People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 14, 2010



Vigilance Needed to Protect Peasants’ Rights


IN a statement issued from New Delhi on November 9, the Central Kisan Council (CKC) of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has expressed the opinion that the Seed Bill 2010 and the amendments proposed to it by the agriculture minister seriously compromise the right of the peasantry to grow, sow, re-sow, save, use, exchange, share or sell their farm seeds and planting material. The CKC said the latest set of amendments to the Seed Bill 2010, approved by the union cabinet, fails to address the serious concerns expressed by the All India Kisan Sabha and also disregards the substantive amendments proposed by the parliamentary standing committee, which it arrived at after deliberations with a wide variety of organisations and political parties. Also, the amendments proposed by the agriculture minister to the bill seriously compromise the right of the peasantry and will lead to unrestricted commercialisation of varieties in the public domain, including the farmers’ varieties. It will promotes exclusive, perpetual and monopolistic rights of the seed companies to arbitrarily fix the prices and allow them unrestricted right to collect exorbitant royalties. The government is seeking to push through a legislation that will jeopardise the lives of millions of peasants and put agriculture entirely at the mercy of the multinational agri-businesses.


According to the CKC, while the government claims that the amendment moved by the minister to clause 1 will protect the rights of the farmers, in fact Clause 2(11) is totally contradictory to it and constrains the farmers’ birthright. It defines a farmer to mean only the person who conserves or preserves, severally or jointly with any person, any “traditional varieties or adds values to such traditional varieties” through selection and identification of their useful properties. Therefore the AIKS has demanded that it should include all varieties of seeds and that the traditional varieties need to be defined appropriately. The farmers must have the inalienable right to produce, breed, select, save, use, exchange, distribute and sell seeds.


In the context of the seed monopolies, their exorbitant prices as well as exaggerated claims of productivity, and of the crop failures due to spurious seeds, what is needed is a law for the protection of farmers’ traditional rights and regulation of commercial seeds in accordance with the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act. The AIKS has demanded that the Seed Bill must clearly state the regulation of the sale price of commercial seeds as one of its objects.


In this regard, the AIKS has pointed out that regulation of prices is an important issue as seed is one of the most important agricultural inputs and its exorbitant costs are landing farmers into distress. But the Seed Bill has no provision for regulation of seed prices and royalty, and that the seed monopolies have got a free hand to fix the seed prices. Predatory pricing and monopolistic pricing are still continuing and it has not been brought under the purview of the Competition Act 2002. Therefore the AIKS has demanded the constitution of a body to fix the seed prices and regulate the royalty.


There is no provision of compulsory licensing in the proposed act. This constrains the peasantry from receiving superior seeds by paying affordable royalties as fixed by a competent body. The AIKS has thus demanded that compulsory licensing must be ensured to protect the interests of farmers.


The Seed Bill 2010 also violates the federal principles and dilutes the role of states. There is no provision for inclusion of all states in the Central Seed Committee (CSC). The latter, according to clause 4, will have only secretary (agriculture) to one state government each from among the geographical zones on rotation basis. The AIKS has therefore demanded representation to all the states on the CSC.


In the bill there is provision of registration for 10 years in case of the annuals and biennial crops and 12 years for the long duration perennials. But, the AIKS says, this provision allowing prolonged registration and re-registration will give an open license to the seed monopolies for exploiting the farmers for an unlimited period. The AIKS demand is that the provision of re-registration must be scrapped and that there must be registration for five years only.


Clause 4 of the Seed Bill includes the chairperson of the Plant Protection of Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority and of the National Biodiversity Authority in the CSC. On the other hand, it does not give any representation to the national organisations of farmers. The AIKS demand is that the National Organisations of Farmers must be given representation on the CSC.


Clause 30 of the bill recognises the seed certification agencies from outside India. But it is dangerous to give accreditation to the foreign seed certification agencies as there will be no control over them. Their climates, soils, crop management systems etc are different from our conditions and the seeds tested outside will not have the desired impact in our country. Therefore the AIKS has demanded deletion of this provision.


The bill neither proposes time-bound disposal of complaints nor a fast-track arbitration authority accessible to farmers. The AIKS has demanded the setting up of such a body and that panchayats must be given a role in determining the losses and fixing the compensation and value of the expected yield along with the seed costs. Also, the cost of cultivation should be taken into account for providing compensation.


Clause 43(2) of the Seed Bill provides that the central government may exempt from all or any of the provisions under the act or rules “any educational, scientific or research or extension organisation.” The AIKS demand is that this exemption must be provided only under extraordinary circumstances and to public organisations alone and not to any private entity.


Strong deterrent punitive measures are absent in the bill. There is no provision for blacklisting the companies for their false claims or for seed failure, and there are no clear guidelines for compensation. Clause 40(1) of the bill also exempts companies or persons from punishment on the ground that the concerned offence was committed “without his knowledge.” The AIKS has demanded that punitive measures under clause 38 must include higher fines and imprisonment as well as blacklisting of the defaulting companies. The provision of exemption from fine and punishment must be deleted.


Clause 44 of the bill does not allow any suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings against any person or anything which is done or intended to be done in “good faith.” The AIKS feels that this “good faith” clause could be extended to exempt the defaulters from any punishment and hence this provision must be deleted.


In sum, the All India Kisan Sabha feels that that the Seed Bill must not be passed without ensuring adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the peasantry and to regulate the seed prices as well as monopolies. The CKC of the AIKS has asked all units of the organisation to remain vigilant and unite the peasantry in protest against all such efforts to compromise the interests of the farmers.