HC quashes Centre’s decision restricting Basmati crop area

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has quashed the Central government’s decision that production of Basmati variety would not be taken outside the Indo-Gangetic plain including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, western Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kathua districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Allowing the plea of Madhya Pradesh to set aside two Office Memorandums, dated May 29, 2008 and February 7, 2014 of the Union Agriculture Ministry, the court has held that the two office memorandums were outside the scope of the Seeds Act, 1966.

The first office memorandum had set forth standards of the “Basmati” variety of rice and to ensure the linkage between the variety and the Geographical Indication (GI), that only Basmati varieties with prescribed characteristic grown the in Indo-Gangetic region would qualify for such description.

By the second, the Ministry had issued a direction to ensure that the registration of Basmati varieties for certified and foundation seeds is not undertaken outside area detailed under the Geographical Indication for Basmati rice as listed.

The court held that the second memorandum is “plainly alien to the scope and object to the Seeds Act, which is to ensure that the quality seeds are available to farmers”.

It also noted that to restrict the area of production of seeds is wholly outside the scheme of the Seeds Act.

“The question whether rice grown outside the specified regions of Indo-Gangetic plain can be termed as Basmati, is a matter which squarely falls within the scope of the GI Act and does not have any bearing on the quality of the seeds,” Justice Vibhu Bakhru said in his April 25 order.

The court added that the contention that the impugned OMs are well within the scope of the power of the Central Government was “unpersuasive” and “this contention is, clearly, an afterthought and there is no averment to this effect in the counter-affidavit”.

“The clear object is to ensure that the crop of Basmati rice is only grown in specified areas. This would not only be outside the scope of the Seeds Act but, as rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioner, relates to the field of agriculture, which is a state subject,” the court held in its order.

“The contention is also not persuasive for the reason that the import of the impugned OMs does not fall within the object of the scope of the Seeds Act,” the order said, noting that the objective of the Seeds Act is to regulate the quality of certain seeds.

“The Seeds Act is not concerned with where and how the seeds are used. Once a person dealing with notified variety of seeds conforms to the requirement of Section 7 of the Seeds Act, there is no restriction as to where and how the crop is to be grown.

“The Seeds Act is limited to ensuring that the seeds available to farmers conform to the minimum limits of germination and purity and the marks or label affixed thereon correctly indicate so,” the court said, holding that the memorandums draw no authority from the Seeds Act.

Madhya Pradesh has contended that the two memorandums fell outside the scope of the act as they encroached upon the power of the state to pass laws in relation to agriculture, which is a state subject.

Countering the state’s submission, the Centre said that and memorandums were passed in pursuance of provisions of the Seeds Act which empowered it to declare the features of the Basmati variety seed and the trade, quality and restrictions with respect to its geographical region.