"Right should belong to scientists"

For the first time in India, the draft of the Plant Varieties Protection (PVP) Act is being finalised by the ministry of agriculture. India, as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is obliged to enact this law to protect the interests of innovators of new crop varieties and the plant breeders. A debate has been raging in the last four years on who should be the prime beneficiaries of the law-farmers, commercial breeders or public sector scientists. Union agriculture minister SOM PAL tells SUMITA DASGUPTA why he thinks the law should favour scientists

 
By Sumita Dasgupta
Published: Wednesday 30 September 1998

The draft of the PVP Act is hanging fire since 1994. It was to be tabled in Parliament earlier this year. What happened?
The PVP involves several angles and several ministries ministry of environment and forests (MEF), foreign affairs, commerce and the department of science and technology. All of them have to be consulted. The legislation has long-term ramifications. So it has to be done with care. It will take time.

But the ministry has been working on it for a long time. What stage is it in now?
Well, the Act deals with three important issues: protection of biodiversity, that is, our genetic resources; protection of varieties evolved by our scientists working in research institutes, that is, breeders' rights; and the sui generis right of the farmers, that is their own rights.

There are three schools of thought now. One group says that we should have only one law which will govern all three issues as multiplicity of legislations might multiply problems and leave room for contradictions. The second group says we should have two separate laws one on pvp and farmers' rights, and the other on biodiversity. The third view is that we should have three separate laws for the three issues. So we are working on it.

But enacting the biodiversity legislation is not the responsibility of your ministry... it is already on the anvil. The MEF is reportedly working on that.
Yes, the MEF is the nodal agency for that law. We are dealing with the other two. The biodiversity law is relatively simpler. It is our obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have to prepare schedules of our genetic materials and traditional knowledge systems related to their use. This has to be updated as germplasms are still being discovered. The law needs to say that this is our biodiversity and if this material or knowledge is used in part or whole for commercial purpose then the users will have to take prior consent of the our government. The traditional communities who have been the holders of this knowledge must be compensated.

But the PVP has to give patent protection to crop varieties. It has got to be done now, but it involves more intricate legal issues.

This law is primarily going to provide protection to the varieties developed by our breeders scientists and farmers. There have been, as far as we are aware, two drafts of this law one that was produced in 1994, and the recent one drawn up by your ministry. There is one very stark difference between the two. The 1994 version had a very elaborate provision on farmers' and community rights, where their contribution to the agricultural system was elaborately discussed and recognised. It said that the law will strive to "balance the need for stimulation and incentives to research and development (in the corporate sector) with welfare of farmers". But the latest one does away with all that. It has one short paragraph on farmer's privileges. It says they will retain their traditional rights to save, exchange and share their farm produce. Why has this happened?
No. Farmers' rights can never be taken away. They must be allowed to breed the seeds they have bought. And anyway we cannot monitor whether he is selling his seeds to his neighbours.

What in your view should be defined as farmers' rights?
The farmer should be allowed to regenerate and regrow seeds because he has paid a price. He must be allowed to recover the money.

In case of new varieties of seeds, in India, all R&D is done by research institutions funded by the government. Jo the rights should belong to institutions, not to private breeders.

What about farmers? Do you see them as innovators?
No, I don't think they have the strength. Also, if we give private people the rights, all scientific research will be sold in the market. Institutions will become useless and this will create dilemma and dichotomy.

But enacting the biodiversity legislation is not the responsibility of your ministry... it is already on the anvil. The MEF is reportedly working on that.
Yes, the MEF is the nodal agency for that law. We are dealing with the other two. The biodiversity law is relatively simpler. It is our obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have to prepare schedules of our genetic materials and traditional knowledge systems related to their use. This has to be updated as germplasms are still being discovered. The law needs to say that this is our biodiversity and if this material or knowledge is used in part or whole for commercial purpose then the users will have to take prior consent of the our government. The traditional communities who have been the holders of this knowledge must be compensated.

But the PVP has to give patent protection to crop varieties. It has got to be done now, but it involves more intricate legal issues.

This law is primarily going to provide protection to the varieties developed by our breeders scientists and farmers. There have been, as far as we are aware, two drafts of this law one that was produced in 1994, and the recent one drawn up by your ministry. There is one very stark difference between the two. The 1994 version had a very elaborate provision on farmers' and community rights, where their contribution to the agricultural system was elaborately discussed and recognised. It said that the law will strive to "balance the need for stimulation and incentives to research and development (in the corporate sector) with welfare of farmers". But the latest one does away with all that. It has one short paragraph on farmer's privileges. It says they will retain their traditional rights to save, exchange and share their farm produce. Why has this happened?
No. Farmers' rights can never be taken away. They must be allowed to breed the seeds they have bought. And anyway we cannot monitor whether he is selling his seeds to his neighbours.

What in your view should be defined as farmers' rights?
The farmer should be allowed to regenerate and regrow seeds because he has paid a price. He must be allowed to recover the money.

In case of new varieties of seeds, in India, all R&D is done by research institutions funded by the government. Jo the rights should belong to institutions, not to private breeders.

What about farmers? Do you see them as innovators?
No, I don't think they have the strength. Also, if we give private people the rights, all scientific research will be sold in the market. Institutions will become useless and this will create dilemma and dichotomy.

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