard (Brassica juncea) and its field trials in Rajasthan. Pental, who has spent the last 16 years developing this mustard, returns the compliment by calling the activists “hysterical people you cannot communicate with”. In an interview to Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood, the geneticist says both scientists and activists are locked into their respective positions, making rational debate impossible. Even scientists, he says, are not willing to discuss issues related with transgenics candidly
Despite close cooperation with American enforcement officials, US unhappy with India’s report card
The biotech seed giant sues a farmer for planting unbranded commodity seeds bought in the open market for patent infringement
Biometric-based unique identity or Aadhaar is leading to huge problems for people working for the rural employment guarantee scheme and for others receiving welfare benefits. Not only have enrolments been done shoddily but the experience of the pilot projects shows that it is almost impossible to authenticate the work-hardened fingerprints of the poor, find Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood. Besides, there is the overwhelming issue of deficient online connectivity. As a result, some ministries are increasingly opting for smart cards which they say are more reliable and secure
Genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid DMH-11 developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants ran into trouble in March when the Rajasthan government suddenly withdrew permission for the field trials. Developed after 16 years of research by Deepak Pental, director of the centre, the GM mustard is being promoted by the National Dairy Development Board, which supplies cooking oil to the domestic market under the brand Dhara. So far the board, along with the Department of Biotechnology and the European Union among others, has put in around Rs 45 crore in this project which uses the interplay of the barnase and barstar genes to produce high oil yielding mustard (Brassica juncea). These genes come from a soil bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. In an interview to Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood, Pental explains why it is important for India to move forward in research on transgenic crops. Excerpts:
Chettikulam’s support for the Kudankulam nuclear plant reflects the politics of Tamil Nadu—and its economic dependence on the project
The compulsory licence granted to Natco may not be a trendsetter but it will shake up the pharmaceuticals market
Varshini, 10, speaks for a new generation that is against nuclear energy
The denial of a patent on a medical test that correlates drug dosages with treatment could mean the end of human gene patents
The spectre of Fukushima continues to haunt the world, forcing governments in most parts of the globe to rethink their plans to tap this controversial source of energy. But it is in India that the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has had its most serious fallout, with public protests forcing the authorities to delay the commissioning of the ambitious Kudankulam project by almost a year. Fukushima, however, is just the latest spur for the campaign against the Kudankulam reactors which started in 1987, discovers Latha Jishnu as she travels across the villages of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu and meets the people who have been saying no to nuclear energy for 25 years.
Arnab Pratim Dutta and Ankur Paliwal study implications of Fukushima and the increasing cost of nuclear energy across the world, and the rise of shale gas as an alternative
Jack A. Heinemann, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has expertise in genetic engineering, bacterial genetics and biosafety. As director of the University’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) since 2001, has contributed in no small measure to a better understanding and management of emerging biotechnologies.
INBI, says the academic, has special responsibility for developing tools that improve safety assessments of genetically modified organisms. These tools are aimed at helping government regulators and scientists with other specialities to access the best available and latest research and apply it to hazard identification. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Heinemann explains why he was taken aback by the way Mahyco’s Bt brinjal data was assessed by the GEAC, the regulator, and its experts committees.
Traditional knowledge has long been under threat but the proposed text of talks at World Intellectual Property Office is unlikely to protect it or genetic resources
Bureaucrats sit on file, while GM mustard sails through
As the biotech industry takes heart from the prime minister’s remark, a fresh report shows India’s regulation and expertise on GM crops are sloppy
Europe is on the boil over an anti-piracy bill that will curb Internet freedom but its impact on trade in generic medicines is not on the radar
Drug companies are slowly joining the UN effort to offer life-saving patented medicines to poor countries but the terms are sometimes restrictive
ICAR sets up independent investigation into Bt Bikaneri Narma research scam
Health activists protest against the EU-India investment treaty under negotiation now
The fight to protect Internet freedom turns into war of attrition as protests against US measures to curb piracy grow strident
ICAR’s top research institutes and GEAC exposed in Bt cotton research scam
Canadian academic Gus Van Harten is well known for his efforts to reform the global investment treaty regime through his research papers, conference presentations and a monograph, Investment Treaty Arbitration and Public Law (Oxford University Press). This treatise presents a public law critique of investment treaty arbitration and proposes the setting up of an international investment court made up of tenured judges to ensure independence and accountability in investor-state disputes. Van Harten is associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, where he teaches international investment law and governance of the international financial system. He was previously on faculty at the London School of Economics. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, he explains how states are at risk from investment treaties. Excerpts:
Senior international lawyer Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, who heads the investment programme of the International Institute on Sustainable Development (IISD), has written extensively on the dangers of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) signed at the regional level. She was previously managing attorney of the Center for International Environmental Law's Geneva office, where she concentrated on issues relating to trade, environment and sustainable development. Bernasconi-Osterwalder’s books include Reconciling Environment and Trade (with John H. Jackson and Edith Brown Weiss) and Environment and Trade: A Guide To WTO Jurisprudence. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, she explains why India needs to take a fresh look at the many investment treaties it has signed. Excerpts:
Private policing of Internet backed by courts is leading to censorship that affects everyone
Since the 1990s developing nations have been on a treaty spree, signing a vast number of bilateral and regional investment treaties to attract funds for development. But as the figure of investment treaties has shot up so have the claims for damages from investor companies, which are seeking billions of dollars in compensation on account of regulatory laws. Poor countries are finding that footloose investments are cutting access to water, damaging public health and the environment, and endangering ethnic communities. As transnational firms challenge regulatory laws, countries are forced to retract, and pay damages. Rich states have become equally vulnerable.
