IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
Social forestry project links rural employment with growing saplings
In some districts of Bihar, lopping tree branches or even plucking its leaves can have violent consequences. Binod Sao of Paigambarpur village in Muzzafarpur district realized this rather late when he plucked a few leaves off the neem tree belonging to his neighbour, Pradeep Singh, on September 23. Singh was so angry that he slapped Sao several times. Singh became overprotective towards his sapling because there is money to be made by growing trees. Villagers, including landless farmers, in Tirhut range (comprising six districts) can earn Rs 10,000 a year by nurturing tree saplings under a new social forestry programme launched in February by the forest department.
Payment linked to survival rate
Under the scheme, dovetailed with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), villagers are encouraged to plant fruit bearing trees like jamun, mango, litchi, guava and gooseberry or those with medicinal value like neem. Some trees like mahogany and teak are grown for their expensive wood. Each family is asked to plant at least 200 saplings and nurture them over the next three years. If 90 per cent or more saplings survive, the family gets Rs 10,200 a year, equivalent to a year’s wage under NREGS. The remuneration will be nearly half if 75 per cent of the saplings survive. If the survival rate is below 50 per cent, the family will not get any money. If needed, the government will dig new wells to water the saplings, said S M Raju, commissioner of Tirhut forest range who conceived the scheme. He said regular audits are carried out; if a family is unable to maintain the saplings, they are transferred to the next family. Payments are made
The scheme has caught on because
drought has rendered farmers jobless
through cheques every fortnight. The scheme has caught on in the six districts of Tirhut range—Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur, Hajipur and East and West Champaran. Between February and August this year, 12 million saplings were planted. People will earn wages under NREGS while the saplings grow; after four years they can earn by selling fruits from the mature trees. Villagers have even formed vigilance committees to protect the saplings. “Imagine when these trees start bearing fruit. We will earn thousands of rupees every season,” said Lakhan Sao of village Paigambarpur, as he admired the healthy row of saplings he has planted. He said the saplings have to be protec ted initially from grazing cattle; once they grow to a height of five feet, they need not be guarded all the time. Sao said he is calling his son back from Punjab to look after the saplings.
Plantation drive record
Raju said he had a tough time convincing his superiors about the feasibility of the scheme. He claimed it would achieve the twin objective of giving employment to local people and mitigating climate change impact. “I am thinking global and acting local,” he said. If things work according to his plan then families living in rural Bihar can plant 42.31 crore saplings (at the rate of 50,000 saplings per panchayat) in one year. Raju also claims to have created a world record. On August 30, he launched a drive to plant the maximum number of saplings in a single day—as many as 9.6 million saplings were planted. This was higher than the previous record of 577,000 saplings planted in Pakistan on July 15 this year. Nearly 300,000 people across 7,000 villages participated in the mass plantation drive. Raju said he is trying to get the achievement recorded in the Guinness book. He said the whole administration worked hard for three months to make the drive a success. A helpline has also been set up to register complaints and answer queries related to the scheme. Raju quelled doubts about the success of the project once his posting in the range comes to an end. “The project is under NREGS, not under me.
A family can earn Rs 10,200 a year if 90 per cent saplings
survive. It is equivalent to a year’s wage under NREGS
Any person who assumes charge of this post after me will have to continue the project,” the forest commissioner said. A senior agriculture expert commented that the project has caught the fancy of the people because of failed monsoon that has made it hard to find farm jobs. “Migrant labourers could not find work due to failed monsoons. The scheme came as a boon to them,” he said. He warned that delay in payments, seen in other states implementing NREGS, would work as a deterrent for the scheme. Raju, however, said the scheme has been planned in a way that wages are not delayed. “Wages will be transferred directly into the bank accounts of the workers with job cards,” he said. The scheme is the first of its kind for promoting social forestry in the state. A senior forest officer said Tirhut scheme could become a model that can be replicated in other districts of the state. “For Bihar, this scheme is perfect because more than 70 per cent people know cultivation. If the families get full payment at the end of the year, it will become even more popular,” he said. Saran district wants to emulate On October 3, the forest department honoured the best performing village chiefs at a public function. S Verma, head of Beria village in Muzaffarpur, was one of the 12 village chiefs called for the meeting. He worked night and day to get the sanction for the NREGS scheme in his village and arranged seeds and saplings for people in his village. Verma said it was the first time he got to shake hands with senior government officials of the area. The 12 village chiefs are now being sent to Saran district to interact with villagers there. The Commissioner of Saran showed interest in the scheme after he received applications from villagers of various blocks to introduce a social forestry scheme on the same pattern as in Tirhut. “Best way to start the scheme is to have village-to-village interaction. Villagers will believe the village chiefs more than us,” said Raju. A Saran district official confirmed he and his colleagues had approached Tirhut officials for help in implementing the scheme on popular demand.
