Agri Business

Will the new Pesticide Management Bill have more teeth than the Insecticides Act?

CD Mayee/Bhagirath Choudhary | Updated on March 10, 2020 Published on March 10, 2020

The Green Revolution introduced sturdier crop plants that could support heavier grain load without the lodging resulting from the intensive use of fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs. This, unfortunately, left farmers believing more is better — be it seed, fertiliser or pesticide.

It had, therefore, become necessary to have regulations in place for the use of inputs in agriculture, and pesticides were thus regulated through the Insecticide Act, 1968. The focus of the Act was on pest management through sustainable agricultural practices, keeping in view the broader policy framework of integrated pest management, where the use of pesticides was considered an integral component.

Pesticides have helped increase food production and ensure the nation’s food security. Their use has helped in keeping the crops free of pests, increasing the overall yield and allowing better storage of the harvest. The protection ensured by the usage of pesticides thus allowed the agricultural industry to grow and meet the demands of the rising population. Despite all the benefits delivered by plant protection chemicals in boosting agricultural yield, their possible impact on the environment and living organisms continues to be a cause for worry.

Critical issues

Some of the critical issues in focus in recent years due to the misuse or overuse of pesticides are: residues in food items, pesticide-resistance among pests, emergence of new pests, unintentional poisoning of workers and animals and degradation of biodiversity. In view of this, India’s scientists and lawmakers have begun to discuss the shortcomings of the Insecticides Act, 1968, and focus on sustainable agriculture practices.

The Union Cabinet recently approved the Pesticide Management Bill, 2020 (PMB 2020), which is expected to be tabled in Parliament during the Budget session. Will it replace the Insecticides Act and address its inadequacies?

Time and again the shortcomings of the present Act have come to the fore, particularly in curbing spurious pesticides, imitation of labels of standard brands, faulty method of drawing samples based on the quota system, little encouragement for players to invest in R&D, lack of NABL-accredited testing laboratories and poor safeguarding of regulatory data and confidential business information. The present situation demands strong legislation to address public concerns and inadequacies in the Insecticides Act.

Narrower coverage

The PMB defines pesticides as substances that destroy or control the spread of pests in agricultural commodities and animal feeds. By doing so, the PMB is seemingly narrowing down the scope of coverage of pesticides and may have overlooked their use for storage pests, vector control for human health and other non-agricultural purposes.

The Bill includes a provision to compensate farmers in case of losses due to the use of spurious or low-quality pesticides. The punishment for cheating farmers has also been drastically enhanced so that it will act as a deterrent to wrong-doers.

Any person who wants to import, manufacture or export pesticides will have to register under the new Bill and provide all details regarding any claims, expected performance, efficacy, safety, usage instructions and infrastructure available to stock that pesticide. The information will also include details on the pesticide’s potential effects on the environment.

One of the most important provisions in the Bill pertains to deterring fake claims in product advertisements. The Centre may also form a fund to handle compensation in cases of losses due to the application of pesticides. It appears that the experience of administering the Insecticides Act over the last few decades has made the government wiser, making it try to bridge the legislative gaps in favour of users (the farmers).

What the Bill lacks

At the same time, there are several issues and concerns in the Bill with respect to the definition of pesticides (which excludes pesticides used for non-agricultural purposes), provision for harsh criminal penalty, absence of provisions for data protection, incoherence between the proposed Bill and the FSSAI 2006 with respect to tolerance limits for pesticides, ambiguities with respect to pesticides approved without tolerance limits, and the free hand given to pesticide inspectors.

Ultimately, the focus of the new Bill should be on encouraging methods to identify fake products through technologies such as micro-encapsulated pesticides, authentication through security holograms, low-cost transponder tags and tracing technologies which will not only empower the farmers but also provide for better management of pests.

The Cabinet, while approving the Bill, also stated that it promotes the use of organic pesticides. However, the present experience of using botanicals — biological products as organic substitutes to chemical pesticides — has not been very satisfactory. In the name of organic pesticides, several marketed botanical products were found to be severely laced with routine chemical pesticides.

What is important is the message through PMB 2020, that no more will the government tolerate illicit pesticides, and cheating of farmers in the name of pest management; and that it wants to promote science-based activities in the interest of farmers as they set out to avoid the losses induced by pests, diseases, weeds and rodents.

The authors are with the South Asia Biotechnology Centre. Views are personal.

Published on March 10, 2020

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