Friday, February 12, 2010

BT AND MAHA BT!

Guest post by Gopinath Mavinkurve

The recent launch program of the BT Brinjal undertaken by the Hon. Minister for Environment, Shri Jairam Ramesh met with several protests from NGOs and social activists, who alleged that genetically modified (GM) crops like BT Cotton had wrecked the lives of farmers with its poor yields, high cost of seeds and rendering of the farmlands infertile for other crops, and so on. So they did not want the BT Brinjal cultivation to be ushered in without properly addressing the side-effects involved. If it wasn’t for protestors, we would have been served with the BT Baingan Bharta by this weekend, I guess!

Had the Government of India been armed with sufficient research data, showing no harmful effects caused by the GM crop, it would not need to put a hold on its launch. Apparently, the protestors’ fears have not been allayed through sufficient clinical tests. So now that we have got the BT Brinjal issue out of our way, it is time to look at another BT issue on our hands today:

The BT Maharashtra Government issue.

Incidentally this Balasaheb Thakarey-run Maha Government is also a GM variety of governance – not genetically modified variety, but a Goonda-giri Mara-mari variety of governance. No matter who is in power, there is always this threat of a ban from the self-appointed, extra-constitutional, parallel ruling power that one has to deal with in Maharasthra, more so, Mumbai, followed by acts of vandalism in public places. This scenario is not new. It is here for several decades.

Did we not learn about MNCs like Enron seeking the blessings of the Sena chief? Or for that matter any rising entrepreneur, sportsman or political aspirant of either party, who has not sought his patronage or support? Did that not make bigger headlines than the same distinguished achiever receiving a State award or honor from the CM of the state in power?

It always did! So why then this huge outcry and questions from the media now, when NCP Leader Sharad Pawar seeks the Tiger’s nod for Aussie players in the IPL, one would ask? I guess it is because the pitch and frequency of the scathing attacks on celebrities, who are worshipped like god in their own fields, like Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, Amitabh Bacchan etc. has been on the increase, of late.

Avdhoot Gupte, a popular music director in the regional Marathi film industry, who ventured to direct his first Marathi film “Zenda”, sought clearance from a couple of Senas and some Maharashtra politicians, he explained, in a television channel talk show that it was because the story was based on the political scene in the state and wanted them to clear it to avoid disruption and inconvenience to the lay public. Whether it is this concern for one’s customer or just plain business prudence, this sort of interaction and feedback is certainly better than vandalism and loss to public and private property, besides grievous injury.

In fact, I am a strong advocate of talks and debates, rather than violence on the streets or in cinema halls or the cricket pitch. It is very important, today, for us to know the thoughts of folks like Sachin, SRK, KJo or Big B as much as we need to know the thoughts of Balasaheb. I am convinced over the years, that, though the Senas have resorted to the wrong means, the issues raised have always been important, noteworthy and deserving of attention and solutions. Issues such as immigration, job creation, price rises, lack of infrastructure, incessant building activities carried out by builders, land-grabbing, etc. are real issues, which need to be discussed and resolved and not neglected.

We need to change the approach to our problems and their possible solutions. Take the issue of jobs in Mumbai or Maharashtra. While the Senas are trying to impress the local folks that they are fighting for a better share of the job-cake for them (for political mileage, everyone understands), no one is addressing the real issue of enlarging the cake itself, by increasing the jobs by bringing in investment into industries in the city and state. No thought is being given to the political climate conducive to setting up of new industries! There is no healthy debate involving the Govt in power or these battling senas about why are industries not coming in and instead going out to other states? Why are foreign investors more comfortable with setting up their industries in Gujarat or AP or Karnataka or TN instead of Maharashtra?

Maharashtra is the only state with Octroi imposed for incoming goods in 22 cities of the State right now. It used to be 37 cities until last year and after a decade long tussle that the industry associations had with the bureaucrats in Mantralaya, the abolition of octroi in 2008, was effected only in 15 smaller cities in D Zone, hesitantly.

[Incidentally, Octroi is prevalent only in the State of Maharashtra and in Ethiopia as on date]

Yours truly had the privilege to be part of these discussions. So once, after a high-powered committee meeting, I asked a state government official over a cup of tea, “When will we abolish Octroi in Mumbai?” “Never!” he whispered on terms of confidentially. As he explained to me, the state’s policy is to discourage industry in the Mega-City, so that the MIDC areas in remote areas of Maharashtra become attractive and several incentives are also available for setting up industries there. So we have a carrot and stick policy! A carrot that is not so juicy, so people prefer other states. And several such sticks that are so hurtful that one would even settle for other options. The industrial policy of the state, perhaps does not take into account the existence of other states in India!

If you closely examine this industrial location policy, the logic is great, it is highly effective - in driving out potential investors, though. One thing the Govt of Maharashtra forgets – that such policies may succeed in driving out polluting industries out of cities, but cannot be sure it will not go to other states like Gujarat or even to another country like China! MERC’s (Maharasthra Electric Regulatory Commission) tariff fixation methods are equally responsible for the flight of industry from Maharashtra to the neighbouring state of Gujarat. One has learnt of several instances of power-intensive industries that had been paying Rs 7-8 per unit of electricity moving to Silvassa in Gujarat, which offers electricity at Rs. 2.5 per unit or so! Labour Trade environment and ease of doing business are other factors challenging the state.

One wonders if we need another Sena to highlight these issues or will folks wake up to reality before they find their youngsters leaving to some other state! By which time, the Senas will become redundant, as all the Marathi Manoos would have left the State for greener pastures and there won’t be any living in the Maha State, to fight for! That may be too far-fetched. Let us hope for a better turn of events through some Maha efforts on the part of the Marathi Manoos, by working towards building a better state with the right approach to make Maharashtra the leading destination for industry and investors.
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