Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Fears of social unrest ahead as India’s rise creates new underclass

January 5, 2008

Double-edged boom hits India’s poor

Fears of social unrest ahead as country’s rise creates new underclass
From Raymond Thibodeaux in New Delhi

EVEN AMID the chaotic swarm of Delhi’s traffic, with horns blaring and trucks and buses rumbling past, Omprekash Takur’s place of business remains a bastion of stillness and calm. Which is a good thing, as Takur’s speciality is open-razor shaves.

Takur has spent nearly 10 years at this barber shop, or what passes for a barber shop: a small stretch of pavement with a rusted chair, a plastic table for his shaving kit, two pairs of scissors, a comb and a square mirror hanging from a nail driven into the trunk of a tamarind tree, its leaves darkened by soot and dust kicked up by the traffic.

“My father taught me to do this when I was seven and I’ve been doing it ever since. My teachers would beat me for skipping classes, but I enjoyed making money from cutting hair,” said the slight, dark-skinned Takur, now 27, as he loaded a fresh blade into the razor.

India’s city streets are filled with people like Takur – barbers, ear cleaners, cobblers and tailors, a rag-tag platoon of kerbside personal assistants for the country’s urban masses. But for many of them, India’s economic rise has chipped away at their client base as a growing number of Indians are better able to afford more upmarket versions of their services at newly sprouted shopping malls.

The huge wealth being generated by India’s booming economy has been slow to trickle down to the street level, where most of the country’s 400 million workers ply their trades. Typically, they are poorly educated and semi-skilled, and toil away in a shadowy, informal economy that falls under the radar of most government controls and protections.

As India’s rises, the gap between rich and poor appears to be widening. With a 6% inflation rate, the new India seems to be backfiring on the poor, who are hardest hit by increases in the cost of basic necessities such as food and shelter. This has stoked fears of a looming social turmoil in this country of 1.1 billion people, as a growing and increasingly restive underclass is left to fend for itself as India’s economic tide turns.

“These are our electricians, our plumbers, our housemaids and our drivers. They are the backbone of our economic success, and yet they live in slums,” said Ranjana Kumari, director for the Centre of Social Research in New Delhi, a non-governmental agency focused on India’s workplace.

“There is a serious flaw in the government policies that guide our economy. There needs to be more government initiative to care for these workers and give them a bigger share of the wealth.”

So far, India’s pro-growth government has been reluctant to burden businesses with costly regulations that would do just that. And many Indian companies have been unwilling to absorb them as formal employees, who would then be entitled to the few perks already required by law: health benefits, pension plans, holidays and severance pay.

As a result, about 93% of India’s workforce remains informal and unorganised.

“Ideally, we want to formalise our entire workforce, give them pensions and health benefits and so on, but that’s going to take a long time,” said Pronab Sen, the Indian government’s chief statistician. Part of the hold-up is that more and more rural Indians are abandoning their farms and moving to urban areas to seek better jobs as rickshaw drivers, street sweepers and barbers. These workers are hard to keep track of and much harder to organise.

“The informal sector is an extremely important transition between the rural areas and the cities. It allows the people to learn different trades that are more useful and better-paying,” Sen said.

In the shade of the tamarind tree, Takur dipped his shaving brush in hot water and lathered up another scruffy face, his third in the space of an hour. He said he usually rakes in at least £3 a day, three times the daily wage of most Indians. It’s enough to support his wife and his three sons, aged six, four and two.

Asked how India’s boom had benefited him, he said: “It hasn’t.” But a client, a rickshaw taxi driver waiting his turn in the barber’s chair, pointed out that Takur had doubled his prices since last year.

“Yes, that’s true, but that is not really a benefit to me,” said Takur, using his palm to wipe shaving cream off the razor. “My supplies are costing more, so I must pass that on to my customer.”

Sunday Herald


Behind the ‘hindu growth rate’ of Gujarat, ‘wombs for rent’

January 5, 2008

ANAND: Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.

