Protesting against government restrictions on BT Cotton and other genetically modified crops, farmers affiliated to the Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra said they will continue to plant the banned herbicide-tolerant cotton in their fields in public ceremonies from Thursday.
Meanwhile, officers from the state agriculture department on Tuesday raided the house of Shetkari Sanghatana leader Lalit Bahale in Maharashtra’s Akoli Jahagir village to collect samples of seeds of genetically modified (GM) HT Bt cotton.
Anil Ghanwat, national president, Shetkari Sanghatana, said that from now on ceremonies will be held by farmers in all cotton growing districts of Maharashtra on Thursday. Sowing ceremonies will be held in Yavatmal, Wardha, Amravati, Ahmednagar and Pune where farmers have also managed to get BT Brinjal seeds, he said. He, however, did not mention the source of the seeds.
“With this act of satyagraha, we are now coming forward to motivate more and more farmers to reject unreasonable restrictions in agriculture,” Lalit Bahale said, adding that the farmers had planned to plant the illegal BT Cotton on more than 700-800 hectares across the state.
“On Tuesday, the officials from the agriculture department had visited my house and seized some samples. They had come with vehicles but after seeing the number of farmers, they backed out,” he said and added that the farmers were ready for any kind of repercussions.
Jitendra Papalkar, district collector, Akola, told FE that the samples have been collected and sent to the Central Institute of Cotton Research in Nagpur and the report is awaited. He said that the farmer body has committed an illegal act.
Raju Shetti, leader, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said that his orgnaisation fully supported Shetkari Sanghatana although they have not directly participated in the agitation. “We are of the view that farmers should not be deprived of technology. The government should take a call on GM seeds, give reasons on why it is harmful, and if it is not able to do so, should give the farmers the freedom to plant these seeds. Farmers are openly cultivating these in Gujarat and the seeds are being smuggled in Maharashtra. If no action is taken against farmers in Gujarat, why are farmers in Maharashtra penalised,” he asked.
Carrying, storing, selling, or sowing of GM crops is an offence under which the offenders face up to five-year imprisonment and a fine of `1 lakh.
When contacted, Sadabhau Khot, minister of state for Agriculture, said that while he empathised with the farmers since he is a farmer himself, there is a need to educate farmers on this issue. “The government shall form a committee and is ready to take a delegation to those countries where the crop is banned and seek reports from these nations,” he said.
He also pointed out that Monsanto had in 2013 moved an application with the government regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which functions under the environment ministry, seeking approval for its roundup ready flex (RRF) cotton which has both insect resistance (Bt gene) and glyphosate tolerant (Ht) gene. However, the company had withdrawn its application along with its dossier containing reports of field trials and bio-safety trials of this hybrid cotton in 2016. The GEAC has approved of the BGI AND BG II varieties and not approved of other varieties. One needs to understand the issue in detail, he said, exhorting farmers to keep calm.
Estimates of the Maharashtra government have stated that around 10% of the 41 lakh hectares of the state’s cotton crop was grown using these seeds. Countrywide, it is expected that 17 % of cotton crop was of the HtBt variant.