I'm sitting in Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's office (ministry of rural development). It is a very plush office. (These ministries have SUCH pretty furniture! It seems to me to be the ideal environment for one to sink into the designer furnishings and forget all about where you come from, and why you've been sent here.)
The office is full, even at 8.30 pm.
I haven't said a word yet, because I'm labouring under the delusion that mantriji deals with one person at a time - and that, if I just wait long enough, I will have hid undivided attention.
At present, mantriji's attention is being divided between six repersentatives of various groups from Bihar and a marketing team from India Today.
I know straight off that these aren't reporters. They're carrying laptops and packaged copies of the last few copies of the Hindi edition of the magazine. They begin by showing him a VCD - this is something that India Today (Hindi) did for some government chest-thumping kind of thingy, from Andhra Pradesh.
Mantriji is struggling to deal with a query from some NGO that hasn't got a project it had applied for.
Hindi India Today rep number 1 clears throat - Ahem! Sir, we were hoping to work with you; we have a proposal in mind...
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh - But I am telling you the Hariyali scheme has nothing to do with the union ministry.
Hindi India Today rep number 2 shuts laptop down, then restarts it and grins at me.
rep 1 - We have crossed 1 crore circulation, sir, did you know?
Raghuvansh - One crore? That is good news.... yes, but NGOs are the bottom of the priority list for projects.
rep 2 - Yes sir, much more than 1 crore. That's just the Hindi edition.
Raghuvansh - Hmmm. Good, good... Why don't you understand - I cannot clear this project because it is not a centrally sponsored scheme!
rep 1 - Sir, actually, we were looking at a VCD, that goes in free with the magazine... or a feature that would deliver your vision to the people.
Raghuvansh - my vision?
rep 1 - Yes, sir.
Raghuvansh - Great. Then go right ahead, and deliver our vision to the people. That is a good thing to do.
rep 1 - Ahem! er... ahem! Sir, we were thinking about a paid feature.
Raghuvansh - A paid feature? What nonsense! There is no such thing as paid-for news. We have no provision for it in our rules.
rep 1 - But you do! We've already done a similar one before. For cabard.
Raghuvansh - That's an independent body. The ministry has no such provision.
rep 2 - We're sure there is, sir... you could ask your PA.
Raghuvansh (reaching behind his back to ring the bell) - Fine! But I don't think there's any such thing.
rep 1 -But sir, you can communicate to the people... about all the good work you've done for them.
Raghuvansh - If I build a road for my people, they can see that a road has been built. If I don't build a road, they will know that I haven't build a road. They don't need your magazine to tell them what is done and what is not done.
rep 1 - Ahem! That is true sir, but you can say what you want to do.
Raghuvansh - That's the sort of thing done by those who have not done anything. They need newspapers to talk about what they want to do!
rep 1 has lowered his head and is grinning at me; rep 2 can barely suppress the giggles.
rep 1 - ahem! so, sir... maybe you'd like to ask the PA?
The PA is sifting through files.
PA - Yes, Sir. It is true; paid features are permitted. There was a precedent, last year.
Raghuvansh - Ah... if they're permitted, we'll see. Arre, how many times should I tell you - this scheme is a state-controlled scheme. The centre has no say in it!... Yes, and have you seen the article Meena Menon of the Hindu did? she wrote that we're doing a good job, in our area. She did a real survey, asked the villagers, and wrote honestly.
rep 1 - We could write abou-
Raghuvansh - Look! We have nothing against you. Outlook also came here asking for the same thing. I told them the same thing. The government spends crores on media and advertising and everyone gets a share. When we're spending, we'll give you the ads too.... what the hell are you going on and on about the project for? I told you - I am not blocking you funds. And no, my ministry has NOT received any such paper.
rep 1 - er... Sir, so we'll take your leave.
Raghuvansh - Oh, bring that green book of Hariyali guidelines...
Me - er... Raghuvanshji, if I may ask something....
Raghuvansh - Why don't you ask? You've just been sitting here silent for an hour. I've been waiting for you to say something.
Me - The seeds draft bill, sir. And the PPVFR Bill.
Raghuvansh - What bill? Seeds... yes, our country has lovely plants. And great variety. Even for animals.
Me - Sir, it's about protection of those varieties... why has the bill not been notified?
Raghuvansh - How am I supposed to know why? Ask the government.
Me - Er... sir, you're in the government.
Raghuvansh - Our country has the best buffaloes.
Me - Sir?
Raghuvansh - Yes, they stole our buffaloes genes and made it some 'diamond' breed in Brazil. And do you know, we have at least 26 kinds of goats in India?
Me - No, I didn't know that. But-
Raghuvansh - Yes. 26 varieties. And the best of them is the mother of the goats - the black Bengali one.
Me - I see. But what are we doing to patent genes?
Raghuvansh - The black bengali goat, she can give 2-3 kids. And lots of milk. Even the weakest and smallest goats gives us at least one kid each.
Me - I assumed so, sir... abotu the farmers' rights bill -
Raghuvnash - We will take very good care of farmers. That's what we are here for. That musaato-vusaato (Monsanto) - bad corn. Long hair, but no corn inside! And they have the gall to tell us about seeds!
Me - You're absolutely right! But the new seed bill will make it legally impossible to pin blame on seed manufacturers.
Raghuvansh - It will what? No no... nothing doing. No law for seeds.
Me - But there is a law. There's a draft bill coming up. And the parliamentary standing committee -
Raghuvnash - There's a procedure to this. In parliament, we have procedure. There's the lok sabha, there's a committee, and the committee looks at the bill before passing it.
Me - Exactly. So, the farmer's rights bill has been passed. Now, what procedure is stopping it from becoming a law?
Raghuvansh - There's procedure. We'll take care of farmers' rights. Don't worry.
Me - Alright, then. Do take a look at the seed bill though before passing it.
Raghuvansh - So, here it says, the Hariyali scheme is for panchayat-level initiatives. See, it says here - as a last resort, it goes to NGOs...
And that was my meeting with Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, rural development minister