India’s agriculture ministry is expected to finalise by May a new pesticides bill that proposes stricter penalties on sale of spurious, substandard and misbranded pesticides, but stakeholders — including state governments — feel it needs to be fleshed out better before it is adopted.
The draft Pesticide Management Bill 2017, which is expected to replace the Insecticides Act of 1968, proposes to give states more power to deal with spurious pesticides and also has clauses for registration of new molecules.
Among other things, the bill aims to raise penalties on the sale of prohibited or spurious pesticides to Rs. 50 lakh and up to five years’ imprisonment from the current Rs. 2,000 and up to three years’ jail.
Representatives of the industry, farmers, retail sector, environmental groups, and central and state governments have expressed their concern over the bill, saying they want it more detailed.
The northern Punjab, among the largest users of pesticides per unit of cultivated land in India, has objected to the draft, demanding more powers for state governments to regulate and control the use of agrochemicals.
It has also sought penalties on companies selling spurious pesticides to be raised to 2% of their total sales in a state.
“In the past 13 years, Punjab has never been nominated to the central pesticides board and states should be represented (in the regulatory body) according to their per-hectare usage of pesticides,” Punjab’s Agriculture Commissioner Balwinder Singh Sidhu told a conference discussing the draft bill in New Delhi.
“States should be empowered to stop the sale of any pesticide based on quality and need parameters,” he told the conference organized by the Bharat Krishak Samaj, a Delhi-based policy advocacy forum.
Objecting to the draft bill, the New Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said that following global standards, the regulation of pesticide use has to come under heath ministry and not agriculture ministry, as envisaged in the draft bill.
“The agriculture ministry promotes use of pesticide to raise crop productivity and a promoter cannot be a regulator,” Amit Khurana, programme manager at CSE, told the conference. He said the bill failed to recognize pesticides have contributed significantly to the current economic and ecological crisis in agriculture.
Farmers have also pointed out that the bill shows ambiguity on the issue of liability and compensation for damages at times when production might fall due to use of spurious pesticide.
T Nanda Kumar, former agriculture secretary, has said that there should be clarity on how affected farmers will be compensated under the Consumer Protection Act, which the bill proposes. Further, the industry feels regulatory provision should be stronger, any day.