Latha Jishnu sifts through case studies and speaks to international lawyers, academics, researchers and development experts to uncover the hidden dangers of investment treaties. The most chilling feature is the role of a cabal of claims attorneys who are making colossal profit at the cost of nations, and sustainable life
Gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels and also more efficient and cheaper to use. Yet, in India, there has been no policy focus on this fuel, leading to a huge mess in critical sectors. Investments of Rs 35,000 crore made in the power sector will remain stranded unless projects get assured gas supplies in coming months. Similarly, funds sunk in the fertiliser sector, too, face a bleak outlook. Much of the problem stems from the sudden, controversial stoppage of supplies from Reliance Industries’ D6 fields, the largest producer of gas. Added to this is the country’ s singular inability to tie up long-term supplies from gas-rich countries. As such, hopes of turning India into a largely gas-based economy and reducing carbon intensity have been dashed, finds Latha Jishnu
Maize has become the queen of cereals, courted by state governments, seed companies, farmers and the feedstock and starch industries as the crop of the future. The golden promise of hybrid maize with its high productivity and high returns is luring farmers across the country. But this triumphal march is raising concerns about food security: maize is after all an industrial crop and used little as food. Food sovereignty campaigners are raising concerns about the shrinking acreage of millets and other staple foods of small farmers on account of the generous subsidies given to maize. Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood meet maize scientists, agriculture mandarins, industry leaders, nutrition experts and farmers, specially those in the tribal belt, to understand the maize phenomenon which is changing the agricultural landscape. M Suchitra in Andhra Pradesh and Sumana Narayanan in Tamil Nadu track developments in these high productivity states
As the Internet becomes the public square and the marketplace of our world, it is increasingly becoming a contested terrain. Its potential for diffusing knowledge and subverting the traditional channels of information is tremendous. So it is not surprising that governments, corporations and even seemingly innocuous social networking sites all want to control and influence the way the Internet operates. It’s easy to see why. Close to a third of humanity is linked to this system—and the dramatic growth in Internet usage over the past decade is set to explode in coming years. So is its commercial promise. Latha Jishnu looks at events in the US following the WikiLeaks exposé of its diplomatic cables, and in the hot spots of political turmoil across the world to understand the significance of the Internet in today’s interconnected world and the threats it faces. Arnab Pratim Dutta explains the technology used to block access to the Net
As India gets ready to unleash a vast number of genetically modified (GM) food crops, politicians have joined activists in opposing engineered crops. This is snowballing into a volatile political issue with states refusing to let the Centre have the final say in the matter. A number of chief ministers have objected to field tests of GM crops being conducted in their backyard, while some have declared that their states will be GM-free, citing health and environmental concerns. The political standoff comes against the worrying backdrop of slipshod regulation. Not only is illegal herbicide-tolerant cotton spreading across the country, biosafety regulations are being openly flouted by private crop developers acting in collusion with public research institutions. At the same time the industry is demanding a dilution of the rules on field tests and other regulations. Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood uncover the mess in GM crops
Rice is at the heart of a fierce strategy debate as the country prepares to launch the second Green Revolution in the eastern states. Policymakers and scientists have drawn up ambitious plans to increase the productivity of this cereal which feeds two-thirds of Indians.
