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Will seeds bill make it this time?

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Dec 15, 2010 | From the print edition

Opposition parties say the draft is still not farmer-friendly

IT HAS been drafted several times in the past six years. The Union agriculture ministry is confident the seeds bill will make it through Parliament this winter session. But opposition parties, and some MPs from the ruling Congress Party, are getting ready to corner the ministry over legislation.

The Seeds Bill 2010, first drafted in 2004, seeks to regulate the production, distribution and sale of seeds, including its import and export, and requires every seed company to meet minimum standards. After Cabinet approval in March, the bill was to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha in mid-April. But the ministry decided to redraft the bill after it received over 100 amendments from several MPs, the government of Andhra Pradesh and farmers groups. Their main grouse was the bill did not have provisions to monitor seed prices nor did it talk adequately about compensation and hold companies liable in case of seed failure.

Ministry sources say the current draft has come into being after several discussions and deliberations by farmers groups and civil society organisation, and is based on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture.

“But several concerns remain unaddressed,” said Prakash Javadekar, Rajya Sabha member and the spokesperson of opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). The government should promote quality seeds under vigilance. “The current draft overlooks our long-standing demand for a regulatory mechanism to oversee seed trade, just like the telecom regulatory authority,” said Javadekar. BJP won’t vote for the bill until the ministry introduces the provision, he added.

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  We need a seed liability bill on the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill to hold the seed suppliers liable for any damage or crop failure  
 
  BASUDEB ACHARIA Lok Sabha member (CPI-M)  
 
 

The standing committee had recommended amendments to 80 per cent clauses of the 2004 draft bill. The agriculture ministry considered the suggestions, but did not include the ones calling for changes in price-control mechanism and compensation to farmers, Basudeb Acharia, Lok Sabha member and a leader of CPI(M), said. For example, there is no provision for the government to determine and control seed prices.

Unless the government has the power, there would be no ceiling on the price of the seed. Just five companies, including USA’s Monsanto and DuPont, control the entire seed trade across the globe. In the absence of a ceiling, these multinationals would charge exorbitantly and can hike prices arbitrarily. In fact, we need a seed liability bill on the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill, said Acharia, adding that his party has decided to oppose the bill unless the ministry includes all recommendations of the standing committee on agriculture.

The original draft was meant to protect the interest of the multinational seed companies. That is why it did not hold the seed suppliers liable for any damage or crop failure. The current draft brings seed companies under the ambit of the legislation, but does not mention how they should compensate farmers in case of loss or damage due to bad quality of seeds, Acharia added.

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  The bill holds companies liable till the seed germinates. What if the seeds germinate but fail to yield crop? There should not be a cap on the maximum compensation for seed loss  
 
  MV MYSURA REDDY Rajya Sabha member (Telegudesam Party)  
 
 

Rajya Sabha member M V Mysura Reddy elaborated on Acharia’s concern. The current draft mentions compensation for the amount of seed lost. But for sowing seeds, a farmer also invests in fertilisers, water, manure, pesticides and labour. All these should be included while computing seed loss. Besides, the bill holds seed companies responsible only till the germination of seed.

What if the seed germinates but fails to yield crop? There should not be a cap on maximum compensation, added the leader from Telegudesam Party, the opposition party in Andhra Pradesh. Lok Sabha member Bhartruhari Mahtab, a leader of Biju Janta Dal, the ruling party in Orissa, said, “our party has long demanded the mechanism to control seed trade be left to state governments because agriculture is a state subject.

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had assured that the issues would be addressed, but I don’t see it in the current draft.” The compensation clause, for instance, concentrates power at the Centre. How many farmers would be able to come to Delhi to claim losses? asked Mahtab. “We’ll move the amendments and then decide to vote or not.”

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