Connect with us

HW Community

In times of climate change, how do Himachal’s people want their mustard?

Published

on

Farming of Mustard Oil in Himachal Pradesh

If one was to walk through a village in Himachal Pradesh in the early 1940s, there would be the sound of many wooden wheels turning. One of them would be the spinning wheel (charkha) used to make thread from sheep’s wool for weaving coats or chola and pattu on a loom (khaddi).Another would be a water wheel (gharaat), which rotated in the water of the kuhlsor canals, grinding the wheat in the mill or chakki above. While these first two wheels continue to exist, albeit in small numbers, the third village wheel has almost completely disappeared. The third wheel, the oil mill or kolu, used the force of ox and buffaloes to turn a heavy stone, which in turn would grind mustard and flax oil seeds into fresh oil.Although Himachal does not produce as much mustard as the larger states in North and Western India, it has always been an essential crop to everyday life.

Spinning the wheel of time back to the 1940s again, we learn that the kolus or oil-press mills were run mainly by Muslim families. As Pradan Ram of Rakkar village, Kangra district said,

The Muslim families that were our neighbours ran these oil mills. They were the telis. Some of them also played shehnai at the temple, but most of them ran the oil mills. We would take our mustard or flax seeds and get them ground at the mills. In the higher up regions of Kullu- Lahaul, people made walnuts, apricots and other oils. Nobody bought oil from any shop! We would pay the teli with our grain.

Post-partition, the Muslim population in most parts of Himachal Pradesh diminished, and now stands at around 4% living mainly in Chamba, Una and Solan districts. From a history of great syncretism, and communities living and sharing resources together, what followed were times of great division. These divisive times were seen in agriculture with the impact of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, where the Barah Anaaj or 12 mixed crop system, of which mustard is an important crop, began to disappear in favour of monocropping. These 12 crops used to include combinations of maddua (finger millet), ramdana (amaranth), rajma (kidney bean), mung (green gram) lobia (black-eyed peas), kuttu (buck wheat), kulath (horse gram), makki (corn) and math (a local soya bean), alsi (flax seed for oil), sarson (mustard seed), sorghum (jowhar), pearl millet (bajra), chana (chickpeas). In addition to this gourds, greens and wild vegetables and flowers were grown and collected.

Each of these crops has a different resilience, some thrive acidic soils, some can survive floods, while others can survive droughts. In fact, the traditional seeds of our region are treasures that also have unique tastes and health properties.

shares Mansingh of Nain village, Kangra district.

As wheat and rice became more popular, in the 1990s, farmers began to practice mixed farming, however no longer of twelve crops. Mustard continued to be the main crop, grown in almost every farmer’s field. While the Kharif crop would have corn in the higher fields, rice in the lower fields mixed with chickpeas or lentils, the rabi crop, would have wheat along with math and mustard. While the math seed provides nitrogen to the soil, the mustard was known to support the wheat crop.

When it rains heavily, the wheat crop can fall, therefore we grow mustard alongside so that they can bear each other’s weight,

shared Kavitha Devi a farmer of Sukkad village in Kangra district.

Another turning event for farmers was in 1998 when the Indian government ordered all traditional oil mills to shut down and they were deemed unsafe. Coincidentally, this was the time when cheap GMO soya oil began to flood the Indian markets. Many farmers who did not grow enough mustard for oil and depended on the shops were now caught in a dilemma.

There was a time when we began to receive refined oil in the fair-price ration shops at one time, which sold cheaper than mustard oil. While some of the people bought it, they realised that they were increasingly getting joint paints. We complained in our panchayat and then demanded sarson oil,

Says Jagat Ram the owner of a fair price shop in Rakkar in Kangra district. Both Tibetan and Ayurvedic doctors in the region back up this claim saying that mustard oil eases joint pains and is good for health in general, whereas refined oils cause mass arthritis. Although the mustard oil in the ration shops comes from Punjab and not their own fields, farmers in Himachal stood up for the mustard seed as an important part of their lives.