A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.

The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.

More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond. The women earn more than many would make in 15 years. But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.

Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind Anand’s baby boom, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.

“There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family,” Patel said. “If this female wants to help the other one … why not allow that? … It’s not for any bad cause. They’re helping one another to have a new life in this world.”

Experts say commercial surrogacy _ or what has been called “wombs for rent” _ is growing in India. While no reliable numbers track such pregnancies nationwide, doctors work with surrogates in virtually every major city. The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive on their own.

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.

Critics say the couples are exploiting poor women in India _ a country with an alarmingly high maternal death rate _ by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of labor.

“It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries,” said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Missouri. “It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk.”

Patel’s surrogates are aware of the risks because they’ve watched others go through them. Many of the mothers know one another, or are even related. Three sisters have all borne strangers’ children, and their sister-in-law is pregnant with a second surrogate baby. Nearly half the babies have been born to foreign couples while the rest have gone to Indians.

Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent US$200,000 (euro138,910) trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another US$80,000 (euro55,563) to hire a surrogate mother in the United States.

“We were so desperate,” she said. “It was emotionally and financially exhausting.”

Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Patel’s clinic. After spending about US$20,000 (euro13,890) _ more than many couples because it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive _ Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child.

“Even if it cost $1 million (euro690,000), the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them,” said Sodhi. “They’re godsends to deliver something so special.”

Patel’s center is believed to be unique in offering one-stop service. Other clinics may request that the couple bring in their own surrogate, often a family member or friend, and some place classified ads. But in Anand the couple just provides the egg and sperm and the clinic does the rest, drawing from a waiting list of tested and ready surrogates.

Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list. Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the US$4,500 (euro3,125) she receives from the British couple whose child she’s carrying. It would have taken her 15 years to earn that on her maid’s monthly salary of US$25 (euro17).

Dodia’s own three children were delivered at home and she said she never visited a doctor during those pregnancies.

“It’s very different with medicine,” Dodia said, resting her hands on her hugely pregnant belly. “I’m being more careful now than I was with my own pregnancy.”

Patel said she carefully chooses which couples to help and which women to hire as surrogates. She only accepts couples with serious fertility issues, like survivors of uterine cancer. The surrogate mothers have to be between 18 and 45, have at least one child of their own, and be in good medical shape.

Like some fertility reality show, a rotating cast of surrogate mothers live together in a home rented by the clinic and overseen by a former surrogate mother. They receive their children and husbands as visitors during the day, when they’re not busy with English or computer classes.

“They feel like my family,” said Rubina Mandul, 32, the surrogate house’s den mother. “The first 10 days are hard, but then they don’t want to go home.”

Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa.

“They need a baby more than me,” she said. The surrogate mothers and the parents sign a contract that promises the couple will cover all medical expenses in addition to the woman’s payment, and the surrogate mother will hand over the baby after birth. The couples fly to Anand for the in-vitro fertilization and again for the birth. Most couples end up paying the clinic less than US$10,000 (euro6,945) for the entire procedure, including fertilization, the fee to the mother and medical expenses.

Counseling is a major part of the process and Patel tells the women to think of the pregnancy as “someone’s child comes to stay at your place for nine months.”

Kailas Gheewala, 25, said she doesn’t think of the pregnancy as her own.

“The fetus is theirs, so I’m not sad to give it back,” said Gheewala, who plans to save the US$6,250 (euro4,340) she’s earning for her two daughters’ education. “The child will go to the U.S. and lead a better life and I’ll be happy.”

Patel said none of the surrogate mothers has had especially difficult births or serious medical problems, but risks are inescapable.

“We have to be very careful,” she said. “We overdo all the health investigations. We do not take any chances.”

Health experts expect to see more Indian commercial surrogacy programs in coming years. Dr. Indira Hinduja, a prominent fertility specialist who was behind India’s first test-tube baby two decades ago, receives several surrogacy inquiries a month from couples overseas.

