KV Prabhu says controversial changes noticed recently on his organisation’s website could have been made well before his tenure started
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FR) will work to protect farmers’ rights over plant varieties, its chairperson has reiterated to Down To Earth (DTE) after a controversy erupted recently over changes in its booklet.
On December 10, 2019, farmer organisations and activists had sent a letter to the chairperson and Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, about the controversial interpretation of farmers’ rights in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) booklet.
The booklet, which could be downloaded from the organisation’s website, had claimed that only small and marginal farmers involved in subsistence farming were eligible to claim rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001.
It had also said these rights were not for “commercial farmers” and were only meant for “small scale” use.
“The FAQ booklet is not law. Hence, it is not going to impact our work,” Prabhu told DTE. “Once it came to our knowledge, we immediately removed the booklet. We are consulting scientists and experts to correct it immediately. It will uploaded again,” he said.
The reason behind the changes in the booklet on December 10 remain a mystery. Prabhu said that he had taken up his present position only in 2018.
“The interpretation could have been there before I became the chair,” he said.
For the moment, the PPV&FR website’s FAQ section is displaying an ‘Under Revision’ message.
The PPV&FR legislation came into force in in 2001 and the Authority was set up in 2005. Its mandate is to protect plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders, and to encourage the development of new varieties of plants.
It was Suman Sahai, chairperson of Gene Campaign, a New Delhi-based non-profit, who had written the letter to Prabhu and Tomar after the controversial changes appeared on the website and had sought their intervention. The letter was endorsed by 131 farmers and civil society organisations.
The PPV&FR Act is considered to be one of the most progressive and unique legislations regarding the rights of farmers.
“It is these rights that have been undermined by the language in the FAQ booklet created by the Authority,” Sahai told DTE.
Sahai dismissed the answer to question 78 in the booklet (as it had appeared at the time of the controversy), which claimed that only small and marginal farmers involved in subsistence farming were eligible to claim rights under the law.
“This is simply not true and it is not indicated anywhere in the Act. Any farmer anywhere in India can claim farmers’ rights to their fullest extent,” Sahai said.
According to the answer to question 71 (and 70), it were not farmers’ rights that were mentioned but ‘farmers’ exemptions’.
“This is ridiculous” the activists’ letter stated. It further said that India did not grant exemptions to its farmers; rather, it granted rights.
Activists accuse the language of the interpretation suits agri-business multinationals and is similar to the infamous UPOV convention which is being protested by activists and farmers across the globe.
The International Union for Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV), an intergovernmental organization, has aggressively favoured multinational rights’ over seeds or plant varieties rather than farmers.
The booklet carries the statement, “What is allowed under farmers' rights is only the use of registered varieties, on a small scale, and in an unbranded manner”.
The letter termed this line as equally incorrect. It stated that while the PPV&FR Act did proscribe branding of self-produced seeds of a registered variety, nowhere did it mention anything about scale.
“How has the Authority arbitrarily introduced ‘small scale’ on its own?” the letter asked.
The booklet’s Question 84 is a specific question on the interpretation of farmers' rights as contained in Section 39 (1) (iv) of the Act. “What is permissible under the Farmers Rights in Indian Law is only commercialisation for subsistence farming. Farmers’ rights are applicable only for subsistence and marginal farmers and not for commercial farmers”.
The letter termed this interpretation as ‘a piece of creative writing’. It further stated that such a condition was arbitrary and had been introduced by the Authority. It was not to be found anywhere in the PPV& FR Act and hence cannot be included in the FAQ booklet.
Sahai said these changes were intentional.
“PPV&FR, with its strong support to farmers’ rights, was always a thorn in the industry’s side and they have not left any stone unturned to attack it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, our scientists are easily influenced by the other side and this FAQ booklet fudges facts to suit industry” she added.
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