Afraid of scarecrows in contract farming
Owner of land minus means
Minister slaps inaction slur
Grid discipline cry at power meet
Pushed in Bhutan, KLO drops anchor in Bangla
Left Front rift over police role
Climbdown to humour big brother
Second plea to stall yatra
Power brokers without power
Market players bat for cricketers

Aug. 21: 
If traditional agriculture is not sustaining the farmer, agri-business could.

One multinational firm suggested a way. Since potato growers lose money on surplus production, it offered to buy a mutually agreed quantity to make potato powder. It offered to purchase 12,000 acres from farmers in Burdwan, engage them to grow the crop on agreed terms and purchase it from them for its processing plant, thereby giving them an assured market and a good price.

The company also offered to provide the farmers an improved variety of seed. The ordinary crop, it said, won�t do for high-quality potato powder.

But the government ruled out this idea of �captive farming�. �For all the advantages the farmer may get from this farming, he would lose the right to his land. We couldn�t agree to this,� argues veteran CPM leader Benoy Konar.

McKinsey, which drew up its project for agri-business in collaboration with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, also contended that neither captive farming nor �collective farming� was feasible. Instead, it offered what it thought was an �optimal model� for agri-business. �Contract farming�, it said, is the agri-business of the future as it would marry the farmer�s interest with the investor�s.

In this model, the farmer is responsible for production, while the agri-business company provides inputs and processes and markets the produce. Unlike in captive farming, the farmer retains the right to land in contract farming.

In fact, the McKinsey-WBIDC scheme suggested that transfer of land should be �strictly prohibited� in this brand of farming. The farmer is free to decide how much land he wants to offer in particular seasons. And, he remains free to get out of it after the contract period.

A mechanism was suggested to ensure that the contract between the farmer and the company is �comprehensive� and is properly administered. Since the panchayat system in Bengal functions better than in most other states, it was also suggested that the panchayat samiti liaise between the farmer and the agri-business company. The district administration can play an enabling role. The model, according to McKinsey, is working in Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and should do so in Bengal, too.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and many of his neo-reformist party colleagues thought it would. Hence the recommendation for it in the draft policy that was presented before the Cabinet in May. �There is no reason why it shouldn�t work,� says agriculture scientist Mrinal Kanti Basu, �people are doing it all the time. If someone owns three cars or rickshaws, doesn�t he give at least two to others on contract? What�s wrong with a farmer getting into some such agreement, especially when his earnings from land are so small?�

But traditionalists in the CPM and other Left parties cried foul. The concept of contract farming, agriculture minister Kamal Guha fumes, has come with globalisation �to enable multinational companies to dominate our agriculture�. The proposal, he says, is �apparently tempting but is no guarantee for the farmer�s benefit�.

His party, the Forward Bloc, thought it wiser to depend on the �free farmer� rather than on the �contract farmer� for the growth of the state�s agriculture. As for the farmer�s problems with financing and marketing his crop, Guha thinks the answer lies in developing cooperative agriculture marketing societies.

He speaks for most of the dissenters in the Left camp. But water investigation and development minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya would go one step further in crying down contract farming, which, he argues, has failed �almost everywhere in the world�. In a note on the new agriculture policy, he fears that contract farming would reduce farmers to �bonded labour of big business�. He, too, advocates the cooperative model as the right choice.

The problem is all of them know � and admit � that cooperatives in Bengal have failed the farmers. They talk of the need for capital in agriculture but would resist the entry of big players in agri-business.

The chief minister has succumbed to the sceptics, at least in this round. The revised farm policy, likely to be put before the Cabinet next month, may have contract farming deleted from the recommendations. But when and where did reforms come without hiccups?


Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
A survey by a government agency has shown that land reforms alone cannot boost agricultural production.

�The emerging scenario is quite distressing. A very insignificant segment of patta holders has received the mini-kit, which is a direct intervention by the government in the production efforts of the land reforms beneficiaries,� says the survey report, Beneficiaries of Land Reforms. It was handed over today to panchayat minister Suryakanta Mishra and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah.

