Farmers belonging to the Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra are once again set to defy the government’s ban on Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Since 2019 thousands of farmers have been openly sowing and cultivating herbicide-tolerant Bt (HTBt) cotton and Bt brinjal. On Thursday the pro-GM crop movement will be re-launched in Maharashtra once again.

“ On January 17th we wrote to the PM asking for the moratorium on GM crops to be lifted by February 16. There has been no communication and no action. This leaves us with no other option but to launch civil disobedience” said Anil Ghanwat, President of Swatantra Bharat Party, the political wing of Shetkari Sanghatana. He added that the planting of illegal Bt brinjal will be started from Shrigonda in Ahmednagar district on Thursday.

Why ban on GM? 

Shetkari Sanghatana leaders have been demanding that the government must announce if GM cotton had an impact on human health and the environment. 

To date, the Government of India has approved only GM Cotton for commercial cultivation in India. The Ministry of Environment in December last month told Rajya Sabha that “ There are no instances reported on impact on human health, environment, and disappearance of any butterflies in India”. 

“If this is the case, why is the government stopping farmers from cultivating GM crops?” asked Ghanwat. 

Shetkari Sanghatana leaders say that along with HT cotton, Bt brinjal, and HT soya seeds are available in the black market. An estimated 25 per cent of Maharashtra’s cotton cultivation is under HT cotton and there is a multi-crore market operating in GM seeds. Also, spurious GM seeds are available in the market and farmers are being duped by the bogus companies, say Shetkari Sanghatana leaders. 

Action against farmers 

Since 2019 when the pro-GM crop movement started the Ministry of Environment received complaints on illegal cultivation of GM Cotton and brinjal in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Punjab. The Centre asked all States to constitute and strengthen State Biotechnology Coordination Committees and District Level Committees for monitoring instances of illegal cultivation of GM Crops and taking appropriate action under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

However, environment activists allege that the States have not taken stringent action against those who have defied the law and cultivated GM crops. The political parties have preferred to keep mum on this issue and in Maharashtra the ruling Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party and Congress government has not responded to the move by the Shetkari Sanghatana.