The Centre is likely to extend by a few months the permission given to its trading partners to fumigate consignments of pulses and lentils at Indian ports with methyl bromide — a fumigant banned in several countries because of its impact on the ozone layer — after the present extension expires on March 31.

Such a move would give countries selling pulses to India, such as Canada and Australia, a breather.

“The Agriculture Ministry is in the final stages of formally deciding on extending the permission to fumigate import consignments at Indian ports after receiving several representations on the problems that exporting countries and domestic traders face. However, the extension being considered would be a short one and not year-long,” a government official told BusinessLine .

MBR alternatives

The Centre is also working on alternatives to replace MBR fumigation. “We have to come up with an alternative. But it has to be equally effective in killing quarantine pests and not harm the environment,” the official said.

The plant quarantine department, in January this year, had informed agricultural counsellors and trade commissioners from several exporting countries that it did not intend to extend the permission for fumigating at Indian ports once the present exemption expires on March 31.

It argued that the permission, which was actually an exemption from the requirement that shipments should be fumigated before arriving at Indian ports, had been extended to exporters of pulses for more than a decade, and was leading to India’s ozone layer being depleted.

The fact that India is likely to harvest a record 22.1 million tonnes of pulses in the 2016-17 crop year (July-June) compared to 16.4 million tonnes last year, also helped the Centre in contemplating the tough measure.

The Committee of Secretaries on procurement of pulses, which met on Thursday, pointed out that there was record procurement of pulses during the current kharif season, and about 16.46 lakh tonnes of pulses have been procured. Prices of pulses on an average have fallen by about 30 per cent as compared to a year before.

Despite a comfortable situation in the domestic market, the Agriculture Ministry is now softening its stand because of growing pressure from exporting countries.

In fact, Canadian International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, in his meeting with Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier this month, had raised the issue of allowing fumigation.“We realise that withdrawing the exemption this month-end could put many exporting countries and our traders in trouble. But we hope that a clear signal has gone out that the extension cannot go on forever,” the official said.