‘Probe agriculture ministry's role in clearing Bt Cotton’
New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has called for an in-depth probe into the agriculture ministry's role in the government's decision to approve the commercial release of Bt Cotton in the country in 2002.
According to the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, the department of agriculture has not discharged its mandated responsibility in a professional manner as far as the introduction of transgenic agricultural crops in India is concerned.
"It has to be found out how Bt Cotton became priority when the avowed goal for introduction of transgenics in agricultural crops was with a view to ensure and maintain food security," the committee said in a report.
"Bt Cotton is a cash crop which in no way would have contributed to the food security of the country," it said.
India is now the largest cultivator of Bt Cotton, jumping from 400,000 hectares to 12,600,000 hectares now after it was approved for commercial cultivation in 2002 by the regulator, genetic engineering approval committee of the union environment ministry.
According to the report, lakhs of hectares got diverted to Bt Cotton cultivation because of misconception about its potential. And that reduced the area of cultivation of several food crops, jeopardising the country's food security to that extent.
The report said in 2002, when the Bt Cotton was allowed in India, the technology applied in hardly a few countries whose agricultural practices, farmers' profile and percentage of population dependent on the sector was totally different from that of India.
Noting that 70 percent of India's population survives on agriculture and 70 percent of Indian farmers are small and marginal, the report said the agriculture department did not take into account the differences in individual land holdings between farmers in India and those in the US and Canada.
The average farm size in India is 1.25 acres against hundreds of acres in the US.
Similarly, the huge difference in farmers' incomes, levels of mechanisation and irrigation facilities were not properly analysed by the ministry, it said.
Another aspect where the ministry failed was the cost of seed and other inputs that the introduction of transgenics entailed.
"The cost-benefit analysis was clearly in favour of the industry and not the farmers," said the report.
It noted that the Bt Cotton seed was sold initially at Rs.2,200 a kg against a fraction of the cost for the locally available seed.
Even now at Rs.1,500 per kg, it is high, said the report.
According to the report, though farmers in Gujarat, where availability of water is better, benefited from Bt Cotton, the technology has contributed to the agrarian crisis in Vidharbha, Maharashtra.
Bt Cotton technology was meant for irrigated areas but was pushed in all cotton-growing states.
The report mentioned that traditional cotton varieties grown in Brazil had three times more yield than Bt Cotton grown in India.