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Farmers’ groups split over HTbt cotton cultivation

The agriculture ministry, however, has reiterated that it is not looking to review its decision of banning HTBt cotton as of now.

ET Bureau|
Jul 17, 2019, 05.34 PM IST
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PTI
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Farmers’ organisations such as BKU and BKS have asked the government to take strict action against those who are sowing the banned seeds.
NEW DELHI/PUNE: The issue of planting unapproved herbicide tolerant Bt (HTBt) cotton has split cotton farmers into two groups. While those favouring sowing of HTBt have approached the government for lifting the ban on the variety, the opposing group has urged the government to take strict action against farmers propagating the banned variety.

Farmers’unions such as Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) have written to the chairperson of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), an environment ministry body, which appraises proposals relating to release of GE organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials, while groups favouring HTBt cotton led by Shetkari Sangathana have approached agriculture environment ministers to lift the ban on this transgenic cotton variety.

The agriculture ministry, however, has reiterated that it is not looking to review its decision of banning HTBt cotton as of now.

“Growing the unapproved variety of cotton is an offence. There have been incidences of unauthorised cultivation of such varieties in Maharashtra, Gujarat Andhra Pradesh and a few places in Haryana. We have asked state governments to take appropriate action against those who are violating the regulation,” said a senior agriculture department official, who did not wish to be identified.

He said that the central government can’t take direct action against farmers who are violating law to cultivate the crop. Violators may be penalised with a Rs 1 lakh fine and five years’ jail term.

“We have issued the advisory. Since agriculture is a state subject, state governments should take strict action against the protesting farmers,” said the official. “We have come to know that governments in Maharashtra and Haryana have taken some action, including seizing unapproved seeds and booking some farmers.”

Farmers’ organisations such as BKU and BKS have asked the government to take strict action against those who are sowing the banned seeds.

“We will strongly resist any move to bring in GM crops. This is a clear case where the government has to take a sane policy decision and ensure that GMOs do not jeopardise our environmental sustainability or farmer livelihoods or consumer health”, said Yudhvir Singh, general secretary, BKU.

On the other hand, farmers led by Maharashtra’s Shetkari Sanghatana are sowing HTBt cotton seeds after buying unauthorised seeds from agents. They are demanding freedom to access new technologies in agriculture, particularly genetically engineered crops.

“Our fight is not only for HTBT cotton. The two indigenously developed GM crops, brinjal and mustard, which had successfully completed most of the regulatory steps, have been pending for approvals for years now. Both these varieties will bring revolution in output and quality,” said Lalit Patil Bahale, a leader of Shetkari Sangathana.

He said that despite the ban and government’s curbs, farmers across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have sown HTBt cotton over 25% of the total cotton cultivated area of 10 million hectares in these states.

“HTBt plants are herbicide resistant,” said Ashok Joshi, a farmer in Maharashtra’s Akola district, where HTBt is widely grown. “They allow farmers to spray herbicides to get rid of parasitic weeds in the farm without harming the main crop and ensure all the soil nutrients for the cotton plant. This saves extra labour in pulling out weeds and increase yield.”
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