Pune: Almost a year after SIT report, Govt yet to act on sale of illegal Bt cotton seeds

Of the 4-4.5 crore packets of cotton seeds sold in the country this season, 60-65 lakh packets were of the unauthorised herbicide-tolerant (Ht) Bt cotton.

ALMOST A year after the special investigation team (SIT), which was formed to study the problem of the sale of unauthorised transgenic cotton seeds, submitted its report to the Maharashtra government, action is yet to be taken in the matter.

The SIT, headed by IPS officer Krishna Prakash, had submitted its report last October after an exhaustive study about the problem, which has become a major policy issue in the country.

Of the 4-4.5 crore packets of cotton seeds sold in the country this season, 60-65 lakh packets were of the unauthorised herbicide-tolerant (Ht) Bt cotton. Cotton is the only genetically modified crop allowed for commercial cultivation in India.

However, only BT cotton (obtained by inserting foreign genes Cry1Ab and Cry2Bc) is legally available. Other than this, the second generation of BT cotton or herbicide-tolerant HT Bt cotton (which has another foreign gene Cp4Epsps) has found favour with the farmers.

This transgenic variant allows farmers to use the broad-based weedicide Glyphosate which Bt cotton is unable to withstand the same.

Given the advantage of this, weed control alone contributes more than 40 per cent of the cost of production. With farm labour being both rare and non-economical, farmers have increasingly thrown their weight behind Ht Bt cotton.

The seed for this transgenic variant is procured illegally often at a high premium. The state government’s agriculture department has filed numerous FIRs but a final solution to the problem is yet to be found.

The SIT was formed by the state government in 2018 and was tasked to go into the depth of the situation and give recommendations about the next course of action.

Officials, speaking to The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, said the report made multiple suggestions to control the sale of illegal Ht Bt cotton seeds. One of the recommendations is about developing indigenous and cost-effective solutions to control the problem of weeds.

The report found that weed control constitutes around 40 per cent of the production cost and is a major concern for farmers. Mechanical and other devices need to be developed for weed control, which would help farmers stop going for this variant, the report suggested.

Another important recommendation was to completely ban the sale of glyphosate in the state. In the neighbouring Telangana state, the sale of glyphosate is controlled with farmers not being allowed to buy it during the vegetative growth stage of the crops.

This has to be done on a Mission Mode, which will see a comprehensive programme to control the sale of this chemical, the report said. Other recommendations include a relook into the laws governing GM seeds as well as the formation of fast-track courts to try these cases.

Senior officials in Mantralaya said that the report is with the State Agriculture Minister Dadasaheb Bhuse, who will discuss it with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray about the future course of action.

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