|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. What are the salient features of the draft Seed Bill, 2019? Mention various concerns.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Recently, the draft Seed Bill 2019 was finalised which aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold and facilitate the production and supply of these seeds to farmers. It aims to foster competition by amending the Seed Act, 1966 and Seed Rules, 1968. It is an important legislation to ensure the supply of modern, high quality, cutting edge seed technologies to the farmers which will help them in enhancing their productivity and profitability. There are certain proposals in the Bill such as registration of seed varieties, powers granted to the government to fix prices inter-alia which need a closer look.
Salient features of the draft Seed Bill, 2019:
- Seed Committee: The Bill authorises the Central government to reconstitute a Central Seed Committee that will be responsible for the effective implementation of its provisions.
- Registration of Seed Varieties: All varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered and are required to meet certain prescribed minimum standards. For instance, for transgenic varieties of seeds, registration is to be obtained under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This can bring greater accountability to seed companies.
- Exemptions: Bill exempt farmers from obtaining registration for varieties developed by them. However, if the farmer sells such seeds for a monetary consideration, then that sale needs to be registered. This is to protect the interests of other farmers who buy seeds from such a farmer. Also, farmers are allowed to sow, exchange or sell their farm seeds and planting material without having to conform to the prescribed minimum limits of germination, physical purity and genetic purity (as required by registered seeds). However, farmers cannot sell any seed under a brand name.
- Research-based Companies: In the proposed Bill, there is a differentiation between the seed producer, seed processor and seed dealer for the purpose of licensing. However, there is no recognition of National Level Integrated Seed Companies with R&D capabilities.
- Truthfully labelled seeds: Currently, a large percentage of seed is sold under a self-certification programme called Truthfully Labelled (TL) seeds. The certification process has been kept voluntary.
- Nurseries: There is provision of licences/registration of fruit nurseries. Not all nurseries need to be registered.
- Price Control: Bill empowers the government to fix prices of selected varieties in case of ‘emergent’ situations such as seed shortage, abnormal increase in price, monopolistic pricing, profiteering, etc. which are open to subjective interpretation.
- Penal Provisions: Bill differentiates the agronomic performance of the seed, its physical quality and the supply of spurious seed, and consequently penalises the offences and prescribes punishment.
Concerns related to the bill:
- There is a serious lacuna in the definition of transgenic variety, which was not clear and also unscientific.
- Another shortfall in the proposed piece of legislation was disparity between the rights conferred on farmers as compared to that in the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act.
- The Seeds Bill insists on compulsory registration of seeds. However, the The Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act (PPVFR Act) is based on voluntary registration. As a result, many seeds may be registered under the Seeds Bill but may not be under the PPVFR Act.
- Many seed varieties may never enter the open domain for free-use. A vague provision for regulation of seed prices is in the Seeds Bill. In fact, strict control on seed prices has been an important demand raised by farmers’ organisations.
- Under the PPVFR Act, if a registered variety fails in its promise of performance, farmers can claim compensation before a PPVFR Authority. This provision is diluted in the Seeds Bill, where disputes on compensation have to be decided as per the Consumer Protection Act 1986. Consumer courts are hardly ideal and friendly institutions that farmers can approach.
- Also, according to the Seeds Bill, farmers become eligible for compensation if a plant variety fails to give expected results under “given conditions”. It is almost impossible to define conditions in agriculture.
- Agriculture production is purely based on the basic input, i.e., seed. Until and unless the purity, quality and seed standards are maintained, production programme cannot be successful. Hence, to maintain these quality standards, legislations in this regard are equally important.
- It is also necessary to disseminate the information regarding seed legislations to the farmers in order to make them aware of their rights.
- Companies with national licence and accreditation must be allowed to conduct trials for seed varieties and generate data (which is to be made acceptable for product registration purposes). This will help in speedy reach of new research products to the market for the timely benefit of the farmer.
Overall, the seed law must have the twin objective of regulating the supply of seeds for the benefit of the farmers and, at the same time, enable the development of the seed industry. As government aim to double the income of farmers, seed act should be drafted in such a way that it benefits the small farmers the most.