Inflicts huge loss on seed companies; Centre ‘aware’ but has failed to act, say officials
About 50 lakh packets of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) Bt cotton (about 24 lakh kg) worth ₹300 crore are in circulation in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra, according to the National Seed Association of India (NSAI), which says that this money is being siphoned off from legal business and goes into the hands of illegal players.
Illegal HT seeds are contaminating breeding material and parent lines of the seed companies, especially those selling BG2 cotton seeds, and State governments are taking action against licensed seed companies if HT genes are found even in a few lots of seeds.
“Now, HTBt cotton is pegged at about 15-20 per cent of total cotton cultivation. These 50 lakh packets of HTBt cotton seeds (of 450 gm each) are making a dent into seed companies’ revenues. ₹300 crore is going to illegal players selling HTBt seeds, causing a huge loss to cottonseed sector in India,” Indra Shekhar Singh, Director-Policy and Outreach, NSAI, told BusinessLine.
He added that the cotton seed economy is being disrupted because of flourishing illegal HTBt trade. The government must take immediate steps to stop the circulation of these seeds and initiate action against companies marketing them.
“This has been happening for the last few years now. NSAI has repeatedly written to the Centre seeking action. Because of illegal HTBt, the larger seed sector has been contaminated and companies doing legal business are suffering because they are being punished even if a small amount of HTBt is found in their seed lot. We are for technology but not at the cost of India’s sovereignty. There are legal ways of bringing technology into the country, let us follow procedure abiding by independent agronomy, biosafety, analysis, etc,” said Singh. Industry players said the Centre is aware of companies which are into the illegal business and alleged that the fields are being contaminated with HTBt and this was a way to ‘finish’ legal seed business.
The Ministry of Agriculture had informed the Lok Sabha in February 2019 that the Department of Biotechnology had constituted a Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee to investigate the production of Bt cotton seeds with unapproved genes. The panel found that unapproved cotton was grown, on an average, on 15 per cent of the cotton-cultivable area in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana, and 5 per cent in Punjab during the 2017-18 season.
In June last year, Shetkari Sanghatana — the apex body of farmers in Maharashtra — launched a ‘civil disobedience’ movement by sowing HTBt cotton to protest against the Centre’s ban on GM crops. Over 1,000 farmers had participated in the movement and the farmers openly defied the ban on GM crop daring the government to take action. This year, again, the Sanghatana has launched a similar drive and claimed that about 25 per cent of the State’s total cotton is under HT cotton, while in Telangana nearly a tenth of the cotton crop is covered by HT cotton grown on about 5-6 lakh acres.
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