Economics & Politics / Political / Rural India

Proposed New Seed Bill 2010

Current Status : Pending

Stage

Date

Introduction

Dec 09, 2004

New draft

Apr, 13th 2010

Lok Sabha

Pending

Rajya Sabha

Introduced

 

The Seeds Bill seeks to regulate the production, distribution and sale of seeds. It requires every seller of seeds (including farmers) to meet certain minimum standards. The Standing Committee has recommended that farmers selling or exchanging seeds from other farmers be exempt from this requirement. The Bill has been pending since December 2004.  The government has proposed new amendments to the Bill in April 2010 and November 2010, accepting most of the recommendations given by the Standing Committee.

Highlights of the Bill after the Official Amendments

The new Bill proposes mandatory registration for seeds of any kind or variety for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person, in such manner as may be prescribed in the rules of implementation. The provisions of the proposed Bill are meant to address major concerns of all the stakeholders in the seed supply chain. Salient provisions and their implications for seed sector in the country are discussed here.

  • The Seeds Bill, initially conceptualized in 2004, aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold, and replaces the Seeds Act, 1966.All varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered. The seeds are required to meet certain prescribed minimum standards.  Transgenic varieties of seeds can be registered only after the applicant has obtained clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.  In addition, the label of a seed container has to indicate specified information.
  • The Bill exempts farmers from the requirement of compulsory registration.  Farmers are allowed to sow, exchange or sell their farm seeds and planting material without having to conform to the prescribed minimum limits of germination, physical purity and genetic purity (as required by registered seeds).  However, farmers cannot sell any seed under a brand name.
  • If a registered variety of seed fails to perform to expected standards, the farmer can claim compensation from the producer or dealer.  The Bill provides for setting up a compensation committee that shall hear and decide these cases.  It also provides for an appellate mechanism to be set up by notification.
  • The penalty for contravening any provision of the Act or selling misbranded or substandard seeds is a fine ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 1 lakh.  The penalty for giving false information may incur a prison term for upto a year and/or a fine of upto Rs 5 lakh.

Why New Seed Bill in 2010 ?

The issue of seed price regulation was not agreed upon.  After 2002 with the introduction of Bt cotton the issues of royalties over seed technologies like Genetic Engineering etc have come into forefront.  In 2005 faced with the problem of price hike AP government sought the intervention of Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission

In the last five years, even the AP, MP and Gujarat State Governments have faced serious problems with the Seed companies in regulating the Seed sale in the state in fulfilling its objective of helping farmers to have timely access to good quality seed in adequate quantities.

In 2005, after establishing the large scale cotton crop loss was due to seed failure in Warangal dist, the State government asked Mahyco to pay compensation. This company refused to pay and moved to AP high court on paying compensation saying state govt is harassing them. AP High court orders also were in favour of Mahyco and till date the company has not paid the compensation   Mahyco refused to the compensation.

  • In 2006, after MRTP commission’s ruling to reduce the bt cotton seed price, AP government reduced the cotton seed prices to Rs. 650 and Rs. 750 for bollgard I and II. Challenging this, MMB moved to Delhi high court on this issue.
  • In 2007, when Agriculture officers in Warangal district found that Mahyco Bt hybrids were being sold in Warangal market with being approved by the state government.  They raided and seized the shop. Mahyco challenged that cotton seed was removed from Essential Commodities Act, hence Seed control order which draws powers from EC Act does not apply to cotton.  At this juncture, AP government made a new act to regulate ‘Transgenic cotton seed in AP’. However, all these Acts, including Seed control order, will be repealed once the 2010 bill is passed, there by taking away the rights of the farmers and also the powers of the State government.
  • In 2010, Monsanto filed case in AP High Court requesting to stop state govt from reducing the royalty arguing that it does not have any power to do so. The case is still pending in the court

Key Issues and Analysis after the Official Amendments

  • The Bill does not specify whether the committees will be set up at the national, regional, state or district level; that decision would determine whether farmers can easily access the compensation mechanism.
  • Every seed that is sold needs to be registered.  It is not clear whether the registration is an exclusive right (similar to a patent).  That is, whether a producer is permitted to produce seeds registered by a different producer
  • There is no provision for tracing back faulty seeds.  This is in contrast to the provision of food articles in The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
  • That Act requires every person in the value chain to keep track of the preceding person, so that a faulty lot can be withdrawn.
  • The financial memorandum does not include the cost required to establish central and state seed testing laboratories and for employing seed analysts and inspectors.

How Seed Bill will affect the Farmers??

The Seed Bill aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold in India. It requires registration of all varieties of seeds sold in India. The Bill states that it applies to every dealer and every producer of seed except when the seed is produced by him for his own use and not for sale. Thus, the only exception to the rule is the exemption granted to farmers to use and sell seeds from their own farms, as long as such seeds are sold unbranded. However, such seeds will also have to meet the minimum standards set for registered seeds, a requirement which will obviously be hard to fulfill for a small farmer and probably as hard to detect for the enforcement authorities. This has been criticized as an assault on the freedom of farmers, a denial of their time-honored rights, as “an undermining of seed sovereignty of farming communities. Farmers care for their own seed quality more than a centralized authority can.
Regulation of farmers’ own seed varieties needs to be left to farmers. Further, in India, where up to 66% of the seed requirements are met by farmers, declaring all of this to be non–commercial does not make much sense.

Farmer’s Protection

Thanks to the four recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (PSCA) and their adoption in the latest edi­tion of Seeds Bill, the farmer seeds system is saved from the regulatory grip of legislation. These recommendations are:

  1.  The revised definition of farmer reflecting his triple roles as cultivator, conserver and breeder
  2.  Effective protection to farmers’ right to grow, save, re-sow, exchange, share or sell seeds and planting material, except that such sale shall not be under a brand name
  3.  Exclusion of farmers from the scope of “seed producers”
  4.  Exemption to farmers’ varieties for registering in the National Register of Seeds.

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