Centre inks MoU with Ramdev-owned firm to create data pool for ‘smart farming’ despite lack of any credentials
Activists have demanded scrapping of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Ministry of Agriculture and Patanjali Organic Research Institute Private Limited (PORI)
A company owned by Yoga guru Ramdev with zero experience in technology development, data collection and privacy-protection has been tasked by the Centre to create a data pool to enable “smart farming” in India as per documents accessed by NH.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ministry of Agriculture and Patanjali Organic Research Institute Private Limited (PORI) was signed on June 1 in this regard with the stated objective to “create a larger ecosystem for farmers.”
Additional Secretary, Agriculture Vivek Agarwal and Sreenivas Madabhushi, head of agri-science, PORI signed the MoU which is valid till 23 March 2023. The MoU authorizes both parties to share relevant information on a confidential basis.
A Press Information Bureau (PIB) release on June 1 outlined the purpose of the agreement: “Under an integrated database for farmers, information related to all benefits and assistances provided through various schemes of the central and state governments can be kept at one place and it can be a source of information for providing benefits to the farmers in future.”
A data activist associated with the ongoing farmers’ protest however questioned the “need of the agreement with Ramdev’s company having zero experience in data-technology”. Talking to NH, the activist, who did not wish to be named, said despite lack of required expertise, Ramdev’s company was chosen because of his political allegiance and on the pretext of Modi government’s ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ campaign
Notably, so far, as per the information provided by the Ministry, a database of about 5 crore farmers has already been prepared. Further, the available data related to PM Kisan, Soil Health Card and PM Crop Insurance Scheme have already been integrated.
“The Ministry has signed MoUs with multinationals like Microsoft and Amazon also which is in question due to other reasons, but nobody can question their expertise in the field of technology development. But in the case of PORI it is just the opposite. PORI may have done outstanding work in organic farming but in technology development it has nothing to claim,” added the data activist.
As per the MoU, Ramdev’s company will develop an app to do soil mapping, nutrient profiling of soil, and collection of demographic details of farmers.
The data activist pointed out, “Data is the new oil…in the guise of helping farmers, this company is handing over data to private companies to help their business grow.”
Kavita Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) told NH that her organization had raised issues related to privacy and prior informed consent.
“Beginning point cannot be that the government has the database of farmers therefore they want to create a digital ecosystem, but the need of the farmers,” she said.
“The beginning point has to the basic needs of farmers and the democratic process…the government has to find out what farmers want to do in the digital space…after all it is their data that you are using,” she added. She has submitted her in-depth response to the government over the initiative.
When asked about Ramdev’s company, Kuruganti commented, “What does Patanjali know about artificial intelligence?”
Demanding the suspension of the MoU because the government is doing the “whole process completely wrong”, Kuruganti added, “Whenever they have a new scientific tool, they discover genetic modification, they discover drone technology; they just assume farmers need it and press for it. The beginning points, whether it is scientific intervention or digitization, is that farmers need has to be fulfilled, not that of the government”.
NH sent an email and made several calls at the number provided by PORI but the email as well as the calls were not responded to. Several calls made to SK Tijarawala, spokesman to Ramdev also did not elicit a response, and he did not respond to a questionnaire sent on WhatsApp. The story will be updated as and when they respond.