By admin       2018-09-17

MUMBAI: In spite of the crackdown on illegal genetically modified cotton seeds with herbicide tolerant (HT) traits in the state, authorities have seized 1.8 crore HT seeds between April and June this year. This is higher than the annual seizure of 1.3 crore seeds in 2017-18, say officials. Indeed, agriculture department officials estimate that 80,000 hectares of the cotton crop in Maharashtra has been cultivated using illegal HT cotton seeds during the recent kharif season. This accounts for 5% of the total cotton crop of 40 lakh hectares. They say the bulk of these illegal seeds come from states across the border, including Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Gujarat. HT cotton seeds are transgenic seeds with herbicide tolerant traits which have not been cleared for use in the country. Since 2017, the Maharashtra government has filed 30 FIRs relating to the use of these illegal seeds. It formed a special investigation team (SIT) in February to probe the illegal HT seed trade. Officials say that 159 packets of the illegal seed were seized by authorities in 2017-18 and around 16,000 packets between April and June this year. This means our actions have been effective since a larger amount of seeds could be seized before they were planted, said a senior agriculture department official. Officials also say that despite stronger action in Maharashtra, it is proving difficult to curb cross-border trade in the illegal transgenic seeds. Most of the seizures have taken place from Chandrapur in Vidarbha and Nanded in Marathwada which are on the Telengana border. Also, from Nandburbar and Jalgaon in North Maharashtra which are close to the Gujarat border, said a senior official. The two-member SIT which is probing the HT seed trade has sought an extension till December. We have seen two types of modus operandi being used in the supply of HT seeds. In some cases, land has been leased within the state from individuals across the border who are then supplying the seeds for cultivation as well. In other cases, the factory owners or shops which supply inputs have also been supplying the seeds, says special inspector general of police Krishna Prasad who heads the SIT. The illegal cultivation of HT seeds caught the attention of the state in 2017. In February 2017, the Central Institute for Cotton Research detected HT traits in six of the nine seed samples from Maharashtra. However, it was a report by the agricultural think-tank South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) in September 2017 which drew national focus on the illegal HT seed trade. It estimated that 35 lakh packets of illegal HT cotton had been sold in 8 states in 2017-18. The Maharashtra government registered its first 5 FIRs on illegal HT seeds in October 2017.

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