However, since the 2000s, this intrinsic importance has begun to be questioned. This is for several reasons, one of them being the financial pressure to grow cash crops (apples, ginger, kiwis, off-season vegetables) that can sell at a higher price. Another big factor is climate change, where unpredictable weather patterns have set in. The Agriculture Department has identified that the local mustard varieties are facing a major aphid insect problem due to climate flux and recommend the use of hybrid seeds.

The University recommends the gobi and farm hybrid seeds and this is what we distribute,

says a worker at the Agri Department outpost in Sheela Chowk, Kangra District. Most farmers nowadays grow their wheat crop without intercropping with mustard. They grow the two crops separately.

As traditional seed saving dwindles, adding in the problem of monkeys and furthermore erratic rains and hailstorms, farmers are in crisis. In what scientists of Delhi University and the Deepak Pental team feel is the solution for agriculture, seeds of GM Mustard are being proposed as a move towards the future.

When told about GM Mustard, some farmers like Vimla Devi of Banala, Kangra district outrightly refuse the idea. She says that there are plenty of local varieties of mustard in Himachal and it is a question of reviving them.

We prefer our local mustard seeds, black and white seeds, as the saag is tasty, they give plenty of oil for cooking, medicine and our hair and we can use the dried stalks as a broom as well,

she said. 

Small farmers across India have gone on a Sarson Satyagraha to prevent GM Mustard from being released. Although India illegally imports GM foods, if GM Mustard is approved, it will be the first GMO food crop being grown in India. Governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and W. Bengal have said NO to GM Mustard stating that GMOs have been proven to have health effects but more to take away farmer sovereignty and make them dependent on companies, Universities and the State. GM crops also destroy diversity, meaning that they require a monocrop plantation, and cannot co-exist in mixed farming fields like earlier.

At this critical juncture, in times of climate change, one can only hope that the “wheel of time” in Himachal Pradesh withstands the pressure of the future, looks to its small holder farmer with their history of successful mixed farming and manages to revalue what the past has left behind. After all, without mustard oil in the madra curry in the village dhaam feast or pathrode made of mustard and collocasia leaves in the monsoons, and even more ‘makki di roti and sarson da saag’ in the winters, life for pahadi people is incomplete!

Author Aditi Pinto is based in Rakkar, Himachal Pradesh. She uses writing to give a historical perspective to the current environmental crisis.

This story is being published as part of a GIZ-CMS Fellowship

HW Community

Inflation, Increased Cost of Food Items, Ration, Crumbling Health Infrastructure, and 100 Gram Sugar: Govt’s Diwali Gift to People

Published

on

hp govt's gift on diwali 2020

Shimla-The Himachal Pradesh Government has collected over Rs. 86 crores in the name of the COVID-19 relief fund, but only Rs 25 crore was spent. It was stated by Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a senior CPI (M) leader. It’s a shocker considering negligible relief measures and the state of health infrastructure crumbling amid a pandemic. The unpreparedness of the state government to deal with community spread of coronavirus is coming to light as its COVID-19 hospitals have begun to run out of beds in isolation wards. Two major medical facilities -Indira Gandhi Medical College & Hospital and DDU Hospital in Shimla- are packed to their full capacity. 

What’s not shocking is that Chief Minister did hail the Prime Minister, exactly as he was told, claiming that the nation is out of COVID-19 crisis. It suggests that the Chief Minister is little aware of the surge in cases and over 400 COVID-19 deaths, of which 93 were reported during the last 12 days of November month. Yesterday, the state has reported over 700 cases with six deaths, which is alarming.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves all praise for his dynamic leadership as he is successfully steering the Country amid all troubles and difficulties. He has successfully brought the Nation out of Covid-19 crisis,” 

said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, while addressing a public meeting at Sihunta under Bhatiyat Assembly Constituency on Wednesday. 

Talking about the real situation and relief measures, the state Government became a laughingstock and was being trolled on social media after it announced 100 gram sugar and 500-gram rice per person to all ration cardholders as a Diwali gift. If that was not enough, according to a media report, this quota has still not reached the depots. There is a possibility that it would reach the cardholders only after Diwali.

