Mainstream

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > A Few Pointers for the Mamata Banerjee Government

Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 34, August 13, 2011 - INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

A Few Pointers for the Mamata Banerjee Government

Saturday 20 August 2011, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

Ms Mamata Banerjee came to power in West Bengal on the crest of a wave of popularity unprecedented in the annals of any State of India. The people of West Bengal have high expectations from her. The people of other States, too, look up to her for setting an example of corruption-free governance for a true and long-lasting upliftment of the people at the grassroots level. It is, therefore, necessary for every well-wisher to keep a watchful eye on her government’s moves—to support her beneficent initiatives and to warn her in time if any of her steps tends to prove illusive.

Laudable indeed are the initiatives she has promptly taken to provide for the people of Jungle Mahal the cheapest possible ration en masse; and the law she has got enacted for the return of land to the farmers who were unwilling to part with their land. The Tatas have challenged the latter step in the Supreme Court. The people of West Bengal need to file a Public Interest Litigation pointing out (i) that the Tatas’ project for manufacturing petroleum-consuming cars and causing more carbon emission was, and is, in this age of Climate Change (that is, global warming) inimical to the cause of life’s survival on this planet, and (ii) that acquisition of land by the State for giving it on long-term lease to a profit-seeking industry is not only undemocratic but also immoral. Land is not an ordinary property. To most people, it is the source of all other assets. To the tribals, who cherish most the natural propensities, land embodies the right to life. The Courts will no doubt consider these vital aspects.

The new Chief Minister’s surprise visits to hospitals alerted the indifferent medical service-providers for mending their ways. She is looking into various aspects of education, which is indeed a very hard and most challenging task.

Attention Needed to Highest-priority Areas

IN this analyst’s opinion, two important aspects have not received the attention they deserved as the foremost economic issues. One is the policy for agriculture. The other is the policy for the micro, small and medium industries/enterprises. Since the micros will emerge on their own irresistibly, the policy needs to be formulated for the latter two—the SMEs. Failure to give them the highest priority among the industries is fraught with derailment of the programme for people’s upliftment.

Since the Singur and Nandigram episodes imputed to Mamata an anti-industry bias, she has become extra-eager to wipe out that image. She invited all big industrialists of the country to get them interested in making investments, even before deciding which industries needed the highest priority and which kinds of industries need to be disallowed for their eco-destructive or health-damaging character. This kind of haste runs the risk of blame game later. Take, for example, the understanding reportedly reached with the Purnendu Chatterjee group for the Petrochemical Complex at Haldia. This complex dangles the employment of fifty thousand persons. But there is a possibility that its toxic fumes will defoliate the vegetation for miles around; its effluents will heavily pollute the waters of Haldia River and the Bay of Bengal; and the seepage from its effluents plus uncontrolled dumping of its wastes will make the soils of the neighbouring blocks toxic and infertile for decades. If this happens, the overall productivity of the State’s economy will suffer a net loss and there will be more ousters from jobs than the number of jobs provided in these factories. And the health of the people around will be greatly affected. The human costs may thus be more. Foolproof safeguards must, therefore, be insisted upon from the very beginning, before giving clearance to any large industry, more so in the case of chemical plants. Of course, the IT industry, to which she has given priority, is beneficent and welcome.

The policy for agriculture and forestry needs to be defined first because both these are of basic value. Agriculture is the creation of wealth from the bowels of Mother Earth. It is a perennial process of renewal of wealth: hence no other endeavour is comparable with it. And forests are the common regulator of the health of the soil and the quality of water and the atmosphere. In today’s India, forestry and agriculture and their related activities, which include desiltation of rivers, re-excavation of canals, and restoration of reservoirs and farm ponds, can absorb more than 80 per cent of the total labour force. As against this, industry is only the processing of agricultural products or of minerals extracted from the earth, to add to man’s comforts. In every society, prosperity depends primarily on agriculture. In monsoon-ecology-based regions, Nature ordained that the society be agrarian. In such societies, agriculture plays a role in everybody’s life. In countries with high density of population, the availability of non-agricultural occupations to absorb 10-20 per cent of the population is certainty desirable. But the idea that the engagement of only five per cent of the population in the pursuit of agriculture is the index of a country’s development is utterly foolish. This is, in fact, a plea for agribusiness corporates taking over farms, and dispossessing the large majority of farmers on the US model. If pursued, this will mean ruination of India. But dark forces for implementing this model, ostensibly for “more efficient farming” and “for mitigating India’s hunger”, are looming large before the horizon of every State in India.

In this context, Mamata Banerjee’s government must first define its agricultural policy for the State of West Bengal. The following lines are suggested for this policy.

(i) That agribusiness firms, deshi or videshi, will not be allowed to buy any land in this State. Even their benami holdings will be illegal.

(ii) That farmers will be encouraged to sow only indigenous seeds and that their hybridisation with the highest yielding among the deshi seeds would be welcome. But seed corporations, which tend to indulge in “terminator technology”, will be given no quarter. (Terminator technology leads to just one high yield and then the seed becomes sterile, making the farmer dependent on the commercial firm to supply seed every year thereafter. This is creation of dependency in perpetuity.)
(iii) That no genetically modified seed of any crop, that is, seed produced by transgenic engineering (by “recombinant technology”), will be allowed in any part of the State, even in the name of experimentation. (The examples of genetic modification by infusion of pig’s gene into tomato, of gene of snake into orchid etc.) It is the most dangerous technology that mankind has ever evolved. It is fraught with the danger of genetic holocaust, more lethal than a nuclear holocaust. West Bengal must not permit this. Rajasthan has succumbed to the beguiling tactics of Monsanto, the USA’s giant seed corporation which propagates this technology. In Rajasthan, Monsanto posed its seeds as mere “hybrids” and claimed these to be more productive. By agreeing to the cultivation of Monsanto’s “hybrids”, the Government of Rajasthan has handed over to Monsanto the reins of Rajasthan’s agriculture.

