The Pesticide Management Bill 2020 can remove many shortcomings of the existing regulatory regime.
Getting growth back on track with agriculture is the need of the moment, especially as ‘Make in India’ to ‘Make for the World’ is the new mantra in Atmanirbhar Bharat rhetoric after thepandemic. Ease of Doing Business in agribusiness and attracting investment is the quintessence for fiscal corrections measurements. These require regulatory changes and the Pesticides Management Bill (PMB) offers the policymaker and the industry an opportunity to redesign the existing regime in line with global developments and safeguard the farmers’ interests and the country’s agriculture sector. The PMB 2020 can set right many shortcomings of the existing regulatory regime. It is an opportunity to use our learnings of the last 50 years to develop legislation that truly drives the Indian agriculture sector’s growth.
The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, is a long-overdue law on this critical segment of agriculture, in the making since 2008, to replace the obsolete Insecticides Act, 1968. Taking into account advances in modern pest management science and the ill effects of synthetic pesticides, the Pesticide Management Bill should bring India’s pesticide sector in line with global norms, to some of which India has signed up.
Let’s now take a deep dive into the key focus areas.
- An important focus of the Bill is on labelling and leaflets. Manufacturers will be required by law to specify clear and specific information on material and chemical composition, and dosage of use. The leaflets must carry this information in the local language to ensure that farmers are properly informed. This is critical since there is a huge tendency to overuse pesticides by farmers, often driven by not having enough information on the correct usage.
- PMB 2020 is silent on data protection. A special provision for data protection needs to be made for safer and new molecules/formulations that are introduced/developed in the country for the first time, even if off-patent, for a minimum of 5 years from the date of its provisional registration in India. In such cases, there has to be a mandatory clause that the concerned applicant must get the molecule registered with required technical data generated through accredited laboratories/institutions within India during the period of protection.
- There are also some genuine concerns such as the need for a time-bound, predictable, stable, and transparent process for registration of products which need to be addressed immediately by the Government. Farmers need improved agronomic support and practices which can help in increasing their crop yields. There is a need for fast track transparent time-bound online registration system. It will be desirable to ensure the participation of industry representatives in the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee. CIBR&C should have led by a specialist and not by Generalist.
- There is a huge need to revisit the Offences and Punishment clauses in PMB to ensure needed transparency and its effective implementation. While the farmers have been asked to lessen the use of toxic chemicals, there is a need to note that the average consumption of pesticides in India is far lower than in many other developed economies. There is considerable emphasis on food security and promoting good agriculture practices, it would require support from the Crop protection industry to produce innovative and latest technology for newer molecules.
- The agricultural community strongly feels that there is a need for disruptive innovation in the field of chemical pesticides through greater investment in R&D, both by public and private sector to achieve desired goals. Such a policy will be of immense significance to Indian agriculture since it will encourage good business practices and ethics and provide an enabling environment for accelerated growth (currently around 8.1%) of the pesticide sector while protecting the interests of farmers, industry, and consumers.
- The sale and use of spurious and counterfeit pesticides is indeed a real problem that needs to be addressed on priority. The proposed Bill talks about empowering the Central Government and the State Governments to accredit private laboratories to carry out any or all functions of a Pesticide Testing Laboratory in compliance with prescribed standards. There is no provision in the new PMB that all the government laboratories will be recognized with NABL accreditation. No government laboratory or private laboratory should be allowed to keep any statutory sample without NABL accreditation.
- Granting ‘me too’ registrations liberally without verifying the credentials of applicants could encourage malpractices, which need to be curbed through effective post-monitoring inspections and requirement for submission of periodic data on production and sale of such approved pesticides. For testing quality, there is a need to create a chain of ’good laboratory practices (GLP) compliant accredited pesticide testing laboratories’ in each state where a registrant can get his/her pesticide tested and certified.
- While it is important to align India’s obligations with various International forums, there is also a huge need for the incorporation of Data Protection for the first-time registrants of a new pesticide.
PMB 2020 is a great opportunity to replace the obsolete Insecticides Act. The key focus points will redress some of the long standing demands of the agriculture sector and bring our farming practices up to speed with the farming regulations in developed economies. Labelling, data protection, use of bio seeds, regulating chemical pesticides, upgraded technology among others will help the agriculture sector transition to contemporary farming practices.
Gunavant Patil is former President, Shetkari Sanghatana. Views expressed are the author’s personal.