The reason behind this backlash is not only that 100-gram sugar is too trivial to be called a gift or relief, especially amid a pandemic when common people, especially those falling in middle and lower-income groups, are faced with unemployment and economic crisis.

While the people were hoping for relief from their elected government, inflation was on the rise. Currently, prices of food items including vegetables and other essential commodities have also witnessed a huge increase. Further, cut in subsidy on electricity, hike in bus fare, increase in property tax, rise in diesel and petrol prices etc. have put additional burden on the commoners. 

Then there were other issues like relaxation in garbage collection fee for the period of lockdown. Sadly, the public did not get any relief even in garbage bills despite staging protests. 

Meanwhile, Ministers made news for spending tax money on buying luxury vehicles and VIP numbers. 

Oppositions, Congress and CPI (M) have also targeted the government over its failure to provide any considerable relief to the people when it’s most needed. As per oppositions, the current government has no control over the market or inflation.

Chauhan also raised the issue of thousands of vacant posts of doctors, para-medical staff, nurses etc. at medical facilities across the state. He said that of the total 1000 posts of lab technicians, 700 were still vacant. He said that the government did not prepare for a community spread despite having a time of eight months during the lockdowns. It was due to this lackadaisical attitude of the government that currently IGMC and DDU hospitals have run out of space in isolation wards, he said.

He also said that, in an all-party meeting convened on March 21, CPI(M) had given the government 12 recommendations to effectively deal with the situation. The party had suggested that thousands of vacant posts should be filled at the earliest, all government buildings construction of which were completed should be prepared to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Similarly, at least four blocks of the under-construction building of IGMC should also be equipped with facilities to accommodate patients, the party had suggested. 

On November 8, 2020, the state unit of Mahila Congress staged a protest over a huge increase in prices of food items. They wore garlands of potatoes and onions and marched from the party headquarter to the Office of Deputy Commissioner, Shimla. Women alleged that the people have received no relief despite such a huge crisis. Instead, the current government is encouraging hoarding of essentials.

The opposition also said that the government has increased the rate of cereals provided through the public distribution system. This increase is Rs 5 for cereals and Rs. 9 for mustard oil. Vegetable prices have gone beyond Rs 50 during the festival season. It also said that the registration fees of vehicles have also been increased.

Sanjay Chauhan is of the view that to provide relief, the government should deposit at least Rs 7500 in the accounts of consumers and provide them with 10 kg ration per person for free.

He also said that recently the government has hiked the charges for electricity and installation of meters. The government has now withdrawn its notification restricting schools to charge only tuition fee and allowed them to charge full fees, including those pending for the period of lockdown, he said. This decision has come as a huge financial burden for parents and is causing mental harassment. 

The policies of the current government are only benefiting corporates, while other sections like labourers/daily wagers, small scale industries and businesses, shopkeepers, farmers are faced with financial crisis and unemployment due to lockdowns imposed in view of corona pandemic, Chauhan said. 

Continue Reading

HW Community

Exam Fees in Govt Schools Hiked Amid Pandemic, Private Schools Allowed to Charge Full Fees Relaxed During Lockdowns

Published

on

himachal pradesh - private school fees during lockdowns

Shimla-Amid the pandemic and economic slowdown, the public had hoped for relief from the government; unfortunately, they are only receiving more financial burdens in form of hikes in bus fares, cut in electricity subsidy etc. Now, the Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education (HPBOSE) has decided to implement hike in examination fees on the students of government schools.

A student of class 10 will now pay Rs 600 as examination fee instead of the previous Rs 500. For the students of class 12, this fee has been hiked to Rs 850. Read complete notification below:

Another bad news for parents came after the government, citing orders of the State High Court, allowed private schools to charge all fees which were deferred during the lockdowns. Moreover, in its previous notification, the Directorate of Higher Education had only mentioned deferring the fee, and not waiving it of. This decision has led to distress among parents because pending fees of some of the schools would go in lakhs.

