Revised draft Seeds Bill goes soft on compensation issue

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on October 28, 2019

Among other things, the new draft has done away with the clause that stipulates constitution of a committee to decide on compensation to be given to affected farmers when seeds sold by companies

Clause for compensation panel, regulation of seed prices scrapped

The revised draft Seeds Bill 2019, which the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare placed in the public domain recently for suggestions and comments, seems to be a watered down version of a draft prepared about nine years ago by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Among other things, the new draft has done away with the clause that stipulates constitution of a committee to decide on compensation to be given to affected farmers when seeds sold by companies and their agents fail to meet the promised performance under given conditions.

The earlier draft of the Seed Bill prepared in 2010, incorporating recommendations from the earlier Parliamentary Standing Committee and representations from farmer groups and civil society organisations had this clause in place.

In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report specifically called for this. “Although the Bill states that farmers can claim compensation from the producer, distributor or vendor under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the Committee feels that the compensation provision should be included in the Bill itself through specially designated arbitration Tribunal/Compensation Committee,” the committee, headed by Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party, had said.

Also missing in the Bill, is the provision to regulate prices of seeds sold, which was also one of the Standing Committee’s suggestions.

In a letter written to Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, about three weeks ago, the Hyderabad-based Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) also called for a price regulatory provision in the draft Seed Bill which is being worked on afresh.

“Regulation of quality of seed will no longer be enough to protect farmers’ interests unless seed prices are also regulated,” the letter said.

“The draft Bill looks like a very regressive and watered down version of the draft which has been agreed upon by most stakeholders,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA. “The revised draft has to be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee yet again,” Kuruganti told BusinessLine.

The draft is available on the Agriculture Ministry website and has called for views and comments on the draft Bill till November 13.

“Asking farmers to approach a consumer forum when he was sold seeds that do not conform to promised quality is making him run from pillar to post,” Kuruganti said.

The purpose of a new Act is to bring accountability and fix liabilities, if the revised Seed Bill cannot do that what is the purpose of bringing a new Bill, she asked.

The draft Seeds Bill aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold, and replace the Seeds Act, 1966. All varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered. The seeds are required to meet certain prescribed minimum standards. Transgenic varieties of seeds can be registered only after the applicant has obtained clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In addition, the label of a seed container has to indicate specified information.

The Bill exempts farmers from the requirement of compulsory registration. Farmers are allowed to sow, exchange or sell their farm seeds and planting material without having to conform to the prescribed minimum limits of germination, physical purity and genetic purity (as required by registered seeds). However, farmers cannot sell any seed under a brand name.

Minister of State of Agriculture Parshottam Rupala had said two months ago that the government has plans to table the Seeds Bill in the coming session of Parliament, which commences from November 18.

Published on October 28, 2019

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