[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[SANET-MG] seeds of despair
The proposed law in India is similar to last year's proposed law in
Canada. The Indian law is somewhat more draconian regarding ignoring
fundamental liberty by providing trespass, search and seizure without
warrant.We see were the world of crops and food is going! Totalitarian
now I presume.
Vol:22 Iss:16 URL:
Volume 22 - Issue 16, Jul 30- Aug 12, 2005
India's National Magazine Frontline
Seeds of despair
The draft Seeds Bill seeks to dilute all the safeguards provided by the
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, to the
farmer, whose existence is already fragile.
Farmers in a Karnataka village ploughing the field. Some of the
provisions of the Bill are viewed as a direct assault on the traditional
rights of farmers who have been growing, exchanging, saving, reusing and
selling their own seeds for centuries.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN had once said that agriculture was the only honest way
for a country to acquire wealth, "wherein man receives a real increase
of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle... "
The magic of this miracle is wearing thin for the Indian farmer. With
over 25,000 farmers committing suicide over the past few years and Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh admitting that the problems of the agricultural
sector extend `beyond weather', it is time policy-makers did a rethink
about agricultural policy and the related laws.
In this context, one important document that needs to be looked into is
the draft Seeds Bill 2004, which the Union government plans to unleash
upon the farmers. It is variously described as "anti-constitutional",
"savage", "pernicious", and "appalling", and accused of taking "a
suicidal line" and being a "threat to democracy". It is also criticised
as being anti-farmer and preparing the Indian market for seed
corporations, transnational and Indian. There is also the fear that it
will give rise to an agricultural bureaucracy that has the power to
harass the farmers.
Some of the provisions of the Bill are viewed as a direct assault on the
traditional rights of farmers who have been growing, exchanging, saving,
reusing and selling their own seeds for centuries. For instance, Section
13(1) prevents anyone from buying or selling any variety of seed if it
is not registered, and Section 21(1) prevents a farmer from growing or
organising "the production of seeds unless he is registered as such by
the State government."
In stark contradiction, the same Bill claims in Section 43: "Nothing in
this Act shall restrict the right of the farmer to save, use, exchange,
share or sell his farm seeds and planting material, except that he shall
not sell such seed or planting material under a brand name or which does
not conform to the minimum limit of germination, physical purity,
genetic purity prescribed under Clause (a) or Clause (b) of Section 6".
The Bill focusses on protecting "brands"; "enhancing the growth of the
seed industry" is a clearly stated objective. Though branding and
compulsory registration might make seeds unaffordable for farmers, a
mechanism to regulate the price is not even discussed in the Bill. There
is also no provision for a cap on profit that is to be made from a given
brand, nor has the parentage of the seed variety been questioned. So,
farmers may end up paying hundreds of times the cost of a "registered"
seed, which, in all probability, has been bred from the traditional
varieties developed by them.
According to Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food
Security, nearly three-fourths of the market price for brands such as Bt
cotton constitute the royalty on technology. The margins of profit of
seed companies are huge. He says: "Making those kinds of profits off
poor farmers is criminal."
The Central government has built its case for a new Seeds Bill on the
premise that the existing Seed Act, 1966, is no longer suitable. But why
it is no longer suitable is not made clear. For instance, the first
stated objective of the draft Bill, according to the Ministry of
Agriculture, is to "overcome its [Seed Act 1966] present deficiencies".
What are these deficiencies?
The registration of all the seed varieties is not compulsory. And
commercial and plantation crops and non-notified varieties are not
covered. But why it is so important to "cover" all varieties is not
Farmers in Khasa village in Punjab, near the border with Pakistan, dry
their harvest of wheat. Under the proposed Bill, the parentage of seeds
is not required during registration. This means that seed companies
could be using farmers' varieties without giving them any credit or
The answer may lie in the second stated objective - to "create
facilitative climate for growth of seed industry". This is likely to be
achieved, though at the cost of farmers' rights.
Says Devinder Sharma: "This new Seed Bill emphasises the use of only
registered seeds. Why? Who registers their varieties? Who gets
certification as producers? The seed companies, of course. Not the farmer."
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPVFR) Act, 2001,
described as one of its kind in the world as few countries have laws of
this kind that protect farmers, has not yet been notified though the Act
has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. Devinder Sharma, for
instance, alleges that the notification of the PPVFR Act is prevented
primarily because of intense lobbying by the seed companies. The 10th
Planning Commission report had promised that the PPVFR Act, 2001, "will
be enforced strictly". This has not happened. Instead, the new Seeds
Bill has been drafted, diluting the provisions of the PPVFR act.
The PPVFR Act, for instance, mentions that based on the parentage of
seeds, there will be benefit-sharing. It also mentions that farmers can
claim compensation from breeders. It makes it mandatory upon the PPVFR
Authority to undertake "documentation, indexing and cataloguing of
Most important, Section 39 of the Act states that the farmer "shall be
deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell
his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in
the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this
Act.... Provided that the farmer shall not be entitled to sell `branded'
seed of a variety protected under this Act".
Further, the Act states: "Where any propagating material of a variety
registered under this Act has been sold to a farmer or a group of
farmers or any organisation of farmers, the breeder of such variety
shall disclose ... the expected performance under given conditions, and
if such propagating material fails to provide such performance under
such given conditions, the farmer or the group of farmers or the
organisation of farmers, as the case may be, may claim compensation in
the prescribed manner before the Authority." But in the draft Bill, all
these safeguards for farmers are diluted and an aggrieved farmer is sent
to the consumer court for redress.
Also, in the PPVFR Act, Section 43 specifies that the farmer cannot be
prosecuted for infringement of the law if he can prove in court that he
was unaware of the existence of such a right. The new Bill does not make
such allowances to protect the farmers.
Some portions of the Bill seem completely non-contextual. For instance,
in Section 16, one of the grounds on which a sub-committee may cancel
registration is the need to protect "public order or public morality".
But which registrations will affect the "public order or public
morality" and how are not explained.
Also, Section 22(1) puts a small farmer who barters seeds with his
neighbour in the same category as an importer-exporter and makes it
mandatory for both to acquire certification as "dealers".
The most damaging aspect of the proposed law is that it gives seed
inspectors wide-reaching powers. For instance, Section 35(2) gives the
inspector the power to break open containers, and even break down doors,
if he thinks that the proposed Act has been violated. This gives seed
inspectors the right to force entry even into farmers' homes.
Suneet Chopra, joint secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers
Union, believes that in this respect, the law is hard on farmers. "Even
the police do not have the right to search your house without a warrant.
Such provisions will just lead to (seed) inspector Raj and will become
another avenue for corruption. The Bill allows seed inspectors to `enter
and search', `seize documents', interrupt exchange or delivery of seeds
and even come armed `with assistance'. Which means the inspector can
bring goondas, if he has `reason to believe that an offence under this
Act has been committed'. The scope for harassment is huge."
The suspicion that farmers' interests are not at the heart of the Bill
is further strengthened with the proposed Central Seed Committee
consisting of only two farmer representatives - even these two are
nominated by the Centre. Apart from representatives from the government
and the bureaucracy, the Committee also has two members from the seed
industry - the very people who should be regulated are thus part of a
Central regulatory body.
Activists such as Dr. Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign have accused the
government of leaving the primary stakeholders out of the necessary
debate. Suman Sahai said: "There is a fundamental flaw in the process
and philosophy of this new Bill. Legislation relating to agriculture
should ensure that farmers get access to seeds at reasonable cost; the
needs of the seed industry should be subservient. But the new Seeds Bill
questions the whole issue of ownership of seeds... . The parentage of
seed varieties is not required during registration. Which means that the
seed companies could be using farmers' varieties and not giving credit,
nor sharing profits."
According to the government, it is necessary to make the registration of
all seed varieties compulsory, especially given the need to enforce
patent laws as specified by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This
argument is misleading, Dr. Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for
Science, Technology and Ecology points out in her critique of the Bill
(Navdanya, May 2005). According to her, India has already amended the
Patent Act of 1970 to comply with the TRIPS agreement and, both Houses
of Parliament also passed the PPVFR Act, 2001. Thus, there is no further
obligation to the WTO. Also, according to Vandana Shiva, the government
is misleading people by claiming that the country has no provision for
"regulating transgenic materials". India has a Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee to regulate genetically modified (GM) crops.