“People are accepting it,” said Hinduja. “Earlier they used to be ashamed but now they are becoming more broadminded.”

But if commercial surrogacy keeps growing, some fear it could change from a medical necessity for infertile women to a convenience for the rich.

“You can picture the wealthy couples of the West deciding that pregnancy is just not worth the trouble anymore and the whole industry will be farmed out,” said Lantos.

Or, Lantos said, competition among clinics could lead to compromised safety measures and “the clinic across the street offers it for 20 percent less and one in Bangladesh undercuts that and pretty soon conditions get bad.”

The industry is not regulated by the government. Health officials have issued nonbinding ethical guidelines and called for legislation to protect the surrogates and the children.

For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents.

“I know this isn’t mine,” said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. “But I’m giving happiness to another couple. And it’s great for me.”

Economic Times

94 Million smokers in India, 14 million with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseas

November 15, 2007

PUDUCHERRY: The habit of smoking is on the rise in India, even as the trend is registering a steady decline in the Western countries, an expert has said.

World Health Organisation has estimated that there were around 94 million smokers in India, Dr K H Kisku, Head of the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at the Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), said in Puducherry on Tuesday.

“While the incidence of smoking is drastically coming down in the West, it is on the rise in India,” he said.

Among these 94 million smokers in India, 14 million were suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), he said, on the eve of World COPD day.

Smoking is the prime cause of COPD and the disease had been found to be the fourth leading cause of deaths, he added.

Asserting that COPD was curable, he however, said that one should quit smoking immediately and undergo treatment for getting better results.

Kisku said that sometimes even non-smokers would suffer from the COPD due to passive smoking. Constant exposure to fumes from cooking stoves and polluted air could also lead to the disease.

The percentage of damage suffered by the lungs could be ascertained with the help of spirometer, he said.

The PIMS is conducting a free spirometry test till November 16.

150 million rich produced 4.5 times more carbon emissions than the 800 million poor Indians

November 14, 2007

Greenpeace calls for pollution tax on India’s 150 million rich, 13 Nov 2007

India’s wealthy consumers, who make up a fraction of its 1.1 billion population, are fuelling the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and should be required to pay extra tax, an environmental watchdog said on Tuesday.

Some 150 million Indians, splurging on luxury goods and air travel, produced 4.5 times more carbon emissions than the 800 million poor, according to a Greenpeace report entitled “Hiding Behind The Poor”.

The government should not use its average low carbon per capita emissions as a reason not to try to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released, said Greenpeace India chief, G. Ananthapadmanabhan.

A “relatively small wealthy class (of) … over 150 million Indians are emitting above the sustainable limit which needs to be maintained to restrict global temperature rise to below two degree centigrade,” he told reporters.

New Delhi has refused to accept caps on carbon dioxide emissions, saying doing so would hurt economic growth needed to pull millions out of poverty.

The government has also said that its per capita greenhouse gas emissions are low, accounting for 23 percent of the global average.

India’s position on UN climate change negotiations would be strengthened if New Delhi made the rich pay a special tax for higher carbon emissions, Ananthapadmanabhan said.

“India has always asked the developed nations to reduce its carbon emissions and allow developing nations the carbon space to grow,” he said. “We would be in a stronger position to point fingers if we acted ourselves.”

Besides the well-off, defined as those earning above 8,000 rupees (205 dollars) a month, India’s coal-based thermal power plants add to carbon dioxide emissions, the report said.

The Greenpeace findings were based on a survey of 819 families belonging to seven different income groups across India.

55 percent women anaemic, 40 percent kids underweight: NFHSreport

October 11, 2007

More than half the women in India  are anaemic and one in three child is underweight.

‘Anaemia is disturbingly common among adults. 55 percent of women in India are anaemic and 43 percent of kids below the age of three are underweight,’ reveals the final report of the National Family Health Survey – III (NFHS-3), released Thursday.

