The agriculture ministry will decide next week whether there is a need to scrap the trait fee charged by American agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto after going through last week’s Delhi High Court order that invalidated the firm’s relevant patents, a top official said. “We are the regulatory authority on cotton seed prices and will go by law as far as judgement is concerned. I will be able to comment after reading the order,” agriculture secretary S K Pattanayak told reporters. Stressing that the court order has come on a dispute between two parties and the government was not part of that, he said “if there is any direction to the government, we will abide by it.”
The Delhi High Court on March 11 had disallowed a plea by Monsanto to enforce its patent for its genetically modified (Bt) cotton seed varieties ‘Bollgard’ and the widely used ‘Bollgard II’ in India. A bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna allowed Monsanto to apply for registration of these seed varieties under the Plant Varieties Act (PVA) within next three months. A registration under the PVA would still entitle the firm to charge trait fee. But the question is whether the fee could be abrogated in the interim period. Both Monsanto and Hyderabad-based Nuziveedu Seeds had filed cross-appeals against the High Court’s single-judge order in March last year that ruled that Monsanto’s termination of its sub-licence agreement for genetically modified hybrid cotton seeds with Nuziveedu Seeds was illegal and arbitrary.
The single judge had also directed restoration of the sub-licence agreements with the Indian seed manufacturer to use Monsanto’s Bollgard and Bollgard II trademarks as per the GM Technology Licensing Agreement found in the Licensing and Formats for GM Technology Agreement Guidelines, 2016. Two years ago, the government had imposed price controls on the widely-used Bollgard II variety of Bt cotton seeds and slashed the trait value payable to Monsanto. Last month, the government further reduced the seed’s maximum retail price (MRP) in the retail market and the trait value further. The MRP for the Bt cotton seeds in the 2018-19 kharif season has been fixed at Rs 740 for a 450-gm packet, down 7.5% from earlier, while trait value was cut by a steeper 20% to Rs 39 per packet.
Currently, nearly 90% of India’s cotton area of 12.26 million hectares (in the 2017-18 season) is under Bt cover. Domestic cotton output has risen manifold since farmers started using Bt seeds, from 8.6 million bales in 2002-03 to 33.9 million bales in 2017-18.