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USAID, Monsanto and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season

From The Sunday Guardian: The Delhi metropolitan area has one of the world’s highest concentrations of population, and suffocating people here on an annual basis should be treated as a crime against humanity, especially when it can be controlled. Arvind Kumar writes on the connection between USAID, Monsanto and Delhi’s nightmarish annual air pollution spike.

NOTE: The author has published a follow-up article which covers further revelations as well as the political response to this expose. You can read it here. Also read Monsanto’s response to the articles, as well as the author’s rebuttal.

Arvind Kumar, Sunday Guardian Live

Until a few years ago, when farmers in Punjab burnt the remnants of the rice crops in their fields in preparation for sowing wheat, the smoke from such fires was confined to Punjab.

According to a publication of the Indian Council of Social Science Research(external link) published in 1991, ‘At the end of September and in early October, it becomes difficult to travel in the rural areas of Punjab because the air is thick with the smoke of burning paddy straw.’

Clearly, farmers burnt the straw in late September and early October. However, in recent years, farmers have delayed the burning until late October.

This delay is crucial and responsible for the smoke being carried all the way to Delhi. An analysis of the wind flow patterns (external link) reveals that wind blows into Delhi primarily from the west during the monsoon season, but changes direction in October and starts blowing into Delhi from the north.

The decision to delay the clearing of the fields was not the choice of farmers, but was forced on them by the Punjab government which passed the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act (external link) in 2009.

According to this law, farmers could no longer sow rice in April, but had to wait until the middle of June. Rice has a 120-day period between germination and harvest, and the restriction on sowing means that the fields would be harvested and cleared only in October by which time the direction of wind would have changed.

Delhi’s problem of being covered by smoke started right after this law was implemented.

Before this law was passed, the problem in Delhi was limited to vehicular and industrial pollution and there were no reports of the entire metropolitan area being enveloped by smoke.

This piece of legislation was passed ostensibly to preserve groundwater, the depletion of which was blamed on rice fields which supposedly used too much water and which were prone to evaporation, but this argument is a very tenuous one.

According to the International Water Management Institute, water in rice fields contributes to recharging the groundwater (external link) and very little of it is lost to evaporation.

The data from Uttar Pradesh in IWMI’s report too shows that rice fields in the state contributed to increasing the level of the water table, thus supporting the claim that water in rice fields replenishes the aquifers.

The group that has been primarily responsible for exerting pressure to move away from growing rice in the name of ‘crop diversification’ is the United States Agency for International Development.

Over a period of several years, it has used the excuse of preventing the decline of groundwater (external link) to push this agenda.

USAID has a worldwide reputation of behaving like a front group for American multinational corporations such as Monsanto, and so it should come as no surprise that Monsanto is at the forefront of the purported solution for Punjab’s problems.

Apparently, if farmers stop growing rice and replace it with Monsanto’s GMO maize, the problem will be solved.

India’s surplus food grain supply is an uncomfortable fact for Monsanto and other proponents of GMO food who insist that the world would face a shortage of food grains if not for genetically engineered plants sold by Monsanto.

It is in this light that one must view Monsanto’s collusion with the Punjab government and their joint efforts targeting the production of rice in India.

In 2012, then Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal asked Monsanto to set up a research centre for creating maize seeds and announced plans (external link) to reduce the area under the cultivation of rice by around 45 percent in order to grow maize.

Monsanto typically co-opts not only politicians but also members of the academia and converts them into its shills.

Little wonder then that the fear-mongering about the cultivation of rice reached a feverish pitch a few years back in the form of a campaign advertisement (external link) from a group of ’eminent scientists’ who appealed, ‘Chonne hetho rakba katao, Pani Bachao, Punjab Bachao (Reduce the area under rice, save water, save Punjab).’

Monsanto now offers the replacement of rice by its GMO crops as a solution that will increase the level of subsoil water, but the multinational corporation is the cause of the problem.

Its fertilisers and pesticides have accumulated in the ground over the years and this has led to poor retention of moisture in the soil, (external link) leading farmers to pump excessive amounts of underground water.

The new law reducing the time period during which farmers are permitted to grow rice has further accentuated this problem. Farmers had developed their own method of crop diversification by growing multiple varieties of rice and staggering the time of sowing these varieties over a period of two months beginning in April.

The loss of the ability of farmers to easily diversify their rice crop combined with the fact that late sown rice is vulnerable to diseases and pests has created a fear in farmers of losing their crop leading them to use greater amounts of pesticides and fertilisers further degrading the soil and its ability to retain water.