‘Anaemia among pregnant women during that period has also increased. Even though men are much less likely than women to be anaemic, anaemia levels in men are at around 24 percent,’ the NFHS survey revealed.

The findings showed that malnutrition continues to be a significant health problem for children and adults in India.

‘There has been very marginal change in the percentage of children who are underweight. From 43 percent underweight children in 1998-99 to 40 percent in 2006.’

NFHS-3 also found high prevalence of anaemia – 70 percent in children aged 6-59 months. Anaemia is primarily linked to poor nutrition.

‘Women and men suffer a dual burden of over nutrition and under nutrition. More than one third of women are too thin, while 13 percent are overweight.

‘One-third of men are too thin, and 9 percent are overweight or obese. The states with the largest percentage of overweight women and men are in Punjab, Kerala, and Delhi, especially among the more educated,’ the survey pointed out.

80% of people living below $ 1 in South Asia are in India

July 9, 2007

India’s failure to meet the target of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will fail the world, a coalition of NGOs said on the eve of half-way period for the MDGs.

Adopted on July 7, 2000 at a United Nations summit by 189 countries, the coalition under the banner of Wada to Na Todo Abhiyan urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to involve people in government’s key anti-poverty progammes to make them effective.

For example, the National Employment Guarantee programme is more successful in states, where it is under citizen watch, said convenor of the abhiyan Amitabh Behar. The third Civil Society Review Report of the National Common Minimum Programme was also presented to the Prime Minister.

Rallies were organised in 12 states by NGOs to review government’s performance on MDGs, which ends in 2015. People from different walks of life participated in the rallies also aimed at creating awareness about the goals that the governments Central and state have to achieve.

The national mid-term checklist revealed that 80% of people living below $ 1 in South Asia are in India. The TB prevalence rate in India (344 per 100,000 people) is comparable to that of some of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. “On this date we are highlighting the key challenges that the government must overcome to address poverty, hunger, ill-health, illiteracy, environmental degradation and social exclusion,” Behar said.

The check list also says that despite the rapid strides in economic growth in the last decade, India accounts for the largest number of maternal deaths in the world and maternal and infant mortality rates are even worse than some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

India is also home to world’s highest number of under nourished children.

Behar said, the progress made by India will significantly determine whether the world as a whole will be able to meet some of the most critical targets of MDGs.

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, July 07, 2007

Millions breathe cancer-causing air in India: report

June 4, 2006

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Millions in India breathe air loaded with cancer-causing chemicals and toxic gases present at levels that are thousands of times higher than permissible limits, an independent report said on Saturday.

India, one of the most polluted countries in the world, does not even have a standard for many harmful chemicals and gases, and thus no monitoring nor regulation for them, the report said.

The study by the Community Environmental Monitors (CEM), an independent environmental and health agency, is India’s first comprehensive national survey of ambient air that based its findings on a two-year survey carried out in 13 locations.

“As India is poised to nearly double its industrial capacity in the coming years, our nation is pathetically behind in terms of its infrastructure to safeguard its environment or the health of people from air pollution,” said CEM’s Shweta Narayan.

The study found that millions of Indians in cities and villages were exposed to at least 45 dangerous chemicals, including 13 carcinogens, some of which were present at levels 32,000 times higher than globally accepted standard.

Last month, the World Bank said pollution was growing rapidly in India and China because of inefficient investment in energy.

India is mainly dependent on coal for its energy, but has about 15 nuclear power plants and is under pressure to increase energy production to meet a furious pace of industrialization.

“Air pollution monitoring and regulation is primitive, and the world’s fourth-largest economy has no standards for some of the most toxic and commonly found air pollutants,” said Narayan.

The samples were taken from residential areas and public thoroughfares in or near industrial areas, effluent discharge channels, smoldering garbage dumps and toxic waste facilities.

