Proposed seeds law must balance interests of farmers, breeders

| Updated on November 01, 2019

The Centre should take a non-partisan view of such a critical subject, while enacting a law that is fair to all stakeholders

The crucial role of quality seeds in doubling farm incomes can hardly be overstated. The Seeds Bill, 2004, had sought to modify a 38-year-old law, and incentivise private participation in the seed industry at a time when the returns of the Green Revolution had begun to palpably diminish in the 1990s. Even as some of the provisions were contested by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, whose recommendations were accepted by the Centre, the moves were not enacted into law. Today, it is surprising that the 2004 draft has been revived and put in the public domain for comments, disregarding some of the recommendations of the House panel. The revised draft has been criticised on three grounds: the paltry compensation, which cannot act as a deterrent for sale of non-performing seeds; not providing for a redressal mechanism within the seeds law and instead forcing farmers to move the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA); and finally, not proposing any form of price regulation. To take the last point first, prices are best left to market forces and a regulatory regime that encourages the availability of quality seeds will sort out this issue. However, the House panel is right in arguing that farmers would find it harder to seek recourse under COPRA. The suggestion that compensation panels be set up within this law to deal with the issue has unfortunately been disregarded. Penalties for malpractices should be stiff, as the implications of crop failure owing to quality issues can be serious. In fact, this can be brought under crop insurance, as has been contemplated earlier.

Seed legislation in India should be in consonance with the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001, which allows a farmer to sow, exchange and sell his seeds so long as he does not brand or put them into a packet. The distinction between a farmer and a breeder should be unambiguously spelt out, so that the inspector raj does not prevail, one of the key problems with the 1966 law. For the preservation of genetic diversity, it is important that both farmers and breeders are not subjected to overt policing. However, there should be no let-up in the stringency of the registration process, which commits the producers to performance parameters.

There is, however, no need to confuse the debate over GM crops with this law, as the regulatory apparatus for GM vests with the Genetic Engineering Action Committee under the Ministry of Environment. However, it is not clear how the issue of regulating imported seeds will be dealt with under the proposed dispensation. In all, the Centre should take a non-partisan view of such a critical subject, while enacting a law that is fair to all stakeholders — and farmers in particular.

Published on November 01, 2019

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