New Delhi: Farmers in Haryana, inspired by the movement in Maharashtra, have now decided to sow the unauthorised Herbicide Tolerant (HT) cotton seeds — openly defying the government ban and also demanding access to agricultural technologies.
According to a statement issued by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Haryana, farmers in Sarangpur village, Hisar, will sow HT cotton seeds on their fields Friday.
Last month, farmers in Maharashtra had planted the banned HT cotton seeds — an act that can invite a fine of Rs 1 lakh and up to five-year jail term.
The HT Bt seeds are resistant to some commonly-used herbicides. HT Bt crops allow farmers to use herbicides to get rid of parasitic weeds without harming the main crop. Farmers have used such unapproved HT seeds to save expenditure on manual labour for weeding.
‘Thousands of farmers likely to sow HT seeds’
Speaking to ThePrint, BKU’s Haryana head Thakur Guniprakash said the HT Bt cotton seeds will be distributed to the farmers at a protest meeting Friday, after which they will sow the seeds in their fields.
He said the move is also to condemn the action taken against farmers involved in the movement in Maharashtra.
“In May, the government had destroyed the crops of a (Haryana) farmer accused of growing the banned Bt brinjal seeds, following which the farmers in Maharashtra planted HT Bt cotton seeds,” Guniprakash said.
“Now, we are going to sow the HT Bt seeds to support those farmers,” he said, adding that thousands of farmers are expected to participate in the movement.
The administration of Fatehabad district in Haryana had destroyed the crops grown by local farmer Jeevan Saini on his farm.
According to the BKU statement, Saini had no idea what genetic modification meant. He had paid much higher price to purchase the brinjal saplings in the belief that they were new hybrid varieties that attract less number of pests, the statement added.
In May, after fears emerged that Bt brinjals had ‘contaminated’ the vegetable markets of northern India, the Haryana government had ruled out the possibility of an ‘extensive spread’, saying the brinjals came from just one farm.
The incident has been called “the most serious breach of India’s biosafety, brinjal biodiversity, and therefore, bio-security” by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in a PIL filed in the Supreme Court against GM crops.
What is Bt brinjal?
Bt brinjal is a crop genetically modified to carry a gene from a naturally-occurring, soil-borne bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which naturally produces a crystal protein that protects the plant against insects and pests.
In February 2010, then-minister of state for the environment Jairam Ramesh had overruled the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which had approved commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal — the first crop genetically modified for mass production in India — on 14 October 2009.
The US-based seed maker Monsanto had initially filed an application for introducing HT Bt cotton in India to the GEAC, which is the apex body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, for regulating GM products in the country.
But, Mosanto withdrew its application in 2016, objecting to a government proposal that would force the company to share its technology with Indian seed companies.
Since then, the fate of the HT Bt cotton seeds in India have been in a limbo. However, according to Anil Ghanwat, president of the Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ outfit, various Indian companies are illegally marketing HT Bt cotton seeds, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
The exact source of these seeds is not always known, they might have been smuggled from abroad, Ghanwat said. He added the seeds had been in use for at least three years now, and farmers were happy with the results.
BKU’s Guniprakash said the seeds they buy come from companies in Gujarat.
“At least 8 to 10 per cent of the seeds planted here (Sarangpur) are HT Bt. But it is done illegally. Now, we will do it openly,” he told ThePrint.
Over the past three weeks, more than three dozen farmers, in over 15 districts of Maharashtra, have publicly sown HT Bt cotton seeds.
Through such protests, farmers are showing that they are no longer willing to wait indefinitely for the government to approve genetically-modified (GM) technology in agriculture that have been scientifically validated and adopted in many countries across the world.