Another provision that is detrimental to farmers is that the draft Bill
permits the fast-track entry of GM crops. According to the Bill,
provisional permission could be granted to transgenic varieties. This
can violate biosafety principles. According to Suman Sahai, such hasty
clearance hardly makes sense at a time when the whole world is being
extra-cautious and banning certain GM products. This is especially so as
Monsanto, in its own report on the study of GM corn (MON 863), says
researchers found that rats fed with the GM corn developed kidney
problems and their immune system was damaged owing to changes in blood
composition. The Independent first broke the story and in mid-June, a
German court ordered Monsanto to make the report public.
Activists such as Vandana Shiva believe that India does not need a
`National Seed Register'. At least, farmers do not. Community
biodiversity registers already exist and farmers can regulate their own
seeds. What India needs, in the wake of liberalisation, is a law to
regulate the seed industry, they say. In the past, Indian farmers have
suffered crushing losses thanks to the Bt cotton and maize seeds sold by
When it comes to tackling the seed companies, however, the draft Bill is
spineless. Instead of establishing strict liability for seed
manufacturers when the agronomic performance claimed by them on a
variety of seeds is not realised on the field, the Bill simply points
the ruined farmer to the local consumer court. If a farmer must turn to
the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 for redress, then why have a new
seed law at all?
The Centre, according to experts, needs to refer the Bill to a Joint
Parliamentary Committee and prepare an amended draft, in consultation
with farmers groups and agrarian experts.
A n outcry against the proposed law has been gathering strength almost
since the day it was drafted. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has been
organising farmers' meetings across the country to discuss the Bill.
Atul Kumar Anjan of the AIKS told Frontline that his organisation had
rejected the draft at its National Council meeting in Karnataka in June
as it was "detrimental to farmers". It has also sent its comments
against the Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and is braced
for a nation-wide struggle unless the draft is revised.
Dr. Krishna Bir Chowdhary, former Chairman of the Farms Corporation of
India, and the current executive chairman of the Bharatiya Krishak
Samaj, has also sent his reactions against the Bill to the Parliamentary
Committee. In a national farmers' convention in Hubli, he gave a call to
all farmer organisations to focus on this issue and not get sidetracked
by the immediate problems of electricity and fertilizers.
Meanwhile, the Centre has been dragging its feet over the business of
gathering consensus over the Seeds Bill. According to highly placed
sources in the Ministry of Rural Development, the Parliamentary Standing
Committee, headed by Rajnath Singh, has not even circulated the draft to
other Ministries for comments.
However, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has said
that the Centre will be "careful while passing any law". When questioned
about the notification of the PPVFR Act, he said: "There is a due
parliamentary procedure. That process will be followed."
One of the demands of critics of the new Bill is that it be harmonised
with the PPVFR Act, 2001, and the Biodiversity Act, 2002, so that none
of the rights already granted to farmers can be diluted. Also, stringent
penalties should be imposed on seed manufacturers when spurious or
under-performing seeds are sold. Ironically, one of the stated
objectives of the Bill is to impose harsher penalties - up to six months
in prison or a fine of Rs.50,000, or both.
Yet the government's enthusiasm for punitive action beats a hasty
retreat when it comes to itself. It has taken great care to protect
itself, through a clause which says that "no suit, prosecution or other
legal proceeding shall lie against the government or any person for
anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done."
As matters stand, not many people are placing bets on the "good faith
and intent" of the government as far as the draft Bill is concerned.
But, in the light of the agricultural crisis and with the Prime Minister
making worried statements about farm sector growth, or the lack of it,
the government, according to experts, would do well to listen to the
warnings about the effects of the proposed Bill.
Volume 22 - Issue 16, Jul 30- Aug 12, 2005
India's National Magazine
To unsubscribe from SANET-MG:
1- Visit http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html to unsubscribe or;
2- Send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org> from the address subscribed to the list. Type "unsubscribe sanet-mg" in the body of the message.
Visit the SANET-MG archives at: http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html
For more information on grants and other resources available through the SARE program, please visit http://www.sare.org.