Social and economic cost of “Green Revolution” – by S.S. Mahil

Punjab is the province which became the first state in India to experience the “Green Revolution” which actually was an imperialist model of agriculture. It is very interesting to know why this model of agriculture was named as a “Green Revolution”. Actually imperialism was very much terrified by the Chinese red revolution, as it occurred in a backward and agrarian country, which was yet to pass to the stage of capitalism. This was an alarm bell for imperialism because peasantry, which was a propertied class and hence considered to be a conservative class, played a revolutionary role in the Chinese revolution. Not only that, it was the main force of revolution. In the whole set of backward countries, which were colonies, neo colonies and semi colonies, peasantry was the major section of the population and was potentially a revolutionary force. Imperialism was afraid because if red revolution spread to the peasantry of all backward countries then the existence of imperialism would be endangered. In this context, the green revolution was the imperialist response to the red revolution of China. As Vandana Shiva writes “Green Revolution was prescribed as techno-political strategy that would create abundance in agriculture societies and will reduce the threat of communist insurgency and agrarian conflicts. British American sponsored Colombo plan of 1952 is an explicit articulation of development philosophy which saw the peasantry in Asia as incipient revolutionaries who if squeezed too hard could be rallied against the politically and economically powerful groups” (Violence of the Green Revolution). Harry Kaliver in his book “Technique As Political Weapon” says, “Food in so many places in Asia was used as a political weapon to suppress and undermine the peasant revolution. From its very inception seeds of green revolution were the method of using science and technique in the service of counter revolution.”
After the Second World War, America emerged as the main winner and beneficiary because it had the got capacity to intervene in the markets world over. But inside America its war industry was no more in operation as world war had ended. So one way to keep it in operation was to convert this industry into a chemical industry for agriculture. Alfred Howard in his book “Agrarian Will” says, “Main feature of fertilizers in the west are the artificial manures. The factories engaged during the great war in the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen for the manufacture of explosives had to find other markets, the use of nitrogen fertilizer increased….”. Thus use of chemical fertilizers increased in the west, particularly in America. But meantime, another development took place. People were becoming aware of the dangerous effects of the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture. Rachel Carson published a book in 1962, named “Silent Spring”. In this book Carson emphasized soil degradation and the devastating effects of chemical fertilizers on atmosphere. A debate ensued around this book in America. As a result use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides drastically decreased. So markets had to be found in other countries. India, being a very large agrarian country, became the natural destination. Punjab was a state which had an agrarian economy, 82% of its peasantry was owner peasantry and 84% of its land was irrigated. So Punjab was the most suitable place for the implementation of this imperialist model of agriculture, ill termed Green Revolution.
What is this model? This is based not on the rational use of natural resources i. e. land and water etc., which is the basis of sustainable agriculture. It is a model of maximum exploitation of them. But for maximum use of chemical fertilizer a suitable seed variety was needed. Norman Borlaug, the pioneer of Green Revolution was working in the war laboratory of American company Du Pont but Rockfeller Foundation hired him by offering a much bigger pay packet. American government, Ford Foundation and Rockfeller Foundation entrusted him with setting up a research centre named CIMMYT in Mexico for research in wheat and corn. Reference given to him was to develop such dwarf high yielding crop varieties which can consume maximum fertilizer without falling on the ground, with fertilizers helping in increasing yields. This seed variety was sent to Punjab in 1966. At that time it was called Mexican wheat. Similarly an institute, named International Rice Research Centre was set up in Manila. These were mainly funded by American government and its Foundations, for example IRRI got 74% of its fund from American govt. and its companies. Paddy was not a regular crop, was planted only in water logged areas but after high yielding varieties came in mid seventies, wheat –paddy rotation became the crop pattern. Thus “green revolution” landed in Punjab.
Initially, green revolution was seen as a miracle. Yields tripled in two decades. More area was brought under cultivation. The country, which was largely dependent on import of food stocks, became self-sufficient. Income of farmers increased and also their standard of living. Little benefit trickled down to the classes other than peasantry too. Punjab looked like a metropolis of rural India. This was the positive side of green revolution, but it was temporary and immediate, its long term effects unfolded later on. One such effect was depletion of ground water. In the sixties, water table was at a depth of 40 to 50 feet. This aquifer had plenty of water and it could be easily pumped out. Now this aquifer is completely depleted. Now water is available at 250 to300 feet below the earth’s surface. Situation is such that 80% of the area of Punjab has been declared is black zone, where further digging of borewells is prohibited, though in theory only. In practice Punjab Power Corporation is issuing tubewell connections. As a result Punjab is facing a serious water crisis and prospects of Punjab becoming a desert are very real. Apart from it, now cost of sinking a borewell has enormously increased. It costs from one and half lakhs to two lakhs, which no small peasant can afford and they are either dependent on the rich farmers for irrigation or are pushed out of tilling. It has accelerated the process of the alienation of small peasantry from the land. This is impact on the poor and small peasantry. It has not only affected small peasantry but middle and rich peasantry too, because it has enormously pushed up the cost of cultivation.