The chemicals found targeted virtually every system in the human body – eyes, central nervous system, skin and respiratory system, liver, kidneys, blood, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, the report said.

To reduce air pollution, the Indian government is actively encouraging the use of compressed natural gas by vehicles — a move that has resulted in a few cleaner cities — and piped natural gas by households.

But the country has refused cuts to greenhouse gases imposed by the Kyoto Protocol, saying such a cap would hamper its furious pace of industrialization.

India is exempt from the mandatory cuts because, like China, it is considered a developing nation.

June 3, 2006 , Krittivas Mukherjee, © Reuters

2 % for agriculture, where more than 65 % of the Indian works

April 28, 2006

In India, government policies lead to terrible toll in rural suicides, spurred by market reforms

You will be surprised in the budgetary provision, not more than 2 percent has been allocated for agriculture, where more than 65 percent of the population works… In the last few years, the average budgetary provision from the Indian government for irrigation is less than 0.35 percent.” This neglect of irrigation, he said, forced 60 percent of agricultural areas to “depend totally on the erratic monsoon

Is India the worst governed country in the world? The dominance of the cities, the hi-tech industry, transnationals and the IMF have concentrated investment in tiny pockets of the subcontinent. Interest rates for farmers have rocketed, government supports for farmers have disappeared. The result, a death toll from suicides amongst farmers that is almost certainly greater than 25,000 in the past ten years.
Iindebtedness, crop failure and the inability to pay back loans due to high rates of interest have led as many as 25,000 peasants in India to commit suicide since the 1990s, according to official figures. The systematic neglect of India’s multi-million peasantry, combined with the free market policies implemented by successive governments, are responsible.

On February 19, Alladi Rajkumar, a senior parliamentarian from the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, reported in India’s upper house of parliament that over 3,000 farmers had taken their lives during the past 22 months under the Congress-led state government. The deteriorating conditions of the peasantry were a significant factor in the defeat of the previous TDP administration.

Andhra Pradesh has become one of India’s leading areas for investment by global transnational corporations. Under both Congress and TDP governments, the state has been largely run under budgetary guidelines formulated by the US firm McKinsey, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. While the state has been flung open to the activities of transnationals, the rural poor have been ignored. Andhra Pradesh has recorded among the highest number of peasant suicides in the country. From 1997 to January 2006, over 9,000 peasants took their lives due to the failure of cotton crops. In 2000, 22 peasants in the Kundoor district sold their kidneys to settle their debts.

The Punjab has also recorded a high rate of farmer suicides. According to state government claims, there were 2,116 cases between 1998 and 2005. Non-government organisations argue that this figure is a gross underestimate. Inderjit Jayjee of the Movement Against State Repression told the Indian Tribune on April 2: “Andana and Lehra blocks of Moonak subdivision in Sangrur alone have reported 1,360 farmer suicides between 1998 and 2005. If all of Punjab’s 138 blocks show roughly the same level of suicides, the number would exceed 40,000 for the given period.”

The suicide toll is by no means confined to these two states. The western state of Maharashtra witnessed over 250 farmer suicides in Vidarbha district during the six-month period from June 2005 to January 2006. The agriculture minister in the national Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Sharad Pawar, told parliament last month that cases of suicide have also been reported from Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Orissa.

In an interview on November 15, 2005, with the Indian Express, Pawar stated: “The farming community has been ignored in this country and especially so over the last eight to 10 years. The total investment in the agriculture sector is going down… You will be surprised in the budgetary provision, not more than 2 percent has been allocated for agriculture, where more than 65 percent of the population works… In the last few years, the average budgetary provision from the Indian government for irrigation is less than 0.35 percent.” This neglect of irrigation, he said, forced 60 percent of agricultural areas to “depend totally on the erratic monsoon.”

