State forms one more SIT to probe illegal HT seed trade

By Times Of India on 09 Feb 2018 | read
NAGPUR/MUMBAI: The state government has formed one more special investigation team (SIT) to probe the role of seed companies in introducing illegal herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton seeds into the market. The team, which has been given powers to choose experts from the sectors as members, will have to submit the report within a month's time.
The SIT, formed on the basis of a confidential letter shared by the Centre to Maharashtra in January, is headed by director of state intelligence department Sanjay Barve and has Subhash Nagre, joint director (agriculture) Amravati, as member-secretary. The letter spells out details of the illicit seed market.

The illegal sale of HT cotton seeds caught the attention of the government after farmers and those spraying pesticides on crop died last year. At least 52 deaths due to accidental pesticide inhalation has been indirectly attributed to planting of BGIII or HT seeds. The earlier SIT had probed the cause of death of the 52 farmers who took ill after inhaling pesticide while spraying in the fields of Vidarbha.

The probe will also cover US biotech giant Monsanto's Indian subsidiaries, among other domestic seed companies. A FIR was registered in October 2017, after illegal seeds were seized from Parseoni, Saoner and Narkhed talukas of Nagpur.
Monsanto welcomed the formation of the second SIT and said it had warned the government about the infiltration of illegal seeds in the market. Mahycho Monsanto Biotech India (Pvt) Ltd (MMBL) issued a statement: "In December 2017, MMBL had written to state government requesting action in curbing the production and sale of the seeds and had offered it cooperation. In fact, as early as September 2008, we had informed the country's regulators about seeds being illegally produced and sold. In August 2017, we had sought their intervention on the gross misuse of patented and regulated technologies."

In September, South Asia Biotechnology Centre, the agricultural science think tank, had reported that the illegal HT hybrid market had swelled to Rs 472 crore in the kharif season with around 35 lakh HT hybrid seeds sold and cultivation spread over 8.5 lakh hectares.

A genetically modified variety developed by Monsanto, trials of the herbicide resistant seed were conducted between 2008 to 2010. But Monsanto withdrew from the trials in between owing to protests. Though an approval has not been granted as the trials were stopped midway, the seeds easily available in the market.