Mumbai: With farmers from different parts of Maharashtra openly defying the ban on Genetically Modified (GM) seeds over the past few weeks, the Maharashtra Police took the first action in this connection Tuesday by registering cases against 12 people.
All these 12 people are farmers and functionaries of Shetkari Sanghatana, a pro-GM farmers’ organisation. The organisation has not only been backing the actions of farmers defying the GM ban, but also holding workshops and training sessions for farmers from across Maharashtra to promote GM technology in agriculture.
The cases have been filed under IPC sections that deal with cheating and dishonesty, being a member of an unlawful assembly, obstructing a public servant from discharging public function and disobedience to order promulgated by a public servant.
Besides, sections of the Environment Protection Act regarding discharging excess environmental pollutants, handling hazardous substances and failure to comply with provisions of the Act, and sections under the Seeds Act dealing with regulation or sale of seeds of a notified variety have also been slapped against them.
The cases were registered at Hiwarkhed police station in Telhara taluka of Akola district a day after Shetkari Sanghatana members organised a plantation drive of the unauthorised Herbicide Tolerant (HT) cotton seeds and discussed with farmers their strategy to take the technology forward.
“The people against whom we have registered an offence were misguiding farmers regarding HT Bt cotton,” Rakesh Kalasagar, Superintendent of Police, Akola district, told ThePrint. “Our agriculture development officer had seized some of the seeds that they sowed and got them tested, after which we have taken action. An offence has been registered under the Indian Penal Code, Environment Protection Act and the Seeds Act.”
The HT seeds are genetically modified to tolerate some specific herbicides. So, even as herbicides kill the surrounding weeds, they leave the cultivated crop intact. Currently, cotton is the only GM crop that the government has allowed to be sold in India though HT cotton is still unauthorised.
There were attempts to commercially release Bt Brinjal, a GM variety of the vegetable, but former environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed an open-ended moratorium on it.
‘Haven’t misled anyone’
Lalit Patil Bahale, one of the farmers against whom the police have registered a case, said, “We will defend ourselves on all counts of the Indian Penal Code under which we have been booked, because we haven’t misled anyone. Regarding the cases under the Environment Protection Act and Seeds Act, we plan to stay silent.”
Bahale, a farmer from Akoli Bahadur village in Akola district’s Akot taluka, was the first farmer to openly plant the unapproved HT Bt cotton seeds on his two-acre plot, sparking off a series of such actions by farmers from different parts of the state.
“We have decided to keep sowing GM seeds while following scientific and economic protocol. If the government is not doing tests at all, then we will take charge and do them,” Bahale said.