Illegal HT Bt sowing: Maharashtra farmers get court relief

In a major relief, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has ruled in favour of the Shetkari Sanghatana with regard to the criminal cases filed against farmers for sowing HT Bt cotton seeds.

The high court has passed a stay against the state government to take any coercive police action against the farmers. Advocate Satish Borulkar filed the petition on behalf of the farmers — Lalit Bahale and Laxmikant Kauthkar who were the first farmers in the state to plant the unapproved variety of HT Bt cotton. The court has also asked the government to file its say in six weeks.

Shetkari Sanghatana had launched the GM Kisan Satyagraha — a full fledged protest against farmers for sowing HT Bt cotton. On June 10 this kharif, farmers in Maharashtra started agitating and gathered at the farm of Lalit Bahale, a Sanghatana leader in village Akola and as a local protest sowed the seeds.

On June 24, farmers again gathered on the farm of Laxmikant Kauthkar, another Sanghatana leader and planted the seeds.

Two weeks later, the state agriculture department took action against the farmers and on the basis of the complaints filed by the agriculture officers registered two FIRs against 30 farmers. The police alleged offences under Section 420 of IPC, Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act,1986, Section 7 of the Seeds Act, 1966..

The applicants contended that they had sowing seeds available in the market and that they have not produced the seeds. After hearing both sides the Division Bench issued notices and directed the government not to take coercive police action against the farmers.

The Shetkari Sanghatana, said it is a major victory for farmers. The farmer body has been advocating free access to technology in farming including genetically modified (GM) seeds in the country. The farmer outfit has sought an audience with the high powered committee of chief ministers set up for transformation of Indian Agriculture to submit its say.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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