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PUCL Bulletin, 2007

Jatropha is harming the people of Chhatigarh

Letter to President of India

Hon’ble President Sir,

At the 6th anniversary of the formation of Chhattisgarh State on 7th November, 2006, during the State Celebrations you had claimed that ‘While this state would be in the forefront of Bio-diesel production from Jatropha, at the same time it would be called the “Diamond State” in future (as reported by the media). Besides, you had also produced a 7-point Mission Goals for the development of Chhattisgarh by 2015. The State Government too had welcomed you with the slogan: “Welcome to the Land of Jatropha”.

We are perturbed that you were not able to grasp the ground-reality of Chhattisgarh in the midst of glaring artificial lights of the Capital City during the State Celebrations deliberately decorated by the rulers and their servants living in palaces. Nor could you hear the hopes and aspirations of 2 Crore 14 Lakhs patriotic people of Chhattisgarh whose voices were drowned in the midst of blaring loudspeakers; people who were sweating in the sun to harvest the paddy crop in their fields and farms. Therefore, you were unable to realize the true identity of Chhattisgarh which is known as “The Rice Bowl” the world over. On the contrary, you played with the culture and dignity of toiling and sincere citizens of Chhattisgarh, who have created the true identity of “The Rice Bowl” through centuries of hard labour and traditional knowledge.

Respected President Sir, you are a Scientist. The basic principles of Science are “Reality” and “Reason”. Even then, you created an “illusionary dream” by addressing our land of “rice” as the “land of Jatropha”. Why Sir?

Respected President Sir, do you know that out of about 1,40,000 varieties of paddy in the world, 22,974 varieties are found in Chhattisgarh; of which 19,095 are found in Bastar and Raipur Division alone. And these rare varieties of rice have been developed by the farmers and agricultural workers of Chhattisgarh themselves and not by any scientist or university. Nor were these rare varieties of rice developed in the so-called modern countries like USA and Japan etc.

Ever since agricultural-farming originated in human history, the farmers of Chhattisgarh discovered and developed about 1,50,000 varieties of paddy on the basis of their traditional skills and knowledge. But, a number of these traditional and rare varieties of paddy became extinct with the time and changing pattern of agriculture, due primarily with the use of high yielding variety of seeds during the “green revolution” or were destroyed due to chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the name of modern agriculture. Even then, today there are 22,972 varieties of paddy in Chhattisgarh. This was possible because of the efforts of a world renowned agricultural scientist, Dr. R H Richaria, who collected these rare varieties of paddy seeds from the farmers of Chhattisgarh, documented their distinct qualities through research, and created a world record of having the largest collection of paddy seeds in the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya at Raipur. The state government ought to be proud of this distinction.

Respected President Sir, we feel proud in telling you that our ancestors had developed lakhs of these paddy varieties on the basis of their traditional knowledge and hard work and, that too, even before the United States of America (USA) was born or came into existence as a country! Nothing was then known about the “agriculture science” in the so-called modern countries when our farmers developed these hundreds and thousands of varieties of paddy.

Respected President Sir, about 6 million tonnes of rice is produced every year in Chhattisgarh, and that too when only 34 percent of the agricultural land is irrigated, according to the claim of the government, though, the ground reality is that not more than 16 per cent of agricultural land is under irrigation. This means that if the entire paddy produce was equitably distributed amongst the 2.14 crore population of Chhattisgarh, then each citizen would get 2 Quintals 80 Kilograms as their share. Just imagine this share would suffice to feed them for, at least, 560 days i.e. approximately for one-and-a-half years! So the “Food Security” system is already in-built in our “Rice Bowl”. But, what is lacking is the “distributive justice”.

Rice is not only the foundation of economics in Chhattisgarh, but an integral part of its cultural identity, self-hood and dignity. When we welcome a guest, we put “rice” as a “Tilak” on his/her forehead. No Worship (Puja) is complete without “rice” in Chhattisgarh; various festivals like “Cher-Chera” and “Akti” in Chhattisgarhi villages are closely related to “paddy” and “rice”.

Respected President Sir, even today the people of Chhattisgarh feel proud when addressed as “Pasiya Peene Wala” (People who survive by drinking Rice Water). “PASIYA” is equated as food of the poorest of the poor, and consists of cooked rice mixed with water, left overnight in an earthen pot, and eaten the next morning as break-fast, just before the toiling people leave for day’s work, whether it be in the fields or barns, or in the factories or mills. Even when hundreds and thousands of workers, men, women and youth migrate to other parts of the country in search of job, they survive on “pasiya”.