Call to tax sugared drinks gets industry hot under the collar
Taxing soft drinks and sugared beverages can help reduce obe - sity, a US study has found. The study comes at a time when President Barack Obama is trying to overhaul the healthcare system in the country. The paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine on September 16 suggested sugar-sweetened beverages might be the biggest cause of obesity. The authors of the paper believe taxes on such beverages would deter people from buying them. In the first year a tax of one cent per ounce of beverage would raise $14.9 billion in the US, and this could be used for health programmes, said the paper. “I think it (taxes) is an idea worth explori - ng,” Obama told Men’s Health magazine in September. He had talked about it during his election campaign as well. The concept of fat taxes—taxes imposed on junk food and beverages— was first proposed by Yale University professor Kelly D Brownell in 1994 in an article in New York Times. Brownell is also the lead author of the latest paper. No country has yet imposed fat ta - xes, also called sin taxes or twinkie taxes. The UK has one in the pipeline and Denmark will impose fat taxes in 2010. Among developing countries, Brazil is debating such taxes, while Mexico has tabled a proposal. “Countries have resisted the taxes due to recession. These are tough times for people to get hit by extra taxes,” explained Barry Popkin, professor at the department of nutrition in the Univer sity of North Carolina. He is one of the authors of the paper.
Industry hits back
The Asian Food Information Centre, funded by food, beverage and agri industries, has called the study scientifically flawed and the link between obe - sity and junk food inconclusive. It cited a paper published by Mercatus Centre for Policy, an economic think tank at George Mason University in the US, suggesting that there is no proof of such taxes altering the consumer behaviour. The American Beverages Associa - tion repeated the claim. “West Virginia and Arkansas are prime examples. Both have excise taxes on soft drinks, yet rank fifth and sixth in obesity rates,” it said. Popkin explained that consuming beverages does not reduce food intake; it just adds calories. Sugar sweetened beverages are profitable hence the stiff resistance from industry. “Typically, they say why single out one item when it is all food and drink that cause obesity. They are pouring tonnes of money and lobbying into the fight,” said Popkin. “Pepsi is more active. Coke is shifting to over 58 per cent of products with 10 kcal or less. It is Pepsi that did not change and is the major group fighting.”
No debate in India
Studies drawing links between junk food and obesity have been done in India as well but there has been no policy move. In 2005, the Central government formed a national committee for legislation to implement WHO’s recommendations on diet, physical activity and health in India. Fat taxes were a crucial part of the discussion, but the government did not take notice of the committee’s recommendations. Fat taxes might reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, but they would not change the consumption pattern, argued Anoop Misra, head of the Department of Diabetes in Fortis Hos - pital. “A better alternative is to concentrate on schoolchildren. Fast food and soft drinks should be banned in school canteens and nearby shops,” he said. Misra said teenage obesity in Delhi increased from 16 per cent in 2005 to 29 per cent in 2009. Obesity leads to diabetes, cardiac diseases, hypertension, gall bladder disorders and depression. Imposing fat taxes in India is complicated because the scope of such a tax would not be limited to burgers, pizzas and soft drinks. “Indian junk food, samosa and bhaturey for instance, poses a greater risk because a larger number of people consume it,” said Misra. “It would not be possible to either tax it or ban it.” In the absence of a tax on food products, the medical fraternity suggests banning use of unhealthy partially hy - drogenated vegetable oils in cooking. ■
The junk food industry is lobbying hard to fight
taxes on its products. Pepsi is in the forefront