Hit hard by a sudden jump in sales of unapproved herbicide tolerant (HT) transgenic (Bt) cotton seeds in the unorganised sector in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat, the country’s two major seed industry associations have sought the Centre’s intervention in controlling the “illegal” activity.
HTBt cotton is being grown in major cotton growing states for the last few years at a low intensity, but sales have suddenly shot up this year, posing a serious threat to the environment, farmers, legitimate seed companies and government revenue, the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) and National Seed Association of India (NSAI) said in a joint statement.
“The area under cultivation of illegal HTBt cotton has been increasing over the years. However, this year, sales have doubled to about 70 lakh packets (of 450 gm each) from an estimated 35 lakh packets last year,” said FSII chairman M Ramasami, who is also chairman of Rasi Seeds, a major player in cotton seeds.
The packs show the presence of many technologies which could create a serious situation in the field, Ramasami said.
In the Rs 20,000-crore seeds industry, vegetable seeds have the highest share of 30%, followed by cotton with about 18%, maize 13% and paddy 10%.
“This will not only decimate small cotton seed companies, but also threatens the entire legal cotton seed market in India. The illegal seeds are also sold using brand names of prominent companies. Regulators are only limiting their checking to licensed dealers and seed companies, while this illegal activity of HTBt seed sales is carried mostly by the unorganised sector. Focus must be shifted to catching them and taking exemplary and strong punitive action,” NSAI president Prabhakar Rao said in a statement.
After it was highlighted in the Lok Sabha in 2017 that farmers were cultivating unapproved HTBt cotton in many states, the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee was set up under the Department of Biotechnology, which confirmed that about 15% of cotton area was sown with the unapproved HTBt cotton in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat.
Sources in the seed industry said that a major chunk of these illegal seeds were produced in Gujarat and then moved to Maharashtra and other states.