Against this backdrop, any reference made to Chhattisgarh as the “land of Jatropha” under-mining the significance of “rice” as the foundation of people’s economy, cultural identity and dignity is not only an insult to the Chhattisgarhi people, but also an open attack on their Right to Life and Livelihood. Such a situation would never be accepted by the patriotic and sincere people of Chhattisgarh! It becomes all the more acceptable when such a situation arises out of the discourse by the President of Indian Republic, who is not only the “Head of the State” but also the “Custodian of the Constitution”, under which the citizens have been guaranteed fundamental rights like the Right to Life, including the Right to Food.

Respected President Sir, the “Politics of Jatropha” is a war-cry of the Capitalist Corporate World to destroy the “Food Sovereignty” in Chhattisgarh, and is a well thought out conspiracy to, once again, chain the people of Chhattisgarh in the fetters of foreign slavery. As an intellectual and a scientist it would be easier for you to travel through the pages of history and remind yourself of the “Food Politics” that was exposed in the secret documents of American Congress in the 60’s. It revealed the imperialist conspiracy of keeping in control other nations, especially the developing countries, and pressurizes them to toe the line of the imperialist countries by using food (not guns or bombs) as a powerful weapon of subjugation and subordination. And today it is turning out to be true that in the age of globalization, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is systematically destroying the “food-producing capacity” of the entire world, especially of the agriculture-based economy of countries like India. A blue-print has been prepared for “agri-business” under the dictates of USA. This model is being thrust upon self-reliant food-producing regions like Chhattisgarh known as the “Rice Bowl”. The plantation of Jatropha destroying paddy farming is an integral part of the very “Food Politics” that has led to hunger and starvation on the one hand, and on the other hand to large-scale suicides of farmers in various parts of our country.

After the formation of the state of Chhattisgarh, the state government prepared a model of development in a document named VISION - 2010. It is not strange that in this document the term “Rice Bowl” was not used even once. The real identity and dignity of Chhattisgarh being the “Rice Bowl” was totally ignored. It is worth reflecting that this document spelling out the future development of Chhattisgarh was prepared by a Multi-National Corporation called the PriceWaterHouseCoopers. There was no participation of the patriotic people of Chhattisgarh in this discourse; even the people’s elected representatives (MLAs & MPs, etc.) and intellectuals were not consulted to contribute to the planning of such an important document shaping the destiny of the state and its people. After the formation of the state of Chhattisgarh, during the Congress-I regime paddy was projected as the main cause of poverty and people were mislead to believe in such a false propaganda.

Respected President Sir, as we have already mentioned earlier that the main reason behind the “Politics of Jatropha” is to destroy the “Food Sovereignty” of Chhattisgarh and transform the “Rice Bowl” in to a “Hunger Bowl”. Against this conspiracy, we clearly see the hands of international market forces under the patronage of Imperialist nations. Recently, the attempts to rob Chhattisgarh of rare varieties of paddy seeds by some Trans-national Corporations like “Syngenta” and “Mahco-Monsento” exposes this international conspiracy. In 2002, the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Raipur entered into a secret deal with the TNC called “Syngenta” for sharing valuable information for research on ‘germ-plasm” of rare varieties of rice seed collections.

The MoU was cancelled after people’s agitation. Similarly, another TNC by the name of “Mahco-Monsento” was caught experimenting with hazardous varieties of BT-Rice, BT-Ladyfinger, and BT-Brinjal, that too in illegal collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Raipur. The role of the state government has also come under a cloud of suspicion when the entire illegal and hazardous experimentation going on in the backyard of the IGKV came to the light. There is wide spread anger prevalent amongst citizens, especially the farmers, against this secret operation.

Besides, there appears to be a clear-cut conspiracy to uproot and displace hundreds of thousands of adivasis, dalits, farmers from their common property resources by planting Jatropha on public land, revenue and forest land under the “Politics of Jatropha”. The public life and environment is already getting endangered by the hazardous impact of Jatropha. Only recently, on 22nd November, 16 children were taken seriously ill after consuming the fruits of Jatropha in Magarload block of Dhamtari Tahsil in Chhattisgarh. All of them had to be admitted in the Primary Health Centre; three children are in a serious state. Respected President Sir, as a scientist, you must be definitely aware of the hazardous carcinogenic qualities of Jatropha, which causes dangerous diseases like Cancer. But, not aware of the hazardous qualities of Jatropha, children are tempted to eat its sweet fruits. In addition, Jatropha destroys millions of organisms in the soil thus rendering the land barren; and its poisonous qualities have their own deadly impact on animals and plants etc.

For reference, kindly see JAPANESE JOURNAL OF CANCER RESEARCH: Presence of Tumor Promoters in the Seed Oil of Jatropha Curcas L. from Thailand, In: Jpn J Cancer Res (1987 Mar) 78(3): 223-6 ISSN: 0910-5050).

