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Akola district authorities to file FIR against organisers of event to plant Ht Bt cotton

CEO of Akola Zila Parishad, Ayush Prasad, said the decision is to prevent farmers from falling prey to fly-by-night operators who are trying to dupe farmers by selling inferior quality seeds which can potentially cause major crop damage.

A group of farmers led by Shetkari Sanghatana had sown the unapproved Ht Bt cotton on June 10. (Representational Image)

Two weeks after a group of farmers planted an unapproved herbicide-tolerant hybrid of Bt cotton during an event in Akoli Jehangir village of Akot taluka in Maharashtra’s Akola district, district authorities have decided to file an FIR against the organisers under several provisions of the law.

CEO of Akola Zila Parishad, Ayush Prasad, said the decision is to prevent farmers from falling prey to fly-by-night operators who are trying to dupe farmers by selling inferior quality seeds which can potentially cause major crop damage. “Such crop will be destroyed after spraying of glyphosate. Farmers will not be eligible for any insurance after that,” Prasad said.

A group of farmers led by Shetkari Sanghatana had sown the unapproved Ht Bt cotton on June 10. Lalit Patil Bahale, one of the organisers, claimed that more than 1,000 farmers had assembled for the event. The organisers said the event was held to highlight the farmers’ demand for access to technology. Farmers said the hybrid reduces their cost of deweeding which is a major expense head.

Prasad said organisers whose names were mentioned in the publicity manual for the event will be booked. He said the case would not be against farmers or the Shetkari Sanghatana.

On June 12, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had written to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary seeking a report and necessary action against sowing of unapproved seeds. The decision to file an FIR came after Akola district committee on GM crops held meetings to discuss the issue.

The use of the hybrid is illegal and can attract a jail term and a hefty fine.

However, the Sanghatana has conducted multiple sowing to mark their protest against what they said was denial of technology to farmers.

Besides the Environmental Protection Act (1986) and its rules of 1989, the authorities have also decided to invoke sections of the Seed Act, 1966, Seed Control Order of 1983, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Act, 2001, Custom Acts of 1962 and the Patent Act, 1970.

Ht Bt cotton is the third generation of genetically modified (GM) cotton. The first two generations have seen introduction of two alien genes ‘Cry 1Ab’ and ‘Cry 1Ac’ from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which allows the plant to generate toxins against the dreaded pink bollworm. The third generation of Bt cotton saw introduction of the gene Cp4 Epsps from another soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefacien which allows the plant protection against the broad spectrum herbicide glyphosate. Bt cotton is unable to withstand this herbicide which is effective against both dicots and broad-leaved weeds but the cost of deweeding is being reduced at the farmer’s end Ht Bt cotton.

The hybrid, also known as Roundup Ready Flex (RRF), is a commercial product developed by US giant Bayer Monsanto, and protects against pink bollworm while allowing the use of glyphosate to control weed. The company had submitted this product along with its dossier about biosafety and field trials before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in 2013 for commercial release. However, the firm had withdrawn its application and dossier in 2016.

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