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Maharashtra pesticides bill 'fails to address' agrochemicals usage problem of farmers

Counterview Desk 

The civil rights group, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India, has said that the Maharashtra government bill to amend Insecticide Act, 1968, suggests it has admitted how misbranded or substandard pesticides are being manufactured and sold in the State. The bill seeks to punish manufacture and sale of adulterated, non-standard or misbranded insecticides.
However, PAN India regrets, the bill does not respond to the problems faced by farmers with regard to usage of agrochemicals. It insists, the State government should include a provision in the bill to compensate farmers for the losses incurred by them due to adulterated, non-standard or misbranded insecticides as also "a procedure for filing and dealing with farmers' complaints and investigation for assessment and evaluation of losses due to insecticides.

Text:

The Maharashtra government introduced a bill in the legislative assembly on 8th August 2023, to amend Insecticide Act, 1968 in its application in the State. This is quite a surprise, given that the proposed amendment is very focused, and the problem, which it tries to address, is not new. Through this amendment, though, Government admits that misbranded or substandard pesticides are being manufactured and sold in the state. Maharashtra, through this Bill, is seeking to punish manufacture and sale of adulterated, non-standard or misbranded insecticides. The amendment simply wants punishment to be cognizable and non-bailable. It's that simple. PAN India urges Maharashtra to expand this amendment, to address other challenges as well.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India believes that the government of Maharashtra has taken a crucial step, given that Insecticides Act, 1968 does not respond to the problems faced by farmers with regard to usage of agrochemicals. “This is a clearly acknowledgement of the challenges that are not addressed by the Insecticides Act, 1968. This acknowledgment is in addition to previous correspondence from Maharashtra and other States seeking permanent ban on certain insecticides, and that pesticide regulation needs to be strengthened”, said Dr. Narasimha Reddy, Public Policy Expert and Advisor to PAN India.
Surprisingly, this Maharashtra amendment does not seek to increase fine and jail punishment, beyond the current low levels found in the Insecticides Act, 1968. Even though, Maharashtra government, in a Statement with Amendment Bill, flags this as serious issue, which is causing losses to farmers and also leaving residues, yet it does not propose to raise the fine for offence which can go up to 5 thousand rupees only and imprisonment of 6 months. Obstructing a pesticide inspector can get the offender into more trouble, than selling misbranded or spurious pesticide. This offence can lead up to a fine of 50,000 rupees and two-year imprisonment.
PAN India urges government of Maharashtra to amend and increase the fine and imprisonment for the offence, which it wants to be non-bailable and cognizable. It should be at least Rs 5 lakh of fine, with 5 years of imprisonment for the first offence. Second time offence should be punished with double the fine and imprisonment.
PAN India, further, urges the government of Maharashtra, to include a provision in the Amendment Bill, to compensate farmers for the losses incurred by them due to adulterated, non-standard or misbranded insecticides. The bill can also include a procedure for filing and dealing with farmers complaints and investigation for assessment and evaluation of losses due to insecticides.
Along with this Insecticide Amendment Bill, Maharashtra government has introduced bills to punish producers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers and sellers are engaged in production, manufacture, distribution or sale of adulterated, non-standard or misbranded seeds and fertilizers. It has also proposed payment of compensation for the loss incurred by the farmers due to use of adulterated, non-standard or misbranded seeds and fertilizers.
“Since the Maharashtra government has recognized the residual effect of insecticides as hazardous to human health and causes environmental pollution, an amendment to fix liability has to be provided for the amendment bill” added Dr. Reddy.
“Given the effort from an India state regarding regulation of pesticides, PAN India believes that it is high time the Pesticide Management Bill 2020 is passed and enacted urgently after filling the lacunae that are already pointed out by PAN India and many other independent experts”. Said A.D. Dileep Kumar, CEO of PAN India. He added that, “As the half a century old Insecticides Act 1968 is unable to address and handle the multitude of issues related to pesticides regulation, and given the novel understanding of pesticide toxicity and its adverse effects, more robust and updated legislation is required to protect citizens and the environment from adverse effects of pesticides”.

Background additional information

  1. Previously, Government of India has been trying to update the legislation on pesticide regulation since 2008. Much later, Union Cabinet of India had approved the new Pesticide Management Bill in February 2020. Though the 2020 draft bill has some remarkable provisions such as those for monitoring of pesticide poisoning and compensating legal heirs of victims, it did not address many critical issues of technical aspects. PAN India already raised a slew of concerns regarding the bill, and also gave lot of suggestions.
  2. In 2017, in Maharashtra Vidarbha region, especially in Yavatmal district, there were several pesticide poisoning reported with at least 83 dead, while about 1,200 have been chronically affected.
  3. Maharashtra government wrote to the central government to ban 5 pesticides, implicated in the poisoning episode, by a Task Force set up by the government.
  4. Maharashtra government has previously communicated to the Union government about spurious and illegal Ht Bt cotton seeds and related glyphosate usage.

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