New Delhi: Punjab, among the largest users of pesticides per unit of cultivated land in India, has objected to the draft Pesticide Management Bill, 2017, put out by the centre for a public consultation.

The state has not only demanded more powers for state governments to regulate and control the use of agrochemicals, but also sought penalties on companies selling spurious pesticides to be raised to 2% of their total sales in a state.

“In the past 13 years, Punjab has never been nominated to the central pesticides board and states should be represented (in the regulatory body) according to their per-hectare usage of pesticides," state agriculture commissioner Balwinder Singh Sidhu told a conference discussing the draft bill in Delhi. The conference was organized by the Bharat Krishak Samaj, a Delhi-based policy advocacy forum on Monday.

Sidhu said“states should be empowered to stop the sale of any pesticide based on quality and need parameters".

“We also told the centre that to ensure quality, the responsible person should be among the top five highest paid employees of a firm and the fine for sale of spurious pesticides should be 2% of total sales in a state in the past year, subject to a minimum penalty of Rs1 million," Sidhu said.

The centre released a draft of the bill, intended to replace the existing Insecticides Act of 1968, on 19 February. Among other things, the bill raised penalties on the sale of prohibited or spurious pesticides to Rs50 lakh and up to five years’ imprisonment, from the current Rs2,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment.

Objecting to the draft bill, Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said that following global standards, the regulation of pesticide use has to come under heath ministry and not agriculture ministry, as envisaged in the draft bill.

“The agriculture ministry promotes use of pesticide to raise crop productivity and a promoter cannot be a regulator," Amit Khurana, programme manager at CSE, told the conference. He said the bill failed to recognize pesticides have contributed significantly to the current economic and ecological crisis in agriculture.

Echoing Punjab’s view, CSE also recommended that “states must have the final power to disallow use of pesticides" as “they have a better idea about (state-specific) agro-ecological aspects". CSE further recommended a ban on advertisement of pesticides as they are “by design suited to the commercial interest of the advertiser" and “aimed at influencing buying behaviour of farmers, who are often uneducated and unaware".

Also objecting to the draft bill, several farmer organizations, activists and scientists endorsed a letter to the agriculture ministry sent on Monday by policy advocacy group Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

Among other concerns, the letter said that the draft bill does not provide for automatic review of cleared pesticides after several years of usage, and farmers and labourers will not be able to seek compensation from the consumer forum as envisaged in the bill.

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