Monsanto’s GMO products are known to cause several problems. Its maize is known for killing bees (external link) leading to a shortage of seeds of plants such as onions which depend on bees for pollination.

Several European countries have banned its maize as its pollen has been responsible for killing entire colonies of bees.

Monsanto’s GMO maize is also not fit for human consumption and is primarily used as chicken feed. Likewise, most of Monsanto’s wheat is used to feed animals because it is unfit for human consumption.

Thus the government’s plan to replace the cultivation of rice — which is the staple food for a large section of the population of India — by Monsanto’s chicken feed is a cynical move that will result in government created food shortages in the country.

The problems related to the low levels of groundwater and the inability of the soil to retain moisture must be solved, but the solution should not be a drastic one such as creating famines by banning food items such as rice.

Before the level of groundwater fell in Punjab, the state experienced a problem of water-logging which was partially solved by pumping out the excess groundwater.

Thus, it is clear that an acceptable level of the water table can be maintained by finding a proper balance between the two extreme situations.

Today, farmers burn the residual straw from the cultivation of rice as it is the cheapest method of clearing the fields. A ban on such burning will destroy the livelihood of small farmers and give way to industrial farming with a few large corporations such as Monsanto owning all the land and resources.

The government has already helped large corporations through a slew of measures and it must not take any more steps that run the small farmers out of business.

Instead, if it wants to prevent burning, it must help small farmers clear the fields between the rice and wheat seasons and implement proper water management solutions.

This would mean going against the rules set forth by the World Trade Organisation which has mandated that no business other than American multinational corporations can receive aid or subsidies from the government, and any subsidy given to American businesses will be done under the cover of ‘research grants’ funnelled through universities.

India should completely ignore these rules and fix its problems, not the least of which is the yearly phenomenon of smoke cover over Delhi.

The Delhi metropolitan area has one of the highest concentrations of population in the world, and suffocating the people of the area on an annual basis should be treated as a crime against humanity, especially when the cause for such suffocation can be controlled.

Although smoke from fields remaining within Punjab is also a problem that needs to be dealt with, it is not as severe a problem as in Delhi, as the smoke in Punjab would be spread over a larger area with a much lower population density.

For now, a step that should be taken immediately in order to prevent Delhi from becoming a gas chamber for several days every November, is to revoke what should rightfully be called the Monsanto Profit Act of 2009 and farmers should be allowed to sow their rice crop whenever they deem it fit to do so.

Arvind Kumar is an expert on technology and economic issues and can be reached at [email protected]

NOTE: The author has published a follow-up article which covers further revelations as well as the political response to this expose. You can read it here. Also read Monsanto’s response to the articles, as well as the author’s rebuttal.


Monsanto’s profits, not Diwali, creating smoke in Delhi
Arvind Kumar, The Sunday Guardian
After the previous article was published, both the Chief Ministers of Delhi and Punjab were contacted with the information about the delay in planting rice causing the phenomenon of Delhi being enveloped in smoke. While there was silence from the Punjab Chief Minister, the Delhi government responded with an initial flurry of emails delegating the task of following up on the issue, but there has been no action on their part since then. In comparison to the quantity of smoke that envelops Delhi due to Monsanto, the amount of smoke from fireworks during Diwali and other festivals is insignificant. The festivals never resulted in the entire region being covered by smoke. The courts should stop shifting the blame from the real perpetrators of the act to innocent people.


Spotlight: Is ‘petcoke’ the hidden villain in Delhi’s pollution crisis?
Aditi Roy Ghatak and Karl Mathiesen, Climate Change News
Delhi’s killer smog has been blamed on many things, but rarely on highly polluting industrial fuels like petcoke. India is the world’s biggest importer of this dirtiest of fuels, banned in most countries. Last month, the Supreme Court banned it in the NCR; but given the big players involved, who will ensure the ban’s implemented?

Darryl D’Monte: Does India’s refusal to tackle air pollution amount to genocide?
Darryl D’Monte, The Indian Express
There were 1.1 million premature deaths in India due to long-term exposure to pollutants. While China registered slightly higher figures, it has now acted against this hazard—the situation in India, in contrast, is getting worse. The highest number of premature deaths globally due to ozone is also in India. Might all this qualify as genocide?

Monsanto and Bayer: Agriculture just took a turn for the worse
Colin Todhunter
Bayer’s $66 billion takeover of Monsanto represents another big click on the ratchet of corporate power over farming and food. With the ‘Big-Six’ of global agribusiness now set to turn into the ‘even bigger three’, farmers and consumers face more GMOs and pesticides, less choice, and deeper price gouging. Agroecology has never looked more attractive.

