Dodgy Development II: Smile for the Camera

Eshwarappa M and Richard Whittell’s series looking at the role of the British Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) in India continues with a film and two interviews assessing the impact of British aid money on rural communities and agriculture in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. The film compares the DFID’s publicity with the opinions of people directly affected by it. The interviews – with Bijay Pandey, a representative of a people’s movement, and Sachin Kumar Jain, a journalist – give an in depth insight into the type of development the DFID is encouraging.



Bijay Pandey is the Secretary of the Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, a people’s organisation in Western Madhya Pradesh. Here he talks to Richard Whittell about the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project, to which the British Government has given £60 million through its Department for International Development (DFID). To give a bit of context to all this, could you explain the food situation in Madhya Pradesh?

The western and northern parts of Madhya Pradesh are drought prone areas. The scarcity of water is rampant and the farmers don’t get enough to cultivate their crops. Secondly, there are still many forested areas.

Previously, Madhya Pradesh was a princely dominated state. Except for the princes, very few people had land at that time. Politically, Madhya Pradesh was ruled by all these ex-princely, high caste and high class people, and they did not look after the agriculture. Since then, land redistribution has not taken place even when there have been progressive laws. Because of this, Madhya Pradesh is a state where more than 75% of people are malnourished (and this is getting worse as the government is promoting Special Economic Zones, and suchlike).

Ten years back, the government said it wanted to tackle the Dalit landlessness question, but they saw the landowners didn’t want to redistribute their land. So, they redistributed the common land – that land which is used for pasture and cattle feed – for common use. In every village you will find some land marked out for common usage. According to the law, 7.5% of total village land is common land. But invariably you will find that the common land is occupied by high caste and high class people. So, the tussle started between Dalits and high class and high caste people.

So, the food question is very serious, and that is precisely why people are migrating, and the whole of western Madhya Pradesh, the Adivasi areas, are malnourished. In one district there is an estimate that 200,000 people are migrating to other areas. Go to any village at these times and you’ll only find old people and dogs. So, this is the situation.

And now, [laughing], the government is promoting jatropha in what they call the wasteland. Initially, they said this jatropha will be cultivated in the wasteland.

Now, one must understand the concept of the wasteland: poor people generally depend on some sort of cultivation on this wasteland, so when it is taken away, for this kind of cultivation, you can understand what the food situation will be.

Secondly, the government’s whole Public Food Distribution System is absolutely mired with corruption and irregularities. People are not getting good foodstuffs from it. Low quality, rotten foodstuffs are being provided. So, that is the situation in Madhya Pradesh.

How is this jatropha being promoted?

If you ask people in the project they will tell you it is doing whatever the gram sabha (the village council of all the people over the age of 18) suggests. But, even though our movement is present in so many districts around the state, I have never come across a gram sabha with a full quorum.

They say whatever the gram sabha says they follow, but they are saying wrong things. It is never done: they ask people to take it, they persuade people. They identify the sarpanch (the village ‘headman’) and they persuade him to grow it. He then persuades others. In each village five to ten people are getting into the jatropha promotion programme. They are persuaded by the subsidised price and that they don’t have to worry about it once it’s planted as no animal will touch it. They have employed some people and taken the help of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who are involved in this persuading and popularising. In this way, they popularise this jatropha. In all their rural livelihoods programmes jatropha will be one of the things they are pushing.

And the jatropha is subsidised. The government says they will subsidise it and procure it directly from farmers. They say it is being popularised because it doesn’t need much water. If you grow food crops you need water. Now the government is promoting it, but people are not very enamoured by it and prefer to grow their own millets. Then, when it is grown, the jatropha will be converted into diesel and petrol and the companies and the middle men will collect the money.

What has the British Government’s role been in all this?

Its role has been important in this and in setting the conditions for the project. Maybe five years ago they started the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme. They identified small groups of people in the village and the NGOs started working with them. It gives them a credibility. But they are silently destroying the community spirit of the village.

For example, in the Adivasi areas, they will not work with all the villagers. Through their funding they will create a disparity: only some people will benefit from it. You will find that the people they are working with will grow at the cost of other people in the village. All these external agencies are creating cleavages in the village. Of course, there was disparity before, but with these programmes they are creating more disparity.

But they are saying that encouraging the production of crops like jatropha will aid food security.