Also Read: Himachal: Private Schools Only Asked to Defer Fees During Lockdown, Not to Waive Off, Thanks to Helpless Edu Minister

Private schools are not funded by the government and they depend entirely on fees to meet their expenditures, the government said.  The state government had directed the schools to not cut salaries of teachers or fire them during lockdowns. However, despite the pandemic, the state government did not consider compensating these institutes. Similarly, bus fares were also hiked instead of compensating transporters.

Earlier, the state government had yielded to the pressure from parents to relax all fees except tuition fees as the educational institutes were closed and no facilities were availed by the students.

Further, it’s pertinent to mention that the Ministers of the state government are making headlines for allegedly wasting money on buying luxuries with the public tax money. Recently, Education Minister Govind Singh Thakur remained in news for buying a luxury vehicle amid pandemic even though he already had a Fortuner. Prior to that, the IPH Department has been in news for buying not only an SUV for a XEN but also purchasing a VIP number for Rs. 1 lakh.

At the same time, huge wastage of money was seen during the commissioning of the Rohtang Tunnel on publicity to claim the credit. Large hoardings with the faces of CM Jairam Thakur and PM Narender Modi can still be seen throughout the state publicizing commissioning of the Tunnel. Money was spent on installing LEDs across the state to live telecast the event. There is distress among the people over the debate that, amid pandemic, this money could have been used to provide the public with some relief, but instead, the government seems to be insensitive enough to put personal interest first.

Earlier, the government had hiked vehicle registration fee and cut electricity subsidy to generate resources. The vehicle registration fee was increased to 7-10% of the existing 2.5-4% in June.

Feature Photo: [email protected]

Continue Reading

HW Community

Himachal Pradesh: A Report on ‘Plight of Migrant Workers’ during the Lockdown & Need for Protection of their Rights

Published

on

Himachal pradesh - a report on migrant labourers during lockdown

Shimla-Poor people like migrant labourers and workers are nothing more than insects for the governments in India. The attitude of the government and its treatment of the poor workers, who had migrated to other states in search of livelihood, during the lockdown is a very clear evidence of it. What is more pathetic is the fact that that their plight remained invisible to the remaining public as mainstreamed media was being paid more by their political masters for diverting public attention from real issues to rubbish, spicy news. Our society is rotten to such an extent that public also preferred the rubbish served by the media over the bitter truth. Except for a small section of people including social activists, volunteers and non-profit-organizations actually worked to provide some relief like ration to the poor. Spare some time to go through a report on the plight of the migrant workers prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform.

The first day of Lok Sabha’s monsoon session earlier this week saw MPs raising questions about the condition of Migrant Workers during the lockdown. The response of the Labour Minister that no data on migrant deaths for the period was available has drawn much flak. Additionally, no data on return of migrant workers was available for many states including Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of invisibilisation of migrant workers in a state like Himachal Pradesh has now been raised in a report, highlighting the impacts of the ongoing crisis on this community which contributes significantly to the state economy. Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform formed in April 2020, in its report, describes the havoc that a sudden, un- facilitated and unplanned national lockdown announced in response to the COVID19 pandemic six months ago had on the interstate migrant workers stranded in Himachal. HPWS ran a helpline during the period, provided assistance in accessing ration and other relief, travel to home states, through administrative coordination, registrations, and information dissemination etc.

Himachal, in the context of migration, is different from neighbouring Uttarakhand, where the rate of migration out of state is higher, whereas in Himachal the rate of in-migration is slightly higher than out-migration.

Gagandeep, a journalist based in Karsog and part of HPWS, elaborates,

“Post the decade of 1980 -90, expansion of industrial activities in the Shivalik hill region, multi-level infrastructure and development projects, growing local interests in horticulture, and cash crop farming alongside tourism-dependent economy made Himachal an emerging centre for in-migration.”

Today, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Kashmir constitute a large chunk of the migrant population in Himachal. Most of them are from Scheduled Caste, OBC, STs and minority communities. Difficult work areas and geography, insecure and unsafe living conditions, along with payment and other labour law violations, makes the situation even more difficult for them in mountain state like Himachal.