Illegal GMOs and the criminal plan to alter the genetic core of India’s food system
Colin Todhunter
Despite four high level government reports that have advised against adopting Genetically Modified crops in India, there are alarming reports of GM okra, soyabean & brinjal being cultivated illegally in thousands of acres. The industry’s strategy is to flood the country with illegal GMOs so that there’s nothing you can do about it.


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19 Responses “USAID, Monsanto and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season”

    6th November 2018 at 4:19 pm

    The real answer to all problems facing small farmers as well as remedy for adverse effects of some farming practices is the agricultural practices advocated by Masanobu Fukuoka,Japanese agricultural scientist and winner of Right Livelihood Award,the parallel Nobel Prize.His practices,-no ploughing, no weeding,no pesticides,no pesticides,no chemical fertilisers-which he claims is an effort to extend Gandhian principles to farming,will dramatically improve the farmers,bottom line,increase production,reduce all agricultural waste to manure ,and eliminate pollution as well as conserve water.All this can be managed by a sensible rotation of crops.But if universally adopted they will not only effect environmental improvement,enrich the soil and benefit the farmers.but in the end will pauperize Monsanto and the politicians,bureaucrats and scientists bribed by them.

  2. Sanidhya Narain
    6th November 2018 at 4:59 pm

    And yet everything that is wrong and evident will eventually happen!

  3. B.Sugavanam
    7th November 2018 at 1:16 am

    So many theories have been flagged out for Delhi’s pollution. When the autumn fog blankets the whole city, the pollutants from cars, disel powered engines and burning of tyres, wood and combustible debris in the open to keep poor people warm, all contribute to Delhi’s pollution problems. in addition, farmers burning straw in the open add to further pollution carried by the wind. Monsanto GMC could be linked to bio.safety rather than to air pollution of Delhi. Majority of man-made pollution could be controlled by educating the public, strict implementation of environmental rules and regulations. The biggest problem facing Delhi is how to dispose off the waste mountains accumulated in the city with no solution in sight.

  4. 7th November 2018 at 11:50 am

    Your elucidation of the facts is good, but your analysis of those facts is troubling.

    The problem begins with government’s passage of the law, as you yourself stated:

    “The decision to delay the clearing of the fields was not the choice of farmers, but was forced on them by the Punjab government which passed the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act ( external link ) in 2009.”

    Thus, the debate should be on restricting the power of government to pass such arbitrary decisions and ‘laws’. Morever, there should be a discussion of what a law is since nowadays everything that legislature passes is thought of as a law.

    But you seem to ignore this and instead go on to ask for more government intervention. You don’t seem to think that rule of law is important or that precedents are important.

    But you think government should do what sages like you think is right. Nowhere did you object to the scope of government power which is the primary cause for the mess.

    You instead did what every layman does. Blame big corporate for colluding with government, which is a futile thing to do, since such things are bound to happen in cases of perverse incentives.

    Think on it.

    8th November 2018 at 7:45 am


  6. Shashi
    8th November 2018 at 11:06 am

    Very informative and insightful!

  7. Capt Mrinal Chakravorty
    8th November 2018 at 2:45 pm

    These are revelation which public shud be aware of and govs must not look other ways. Sound facts. Need to check what’s changed. Grew up in the city, which has nice smell n tenderness about the air we breathed upon start with winter, 2-3 decades back. Alas, not anymore.

  8. Anonymous
    9th November 2018 at 11:18 am

    Are you actually that naive? Do you even know how much of water is pumped into paddy fields? An articl le completely devoid of facts and merely linking unlrelated things.

  9. 9th November 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I feel we give too much importance to stubble burning, which is going on for times imemorial. We don’t achieve anything by pointing fingers. Let us look within; what ever we do on daily basis adds to the problem.
    All our customs evolve around burning wood only; whether it is marriage, birth, cremation, Holi, Lori etc we enjoy burning wood. So many trees are sacrificed and cremation facilities are available in every other colony. It is not one but many are being cremated every where, though CNG and electrical facilities are available. Then local factories small and big, road-dust, trucks and construction activities are for 365 days. Personal vehicles even older are least polluting as pollution check is mandatory. So we need to change emphasis accordingly.

