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Union govt permitting backdoor entry to GM crops via gene editing technology

By Bharat Dogra 

Due to policy mistakes by the Indian government during the last 8 years or so, some very serious problems have emerged or have been aggravated and urgent correctional actions and decisions on the part of the government are needed as early as possible.
Despite the large-scale objections of people, farmers, independent experts and several state governments to GM crops becoming well- known in the context of earlier big debates on GM crops, unfortunately the union government has resorted to tactics like changing regulations in favour of GM foods and permitting backdoor entry to GM crops via gene editing technology. All such recent changes which facilitate GM crops and GM food in the country should be taken back to avoid serious harm to farmers and farming, environment and health.
The informal sector in manufacturing and services has been harmed heavily by monetary and fiscal policy, in the form of demonetization, GST and other government actions. Both small scale entrepreneurs and workers in this sector have been very adversely affected. This has caused immense damage to what has been the main opening opportunity point for entrepreneurs from modest backgrounds. Policies which restore easy working conditions and bring a genuine revival are urgently needed in the informal sector, with special emphasis on helping women.
Overall employment has not received the due priority in economy in recent times, and this has been seen in the persistence of high unemployment levels in both rural and urban areas. Urgent action is therefore needed to increase employment opportunities at various levels, for the poorest sections as well as for the educated unemployed.
The arbitrary process of the codification of labor laws has led to widespread concerns regarding the erosion of rights gained by years of struggles. This is particularly true in the context of some sections like construction workers. The codification must therefore be reviewed in a participatory way with labor representatives so that arbitrary denial of hard won rights of workers, including women workers, can be avoided.
Inequalities need to be checked on urgent basis as these are now reaching levels last seen in colonial times. While helping the poor, action must be taken to check excessive concentration of wealth, income and influence in the hands of a small group of billionaires, crony capitalists and multinational companies. Illegal diversion of funds by them to tax havens and other illegal activities amounting to plunder of public funds should be strictly checked.
The government should take urgent steps to ensure that those ( in terms of economic difficulties) in the bottom half of the population, particularly dalits and adivasis and disability affected persons, should not be marginalized further. Neglected tasks like protecting adivasi lands and the special constitutional provisions for their rights, land reforms to ensure at least some land for the landless dalits, providing adequate budgets ( without later cuts ) for schemes meant for the poorest people including women, backing new legislation for disability affected people with adequate budgets to fulfill new provisions should get the overdue attention.
The planning process in the form of five years plans, which was very arbitrarily scrapped by the NDA government in 2014 should be re-started and the Planning Commission should be re-established.
The relentless processes of privatization and disinvestment which have high possibilities of losing important public sector assets to crony capitalists at low costs in arbitrary ways, weakening the economy and risking erosion of livelihoods should be checked. Public sector companies like the LIC with a rich record of service should not be tampered with unnecessarily in the mad rush for privatization.
The ever increasing privatization of health and education sector and trapping it more and more in narrow confines of profit and greed should be checked so that education and health can be linked closely to real social needs.
The newly introduced non-transparent system of election bonds which confers huge and unfair advantage on the ruling party should be scrapped while the fair, impartial conduct of elections by the Election Commission should be re-established, ensuring also that EVMs are not used in unfair ways. Post-election use of money and various favors to purchase elected members of other political parties should be strictly avoided.
Undue harassment of opponents and dissenters, social organizations and media persons, using central agencies and draconian laws, should be given up.
Principled federalism should be followed, based on financial justice to all states in unbiased ways and avoiding any unfair actions against states ruled by other political parties.
Urgent measures to ensure equality and protection of minorities should be taken up. Strict action should be taken up promptly against those attacking minorities or spreading hatred against them. All places of worship should be protected as per law and right to worship there ensured. While the government is already engaged in some damage control in the context of the recent foreign relations crisis over inflammatory statements by BJP spokespersons, the corrective actions with respect to inter-faith harmony have to go much beyond damage-control and more basic changes are needed. Inter-faith harmony should be re-established as a basic precept of India’s society and policy.
Dilution of provisions for environment and forest protection and the trend of using unfair means and processes to get ecologically very harmful projects sanctioned should be strictly avoided. All possible efforts to minimize any harm to natural forests and trees should be made.
Gigantic projects, such as River-Linking Project involving 30 river-links, which pose serious risks to natural flow of rivers as well as have other very serious environmental and social impacts should be given up or re-evaluated honestly. Very unwise decisions have resulted in pushing back traditional oilseeds ( like mustard, groundnut and sesame ) while bringing palm oil to the forefront, that too in ways which will ravage biodiversity of eco-sensitive areas. This distorted policy should be corrected to place more emphasis on achieving edible oil self-reliance mainly on the basis of traditional oilseeds.
Various decisions to increase domination of food processing by big business interests (including those relating to rice fortification, which have been already questioned regarding their serious adverse implications in several reports) should be reconsidered.
The program to eliminate bullocks by stopping their birth, using the technology of sexed semen or sex selective technology, should be discontinued.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘Man over Machine’

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