In a First, Possession of Banned Cotton Seed Lands Farmer in Police Custody

Over the last few weeks, a pro-genetically modified crop movement has been taking shape in Maharashtra.

 New Delhi: Vasant Mule, a 41-year-old farmer of Umrad village near Karjat in Maharashtra, in a first of its kind arrest in India, was picked up by Maharashtra police for possession of the banned herbicide-tolerant BT (HTBT) variety of cotton seeds.

Mule was produced in the Buldhana district court on Wednesday where bail was denied to him. He was remanded to six days in police custody.

Mule has been charged with cheating, forgery and violation of the 1966 Seed Act. The FIR notes that 20 packets of HTBT cotton seeds, each weighing 450 grams, were found in his house. It also claims that Mule had been selling these seeds to other farmers in the region.

State agriculture minister Sudabhau Khot has warned that strict action will be taken against farmers who are found growing or holding banned seeds.

“We were informed that several years ago some farmers had tried seeking permission for the use of such cotton seeds. But permission was not given by the government. We first need to find the supply source of these seeds,” he was quoted as having said by Financial Express.

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A pro-genetically modified crop movement has taken shape in Maharashtra in the last two weeks. The Shetkari Sangathana, a farmers’ body founded by the late Sharad Joshi, has been organising HTBT cotton sowing drives in several areas of the state. At Akola on June 10, more than a thousand farmers had gathered in a show of civil disobedience to grow HTBT cotton in a two-acre field.

Farmers argue that they should be allowed to grow banned, genetically modified (GM) varieties of brinjal and cotton as they would benefit them in the long run. They contend that GM crops cost less to grow, are more resistant to pest attacks and lead to better yields.

The seed variety can withstand glyphosate, which is sprayed to eliminate weeds. Normal cotton cannot, leaving crop susceptible to weeds.

The organisation has now offered its support to Mule. “Even though he was not associated with our movement, we will support him. His case goes to show that this is a grassroots movement. Farmers are now demanding a change. HTBT cotton should be allowed,” said Anil Ghanwat, state president of Shetkari Sanghatana.

In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) assesses and adjudicates on whether a GM crop is fit for cultivation. So far, the GEAC has not approved the cultivation of HTBT cotton.