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Policies For Privates, Policing For People

By Shalini Bhutani

22 March, 2011

There should be little surprise at the Government of Rajasthan's various departments, universities and agencies having unabashedly signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with seven big private seed and agri chemical companies in 2010. People would have seen it coming. After all, the State Government has been slowly but surely paving the way for the entry of the corporates through its policy changes. The MoUs have to be seen in the light of the Government's considered gameplan to privatise the agriculture sector as well, be it at the Centre or the State.

By a letter in June 2010 to over a dozen companies the State Government invited private companies to 'help develop' (sic) the agriculture sector in Rajasthan in public-private partnership mode. Since the last five years, more than five new policies that have a bearing on agriculture were announced in the State. These include:

•  Biotech Policy, 2007

•  Policy for Promoting Generation of Electricity from Biomass, 2009

•  Livestock Development Policy, 2010

•  Policy for Promotion of Agro-Processing and Agri-Business, 2010

•  State Environment Policy, 2010

•  State Water Policy, 2010

Most of these also create a facilitative policy environment for the operation of private companies. The policies and related administrative rules also indicate the intent of the State Government to further privatise the very resources themselves be it seed, breed, germplasm or water.

Rajasthan, for instance, was amongst the first States in the country to push 'bio'fuels. In 2007 it announced its intention to allocate lands to private companies for that purpose through the Rajasthan Land Revenue (Allotment of waste land for bio-fuel plantation and bio-fuel based industrial and processing unit) Rules, 2007. 30% of 'wastelands' in Rajasthan are designated for agro fuel plantation by private companies. In the same vein Government land required for any biomass power plant shall be allotted to the power producer at concessional rates of 10% of DLC rates. Therein the producers are encouraged to plant Prosopis Juliflora a plant notorious for denying native plants water and sunlight. The Biofuel Authority of Rajasthan encourages private operators to grow jatropha and tree borne oilseeds on a large scale. These might not be in sync with local people's farming systems. A US-based company Thar Technologies Inc. headed by a Rajasthani reportedly received $1.9 million US federal Advanced Technology Programme (ATP) grant for development of a biodiesel production process in 2008.

Meanwhile, the State's Biotechnology Policy is an all out endorsement of the application of modern biotechnology in agriculture. It expressly mentions plant biotech, animal biotech and bio- prospecting as priority areas. The policy offers a series of sops to the private sector, going to the extent of offering 'customised package(s)' to projects of the first Fortune 500 companies of the world. The State also offers special land packages to private companies (with an annual turnover of more than 100 crore and on their investing more than 10 crore), promising upto 60% concession in allotment of land upto a maximum of 10 acres in designated biotech zones. The biotech industries such as those into developing genetically modified (GM) products, will also be eligible for 50% exemption of electricity duty for seven years.

Amongst the major thrust areas identified in the Biotech Policy are the development of drought and salinity resistant crop varieties for Rajasthan's arid areas. And the MoU the Agriculture Department of the State has with Monsanto India Limited lists 'developing high-yielding maize hybrids as suitable to rainfed growing conditions in Rajasthan'. Thus the MoUs are an obvious example of taking the intent of the policies forward.

Likewise, the Livestock Policy of the State envisions R&D with the private sector. The said policy also has ambitious plans to set up special agriculture zones for the production and export of livestock products. Meanwhile, local communities including the State's nomadic pastoralists are struggling to get by. The export market is farthest from their immediate needs.

The people of Rajasthan have vast and varied local farming systems. For instance, the ancient wisdom of - Khadin, an ecological farming system that also conserves water is something endorsed by some researchers of CAZRI itself. So there is little or no justification for Governments to bend backwards to bring in the corporates!

But there is no doubt that people's agriculture has little value in the eyes of the State Government. The new administrative rules and executive policies are more about policing the people, rather than the companies that are literally planting themselves in the soil.

Shalini is trained in law; she is an independent researcher based in Delhi.







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