Abandon paddy, build IT hubs: Montek

Planning Commission deputy chairperson gets flak for his advice to Kerala at investors' meet

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Paddy fields such as this one in Kuttanad are increasingly under threat. Kerala lost over 500,000 hectares (ha) of land under paddy cultivation between 1980 and 2007 to various other sectors, and as of 2010-11, only 213,000 ha of land is under paddy cultivation (Photo credit Sanil N)

Kerala has a law that protects paddy fields and prohibits their use for any other purpose. But deputy chairperson of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is all for putting paddy fields to more lucrative uses. He said that Kerala should move on from its insistence on traditional paddy cultivation and use the farms for creating IT hubs and tourist resorts. He was speaking at the plenary session of the recently concluded global investors' meet at Kochi, Emerging Kerala.

As for food security of the state, it could be met by production of rice by other states, he said. This exhortation, made in the presence of the prime minister and the chief minister, has provoked politicians and civil society members alike. Leader of opposition, V S Achuthanandan, said the remarks were against the spirit of the law passed by the Legislative Assembly against conversion of paddy land for other purposes. Congress leader V M Sudheeran said Ahluwalia’s comments were a reflection of the attempts of corporate bodies and land mafia to grab paddy fields.

Ahluwalia repeated himself at press meets and interviews the next day. Farmers should not be locked into paddy; they can use part of the income from IT hubs and tourist resorts to buy rice from states such as Bihar where labour charges are much lower, he said. If the conventional methods of paddy cultivation continue, the state will have to highly subsidise it, he added.

Food and water security at risk

“The Planning Commission deputy-chairperson’s statement is an affront to the officials, scientists, planners and farmers of the state, who have been making all out efforts to protect paddy land and wetlands,’’ says Usha S, national convener of Save Our Rice campaign, a network of interested groups working for the sustainability of paddy cultivation. She also points out that paddy fields are not merely production centres of paddy, but are wetlands and the richest water source of Kerala, maintaining the water table. If the average water level in a paddy field is one foot, an acre (0.4 hectare) of the field would be holding 1,200 cubic metre (1.2 million litres) of water. This percolates down and replenishes the ground water. This year the south west monsoon failed and four out of the 14 districts have been declared drought affected, an unprecedented event during monsoon months.

According to the Kerala State Planning Board, the state lost over 500,000 hectares (ha) of land under paddy cultivation between 1980 and 2007 to various other sectors, and as of 2010-11 there are only 213,000 ha under paddy cultivation. The present paddy production is only around 625,000 tonnes whereas the requirement is assessed at 3.5 to 4 million tonnes per annum.

Agricultural scientist K P Prabhakaran Nair, who has served as a consultant with FAO, says that the state is heading for a crisis with only about 10 to 15 percent of the required rice being produced. “The words of the deputy chairperson, without understanding the realities of the state, are totally unwarranted,” he says.

First cash crops, now real estate threaten paddy 

In his statement, V S Achutanandan has pointed out how leaders at the Centre, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, have always pressurised the state to shift to cash crops with the promise of making good the deficit from other states. The shift had started right from the first Five Year Plan, in which the focus was on agriculture. The country was badly in need of foreign exchange then and the cultivation of spices, tea and rubber was encouraged on leased forestland and with huge subsidies. The message was taken by the farmer. Paddy’s prominence started to wane.

In the aftermath of the famine like situation in Kerala in 1964, the promise to Kerala to make good the deficit was kept and statutory rationing was started. Common people could get as much as two-thirds of the rice required apart from wheat from ration shops. A high 98 per cent of the population was covered under the Public Distribution System (PDS). Things however changed with economic reforms and targeted PDS became the norm. Rice availability through PDS reduced to as much as 86 per cent at one point of time. “Successive food ministers of Kerala had to suffer the ignominy of their demand  for additional food grains allocation being rejected,” says Achutanandan. Now the call is to convert paddy fields, for construction of hotels and self-financing institutions for investors.