Speaking on the occasion, Mishra admitted that the government needed to lay more emphasis on the �non-land inputs� for the patta holders and bargadars, the beneficiaries of Bengal�s famed land reforms.

�We should ensure that farmers get the mini-kit, irrigation water, fertilisers and credit from co-operatives for cultivation. Only giving the land to the farmers is not enough,� the minister said, adding that credit is crucial for poor farmers to procure critical inputs like fertilisers and seeds.

The survey pointed out that unless credit is ensured from co-operative sources, the poor farmers would be driven to non-institutional sources like moneylenders and traders.

Lauding the effort of the State Institute of Panchayats and Rural Development in Kalyani, which conducted the survey, Mishra said the government should take lessons from such an elaborate study involving 40,000 farmers from the districts.

In his turn, Mollah held forth on the success story of land reforms in the state. Of the 14 lakh acres of vested land, 11.08 lakh acres had been distributed through Operation Barga, he said.

Despite the shortcomings, Mollah added, farmers had greater purchase power now. �About Rs 6,000 crore is rolling in the pockets of farmers. Go to the villages today, you will find them using branded soaps and shampoos.�

The report also showed that of the 13.23 per cent patta holders, only 2.73 per cent have sold their land and �snapped all economic ties with the land once and for all�.

�A sizeable segment of patta holders were poor landless agricultural labourers. So selling off the land does not indicate that there has been indiscriminate sale of patta land. On the other hand, it would go to show that the patta holders have acquired a socio-economic base which has helped an overwhelming percentage to retain possession of their land,� says a summary of the report.

It adds that an estimated 3.02 per cent bargadars have been evicted from their land. �An incidence of 3.02 per cent eviction for the whole state is, although not high, a cause for concern. It will be naive to think that eviction of bargadars, a practice as old as the institution of sharecropping itself, will disappear overnight,� the report says.


Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
Forest minister Jogesh Burman, who figures on the hitlist of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, today said he had alerted the administration to a possible largescale strike by militants at least two months ago but no action had been taken.

�There is no shortage of policemen in Jalpaiguri and the police superintendent frequently informs me about the raids conducted, but nothing seems to be happening,� said Burman, a CPM minister, who returned yesterday from Jalpaiguri.

He said at Writers� Buildings that local CPM workers had earlier offered to help the police identify the KLO militants but there had been no response from the force.

The forest minister, who was on his way to the party office at Dhupguri from Jalpaiguri town when the militants struck on Saturday, demanded that a senior IPS officer be appointed exclusively to look after the KLO�s activities. �I have already informed home secretary Amit Kiran Deb on this,� he said.

Burman pointed out that the administration had provided sophisticated arms like AK-47s and SLRs to the district police in Jalpaiguri over the past two months.

Recounting Saturday�s incident, he said the manner in which the rebels struck pointed to the involvement of local youth. �Or else, it would not have been possible for the assailants to flee so fast on bicycles. Those who were riding the bicycles knew their way around the crowded marketplace like the back of their hands,� the minister added.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and CPM state secretary Anil Biswas will visit Dhupguri on September 1 to attend a mass condolence meeting in memory of the five murdered CPM functionaries.

Bhattacharjee has instructed director-general of police D.C. Vajpai to immediately fill up the 100-odd vacancies in the Jalpaiguri police.

Working till late last night, the state police authorities drew up a list of 60 constables and six sub-inspectors. Eight more sub-inspectors will be sent on deputation. A group of 12 more inspectors will also be despatched on deputation to exclusively deal with the intelligence network in the forest and terai areas of Jalpaiguri and improve it. The rest of the posts will be filled up in a day or two.

Deputy inspector-general of police (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh said a combat force of about 100 police jawans, trained by the Border Security Force and the Greyhound Academy in Hyderabad, had been alerted and they would leave for Jalpaiguri if needed.


Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
The state power department today appealed to the Eastern Regional Electricity Board to issue instructions to all its constituents to maintain strict grid discipline. Of late, West Bengal has been experiencing into prolonged periods of darkness due to the persistent overdrawing of electricity in the eastern grid by Orissa and Bihar and the resultant instability in the distribution network.

Power department officials demanded at the regional power board meeting that all constituent states like Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand immediately install under-frequency relays (UFRs) to avoid a collapse similar to the one in the western grid three weeks ago. No representative from Bihar was present.

Sources in the power department said the state officials blamed the instability mainly on Orissa. They said it was overdrawing from the grid as its hydel power generation had been hampered by the scarcity of rain. Against a normal generation of 1,000 MW, Orissa is generating only around 400 MW.

Kaushik Ganguly remand extended

Kaushik Ganguly and eight others arrested on July 4 for links with the People�s War were remanded in jail custody for another 14 days by the sub-divisional judicial magistrate here today. Superintendent of police K.C. Meena said another arrested People�s War �area commander� Amit alias Sankar De, held in Murshidabad, has told a police team from Midnapore that Kaushik was �one of the most important leaders of the PW in the state�.    

Siliguri, Aug. 21: 
The jungles of Bhutan are no longer its only hideouts. The Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, backed by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), has now set up camps in neighbouring Bangladesh as well.

Intelligence agencies, which intercepted communications of the militant outfits, said the camps were located in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Tharurgaon and Nilkumar areas of Bangladesh. They were reportedly established with the help of the Jamat-il-Islam.

Sources said the pressure mounted by the Bhutan government on the KLO and the Ulfa had forced them to look for �safer� territories and they found in Bangladesh a �suitable� alternative.

The KLO, blamed for the killing of five CPM workers in Dhupguri last Saturday, also procured sophisticated small-arms from Bangladesh recently.

Intelligence reports said three top KLO militants, including its self-styled commander-in-chief Tamir Das, also known as Jeevan Singh or Tushar Das � had visited Bangladesh last month.

Das was accompanied on the trip by his trusted deputy Mihir Das and the KLO�s Alipurduar zonal commander Amal Das.

Reports said the three militants visited a newly-established camp in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Sylhet. They also bought three sten machine carbines from a gun-running racket in Cox�s Bazaar.

�With the friendly Bangladesh National Party-led government in power, the KLO-Ulfa combine has found it easy to set up camps there. The Sylhet and Chittagong camps basically provide logistical support to the Ulfa-KLO combine,� an intelligence official said.

Taking cue from the Ulfa, the KLO leadership has also re-structured, along the lines of the army, to increase its efficacy, with its �general headquarters� at Kaupani deep inside the jungles of southern Bhutan.

While Jeevan Singh heads the outfit, he is assisted by two deputy commanders � cousin Mihir Das and Himadri Roy.

The outfits have a political wing headed by Avinash Adhikary. There is an �execution� wing, which mainly plans joint strikes with the Ulfa.

There is a 10-member �core committee� comprising the KLO chief, Himadri Roy, Avinash Adhikary, Sukumar Roy, Biplab Singha, Joydeb Roy alias Tom Adhikary, Pulasta Burman, Pabitra Singha, Mihir Das and Badal Das.

This committee reviews the strategies of the outfit. Today the outfit boasts of 80-100 highly-trained armed cadre.

An intelligence official said the Ulfa, starved of new recruits, often used the KLO cadre in joint operations in neighbouring areas of Assam.

To make sure the �wayward� cadre do not give the outfit a �bad name� through �unauthorised� extortion, the KLO has split the organisation into four zonal commands, again divided into �sectors�.

The strikes are planned by the core group, while logistics are taken care of by the zonal commanders concerned. The strikes are executed by the action squad of the KLO, made up of four militants and are usually assisted by hardcore Ulfa cadre.


Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
A Left Front committee meeting to discuss the situation after the KLO attack on a CPM office in Dhupguri on Saturday saw sharp differences among the principal partners.

