Govt orders further cut in royalties at a time when its focus should be on getting in newer generations of seed-tech.
Given it was the Prime Minister’s Office that got a body of experts—chaired by the co-chair of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)—to do an on-the-spot inspection of cotton fields which, eventually, led to 14 seed companies losing their licences for selling illegal knockoffs of the next generation of Monsanto’s Bt-cotton seeds, it was to be hoped that the Central government had a rethink on its policy towards Monsanto’s seeds. Indeed, the news for the beleaguered US seed-tech major has been quite positive for the last few months. Not only did the Supreme Court restore its patent by overturning the order of the Delhi High Court’s division bench—a full trial on the validity of the patent, though, will continue at a single-judge bench of the Delhi high court—an arbitration panel ruled in Monsanto’s favour in its fight with Nuziveedu Seeds and ordered Nuziveedu to pay Rs 138 crore of trait fees/royalty; and when Monsanto said it feared Nuziveedu’s worsening finances would help it escape paying the amount, the Bombay high court ordered Nuziveedu to deposit the money within two weeks.
So, it comes as a surprise that the government has come up with a revised notification on the Cotton Seed Price (Control) Order (CSPCO) that further lowers the trait fees that Monsanto gets from its seeds. In 2016-17, the first CSPCO lowered the price of a bag of Monsanto seed from Rs 830-1,030 to Rs 800, and while doing so, it reduced the trait fees from Rs 163 to Rs 49. In 2018-19, the seed price was further lowered to Rs 740, and Monsanto’s trait fee to Rs 39. The latest CSPCO reduces the retail price to Rs 730 but, within this, it lowers the trait fee by Rs 19—to Rs 20 per bag—which ensures that the seed companies earn an extra Rs 9 per bag as compared to what they did till now. Given many of the seed companies were refusing to pay Monsanto royalty—that is what the arbitration panel addressed—and were even illegally developing and selling the next generation of Bt-cotton seeds that were not even approved by the GEAC, such largesse is difficult to understand.
Instead of worrying about the price of Monsanto’s current generation of seeds which are, in any case, getting obsolete, the government should have been focusing on taking action to ensure the next generation is brought in at the earliest—the fact that illegal knockoffs of these seeds are selling at much higher prices than the current Monsanto seeds is proof that farmers realise newer technology saves them a lot of time and manpower costs. Getting in new seeds, however, requires the government to scrap the CSPCO to convince the courts the Monsanto patent is legal when the larger hearing takes place—in the Delhi High Court, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had argued that the patent was illegal (goo.gl/bgQUUR)—and to ensure that other varieties of genetically modified seeds are allowed to go through the vetting process at the earliest; in the case of Bt Brinjal, despite it being cleared by the GEAC, the UPA’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh had announced a moratorium on its commercial release. If Indian agriculture is to compete with the best globally, and this in turn will determine the competitiveness of downstream industries like textiles and garments, the government needs to move forward, not backwards, on technology.