Seed bill retake by Jyotika Sood
THE Union agriculture ministry will redraft the seed bill following complaints by MPs, states and farmer groups. Their main grouse is that the bill, which aims to regulate the quality of seeds, does not monitor their prices, crucial for farmers.
The Seed Bill 2010 was approved by the Cabinet in March and was to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha in mid-April. Sources in the ministry said MPs and state government have suggested over 100 amendments.
The bill, first drafted in 2004, updates the Seed Act of 1966 to address two main changes: genetically modified seeds and the entry of private and foreign seed companies. Farmers and seed producers contest its provisions on price, accountability and distribution of regulatory powers between the Centre and states. Andhra Pradesh—the seed production capital of India—is backing farmer groups (see: Andhra wishlist). On May 3, state agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy led a delegation of 15 MPs and farmer groups to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The delegation also met Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
At present, most states do not control the prices of seeds sold by hybrid seed companies.
Seed producers oppose this.
Inadequate compensation, penalty
The seed bill proposes setting up a national committee to compensate farmers in case seeds fail to perform as promised. Farmer groups argue that a national compensation committee is too distant and expensive for small farmers. How can small farmers access it when their grievances are not properly addressed at the state level, asked M Kodand Reddy, chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh Kisan and Mazdoor Congress. He suggested a district-level committee.
Proposed penalties for misbranding or selling substandard seeds include a fine of Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000. This is too small for a seed producer earning crores of rupees, said an official in the Andhra Pradesh agriculture department.
The bill gives seed inspectors the power to take samples from anyone selling, buying or transporting seeds. The inspector can even search and seize seeds without a warrant. Such unbridled power, many fear, would give rise to a bureaucracy with farmers at the receiving end.
The seed bill also affects Centre-state politics by limiting states’ role in seed regulation—states will have limited membership in the central seed committee, the main regulatory body. “Agriculture is a state subject. How can state governments be deprived of substantial power to take decisions?” asked Reddy.
Another concern is that the bill by allowing import of seeds may turn farmers’ fields into sites for experiments. ngos and farmer groups are asking that imported seeds be first tested and certified and then sold to farmers.
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