Enormous funds are being poured into research aimed at improving seed varieties, with a heavy focus on developing hybrid rice. Is it the right option for millions of small rice farmers who are already battling high input costs and increasingly unpredictable weather? Or does part of the solution lie in efficient methods of cultivation that will cut down water use and improve yield?
Latha Jishnu analyses these varied strands as she visits research institutes and gets down into the paddy fields of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to understand what might work. She discovers that traditional rice varieties are making a significant comeback in Odisha—as in Karnataka, where Aparna Pallavi finds some farmers have abandoned high-yielding varieties in favour of indigenous varieties and organic farming to meet the challenges of climate change.
From West Bengal, Sayantan Bera reports that the largest rice producing state has a different set of problems to contend with if it has to reap the promise of the new Green Revolution.
Drug prices are likely to increase as rich countries and their pharma companies squeeze Indian generics out of the market. How can India’s public healthcare stand up to the challenge?
Reaching food to people who need it the most has remained one of the most stubborn problems in India. The public distribution system (PDS) is in a shambles in most parts of the country with the poor unable to get their quota of foodgrains despite the biggest build-up of government stocks in recent times. A chunk of the grain mountain is rotting for want of storage space and effective mechanism for releasing adequate stocks in times of high food inflation.
Is it time we dismantled the largely corrupt and inefficient PDS and switched to food coupons or cash transfers as some economists suggest? Some states have introduced food coupons but there is no certainty these will work any better. On the other hand, the Food Security Bill envisages an expanded PDS to cover a larger population. Can the system be streamlined?
Latha Jishnu and Ravleen Kaur analyse the different facets of managing the food economy and find that the PDS could become highly efficient if innovation and technology are harnessed to political will, as Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu did. These states offer valuable lessons in resolving the problems of procurement, storage and allocation of basic food items.
Aparna Pallavi, Ashutosh Mishra and Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, who travelled across large parts of the tribal belt, report on the extent of the problem that most destitute people face in getting their meagre rations, month after month. They highlight the urgent need to get food across to the large swathe of malnourished and chronically hungry people in the hinterland
IPRs are blocking access to mitigation and adaptation technologies. India offers a way out
Mother Dairy’s retail model helps farmers but is under pressure from chains
Film >> Cotton for my shroud • by Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl • Produced by Top Quark Films • 81.30 min HDV Documentary 2011
The Doha Declaration on protecting public health is a decade old, but developing countries have not been able to make use of TRIPs flexibilities
There is no evidence that global retail chains ensure better prices for farmers or help bring down inflation
As a visiting American academic, Glenn Davis Stone has put in over 60 weeks of field research on the impact of Bt cotton on farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Stone, professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University, looks closely at how traditional farmer knowledge breaks down when technology changes too fast. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, he explains why this should cause concern
Natco’s bid for a compulsory licence to manufacture a Bayer anti-cancer drug is a test of the law’s ‘reasonable price’ criterion
Cotton cultivators are on a seed and pesticide treadmill that is draining them of traditional skills
The patenting of a broccoli developed through conventional breeding in Europe is a disturbing trend since it violates the law on plant life
ICAR tells Rajasthan to wait for guidelines on benefit sharing, biosafety
Most of the clean energy innovations are with just six rich countries and hardly any technology is coming to developing nations
Regulating the Internet to keep it free of pressures from governments and corporate interests is turning tougher for the UN
The UN agreement on non-communicable diseases will get snagged on the issue of intellectual property rights for drugs
Judges have recused themselves in a number of cases but there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes conflict of interest
Microsoft and Indian Music Industry funded FICCI to hold roundtable for Maharashtra judiciary; judges handling piracy cases special invitees
Biotech firms object to states getting a say in approving GM crop trials
Biotech Regulatory Authority will have too much power, no checks
The Swiss pharma giant’s challenge to India’s patent law, now in the Supreme Court, may help define drug efficacy
State links PDS to UID to plug leakages in food supplies but gaps remain
Sharad Pawar’s provision for protecting test data in the Pesticides Bill could spill over into trade agreements and hit the drugs industry, too
Film>> Partners in Crime • Directed by Paromita Vohra • Produced by Magic Lantern Foundation
Developing countries will now have to battle IP issues related to new agricultural technologies at WIPO instead of WTO
Keshav Raj Kranthi, an entomologist by training, is director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur. He has developed an extensive database on bollworm resistance to insecticides and Bt-toxins. Kranthi’s analysis unsettles both industry and activists fighting genetically modified crops. He speaks to Latha Jishnu on the disturbing trends in Bt cotton cultivation. Excerpts
Flat yields for five years and rising insecticide use are jeopardising the success of Bt cotton technology
Governments are censoring digital content on the ground that it infringes intellectual property rights or offends people. Can they be stopped?
