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Monday, Jun 27, 2005

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Cotton farming in Maharashtra plagued by spurious Bt seeds

Rahul Wadke

Mumbai , June 26

A SPURT in spurious Bt cotton seeds has been witnessed in Maharashtra, coinciding with the onset of cotton sowing season. Simultaneously, the prices of notified varieties of seeds have also risen sharply.

In the last two weeks, the police in Buldhana district of cotton-dominated Vidharbha have seized fake Bt cotton seeds worth Rs 64 lakh.

Similar incidents have been reported from the surrounding districts of Jalna and Nanded.

Speaking to Business Line, the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, Mr R.R. Patil, said that the Buldhana Superintendent of Police has made the seizure of seeds and eight arrests in the case.

"We have made arrests in Maharashtra as well as Gujarat in this case. The police will also take action against black-marketers of cotton seed. People must come to the police and register the offences," he added.

Under the Seed Act, 1966, selling of fake or spurious seed is a cognisable offence.

Ms Ranjana Smetacek, Director (Corporate Affairs), Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd, said that Government had done the right thing since fake and unbranded Bt cotton seeds have zero accountability.

"It will give a bad name to the technology. We have been hearing of reports about such violations in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. Even the All-India Crop Biotechnology Association has expressed concerns over the issue."

Monsanto in India holds the original licence for Bt cottonseed technology and four Indian companies are the sub-licensees of the technology.

The current rise in cottonseed prices and presence of spurious seeds is primarily attributed to the volatility of the monsoon season.

Farmers have not been able to choose their sowing period, which has led to amassing of seeds and consequent price rise.

Experts in agriculture have also raised concerns over cross-pollination between the Bt and traditional varieties of cotton.

"The sowing of Bt cotton seeds along with traditional cotton seeds could lead to contamination of genes of traditional varieties. This could have dangerous consequences," said Mr Jagdish Sunkad, an agriculture expert from Karnataka.

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