Around 1,500 farmers led by the Shetkari Sanghatana defied the ban on transgenic crops by publicly planting herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton at Akot in Maharashtra’s Akola district on Monday.
This is perhaps the first Kisan Satyagraha seeking freedom from government regulations, which restrict the Indian farmers’ access to modern technology, Anil Ghanwat, president, state unit, Shetkari Sanghatana, said. Ajit Narde, chief of the technology cell of the Shetkari Sanghatana, said the agitation was on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi’s salt satyagraha. GM Brinjal seeds were not planted since they were not available.
Ghanwat said seeds of genetically-modified cotton were sown on 2 acre in Akoli Jahangir village in Akola district as a mark of protest against the government’s ban on GM crops. “We are publicly encouraging the cultivation of such seeds although it attracts a five year term of imprisonment and `1 lakh as fine. We are ready to face the consequences,” he said, adding GM seeds are being used all over the world. The costs are less, pest attacks are fewer and the yields are higher, he said, adding that the Sanghatana is not ready to accept laws which are not in the favour of the farmer. Government data revealed that 11% of the crop in the past season was HT Bt variety, he said.
Ajit Narde maintained that the genetic engineering appraisal committee had on two occasions approved of these varieties but the commercial cultivation is not permitted, following pressure from vested interests. “This time, we’ve decided to give protection to farmers opting for such varieties and will publicly hold ceremonies during the sowing operations, upload videos of these ceremonies. We shall encourage farmers to plant as much as they can, given the contraints of the availability of such varieties,” he said.
He said GM technology was used the world over in soyabean, maize and even India had been importing Canola oil, cotton seed oil of this technology. “The first two genes — Bollgard I and Bolgard II — are permitted in India but the new genes are not available to India farmers which is not fair. India has become the second largest producer of cotton, thanks to BT technology and therefore, the government must encourage such technology.” Over the past few years, herbicide tolerant Bt cotton has been planted in many cotton growing areas of India, particularly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
A Government of India field survey in 2017 found that 15% of cotton sampled from these states were the unauthorised HT Bt variety.
A similar situation had prevailed in 1999-2001, when unauthorised Bt cotton was first found in Gujarat. Widespread acceptance of GM cotton by the farmers had almost forced the government to approve the first generation Bt cotton in 2002. The government had imposed a moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal in 2010 when Jairam Ramesh was the environment and forest minister. The ban continued after NDA assumed office, with Sangh affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch joining hands with activists to oppose GM food crops. Last month, the Haryana government had uprooted GM brinjal plants from a farm in Fatehabad district.
When contacted, Sadabhau Khot, Minister of State for agriculture, said the government would examine why farmers were going in for such plantation in large numbers and also study the impact of such technology in other nations before taking any action.