The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture has dismissed the pesticides company’s demand on three key issues: price control, criminalization, and data protection, and has asked the government to provide a system of checks and balances to prevent pesticide inspectors from abusing their power.
The Standing Committee stated in its 36th Report on The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, ‘The Committee has gone through the arguments made for offenses and punishment under this Bill.’ The Committee believes that the provisions in the Bill concerning offenses and punishment are critical to ensuring deterrence. The Committee is aware that the country is facing significant challenges in the form of fake and bogus pesticides being sold to farmers. This is hugely damaging to them.’
It went on to say, ‘It has been suggested to the Committee that stringent penal provisions be put in place to counter this. The Committee applauds the government for enacting such penal provisions, which will go a long way toward ensuring the safety and security of farmers, other end users, and the environment.’
Pesticide manufacturers had hoped that the Bill would decriminalize minor offenses and limit criminal prosecution to fraud by selling bogus products. The Committee agreed with the government’s position that only a third conviction results in a harsher penalty and serious offenses such as the sale of unlicensed or unregistered pesticides and the use of banned pesticides result in severe punishments.
On price control, the Committee stated that, in addition to delegating authority, the Bill should empower the government to take necessary measures, and Clause 57 should be appropriately amended as follows: ‘If the Central Government believes that it is necessary or expedient to secure the distribution and availability of pesticides at fair prices, it may constitute an authority to exercise such powers and perform such functions to or take other such necessary measures as it may deem.’
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, because there is no provision for price control in the current Insecticides Act, 1968, it is necessary to include it in the Bill. ‘It is not necessary to have price regulation on all pesticides, as you may have noticed that there is a body for pricing medical devices.’ There is no price regulation for every drug, but there is for heart and other lifesaving drugs, according to the Ministry, adding that the government reserves the right to make a reasonable price regulation through such authority if it so desires.
Data Security for Regulatory Information
Concerning the controversial topic of Protection for Regulatory Data (PRD), the Committee praised ‘the fact that the government has consciously incorporated a ‘No Provision’ of Data Protection for the introduction of new molecules/products in the Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, as it will not only protect the domestic industry, which primarily relies on the production of ‘generic pesticides,’ but also farmers, who will benefit from the availability of cheaper agrochemicals.’
‘The Committee also believes that India has a very large and growing market for agrochemicals and that with vast arable land, it will be able to attract the introduction of new molecules from both foreign and domestic companies, even without any provision for data protection,’ it said.
‘It is unfortunate that the demand for PRD has not been accepted because no new molecule will be developed unless data is protected, even for off-patented pesticides,’ said Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC). According to him, there are only 283 technical registrations of molecules in India, whereas there are over 700 in China. ‘Any off-patented molecule that is brought to India after 20 years of its patent has to go through trials in the country, for which someone has to invest, and no one will bring such products unless his investment is protected for at least five years.’
The Committee also stated that under this Bill, pesticides inspectors have been given broad powers such as search and seizure, issuing stop orders for the sale of pesticides, and so on, with no system of checks and balances. The Committee believes that there should be some kind of accountability mechanism in place to deter pesticides inspectors from abusing their powers under this Bill.