Airport cleared on paddy land

The apprehensions of the public and environmentalists are not misplaced.  On September 13, a panel of the Union environment ministry recommended clearance for the Aranmula International Airport on over 200 (ha) of paddy field in Pathanamthitta district. The recommendation was made on the basis of an averment made by the promoters, K G S Aranmula International Airport Ltd, that there is no paddy cultivation happening there for the past 10 years and that the state government has notified the land as industrial area. The principal secretary of the state’s environment department endorsed this. However, the local people including the Congress party office bearers refute this and claim that the land was under cultivation till 2011. A hartal was organised in Pathanamthitta on the first day of the Emerging Kerala conference to protest the sanctioning of the airport.

“A planner is expected to be creative about the future,” says Mullakkara Retnakaran, former minister for agriculture. “But he (Ahluwalia) is like an anthakan vithu, the terminator seed,” he adds. The ambitious project, Ellarum Paadathekku or One and All to the Paddy Field, was launched  in 2009 to encourage the farmers to cultivate their land instead of leaving it fallow, by providing incentives like free seeds, subsidised fertilisers and higher price for paddy. “For the first time since 1970, the production of paddy increased over the previous year in 2009-2010 and then in 2010-11,” claims Retnakeran.

What happens to paddy promotion campaign?

Consequent to the concerted efforts of the previous government and various organisations, an awareness was created among the people against the conversion of paddy fields into commercial or residential areas, says Usha. Local bodies were also involved in encouraging paddy cultivation in fallow paddy fields. Nearly 40,500 ha have been brought under cultivation mainly by women under the initiative of Kudumbasree, with most of the land being taken on lease. They will lose their livelihood points out Usha, if paddy is abandoned. Thus, it is economy as well as ecology that will be seriously affected.

Usha also agrees that the statements of Ahluwalia may not have been off the cuff remarks, but a deliberate ploy to give a moral boost and justification to the sponsors of Emerging Kerala, who ultimately want to get hold of land. And where else is land available in Kerala other than in forests, plantations and paddy fields?

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  • It is our misfortune that

    It is our misfortune that good for nothing people of former employees of World Bank are heading our policy making departments. They make cheap statements without caring for their position every now and then to get in news. The same gentlemen made similar observations on Jalayagnam of Andhra Pradesh at a plan outlay meeting with state officials and CM -- though earlier praised the Jalyagnam. He proposed to construct toilets at lakhs of rupees spending. After viewing such observations I wrote to Prime Minister of India to weed out former World Bank employees from Planning Commission and PMO on several occasions. The day is not far away they sell India to USA. Whom IT hubs and tourism hubs help? Tourism hubs have became notorious ÔÇô became hubs of anti-social activities including drugs & prostitution. They are now dictating terms to government even after Supreme Court order. Paddy cultivation not helps food security but also employment security to millions of people in rural India. IT & Tourism is helping few to become rich and the employment generated in these is not even 0.1% of paddy cultivation. Unfortunately we have people who do not understand even this are heading our planning commission.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Well said, Dr.Jeevananda.

    Well said, Dr.Jeevananda. Morons like this are our curse. I have never heard a single advise from this guys which is sensible!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Absolutely agree with Dr.

    Absolutely agree with Dr. Jeevananda. But, the corruption has weaved itself into the web of destruction and few people have become masters in these types of corruption and spreading rapidly everywhere forgetting the basic aspects of humanity. how to weed-out this?? PM makes the irresponsible statement that "money doesnt grow on trees"... what type of leaders do we have as the face of nation!!!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • The advice is in tune with

    The advice is in tune with the theme song for the 12th Five (2012-17)Year Plan, i.e., "sustaining the crises in agriculture sector at a faster pace". Any wonder the final plan document is yet to see light of the day. How could it be seeing the light? The two stage design of the work plan itself has suffered with several working groups yet to submit their reports in the absence of which the steering committee is handicapped. The business outsourcing model did not work and hence the harebrained advice. Reddy garu is dead right in calling for a moratorium and eradication of such advice and advisors.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • May be inappropriate, I want

    May be inappropriate, I want share in this context, may latest mail to PM -- see below

    My observations for consideration on PM's economic reforms, reg.
    Monday, 24 September, 2012 5:07 AM
    From: "jeevananda reddy"
    Add sender to Contacts
    To: "Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India"
    Cc: " GoIplanning commission Dy. Chairman"

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Convenor, Forum for a Sustainable Environment
    [Formerly Chief Technical Advisor ÔÇô WMO/UN & Expert ÔÇôFAO/UN]
    Plot No. 277, Jubilee Hills Phase-III, Road No. 78, near Padmalaya Studio
    Hyderabad ÔÇô 500 096, Tel. 23550480

    To: Dr. Manmohan Singh 24th September 2012
    Prime Minister of India Hyderabad
    New Delhi

    Sub: My observations for consideration on PMÔÇÖs economic reforms, Reg.

