In March this year, the Union Cabinet approved the Pesticides Management Bill (PMB) 2020, which was presented in the Rajya Sabha and aims to improve pest management practices in the country. Manufacturers, farmers and academicians want the government to change the bill to make it more effective, make the registration committee and laboratories more accountable and improve training and awareness for farmers.
In a recent discussion spearheaded by ET-ILC, R G Agarwal, Founder Chairman of Dhanuka Agritech came together with, Dr. RB Singh, Chancellor, Central Agricultural University & Former President, NAAS; Salil Singhal, CMD, PI Industries; Rajvir Rathi, Head-Public Affairs & Sustainability, Bayer Crop Science; Ravichandran, Secretary, Global Farmers Association; Chandan Singh, President, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan( Bihar); Prof. Ramesh Chand, Member (Agriculture), Niti Aayog; Kuchibhotla Srinivas, Partner - Food, Agri & Retail Practice, KPMG India and various other leaders to discuss the bill threadbare.
The Green Revolution had brought in sturdy crop plants that had a higher yield along with intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Unfortunately, because of lack of regulation at that time there were cases of food poisoning after which the Govt enacted the Insecticides Act 1968 and Rules 1971. The purpose was to monitor pesticides for their registration based on parameters of safety including bio-efficacy, residue, toxicology, chemistry, packaging, shelf life and safety to humans, animals and environment. However, now, that Act is over 50 years old and needs to be updated. There was an attempt by the cabinet to do that in 2008 by presenting it in Rajya Sabha but that bill was withdrawn this March and now after 18 years, we’ve seen the PMB 2020.
“The food needs of this country are increasing and the land that is used for farming is decreasing. That crop yield has to increase is a no brainer but we need to bring in new technology to agriculture to do that. We would like PMB 2020 to encourage the use of technology. Also pesticides, which are key for increasing crop yield should not be in the 18% GST category and should be brought in the categories of fertilizers which attracts 5% GST,” said RG Agarwal, Founder Chairman of Dhanuka Agritech.
For the Indian pesticide industry to progress, industry leaders believe data protection provisions need to be brought in India is a signatory to WTO and TRIPS agreement. International chemical firms don’t want to register their molecules in India because of absence of data protection which various agricultural commissions have recommended and is widely considered to be necessary for bringing pesticides with new technology in the country.
“The process of approval for pesticides needs to become more transparent. We’d like PMB 2020 to address this issue because at the moment, the body which is responsible for granting permissions to companies to manufacture or register pesticides, has too many lacunae and very less accountability ,” said Salil Singhal, CMD, PI Industries. In addition to this, many feel that the registration process is complicated as it requires central registration and then sale permission and licences in the respective states. Presently, the reasons for which a pesticide can be banned are also many including causes for objection unrelated to the pesticide’s chemical composition. Trade barriers, for example, could also be cited, to ban a product.. Manufacturers feel that the reason for rejection should only be on a scientific basis, which is also the global practice.
From the farmer’s perspective, what is most crucial, is awareness about credible pesticide brands and safe usage methods. There are so many fly by night operators in the industry that farmers are constantly worried about using harmful chemicals. Bhupinder Singh Mann, President, BKU & Ex. Member of Parliament (Punjab) says, “The issue of spurious brands is rampant and is a threat to farmer and crop health.The cases of farmer accidents related to pesticides are high and need to be brought down. Training of farmers cannot be left only to the private sector, the government would be more effective in creating awareness. Setting up of awareness centres and imparting extensive information on credible brands is key.”
There is also a need for improved data mapping and comprehensive reports on current practices that are prevalent in the sector. While the spread of spurious pesticide products is widely believed to be rampant, there is no reliable source of data on its use and impact.. There are also several myths about pesticide use that are hampering the sector even though as per Ministry of Agriculture figures India uses 0.3 kg of pesticides per hectare while China uses 13kg per hectare. Our usage of pesticides globally is one of the lowest.
Many farmers are keen to adopt new technology and want to use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect crop diseases and use drones to spray pesticides. However, this technology needs to be safe and accessible to all. The industry is also awaiting guidelines on the use of drones in agriculture.While the government wants to encourage Indian manufacturers as they understand the conditions of the country better, because little original research is happening in pesticides in the country, there is a constant need to import. Also, because MNCs were the first ones to bring in pesticide technology, their brands are most trusted by Indian users.
PMB 2020 also has strict penalties for wrongdoers, ranging from fines of Rs. 50 lacs to 5 years imprisonment. Industry insiders believe such severe penalties may actually discourage credible manufacturers from investing in India. If India has 380 molecules, a country like China has over 1100 molecules registered. Farmers need access to new pesticides, since pests develop resistance to the same ones.Due to this farmers, have to increase the dose of pesticides they’re using, leading to issues of pesticide residue.
Simon-Thorsten Wiebusch, Chief Operating Officer (India, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka), Bayer Crop Science believes that the Indian agriculture sector needs many reforms to become competitive. “India could have a formidable agriculture industry if the regulatory processes were made faster. There is a need for better market linkage, a need for safer compounds and new technology,” he said.
Many believe that the Insecticide Act 1968 was a good act and just required a few amendments to make it relevant to current times. Industry experts believe that despite having industry consultations and taking views from the public, the bill needs to accommodate some critical aspects to cater to all stakeholders. While NAAS (National Academy of Agriculture Sciences) was consulted before the bill came out, academia and scientists have not had a large role to play in its making. NAAS conducted a meeting in March 2020 to discuss this bill with all the stakeholders under the chairmanship of DG ICAR, Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra and this committee submitted their report quickly. The industry’s hope is that their recommendations are considered, the bill is made more inclusive and is effective in highlighting the importance of the use of pesticides.