In a first, Maharashtra farmer arrested for possession of HTBT cotton

In a first in the country, a farmer was arrested in Maharashtra for being in possession of banned herbicide-tolerant BT (HTBT) cotton seeds.

In a first, Maharashtra farmer arrested for possession of HTBT cotton
The farmer was arrested in Buldhana district with HTBT cotton seeds

In a first in the country, a farmer was arrested in Maharashtra for being in possession of banned herbicide-tolerant BT (HTBT) cotton seeds. The farmer, Vasant Vinayak Mule, 41, from Umrad village, was produced before the Buldhana district court on Wednesday, a day after his arrest. He was denied bail and was remanded to six days of police custody.

A first information report has been filed by district quality control superintendent, Buldhana, under Sections 420, 463, 465, 468, 471 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), violation of the Seed Act, 1966 for sale and purchase of seeds without the mandatory licence and violation of the Environmental Protection Act.

At present, only GM crops permitted by the crop regulator — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — are allowed to be grown in India. The committee has not cleared the production of HTBT cotton so far. Sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds are punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act, 1989. Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957. The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions.

Acting on a tip-off, a team of officials of the agriculture department of Buldhana Zilla Parishad laid a trap for the farmer and reached the residence of Vasant Mule and found 21 packs of HTBT cotton seeds with him, Vijay Tukaram Mokate, campaign officer, agriculture department told FE.

“The department officials took 2 packs as samples which will be submitted to the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur. The remaining 19 packs were seized by the police and a first information report was lodged by district quality control superintendent Pravin Kharche against the farmer for possession of the seeds at Fingaon Raja police station. The FIR stated that the 20 packets of 450 gms each were found at the residence of the accused which are valued at Rs 15,330.

Senior officials revealed that the packets contained stamps and marks from Gujarat, although the accused claimed that the seeds were procured from the local market. Officials also revealed that this is the first time that the banned seed variety has been found in the district and no other farmers were seen in possession of such seeds. Anil Ghanwat, national president, Shetkari Sanghatana said that the sanghatana workers were following up on the case.

Maharashtra agriculture minister Sadabhau Khot warned that strict action will be taken against the companies selling unapproved cotton seeds to farmers in the state. A committee has also been formed to look into the matter, he said.

“We were informed that several years ago, some farmers tried seeking permission for the use of such cotton seeds but the permission was not given by the government. However, we first need to see the supply source of these seeds,” he said. According to reports, the cotton seeds which farmers are using in Akola are usually genetically modified ones and have various dangerous consequences.

“There is an urgent need to teach and educate our farmers about the use of cotton seeds. It is the lack of knowledge which leads them towards the use of unapproved seeds,” he said.

Meanwhile, activists of the Shetkari Sanghatana have declared that more such plantings will be held in the cotton growing regions of the state. As per reports, Vijay Niwal, a farmer from Yevatmal district is sowing HTBT cotton seeds on 37 acres of land and another case of sowing HTBT took place in Kasaud, Jintur. Farmers in Aurangabad held a protest and burnt a copy of the letter from the ministry of environment about taking serious action against unapproved seed sowing farmers and dealers.A large scale programme has been planned at Jalna district on June 20.

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