After planning to ban 27 pesticides, the Centre has now moved to curb the use of glyphosate, a widely-used herbicide in the country.

“No person shall use glyphosate except through Pest Control Operators,” said a draft notification issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, published on July 8. It has given 30 days time for any person to raise objection or suggestions on the draft order, issued at the request of Kerala.

The Restriction on use of Glyphosate Order, 2020, will come into force on the date of its final publication in the Official Gazette, the Ministry said in a notification.

Glyphosate is among the 39 widely-used agrochemicals by the farmers in India to control weeds in tea plantations, non-crop and cropped areas, for about four decades now. The use of herbicides such as glyphosate has been on the rise as farmers have been increasingly relying on chemicals to tackle labour shortage, rising costs and to protect their yields from weeds, which compete with standing crops for nutrients.

Further, the order states that all holders of certificate of registration granted for glyphosate and its derivatives shall return their certificates to the Registration Committee for incorporation of the warning in bold letters ‘The use of glyphosate formulation to be allowed through Pest Control Operators (PCOs)’ on the label and leaflets.

The industry said the government’s proposed move is impractical as there are not many PCOs in the farm sector and that it may impact the sales of glyphosate and its product formulations.

Pradeep Dave, President of the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India, said the government wants to see that the application of glyphosate and its products is taken up by qualified people such as PCOs. “However, the only problem is that such operators are not registered with the agriculture department or government,” he said.

Surprised at the Centre’s move, Crop Life India CEO Asitava Sen said CropLife and its concerned members implore the Centre to allow at least 90 days time to respond, instead of the 30 days specified in draft order given Covid and lockdown situation.

Kavita Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture said the draft order was pretty useless in its scope of action from government. “It does not address anything related to the sale of glyphosate. In the absence of regulatory oversight over who is selling, who is buying and who is using on the ground, what is the point of saying that use is restricted to application only by PCOs? It appears that the government has not yet grasped the full set of repercussions with glyphosate. The Government needs to go to the next logical step of banning the chemical,” she said.

Rajesh Agarwal, Managing Director, Insecticides India Ltd, said there are hardly any PCOs in rural areas, and that the government’s decision could be difficult to implement and may hurt sales. Further, the use of PCOs for spraying would also add to the costs of the farmers.

“This move is against farmers’ interest,” said CD Mayee, President of South Asia Biotech Centre. The government could be thinking of curbing the cultivation of HT cotton by restricting the sales, but now there are other cotton growers who are dependent on these herbicides to control weeds. Moreover, where are the PCOs in rural areas? The concept of PCO may be prevalent in the US but not in rural India. Any move to create PCOs now would result in corruption and licence raj, yet again, Mayee said.

Major producers of glyphosate in India include Bayer, Sumitomo, Adama, Crystal, Rallis among others.

A Bayer India spokesperson said as with all crop protection products, glyphosate too has been subjected to rigorous testing. Bayer in partnership with other stakeholders will continue to engage with the Ministry to understand this draft order in detail.

Glyphosate consumption stood at close to 670 tonnes during 2018-19. The government’s move is also aimed at controlling the spread of illegal herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton, which more farmers are seen planting this year.

The timing of the Ministry’s move to restrict use of glyphosate seems interesting. It may be recalled that recently, Bayer reached a $10.9-billion settlement with the Roundup plaintiffs in the US, who had claimed that the use of herbicide had caused them to develop a form of blood cancer. Glyphosate is an active ingredient in the weedicide Roundup.