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Despite ban, HTBT cotton widely cultivated in Maharashtra

Nanda Kasabe
HTBT cotton, Maharashtra, HTBT cotton ban, industry news, HTBT seeds, GEAC, Herbicide Tolerant, cotton cultivation

More and more farmers in Maharashtra are openly planting herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton seeds, despite it being illegal and entails criminal punishment with a heavy fine. Videos of farmers planting HTBT cotton are going viral on social media. On Monday, activists in Wardha district of Maharashtra held a press conference inviting farmers to participate in the plantation of HTBT cotton on June 20 at Hinghne Ghat village on the field of Madhusudan Harne, who is also an activist of the Shetkari Sanghatana. Harne said HTBT seeds were available in the market (although under the table) and farmers were opting for the variety because the production and labour costs are much lower.

Around 2,000 farmers are expected to participate, he said, adding that the while the Sanghatana is not favouring any particular variety of seeds, farmers should be given the freedom to choose. Cotton yields in the US and China are 10-12 quintals per acre in contrast with India, where the yield is barely four-six quintals per acre. Farmers in india have to compete with the world, and therefore should be given the independence, he said. Health concerns about the plantation of HTBT cotton are floating around without any concrete evidence, he added.

Anil Ghanwat, national president of Shetkari Sanghatana, said the sowing of HTBT cotton would be done in Jalna, Parbhani and Hinganghat in the next three days. Many farmers are ready to sow HTBT seeds openly but there is strict vigil on the state borders. So availability of the seed has slowed down and delayed monsoon is also one of the reasons for decrease in momentum of the kisan satyagraha, Ghanwat said. He cited new cases of farmers planting HTBT at Akot in Akola district. He said several farmers had stocks of HTBT cotton seeds in their homes and were just waiting for the monsoons to arrive before undertaking sowing operations.

At present, only GM crop permitted by the GM crop regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) are to be grown in India. The committee has not cleared the herbicide-tolerant BT cotton so far. Cultivation, possession, sale and transport of unapproved seeds invites a fine of `1 lakh and five years imprisonment.

Read | Crop sowing lags on slow monsoon progress

Last week, acting on a tip-off of deliberate planting of unauthorised Herbicide Tolerant (HT) Bt cotton at Wardha, the agriculture department of the Wardha Zilla Parishad and the local police raided the fields of some farmers at Mouja Jaamni village in Wardha district, and confiscated 12 packs of the illegal seed variety.

The Centre has sought an action taken report from the state over the incident of illegal sowing of unauthorised HT Bt cotton at Maharashtra s Akoli Jahangir village in Akola district.Richa Sharma, joint secretary, ministry of environment, forest & climate change has written to chief secretary Ajoy Mehta to order an investigation and verify facts on ground.

Farmers body Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra said it would continue to defy the government ban and hold ceremonies to sow unapproved variant of herbicide tolerant HTBT seeds across the state. The monsoon assembly session is in progress.

Maharashtra minister of state for agriculture Sadabhau Khot said the government would continue to educate farmers. Last week, he had stated that a committee will be constituted to examine pros and cons of cultivation of HTBT Cotton.