During the campaign for the 2004 national elections, Congress leaders such as party president Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, who became prime minister, shed a few crocodile tears over farmer suicides. The Congress election manifesto promised to “liberate the country from poverty, hunger and unemployment”. In practice, however, the UPA government has proven that its attitude toward the peasants is no different from its predecessor. The allocation for the agriculture in its February 28 budget was just 1 percent.

The UPA’s main policy in rural areas is the cosmetic National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). The government has pledged that one member of every rural household will be provided with 100 days of work per year, paid just 60 rupees ($US1.33) per day. Although the scheme was part of the UPA’s so-called Common Minimum Program (CMP) during the 2004 election, its inauguration was delayed until February 2006. Moreover, while the initial estimate for the scheme was 400 billion rupees ($US9 billion) a year, the allocation in the national budget delivered on February 28 was just 117 billion rupees.

Rising debts

In 1928, a Royal Commission report on the plight of farmers under British colonial rule in India stated that the peasant lives and dies in debt. The same basic rule holds for most Indian farmers today.

The indebtedness of Indian farmers rose markedly in the 1990s following the turn by successive Indian governments to market reforms and the opening up of the Indian economy to foreign investors. Prior to 1991, 25 percent of Indian peasants were indebted. Now, according to figures provided in January by P. Sainath, the rural affairs editor of the Hindu, 70 percent of farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh are in debt. In Punjab the figure is 65 percent, Karnataka 61 percent, and Maharashtra 60 percent.

Government actions have directly triggered the rise. According to a Reserve Bank of India report in 2003, World Bank dictates resulted in a steady decline of rural credit to small and middle peasants from government banks and cooperative societies. Lending declined from 15.9 percent in June 1990 to 9.8 percent in March 2003. This shift in government policy compelled small and middle farmers to turn to private moneylenders for loans—at exorbitant interest rates of 40 percent or more per annum—to purchase seeds, fertiliser and other agricultural inputs.

“The banks have given no loans in the past seven years,” Malla Reddy, the general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Ryuthu Sangham (APRS), explained. “So many farmers are forced to depend on sources like these for credit. The same man advises them on what to buy and then sets the rates for the purchase.” More and more farmers have failed to earn enough to pay back their loans and so have fallen deeper and deeper into debt.

Across India, over 43.4 million Indian peasant families are deeply indebted. Small and medium peasants are the worst affected. The number of rural landless families increased to 35 percent between 1987 and 1998 and soared to 45 percent between 1999 and 2000. Between 2003 and 2005, the figure jumped dramatically to 55 percent.

At the same time, farmers have faced declining incomes. According to a Ministry of Agriculture report, the income for West Bengal paddy farmers has fallen by 28 percent since 1996-97. During the same period, the income of sugar cane growers in Uttar Pradesh had dropped 32 percent, while in Maharashtra, cane growers have lost 40 percent.

A steady decline in infrastructure investment and cuts to state subsidies, together with droughts, floods and insect infestations have contributed to the growth of rural social misery.

According to New Delhi-based agriculture economist Rahul Sharma, the cost of rural production has gone up by 300 percent since the 1990s, in large part due to government policies. In Andra Pradesh, the power tariff was increased five times between 1998 and 2003. As governments have withdrawn support for rural farmers, prices for farming equipment have skyrocketed.

Due to deregulation, the quality of seeds has declined. In the past, the Indian government regulated that the minimum germination rate for seeds had to be at least 85 percent. Following corporate pressure, the minimum rate was reduced to 60 percent.

Indian peasants have faced greater global competition due to the deregulation of agricultural markets. In 1999, the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP)-led Indian federal government signed a pact with the United States to grant US producers import permission for 1,429 agricultural products that were previously prevented from entering the local market.

The UPA government of Prime Minister Singh is continuing the free market restructuring of the economy. During US President George Bush’s visit to India in early March, Singh signed an agreement that further opens the agriculture sector to firms such as Monsanto.

These measures will further exacerbate the already intolerable conditions of Indian farmers.

M.Kailash, World Socialist Website