Palagummi Sainath, well known journalist and the Rural Affairs editor of The Hindu, delivered the Parisar Annual Lecture on "The Wages of Inequality - farm crisis, food crisis and policy" to a packed audience at the S.M. Joshi hall in Pune on 21st October 2010. Mr. Sainath is a well known for his commitment to journalism that highlights the issues of the poorest people, and his work has brought him many awards such as the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award, 2009 and the Ramon Magsaysay Prize 2007.
In his lecture, Mr. Sainath highlighted that even as the number of billionaires in India has increased dramatically in the recent past, India’s ranking on development and hunger has kept falling. India’s Human Development Index is now lower than it was about 15 years ago and stands at 134 (out of 182 countries ranked in 2007). Similarly, its rank in the international hunger index published by IFPRI has also fallen to 67 out of 80-odd developing countries. This is highlighted by the fact that 42% of the world’s malnourished children live in India, and about 40% of India's children are under-nourished and 33% of them are stunted for their age.
This has resulted not only in increasing hunger, but also the increasing marginalization of the farmer, which has resulted in a situation where there is roughly one farmer committing suicide every half an hour in the country, and millions of farmers have left agriculture resulting in one of the largest human migrations seen in history. However, the fact that states such as Maharashtra have shed about 2 million jobs in the last decade or so, has meant that there is no alternative employment available for those who quite agriculture.
He pointed out that Government policies are directly responsible for this sad state of affairs as they are aimed at encouraging corporatization of agriculture and shifting of agriculture away from food crops to cash crops. This has resulted in India’s per-capita food grain availability actually falling below the levels at India’s independence. To compound the irony, he said that most of the credit set aside for agricultural use is actually disbursed to corporations based in and around metropolises, depriving the neediest farmers of any access to credit and squeezing them out of the system.
He further said the policies of the Government encourage and promote the already high water stress in the country and many disputes – from international level to household level – are for access to clean water. He termed hunger and thirst as the two biggest “crops” in the world that are now being increasingly “harvested” for profit.
S. M. Joshi hall, the venue for the lecture, was filled with rapt listeners occupying every available inch in the aisle and standing towards the back, and they were treated to a passionate lecture laced with some sharp wit.
Parisar is glad that its annual lecture received such a tremendous response. Such a response encourages to continue with the annual lectures in the coming years. In the past, this series has featured other notable speakers such as Dr. Vandana Shiva, Shri Anil Agarwal, Prof. Amulya K. N. Reddy, Dr. Claude Alvares and Shri M. N. Buch.
Some notes on the lecture are available on this blog post of our friend Abhay Patil.
The event received limited media coverage, ostensibly because Mr. Sainath is from a rival publication! Loksatta was one of the very few papers to cover the event and its report is given below.