CBI to probe illegal Herbicide Resistant GM cotton seeds: Fadnavis

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government has asked for a detailed CBI probe into the illegal sale of Herbicide Tolerant BT cotton seeds of five branded companies, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said here on Thursday.

He said the sale of such seeds is not permissible under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and police complaints have been registered against the five companies in Nagpur.

“It is also found that such type of seeds are being produced in many other states too. Due to the seriousness of the issue, Maharashtra has sent a request to the Centre for a detailed CBI enquiry into this,” Fadnavis said here.

After the tragic incidents of pesticides poisoning in Yavatmal and other places, a detailed study was done by the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CSIR) and the report was submitted to the government recently, after which the decision was taken, the Chief Minister added.

The issue was first highlighted (IANS report on October 20) when the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission Chairman Kisore Tiwari demanded a CBI probe into reports that around 3.50 million packets of illegal HT genetically-modified cotton seeds worth around Rs 4.72 billion had flooded the markets during the current season in several cotton growing states of India.

Tiwari said these hybrid cotton seeds were attacked by pests and bollworm, for which farmers made indiscriminate use of deadly pesticides under unsafe conditions, leading to over 40 deaths and more than 2,000 were affected so far.

He said despite the Centre and states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and concerned agencies like GEAC, ICAR and CICR being informed about this, rampant sale of these HT cotton hybrid varieties continued and its deadly effects were witnessed in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Pandurang Phundkar had also demanded a ban on these seeds.

Tiwari cited reports that though such HT cotton hybrids are being grown in USA, Brazil and some other countries since 1998, it has not been technically and formally approved in India so far, thus rendering its cultivation completely illegal.

In fact, the CICR has even found that six of the nine cottonseed hybrids tested positive for herbicide tolerance, but did not care to inform the Maharashtra authorities.

It was only after the state’s Principal Secretary (Agriculture) Bijay Kumar sought to know details about it following media reports of extensive cultivation of such HT cotton hybrids in the above states that the matter came into limelight.

He said while India has tough laws and regulations for approval of GM crops which need to adhere strictly to bio-safety standards to obviate risks to humans, animals and environment, the lackadaisical attitude of CICR, ICAR, GEAC allows rogue actors a free hand.

“The casual attitude of these departments, their officials and the states’ agriculture departments needs a thorough CBI probe,” Tiwari urged.

According to some reports, the global giant Monsanto, which owns the HT trait found in CICR samples, has claimed it has informed the GEAC about it since 2008 and most recently in August 2017.

“Yet, the GEAC has turned a blind eye to the issue, pointing to a larger involvement of regulatory bodies which needs to be scanned properly by different experts,” Tiwari claimed.