Minutes after Left Front chairman Biman Bose read out a two-page appeal condemning the �brutal murder� and urging people to foil efforts to destabilise the north Bengal districts, Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh demanded that the �non-performance� of the police be recorded.

He argued that the way CPM activists had mobbed director-general of police D.C. Vajpai at Dhupguri on Monday was ample proof of people�s growing disenchantment with the police.

Ghosh soon found support from senior RSP leader Sunil Sengupta and state CPI secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar.

But the CPM leadership refused to oblige them, arguing that any mention of police inaction would embarrass the chief minister, who is in charge of the home (police) department.


New Delhi, Aug. 21: 

BJP toes Sangh poll-pact line

After refusing to support the RSS� demand for a three-way split of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP today staged a climbdown by deciding to ally with the Sangh-backed Jammu State Morcha in the coming Assembly elections.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the BJP�s central election committee this morning. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chaired the meeting.

The move is being seen as a partial gesture aimed at mollifying the Kashmir unit of the BJP which has been urging the central leaders to back the Morcha. The front has called for remapping Jammu and Kashmir by creating a separate Jammu state and conferring Union Territory status on Leh and Ladakh.

BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley � who is also the Centre�s interlocutor in the state � insisted that the alliance was limited to seat sharing and does not mean that the party would go along with the Morcha on the trifurcation issue.

�We are having an alliance with the Morcha so as to check the division of votes even though the party does not support the trifurcation of the state,� he said in a press briefing.

But careful not to make the exercise appear like a cynical electoral deal, sources said the BJP�s campaign would focus on greater autonomy for the Jammu region and the creation of development councils for this purpose. �People there are strongly resentful of the discrimination against Jammu, Leh and Ladakh,� they said.

Morcha sources, in turn, said they decided to go with the BJP �because we realised we did not have the strength to contest separately�.

This is not the only area on which there were differences between the Centre and the BJP�s Kashmir unit. The state leaders were clear that �defeating the National Conference was their main goal�.

But the Centre�s view was security arrangements should be �foolproof� enough to ensure a turnout of at least 40 per cent, even in the Valley, to enable �nationalist mainstream� parties (read National Conference) to win.

Apart from the tactical considerations, BJP sources said the alliance was also aimed at ensuring that their cadre as well as those of the RSS worked for the party.

At one point, when it appeared as though the BJP and the Morcha would contest separately, the RSS had made it clear its cadre would work for the latter even at the cost of hurting the BJP.

Although today�s meeting did not go into the basics like seat distribution, BJP sources said their initial demand would be pegged at 55 to 60 seats out of the total 87. These would also include seats in the Valley, where the BJP had proposed an alliance with smaller parties, excluding that of Mehbooba Mufti�s.

The RSS-sponsored Morcha includes the J&K Nationalist Front, led by Shri Kumar, a pracharak, the Panthers Party, the Akali Dal and the Jammu Mukti Morcha.

A decision on whether to have a seat-share arrangement with the Bahujan Samaj Party � supposed to have a strong presence in the Kargil and Drass sectors � is also expected to be taken shortly.

The BJP plans to start discussions with the Morcha soon and the final decision has been left to party president M. Venkaiah Naidu. Sources said they were unlikely to have a joint campaign, given their different views on trifurcation. �Let them (the Morcha�s candidates) speak on trifurcation,� the sources said.

Besides the need to devolve powers to areas outside the Valley, the BJP�s campaign would also talk about insurgency and militancy, sources said.


New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today shot another missive to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asking him to stop Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from undertaking the Gaurav Yatra from September 3.

Sonia has also decided to firm up her party�s ties with the Samajwadi Party with an eye on the Gujarat elections. Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh today spoke to Sonia on the phone and will follow it up with a meeting tomorrow to discuss a seat-sharing formula.