[laughing] How could it? Jatropha is not for the stomach. It is for cars and vehicles!

I think the idea is that they can grow it and then sell it for food.

They can buy food?

With the money from the jatropha.

Where? From their neighbour? It has not occurred anywhere! During our school-days, we were told that sugarcane is a very good crop. At that time it was popularised in a very big way. Now you go and see in those areas where people are growing sugarcane: they call it a hunger crop. In Latin America they will say these are all hunger crops. Because, see, when you sell something, that is regulated by the market; the local market as well as the international market. In the international market the people have no say or no control over it – it can go up and down like the Sensex [the Indian Stock Exchange]. Now we see that even many people who are investing their money in trusts or stocks are going bankrupt and dying. So, how can it promote food security? I don’t understand.

In the era of globalisation, areas are being identified where people don’t grow food crops. The food crops will be grown by a set of people far off from our place and they will provide us with food. Through this we will lose our food sovereignty. Why are the farmers in Punjab getting into suicidal acts? Why in Andhra Pradesh? All the rich farmers are doing that. So when they can’t manage, how can our marginal farmers and small farmers manage?

So the way these people are promoting jatropha – it is not for food security. Food security is a terrible problem throughout India. There are studies which indicate we’re getting into a very similar situation to sub-Saharan countries, particularly in the central tribal belt of India. So, how can we have food security and more money? Who knows what will happen to these biofuels. It’s another agenda to colonise us.

You asked before about the DFID. Our understanding is that the DFID has never worked for poverty alleviation. They want to perpetuate poverty because they want to expropriate the natural resources of third world countries, but with a human face. But through this, more and more people become exploited.

Let me quote the British Government’s explanation of how it is working with the Government of India: “The DFID is providing resources and expertise which can help overcome some of the stumbling blocks to rapid progress.”

No, no, no – what expertise? They employ these rootless people, these consultants, who manufacture these policy documents and so on. They don’t have any expertise. They want to legitimise their presence by manufacturing the consent of the elites. Who are these experts? One day they are working for the Asian Development Bank, the next day they are working for the International Monetary Fund.

And now the international NGOs are taking the DFID’s funds. They will create a hullabaloo about something, let’s say pollution. They are the front-runners of the DFID. They are all apolitical people but they are only thinking about money.

People talk about development, but for the last sixty years of this ‘development’ 57 million people in India have been displaced by these development projects: big dams, mining companies and the like. They displace so many people, but how many people do they support? The World Bank and the DFID are part of the globalisation process. They are the front runners of private capital.

So, should the DFID be in India?

No. Aid is not needed. It is an extension of national and international politics and it serves their interests. We don’t need it. We have enough resources.

The British people should ask questions of the DFID, they should expose their dark deeds. They should be put on trial before the UK people, who should see that all the external agencies are involved in dirty tricks.

Of course now it is not just the individuals that work there: they have built up a system and the institution should be brought before the British public. But there is so much international pressure for aid now. Everyone is saying ‘aid, aid, aid’ and talking of corporate social responsibility. There are big pop concerts and other such hullabaloo.

So, this is a complicated world, but I think if the DFID were to be examined by common people in the UK, it’d be good.

Sachin Kumar Jain is a journalist based in Madhya Pradesh and a member of the national Right to Food Campaign. Here he talks to Richard Whittell about the British Government funded Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project, as well as the Department for International Development’s general role in the state and the consequences of the reforms it is encouraging.

We’ve heard a lot about the cultivation of jatropha through the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project (MPRLP), but I spoke to one of the project commissioners in the Department for International Development’s offices in Delhi, and she was very reluctant to talk about that part of the project. She was keener to talk about the wheat grinding machines, wells and things like that that have been paid for. So did it start with the less controversial livelihood [projects], then move onto the biodiesel?

Madhya Pradesh is one of the three poorest states in India. The British Government, through its Department for International Development (DFID), came to Madhya Pradesh and said they wanted to support a poverty eradication programme. Initially, it wasn’t very big and it covered around 200 villages in 14 districts in the first phase.

So, the project started and the strategy was to form self-help groups among the most marginalised and poor communities. They did this directly in some areas and in other areas they contracted non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to do it. They could access money from Rs20,000 (£275) to Rs200,000 (£2,750) and would start livelihood generation activities, such as wheat grinding, vegetable markets or shops, or be provided with livestock, such as goats and cows. Sometimes small farmers would be provided with seeds.

