According to Delhi-based South Asia biotechnology centre (SABC), a body comprising well-known retired agriculture scientists engaged in transferring technology to farmers, Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB) India Limited had alerted the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) about the illegal sale but the Centre chose to sleep over it.
A letter written by MMB’s director Rajendra Ketkar dated September 8, 2008 had said that HT cotton was being “grown without the statutory approval of GEAC. The farmers were being offered Cotton Seeds with HT trait at a premium without valid documents and safety assessment which may impact the produce”.
Currently, HT cotton is grown in about 8.5 lakh hectares in four major cotton-growing states of the country – Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. SABC sources said the HT cotton packets did a business of Rs 472 crore this season.
The letter, a copy of which is with TOI, mentions the names of the cultivators engaged in growing HT cotton seeds. There were 253 cultivators just in Gujarat. Locator maps where cultivation was taking place clandestinely and the route of smuggling of the seeds too were provided in the report to the government.
MMB, the Indian arm of US seed giant Monsanto, had also told GEAC in the letter that it had informed the State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) of each of the affected states.
The letter had asked the SBCC to confirm the illegal activity and take “appropriate legal action to ensure such activities are terminated in the interest of the farming community as well as the environment”.
The company sent another reminder on November 7, 2008, asking SBCCs to take necessary action under the Environment Protection Act laws and as authorised by the gazette notification of the ministry of environment and forests.
Today, desperate farmers, looking for lower input costs, are willing to pay Rs1200-1,500 per packet for HT seeds, when the price for Bt cotton at Rs 800 per packet.
On Tuesday, Andhra Pradesh formed a three-member panel to investigate how 15% of the state’s cotton acreage has been planted with HT seeds. The panel will submit its report within 15 days. On October 5, the state had issued an order that was to inspect fields growing the legally permitted Bollgard II but that order was withdrawn on Friday.
Kishor Tiwari, chairman of the Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swablamban Mission (VNSSM) which is a Maharashtra-appointed body, claims that this year in Yavatmal district about 6.5 lakh packets were sold by agents from Gujarat.
“There is a need to legitimise technology. Government should call for an open discussion between experts, scientists, activists to clean up the mess that it has created,” he said.
On Monday, GEAC chairperson Amita Prasad told TOI that following reports in the media the committee had written to Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Source : timesofindia