  10. Bala
    13th November 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Wonderful and thought provoking article. The government should act and allow the farmers to go back tonthw original system. After we never had these problems for ages (neither pollution nor water shortage in Punjab)

  11. Ashok Kumar
    17th November 2018 at 7:22 am

    An eye opener

    17th November 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Both the author (Mr Arvind Kumar) as well as readers might benefit a lot by going thru another thoroughly researched and engagingly argued recently published book ‘ The Great Smog Of Delhi’ by Mr Siddharth Singh.

    It is very easy to blame multinational foreign companies. The problem is much greater. When government can subsidize practically all inputs of even small and marginal farmers why can not the government take the responsibility of collecting the straws after the harvest and use it intelligently to generate both employment and additional revenue? Also the cropping systems are very complex and a greater efforts both by researchers as well as developmental agencies are required at a war footing.

  13. MD Verma
    21st November 2018 at 8:52 am

    A brilliant piece of research where the author has pieced together all the loose ends and spliced them to derive logical sense out of it all. I have always been very apprehensive about GM crops and Monsanto. Giving them entry into our country has been a big blunder I initiated by vested interests and powerful politicians. The portent consequences are already at our doorstep for which our future generations will curse us. But there are plenty of naive people all around, just like one of the anonymous commentators above!

  14. Z.Mathews
    21st November 2018 at 9:20 am

    The marauding multi-nationals peddling GM Crops which have little chance of acceptability in the West itself, is quite a credible theory.
    Easy consciences of officialdom and Govts In India allows for “sharing of profits” is quite possible too.
    However the smog itself is very dangerous.I myself have suffered under it for 2 months.As I see a first case approach , is to return to the earlier crop burning time prior to Oct.
    It now clear ground water conservation the reason for the shift into and past Oct, is no more sustainable ;by data!

  15. Kailash sharmaa
    30th November 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Very well written article.If farmers start decomposing paddy straw with waste decomposer.There will be no pollution and waste will go back to soil.It takes about 40 to 50 days for complete decomposing.

  16. Anonymous
    17th April 2019 at 3:17 pm

    This is just stupid that you haven’t taken into account the fact that Monsanto closed down years ago and GMOs are not even legal in India and hence cannot be cultivated let alone being forced upon by Punjab government. The primary facts which you built your entire article along are false. This is just a pathetic attempt.

  17. Anon
    18th April 2019 at 10:30 am

    Only an idiotic troll could have posted the previous comment about Monsanto closing years ago.

  18. Madho Das
    18th April 2019 at 10:39 am

    The previous comment about Monsanto closing down years ago was posted by a bona fide idiot.

  19. Manu Moudgil
    21st June 2019 at 7:40 pm

    I found the article very problematic. Maize varieties currently being promoted by the Punjab government are not genetically-modified (GM) because GM crops are banned till they meet safety standards.

    The author makes tall claims about Monsanto dictating changes in sowing season to push out paddy without offering any proof. While big corporates like Monsanto continue to push and influence governments to peddle their interests, they need to be countered with facts, not conjectures. Such write ups only weaken the movement against GM crops.

    The sowing season law came into force after Punjab registered a drastic fall in groundwater levels. Neither a staple crop nor suited to the agro-climatic region, paddy in kharif season pushed out the traditional maize and cotton, which were common in the pre-green revolution Punjab.

    From 2.27 lakh hectares in 1960, mostly around canals and riverbeds, the area under paddy rose to 26.12 lakh hectares by the year 2000. A growth rate of 1,050 percent, all thanks to assured procurement by the Centre. Over time, it also dovetailed well with wheat as Rabi crop.

    Estimates by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices suggest that to grow one kilogram of rice in Punjab, 5,337 litres of water is required, which is double the figure for West Bengal (2,605 litres), a natural habitat for the crop.

    Of course, the law to push paddy sowing season has reduced the gap between paddy harvesting and sowing of wheat forcing farmers to burn straw, but other reasons for burning are high cost of labour and proliferation of combine harvesters that leave straw on the ground. These are the issues, the governments are trying to address.

    Another fact is that despite all the negative fall outs of paddy, its area continues to increase at cost of cotton in southern Punjab which faces increased pest attacks and water-logging problems.

    The author misquotes the IWMI study to suggest that paddy irrigation recharges groundwater and hence the argument that maize has smaller water footprint is wrong. The particular study (available online) is related to canal irrigation to grow paddy in Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, most of the paddy cultivation uses groundwater, leaving a net negative balance in the underground aquifers. Maize, pulses and millets are the right crops for Punjab. Instead of opposing maize, we need to oppose GM Maize but with solid facts.

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