While the 2011 Census suggests that Himachal had approximately 3.10 lakhs migrant workers, this figure seems to be severely under-estimated due to lack of registration (under the Inter-State Workmen Act 1979), non-maintenance of data by State Labour Department and non-publication of all statistics of Census. The lack of data further worsened the pandemic crisis and impacted relief facilitation.

In response to the issues, the focus of the State was limited to distributing ration but ration alone was not enough for survival and sustenance. Ritika Thakur, another member of HPWS elaborates,

“Having some cash in hand was an urgent need to access gas cylinders, milk, medicines and other essential things like phone recharge, so that workers can at least call for support. Most of the people who contacted HPWS”, she adds, “had not been paid their wages and their savings had died out in payment of room rents and ration as loans and debts kept on piling up.”

Many migrant labourers complained about the interrogatory, apathetic and discriminatory attitude of the officials when they were called for ration support. Seeing no transport facility forthcoming, many workers were forced to walk back home on foot. When caught at borders they were put into quarantine centres forced to return or were left with no choice but to escape on foot.

“The online registration mechanism was completely inaccessible for workers and for weeks there was no response to registrations”,

according to Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a social activist and member of HPWS.

The first ‘shramik train’ ran as late as May 22, 2020.

“The government, meanwhile, allowed private bus operators to run on exorbitant prices,”

he adds.

Many workers were pushed to take loans or sell property/artefacts to be able to return home through these buses while 5000 HRTC buses remained standing in bus stands.

“The fact that the Central government shifted the burden of facilitating transport on the states without any significant co-ordination and clarity made matters worse, aided by lack of coordination and communication between nodal officers, both between Himachal and other states and within Himachal”,

Vishwapremi emphasized further.

According to the information shared by an officer from Himachal Pradesh Government (SDMA), 94,819 migrants had gone out from Himachal to various states of the country by June 23, 2020. As per the information received from SDMA under RTI, 14 shramik trains ferried around 13,183 people out of the state.

Himshi Singh from HPWS reminds, “more than 80% of the migrants took the road on their own expense in which the government merely provided e-passes for private transportation, and the number of people who walked on foot is not yet known.”

Adding further she remarks,

“It’s tragic that in the midst of this crisis, FIRs were registered against reporters who did stories on migrant worker’s condition and on the other hand no action was taken against fake news or media who communalised the issue leading to violence on minority communities like the migrant workers from Kashmir”.

The report highlights how Himachal was one of the 12 states who made major dilutions in labour laws in favour of companies and ‘ease of doing business’.

Almost five months have passed living with this epidemic and even as the success and failure of the lockdown are debated- the economy is falling in doldrums and our governments seem inconsistent and directionless. As per the estimate by ILO, 400 million informal workers in India will fall to critical levels of poverty than ever before- a situation that demands urgent cognizance, state accountability and a responsible approach.

In this regard, HPWS in this report has made the following recommendations for the State:

  1. Release in the public domain all the information about relief/support provided to migrant workers
  2. A joint task force be set to bring out a comprehensive report on the conditions and needs of migrant labourers in the state within 6 months
  3. Provide universal Access to Ration, Economic and other Relief Facilities
  4. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for seasonal labour
  5. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for  seasonal labour
  6. Compliance of SC/HC orders-setting up helpdesk/grievance redressal centres at Panchayat, Block, Tehsil  and District levels and conducting employment and skill-based survey of the migrant workers who have returned from other states
  7. Dilution in labour laws be withdrawn and all changes scrapped and strengthening the time-bound  ‘Grievance Redressal’ system and Labour Courts Mandate the registration of all migrant labourers working in the state under ISWMA 1979

HPWS will be submitting the report to various state and central agencies for further advocacy and hopes that the HP Government will take adequate measures to protect the interests of the migrant worker communities in the state.

Read Complete Report

Feature Photo: Sumit Mahar, Volunteer HPWS

Continue Reading

Trending