Seed is the most important input for the farm. Do the new Seeds Bill pave way for addressing the issues around Seed Quality in India? Discuss. (15 Marks)

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Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare has finalized the draft Seed Bill 2019 and is expected to table it in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. The Bill aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold and facilitate the production and supply of these seeds to farmers.

Provisions of the New Seeds Bill, 2019 :

  • The new Seeds Bill, 2019 provides for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds” that are sought to be sold.
  • Even hybrids/varieties of private companies will need to be registered.
  • Their seeds would have to meet the minimum prescribed standards relating to germination, physical and genetic purity, etc.
  • Breeders would be required to disclose the “expected performance” of their registered varieties “under given conditions”.
  • If the seed of such registered kind or variety “fails to provide the expected performance under such given conditions”, the farmer “may claim compensation from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor under The Consumer Protection Act, 1986”.

Benefits of The Bill:

  • specify standards for registration of seed varieties
  • enforce registration from seed producers to seed retailers
  • Seed companies have welcomed the provision of compulsory registration of all varieties/hybrids, based on the results of multi-location trials for a prescribed period to establish their performance vis-à-vis the claims of the breeders concerned.
  • This should help minimise the risk of farmers being sold seeds of low-quality genetics, especially by fly-by-night operators taking undue advantage of the “truthful labelling” and “self-certification” processes.

Are the Seeds Bill 2019 against farmers’ interests?

  • Given their large share, the private sector interests have guided the formulation of the various versions of Seeds Bill between 2004 and 2019.
  • The private seed firms have been demanding –
    1. favourable changes in seed laws and deregulation of seed prices
    2. free import and export of germplasm
    3. freedom to self-certify seeds
    4. restrictions on the use, by farmers, of saved seeds from previous seasons
  • Unsurprisingly, many of the Bill’s provisions deviate from the spirit of the PPVFR Act.
  • It is hence against farmers’ interests in many ways and in favour of private seed companies.

What are the problematic provisions in the Bill?

  • Seed registration – The Seeds Bill insists on compulsory registration of seeds.
  • However, the PPVFR Act was based on voluntary registration.
  • As a result, many seeds may be registered under the Seeds Bill but may not be under the PPVFR Act.
  • For instance, a seed variety could have been developed by a breeder, but derived from a traditional variety.
  • In this case, the breeder will get exclusive marketing rights.
  • But no gain will accrue to farmers as benefit-sharing is dealt with in the PPVFR Act, under which the seed is not registered.
  • Data – As per the PPVFR Act, all applications for registrations should contain the complete data of the parental lines from which the seed variety was derived.
  • These include contributions made by farmers.
  • This allows for an easier identification of beneficiaries and simpler benefit-sharing processes.
  • But, Seeds Bill, demands no such information while registering a new variety, thus overlooking the recording of the contributions of farmers.
  • Private companies are thus left free to claim a derived variety as their own.
  • Re-registration – The PPVFR Act, which is based on an IPR like breeders’ rights, does not allow re-registration of seeds after the validity period.
  • However, as the Seeds Bill is not based on such a principle, private seed companies can re-register their seeds.
  • They can do this for an infinite number of times after the validity period.
  • Given this “ever-greening” provision, many seed varieties may never enter the open domain for free-use.
  • Seed prices – A vague provision for regulation of seed prices appears in the Seeds Bill.
  • However, it appears neither sufficient nor credible.
  • In fact, strict control on seed prices has been an important demand raised by farmers’ organisations.
  • They have also demanded an official body to regulate seed prices and royalties.
  • In its absence, they feel, seed companies may be able to fix seed prices as they deem fit, leading to sharp rises in costs of cultivation.
  • Compensation – Under the PPVFR Act, if a registered variety fails in its promise of performance, farmers can claim compensation before a PPVFR Authority.
  • This provision is diluted in the Seeds Bill, where disputes on compensation have to be decided as per the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
  • Consumer courts are hardly ideal and friendly institutions that farmers can approach.
  • Also, according to the Seeds Bill, farmers become eligible for compensation if a plant variety fails to give expected results under “given conditions”.
  • Sadly, “given conditions” is almost impossible to define in agriculture.
  • Seed companies would always claim that “given conditions” were not ensured.
  • Again, this will be difficult to be disputed with evidence in a consumer court.

What is the way forward?

    • Agriculture production is purely based on the basic input,i.e., seed. Until and unless the purity, quality and seed standards are maintained, the production programme cannot be successful. Hence, to maintain these quality standards, legislations in this regard are equally important.
    • It is also necessary to disseminate the information regarding seed legislations to the farmers in order to make them aware of their rights.
    • Companies with national licence and accreditation must 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 timely benefit of the farmer.
    • There is a need to recognize the scale and size of the operations of the companies and devise regulation accordingly. Therefore, this new provision is being proposed by NSAI.
    • The national-level integrated seed companies may be registered centrally by the DACFW, MoAFW, Govt. of India and a central license may be given for production, processing and marketing of registered seed.
    • For the farmer, the redressal mechanism has to be simple, accessible and time-bound.
    • The primary onus has to be taken by the State, to get justice for farmers in case of seed quality failures. It cannot be left to individual farmers to fight it out as consumers in the market
    • The seed law must have the twin objective of regulating the supply of seeds for the benefit of the farmers and, at the same time, enable the development of the seed industry.

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

 

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