Opinion

The Seed Bill needs to be tweaked to serve the interests of all stakeholders better

Ram Kaundinya | Updated on November 27, 2019 Published on November 27, 2019

The proposals relating to registration of seed varieties and powers granted to the government to fix prices in some situations need a relook

Seed is the primary input of a productive agriculture set-up. No one can deny the fact that the seed industry has been at the centre of the significant advances made in agriculture in the last four decades and will continue to do in the years to come. Historically, the seed industry has been governed by the Seed Act (1966), Seed Rules (1968), Seed (Control) Order (1983), New Policy on Seed Development (1988), Plants, Fruits & Seeds (Regulation of Import into India), 1989, the PPV & FR Act (2001), and the Essential Commodities Act including Seeds (1955) and National Seed Policy (2002), all aimed at supplying quality seeds and planting material to the farmer.

The Seed Bill (2004) was proposed to replace the Seed Act (1966), however, owing to several shortcomings, it was never passed.

The seed industry welcomes the prompt progress made by the Government in finalising the draft of the Seed Bill 2019 which is likely to be introduced in Parliament soon. It is an important legislation to ensure supply of modern, high quality, cutting edge seed technologies to the farmers which will help them in enhancing their productivity and profitability.

The seed industry has made certain observations and recommendations to the government based on the draft of the Bill released by the Ministry of Agriculture. Some of them are listed below.

Research-based companies: There must be a system of accreditation of national level research-based companies with integrated facilities for research, product testing, data analytics, seed production, seed quality control, seed processing, farmer extension and marketing.

These companies should be given a national licence based on a thorough inspection done by a designated authority in the Central government. This licence will be renewable at regular intervals based on fresh inspections and track record.

Registration of seed varieties: The industry welcomes the proposed mandatory registration of seed varieties as it will bring greater accountability to seed companies. However, this should be made time bound.

Registering thousands of varieties that come out every year will be a huge task for which necessary product testing capacity may not be available with public research institutions. Companies with national licence and accreditation should be allowed to conduct trials for seed varieties and generate data which is to be made acceptable for product registration purposes. This will help in speedy reach of new research products to the market for the benefit of the farmer.

Also, pure export-oriented varieties must be exempt from registration. This will encourage custom production of seed in India which is undertaken by many companies. The Act proposes to exempt farmers from obtaining registration for varieties developed by them, which is fair. However, if the farmer sells such seeds for a monetary consideration that sale should be governed by the Act. This is in the interest of protecting the interests of farmers who buy seeds from such a farmer.

Truthfully labelled seeds: Currently, a large percentage of seed is sold under a self-certification programme called truthfully labelled (TL) seeds. While the new Act keeps certification voluntary, the industry is of the view that TL seeds category should continue.

TL has helped the industry grow and facilitated the supply of high-quality seeds to the farmer, especially in the last 30 years. While the issue of fly-by-night operators misusing this provision is well appreciated, the new provision for mandatory registration of varieties will eliminate that risk. Hence, the TL category of self-certification should continue.

Nurseries: The new Bill proposes registration /licences for seed companies, seed processing plants, seed producers, seed dealers and nurseries which is a good measure. However, this should apply to all nurseries and not just fruit nurseries as proposed.

Price control: An important clause in the draft is the powers of the government to fix prices of selected varieties in case of ‘emergent’ situations. The situations are defined as those of seed shortage, abnormal increase in price, monopolistic pricing, profiteering, etc., which are open to subjective interpretation. The industry is opposed to any kind of price control, as it will stifle innovation and result in a scale back of research investments as happened in the case of cotton.

A competitive seed industry with more than 400 companies have kept prices low, and seeds account for less than 5 per cent of the total cultivation cost of farmers. There is really no reason to give these powers to the governments, especially State governments, who may not have the national perspective in mind when they take these decisions.

Review of complaints: The Act proposes to use the Consumer Protection Act to deal with complaints of non-performance of seed. While this is good, the industry is of the view that seed performance is dependent on several agro-climatic and biological factors and is not always related to the quality of the seed. This aspect is to be kept in mind while reviewing a complaint.

The Act is progressive in trying to differentiate the agronomic performance of the seed, the physical quality of the seed and the supply of spurious seed. These offences and the punishments are clearly defined in clauses 21, 42 (2) and 42 (3). This is a good feature.

All offences are not criminal: The industry has made a recommendation to differentiate between minor offences, unintended offences and major offences made intentionally. It is not fair to use criminal proceedings for all offences. There should be a provision for compounding of minor offences.

Overall, the seed law should have the twin objective of regulating the supply of seeds for the benefit of the farmer and, at the same time, enable the development of the seed industry.

The writer is Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India

Published on November 27, 2019
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