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India: Seed companies asked to pay up in Maharashtra

Maharashtra has sent notices to nearly 60 cotton seed companies seeking a compensation of Rs 1,050 crores for losses incurred by farmers owing to sub-standard seeds that were prone to pest attack. A total of 14 lakh farmers applied to the state seeking compensation from the companies, of which hearing in nearly 10 lakh cases have been completed.

Last year, farmers across Maharashtra reported large areas under cotton affected by pink bollworm, a major cotton pest. Following the pest attack, the government adopted three ways to provide compensation to farmers: through crop insurance, by seeking compensation under the national disaster relief fund and also by making seed companies a part of the process.

Cotton farmers in the state are facing a crisis. Large-scale use of genetically modified or Bt cotton seeds that are failing to keep pests at bay is one of the main reasons for the crisis. This issue gains further significance as in Maharashtra nearly 96 per cent of the cotton crop cultivated in the state is by using Bt seeds. The use of an illegal variety of Bt seeds, herbicide tolerant seeds, has some part to play in the crisis. Seed companies have a month to reply to the notice. However they can move court against the order.