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Published on: Dec. 17, 2020, 1:48 p.m.
Formulating a strategy for pesticides management
  • Will the bill safeguard the farmers’ interests?; Photo: Sanjay Borade

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

The Rs45,000-crore domestic agro-chemical sector has urged the government to review the the Pesticides Management Bill 2020 (PMB), which is seeking passage in Parliament, to replace the Insecticides Act 1968, which currently governs the registration, manufacture, export, sale and use of pesticides. The industry players are of the view that, while the bill is noble in intent, it has many lacunae that could end up hurting the interests of farmers and the Indian agriculture sector as a whole.

Earlier this year, the Union cabinet approved the PMB 2020 to regulate the business of pesticides and compensate farmers, in case of losses from usage of spurious agro-chemicals. The bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in March this year, seeks to protect the interest of farmers and ensure that they got safe and effective pesticides. The new bill is being introduced with the objective to offer the policy-maker and the industry an opportunity to redesign the existing regime, in line with global developments and safeguard the farmers’ interests and the country’s agriculture sector. 

While drawing attention of the policy makers to the gaps in the draft bill, the industry has urged the government to revamp the entire regulatory framework pertaining to the current registration system, which they believe has completely failed to serve its purpose and, hence, needs to be looked into afresh. According to industry experts and observers, the entire registration process has to be reviewed and revamped in favour of a more transparent and robust regime, so that farmers can be made accessible to newer products and molecules on a regular manner.

The current system is cumbersome and embedded with multiple flaws that don’t allow time-bound registration of products and their release, thus depriving the Indian farmers of their basic rights to have access to newer technologies. Currently, there are about 1,175 pesticide molecules of both chemical and biological origins used in the world, out of which some 292 molecules are registered for use in India. 

 Genuine concerns 

“Though the proposed draft PMB 2020 includes specific refinements, there are also some genuine concerns, such as the need for a time-bound, predictable, stable and transparent process for registration of products, which need to be addressed immediately by the government before the bill is passed,” says R.G. Agarwal, chairman, Dhanuka Agritech Ltd & chairman, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), during FICCI’s ninth Agrochemicals Conference 2020. 

Since the registration process is not transparent and is time-bound, it takes a much longer time for any new molecule to come to the market. Though, as per the provisions of the Insecticides Act 1968 & Rules 1971, the new registration should be granted in 12-18 months, it often takes 5-7 years, which not only increases the cost (Rs30-50 crore) of registration but also defeats the purpose of the whole exercise as well.

“Stewardship on modern crop protection molecules should be an inherent part of the registration process,” argues Salil Singhal, chairman, PI Industries. “What is now urgently needed is a reform in the regulatory framework pertaining to agrochemicals, which must focus on proactively promoting introduction of new molecules”. Emphasising the need for revamping the entire registration process, Singhal, an industry veteran, says that the system should be scientific and transparent, as also progressive in nature, so that more and newer products can be introduced for the benefit of farmers, who often find it difficult to get the right kind of technology towards holistic management of pests and diseases.

Due to a flawed system, despite India being an agri-dominated economy, there are few registered molecules available here, as against 700 molecules in China, 500 in the US and about 600 in the EU. In fact, a country like Pakistan, with a considerably smaller agriculture base, also enjoys a total registration of about 500 molecules.

  • More than 95 per cent of pesticides, which are used in the country, have been developed internationally by various MNCs and, after their introduction and establishment in India, Indian companies start making the same

“There is an urgent need to address this issue, since it has been hampering the growth of our agriculture sector,” emphasises Singhal. According to him, in the present list, there are over 40 molecules that have been there for over 60 years and, hence, are in urgent need of phasing out. 

“The Pesticide Management Bill 2020 is a great opportunity to bring in a predictable progressive science-based legislation in place of the age old Insecticide Act of 1968,” points out K.C. Ravi, Chief Sustainable Officer, Syngenta. “However, provisions like criminalisation of offences and regulatory provisions like re-registrations will affect ease of doing business, as well as restrict new molecule introductions so necessary for the farmers in an extremely complex environment and pest pressures”.

Gunavanta Patil, general secretary, All India Kisan Co-ordination Committee, feels that farmers should have more options, as well as a choice to select appropriate technology for themselves. The current system doesn’t allow this to happen and, hence, the farmers are solely at the mercy of the government and regulators. “We need modern technology,” stresses Patil. “Also, the government should create an amicable environment for this. Farmers know what is good for them and, hence, should be allowed to select the product and technology that suits them best,” he adds. Patil has urged the government to bring down the GST on pesticides to 5 per cent from the current 18 per cent.

The experts are also of the view that there is a need to strengthen the R&D base for agro-chemicals in the country. More than 95 per cent of pesticides, which are used in the country, have been developed internationally by various MNCs and, after their introduction and establishment in India, Indian companies start making the same. Research of a molecule is a costly affair; it costs about Rs20,000 crore and 10-12 years’ time – which restrict the R&D to depend wholly on global MNCs.

“We have to focus on R&D in our country to meet our future requirement,” argues Agarwal. “During Covid time, our country has faced a serious problem of shortage of pesticides and, hence, we request the government to invest in R&D through various public sector institutions like CSIR, NCL, CFTRI and IPFT, so that we aren’t dependent on imported technology”. 

To encourage R&D initiatives, experts feel that the protection of regulatory data (PRD) is imperative, as it encourages innovators to discover, protect, register and produce new solutions. In addition to manufacturing and R&D capabilities, such a move will also ensure India’s position as an investor’s hub.

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