Chennappa Channabasappa Gudli, 57, a farmer cultivating cotton crop for the past 12 years in Shiggaon Taluk of Haveri district in North Karnataka, predominantly a rainfed region, suffered a huge set back with his cotton crop yield reducing to less than one third during Kharif 2013. Buoyed by the higher returns during the previous years, Gudli bought 8 packets of Kanaka varieties of Bt Cotton seed sold by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) at a premium of 30 per cent on the maximum retail price of Rs 930 per packet of 450 gms. “I did not foresee any foul play in the seed sale during the initial days. However, as days passed and the pest attack increased, the expenses with spraying pesticides increased too, affecting the plant growth.” Gudli said. At the end of the season, instead of getting 10-12 quintals of cotton per acre as expected by him based on previous years’ yield, Gudli got only three quintal this year. To his plight, Guldi has incurred a loan of Rs two lakh (at Rs 25,000 per acre) to cultivate the crop on his eight acres of land, at 4 per cent interest rate from a grameen bank. As on date, he has not been able to repay the loan. Like Gudli, several farmers across various districts of the state witnessed similar incidents. They have joined hands and are seeking action against the Company as the Mahyco seeds failed to give anything close to the promised yields.
The State Agricultural Department officials swung into action to check the quality of the seeds (MRC- 7351 and Nikki Plus), and formed field inspection teams comprising officials from the Revenue Department, Agricultural Department, Mahyco and scientists from state agricultural universities. “The Bt Cotton hybrids sold by Mayhco failed to give the expected yields during Kharif 2013. The company has clearly violated the instructions given by Government of India at the time of issue of permission of commercial sale. Hence we are imposing a ban on sale of such seeds,” B K Dharmarajan, Director of Department of Agriculture, (GoK) said.
Department’s role: The Department of Agriculture, GoK, claims that it is not directly involved either in recommending any particular Bt Cotton hybrids, or in the sales – farmers select the seed variety as per their choice. The Department only maintains the quality control aspects. The seed supply agencies are required to supply the literature containing specific features of crops/varieties, cultivation practices to be followed by farmers, yield potentiality, tolerance or resistance for different pests and diseases for the benefit of farmers
Legal provisions: As per section 7 of the Seed Act, 1966, and rule 7 of seed rules 1968, the seed supplying company is responsible for the accuracy of the details contained in the label (packet). While the said variety of seed is expected to perform in the fields as per the details of the label, every seed company is required to display a label regarding minimum germination percentage, genetic purity and other aspects on the seed containers.
Irregularities revealed in the inspection report: The order issued by the Agriculture Department, GoK, on 22 March 2014, banning the sale of Bt Cotton seeds by Mayhco, based on the scrutiny report submitted by the committee formed to ascertain the lapses, notes a number of irregularities which include:
- Variation in the shape and size of the cotton bolls (not as per the characteristic defined)
- Contains less number of bolls
- Plant were different from each other and also different from that of MRC-7351
- The company failed to conduct any awareness campaign or training programmes for effective pest management.
This apart, the order also stated that the literature issued along with the seed containers was misleading. “The literature published and supplied along with the seed containers by Mahyco indicates that MRC-7351 has tolerance for sucking pests, but under field observation, this variety was found to be more susceptible to sucking pest compared to other Bt hybrids grown under the same set of field conditions. Also MRC-7351 was more susceptible to mirid bug and cotton midge…,” the Report said. Post these findings, the Agriculture Department, GoK, blacklisted the company.
Extent of Damage: As per the findings of the committee comprising of agricultural experts and deputy commissioners of all seven affected districts, it was observed that 58,195 hectares of Bt Cotton area have suffered crop yield loss of more than 50 per cent covered in 1983 villages involving 54,157 farmers in 7 districts of Haveri, Belgaum, Davangere, Chitradurga, Dharwad, Bellary and Gadag. “Mahyco is solely responsible for the lapses observed in the field study. They have offered a compensation of Rs 10 crores as against the estimated loss of Rs 230 crores. However the State government has refused the compensation. Instead, it has decided to pay farmers Rs 6,000 per ha compensation which could cost more than Rs 35 crore to the state exchequer,” Dharmarajan said. This is not the first time the company is facing trouble. It had encountered similar problems in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In 2012, Maharashtra banned Bt Cotton Mahyco seeds on charges of hoarding of seeds, black marketing, and for providing incorrect information.