There is a growing possibility of many adivasis living in the forest of Chhattisgarh getting their traditional and fundamental rights on forest-land under proposed legislation “The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005”. The “Politics of Jatropha” is also seen as a tool to displace them from their ancestral forest-land, which appears to be an extension of the “historic exploitation and injustice” of tribals and other traditional forest-dwellers during the British Rule.

It is also clear that the Joint Parliamentary Committee has recommended the cut-off date as 13.12.2005 instead of 24.10.1980 as proposed in the Bill for granting forest rights. This is yet another reason that the Government of Chhattisgarh, under the “Politics of Jatropha”, wants to deny the adivasis and traditional forest-dwellers their traditional natural rights to cultivate the forest land. Respected President Sir, you definitely know that Chhattisgarh is predominantly populated by adivasis and dalits with 31.13 per cent of STs and 22.32 per cent of SCs. From amongst these, many are recognized as primitive tribes under the Constitution of India. Among them are: Baiga, Kamaar, Pahari Korva, Bhunjia, Birhor and Maria tribes. Even then, all these primitive tribes are being displaced from forest-land.

Respected President Sir, during the State Celebrations you wrote a poem entitled ‘Glory of Chhattisgarh’. In this poem too, there is no mention of the true identity and dignity of Chhattisgarh as the “Rice Bowl”. Although in this poem, you do refer to martyrdom of Shaheed Veer Narain Singh: “Let me salute the martyrdom of Veer Narain Singh on this day, In this great land, unfolded the revolution – Bhoomkal, Born was the pace mission and unity of minds of Guru Ghasidas, Khoobchand dreamt a prosperous land.” All the martyrs from Shaheed Veer Narain Singh to Shaheed Shanker Guha Niyogi and other noble men and women recognized the true identity of Chhattisgarh as the “Rice Bowl” and sacrificed their lives for its real freedom and dignity.

In order to correct the misdirected pattern of development leading to death and destruction, and also in order to provide vision, direction and action plan for the people’s development, the patriotic people of Chhattisgarh would like to invite you to the “Rice Bowl”, so that you could come to grips with the ground reality, and understand the “struggles” and “reconstruction” of toiling and honest people to build “A New Chhattisgarh for A New India” based on their hopes and aspirations.

Respected President Sir, for this we would like to cordially invite you to Chhattisgarh on 19th December, 2006, Shaheed Veer Narain Singh’s martyrdom day; a martyr on whose path we would like to march ahead and, once again, break the chains of slavery by defeating the draconian designs of a development promoted by the Imperialist Powers, as we stand committed to the creation of “A New Chhattisgarh for A New India”; a state whose foundations would be laid down on the principles enshrined in the concept of the “Rice Bowl” that are justice, peace, equality and human dignity etc.

We hope that you would definitely grace us by accepting our invitation so that the patriotic people of Chhattisgarh could directly dialogue with the “Custodian of the Indian Constitution” on these crucial issues of life and death confronting them.

With Greetings! We remain yours:

Janak Lal Thakur, President & Ex MLA, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Shaheed Chowk, Champ-1, Dallirajhara, Dist. Durg – 481228 (CG), Mob: 94241-07557; Shashi Sail, Secretary, Chhattisgarh Mahila Jagriti Sangathan, Near Kushabhau Thakre Park, Ram-Rahim Nagar, Mahasamund – 493445 (CG), Phone: 07723-224025, Mob: 94252-04109, E-mail: shashisail@rediffmail.com; Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha, 53, Sector-1, Geetanjali Nagar, Raipur (CG), Phone: 0771-2444120, Mob: 98261-71304, E-mail: nadi_ghati@yahoo.com; Ratneshwar Nath, Ekta Parishad (Bastar); Parivartan, Village - Bardebhata, PO: Kanker, Dist. North Kanker, Bastar- 494334 (CG) Phone: 07868-241134, Mob: 94252-59041, E-mail: parivartancg@hotmail.com; Rashmi Drivedi, Baiga Mahapanchayat – Chhattisgarh, Baiga Mahapanchayat Chhattisgarh, At/PO: Lormi, In front of New Bus Stand, Dist. Bilaspur – 495115 (CG), Mob: 98261-24083; Akshay Sail, 6. Chhattisgarh Seed Satyagrah, Near Kushabhau Thakre Park, Ram-Rahim Nagar, Mahasamund – 493445 (CG), Phone: 07723-224025, Mob: 98265-70111, E-mail: chhattisgarhcli@rediffmail.com. – 6th December 2006

Note: This letter is purposely being written on 6th December, 2006, the death anniversary of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who made a valuable contribution in drafting the Constitution of India. Incidentally, this falls exactly after one month of your visit to Chhattisgarh on the Foundation Day

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014