Taking note of the series of protests by farmers in Maharashtra against the ban on cultivation of genetically modified crops, the Centre has asked the state government to verify facts on ground and take appropriate action.
Farmers body Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra said that it will continue to defy the government ban and hold ceremonies to sow unapproved variant of herbicide tolerant Bt cotton (HTBt) seeds across the state.
Richa Sharma, joint secretary, Union environment ministry, has written to the chief secretary of Maharashtra, directing the government to immediately order an investigation into the matter.
In a letter addressed to Maharashtra chief secretary Ajoy Kumar Mehta, Sharma stated that she has written to him in connection with a complaint received from Rajesh Krishnan, on behalf of the Coalition of GM-Free India, regarding suspected open cultivation of BT Brinjal and HT Cotton in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra (Akoli Jahangir village, Akot Block) and Punjab.
The joint secretary requested the state chief secretary to immediately order an investigation and verify the facts on ground and also conduct gene/event specific testing for the suspected illegal cultivation of genetically modified ( GM) crops.
Appropriate action may be taken to stop any such illegal GM cultivation in accordance with the Rules for the Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells ( 1989), she said, adding that a detailed report on action taken may be submitted to the ministry at the earliest.
On Thursday morning, around 60-70 farmers led by Anil Ghanwat, national president, Shetkari Sanghatana, planted the HTBT seeds on a one-acre plot belonging to 34-year old Mahadev Vitthalrao Khamkar of Anandwadi village in Sri Gonda taluka of Ahmednagar district. Ghanwat told FE that the farmers body will continue to publicly plant such seeds in ceremonies across various cotton growing regions of Maharashtra and also put up boards and slogans on the field proclaiming that the HTBT variety seeds have been planted on the field.
When contacted, Khamkar confirmed that he had participated in the planting the banned variety of HTBT cotton on his field . He said that some of the farmers from his village had attended a planting ceremony held earlier at Akola at farmer activist Lalir Bahale s field and said that he had purchased the seeds from the stall there. Khamkar said that although he is aware that the government has banned this variety of cotton, farmers have no other options before them.
Farmers are deep in debt. Input costs have gone up and labour also does not come cheap. And I come from a drought-affected region where there is no water. There are few options before farmers like me besides committing suicide. Moreover there is no harm in planting this variety, he said, adding that he was ready to face any action.