The Samajwadi Party is keen on contesting eight seats but the Congress is prepared to give only �three or four� in recognition of a broad-based �secular alliance� against the BJP. The Congress is taking its alliance with the Samajwadi seriously because it is also aimed at puncturing Sharad Pawar�s �third front�.

In her letter to Vajpayee, Sonia said she �deeply appreciated� his earlier efforts to prevail upon Modi to call off the yatra.

�You will agree that the wounds of the recent violence have not healed in that state. This is amply borne out by the findings of the Election Commission. While normal political activity must go on, such activity should be undertaken strictly in a manner that promotes, and not weakens, the communal harmony in the state,� she wrote.

The AICC chief said she was in favour of an informal understanding among all political parties not to do anything that would cause further divisions and tension among the residents of Gujarat.

Sonia hoped Vajpayee would keep in the mind �the overarching aim of maintaining and consolidating peace and amity among the people of Gujarat� while advising Modi.

She had written a similar letter on June 29 asking Vajpayee to stop Modi from undertaking the Gaurav Yatra. The yatra was called off after the Prime Minister spoke to Modi.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma today trained his guns on Modi, wondering why was the Gujarat chief minister insisting on going on a Gaurav Yatra. �What is there to be proud of? Does he want to celebrate the killings of innocent persons? The country�s image has suffered,� Sharma said.

He said there was no justification for undertaking the yatra in such a surcharged atmosphere. �Why does he (Modi) want to vitiate the atmosphere? The yatra is nothing but a provocative step that will create alarm, fear and insecurity.�

Describing the yatra as a �journey to hell�, Gujarat PCC president Amarsinh Chaudhary urged Modi to call it off in view of the communal tension. �But if he insists on going ahead with his plan, the Congress will counter it by organising peace yatras following his yatra route,� he said.


Aug. 21: 
�Where was this Kashmir committee all this time. Whenever it is election time, they pop up like mushrooms.�

This statement by Farooq Abdullah about the most recent peace initiative led by former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani may sound cynical, but there is a grain of truth in it.

There has been a proliferation of official, quasi-official, and non-official envoys from New Delhi to Kashmir, although many of them had established a presence much before the polls were announced.

All of them have failed in their principal mandate: to get a section of the separatists to agree to contest the polls. As of today, it seems unlikely that even the so-called moderates within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference will participate in the elections if they are held as scheduled.

The reasons for the failure seem clear enough. First, there is clear a lack of confidence within the separatist ranks that they could win the elections if they contested, particularly without there being a �level-playing field�. Decoded, �level-playing field� means a �real chance at winning� through a period of Governor�s rule, access to resources, and the release of political prisoners.

�We will not contest merely to legitimise six more years of National Conference rule,� declared a prominent separatist recently.

Second, there is continued pressure on the Hurriyat from Pakistan not to contest, which seems determined to reduce the elections to a �farce�. The assassination of moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone was a chilling warning to all those who had thought of engaging with the electoral process to back off.

Third, there is still a lack of trust in Delhi and its willingness to really make amends for its past follies. The truth is that virtually no one in Kashmir believes that the Centre will deliver on what its interlocutors promise in private.

Finally, and most important, there is a continued lack of clarity in Delhi about its Kashmir policy and no single centre of decision-making.

�Everyone seems to be involved in Kashmir, and yet no one seems to have the power or the responsibility to give a clear direction� was the verdict of a former senior civil servant.

Track 2 or Track 1-� efforts have persisted despite this confusion, for at least the last two years since the journalist, R.K. Mishra, initiated attempts in 2000 to begin a dialogue with separatists, particularly those in the Hurriyat. The arrival of former RAW chief A.S. Dulat in the Prime Minister�s Office seemed to suggest that there was discreet official backing for these efforts. Dulat, who had served in the Intelligence Bureau in Kashmir, had developed a huge network of contacts in the Valley.

The appointment of the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C. Pant, as the �official interlocutor� in the spring of 2001, however, meant that there was shifting of tracks: from quasi-official to official. But the move was premature, and the Pant initiative never really took off.

