An Indian farmer drying wet rice crop. Photo: The Times of India/Suman Reddy D

The Indian government has put forward a Pesticides Management Bill. Apart from the huge compensation proposed for farmers whose crops have been destroyed by pesticides, what is there in this bill for the country’s grain providers?

India is said to be the fourth-largest producer of pesticides in the world after the US, Japan, and China and ranks 13th in pesticide exports. There is a very big agrochemical industry in India. Recently, the federal cabinet approved a Pesticides Management Bill, to replace the 1968 Insecticide Act. A major provision of the bill is the establishment of a corpus fund of 500 billion rupees (US$6.8 billion), which will provide compensation for farmers in situations when their crop is destroyed by pesticides.

The government’s effort is to give the maximum amount of money in the hands of farmers so that spending and consumption increase in rural areas, which will in turn increase purchases and demand in urban areas. The government has said it will double the income of farmers in two years. 

Through direct debit transfer, farmers will get this compensation directly in their accounts. Registered pesticide manufacturing companies, central governments and state governments will deposit funds in the ratio of 60:20:20 for this corpus fund.

A penalty of up to 5 million rupees and three to five years’ jail has also been proposed in the bill for use of banned pesticides. Right now this fine is 2,000 rupees and three years in jail. The central board is also proposed to be constituted that will include representatives of farmers in addition to experts from the central and state governments.

There are radical changes in the process of regulating the use of pesticides. Registration and restrictions will be in place and special care will be taken on issues such as sales, packaging, labeling, pricing, storage, distribution and factual information in advertisements.

There is a need to liberalize the agricultural market and the government is proposing to give full support to the farmers.

The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers will also create a Web portal in which information will be provided in all languages about the use, potential, weaknesses, risks of pesticides. The portal will also be used for redressal of complaints related to compensation. The work of updating the list of banned pesticides will also be done with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Agriculture in India is largely dependent on chemicals and it also has pesticides that damage the health of humans or animals. Apart from this, the damage to biodiversity and the environment is also not hidden from anyone. Experts consider it a slow poison.

Apart from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are also used, though not as widely as pesticides. In 2018, India’s pesticide market was worth around 200 million rupees and it is estimated to exceed 300 million rupees by 2024.

As of October 2019, a total of 292 pesticides were registered in India. Most pesticides are used in Maharashtra state. In terms of usage per hectare, Punjab is at the forefront, then Haryana and Maharashtra.

The new pesticides law should also provide for the health care of farmers and their animals, including medical consultation. The most important thing is to encourage the least use of pesticides. The bill should also consider the use of non-synthetic pesticides in addition to chemical pesticides. Sustainable farming requires sustainable resources and practices.

Today organic farming is undoubtedly being promoted, at the level of campaigning, and a huge parallel market of organic products has also emerged. However, these are relatively expensive, in limited supply and usually out of the shopping range of the general consumer. The need is that organic food items should be made common, while seeds and produce are available to farmers to an extent that they are not forced to get into the trap of maximum production and maximum profit. The mindset of not compromising on the quality of seeds will also have to be created.

Environmentalists and agricultural experts also need to give more representation to the states, because they are in a better position to understand the geographical and geological and environmental needs associated with farming and soil structures in their region.

A Food Security Act is also necessary in coordination with this proposed law. It would make farmers more aware that there is a solution to improve labeling, or permanent service centers could also be set up in rural areas for technical assistance.

Rohit Dhyani

Rohit Dhyani is a journalist and professional documentary filmmaker. Follow him on Twitter: @RohitDhyani