The need for the public sector

For services the marginalised need

Published: Thursday 30 November 2006

-- it is a shame that the upa government, which came to power on a rural/farmer vote against the 'India Shining' campaign of the previous nda government, is following its predecessor's step for farmer-unfriendly step. Be it the thoughtless promotion of industry in special economic zones, or showboating Indo-us bonhomie in the shape of the 'Agricultural Knowledge Initiative'. What the majority of Indian farmers need is open-source research that addresses the most critical challenge of greater productivity at lower costs of cultivation. A majority of farmers who buy seeds depend on varieties released by public sector research institutions. It is this research that has been siphoned by private seed industry to create and sell proprietary strains, mostly hybrids, the seeds of which cannot be saved and reused.But the public sector research supports the very edifice of Indian agriculture.

Instead of protecting the public sector, the government is promoting private sector research, which is protected by intellectual property rights. Most of the recent legislation serves the interests of industry or agribusinesses, not the farmer or small producer. Be it the Seeds Bill or the Food Safety and Standards Act.

These are troubled times for the public sector. The private sector is being allowed into most arenas. For any problem mentioned to the government, the answer is simple hand it over to private operators. Everybody forgets that there is a purpose to the public sector. That of safeguarding the larger interest of the polity, including people who can't pay for services they need, because all of us -- rich and poor -- occupy the same space. Be it socio-economic, political, or ecological.

In actual terms, it is a lie that the poor can't pay for the services that the public sector claims to provide. It is true they can't pay with money. But they pay with their labour, their land that is forcibly taken away, their forests over which entry is restricted, and in a hundred other ways. But their contribution is discounted because the ecological space is typically discounted in political debates. When town plans are devised in India, the water requirement and source is not discussed because there are always villagers whose water can be channelised forcibly.

The upa government's India has begun to shine. The India that is, is watching.

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