Send Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 to select committee: Agri experts
−− Experts from leading agriculture and the Agri-Chemical businesses have called upon the central government to initiate wider deliberations on key gaps in the proposed Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 (PMB) which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha just two days before the March 25 lockdown
Sep. 14, 2020
The proposed Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 (PMB), an important piece of legislation slated to replace the Insecticides Act 1968, is riddled with lacunae requiring in-depth deliberations by a Select Committee before it can come into effect, says the Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI). Another body, Bharat Krishak Samaj, has also supported wider consultations saying the current piece of legislation, if implemented as it is, may increase the import of formulations and will damage the export of agro chemicals among other harms to the local agriculture ecosystem.
The CCFI is one of the oldest associations of the agrochemical companies with a member base of over 50 leading companies. CCFI is a non-profit, non-commercial organization with its mission to build a responsible image for the agrochemical industry.
The PMB 2020 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 23 March to replace 'The Insecticides Act 1968', which currently governs the registration, manufacturing, export, sale and use of pesticides in India. While PMB is noble in intent, its many lacunae could end up hurting the interests of farmers and Indian agriculture, says CCFI. The Bill is slated to come up for discussions and subsequent consideration in the impending Monsoon Session of Parliament beginning 14 September 2020.
As per the technical committee of CCFI, the Registration Committee (RC) in the PMB 2020 has powers to subjectively review the registration of a pesticide and then suspend, cancel or even ban its usage without any scientific evaluation. "Such scenarios can disrupt Indian farmers’ functioning and productivity. Accordingly, an independent regulator is imperative to oversee the RC’s decisions in safeguarding the interests of farmers, the crop protection industry and India’s food security goals,” says Dr Ajit Kumar, Chairman (Technical Committee) – Crop Care Federation of India.
Then certain key recommendations made by Ashok Dalwai Committee, constituted in 2018, to promote domestic and indigenous industries and agricultural exports from India, are missing from the PMB 2020. For example, the Committee had recommended reduction in import and reduced dependence on imported formulations. "The present PMB will increase the import of formulations and will damage the export of agro chemicals," says Dr Krishan Bir Singh Choudhury, President, Bharat Krishak Samaj. According to Choudhury the government should expedite the registration process and allow Indian manufacturers to develop and export pesticides to generate employment opportunities in India and earn foreign exchange, especially at a time when Indian pesticides have a large global demand. "Only then we can march towards the dream of being Atmanirbhar. The Prescription clause should be also removed and the bill should be sent to Select Committee,” he adds.
Citing an example, Choudhury says: "Emamectin Benzoate used in cotton farming was initially imported and sold at Rs 10,000 per kg by a MNC. Three years later, the same product was manufactured by domestic companies and were sold at Rs 3,500/kg. So if the imported formulations are to be encouraged then how will a farmer survive.”
Bharat Krishak Samaj is a non-political, non-sectarian association of agriculture producers. Its objectives include studying the problems facing the agricultural producers, cooperating with government, other agencies, for uplifting the farming community; rapid progress of agriculture as an efficient industry among others.
In its present form, PMB has gaps that can directly impact the Centre’s goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, experts say. Significantly, the committee on doubling farmers’ income has stated: “In India, the farmer’s crop yield losses range from 15 to 25% owing to the presence of weeds, pests, diseases and rodents. Even though pesticides could be inevitable for protecting crop yields, per hectare pesticide use is much lower in India in comparison with other countries. India uses a low average of 0.5 kg per ha of pesticide compared to 7.0 kg per ha in the USA, 2.5 kg in Europe, 12 kg in Japan and 6.6 kg in Korea.”
By marginalizing the efficiencies of the domestic crop protection industry that has provided affordable and efficacious products to farmers – most of whom have small landholdings – PMB 2020 may further jeopardize farmers’ livelihoods and create concerns around food security.
In the best interests of the farmers’ community, as well as society and industry at large, the Bill needs wider consultations within Parliament, these experts say.
PMB provides a significant opportunity of reforming the agriculture sector by encouraging science-based solutions to problems faced by farmers and making agriculture more profitable and sustainable. It is in the interest of the Indian farmers and the pesticides industry to have a transparent, stable and accountable legal regime. There is a need to have a competent body to ensure strong governance and to oversee and review the decisions of the Registration Committee (RC), experts add. "This can be easily achieved by amending section 23 and 24 and corresponding sections in PMB where RC gets to review its own decisions,” say experts.
What Needs Attention?
Certain notable provisions in PMB would, if passed by the Rajya Sabha in its current form, exert a far-reaching impact not just on Indian agriculture but on farmers’ livelihoods, experts add. For instance, Section 23 provides for re-registration of pesticides already registered under the erstwhile 1968 Act. But PMB mandates that such registrations will only be valid for two years after the Bill comes into force. During this timeframe, the manufacturer needs to apply and obtain registration from the Registration Committee (RC). Only then can they continue beyond two years manufacture and sell the product. This provision will introduce instability in the pesticides industry and also impact Indian agriculture badly as several products required by farmers may not be available because the RC may have either failed in granting or even refused the re-registrations. The Bill should provide that each registration granted under the 1968 Act will be deemed to be approved under PMB without the limited two-year timeframe.
Other provisions of PMB 2020 that may have a direct bearing on farmers’ livelihood include, wide, unfettered powers proposed for government authorities that are likely to be misused, thereby hampering the regular availability of essential crop protection products for farmers.
Then there are provisions of continuous review of registered pesticides with a threat to discontinue their production can seriously disrupt the supply chain of necessary crop protection products.
These experts say the PMB lacks a provision for emergency usage approvals of pesticides during any pest-infestation emergency. This will leave crops vulnerable to locust attacks, which left a trail of destruction in some parts of India recently, besides other pests such as fall armyworm, bollworm, etc. They add that PMB imposes broad liabilities on pesticide manufacturers without accounting for situations wherein liability arises from factors beyond their control.
Under PMB, importers are not required to register technical-grade pesticide in India before registering any of its formulations in the country. This results in unfair advantages for imported formulations that may contain unregulated, low-grade or expired technical-grade pesticides from unapproved sources, it is being said.
While crop protection is a crucial component for doubling of farmers’ income, PMB will make it so difficult that the losses due to pests and disease will turn the mission of doubling farmers’ income into a distant dream, experts say. Therefore, given these lacunae, the Bill has evoked strong concerns among the crop care industry, the farmers’ community and a large section of society, experts point out.
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