Government looks to bring out seeds bill from cold storage, push for passage

NEW DELHI: After assembly elections to five states are over, the government may revive the Seeds Bill that seeks to regulate seeds and plant material to ensure quality, increase private participation in production and distribution, liberalise imports while incorporating measures to protect rights of farmers.

The Bill, revived by this government after 10 years in November 2014, was put on hold in 2015 after the backlash against an enabling provision for genetically modified (GM) crops.

The proposed Bill is expected to give a major boost to agricultural growth. A senior government official told ET that the revival of the Seeds Bill and its early passage with the proposed amendments is quintessential for doubling farmers’ income, one of the key commitments of this government.

“The Bill is important for the sector as it will bring in competition among players and promote healthy crops. Hence, we may revive the Bill soon,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

A high-level meeting to discuss the Bill is expected next month. At least three rounds of inter-ministerial consultations on the Bill have already been held during which all ministries agreed to its major provisions, including five recent amendments.

A final proposal was readied based on feedback and was submitted to the Cabinet Secretariat before it was put on hold. Among the proposed amendments is a clause to ensure uniformity in laws relating to the import and export of seeds and the use of GM seeds with existing national regulations.

The Bill requires every seller of seeds (including farmers) to meet certain minimum standards. The Bill replaces the Seeds Act, 1966. Under the Bill, all varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered. If a registered variety of seed fails to perform up to expected standards, the farmer can claim compensation from the producer or dealer.

A compensation committee shall hear and decide these cases. The Bill also provides for an appellate mechanism to be set up by notification. Besides, the Bill also exempts farmers from the requirement of compulsory registration while prescribing huge penalty for contravening any provision of the Act for those selling misbranded or substandard seeds.

GM crops, in which a gene is altered for a specific outcome, have faced stiff resistance in the country by civil society organisations, including those affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ruling BJP’s ideological parent, on grounds of biosafety and market control by seed companies.

However, government’s think tank NITI Aayog recently vouched for wider use of genetically modified seed varieties to revive agriculture growth in the country. Arguing that the key to green revolution was high yielding crops, Niti Aayog said, “It is time for us to return to allow massive research into improving seed varieties including genetically modified one.”

In an appraisal document of 12th Five Year Plan, it said, “Elsewhere in the world, most notably the United States, GMO seeds have been in use for over two decades with no adverse effect on either crops or those consuming the product of those seeds.” “China has been far ahead of us in this regard. Our own experience with Bt Cotton has been a success,” it said.

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