Apart from agriculture, Punjab is facing a crisis of drinking water also .People are largely dependent on ground water for drinking water. With water available in the shallow aquifer of 40 to 50 was it was possible for all the section of population to draw it. But now, because of the depletion of this shallow aquifer, it is not possible for poor sections to sink deep borewells for installing hand pumps. Now poorer sections of the society are dependent on water supplied by public health and sanitation department of the Punjab government. But under privtization drive these water works are handed over to the panchayats. As panchayats have not enough sources of income, so they are unable to pay the electricity bills, these are disconnected and people without drinking water. This is a very serious problem in the Malwa region i.e. south Punjab.
Secondly, Green Revolution has resulted in serious soil degradation. The fertility of the upper crust of the soil has been badly damaged resulting in decreasing of productivity very rapidly due to the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and other chemicals in the form of pesticides and weedicides. As pests and weeds have become chemicals’ resistant, they are required in more quantities to be effective, further damaging the soil health. So, to maintain the level of yield, peasants have to use more and more fertilizers and other chemicals. Result of this phenomenon is the rapid increase in cost of production. Along with it, the prices of agricultural produce have not kept pace with the increase in the prices of inputs, resulting in an unfavorable position of agrarian sector in comparison with industrial sector. This is resulting in the continuous decrease in the returns to the peasantry. According to a study, farms up to three hectares do not have positive returns, only farmers having four hectares of land are having some profit. This process has led to the heavy debt burden on the shoulders of peasant community. A study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University a few years back, shows that 82% of the peasantry is in heavy debt. Out of this 22% are such that they cannot repay their debts even if they sell everything they have. Many villages in the Malwa region have boards displayed outsides the village that the village is on sale.
Excessive use of machinery has also contributed to the crisis in the agricultural economy. Though farmers are engaged in modern methods of cultivation but they have feudal mentality. They don’t purchase machinery according to the needs of their land holding but also for social status. Machinery standing in the outhouse is considered to be the reflection of the land holding, which is helpful in marrying their sons and daughters. But it certainly pushes up the cultivation cost.
Now we shall discuss certain social impacts of green revolution.
With the use of machinery the role of manual labour has drastically gone down in the agricultural sector. This has resulted in the sharp decrease in the avenues for manual labour in the villages. India has uneven development and this unevenness is very sharp. Punjab is considered to be comparatively most developed state whereas India has many backward regions. Labourers in large numbers migrate to Punjab from these backward regions. So, there is labour abundance in the rural Punjab. Punjab is very less developed industrially, so the landless labourers of Punjab face unemployment as do the youth. The younger generation sees no future in the face of unemployment. To make things worse, high mechanization and alienation from physical labour has led to the phenomenon of idleness. In this situation youth is full of frustration and anger. Thus they were lured into the Khalistani movement in eighties. Now this youth is badly trapped in the mire of drugs and other narcotics. In the villages hundreds of youth are addicted to one or other drug- heroin, smack, ice drug, white powder opium, poppy husk- and of course liquor. Liquor is the main source of State Govt’s revenue and Akali – BJP govt is planning to set up 500 factories more for its production. One study shows that liquor vends triple the number of hospitals in the state. Opium and poppy-husk are smuggled from Rajasthan, of course with the connivance of the police and under tutelage of ruling party politicians. One SGPC member is in jail in the smuggling of poppy-husk. This is mainly consumed in Malwa region which has a common border with Rajasthan. Heroin is smuggled across the Pakistan border. Chief Minister Badal usually says that the border is under the control of Centre, hence his govt is not responsible for this, but he conveniently forgets the smuggled drugs are not dumped at the border but are distributed and sold in the State which is under the control of his government. The border of Punjab is separated by barbed-wire from Pakistan then how is it possible to smuggle the drugs across the border? There are two methods. One is to put a long plastic pipe across the barbed wire, where drug is put in it and then it is lifted high and drug lands on the other side of the fence. Where the border is on the river Ravi, a small tunnel is dug under the wire and a rope is used to send the drug across. This is the method used by small smugglers. Second, is to pass material through the border post; its operators are high profile people who have setting at the high levels with high officials. They are never caught. If sometimes a situation arises, some small fry is made the scapegoat.
Most dangerous is the ice drug or white powder popularly known as “chitta” meaning white. It is a chemical preparation. It is produced in the factory. One such factory was unearthed in Baddi, a town of Himachal near the border of Punjab near Chandigarh. This was being run by a youth Akali leader, who is close to the Revenue minister, Bikram Singh Majithia, brother in law of deputy CM, Sukhbir Badal and brother of Cabinet minister at centre, Harsimrat Kaur Badal. The son of another minister Sarwan Singh Philaur is said to be also involved in it. Sarwan Singh was forced to resign from the cabinet but Bikram being the brother of Harsimrat was not touched. Apart from these narcotic drugs are sold by the quacks spread across the state in large number and by some pharmacists .
