[R-G] Seed Act 2004
vlobo_1 at hotmail.com
Sun Jun 19 10:23:55 MDT 2005
P ERA 15th June 2005
Seed Act 2004 and Amendment to APMC Act
Spectra of monopoly takeover haunts agriculture
When the Congress-led government at the centre preens feathers over its own achievements in improving the lot of the peasants, a chicanery is operative underneath. To exacerbate the grueling impoverishment and savage exploitation of the peasants and allow monopolists, MNCs and foreign capital to establish their grip over both production and distribution of agricultural produces including plantation material, the central government fully backed by the CPI(M) and its allies has, of late, passed a black Seed Act, 2004 on the lines of notorious Patent (Amendment) Act and proposes to amend the existing Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. Needless to say that such moves are in keeping with the prescriptions of capitalist globalization wreaking havoc in the life of the common people including the vast multitudes of rural poor and peasants. With recession jumping to dizzy heights and scope for investment in industrial sector on a steady dwindle because of intense all pervasive crisis of moribund capitalism, capitalist owners are now increasingly turning towards the agricultural sector to amass super profit by slaying the slain rural populace. In order to work an appropriate stratagem, they are pretending as if with an emphasis on food and agro-processing, innovative harvesting, better distribution and integration of global markets, there will be an avalanche of fortune in the peasant’s life. The deliberations that took place in the last WTO conference also bear testimony to this latest capitalist-imperialist design. The initiatives of the Congress-led government as mentioned above have to be understood in that context, as it is wedded to the task of serving ruling Indian capitalism, an inalienable part of world imperialism-capitalism, to the best possible way, albeit under the garb of mellifluous verbiage and tall talks of rural development.
Let us take the Seed Act 2004. We discussed at length on a couple of occasions in the pages of Proletarian Era the disastrous consequences of the recently passed black Patent (Amendment) Act which allowed big monopolies and MNCs to hold long-term patent of pharmaceutical products. Through the Seed Act, similar patent of seeds of agricultural produce is sought to be granted to the business tycoons, both domestic and foreign, as well as trans-national companies. The Act says that the government will constitute a central seed committee who in turn will set up a seed registration committee. No seed of any kind or variety shall, for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person, be produced or sold unless such seed is registered with this committee. Such registration conferring exclusive right on the ‘farmer’ or ‘dealer’ concerned to grow and sell a particular seed so branded will be valid for fifteen years in case of annual and biennial crops and eighteen years for long duration perennials. For the purpose of the Act, ‘farmer’ means who cultivates crops either by cultivating land himself or through any other person, while ‘dealer’ stands for a person or a company or an organization who carries the business of buying, selling, exporting or importing of seeds and includes agents of dealer. There is also a provision for appointing outsiders as seed certification agencies by the seed committee and such agencies would also include organizations established in any foreign country.
The Act also proposes to appoint a seed inspection authority to ensure compliance with the Act. Anyone contravening any provision of the Act will be prosecuted under the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 and punished. The Act vests unbridled power upon the seed inspectors who can enter and search at all reasonable times, with such assistance, if any, as he considers necessary, any place in which he may have reasons to believe that an offence under the Act has been or is being committed and order the accused person in writing not to dispose of any stock of such seed for a specific period and even seize the stock of such seeds. So it is obvious that the Act leaves the peasants completely at the mercy of the seed patent holder and makes him vulnerable to all kinds of harassment and torture by the penal authorities who, as is the common experience of the people, are never kind to the exploited, but are too eager to protect the exploiter. The rich peasants may not be that affected but middle and small peasants will be hit very badly. Whenever a peasant wants to sow the seeds, he will be forced to purchase branded seeds paying the price as fixed by the private patent holders, including foreign companies and MNCs. In a monopoly situation, the stipulated price will also be monopolistic. As certification agencies could be of foreign origin as well, a kind of nexus between the overseas patent holders and the seed certifiers can not be ruled out either. The peasants would thus stand debarred from using, exchanging, sharing or selling his farm seeds and plantation material as all such would be patented by virtue of the originally purchased seed being of a particular brand. By virtue of the Act, not even slightest of control would be exercised by the government, whose role would be that of a mere silent spectator, even if the patent holder flouts the law and the bona-fide is on the side of the buying peasant.
