By admin       2018-08-16

MUMBAI: In its first order after last year’s pest strikes across Maharashtra, the state agriculture department has asked cotton seed companies to pay Rs93 crore as compensation to farmers for the losses they suffered on account of the pink bollworm attacks. While the government had received 14 lakh complaints in all about poor-quality seeds susceptible to pest attacks, hearings in 9 lakh complaints have been completed and notices worth Rs93 crore despatched to companies specifying the amounts they are eligible to pay, officials said. More such orders are likely once hearings in the other complaints are over. After farmers across Maharashtra reported in 2017 that large-scale areas under cotton had been affected by the pink bollworm, the government adopted a three-way compensation method: through crop insurance, through application under the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) and also by making seed companies a part of the process. According to the provisions of the Maharashtra Cotton Seeds (regulation of sale, supply, distribution and fixation of sale price) Act, 2009, if a farmer complains about a pest attack, the government has to set up a committee to give hearings to both parties and then pass an order. “The final compensation amount to be paid by companies will definitely go up as hearings in some districts are yet to be completed. So far, the department has only handled sporadic cases. For the first time, complaints are being handled on such a mass scale,” said a senior official. Hearings in Akola, Buldhana, Amravati, Washim, Beed and Yavatmal districts are yet to be completed. Though the state has now issued orders, the companies can still approach the state agriculture commissionerate for an appeal within one month of receiving the notice. The seed companies can also move court against the order. This indicates that for farmers, getting their money may be a longdrawn affair. The state government has sent a Rs3,337 crore compensation proposal under the NDRF and has said 42.07 lakh hectares and approximately 55 lakh farmers have been affected. TOI has reported on the crisis faced by the cotton farmers in a series of articles. The large-scale use of genetically modified or Bt cotton seeds that are failing to keep pests at bay is one of the main reasons for the crisis. The issue gains further significance in Maharashtra as nearly 96% of the cotton crop cultivated in the state is with the use of Bt seeds—of which a majority are twin gene Bt seeds. The use of an illegal variety of Bt seeds—that is, herbicide-tolerant ones--has had some part to play in the crisis.

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