Kolkata, West Bengal, March 01, 2006
CUTS Calcutta Resource Centre (CUTS-CRC) organised the Media Workshop under GRANITE Project, at Kolkata, West Bengal, on March 01, 2006, involving media representatives both from the districts and the state capital. Four eminent panellists: Milind Murugkar, a journalist of a Marathi daily Loksatta; Soumen Sikdar, Professor in the Department of Economics, Calcutta University; Santanu Sanyal, journalist in The Hindu Business Line; and Kanai Mitra, editor of a Bengali fortnightly newspaper on agriculture participated in the workshop. About 50 journalists attended the workshop. Renowned environmentalist and journalist Jayanta Basu moderated the panel.
The workshop was organised with an objective to disseminate latest information to the media houses at the district level about the ongoing trade negotiations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) especially related to the field of agriculture. In addition, the concerns and problems while disseminating such information at the grassroots level were also discussed.
Key Addresses in the Inaugural Session
Mita Dutta, Centre Coordinator, CUTS-CRC
- Welcomed the participants and provided a brief overview of the evolution of CUTS-CRC.
- Narrated the activities of CUTS International in various fields, related to consumer safety, trade and environment, competition and regulation etc.
Dalia Dey, Programme Officer, CUTS-CRC
- Described the overall objective of the project.
- Emphasised the important role of media houses in disseminating information at the village and district level.
Highlights of Panel Discussion
Moderator: Jayanta Basu, Journalist, The Telegraph
Panellists: Milind Murugkar, Journalist, Loksatta
Soumen Sikdar, Professor, Department of Economics,
University of Calcutta,
Santanu Sanyal, Journalist, The Hindu Business Line
Kanai Mitra, Journalist, Sabuj Sona, a Bengali fortnightly
newspaper on agriculture
Jayanta Basu, Journalist, The Telegraph
- Highlighted some excerpts from the state policy document on agriculture, government of West Bengal. The gross production of agricultural commodities in the state is much lower than the necessity of the ever-rising population. According to the policy document, the projected requirement to feed the existing population in 2006-07 would be about 27 lakh tonnes more than the actual produce. Besides, the state is also critically short in production of pulses and wheat, and added to this, there is non-availability of land for agricultural use.
Milind Murugkar, Journalist, Loksatta
- Informed that about one and a half years ago during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, India exported huge quantity of wheat and rice at a price lower than the Minimum Support Price (MSP). These were a lower quality produce mainly used as cattle feed in the developed countries. But recently, our country is importing wheat, especially in the southern states, at price higher than the MSP. This phenomenon implies that there is serious problem at the policy level and also there is a necessity to revisit the position of state and the market.
- Debated whether India should or not sign Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) under WTO was extremely polarised from the very beginning. There were differences of opinion among the farmers group in various parts of the country. The pro-WTO party opined that till 70’s, Indian agriculture was heavily taxed, the government imposed export ban on agricultural commodities when there was a scope for export, protected the industries at high tariff, levy was there and the exchange rate is highly overvalued. This policy deteriorates the competitiveness of industry as well as that of agriculture, by raising the price of the industrial inputs used in agriculture. But with the AoA, India would do well in export competition in international agriculture market or at least can resist import. But with the collapse of international prices in 1997, all these anticipation proved wrong.
- Highlighted that the clause of reduction in average tariff rates is highly exploited by the developed countries.
- Suggested that the role of the state should be market complementary. The procurement of agricultural commodities by the state at right time is important. Domestic reforms in agriculture are essential at the first place to get benefit out of exports.
- Asked food stamps to be introduced by the government shortly, which will provide purchasing power to the poor. With food stamps they can go to shops and exchange for food thereby getting rid of inefficiency and corrupt bureaucracy of Food Corporation of India (FCI).
Soumen Sikdar, Professor, Calcutta University
- Focussed on the impact of globalisation on small and marginal farmers in the developing countries by citing several examples. Vietnam has improved its position turning from net importer to net exporter in rice and now stands third among rice exporting countries of the world. The simple reason for this is that the Vietnam government stressed on economic reforms before liberalisation.
- Informed that the economic muscle power of the countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) has increased. This has forced the developed countries to accept the demand of the developing countries.
- Discussed that the trade is restricted mostly through non-tariff barriers (NTBs) than through tariffs. For example, textile products exported from Tamil Nadu to Canada and European Union (EU) were prohibited by the argument that those were highly inflammable. This had a devastating effect on the economy of textile pockets in Tamil Nadu.
- Explained that if the opportunities emerging from globalisation are not equally distributed among all the sections of the society, then poverty alleviation is impossible. Thus, state intervention in distribution of opportunity is the keyword for development. Lack of credit in the market, unequal distribution of credit, storage facility problem and information inaccessibility are the main constraints faced by the Indian agriculture sector.
Santanu Sanyal, Logistics Editor, The Hindu Business Line
- Highlighted the changing scenario in the field of media. Discussed about various specialised departments in the media houses, targeting different sections of readers and highlighted the specific activities of the same. News responds to the market demands, privatisation of media has given way to the light news rather than serious news. Sting journalism is much in limelight today, which is definitely a result of technological advancement.
- Informed that rural communication has also undergone rapid change over the years.
Kanai Mitra, Editor, Sabuj Sona
- Portrayed the status of agricultural sector at the grassroots level. Highlighted the lack of coordination among the stakeholders in rural agri-sector.
- Stated that the farmers mostly do not understand the scientific language of the agricultural experts due to lack of education. Thus, the information should be disseminated in an understandable form to the farmers with clear guidelines of activities and regular follow-up.
- Evaluated critically the state policy on land reform and stated that only redistribution of land is not going to help. The recycling of land and increasing cropping intensity are needed to be included to have an effective policy on the lands.