As chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi presided over an agricultural transformation led by genetically modified (GM) Bt Cotton, and for over a decade, the state saw farm growth of over 10% per year. As the PM, while Modi recast the Planning Commission as the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, his agricultural policies (Niti, in Hindi) are looking quite regressive. With agriculture facing an uncertain future due to climate change-driven extreme weather events, you would think Modi would further champion the cause of GM crops which are already beginning to offer solutions to extreme aridity/flooding/salinity, but the Centre has decided to put price controls on Bt seeds. This has been the demand of various Sangh parivar outfits, and states like Maharashtra and Telengana have already imposed price controls – Maharashtra cut the price of Bt I and II by Rs 100 per bag this year while Telengana slashed the royalty from Rs 163 to Rs 50. While the Centre has not announced a price for Bt cotton in its price control order, a committee will fix prices each year.
If Bollgard-II was the last seed that Monsanto was developing, unfair as they are, the Maharashtra/Telangana actions – and now, the centre’s – may not have mattered as much. But, as in the case of antibiotics, the effect of Monsanto’s protein-enhancement wears off over a period of time. Which is why, the firm is in the process of getting regulatory approvals for a combination of Bollgard-II with its Roundup Ready Flex herbicide, and even a Bollgard-III. And with its $1.7 billion global R&D spending each year, Monsanto’s R&D budget exceeds that of the Indian government. Since Monsanto’s royalty does not even add up to 1% of the cost of cultivation, you would have thought Modi would have tried to persuade at least the chief ministers of BJP-ruled states to be reasonable, to appreciate that without adequate compensation, no GM seeds firm will bring its products to India. While the centre can, theoretically, fix a reasonable price for GM firms to sell here, by agreeing to price controls, Modi has given in to the anti-reforms fringe.