Observers say the government's rejection of the Dunkel proposals on seed patenting is just an eyewash.
CRITICS say commerce minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent statement, in which he rejected the Dunkel proposals to patent seeds, is merely reiteration of the obvious in an attempt to protect the government from the anti-Dunkel lobby.
Dinesh Abrol of the Delhi Science Forum, who is also a member of the non-governmental National Working Group on Patent Laws, dismisses as "smart talk" Mukherjee's assertion that the interests of the farmers will not be compromised. He says the Dunkel draft already contains provisions to uphold farmers' rights and explains the Dunkel proposals do not force patenting of seeds; they give a country the option to choose either patents or any "effective sui generis system" to protect intellectual property rights.
Abrol says, "It seems the government has decided to accept the Dunkel proposals in full, but is pretending it has wrested some concessions before it signs the Dunkel draft." He explains that the draft only requires that the government provide plant-breeders some kind of rights and India could easily settle for those provided under the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants -- the UPOV convention of 1978.
However, problems could arise four years after the conclusion of the Uruguay round of trade negotiations, when the measures taken to protect intellectual property rights come up for review. "We may then be under pressure to accept the amended UPOV convention of 1991, which takes away farmers' rights," Abrol points out.
According to A Hoda, additional secretary in the commerce ministry, who is handling the Dunkel negotiations, "The government has always maintained that farmers' interests and national sovereignty would be protected." He adds, "There is no reason to assume that the plant breeders' rights that we provide will be found dissatisfactory at the four-year review."
Meanwhile, Suman Sahai, who heads Gene Campaign -- a non-governmental organisation set up to protest the Dunkel proposals -- has challenged Mukherjee's claim of protecting the farmers. The minister only promises "limited exchange of seeds" among farmers under the sui generis protection, which Sahai calls grossly inadequate because as much as 62 per cent of the six lakh tonne seeds required every year in India comes from inter-farmer sales that will be terminated under the new dispensation.
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