Pesticides Management Bill: Not really in India’s interest

September 25, 2020 6:05 AM

If the Bill is implemented as proposed, it would be detrimental for the Indian economy; India will lose out on foreign exchange and the potential to generate employment

pesticide, pesticide ban, agriculture export, exports, pesticide industryThe annual production losses due to pests and diseases in India are estimated at Rs 90,000 crores.

By Krishan Bir Chaudhary

Prime minister Narendra Modi is heralding in an era of reforms for Indian agriculture, especially on the issues that have long plagued our nation. The Pesticides Management Bill 2020 (PMB 2020), which was tabled in the Rajya Sabha earlier this year, is being touted to reform the agriculture and the pesticides sector, by supplanting the Insecticides Act 1968; it will promote Make in India and Ease of Doing Business, its advocates argue, apart from enabling access to plant protection chemicals at low costs.

The prime minister has long championed doubling farmers’ income. In 2016, a committee was formed under the leadership of Ashok Dalwai, formerly an additional secretary in the Union ministry of agriculture, which sought to shape the vision for empowering the farmer. Deliberations with farmers, industry and other key stakeholders happened over two days, to raise the agriculture and allied sector to new heights. However, PMB 2020, in its current form, does not reflect any recommendations of the Ashok Dalwai Committee. I would request the prime minister to let the recommendations of Dalwai committee be part of the PMB 2020. The Indian bureaucracy, which drafted the Bill, seems to have given no thought to question “for whom has this Bill been made”. Whose issues is it addressing? The Bill needs to incorporate feedback from consultations with farmers and other stakeholders before it is taken up in Parliament.

The PMB 2020 in its current form encourages import of formulations, thereby, making the country completely dependent on imported agrochemicals. Evidence suggests that such monopoly of imported agrochemicals makes Indian farmers pay 4-5 times higher costs for the same product in comparison to alternatives manufactured in India. Further, it is worth noting that, during 2019-20, India exported generic agrochemicals of `23,000 crore to the global market, which will be automatically finished if this PMB is implemented as proposed. This move would prove to be detrimental to the Indian economy, as India will lose out on foreign exchange and the potential to generate employment. Moreover, PMB does not state any requirement for the registration of a technical grade pesticide in India before registration of any of its formulations here, resulting in unfair advantage to imported formulations. On the other hand, Indian formulation manufacturers are subjected to rigorous manufacturing regulations. For prime minister Modi’s dream of Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat to be fulfilled, PMB needs immediate amendments to provide a level playing field for Indian industry, though the larger expectation is that Indian industry should be given priority.

Furthermore, PMB 2020 mandates every farmer to procure prescriptions before purchasing pesticides. Now, imagine farmers across six lakh Indian villages having to obtain prescriptions during the critical time of their crop-cycle. Who is going to write so many prescriptions? There is already a system in place where an agriculture university in every state publishes a package of practices for crops in their area by giving every minute detail on crop management. Now, the bureaucracy wants this control in its hands.

By not mandating registration of technical grade pesticide with formulations, the bureaucracy is doing the biggest disadvantage to Indian farmers, given how it impacts manufacturing in India. Registration of technical grade pesticide will enable manufacturing of products by the Indian generic industry and will create competition in the market, leading to competitive pricing. For example, emamectin benzoate was earlier imported and sold at Rs 10,000/kg by Syngenta, but then was manufactured by domestic companies and sold at Rs 3,500/kg. PMB would put immense pressure on the farmer, as she would be coerced into shelling out more money to purchase expensive formulations. How does this promote the vision of doubling farmers’ income as well as Make in India?

In India, a farmer’s crop-yield-losses owing to the presence of weeds, pests, diseases and rodents are 15-25%. The Bill does not have any provisions for the use of pesticides during an emergency; for instance, when ‘invasive insect species’, such as fall armyworm (on maize) and desert locusts, occur outside their natural and adapted habitat with dispersal potential. Under PMB, the sale or usage of a pesticide can only take place after its registration with the registration committee (RC). Also, another way the PMB can be changed to benefit the farmer is by ensuring that all packaging of pesticides must be in regional language that is visible to the naked eye.

There is a need for the formation of a high-level review committee (RC) under the chairmanship of the director-general ICAR and directors/representatives from the Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, Indian University of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, etc. The role of the RC must be limited to data and registration, as the required technical know-how lies with the agricultural scientists, who can be involved in the review committee.

This Bill, in its current form, is detrimental to the farmer and agriculture. It needs wider consultation, and farmers need to be part of the consultation process.

The author is President, Bharatiya Krishak Samaj
Views are personal

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