Wednesday, January 26, 2022
EditorialsEditorial: Pesticide regulation needs relook

Editorial: Pesticide regulation needs relook

Published: 31st Jul 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 30th Jul 2021 10:11 pm

The NDA government’s avowed mission of doubling farm income by 2022 will remain a pipe dream if key policy issues are not addressed effectively. One of the areas in agriculture that needs a thorough overhaul is the use of pesticides and insecticides. Despite advances in the modernisation of agricultural practices, 10% to 30% of the crop damage in the country is attributed to pest attacks. Using the right quantity of pesticides is the most effective way of stemming these losses. The draft Pesticides Management Bill, formulated by the Centre and under consideration of the Parliament Standing Committee now, aims to regulate the manufacture, sale, pricing, and safety aspects of pesticides. However, the focus of the new legislation, replacing the 50-year-old Insecticides Act, should have been on incentivising innovators to invest in R&D and introduce new crop protection solutions instead of merely trying to control the sector. The draft Bill has a provision that requires farmers to buy pesticides only after obtaining a prescription from an agriculture expert. This is impractical and reflects a lack of understanding of the dynamics of pesticide use. When large swathes of fields are attacked by pests, the farmer has no time to wait for a prescription. One of the provisions in the proposed Bill gives powers to the Registration Committee (RC) to subjectively review the registration of a pesticide and then suspend, cancel, or even ban its usage. This is arbitrary because it is not based on any scientific evaluation. There is a need for an independent regulator to oversee the RC’s decisions.

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The provisions related to the accountability of pesticide manufacturers and compensation norms too are far-fetched. There is no doubt the manufacturer must be held responsible for any compromise on the quality of the product, packaging, transportation, storage, and distribution but once the sale has taken place, the ball shifts to the farmer’s court. If the farmer has not properly followed the instructions written on the packets and accompanying leaflets, it would be unfair to hold the manufacturer accountable. While there has been a long-felt demand for promoting domestic and indigenous industries and agricultural exports, the new legislation has provisions that run contrary to this demand. Another contentious provision makes it mandatory for the pesticide manufacturers, already registered under the erstwhile 1968 Act, to apply for fresh registration within two years. This will bring instability to the pesticides industry. Though the work on the law started over two decades ago — an earlier version of the Bill was introduced by the UPA regime in 2008 and it languished till 2015 when the NDA government took it on board — no serious effort has been made to encourage and incentivise innovation and promote investments in R&D.

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