    Dear Dr. Manmohan Singhji,

    ÔÇ£Corruption will be the hallmark of PMÔÇÖs reforms mantra; and thus 5% rich become richer and 70% poor become poorer and unhealthier.ÔÇØ

    HonÔÇÖble, Sir, I am following your recent economic reforms and later your speech to the nation on defending them ÔÇô welcoming FDI & multi-brand retail outlets of Western Greedy MNCs. I am herewith putting forward few of my thoughts for your consideration and appropriate action on the issue.

    Though Sir, some journalists and politicians are defending the present reforms proposed by you without going in to all aspects or ramifications of the reforms. P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister raised the issue of how to reduce the area under tobacco ÔÇô he openly asked what the alternatives are. Then I wrote an article on this on the request of Deccan Chronicle daily. I also know selling gold as the V.P.Singh government emptied the foreign reserves kitty through his bad policies. I think, Sir, now India is entering in to the same situation or even worse situation with the present economic reforms. In fact the government is destroying the nation and particularly states economy by itsÔÇÖ poor governance; without proper analysis.

    India is and will be an Agriculture country

    Agriculture directly or indirectly is providing employment to more than 70% population living in rural India. The multi-brand retail outlets destroy this by encouraging corporate agriculture ÔÇô when Dr. Y. S. Rajashekara Reddy was opposition leader, on his request I wrote black paper on agriculture to counter TDPÔÇÖs white paper/vision 2020 on agriculture wherein TDP defended corporate agriculture under the World Bank initiative. This was released in the assembly premises in which all opposition MLAs attended; and highlighted this event by all print media --. Corporate agriculture encourages highly subsidized chemical inputs technology, a heavy burden on the government. In fact Indian farmers are moving away from such system ÔÇô adapting organic farming ÔÇô which will substantially reduce subsidy burden on government. The second major change will be bring in to hybrid rice and GM food either produced locally under corporate farming or importing from USA & South America where they are compelled to sell to US multinational companies. This thus enters Indian market to test GM food by using Indians as ÔÇ£Guinea PigsÔÇØ. In USA a fight is going on labeling of GM food as the GM MNCs are against labeling. That means GM food enters India without labeling. In the case of Hybrid rice & GM rice, people as well animal hate to eat rice/fodder. This will destroy our traditional good rice varieties that fetch huge sum with export will be lost. Now, we know that MNCs supplying Bt-Cotton seed made sure non-Bt-seed is not available in the market to farmers. Resulting the farmers have to spend two to four times more on seed and thus raise the farmers investments. If crop fails, suicides are the order of the day. Same will happen with other food crops like rice and wheat. Thus increase the cultivation costs. Here the beneficiaries are seed companies and MNCs through royalty. Sir, do we need such system in India?

    Do we need to buy Health hazards?

    A lot of discussion is going on health hazards of GM crops/food to humans as well to animal. The seed companies and MNCs that get royalty are defending so that farmers will get addicted to GM seed. Here let me give a classical example. In USA some drugs were rejected based on their severe side effects. But, unfortunately some Indian doctors who have contacts with their counterparts in USA helping to test these drugs in India. People unaware of these clandestine arrangements use such drugs under the doctorsÔÇÖ recommendation and face the side affects more severe than the disease unknowingly. One such drug is an injection to diabetic patients. For nearly one year, this showed good results but later slowly the users were exposed to severe head ache, fever, loose motions very frequently making the patient suffer day in day out -- A book by the name ÔÇ£Sick PlanetÔÇØ highlights the health, hospitals, doctors, pollution, etc issues. The same will happen with GM food. There is another danger, the grain imported may create new diseases that destroy agriculture in India ÔÇô through PL-480 wheat entered in to India a weed known as Perthanium and occupied large areas ÔÇô no way we can eradicate it. Also, a virus destroyed honey production in Karnataka. Groundnut seed in Gujarat brought in a severe disease and as a result the entire production was burnt ÔÇô which I highlighted in my book as back as 2000 itself. These will happen basically because Indian officials are corrupt to the core. Nobody can stop them once we open the flood gates to multi-brand outlets with weak quarantine facilities.

