Facilitator or barrier?

Doubts linger as India prepares to ratify two global plant pacts

Published: Sunday 30 June 2002

the Union cabinet's recent approval of the proposal to ratify two global conventions--one on plant genetic resources and another on plant variety protection-- is being looked upon with scepticism by experts. Both the treaties will aim to harmonise India's regulations on agricultural intellectual property rights with international norms.

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention (called upov after the French name of the organisation) recognises and safegaurds intellectual property rights of breeders of a new plant variety. Accession to upov will ostensibly enable Indian farmers to protect their indigenous varieties in all the countries that are members of the convention with minimum formalities and costs.

B K Keayla, trustee and secretary general of Centre for Study on Global Trade System and Development and convener of National Working Group on Patent Laws, however, says: "Under the protection of plant varieties and farmers' rights bill, 2000 Indian farmers have well-defined rights. But by signing upov we have surrendered these rights." He adds, "Once we ratify upov, we will have to pay compensation to the patent holders of the seeds. "

Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a New Delhi-based non-governmental sssorganisation working on food security related issues too has come down heavily on the government's move. "It is impossible to maintain pro-farmer provisions of the Indian Act and be a member of upov at the same time," says Sahai. Though, upov was revised in 1991, experts firmly state that the 1978 version was better suited for Indian conditions.

The Union cabinet has also approved the proposal to ratify the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

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