Those who were willing to engage secretly were, quite obviously, not yet ready to publicly deal with the Government of India. The decision to invite Pervez Musharraf to Agra in June 2001 meant that Delhi abandoned its efforts to win over the separatists for most of the next year. The recent announcement of the Kashmir committee and the appointment of former Union minister Arun Jaitley as the �point-person� to discuss devolution of powers have meant a weak revival of what were once robust efforts to win over the separatists.

Remember, however, that envoys from Delhi, with or without official patronage, have been part of the political landscape of Kashmir for nearly half a century. The well-known Gandhian, Mridula Sarabhai, had virtually adopted the �Abdullah family� while the Sheikh was interned, in the 1950s and the 1960s, and her house in Delhi�s diplomatic enclave came to be described as �Kashmir Serai�.

After receiving her help to get attached to a hospital in England for post-graduate studies, Farooq Abdullah wrote to Sarabhai: �It reminds me of that great battlefield of Mahabharat in which there were great armies on one side and on the other side there were only five people (Pandavas) and they were helped by Lord Krishna�. You have been to us what Lord Krishna was to the Pandavas.�

The tragedy in Kashmir today is that there seems to be no Lord Krishna in New Delhi nor are there any Pandavas in the ranks of the separatists.


New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
The row over ambush marketing, which has pitted the world�s top cricketers against the International Cricket Council, is not something companies are comfortable with.

Most of the marketing whizzes attending the CII summit in Delhi today felt the council had gone over the top by trying to muscle in a clause forcing cricketers to renege on their pre-signed product endorsement obligations.

�The ICC contractual clause is bad. The players should be allowed to fulfil their contractual obligations to the sponsors and sport their logos on their flannels,� said Bharat Patel, chairman of Procter & Gamble Hygiene and Healthcare Ltd.

�If the 10 or 12 cricketers are barred from earning their legitimate income from product endorsements, how do you expect the new and upcoming cricketers to grow?�

Alex von Behr, president of Coca-Cola India, was loath to be drawn into the controversy. �I think ambush marketing is a marketing strategy. If it works, then it is effective. But I haven�t given it much thought.�

When pressed, he retorted: �What if we do the same thing to them the next time?�

Coke has a celebrity cricketer endorsing its product: Virender Sehwag. If he signs the deal, Coke will be barred from airing its commercials featuring him for a month before the matches till a month after because competitor Pepsi is a key sponsor of the ICC tournaments, beginning with the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka on September 12.

Behr has reason to be miffed. Just two months ago, Coke was the official sponsor of the World Cup soccer tournament and got bushwhacked by a Pepsi ad that featured stars David Beckham and Roberto Carlos with a bunch of Sumo wrestlers.

This was not the first time Coke was �ambushed� by Pepsi. In the World Cup cricket tournament in the sub-continent in 1996, official sponsor Coke was spread-eagled by Pepsi�s now-notorious �Nothing official about it� campaign that featured the cream of the Indian team.

K. Harish, general manager (marketing) of TVS Motor Company, protested against the council�s attempt to pre-empt ambush marketing. �It is illegal for ICC to ask the cricketers to break their earlier contracts with their sponsors. It is a legal nightmare for them. There is no law of the land that can force the cricketers to break one contract to fulfil another.�

TVS is another company that stands to lose if the clause passes muster. It has a string of ads featuring Sachin Tendulkar that will have to be taken off air because competitor Hero Honda is one of the sponsors of the tournament.

Vivek Kudwa, country head (personal financial services), HSBC Ltd, said: �It is the survival of the fittest; it is part of the game and everything is fair in love and war.�

Sudarshan Banerjee, CEO of mobile service provider Hutchison Ltd, was more circumspect. �This is not the place to make value judgements; it�s not a black and white issue. The concept of ambush marketing cannot be compartmentalised as totally right or wrong. But I must say the whole episode has been poorly handled and executed. Nonetheless, I expect it to be sorted out,� he said.


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