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Move follows complaints against the company of providing inferior seeds, cheating and creating shortages
After months of dithering, Maharashtra has finally banned Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) from carrying out any trade in cotton seed in the state.
MMB is a joint venture of Mahyco (a Maharashtra-based hybrid seed company), the Maharashtra government and Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd, a US-based company. Mahyco is also a key distributor of Bt cotton seeds in the country.
The August 8 order comes in response to repeated complaints by farmers against the company for supplying poor quality seeds, deliberately creating shortages and encouraging black marketeering. The matter was also raised in the State Assembly by agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil in July. He had then informed the house that the company has created shortage of seeds and ignored notices issued to it in this regard. He had also issued a warned about the ban in the media.
“Every packet of 450 gramme seeds, which costs between Rs 900 and Rs 1,000, contains 350g of seed and a separate packet of 100g inferior seeds. Dealers say these are non-Bt seeds which should be sown around the cotton plot to prevent pest attacks, but this is not true, since these seeds never germinate,” says Suresh Patrikar, deputy sarpanch of village Bhamb Raja in Yavatmal district. “So, we just getting 350g seeds for the cost of 450g,” he adds. The village had passed a gram sabha resolution against Bt cotton in March this year.
A similar complaint was made by Haribhau Jawale, Member of Parliament from Raver constituency in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra early in August this year. In a letter written to Union minister for agriculture Sharad Pawar and also to seed commissioners under the state and Union ministries for agriculture, Jawale said that 450g Bt cotton seed packets, costing Rs 930, were coming with 120g non-Bt seeds or 70g chick-pea seeds. Farmers were paying Rs 120 for this seed, which costs no more than Rs 70 in the open market. “The company is cheating farmers to the tune of Rs 50 to Rs 55 per packet, which comes to Rs 75 to Rs 80 crore for Maharashtra state and Rs 250 crore nationally,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, the ban has received mixed response from farming groups, with some groups expressing concern that farmers will face difficulties in accessing Bt cotton seed. Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which has extensively documented farmer suicides in Vidarbha and campaigned against Bt cotton as the prime cause behind the phenomenon, called for a total ban on Bt cotton seeds in a press note. He said that all 28 companies subsidised by MMB should be banned and indigeneous cotton seed, which is cheaper, low-input, short-duration and less prone to pest attacks, should be reintroduced in the cotton-growing regions of India.
The order by the Director of Inputs and Quality Control (DIQC), Sudam Adsule, under the ministry agriculture, adds that the state government has also filed caveats in the high court in case the company goes in appeal. It adds that any violations of the order will lead to criminal action against the company.