Pharma and biotech firms are lobbying hard to block disclosure of origin of genetic material used in inventions, but they also raise thorny issues
MoUs with biotech seed companies in limbo as protests force a rethink
The rich world’s mania for patenting seeds and pushing the UPOV agenda do not aid food security or biological diversity
IN a special programme to help industry, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has created Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Programme or BIRAP, in partnership with ABLE, the representative organisation of the biotech industry, and the public sector Biotech Consortium India Ltd (BCIL). For this, government has sanctioned Rs 350 crore to be disbursed during the 11th Plan. DBT advisor Renu Swarup, who heads BIRAP, says it expects to promote “innovation, pre-proof-of-concept research and accelerated technology and product development” in the areas of agriculture, health and energy.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood of Down To Earth, Swarup explains how BIRAP and its Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) function.
American organic farmers are trying to ensure the biotech giant cannot sue them
Department of Biotechnology is playing venture capitalist to private companies to push biotech research in agriculture
A crack in the western part of the red mud pond of Vedanta Alumina refinery has leaked into nearby water bodies and hence into the Vamsadhara river.
Mexicans are fighting hard to save their traditional maize from the onslaught of GM hybrids and US exports
Google’s digital library project went too far, creating a monopoly over the heritage of books
Increasing risk of extreme weather has made it easier to have conversations on environment in El Salvador, the country’s minister of environment and natural resources tells Latha Jishnu
Secrecy, fettered regulator are a worry as India plans nuclear expansion
India is working on a model of inclusive innovation to provide solutions for people at the bottom of the heap. Will it work?
The budget is more concerned about the consumer than the grower
Industry is sidestepping issues by pitching the proposed UN ban on endosulfan as the battle between generics and patented pesticides
Inclusion of intellectual property in bilateral investment agreements is injurious to the health of developing nations
EU is pushing India and Canada to sign free trade agreements that will hurt their generic drugs—and the outrage is global
As the commons come under increasing assault, academics, practitioners and policymakers come together to devise ways to protect shared resources
Natco’s demand for a voluntary licence from Pfizer will establish how well the compulsory licence process works in India
Inter-Academy update on GM crops does little to redeem Indian science
CAG slams the national biodiversity authority for allowing questionable patents
The US seizure of domain names on the web is ostensibly a crackdown on online piracy but it could end up as censorship
Krishi Bhavan supports endosulfan companies; Kerala protests
India’s generic medicines export faces a huge threat from the anti-counterfeiting law which creates barriers to global trade
The US becomes the first to join a global patents pool to make AIDS drugs cheaper but health workers are sceptical of the initiative
The access and benefit-sharing protocol on biodiversity may do little to deter multinationals from grabbing the planet’s resources
State ties up with Monsanto, other biotech giants to restructure agriculture
By ending ownership of ideas we can banish ignorance and change human history
A shoddy inter-academy report on GM crops casts a shadow on the integrity and competence of Indian science, while a US expert finds approval for Bt brinjal deeply flawed
We need spectacle in the capital, not mundane things like schools and hospitals in villages
Geographical indication tags are being handed out indiscriminately—with no strategy
US criticises India and BRIC group for strengthening provisions on life-saving medicines
If India is a growing economic power why is it so eager to put the interests of foreign businesses first?
India’s patent law excludes software per se, yet over a thousand patents have been granted
Saxena panel report on Niyamgiri puts states under watch for forest, tribal rights violations
Alumina refinery’s illegal expansion under scanner
Rich nations block accord on benefit-sharing rules for the world’s genetic resources
The Seed Bill takes away states’ power to regulate seed prices, could lead to Centre-state confrontation
Powerful industry lobbies are tutoring Indian judiciary how to resolve patent disputes
Going by the Kudankulan example, India’s nuclear power generation target is a pie in the sky
Powerful industry lobbies, domestic and foreign, are tutoring our judiciary on how to resolve patent disputes
Rich countries gang up for a more strident intellectual property rights regime
What are patents? Why have they become politically contentious and a major source of friction between rich nations and the developing world?