Dissent on Seeds Bill

Kerala and Bihar want amendments

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Monday 17 August 2015

BIHAR and Kerala have come out strongly against the Seeds Bill 2010 to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, saying states should get more powers to regulate seed trade. They say the bill in its present form would lead to unrestricted commercialisation of seeds now in public domain.

After Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Kerala are the only states to oppose the Bill (see ‘Seeds of strife’, Down To Earth, August 16-31, 2010).

  Bihar demands  
  Nitish Kumar  
  • Power to states for registration and licensing
  • Provisions for regulating prices and trait values
  • No to re-registration of seeds by a company for 20 years
  • No self-testing or certificates from foreign agencies
  • Mechanism for compensation to farmers
  • Special provisions for GM crops
  • Hold exporters liable for pest outbreak
  Kerala demands  
  V S Achuthanandan  
  • Change name of the Bill
  • Power to states for registration, licensing and fixing of prices
  • Banning convicted individuals or firms
  • State control on compensation to farmers
  • Mandatory testing compulsory on registration
  • Exporter and importer should be held responsible in case of a pest outbreak or genetic contamination
Proposed in 2004, the Bill seeks to nullify Seeds Control Order of 1983 that gives various powers to state governments to monitor seeds and seed trade.

Seeds Bill 2010 aims to regulate production, distribution and sale of seeds, including its import and export, and requires every company to meet minimum quality standards (see ‘Will seeds bill make it this time, Down To Earth, December 1-15, 2010).

In a letter to Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on March 14, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said, “The Bill in its present form would lead to unrestricted commercialisation of seed varieties in the public domain, including farmers’ varieties.

If passed, it would jeopardise the lives of millions of peasants and put agriculture at the mercy of agri-business multinationals.” Agriculture, Kumar said, falls under state’s domain, not Centre’s.

Private seed companies, especially multinationals, have made seeds unaffordable for farmers.

The National Seeds Corporation sells seeds at less than Rs 100 per kg, while private seeds cost hundreds and thousands of rupees. Kumar demanded that through the Bill state governments should get the authority to fix the retail seed price and royalty charges.

He termed the Bill contrary to the Seeds Policy 2002 of the Union government. The policy says seeds for registration should be sent to the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources for retention in the National Gene bank, but there is no such provision in the Bill. Kumar said “no self-testing or certificates from foreign seed certification agencies should hold true for Indian conditions”, and asked for special provision for genetically modified (GM) crops. The Bihar government has asserted the need of a liability clause in the Bill to make seed exporters responsible for pest outbreak and cleanup operations.

Kumar called penalties proposed in the Bill for selling fake, spurious and substandard seeds “trivial”, adding the central government will find it difficult to check seed trade. The minister said a compensation mechanism for farmers should be explicitly fixed at the difference between value of expected produce as per the seed producer’s claim and the actual produce. He also opposed provision for re-registration of seeds by a company for 20 years, citing monopoly over a seed variety.

Kerala prepared its response to the Bill after forming an expert committee last year. The state government submitted its recommendations to the Union agriculture ministry in February. First, it asked for the change of the title of Seeds Bill 2010 to “Commercial Seed (Regulation) Bill 2010”.

Secondly, the state demanded inclusion of wording “ensuring availability of quality seed at the right time in required quantity at reasonable price” in the preamble of the Bill. It also asked for testing of all imported seeds.

Kerala also wants the Union agriculture ministry to insert a clause in the Bill, which should state: “In case of any problem arising from imported seeds, like pests, diseases and weed invasion, genetic contamination, etc, both the importer and exporter should be held responsible. Import of seed should be based on pest risk analysis and any exporter whose claims turn out to be incorrect should be held liable. Exporter of seed should compensate the loss and cleanup of any such contaminations.”

Through the Bill, Kerala wants the central government to empower state seed committees with authority to fix seed prices, register and license seeds suitable for a particular state and decide compensation to be paid to farmers.

Rajasthan ignores seed advice
Will seeds bill make it this time?
Breach of trust
Seed bill retake
Remember the farmer?

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