Lacunae in PMB can impact India’s food security, farm productivity and farmers’ income
NEW DELHI: The Pesticides Management Bill 2020 (PMB) was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 23 March 2020 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.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the state of Maharashtra and the economy is predominantly agrarian. Both food crops and cash crops are grown in the state with principal crops grown in the State, include rice, jawar, bajra, wheat, amongst others. The incidence of indebtedness of marginal agricultural farmers in the state stands at 35.6% as per the Agricultural Statistics 2019 released by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare. Due to the water scarcity in the state, the farmers are already suffering and are able to grow only one crop in most parts of the state. The agricultural farmland has shrunk from 10.93 Million Hectares in 2017-18 to 8.68 Million Hectares in 2018-19. (Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics, DAC&FW). The provisions of The Pesticides Management Bill 2020 (PMB) shall adversely affect the farmers’ and their crop production and shall have a far-reaching impact not just on Indian agriculture but on farmers’ livelihoods as well.
The Bill is slated to come up for discussions and subsequent consideration in the impending Monsoon Session of Parliament beginning 14 September 2020.
In its present form, PMB has gaps that can directly impact the Centre’s goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. 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. Ideally, it should be placed before a select committee of Parliamentarians for critical review and necessary changes addressing the needs of farmers, Indian agriculture, and the pesticide industry. This is imperative if India seeks to be Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) as a credible manufacturer and supplier of pesticides to the world while promoting food security objectives and generating employment opportunities for its people.
Highlighting the role of pesticides in protecting crops, Ms. Nirmala Pathrawal, Executive Director – Crop Care Federation of India, said: “CCFI is a unified body comprising of over 50 Indian manufactures which embody the agrochemical industry in India through its principle of advancement of crop production and safety of farmers during field operations and storage. The sole mission of the federation is to minimize farm losses thereby increasing crop yields which in turn increases the income and improvement in the quality of life of the farming community. CCFI serves as a responsible interface between the government and the industry at all levels including farmers, researchers, scientists, etc. It plays an instrumental in the framing of government policies for the benefit of all stakeholders including corporates, trade & channel partners, and farmers.”
She further added, “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 pesticide 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). This can be easily achieved by amending sections 23 and 24 and corresponding sections in PMB where RC gets to review its own decisions.”
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.
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 of manufacture and sell the product. This provision will introduce instability in the pesticide 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 pesticides 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
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.
Given these lacunae, the Bill has evoked strong concerns among the crop care industry, the farmers’ community, and a large section of society.