There was a district office for the project. They’d coordinate all the plans for the different blocks and then release the money to village gram sabhas (village councils). The entire monitoring and formulation of the plan would be in consultation with NGOs or the project body that was there.

The publicity for the project talks a lot about the empowerment it will bring to people as they take control of their own livelihood choices.

Our analysis of projects such as this is that they promote empowerment in a non-political way. They simply talk about economic activities. They don’t see how it will be sustainable, or how economic empowerment will result in political or social empowerment. They are diverting the entire development debate, from a political and socio-economic concept to a superficial economic development one. Because poverty is so extreme, economic activities can be welcome, but there is no social change process. Therefore, it is creating lots of problems.

So this is one thing.

The second thing is that these groups are not involved in people’s organisations or movements. They become like a funded group, created only to use some money and, maybe after the project has finished, it will dissolve.

I’d like to share one more example with you.

The project is now implemented in 24 districts and, in the last two years, they have been employing lots of social work students in different districts. These students are oriented in such a manner as everything is emerging from economic inequality. They are paying between Rs10,000 and Rs12,000 (£140 to £165) to the block level officials. That’s a very good salary here and even the NGOs are unable to find employees, because this project has taken them. They’re throwing money at people. They’re providing laptops to everybody. There were 700 laptops when the project started! I am sorry, but a laptop is not the primary requirement.

Staff that I’ve spoken to who went into the villages say that everything is governed by the collector [a Central Indian Government appointee who is in charge of the governance of a district]. An example staff members themselves have told me is that the ruling political party asked the collector to organise food for 1,000 people. He said to the project staff, you give me money from your project as it has so much of it, and we will say we have organised a community consultation. We will say this much has been spent on photocopying, this number of people have been given food, and so on. There are many other examples. I even know of political party posters that have been published through the MPRLP!

And now, on top of this, as you mentioned earlier, a major problem has been the pushing of the production of jatropha, the biodiesel.

In Madhya Pradesh, jatropha cultivation as a whole, not only that in the MPRLP, has increased from 1,000 hectares to 100,000 hectares in the last 3 years. The government has decided to devote almost all the so-called wasteland for the production of jatropha, and has specifically asked the MPRLP to use all grazing or wasteland available within the villages for the production of jatropha. And now they are producing linkages between different companies involved in biofuel production.

Earlier there was a push for re-forestation in the wasteland but that policy wasn’t followed because we need to increase food production. In 1998-9 malnutrition amongst children in Madhya Pradesh was 54%. In 2006, according to the national health survey, it was up to 60%. Anaemia among children is around 74% and it’s increasing.

So, food grains have to be produced. But they are saying poverty is an economic issue so people need to earn money, so they are saying jatropha should be produced, or BT cotton or soya beans. All the cash crops will be produced to earn money because, they say, only money can eradicate poverty.

How is it encouraged?

Well, for one thing, the government is saying you won’t get subsidies if you’re producing wheat, only if you’re producing jatropha.

And there’s another important thing in the same context. Recently, we were listening to the India Prime Minister, who said we should produce items which require no water. What does he mean by this? He means new technology, new seeds, new theories coming into the agriculture sector.

In livelihoods programmes such as this, we see that traditional livelihoods are not protected. New seeds are promoted, but the local seeds have just gone invisible. The character of Indian seeds and traditional seeds was that you could keep them for a hundred years and you will not find any problem with them. But the new ones you can’t keep for two years – they will become unproductive and there will be other problems. But the old seeds – the maize and so on – they are invisible now. In the present context you can only get seeds produced by the companies. For every crop you will have to go to the market and it is increasing the cost of the production.

And once you’ve gone down this route there’s no turning back?

The farmer has no option. It’s a very strategic process. You kill the options, then you make money.

The British Government is keen to stress its aid projects have been designed through consultation with a wide range of different groups. Its website, for example, says, “when developing policies, DFID recognises that consulting with a wide range of interested groups helps to ensure that the impact of its proposals on different sectors of society is taken into account.” How has this worked out in this project?

Well, this is another critical issue. One day you will find in the paper that this or that programme has been launched. There is no consultation.

And in general this democracy talk is interesting. Under the MPRLP, when NGOs are signing contracts to take part in the project, they have to sign that they will not oppose any government project or policy. So, where is the democracy in that? There’s none in this clause. They can’t raise their voice.

The DFID says these policies have been started after consultations with a wide range of groups.

This is an absolutely wrong thing they are saying. They consult specific character groups – often groups who are funded by the DFID and who do studies for the DFID in Madhya Pradesh. For the most part, only those organisations that are getting funds from the state government or the DFID are getting invitations to those consultation sessions.

I have been to these consultations as I know some people in government who are not happy with what is going on so they invited me. I find I’m the only person who is sitting there raising any kind of question.

Very recently I was in a consultation on a nutrition programme, which the DFID provided support for. There were around 100 people participating, out of which more than 85 were government officials: all the district officials were there, with all the babus and clerks and deputy directors, and so on, and also DFID officials and consultants, with some DFID and government-funded organisation representatives.

Why are the bureaucrats happy to go along with this?

Initially, what happens is a very academic process. Government officials will be selected to draft policy documents and they will take them on a world tour. They’ll travel to the US, Canada, UK and they’ll go to different workshops and programmes, and so on.

And, these bureaucrats will think, ‘Oh my god, they are so knowledgeable’, and they will start applying all these policies in Madhya Pradesh and orient the cabinet and politicians to it. They will say, “Here are our PowerPoint presentations: if you follow them monthly income will go up, efficiency will increase”, and so on. But, of course, to do this the basic system will have to change.

I can’t call that civil society consultation.

And, then there are the consultancy companies they employ to give ‘technical assistance’ or advice on how the project should work out. Throughout you will find it is the DFID that has decided who will be the consultant. In every sector – irrigation, power reform, road reconstruction, infrastructure development – wherever the DFID is supporting – they will choose the consultants.

Even in the MPRLP, from top to bottom, they decide the consultants and on what line they will go. And, it’s very easy to push any policy accordingly. For example, I have twenty internal documents prepared under the project – all prepared by an external consultant – which is talking about the non-timber forest produce and how it should be utilised.

I’ll give you an example from another project also. I have this document [shows it] written by Development Alternatives, a Delhi-based consultancy company, which was consulted by the DFID to be the consultant for their Poorest Areas Civil Society programme.

This is a programme which the DFID has given £20 million to and will give more in the future. They produced a study for the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. In it they say they want to, “promote the establishment of water markets that encourage water trading between farmers themselves and also with urban and industrial users.”

So, in this document, they are pushing water to be seen as a commodity. So, everywhere you will have to pay and the cost of agricultural production will go up.

In the last 15 years, everybody is seeing a big market in the water sector. There should be a few essential commodities which you cannot market, which should be community-owned, but your DFID is promoting the water market. Theoretically, they don’t respect how natural resources are community-owned and controlled. It will lead to a monopoly in the water market, which means if you have money you will get water, otherwise you will not get water.

So, there are two faces to this: on the one side they have explained a problem, then they are giving a solution, which is their own, and which is defined and created with organisations like the DFID, together with organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and so on.

I always ask: why, if India is such a fast growing economy, why are the grant institutions and the development banks increasing their investment in India? Because they will see they will get back their money back from the Indian resources. Not from the Indian people. 76% of the Indian population does not get a food intake of 2,400 calories per day, so individuals or the general population can’t contribute, but the resources – forests, water, minerals – can.

And, that is why you are going to the tribal areas, because 80% of minerals are in those areas where the tribal people are living. Why do we see displacement largely in tribal areas? Because that is where the minerals and natural resources are. Until you kick them out of that village, you can’t get to the resources.

And, if you are taking them out, you are then free to cut down the forests. You are ready to mine, take the minerals and you don’t need to worry about the environment, the rains, the monsoons, and so on.

We see the face of the East India Company in the DFID now, which came to India 300 years back, and started doing business, with a little welfare, and then controlled the entire nation, and ruled India for 200 years. Still, people see India is full of natural resources – I may not have money in my pocket but I have huge resources. So, companies like Monsanto, Cargill and other multinationals and institutions, like the DFID, see these resources.

Though, of course, this is not just the DFID. The Government of India is into the same things. I received very interesting information from a government official. He said that in the last 55 years, the Government of India has cut around 10 million acres of forests, but have not generated even one million.

And, you can see it in the global market now. At the moment currency is not working, but resources will always work and in India you will find resources. It may seem a bookish statement, but there is no limit to greed.

