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The state government on Wednesday constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to probe illegal production and sale of BT cotton seeds. The SIT, headed by State Intelligence Commissioner Sanjay Barve, will be assisted by Amravati Divisional Agriculture Joint Director Subhash Nagare. Experts from related fields would also be consulted, according to a Government Resolution (GR) issued on Tuesday.
“The SIT will also probe the role of companies producing seeds with original seeds of Mahyco Biotech (India) Pvt Ltd, Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd and Monsanto India Ltd, which has seeds with herbicide tolerant transgenic gene. All other associated seed producing companies, which procured seeds from multinationals, would also be investigated,” the resolution states. The government’s decision comes in the wake of a preliminary report pointing to manufacture and sale of unapproved Bt cotton seeds.
The death of 40 farmers and farm labourers last year from inhalation of poisonous pesticides in Yavatmal and Amravati brought the violations to light. A secretary in the agriculture department said, “There is evidence to substantiate how illegal seeds are being produced and sold widely across several states, including Maharashtra. This has come to the notice of both the Centre and the state. The state government wants to crack the whip against such operations.”
The GR states, “The genetic engineering appraisal committee at the Centre has not given any permission for BT cotton seeds’ production with herbicide tolerant transgenic gene.” “Several BT cotton seeds companies use transgenic herbicide and glyphosate tolerant trait genes. Since it is illegal, the SIT has been set up to investigate such companies and their operations,” the GR states, adding all seed producing companies resorting to manipulations to market illegal BT cotton seeds will face action.
The Maharashtra government has urged the Centre, through a letter on November 17 last year, to conduct a CBI investigation into the illegal production of BT cotton seeds and its sale. As per the GR, “The government of India had set up a field inspection and scientific evaluation committee headed by Dr K Veluthambi. The matter is still being inspected and evaluated.” It mentions how Mahyco-Monsanto had conducted field trials in Maharashtra, monitored by the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, and genetic engineering appraisal committee, during 2008 and 2010. However, after trials, it withdrew its proposal for commercial production and sale of the seeds.
“Yet, BT cotton seeds with unapproved genes are being produced by several companies and sold. It clearly is a violation of the Environment Protection Act 1986,” it states. On October 25 and 26, the state government had lodged a police complaint against the illegal manufacture and sale of BT cotton seeds in Savner tehsil of Nagpur district.