Since the contamination of GM seeds is irresis-tible and long-ranging, the Rajasthan experiment with Monsanto’s “hybrids”, if not checked immediately, will lead to the elimination of traditional varieties of crops all over India. What kinds of mutations in human organs GM seeds will cause cannot even be guessed now.
(iv) That West Bengal will discourage the use of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides which have ruined the soils’ innate fertility, created water scarcity by water guzzling; polluted both surface and ground water; polluted air by release of nitrous oxides; and loaded crops with poisonous substances. This state will now like to switch to low-cost, on-site-input-based organic farming, based on deshi and naturally grown high-yielding seeds, aided by vermiculture (that is, earthworm culture). The State will welcome voluntary technical assistance from Organic Farmers’ Association of India, under whose guidance organic farmers have been reaping larger harvests of multi-varietal crops and livestock, and have transformed agriculture into a considerable income generating occupation.

(vi) That the State realises that under the alluring nomenclature of public-private participation, foreign business companies and deshi vested interests are making inroads in our urban and rural societies and retail business. This State will encourage the healthy growth of (a) village-wise consumer cooperatives supplying local inputs for agriculture and necessaries of daily life, and also of (b) village-wise producers’ cooperatives to market the local surpluses of perishable goods at reasonable prices to ward off the middlemen’s networks.

(vi) That the State realises the importance of village-wise granaries under the control of the villagers themselves. Traditionally, these were called dharmagolas. Their function will be to buy, at “average cost plus” price, the grains which producers want to sell at their own preferred time, and to sell to the needy in lean season at a little higher than the original purchase price, to even out the fluctuations. This will free the society from the perils of centralised food warehouses too.

Small and Medium Enterprises

THE reasons why the policy for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) should be formulated before the policy for large industries are as follows:

Every large manufacturing industry harms the ecosystem in some ways and tends to waste the non-renewable natural resources. Besides, they tend to reduce the number of employees to the minimum. Some of them, by way of displacing traditional jobs, can cause an overall net loss of employment in the neighbourhood. As against this, the cottage and village industries and small industrial units tend to provide the best satisfaction of people’s basic needs with the minimum use of Nature’s capital. These are the tools for utmost possible attainment of end-uses within minimum means.

The Internet says: Worldwide, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been accepted as the engine of economic growth and for promoting equitable development. The major advantage of the sector is its employment potential at low capital cost. The labour intensity of the MSME sector is much higher than that of the large enterprises. The MSMEs constitute over 90 per cent of total enterprises in most of the economies and are credited with generating the highest rates of employment growth and account for a major share of industrial production and exports. “In India too, the MSMEs play a pivotal role in the overall industrial economy of the country... With its agility and dynamism, the sector has shown admirable innovativeness and adaptability to survive the recent economic downturn and recession.”

According to some researchers, SMEs account for 99.7 per cent of all enterprises in the world (in number) and also account for, directly and indirectly, about 80 per cent of value in the world. Besides, they account for nearly 80 per cent of value additions. Within the world economy, large industries account for only 0.3 per cent (that is, one-third of one per cent) of the total number of industries. In spite of much larger size and several hundred times capital investments, the large industries account for only 20 per cent of industrial jobs and 20 per cent of value additions. Even in the European Union, 23 million SMEs represent 99 per cent of all EU industries and account for 57 per cent value addition within the EU.

In India, as per available statistics (4th Census of the MSME Sector), this sector employs an estimated 59.7 million persons spread over 26.1 million enterprises. It is estimated that in terms of value, the MSME sector accounts for about 45 per cent of the manufacturing output and around 40 per cent of the total export of the country. In the post-Mahatma Gandhi period, if the SMEs had not received relative neglect, their growth would have been much more.

An illustration of the cottage-cum-village industries and of the small industries which would improve the science level of villagers and also enhance common people’s prosperity is given below.

Baskets of various shapes and sizes from bamboos can be a cottage industry. Village industries can include handlooms; traditional ghani for extraction of oil from mustard, and copra and also from need seed and cotton seed, small-scale production of soap and paper; making of herbal gardens which will also be gene pools; pharmacy for ayurvedic medicines from herbs; manufacture of dyestuffs from natural colours from vegetations; manufacture of biodegradable plastics from wood pulp; making of small agriculture implements etc.

Besides, there are enterprises of variable scales which are in between village industries and small industries. In India, undertakings in which investments in fixed assets in plant or machinery do not exceed 10 million, are called small industries. Manufacture of solar cookers, solar lanterns, solar dryers, solar pumps, solar collectors etc. can come under these categories.

Besides, there is an urgent need for masonry to build biogas plants in large numbers and their maintenance and repair as a service industry.

Inprovement of Kolkata

MAMATA has taken a decision to make Kolkata a better place for living. Her decision to install sodium vapour lamps in the streets of Kolkata is intended to increase visibility and to make travels on Kolkata’s roads safer. But painting the walls of the buildings should enjoy a lower priority than making the city garbage-free, freeing it from waterlogging during the rains and providing safe drinking water for all, including the slum dwellers. This is a tremendously difficult task. The city’s drains have remained clogged for decades in many areas and the Hooghly River, the source of water supply, has remained heavily polluted from many sources. This task is like rebuilding a whole State.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted