3-2-1-0: Indo-US Nuclear Deal Enters Home Stretch

By Roger Alexander

After a lot of drama and suspense, Congressman Howard Berman, a strong opponent of certain provisions of the Indo-Us Nuclear Deal, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that is almost identical to the one that was overwhelmingly adopted by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

However, his bill is said to have an extra paragraph that would require that the Senate and the House versions would have to be reconciled in a committee with the involvement of the administration as well, reports rediff.com.


Berman was also persuaded to drop killer amendments, including one on Iran that could have sabotaged the legislation following which he introduced the bill. He probably did so as the Hyde Act contains 17 references to Iran and directs India to have a foreign policy “congruent” to that of the US. That was why India voted twice against Iran in the IAEA.

(The Hyde Act requires an annual Presidential certification that India is in compliance with American law. And this so-called prescriptive clause is going to be a millstone around country’s neck for a long time to come.) 

As this blog reported yesterday (September 24) – ‘US Senate Committee Shafts India On Nuclear Deal’ – Berman provided considerable input into the Senate Committee’s legislation with his staffers and that Senate panel staffers worked in concert to craft a bill that could possibly be cloned in the House of Representatives for floor action. That has happened.

According to the rediff.com report, Berman’s bill, though in all respects similar to the Senate Committee’s Bill, contains an additional proviso that in the event of a nuclear test by India, which leads to the automatic termination of the deal, the presidential waiver of this termination could be limited. 

Under the Senate Committee’s bill, as does many pieces of legislation dealing with such 123 Agreements and arms sales bills with America’s allies, automatic termination of these agreements can be waived by the President on national security grounds and can be overridden by Congress only with a two-thirds majority.

Berman’s Bill puts slightly more teeth into Congress with the presidential waiver having the authority for being overridden by the Congress with a simple majority and not two-thirds majority.

Now it is only a matter of time and procedure that the US Congress puts is imprimatur on the Indo-US 123 Agreement. It was being speculated that Congress might fail to endorse the 123 Agreement as House Committee on Foreign Relations chairman Howard L Berman, an alleged critic of the deal (even though he supported the passage of the Henry J Hyde Act) was refusing to play ball. But unlike in India, even the so-called maverick American politicians put the US’ supreme national interest above personal preferences.

The Senate panel bill – the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act – though approved 19-2, forcefully stresses that “…nothing in the Agreement shall be construed to supersede the legal requirements of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.”

It also introduces a new element impinging on India‘s right to uninterrupted fuel supplies guaranteed by the 123 Agreement. In the approval legislation sent to the full Senate, the Committee makes it clear that “…it is the policy of the US to seek to prevent the transfer to India of nuclear equipment, materials, or technology from other participating governments in NSG or from any other source.”

This contingency would arise in the event nuclear transfers to India are suspended or terminated in the event of a test in pursuance of provisions of the US enabling law, the Hyde Act, the Atomic Energy Act or any other US law, it says.

Manmohan Singh and his minions have consistently trotted out the specious argument that India is only bound by the 123 Agreement and papered over the supposedly “extraneous provisions” in the Hyde Act, the US legislation that grants the US administration an exemption from the Atomic Energy Act to carry out nuclear trade with India, a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Another provision in the SCFR’s recommendation sets limits on the nuclear fuel provided to India as part of promised fuel reserve saying “any nuclear power reactor fuel reserve provided to the government of India in safeguarded civilian nuclear facilities should be commensurate with reasonable reactor operating requirements.”

This is a far cry from Manmohan Singh’s assurance to Parliament on a number of occasions that India had obtained fuel supply guarantees for the lifetime of the reactors that would be purchased from the US and that India would have the right to build up a strategic reserve.

As usual, the Indian government’s spinmeisters are trotting out arguments that have already been discredited. “I am not going to comment on internal process in the US. We have the right to test and they have the right to react,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters in New York. The usual bluster – India has the right to test while others have the right to react – was once again the retort to pointed questions from the media.

Still, the US Congress is all set to pass the Indo-US 123 Agreement along with the attendant riders (maybe some more may be added by Representatives and Senators). But Manmohan Singh is all set to sign away India’s sovereign rights and shackle us permanently to the Hyde Act and its pernicious conditions, including India’s foreign policy being “congruent” to that of the US. He has indicated as much in the past few days.



US Senate Committee Shafts India On Nuclear Deal

By Roger Alexander

Critics of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in India – including eminent scientists who nurtured India’s nuclear programme during its infancy along with the entire opposition in Parliament – have consistently pointed that the deal is rooted in the Henry J Hyde Act and comes with many strings attached.

However, the government’s spinmeisters and their surrogates in the corporate media have continually claimed that the Hyde Act with its “prescriptive” clauses is only an “enabling legislation” that India can safely ignore for it is bound only by the 123 Agreement which is a legally binding international treaty.

Now that the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved and forwarded a bill titled ‘The United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act’ to the Senate floor for ratification, it has become abundantly clear that the pro-deal spinmeisters in India have their task cut out to prove that only the provisions of the 123 Agreement – and not the Hyde Act and other tough US laws – will determine Indo-US nuclear commerce and that everything else in the US’ “internal political process” are extraneous and not binding on India.

First and foremost, contrary to the spin being dealt out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his minions in the Cabinet, the bureaucracy and the corporate media, the 123 Agreement’s conformity with the Hyde Act is iterated in the bill titled the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act states in sub-section (d) titled ‘Rule of Construction’: “(N)othing in the Agreement shall be construed to supersede the legal requirements of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.”

Indeed, the bill clearly states that when signed into law by President Bush, the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act has to be in strict conformity with the Hyde Act. Besides, in the event India tests an explosive devise, the US would not simply “discourage” other Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) members to deny India nuclear equipment, materials and technology to India but work to “prevent” such transfers, reports Aziz Haniffa for rediff.com.

(Do link to Aziz Haniffa on rediff.com for his excellent Washington coverage of the Nuclear Deal – no Indian media outlet has been as comprehensive. This blog is greatly beholden to him and rediff.com for the coverage on this topic.)

If this is not good enough to make you sit up and look, senior Congressional sources told Haniffa that Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also provided considerable input into the Senate Committee’s legislation with his staffers and that Senate panel staffers working in concert crafted a bill that could possibly be cloned in the House of representatives for floor action. (Berman is not obliged to call for hearings from the Bush Administration and can directly recommend to the House a bill that mirrors the Senate’s document.)

It will be recalled that Bremen, even though he reluctantly supported the passage of the Hyde Act, now wants append additional conditionalities – especially on fuel supply, weapons testing, and export of reprocessing technologies – to India.  

Now these are some of the many issues that the UPA’s spinmeisters have to grapple with to explain why the Deal is not a sell-out:

In Section 101, titled Approval of Agreement, and sub-section (b) with regard to Applicability of Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Hyde Act, and other provisions of Law, the legislation approved by the Committee says, “The Agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, and any other applicable United States law.”

In Section 102 of the bill titled, Declarations of Policy; Certification Requirement; Rule of Construction, and the sub-section which dealt with Declarations of Policy Relating to Meaning and Legal Effect of Agreement, the legislation clearly lays out: “Congress declares that it is the understanding of the United States that the provisions of the United States-India Agreement for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy have the meanings conveyed in the authoritative representations provided by the President and his representatives to the Congress and its committees prior to September 20, 2008, regarding the meaning and legal effect of the Agreement.”

Indeed, the bill clarifies that the commitments regarding fuel supplies are political and not legally binding. It will be recalled that senior Bush Administration officials, led by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, under intense questioning by the Acting Chair of the panel Senator Chris Dodd and others whether the 123 Agreement commitment regarding fuel supplies were only political commitments and not legally binding in the event that India tested, testified before the Committee on September 18 acknowledged that they were the former.

That is not all. Subsection (b) of Section 102, titled Declarations of Policy Relating to Transfer of Nuclear Equipment, Materials, and Technology to India says: “Pursuant to section 103(a)(6) of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, in the event that nuclear transfers to India are suspended or terminated pursuant to title I of such Act, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, or any other United States law, it is the policy of the United States to seek to prevent the transfer to India of nuclear equipment, materials, or technology from other participating governments in the Nuclear Suppliers Group or from any other source.” (Emphasis added)

Note, the word “prevent” has replaced the earlier “discourage,” adding on a more punitive component in the case of India testing a nuclear devise.

The conditionalities do not end here. Sub-section (2) also eliminates India being the beneficiary of any additional material, when it states: “(P)ursuant to section 103(b)(10) of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, any nuclear power reactor fuel reserve provided to the Government of India in safeguarded civilian nuclear facilities should be commensurate with reasonable reactor operating requirements.”

The Americans are convinced that Manmohan Singh – blinded as he is by the legacy spiel to “unshackle” India from a “nuclear aparthied regime” and his specious “lasting legacy bit – will play along and sign on the dotted line. Congressman Gary Ackerman, (D, New York), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, while acknowledging that the were some changes from the original 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act, told Haniffa that all of this was nothing serious but just “a political issue.” 

He went on to argue: “The issue of testing is there – that the deal is off if there’s testing. So, then you can have a challenge from the Left politically in India, saying that India gave in to this or that or the other thing. But that’s a political question because India says it’s not going to test anyway…So, if it’s not going to test, it’s only a psychological barrier…My view is get the darn thing done and we’ll worry about the politics there, the politics here later. That’s what politicking is – who gets blamed, who gets the credit…Let’s get it done. That the main issue – keep the eye on the ball. That’s the prize.”

So there you have it. Either India has to accept the ‘United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act’ in the manner in which the Foreign Relations Committee it has presented to the full Senate, and will most probably be akin to the House of Representatives’ resolution given Berman’s “assistance” to the Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, one senior Administration source told Haniffa, if India rejects the Senate Committee bill, “It wouldn’t be just looking a gift horse in the mouth – particularly when timing is of the essence – it will be kicking it in the mouth.” Meaning, India can leave it or lump it.

Going by his statements during his current visit to the US, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have already made up his mind to lump it. But will his government and party be able to weather the political tsunami – that will certainly castigate him for doing a Mir Jaffar (a sell-out) – that will follow in the wake of his reckless action if he does indeed and go ahead and sign the 123 Agreement without taking Parliament into confidence, as he solemnly promised in the Lok Sabha (whiile tabling his reply to the trust mothion moved by him) on June 23?


More Secrets Of Manmohan Sellout To US Revealed

By Roger Alexander

The entire Indo-US Nuclear Deal has been shrouded in secrecy. A number of these have already been unravelled with the Presidential Determination submitted to the US Congress making public the US interpretation of the 123 Agreement. 

A series of reports have appeared suggesting that the assurances made by the prime minister to Parliament and the country on the India-US nuclear deal have been violated. Worse, there are reports that suggest that crucial information was concealed regarding details of the deal.

It appears that there is much more about this deal that the UPA government is hiding from Parliament. Large purchases from US based nuclear power companies have already been committed in a clandestine manner.

Indeed, the UPA Government seems to have already decided to place orders with the American nuclear power companies for supplying a large number of nuclear reactors without any debate in the country regarding the cost of such imported reactors, or the safety of their designs.

So now we know why the monsoon session of Parliament has been shifted to the beginning of winter despite the fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had given and assurance that he would come back to Parliament after getting the clearance from the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Parliament has been convened only on October 17, well after the nuclear deal will be sealed in Washington.

Despite making noises that India do nuclear commerce with France and Russia if the US Congress failed to pass the 123 agreement by September 25, it is clear the government wants to favour US companies.

In fact, the Indian government has already provided the US with a “strong letter of intent” to buy from US firms reactors with at least 10,000 MW worth of power generation capacity and committed two sites to US firms. 

These disclosures were made by under secretary of state for political affairs William Burns to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the special hearing on the 123 agreement on Friday.

“The administration has taken a number of steps to ensure the US nuclear industry will not suffer any competitive disadvantages during the 123 Agreement review process,” he revealed. 

Each 1000/1,100 MW reactor from US companies like Westinghouse or GE, by latest estimates, will cost at least $7 billion each. This translates to approximately Rs 28 crore per MW, which is 7 to 8 times the capital cost of coal fired thermal power plants of equivalent capacity.

The 10,000 MW figure stated by Burns implies India putting in around Rs. 280,000 crore of Indian money to bail out the US nuclear industry that has failed to secure any domestic order for the last 30 years.

More importantly, India also has committed to adhere to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. “Adherence to this international liability regime by the Indian government is an important step in ensuring US nuclear firms are competing on a level-playing field with other international competitors,” explained Burns. 

The US government, unlike other countries, does not provide liability coverage for nuclear companies which expose US firms to unlimited liability in US courts. With India signing the convention, US firms would be protected as the convention provides supplementary international funds to pay victims and keeps liability in the country where the accident takes place. 

This means that in the case of any Bhopal type disaster, the Indian Government will take over all liabilities from the suppliers and the operators. The suppliers of nuclear reactors have demanded a no-liability regime for supplying equipment, which the UPA Government seems to have accepted without any public debate.


Spinmeisters’ Nuclear Spiel Deconstructed

By Roger Alexander

With the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee all set to determine whether to recommend to the Senate to accept or reject the 123 Agreement with India with or without additional amendments. The Indo-US Nuclear Deal is in its home stretch.

In opening remarks before the crucial testimony of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns before the Committee on Thursday, September 18, ranking minority member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar (R, Indiana) stressed that the nuclear agreement was an “important strategic opportunity” for the US.

He pointed out that the nuclear deal reinforced non-proliferation efforts and maintained US obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Lugar also talked about the “seven determination requirements that the President must make in order to waive provisions of the Atomic Energy Act and submit the agreement to Congress.”

“Last week, President Bush determined that each of these requirements has been met. Today’s hearing will review these determinations in preparation for Congressional acceptance,” he said.

He also outlined the four main policy and legal questions that must be resolved during the hearing. He emphasised on the need to “establish the definitive US interpretation of this agreement and avoid any ambiguity about the effect of this agreement on US law and policy.”

Later after the hearing got underway, Acting Chair of the Senate Panel (Senator Joe Bidden, the permanent chair was away campaigning) Senator Dodd asked whether the fuel supply commitments were binding on the next administration taking charge on January 20, 2009. William Burns replied, “Any president would be bound by US law, just as you described, and I believe that the Indians understand the clarity of

our position,”

Then it was Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John Rood’s turn to answer queries. “What was the legal effect of including assurances in the agreement? If those have no legal effect, then why were they included in the agreement at all? What would the United States do to help India create its strategic reserve of nuclear fuel? Does the government of India agree that those assurances were not legally binding and if so, has it said so in public,” asked Dodd

Replying to Senator Dodd’s question, Rood said, “With regard to their understanding that our actions are going to be guided by US law and will be consistent with US law, I believe the Indians do understand that.” (Emphasis added)

Let us, therefore, examine the US interpretation of the deal, which is consistent with US laws.

The documents submitted to the US Congress by the US President along with the Presidential Determination on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation have made it amply clear that the terms of the 123 Agreement are fully in conformity with the Hyde Act.

In brief, the following points have been underscored to demonstrate that the 123 Agreement with India is in full conformity with the Hyde Act:

· India will not have any uninterrupted fuel supply assurance;

· India will have to place its civilian reactors under IAEA safeguards in perpetuity without such a fuel supply assurance;

· India will not have any assurance regarding stock piling fuel reserve for the life time of the reactors;

· Whatever corrective measures India may contemplate vis-à-vis fuel supply disruption, taking the reactors out of IAEA safeguards will be impermissible;

· India will not have access to full civilian nuclear technology;

· The consent to India’s reprocessing of spent fuel is only notional;

· The US can terminate the 123 Agreement at will and stop all supplies immediately;

· India will have to align its foreign policy to that of the US, particularly on Iran.

Regarding Fuel Supply Assurances, the signed covering note to the Presidential Determination (President’s Transmittal of Text to Congress) – also referred to as the ‘Hyde Package’ – George Bush makes it clear that the fuel supply assurance in the 123 Agreement is not legally binding. “In Article 5(6) the Agreement records certain political commitments concerning reliable supply of nuclear fuel given to India in March 2006. The text of the Agreement does not, however, transform these political commitments into legally binding commitments because the Agreement, like other US agreements of its type, is intended as a framework agreement.”

This categorical denial of any legally binding fuel supply assurance in the 123 Agreement by the US President is accompanied by a specific observation contained in the Report Pursuant to Section 104(c) of Hyde Act Regarding Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India accompanying the Presidential Determination, which states:

“Once a facility is listed in the Annex, safeguards will continue indefinitely unless ‘India and the Agency have jointly determined that the facility is no longer usable for any nuclear activity relevant from the point of view of safeguards’. Thus the facilities and materials subject to safeguards are under ‘safeguards in perpetuity in accordance with IAEA standards, principles, and practices’.”

The Report Pursuant to Section 104(c) of Hyde Act has also left the quantity of nuclear material transferred under the 123 Agreement undefined. Therefore the US is under no obligation to help India build up adequate fuel reserves for lifetime operations of the reactors.

Regarding Full Co-Operation in Civilian Nuclear Technology, the Presidential Determination clearly states:

“It (the 123 Agreement) does not permit transfers of any restricted data. Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy-water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transferred under the Agreement unless the Agreement is amended.” This is also reiterated in the Report Pursuant to Section 104(c) of Hyde Act.

Regarding Consent to Reprocess, the Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement accompanying the Presidential Determination states:

“Subsequent to India’s March 2006 separation plan, the Indian government decided to pursue development of a new civil facility dedicated to reprocessing material under safeguards. Development of this facility (and agreement with the United States on arrangements and procedures related thereto) will be required to bring into effect the ‘programmatic consent’ in Article 6 of the Agreement.”

Regarding Iran, the Report Pursuant to Section 104(c) of Hyde Act approvingly talks about India aligning with the US on the Iran question both in the IAEA and the UN and that India “maintained a strong public line of support for P5+1 and US diplomatic efforts to resolve international concerns with Iran’s nuclear program”.

Regarding Missile Technology Control Regime, the Report Pursuant to Section 104(c) of Hyde Act mentions that India has written a letter stating its “adherence to the MTCR and its annex in a letter dated September, 9, 2008, to Mr Jacques Audibert, the MTCR Point of Contact in Paris”.

As Dr AN Prasad and other critics of the deal point out that all this makes the 123 Agreement almost identical to the Tarapur one, where India had been forced to run from pillar to post for fuel after the US unilaterally terminated the Tarapur 123 Agreement.

India still continues to hold spent fuel as the US has never given its consent to reprocessing, even though such a “programmatic consent” was there in the Tarapur 123 Agreement also. It is with the experience of Tarapur that India had sought fuel supply assurances and various other terms including the right to reprocess spent fuel.

With the documents accompanying the Presidential Determination, the US has made its intentions clear – this 123 Agreement is no different from the earlier Tarapur one, with all the attendant Tarapur problems. Therefore, India can again land into a Tarapur-like mess, as the right of the US to terminate the agreement is an unfettered one.

Therefore the argument that India has a different interpretation of the 123 Agreement is meaningless. The US as a supplier of nuclear equipment and materials will undertake such supply only under the terms of what it calls a “framework agreement.”

A different interpretation of the 123 Agreement by India will in no way bind the US as a supplier.


Sainath Blasts Rent-A-Report Absolving Govt For Farmers’ Suicides

By Roger Alexander

My friend P Sainath, winner of the Magasaysay and many other awards for top-flight journalism has been accused by the Prime Minister’s economic advisor and vice chancellor of Pune University Professor Narendra Jadhav for misreading facts about farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha, and termed his writing on the issue as “irresponsible”, reports Mumbai Mirror.

Sainath has been relentless reporting the agrarian crisis across India that has resulted in thousands of indebted farmers killing themselves to escape humiliation for more than a decade.

Jadhav who had been appointed by the state government as the head of a one-member committee to find out if the Prime Minister’s mega relief package of Vidarbha farmers was being implemented properly or if any other help was required, has practically absolved the state government and said, “Sainath has unwittingly or otherwise used wrong parameters to defame the state and has migrated from truth. This cannot be condoned. It’s irresponsible.” 

Incidentally, the PMO consulted P Sainath before the PM went to Vidarbha in 2006 with his relief package and Rahul Gandhi consulted him recently before he embarked on his Discovery of India tour.

Ironically, the Times of India, in its lead front page report on the same day as the Mirror’s front-page page story appeared, under the 5-column headline ‘Netas swallow farmer’s aid’, said a six-time former Congress MP Uttamrao Patil and his family members, sitting MLA Sanjay Deshmukh’s wife and mother, former minister Shivajirao Moghe’s near relatives, former MLA Wamanrao Kasawur’s four relatives and Congress leader Suresh Lonkar’s relatives are among the well-off people who have helped themselves to state subsidies for the poor and bereaved farmers to buy dairy cattle under the PM’s and CM’s “relief packages” in Yavatmal district, the epicentre of the farmers’ suicides. All of them belong to the Congress, NCP and other parties of the ruling alliance.

The revelations by social activist and journalist Vilas Wankhede who obtained the information under RTI point to large scale corruption and irregularities in the implementation of the schemes. Undeserving beneficiaries with political connections had abused the scheme under which 50 per cent of the cost of the purchase of a cow or a buffalo was subsidised by the government.

The scheme was meant to help the surviving members of a farmer’s family who had committed suicide because of the widespread agrarian crisis and crushing debt and BPL families living along the state dairy’s milk procurement route. Its purpose was to enable the distressed families to supplement their income as farming had become uneconomical in the unirrigated, drought-prone area. Interestingly, Sainath’s bestselling book is titled Everyone Loves A Good Drought.

Nonetheless, Jadhav has taken umbrage to Sainath’s use of phrases like “special elimination zones” for SEZs and “graveyards” in his reports in The Hindu (of which he is the rural affairs editor) to describe the plight of farmers in the state. Jadhav in his report says the writer had “defamed” the state by doing so. Citing figures of suicides in other states, Jadhav said that the noted journalist had been unjust to the state and his statement was misleading. 

However, activists working for the welfare of farmers in the area feel that the Jadhav Report is too harsh on Sainath and that the reported was prepared to please the powers-that-be in the state. 

Chandrakant Wankhede, a dissident Shetkari Sanghatna activist from Vidarbha, said in a press conference in Mumbai, “Going by the contents and its findings, it seems the Narendra Jadhav committee report has been written to please someone in the government. This report has gone far ahead of its terms of reference of evaluating the package announced by the state government and the Prime Minister. Basically, instead of writing almost 60 lines about P Sainath, the report should have some mention of the CM and his Cabinet colleagues like Manohar Naik and also Dr Abhay Bang who ridiculed the farmer suicides.”

“Since I belong to Vidarbha and have been working for farmers there, I can say that people from each and every district of the suicide belt know P Sainath. He has toured every nook and corner of the region. These people hardly know who Prof Jadhav is,” he added.

Jadhav was appointed by the state government as the head of a one-member committee to find out if the Prime Minister’s mega relief package of Vidarbha farmers was being implemented properly or if any other help was required. Returning the favour, Jadhav has practically absolved the state government.

Sainath has hit back in his own inimitable style. “He is running a rent-a-report service. His report is nothing but a whitewash job for the state government. He says Maharashtra is not the worst state, but only the fourth or fifth worst state in the country as far as farmers’ suicides are concerned. He is like a child who tells his father that he is not the last in the class, but fourth or fifth last,” said Sainath sarcastically in a statement. 

Maharashtra is the only state where farmers are addressing their suicide notes to the CM and the PM. In Andhra, they wrote about policies, banks, moneylenders and others, but not the government. Here, they are telling the government we are killing ourselves because of you,” he said.

“In Maharashtra, we are putting our farmers in the pressure cooker and cooking them. And our CM says and I quote, ‘farmers should be grateful I am not prosecuting them as suicide is a crime’,” he added.

The veteran journalist added that contrary to Jadhav’s claims, the Maharashtra government had failed on every parameter, especially under Vilasrao Deshmukh’s leadership. Jadhav had claimed in his report that Sainath had used wrong parameters to indict the state government. 

“The National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that one-fifth of 1.66 lakh farmers’ suicides between 1997 and 2005 were in Maharashtra. Is this figure something to be proud of?” Sainath asked, adding that the farmers’ plight in Vidarbha was the worst in 2006, a year after the prime minister and the chief minister announced separate relief packages. 

“The year witnessed the highest ever number of farmers committing suicides since we started keeping records. Of the 17,060 farmers who committed suicides in the country, 4,453 were from the state, which is almost one-fourth. These figures are never rivalled by any other state. The closest figure was in 2004 – around 4,100 — and guess which state it was? Maharashtra, sadly,” he pointed out.

Countering Jadhav’s claims that Sainath chose wrong states (with less population to compare with Maharashtra), the journalist said even the population parameter didn’t save any grace for the state. 

“The increase in the number of suicides (527) in 2006 was four-and-half-times that of Andhra Pradesh that recorded 117 more suicides than in 2005. Is Andhra four-and-half-times more populous than Maharashtra?” he asked.

“It’s amazing that after committee after committee found the situation in Vidarbha grave, Jadhav absolved the government. “The reports by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi Institute for of Developmental Studies, the Planning Commission, NABARD team, state investigators have been more adverse than the previous.

“How can criticising a state government mean criticism of the state…And whatever the parameters or ratings, 34,000 farmers committing suicides…is this something to be proud of?” he asked.