Such has in fact started happening right now. Section 20 of the Act says that if a patent holder does not disclose all necessary details to the buyer before sale of seeds or if disclosures, so made, are subsequently found to be incorrect, the buyer is entitled to receive necessary compensation from the seller. But a few months back, the peasants of Hoskote and Anekal in Karnataka bought Super Talky Red radish seeds from a Japanese company. After sowing the seeds, leaves began to appear. The peasants thought the crop was ready and got down to harvest the yield. But there was no tube underneath. Angry peasants neither got any compensation from the company, nor did they receive any help from the University of Agricultural Sciences. Ultimately, they had to take recourse to the path of movement to press for their demands. On the other hand, the MNCs and monopoly houses, who exalt over the Act, boastfully flaunt their gains at the cost of the peasants — “We would have invested capital to produce quality seeds. If we permit them to reuse these seeds after having once sold them, our business would be affected. We would profit only if we have a control over our brand of seeds in the market” said an MNC executive (Kannada Prabha : 6 May 2005)
In fine, the Seed Act 2004 would mandate patenting of all seeds and mostly the big monopolists and MNCs will hold the patent rights. The peasants, under compulsion of using registered seeds only will have no other way but to go to these patent holders to buy seeds at whatever prices the latter stipulate. Thus for all intent and purpose, the peasants will be totally dependent on these handful of profit-seeking patent holders. The government will wash off its hands by taking refuge under the Act and the penal authority will as usual side with the patent holder to coerce the peasants. In this process, the monopolists and MNCs will have a strangulating grip over agricultural production and dictate terms.
The buck does not stop at production only. Even the area of sales and distribution is under threat of monopoly invasion. At present, as per APMC Act, agricultural produce is sold by the peasants in the APMC yard to a group of merchants who are licensed by the APMC, a body elected by the peasants. Not that this body does much to safeguard the interest of the peasants, yet this body does have some control over the licensed merchants and thus some kind of pricing mechanism, notwithstanding many a limitations, does operate to have at least a semblance of regulation. But the government, in order to “ protect the interest of the majority of the Indian farmers who are very small/marginal”, to help them have access to “direct and free markets, organized retailing”, to make them benefit from “smooth raw material supplies to agro-processing units, information exchange and adoption of innovative marketing systems”, has felt the necessity(!) of establishment of private markets/yards besides APMC yards, opening direct purchase centres, promoting private public partnership for management and development of agricultural market as well as development of contract farming arrangement. So an amendment to the APMC Act is on the anvil.
Once the amendment is through, there will be parallel markets and free entry of all and sundry including the monopolists and MNCs in the agricultural produce markets. Initially, these monopoly houses including foreign monopolists keen to get a foothold in this extremely lucrative market, will offer to the peasants prices higher than those of APMC yard to not only corner the produce, but also wean away the primary producers from the APMC approved merchants. Once they accomplish that and render the APMC yards defunct, the APMC licensed merchants will be wiped out from the scene. That is what the government aims at when it talks of “downsizing of distribution chain”. When this is accomplished, the monopolists and MNCs will bare their tooth and claw, start calling shots and dictate the price to suck off the last drop of blood from the peasants. They would also force the peasants to grow crops that earn them maximum profit in either agro-processing or export market. In the name of contract farming, another kind of savage onslaught will be unleashed. Hapless peasants will have no choice but to comply. Ministry of Agriculture, central government also shows excessive keenness to use latest technologies in post harvest operation, agro-based industries, warehousing etc, and hence requires huge investment of around Rs11200 crores in next ten years for modernizing agricultural marketing system. And the government feels it “reasonable to expect that a substantial part of this investment may have to come from private sector”. So “to encourage the private sector to make large investments in the marketing infrastructure and the supporting services”, the floodgate of yet another fierce loot and plunder is opened to the monopoly houses. This scheme perfectly conduces to the government’s policy of allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail business. And to camouflage the intended monopoly control over retail including agricultural retail trade, the government is coining some euphonious commercial terms like “facilitation of forward linkage”, “helping the farmer to get a better share of consumer price” etc. METRO, a German firm hitherto engaged in wholesale distribution of agricultural produces has already started advertising availability of rice, dal( pulses), wheat etc., on retail at its Bangalore counters. This firm, it is reported, is very close to the Union Finance Minister who is lobbying hard for earliest amendment to the APMC Act so that the firm and its ilk can prosper in the new legal framework. It is indeed preposterous when the Congress-led government says that such “policies of liberalization” will have all safeguards against displacement of small traders and merchants.
We have already shown that the Seed Act 2004 will place the agricultural production at the disposal of monopoly sharks. The proposed amendment of the APMC Act will allow these tycoons to take over the procurement and distribution of agricultural produce. So while the peasants will be left in the lurch and the countrymen will die out of starvation and severe want of essential foodgrains, the domestic and foreign monopolists will merrily swell their coffer. The central government led by the Congress and supported by the CPI(M) and its allies have finalized all arrangements for that. It may be added that as the Congress, hell bent to push forward the capitalist reforms much more aggressively than its predecessor, the BJP, its friends in the CPI(M) are also equally determined to complete the reforms process as is being openly declared by them. West Bengal Chief Minister’s penchant for the catch-phrases like “Public Private partnership”, “Foreign Direct Investment” and fast “Development of food-processing and agro-based industries” with the help of monopoly is well known. While the servitors of the ruling capitalist class under different hues and placards are agog with their zeal to implement the sinister class designs of their masters, the people must join the peasants in putting up serious resistance against the aforesaid Seed Act 2004 and proposed amendment to APMC Act and compel the government reverse its anti-people decisions.
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