So, you have to adopt some strategies to get in and welfare is one of them. But what is happening is a very dangerous thing.

Nevertheless, it is still surprising, to me anyway, that the British Government, after all it’s done here, is allowed to have so much influence.

They are not at all respecting the democratic system of this country. The MPRLP, for example, was not approved by the legislative assembly of Madhya Pradesh

So, who approved it?

The Rural Development Department

Which, presumably, isn’t a cash rich department?

No, because rural development is often a very under-funded department.

So, if an organisation like the DFID comes offering a lot of money…

They will be celebrating Diwali!

If the DFID wasn’t giving this money they wouldn’t be able to run livelihoods projects?

That money can be found, it is just a question of priorities. In the last two years, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has signed Memoranda of Understanding with multinationals worth 2.5lakh crore rupees (£34 billion).

And what is the government providing them with? Who will earn from the forest, mining and water reforms? They are providing these companies’ subsidies – excise subsidies, water subsidies, power subsidies, discount taxes, and so on.

This kind of investment will supposedly create employment opportunities and development. But this investment is not going to provide employment to more than 50,000 people. All the factories will be mechanised and the like so it won’t impact positively on the lives of most people.

And where do the parliament and the elected representatives fit into this process?

You just see one thing. The Power Sector Reforms Project, supported by the DFID and the Asian Development Bank, has been in full flow in the last ten years. One of the first things was a law that there will be a power regulatory authority that will decide the rent and prices, and so on. All these things are now decided by the power regulatory authority in Madhya Pradesh.

Which is an independent body?

Yes. It came into existence by an act passed by the Assembly, under the Congress Government in 1998. Now it decides everything. As for the role of dissenting elected representatives: there was a problem that they’d made a substantial hike to electricity prices for the wheat grinding machine holders. A group of elected representatives went to the Chief Minister – it was Digvijay Singh at that time – and said, “Sir, see this thing: these people only make Rs1,500 per month, but they are receiving bills for Rs2,500 every month, so they can’t survive.”

You know what he said? The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh said, “I can’t do anything. You just have to go to the power regulatory authority and file your appeal there. What I can do? My office will not oppose you, but we can’t decide.”

So, the power regulatory authority has more power than the Madhya Pradesh assembly!

And, the bureaucrats do well out of this also. The Chief Secretary, the bureaucrat who drafted the power regulatory authority bill, who was heading the group of bureaucrats who were pushing for these entire power sector regulations, became the first chairman of the power regulatory authority and he was the chairman for four years, so there are ways for them to benefit.
When you speak to DFID staff you’re speaking to people who feel, to varying extents, that they’re part of an anti-poverty process. Many would balk at being compared to the East India Company and so on, and it’s noticeable that the DFID presents itself, and is often seen as, an NGO or development agency, rather than a department of the British Government.

You’re suggesting there might be some development professionals who believe in the work they are doing. I’m saying our debate is with institutions, not individuals. There maybe good or bad individuals, but what they are doing, they are doing it for an institution. So, the question is what is the motive of that institution? Definitely the DFID is a tool for the British Government’s foreign policy. And who is motivating, who is pressurising and influencing the UK Government? Like the Indian Government, it is of course controlled by certain interests.

The Indian government is made up of a lot of politicians and bureaucrats who have worked in the World Bank and other international financial institutions. The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia; the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh; the current Home Minister and former Finance Minister, Chidambaram, are all the former servants of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, so you can expect they will come with similar interests.

And you can see, the Planning Commission plays a very crucial role in Indian governance. Everywhere you see the Planning Commission. It directs 33% of the India budget: they decide where it goes. And it is not a constitutional body. It is deciding these things outside of the Parliament. Within its office there is a section for the international financial institutions.

So, the DFID is playing from a very high level of the system. They are doing a lot to this country but they are above our democratic process.

It’s like someone is coming to my house and saying, ‘I will take care of everything. You just sit and see’.
See also:

Dodgy Development: Films and interviews challenging British aid in India

Dodgy Development VI: False promises June 25th, 2010

Dodgy Development V: Power to the people? May 05, 2010

Dodgy Development IV: ‘A DFID colony’ May 05, 2010

Dodgy Development III: A DFID Education April 09, 2010

Dodgy development: DfID in India January 28, 2010