When Arvind Shinde (name changed), a farmer from Aurangabad bought a bag of HT cotton seeds from a trader, he was sure of getting a bumper crop. However, as seeds failed to germinate he realised that he was duped by the trader. But he could not register a police complaint or approach the State government for compensation.

Bt cotton is the only Genetically Modified crop approved for commercial cultivation in India and, therefore, cultivation of other unapproved GM crops is banned.

But Shinde still wants to go ahead with HT cotton and Bt brinjal cultivation. “HT seeds will give bumper crop and will help me to earn some profit,” he says confidently. But it is not just Shinde, thousands of farmers are getting GM seeds in the market and many get duped.

Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkari Sanghatana, the apex farmers’ body Maharashtra, alleges“Along with HT cotton, Bt brinjal, and now HT soya seeds are also in the black market. The government has banned GM crops but GM seeds are available in the market and farmers are cultivating. About 25 per cent of Maharashtra’s cotton cultivation under HT cotton. There is a multi-crore market that is operating in GM seeds and many companies are by selling spurious GM seeds.”

Ghanwat added, “ The only option to save farmers from bogus seed companies is to permit the cultivation of GM crop”.

Last year the Union Ministry of Agriculture admitted in the Lok Sabha that few incidences of suspected open cultivation of Bt brinjal and HT cotton were reported in Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The committee appointed by the Department of Biotechnology to investigate the production of Bt cotton seeds with unapproved genes found unapproved cotton was grown, on an average, on 15 per cent of the cotton-cultivable area in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana, and 5 per cent in Punjab during the 2017-18 season.

Farmers allege a nexus of government officials, seed companies, traders and middlemen operating in Gujarat, Telangana and Maharashtra which is enabling sell of banned GM seeds.

“The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) stands with India’s laws and not GM vigilantism. The illegal spread of HT BT seeds is a malicious attempt to undermine our sovereignty and contaminate legal cotton seed businesses. We stand for new technology, but not through illegal means” said Indra Shekhar Singh, Director - Policy and Outreach, NSAI.

He added, “ Our member companies have been the worst hit by this contamination, as fly-by-night operators are sporadically planting HT seeds in their breeding fielding and thus making them liable for criminal prosecution We have already seen cases in Maharashtra, Telengana, etc”. NSAI has appealed to the government again to take strict actions against these motivated agents, and also set a new parameter for seed lot contamination. NSAI added that Indian seeds companies are the victims and not the culprits.