Maharashtra's Shetkari Sanghatana to defy GM cotton ban
30 December 2019
With a new government in Maharashtra the Shetkari Sanghatana, a union of farmers, have revived their agitation against the government ban on genetically-modified cotton seeds in the country. Members and supporters of Shetkari Sanghatana, who are backed by GM seed companies, have been demanding withdrawal of the ban on GM crops for a long time.
Members of the union will usher in the New Year by breaking the law. On 5 January 2020, they will meet at a farm near Yavatmal city and freely distribute the illegally harvested second-generation herbicide tolerant BT (HTBT) cotton seeds.
Illegal planting of HTBT seeds is an offence under the Environment Protection Act and the Seeds Act. The union has been spearheading a movement for faster approval of HTBT cotton seeds. In May, the union broke the law and freely distributed the seeds.
While the declared breaking of the ban is new, seed companies and their agents have been continuing the process of illegal distribution and sale of genetically modified cotton seeds ever since the ban.
A field inspection and scientific evaluation committee set up by the union ministry of science and technology in late 2017, to investigate illegal cultivation of GM cotton, found extensive use of HTBT seeds by farmers.
The state government had also instituted a police investigation and a few cases were filed against the farmers, but the cases were not pursued.
A survey conducted by the central government found it to be around 15 per cent of the total cotton planted area. In the forthcoming cotton year (commencing in May) the area could increase. It will also depend on the seed production of illegal cotton breeders, who are mostly based in Gujarat.
A project report prepared by All India Coordinated Research Project on Cotton under Indian Council of Agriculture Research has said that the total area under cotton cultivation in 2018-19 was 41.19 lakh hectares.
Weed is a major problem in cotton fields and there is a shortage of labour for manually removing the weeds in Maharashtra. Since HTBT seed is herbicide-tolerant, farmers can spray herbicides, which kill the weeds and not the cotton plants.
According to the Sanghatana, manual removal of weeds in an acre costs Rs10,000 while herbicide spray costs Rs1,000.