Mumbai: German seeds and agrotech group Bayer CropScience Ltd, which has been asked by the Bombay High Court to compensate a group of farmers in Maharashtra for supplying inferior Bt cotton seeds, plans to challenge the order, claiming that bad climate and poor crop management were responsible for the farmers’ losses.
The aggrieved farmers have claimed that the seeds they bought from the company were of bad quality and that this was proved by an inspection of the agriculture department of Maharashtra government.
Bt cotton is genetically modified cotton that is resistant to attacks from some (but not all) pests, and according to India’s agriculture ministry, almost 90% of the cotton grown in India is from Bt cotton seeds. Still, the genetically modified cotton variety remains controversial in the country with activists questioning its suitability for areas that are rain-fed and not irrigated.
The Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court had in mid-December upheld an earlier order by the Maharashtra agriculture commissioner asking Bayer CropScience to pay about Rs.45 lakh to 165 farmers from Shirpur in the northern district of Dhule for supplying inferior quality seeds of Bt cotton, leading to poor yield and heavy economic loss to these farmers.
“We are reviewing the high court order and in the process of exploring various legal options,” a Bayer spokesman said.
The farmers claim that Bayer’s Bt cotton seeds bought by many of them for the 2010 Kharif season were inferior.
“The plants should have grown five feet tall in two months but all the plants in my farm were between 2.5 and 3 ft and they were also affected by the disease called karpa,” says Chottusingh Rajput, one of the farmers who filed the case against Bayer.
Karpa or alternaria leaf blight affects the plant growth at its initial stage, leading to loss of leaves and prejudices photosynthesis.
“When I made enquiries with other farmers who had also bought Bt cotton seeds of Bayer, I got to know that they were also facing the same problem. So, we decided to approach the company,” Rajput said on Tuesday.
Subsequently, the farmers met company officials at Aurangabad. Failing to make much headway, they lodged a complaint with the state agriculture department in October 2010.
Following an agriculture department inspection in April 2011, the state commissioner Umakant Dangat ordered the company to pay Rs.44.74 lakh compensation with a penal interest of 24% a year if it is not paid in a month. The compensation was to make up for the loss of income to farmers.
Rajput claimed that average per acre yield of cotton in their area is between eight and nine quintal per acre but due to substandard seeds, the yield dropped to two-three quintal per acre.
Bayer, which challenged the agriculture commissioner’s order at the high court, said, “the issue is linked to harsh climatic conditions such as excess and continuous rainfall, and also poor crop management by smaller farmers, and not to poor seed quality”, in an email in response.
“Bayer CropScience consistently follows stringent seed quality standards to maintain the highest quality of seeds. But, the crop performance in the field largely depends upon prevalent weather conditions during the season,” it added.