The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture has rejected the pesticides industry’s demand on three key issues – price control, criminalisation and data protection and has asked the government to provide a system of checks and balances against possible misuse of power by pesticide inspectors.

In its 36th Report on The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, the Standing Committee said, “The Committee has gone through the arguments raised for offences and punishment under this Bill. The Committee are of the opinion that the provisions in the Bill regarding offences and punishment are essential to ensure deterrence. The Committee knows that country is facing huge challenges in the form of fake and spurious pesticides, which are being sold to the farmers. This adversely affects them.”

It added, “It has been suggested to the Committee that stringent penal provisions should be there to counter this... The Committee appreciates the government for incorporating such penal provisions, which will go a long way in ensuring safety and security to farmers/ other end users as well as the environment.”

The pesticides manufacturers had wanted the Bill to decriminalise minor offences and criminal action only for fraud by selling spurious products. The Committee accepted the government’s view that only a third conviction attracts higher penalty and serious offences like the sale of unlicensed or unregistered and banned pesticides attract a more stringent penalties.

On price control, the Committee said the Bill should empower the government to take necessary measures, apart from delegating the power to authority and Clause 57 should be suitably amended as: “If the Central government believes that it is necessary or expedient to secure the distribution and availability of pesticides at fair prices, it may constitute an authority to exercise such powers and perform such functions to or take other such necessary measures as it may deem necessary to regulate the price of pesticides in such manner as may be prescribed by the Central government.”

Ministry of Agriculture told the committee that since there is no provision about price control in the current Insecticides Act, 1968, it is necessary to put it in the Bill. “It is not necessary that there will be price regulation on all pesticides, as you must have seen that there is a body for the pricing of medical devices. There is no price regulation for every drug, but it is for heart and other lifesaving drugs, the Ministry said, adding the government reserves the right that if it so desires, will make a reasonable price regulation through such authority.

Protection for Regulatory Data

On the controversial issue of Protection for Regulatory Data (PRD), the Committee appreciated “the fact that ‘No Provision’ of Data Protection for the introduction of new molecules/products has been consciously incorporated in the Pesticide Management Bill, 2020 by the government as it will not only protect the domestic industry which primarily relies on the production of the ‘generic pesticides’ but also the farmers, who will be benefited by the availability of cheaper pesticides.

It said, “The Committee also believe that India has a very large and growing market of agrochemicals and with huge arable land, it will be able to attract introduction of new molecules from foreign as well as domestic companies even without provision for any data protection.”

“It is unfortunate that the demand for PRD has not been accepted as no new molecule will come unless data is protected even for off-patented pesticides,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC). He said technical registration of molecules in India is 295 whereas it is 689 in China. “Any off-patented molecule if brought to India after 20 years of its patent, it has to go through trials in the country for which someone has to invest and unless his investment is protected at least for five years, no one will bring such products,” Choudhary added.

The Committee also said that pesticide inspectors have been given sweeping powers related to search, seize, issuing of stop orders for sale of pesticides, etc. under this Bill without any system of checks and balances. The Committee are of the opinion that there should be some accountability mechanism to deter pesticides inspectors from misusing their powers under this Bill.