    To make this black and white, the Vice-chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, as usual in his irresponsible way, last week in Kerala observed that paddy fields could be converted in to IT hubs, tourism resorts ÔÇô presently they are hubs of antisocial activities wherein drugs and prostitution flourishes --, etc. This clearly reflects the intension of present proposed economic reforms under the guidance of World Bank. This way government wants put 121 crore populations life at risk to benefit few rich businessmen. I read a report in todayÔÇÖs The New York Times ÔÇ£Power, Pollution and the InternetÔÇØ saying ÔÇ£Helping to process the staggering amount of Internet activity that occurs, data centers waste vast amount of energy, belying the information industryÔÇÖs image of environmental friendliness. Similarly, Rachel CarsonÔÇÖs ÔÇ£Silent SpringÔÇØ, ignited the environmental movement in 1960-70s based on green revolution technologies pollution. So health hazards show-up slowly, which is a costly affair.

    Reforms or flood gates opened to Western Greedy MNCs:

    After hearing your speech on FDI, etc reforms, Sir, I thought to bring to your notice a point I observed in Andhra Pradesh. After Dr. Y. S. Rajaskekhara Reddy took over as Chief Minister the economic growth in all sectors including developmental activities raised gradually. Along with this he implemented several schemes to uplift poor including health cards. Just after his death ÔÇô I expressed, through a mail as back as October 2009, my doubts on this accidental accident but so far nothing happened on this ÔÇô the high command brought in two corrupt and inefficient politicians as chief ministers and thus the economy reversed, plumed down ÔÇô It is like a bell-shape change, during YSR the economy reached top of the bell and later fall back. The two chief ministers are busy to please the high command forgetting the state. Can any reform improve this? The answer is big ÔÇ£NOÔÇØ. Dr. YSR could bring down the Bt-Cotton seed price by more than half but now things are changing. That means we need visionary politicians and not reforms that help USA.

    How other-wise achieve this?

    We can achieve the same goal through better governance. See few of them:

    ┬À Firstly, by bringing back the black money stashed in foreign & Indian banks;

    ┬À Secondly, through encouraging organic farming under cooperative farming using farmersÔÇÖ innovations that out yield farm yields of scientists, we can bring down the subsidy and loans to substantial level;

    ┬À Thirdly, remove the rich from the PDS beneficiaries list ÔÇô we can easily bring down the present list by 50% --. At present cororepathis are getting all benefits like BPL group;

    ┬À Fourthly, the benefits under SC, ST, BCs could be cut down by eliminating creamy layer ÔÇô at present creamy layer is getting all benefits under this;

    ┬À Fifthly, get back all that earned illegally beyond their means by government officials & politicians & businessmen -- donÔÇÖt worry of share market as this fluctuates to benefit unscrupulous businessmen but not the common investors interests;

    ┬À Sixthly, make all the natural resources like coal, iron ore, oil & gas, etc as government property and government undertake the export. Same way take over the export of agriculture produce like rice, cotton, etc ;

    ┬À Seventhly, by providing healthy food poor people could be saved from the health bills;

    ┬À Eighthly, already government has taken up the food security/ nutritious security bill and these are already in existence in different forms under different ministries which needs to be implemented under unified system ÔÇô so it is not additional burden to the government but could be reduced if implemented in the revised system by eliminating rich from this;

    ┬À Ninthly, cut down the salaries and other expenditure incurred by ministers, bureaucrats and other employees at state and central level ÔÇô this could be brought down by more than 60% of present level.

    We appeal you Sir, please look into these issues from all angles and take positive decision to save 121 crore population of India from degeneration under MNCs greed.

    With Regards

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply