The Punjab Government has suspended the use of 10 pesticides for 60 days in the State to ensure that Basmati rice exported from the country does not have excess pesticide residue, but the move has drawn criticism from some quarters.

According to the State government’s order, the sale, stock and distribution of Acephate, Buprofezin, Chloropyriphos, Methamidophos, Propiconazole, Thiamethoxam, Profenofos, Isoprothioland, Carbendazim and Tricyclazole have been barred from August 12. 

ALSO READ: Stricter pesticide residue norms may shrink Basmati exports

Balancing food security

The Bhagwant Singh Mann Government said it believed the pesticides were not in the interest of Basmati rice growers. It also pointed to demand from the Punjab Rice Millers and Exporters Association for such a move. 

However, the decision has not convinced many since the Centre has not been taken into confidence over the move and it leaves a bad impression on the rest of the Basmati-growing States.

“The policy of the Punjab Government has to be holistic and not reactionary. Though Basmati exports are declining in view of the pesticide residue issue, why hasn’t the Centre resorted to such a measure? The Union Government is attempting to find a balance between food security and exports,” said S Chandrasekaran, basmati rice historian and author of “Basmati rice: The Natural History Geographical Indication”.

Apart from Punjab, Basmati rice is grown in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh besides the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also grown in Madhya Pradesh, but the rice grown there has not been covered under Geographical Indication. 

‘Why not in Delhi?’

“Punjab has been resorting to such suspension over the past three years. These pesticides issue has been creating quite a problem. The suspension is during the cultivation period only and is confined to Basmati rice growing areas,” said Vinod Kaul, Executive Director, All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA). 

An industry analyst pointed out that the Aam Admi Party (AAP), which is currently the ruling party in Punjab, has not resorted to such a measure in Delhi, where it has been in power for over seven years now. 

Chandrasekaran said the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has a track record in developing successful Basmati varieties. Pointing to a BusinessLine report on IARI developing a new pest-resistant variety, he said, “Probably, the Punjab Government should have waited for the variety to be released this year as it is in the multiplication stage.”

FSSAI MRL norms

The analyst said the Food Safety and Standards of India (FSSAI) had come out with maximum residue limits (MRL) norms which are stricter than Codex standards that are followed worldwide.

“While exporters did not want the FSSAI norms to be implemented, they have welcomed the Punjab Government initiative. This is curious,” the analyst said. 

Dwelling on the 60-day suspension, Chandrasekaran said if the weather turns hot all of a sudden, growers tend to spray Tricyclazole to prevent any fungal attack on the crop. “What will the growers do now if the temperature shoots up all of a sudden?” he wondered.

The Basmati historian said the Punjab Agricultural University has claimed to come out with an alternative prescription to these insecticides. “But large-scale testing has not been done. Will the Punjab Government compensate the growers in case of a crop failure?” he wondered.

Wrong timing?

One major issue with the Punjab Government move, particularly this year, is that it is being made at a time when the area under paddy is down by 13 per cent year-on-year due to deficient rain in some rice-growing States. “There is an element of food security risk in this. Punjab is an important contributor of rice to the nation. The State should have taken the Centre into confidence,” he said. 

A trade source said Punjab probably took the decision under pressure from rice exporters since rejections of consignments have increased due to pesticide residue levels being higher than prescribed norms.

Countries such as Qatar and Jordan have not begun to follow the European Union standards for pesticide MRL in rice.

According to Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority data, Basmati exports dropped 15 per cent last fiscal to 3.95 million tonnes. During April-May this fiscal, Basmati exports were up at 0.72 mt against 0.69 mt a year ago. 

According to the Director-General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Kolkata, exports of rice, including Basmati, are up 18.2 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal at ₹21,043.34 crore. 

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