A clutch of farmer groups from a wide spectrum of political views, including those associated with ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and its own farmer cell, besides the left and socialist parties, are planning to petition the official regulator to stop the proliferation of "illegal" genetically modified (GMO) crops in the country.
The groups are also demanding strict action against set-ups, companies and firms that are misleading farmers and have called for breaking the nexus of "illegal" GM seed production and supply networks.
Citing, the recent instance of farmers publicly planting the banned HT Bt Cotton seeds in parts of Maharashtra and Haryana along with Bt brinjal without requisite permissions, the groups said if this was allowed to proliferate, farmers won’t have any other option but to go for a big agitation.
In the letter written to the Chairperson of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, A K Jain, the farmer groups said that GM Technology is dangerous, unnecessary and a costly distraction from real solutions that farmers want and need.
“The Government of India and GEAC should not come to believe that farmers in the country want GMOs just because a couple of fringe groups are campaigning for it, or because unscrupulous traders are exploiting farmers’ distress through illegal seed supply networks,” the petition said.
The petition has been signed by representatives of BJP-Kisan Morcha, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) of M D Nanjundaswamy, Left-supported All India Krantikari Kisan Sabha and the Agragami Kisan Sabha, among others.
“We feel that the government is being misled by people who are giving it wrong opinions and suggestions,” B N Chaudhary of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh told Business Standard.
Last month, in a crackdown on farmers growing Herbicide Tolerant Bt Cotton illegally, the Maharashtra state government lodged a police complaint against 12 of them in Akola district of the state.
Sources said the FIRs were lodged for violation of various provisions of the Seeds Act, Indian Penal Code, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Act, Custom Acts of 1962 and the Patent Act, 1970.
The FIRs were lodged after several farmers under the banner of Shetkari Sangathana organised multiple sowing of HT BT as a mark of protest against what they said was illegal denial of technology to farmers.
Under the Environment Protection Act 1986, growing GM crops that has not been approved by the government is illegal and can lead to a jail term of five years or a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
HT Bt is the third generation of BT cotton in India.
The first two used Cry 1 Ab and Cry 1 Ac and was instrumental in controlling pink bollworm attack in cotton plants.
On June 12, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the ministry of environment and forests, had written to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary seeking a report and necessary action against the sowing of unapproved seeds.
However, despite the warning, farmers in several parts of Maharashtra, particularly in the cotton growing belt had organised mass sowings to protest against denial of latest technology to them.
A Central government panel in 2018 has found that almost 15 per cent of cotton grown across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana could be illegal HT Bt.
Sources said this number this could be as high as 20-25 per cent. Cotton is cultivated in Maharashtra in around four million hectares of land and sources said around 20-25 per cent of this could be under illegal HT BT cotton.
“There is wave in favour of HT Bt this year from farmers due to high cost of cultivation and rising expenditure on labour,” said Ajit Narde, head of technology cell in Shetkari Sangathana.
A few weeks back, the use of illegal GM was discovered after a farmer in Haryana was found to growing GM brinjal in his field.