Saturday, February 21, 2009

When patriotism is negotiable

Rolls-Royces and Rolexes sell well in India and private jets and yachts are becoming common. Yet the country is teeming with slumdogs.

One reason for our lack of real progress is that our policy makers enjoy the good life. It's not just corruption. The Chinese establishment is profoundly corrupt. But when it comes to China versus the world, even the corrupt Chinese official cannot be bought.

In our country some of the senior most ministers in Jawaharlal Nehru's Cabinet were implicated with the American spy agency, CIA. Top-rung IAS mandarins have been known to serve the interests of other countries in return for a post-retirement job in the World Bank.

Even in routine everyday matters our lives are at risk because the patriotism of our rulers is sometimes negotiable. Drugs that are banned in the West are openly sold in India. Toxic electronic waste from Western countries is regularly transported to Asian countries for disposal. A shipload of municipal waste from New York City was recently dumped in Kochi. New medicines that cannot be tested on American citizens because of strictly enforced regulations are tried out on Indian citizens because regulations here are either absent or ignored.

There was a report not long ago that India was planning to lift its ban on asbestos mining. Now, asbestos is a Category One cancer agent. There is no known safety net against it. Once inhaled, the fibers lodge permanently in lung tissues and cannot be removed. Naturally 40 countries have banned the use of asbestos.

Some of these countries are selfish. Canada for example bans asbestos use domestically but exports it to India where there is no ban on usage. Now we know why so many buildings come up in our country with asbestos roofing that directly exposes those under it to cancer. The danger will become more widespread if the ban on asbestos mining is also lifted.

Monsanto, notorious for producing dubious GE (genetically engineered) seeds, has been physically expelled from most European countries. In India it flourishes through a subsidiary, Mahyco. They began with Bt.cotton which, despite all the claims by the company, caused widespread disruptions in many parts of the country.

Now they have turned to staples like rice and brinjal. If these go GE, they will grow only with the special seeds the company produces. A company with a monopoly on these seeds will have India at its mercy.

Field testing of Bt. Brinjal is done sometimes secretly, sometimes in defiance of such regulations as exist. Agriculture ministers in West Bengal and Karnataka were not informed when critical field trials of GE were conducted in their states. Following government-funded research studies, several European countries banned GE food. But an agricultural scientist in Karnataka where Bt. Brinjal is being tested said he was not aware of the ban. Isn't it his business to be aware? The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Government of India said Europe's action "is being studied". If the study is still going on, how did Mehyco receive approval for seed production?

Even in America, the home of Monsanto, there are strict regulations that force companies to state clearly that a product is genetically engineered. In India, we are denied even the basic right to know whether we are eating nature's brinjal, or brinjal with strains of pesticide that go into our blood stream. Human lives are valuable in America - but negotiable in India.


Aditya NADIG :)

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