The government is likely to decriminalise offences listed in the proposed law on fertiliser following public criticism of “jail term” provision for violation of rules, which is also seen as against the policy of the current government’s ethos of “minimum government and maximum governance”

In its “Chintan Shivir” held last week, Fertiliser Ministry officials indicated that changes could be made as per the feedback received from close to 1,000 stakeholders after compiling the suggestions and further holding deliberations with them, industry sources said.

“The punishment will be tweaked as per type and severity and maybe only a toned-down penalty provision is retained while doing away with imprisonment,” said an industry official who was present in the deliberations with the government.

Penalty provision

According to section 41 (2) and Section 41 (6) of the draft Integrated Plant Nutrition Management Bill, manufacturer, retailer, importer and dealer are liable to serve a jail term of “not less than six months but which may extend to three years” if convicted for selling or distributing misbranded or spurious fertiliser besides upto ₹25 lakh penalty.

On March 15, Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal had said several consumer organisations opposed his efforts to decriminalise the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, which enforces standards related to weights and measures. In its present form, the law prescribes imprisonment, in addition to a fine, for the second or subsequent offences. The law should not become a “tool of harassment”, Goyal had said.

Other provisions where changes could be made include the definition of the term “fertiliser”, the procedure of registration, prosecution of offence and sample testing, sources said. This is just a preliminary response from the government and more changes in the Bill could be accepted when deliberations are held, the sources said.

Suggestions to focus on R&D

The government insisted that the Bill has been prepared as per the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee and the need for the Fertiliser Ministry to deal with the sector better. Earlier, the demand for fertiliser was based on States assessment which was only compiled by the Union Agriculture Ministry, whereas under the proposed law, the exercise will lie entirely with Ministry of Fertiliser, sources said.

Among some major responses received by the government include the proposed Integrated Plant Nutrition Management Authority of India should focus more on research and innovations, reduction in quantum of penalty subject to batch size of product, no suo-motu congnizance of irregularities and restricted power to inspectors, physical blending units under customised fertiliser, inclusion of physical mixing of nutrients in definition of fertiliser, price control or movement allocation should be restricted only to subsidised fertilisers and definition of subsidised fertiliser in a separate chapter with more clarity.