The Guardian 13 July, 2005

India's move to seed monopoly

S Ramachandran Pillai

The Seed Bill 2004, if adopted by parliament in its present form, would lead to the establishment of a monopoly of big seed companies, both Indian and foreign, in seed production and sale. The peasants will lose their basic right to grow, use, exchange and sell their farm seeds. It will bring the peasantry and Indian agriculture under the stranglehold of big seed companies.

The prices of seeds will shoot up and the peasantry will be subjected to severe exploitation. The declaration of the preamble of the bill, that the legislation is to provide for regulating the quality of seeds for sale, import and export and to facilitate production and supply of seeds of quality, is nothing but a ruse to cover up the real objective of the legislation.

In every country, peasants have the inherent right to grow, use, exchange and sell their farm seeds. But peasants in India will lose this basic right, if the Seed Bill is adopted in the present form. Section 21 of the bill declares that only a producer registered with the government can grow or organise production of seed. It prohibits all others from growing, producing, drying, threshing, shelling, ginning, cleaning, grading or treating of seeds and planting materials.

Section 12 of the bill stipulates that all kinds and varieties of seeds should be registered in the National Register of Seeds. Section 13 of the bill states that only registered seed can be sold for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person. Though the wording of section 43 appears to be an enabling provision for farmers, the two conditions attached to it prohibit the farmer from saving, using, exchanging, sharing, or selling his farm seeds and planting materials. It also insists that the seed or planting material should conform to the minimum limit of germination, physical purity and genetic purity as prescribed under section 6 of the bill. The cumulative effect of these provisions is that farmers will lose their right to save, use, exchange, share or sell their farm seeds and planting material, and seed companies and big traders will take complete control.

Exclusive, perpetual monopoly rights

The other dangerous feature of the bill is that it provides exclusive perpetual monopoly rights to the producer over a registered seed for production. Section 13 makes compulsory registration of all kinds and varieties of seeds as a prerequisite for their sale in the market.

Registration of the seed is based on the information as may be furnished by the producer to establish its performance on the basis of results of trials. Once a kind or variety of seed is registered, such registration will be valid for a period of 15 years in the case of annuals and biennial crops, and 18 years in the case of long duration perennials.

It is also provided that at the expiry of 15 or 18 years, the seed may be re-registered for a similar period on the basis of information furnished by the producer. The Registration Sub-Committee, which is vested with the powers to register a seed, can even issue such direction to protect the interests of a producer against any abusive act committed by any third party during the period between the date of filing of the application for registration and the date of decision by the committee on such application.

Sections 6, 14 and 25 further strengthen the monopoly rights of the producer over a registered seed or seeds.

Private monopoly of traditional seeds

The other danger of the bill is that any traditional seeds used by the peasantry can also be registered by any producer in his name and the latter may obtain monopoly rights in perpetuity for producing that seed.

Section 12 provides for the maintenance of a register of all kinds and varieties of seeds to be called the National Register of Seeds by the Registration Sub-Committee of the Central Seed Committee. There is no provision in the bill to exclude the seeds traditionally used by peasants.

Section 16 lays down the grounds on which a registration, once granted can be cancelled. The grounds are violation of terms and conditions of grant of certificate by the certificate holder, misrepresentation or concealment of material facts by the applicant, non-performance of the seed, prevention of commercial exploitation on the grounds of public interest to protect public order or public morality or to protect human beings, animals and plant life and health to avoid serious prejudice to the environment.

Section 18 states the grounds on which registration should be excluded in respect of certain kinds or varieties of seeds. The grounds for prevention of commercial exploitation of such kind or variety of seed include protection of public order or public morality, life and health of human, animal and plants or to avoid serious prejudice to the environment, or, that the seed contains a technology which would be harmful or potentially harmful.

Nothing is mentioned in section 16 or 18 about excluding all seeds traditionally used by the peasantry.

There is no enabling provision in the bill for the public to file objections before the Registration Sub-Committee against the registration of a seed. The bill is also silent about the right of the public to file applications for cancellation of a registration granted to any particular producer.

Non-exclusion of seeds traditionally used by peasants from compulsory registration and absence of provisions to file objections will enable seed companies to obtain surreptitiously registration rights on traditionally used seeds.

Section 27 of the bill announces the withdrawal of the state from seed certification and handing over this power to private organisations, individuals or seed producing organisations to carry out self-certification. As in the case of other provisions, this section also makes the seed companies all-powerful in their areas of operation.

No safeguards

The provision regarding the powers of the seed inspectors are draconian and can be misused against the rights and interests of farmers. Section 35 of the bill gives wide powers to seed inspectors to break open any container or door of any premises where any kind or variety of seed is kept.

There is no need to give these wide powers to seed inspectors. The Seed Act of 1966 gives powers to seed inspectors only when seed of any notified kind or variety is kept. It seems that the intention of this provision in the present bill is to intimidate peasants from growing or producing seeds and to ensure the complete control of the seed companies.

The bill does not provide adequate powers to peasants for claiming compensation from the producer, distributor or vendor when the seed failed to provide the expected performance or crop failure due to the supply of spurious and poor quality seed.

Section 20 of the bill states that compensation may be claimed from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor as per the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The provision to punish a person who supplies spurious seeds is very weak and inadequate. The intent of the legislation is to protect the interest of the seed companies, which is again revealed in these provisions.

According to the Seeds Act, 1966, all states are represented in the Central Seed Committee. The present bill takes away the rights of the states. As per the provisions of this bill, the states are divided into five geographical zones.

The bill should not be passed in the present form as it will have very serious adverse effects on Indian agriculture and on the life of the peasantry. The present bill needs amendments in the following areas:

The right of peasants to grow, organise production, save, use, exchange, share or sell his farm seeds and planting materials should be exempted from the operation of the bill.

The seeds presently used by peasants should be excluded from registration. There should be provisions for filing objections against registration and for filing application for cancellation of registration by the general public. The rights of the producer on registered seeds should be limited to seven years and there should not be any provision for re-registration.

Any producer or person selling, keeping for sale, offering to sell, bartering or otherwise supplying any seed above a reasonable limit needs to be registered.

The powers of the seed inspectors should be curtailed.

All states should be given representation in the Central Seed Committee.

Seed certification powers should not be given to private organisations, individuals or seed producing organisations. The seed certification agency should be appointed by the state governments in consultation with the state seed committees and central seed committee.

The main aim of the bill should be to protect the interests of the peasantry and Indian agriculture.

People's Democracy, Communist Party of India (M)

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