Dawn Editorial 16 December 2020

Farmers’ struggle

INDIAN farmers have been braving police violence and incurring abusive outbursts from pro-government media to stridently reject recent laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The laws passed in September are perceived as favouring India’s big businesses in an unequal bargain. Among the sticking points is an official aversion to a minimum support price the farmers want the government to commit to, a subsidy that most capitalist systems accord their agriculture but which has been frowned on in India since the advent of the 1990s’ free-market policies. The protesting farmers are mainly from the larger landholding regions of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. They say they have been dealing with village moneylenders with whom they had acquired a comfort level. The big corporates posed a threat. They are seeking to harness Indian agriculture to their supply chain that dovetails with the interests of larger MNCs. Some evidence here worries the farmers. Indian businesses have taken over large swathes of arable land in developing countries, principally in Africa, triggering protests from peasant groups there against exploitative practices they liken to the colonial period.
The farmers say they have come prepared for six months to choke Delhi’s arterial roads. It could be extended to ensure a repeal of the controversial laws. Already, the stand-off is being seen as a political liability Mr Modi had not anticipated. The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, which is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has termed the three farm bills cleared by both houses of parliament amid much protest by the opposition. Bulldozing of bills in parliament has become a feature of the Modi government, which had used similar ambush tactics to dismantle the special status of India-held Kashmir. At stake is the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. The government’s response so far has swung between cordially meeting farmers’ leaders and describing them as anti-nationals. TV channels loyal to Mr Modi have called the peaceful protest as the work of Khalistanis and Maoists. About an allegation that the opposition Congress party was instigating the farmers to destabilise Mr Modi, a Punjab farmer said: “If the Congress had the means to mobilise hundreds of thousands of farmers, their women and children included, the party would have won the general election.”



Tribute to Dr Salam

IN a fitting tribute to a trailblazer in the field of theoretical physics, the British government has declared the London residence of Pakistani scientist Dr Abdus Salam a national heritage site. Today, a distinctive blue plaque can be seen outside his home in Putney — a symbol in the UK that formally commemorates the link of an influential person to a location. Indeed, the late Dr Salam is in excellent company, as prior recipients of the blue plaque include Charles Darwin, Rosalind Franklin and Alan Turing — all outstanding personalities in the world of science and respected internationally. But sadly, while the UK and many other countries pay homage to the incredible contributions of their scientists, in Pakistan, the home country of Dr Salam, this blue plaque will not prompt celebrations.
It is one of the biggest tragedies of our times that we as a nation ignore and even revile a personality like Dr Salam, who is considered one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. The first Pakistani to win the prestigious Nobel Prize and the first Ahmadi to win one in the sciences, Dr Salam is conspicuously missing from our history books and school lessons. The movement that for decades has forced so many from the minority Ahmadi community out of Pakistan has built such a strong and lethal structure of hate that it leaves little room even for those in power to acknowledge the extraordinary achievements of a gifted scientist. In the West, Dr Salam is recognised for the landmark scientific milestones he and his colleagues achieved in the theory of fundamental forces; however, at home, no government official would dare to acknowledge his greatness — let alone welcome the blue plaque that has now been installed outside his residence in London. The silence surrounding this development cements Pakistan’s position as extremely poor when it comes to religious freedom. For a government that prides itself on being an unwavering voice for religious minorities everywhere, such instances are a test case for measuring tolerance at home.



Damning oil report

THE findings of a commission of inquiry regarding the abrupt, countrywide petroleum shortages in June lay bare the fragility of the oil supply chain and expose the role of the petroleum ministry, the industry regulator, oil companies and filling stations in causing fuel supply disruptions lasting almost four weeks. The crisis compelled pump owners to ration their stock and forced consumers to wait for hours at a stretch for a few litres of petrol during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The commission, which was set up by the prime minister, towards the end of July, pinpoints the reasons for the sudden scarcity of the vehicular fuel and identifies those responsible for it. It also proposes the dissolution of Ogra, and, action against oil companies and Petroleum Division officials.
The report, which was leaked to the media on Monday, puts Ogra, the oil and gas regulator, in the dock for failing to regulate the market, and blames oil companies and local refineries for misconduct and cashing in on the misery of the motorists. It also underscores the incompetence of petroleum ministry officials to make timely, informed decisions to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies and to verify accurately the petroleum inventories maintained by oil companies.
The report primarily holds the oil-marketing companies responsible for fuel shortages through illegally halting supplies of stocks to petrol pumps following the government’s announcement of a large cut in retail prices to pass on the benefits of plunging global oil prices to the people. Barring two oil companies, Shell and state-owned PSO, all other oil firms were involved in this unlawful act and made between Rs6bn and Rs8bn (in profits) by holding back stocks. PSO and Shell, on the other hand, accrued losses of between Rs7bn and Rs8bn each as they continued their supplies to pumps.
Ogra’s role also remained questionable as it failed to move against the oil companies in time and take appropriate action to end the disruptions and ensure early resumption of supplies. The regulator did issue show-cause notices to nine OMCs but stopped short of penalising them commensurate with their misconduct. “Much of the mess that abounds in the oil industry pertains to Ogra … the show-cause notices seemed more of a ritual used as a defensive ploy on the part of Ogra,” the report reads.
Similarly, those running the show at the petroleum ministry do not have experience of working in the oil sector, which is why they made the wrong decision to place a ban on oil imports in March. The cabinet has now formed a committee to review the report and recommend punitive action against the individuals, firms and institutions found responsible. Since the government fixes the retail price and arranges supplies, it is important for it to punish those responsible for the shortages to revive public confidence in its authority.


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