SIT to probe Monsanto’s role in production, sale of herbicide-tolerant Bt Cotton in State

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Feb 2018 09:47:28


Staff Reporter,

Maharashtra Government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct probe into how many seed companies produced and sold Bt Cotton seeds with herbicide-tolerant transgenic gene though there was no permission to do so.

The issue of seed companies selling unauthorised herbicide-tolerant transgenic Bt Cotton seeds had come to fore following the media attention towards the deaths of farmers and farm-labourers due to pesticide spraying. Many farmers had alleged that the dealers had sold to them ‘BG-III’ seeds that were herbicide-tolerant. The herbicide-tolerant Bt Cotton plants remained unaffected even if farmers sprayed herbicides in their farm to remove the weeds and protect cotton plants. Later, the Government found that many seed companies had produced and sold Bt Cotton seeds with ‘transgenic herbicide/Glyphosate tolerant trait’. The said seeds were not permitted to be sold in the market. Against this backdrop, the Government has constituted SIT to conduct a probe into the matter.

Vijay Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, and Fisheries Department, issued the order in this regard on Wednesday. Sanjay Barve, Commissioner, State Intelligence Department, will head the SIT while Subhash Nagare, Joint Director (Agriculture), Amravati Division, will be the Member Secretary. The SIT has been asked to submit its report within a month.

The SIT has been asked to conduct probe as per the Central Government’s directions. The team will conduct a probe regarding role of Mahyco Monsanto Bio Tech (India) Private Limited, Monsanto Holdings Private Limited, and Monsanto India Limited into unauthorised production, stocking, and sale of herbicide-tolerant transgenic Bt Cotton seeds in Maharashtra. It will also probe role/participation of other companies in the entire episode. The team has been asked to recommend action to be taken against the companies found guilty of the acts mentioned above. Also, the SIT will go through the documents of offences registered in such cases, determine the causes of sale of such Bt Cotton seeds and make recommendations to prevent the incidence in future.

In India, permission for sale of Bt Cotton seed was first permitted in the year 2002. The first Bt Cotton seed ‘BG-I’ had Cry1Ac gene. From 2006-07, the Government allowed sale of ‘BG-II’ seed having Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab genes. As per the procedure, if a company has to go for commercial production of a genetically modified variety of a seed, it has to get approval of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). In case of Maharashtra, Agriculture Commissionerate takes necessary steps after GEAC approval for sale of such seeds in the State.

However, in State Government’s admission, so far, GEAC has not given its nod to sale of herbicide-tolerant transgenic variety of Bt Cotton seeds. In fact, Mahyco Monsanto company itself had withdrawn a proposal for commercial production of such seeds in the last phase of field trials conducted between 2008 and 2010. These trials were monitored by GEAC and Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR).

The order issued by Vijay Kumar on Wednesday clearly mentions that it had come to the notice of the Government that many seed companies had produced Bt Cotton seeds with transgenic Glyphosate-tolerant trait and sold those widely. In its report, CICR had named five brand names of Bt Cotton seeds -- Jaadu, ATM, Balbhadra, Arjun, Krishna-Gold -- as having herbicide-tolerant transgenic trait. This amounted to violation of Environment Protection Act. Also, it amounted unauthorised production and sale as GEAC had not given its nod.

After registration of First Information Report (FIR) in this regard in Parseoni, Saoner, Narkhed in Nagpur district on October 25 and 26, 2017, the Government felt that the ‘gang’ effecting such violations might be active in not only Maharashtra but other States too. Hence, it had recommended to the Central Government to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the matter. Taking cognisance of this, Central Government conducted a Field Inspection and Scientific Evolution Committee headed by Dr K Veluthambi to prepare a report in this regard. Recently, on January 10, 2018, Centre requested the State Government to constitute SIT to conduct a probe into the matter. The State Government has constituted SIT in response to the Centre’s request.

FISEC collects samples of cotton plants from Vid

The Field Inspection and Scientific Evolution Committee (FISEC) constituted by Central Government recently toured Vidarbha region and collected samples of cotton plants from various tehsils to ascertain Bt Cotton seeds had herbicide-tolerant trait.

According to sources in Agriculture Department, the FISEC team arrived in Nagpur on February 1 and left for Jalna on February 2 after touring various places in Vidarbha region. The team was accompanied by officers of CICR and Agriculture Department. The team visited villages in Kamptee tehsil in Nagpur district, Seloo and Deoli tehsil in Wardha district, Ghatanji tehsil in Yavatmal district, and parts of Akola district before proceeding for Jalna district. The team interacted with the farmers and also collected samples of cotton plants.

As per the communication regarding the initial tour programme of FISEC, the team comprised Dr Murali Krishna, Advisor, Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change; Dr R P Singh, Director, Directorate of Cotton Development, Nagpur; Dr A N Singh, Joint Director (Plant Protection), Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee; Dr Rajendran, Dr P Chakrabarty, Additional Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research; Dr V S Reddy, Dr Sanjay Kalia, Dr G Balasubramani, and Dr S S Banga.