Heroin, smack and white powder are very costly drugs. Youth of even upper middle class cannot afford it. So the modus operandi is that when a person gets addicted to the drug and is not able to pay for it, he is pursued to become a supplier. In order to sustain, he drags others into the net. Thus a chain is created and multiplication continues. Even in middle sized village addicts are in hundreds and largely, they are youth. Many villages have witnessed dozens of deaths due to drugs. There are houses in the border area of Amritsar where young persons are very rarely seen, only elders and women are left. Because of this, in some areas, marriages of girls have become a big problem. Main worry of the parents of a girl while finding a match for her is whether the boy is an addict or not. This has created many social complications.
One IG of Punjab police, Shashi Kant, who was IG CID, prepared a report which contained the names of smugglers, politicians and police officers who were hand in glove with the smugglers. Those political leaders who were providing tutelage to the smugglers were mainly from the ruling Akali Dal but included some Congress leaders too. According to Shashi Kant, he gave this report to CM, Parkash Singh Badal but instead of patting him and taking stern action, the CM advised him that such reports should not be prepared. Later on, that is last year, Shashi Kant made those name public. These includes Sarwan Singh Philaur, Virsa Singh Valtoha, a Chief Parliamentary Secretary, Bony Ajnala another CPS, Vir Singh Lopoke etc., all from ruling Akali Dal and OP Soni of Congress party. What to talk of any action against those named, no enquiry was ordered. Drugs and narcotics became a major issue during last Lok Sabha election and Akali Dal had to pay very dearly for it. If opposition votes were not divided between Congress and AAP, Akali Dal would have faced a complete rout.
Many social organizations are doing some propaganda work but Naujawan Bharat Sabha took up a sustained struggle on this issue. It gheraoed the residence of Jail minister, Sarwan Singh Philaur demanding his resignation and his arrest, staged dharna at district headquarters, gave a call to gherao Revenue minister, Bikram Majithia. In response, youth tried to gherao him in Faridkot. They were lathicharged and more than fifty were arrested. In Kapurthala NBS activists blocked him and climbed on his car. Half a dozen young people are still facing cases in the court. Results of Lok Sabha elections and growing opposition to the drug trade has forced the govt. to move on the issue. But instead of catching the kingpins it is arresting addicts. Narcotics have disturbed the whole social fabric of Punjab.
As a result of green revolution, with the excessive use of chemicals the atmosphere is terribly polluted. In research, excessive chemical residue is found in water, grains, vegetables, milk and all other eatables, so much so that even in mothers’ milk. Earth, water, air are dangerously polluted. According to one study conducted with the help of one reputed South African laboratory, uranium is found in the earth and water samples from Faridkot and Firozepur districts. This situation has resulted in spreading of cancers on a large scale. According to one survey cancers are spreading fast in almost all the districts of Punjab. Cancer has become an epidemic in the Malwa region of Punjab, which is more than half of the state. People in large numbers go for treatment to Bikaner to Cancer Research Institute and hospital there. The train from Bhatinda to Bikaner is called cancer express or cancer train. In some villages some families have been completely wiped out. The tragedy is that there are not enough medical facilities available in Punjab for the treatment of the cancer. Despite the tall claims made by the government not enough is done in the field of cancer detection and treatment. Apart from cancers, Hepatitis C has acquired alarming proportions. Baba Farid Center Faridkot conducted a survey in some villages of Firozepur and Faridkot. That survey found that in certain villages 35% to 50% populace is suffering from Hepatitis.
With the advent of Green Revolution, crop intensity has highly increased. Two crops in general and in many areas three crop cultivation is the norm. In this crop pattern, time space between paddy and wheat is very short and there is no effective method of managing the crop residue, hence the only method in vogue is to burn it. In that season whole atmosphere is filled with smoke. This results in not only accidents but also in respiratory diseases. Cases of asthama, bronchial inflammation etc. are reported in large numbers.
Punjabis are known for their rich diet. Milk and milk products are consumed in large quantities and now, the consumption of alcohol and meat has increased. This last increase has occurred along with the Green Revolution. As stated earlier, the role of physical labour has sharply decreased with the introduction of machinery and also the disdain toward physical labor is also a phenomenon concurrent with the Green Revolution. Rich diet and very less physical labour is the life style of Punjabis. This has led to the life style diseases i.e. blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks etc. We can safely conclude that Green Revolution has also proved to be a health disaster.
Indebted peasantry, peasants committing suicides, highly polluted atmosphere, drug addicted youth, sick populace is the long term economic and social cost of the green revolution.