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Targeting Regulation in Indian Agriculture

At the end of its first three years, the Indo-United States Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture is recommending changes in regulation to suit US commercial interests. This article, based on a reading of the minutes of the KIA board's meetings, analyses the proposed changes in some important areas like regulation of genetically modified organisms, contract farming, and intellectual property rights in agriculture.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 29, 200819Evidence for this has been the success of theCongress-led alliance in subsequent elections to local bodies and panchayats, and in by-elections to the assembly and Parliament. Current Situation TheTDP is trying to turn the tables on the Congress in the 2009 elections by forging alliances with the ruling party’s 2004 partners and also the Bahujan Samaj Party. Chandrababu Naidu has reversed the TDP’s stand to that of being amicable to a separate state of Telangana to facilitate an alliance with theTRS. A retreat on the pro-reform, neoliberal front has also moved him closer to the stand of the Left parties. With Chiranjeevi’s political entry imminent, Chandrababu Naidu undertook a tour across the state for 117 days to win back the core constituency of theTDP. He has also roped in NTR’s actor sons and grand-sons to offset Chiranjeevi’s starappeal. Chiranjeevi’s entry is bound to change the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh significantly. There is little doubt that it will strengthen caste polarisation to an extent. Chrianjeevi’s huge fan following across the state, and the support he enjoys among the numerically strong Kapus and the youth will definitely upset the calcula-tions of the Congress and the TDP. Some sections of the “undecided” and those yearning for a “change” from the parties of the last three decades could also move towards him. Further, he is promising to expand the social justice platform by in-cluding castes and communities that are now outside political power structures and providing for caste-based proportion-al representation in the legislature. As the elections approach, Chiranjeevi’s party could also take a pro-Telangana stand, dealing a blow to the TDP. As can be seen from the above, the 2009 elections could see three possible scenari-os. First, Chiranjeevi’s October tour of the coastal districts has attracted huge crowds. If his party can convert this into votes and propagate a mood for “change” across the state, it could win a comfortable majority on its own. Second, caste polarisation for and against Chiranjeevi could damage thechances of the Congress and benefit the TDP. For, sections of the electorate most likely to be attracted to Chiranjeevi will come from the Congress vote bank. Finally, there is an intriguing scenario. If Chiranjeevi significantly eats into both the Congress and theTDP vote share, Andhra Pradesh could witness an end to single-party rule. A hung assembly could produce a coalition government in2009. Targeting Regulation in Indian AgricultureKavitha KurugantiAt the end of its first three years, the Indo-United States Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture is recommending changes in regulation to suitUS commercial interests. This article, based on a reading of the minutes of the KIA board’s meetings, analyses the proposed changes in some important areas like regulation of genetically modified organisms, contract farming, and intellectual property rights in agriculture.The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA, also known asAKI), described by Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh as the harbinger of a second green revolution in India, will be complet-ing its initial three-year phase (work plan) in a few months time. The sixth board meeting of this collaborative effort took place on 15-16, April 2008 in New Delhi and plans extending into 2009 were made during this meeting, indicating that the KIA is keen on moving into the next phase.1 While some amount of joint research work seems to be underway, an analysis of the board meeting minutes so far reveals that a major thrust of theKIA is to change some important regulatory regimes per-taining to agriculture in India.The KIA is expected to lend a focused impetus to changes sought by private agri-business corporations, including many large American multinational corpora-tions (MNCs) like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland Co. Given that they are on the KIA board, it is impossible that they will not drive as many changes as possible that would suit their business interests. In more than two board meetings, there were express points made on how the private sector could provide more inputs for the regulatory process – this is ironical given that most regulation in any case is meant to regulate such a private sector and to protect the interests of consumers and producers. There is an inherent conflict of interest in these private players determin-ing the shape and systems of regulation! Harmonisation of legislation is men-tioned in different contexts including in the US-India CEO Forum plans.2 Going through the developments on the KIA front, it appears that the following regulatory re-gimes related to Indian farming/food are being sought to be changed through the KIA: (1) regulation of genetically modified organ-isms (GMOs); (2) contract farming; (3) seeds regulation; and (4) intellectual prop-erty rights (IPRs) in agriculture.Regulation of GMOsOne of the biggest battlegrounds in the global controversy surrounding GM crops is India. TheUS, which is the largest culti-vator of GM crops in the world, finds great difficulty in peddling itsGM produce in the world markets and needs to find more acceptance for such produce. It is in this context that it has begun looking at the Indian GM regulation (1989 Rules of the Kavitha Kuruganti ( is with the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad.


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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 29, 200821farmers, companies also enter into mar-keting agreements which leave very little choices for farmers in terms of inputs that they use, their prices and in terms of market prices or other terms for their output. There are US activist groups which are ex-pressly trying to ensure fairer contracts in favour of producers in the US, while the KIA board meetings are agreeing to “draw on the American experience with contract farming” for our farmers here.Seed RegulationTheUS agri-corporations have also been looking at Indian seed regulation to en-sure that any legislative changes by way of the Seeds Bill 2004 are in favour of the private seed industry and not against it. The Indian face of corporations like Mon-santo (Mahyco) has been part of discus-sions related to finalising the proposed seeds regulation law in the country. While there is no explicit evidence available to point out that the KIA is being used to in-fluence the seeds-related regulation in India, especially in the form of the Seeds Bill 2004, it could be anticipated that such an attempt will certainly be made. In the 2007 cotton (seeds) sales season, for some mysterious reason, cotton seed was removed from the Essential Commodities Act (from where the Seeds Control Order of 1983 flows, which is the only weapon in the hands of state governments to regulate private seed trade as of now, especially related to pricing) and state governments found it difficult to regulate seed prices of Bt Cotton. Some states started promulgating ordinances in this regard. The USDAGAIN report of May 2008 refers to the price reduction of Bt Cotton seeds by state govern-ments and says “unwarranted interference by state governments in seed pricing could act as a disincentive to introduce new biotech traits/events into India”. What is “unwarranted” from the US perspective is a constitutional right that state governments have over their agriculture, including seed pricing!IPRs in Agriculture/FoodSeveral media pieces highlighted the serious implications of KIA for IPRs in agriculture in India. There are at least two levels at which these potential impacts could be – one, flowing from the regulatory regime changes as part of the “harmonisation of regulatory regimes” agenda; two, “biopi-racy” of valuable resources/knowledge in the name of collaborative research. Legislations on seed rights will have wide implications in a country like India, where a majority of its people depend on agriculture for food, economic and liveli-hood security; needless to say, farmers’ rights and viability of farming as a profession will be closely linked toIPRs in farming. An important act related to biological resources of India and their conservation/protection as sovereign resources of India is the Biological Diversity Act 2002. This is an act to provide for conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources, knowledge and for matters connected there-with. There are special guidelines drawn up for collaborative research projects like the KIA and notified under the Act. Prima facie, the KIA violates many of these notified guidelines, which implies that protection under this law may not be happening. While a press release from the depart-ment of agricultural research and education (ministry of agriculture) clarified after the second board meeting of KIA that the Pro-tection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFR Act) would apply to the research results in this deal, it is not clear how the Biological Diversity Act is being adhered to. The PPVFR is applicable inside the country, whereas the Biological Diversity Act is supposed to protect Indian resources and knowledge from others obtaining IPrs on them. At another level, it appears that the KIA is being used for importing US regu-latory regimes into India. The second board meeting of the KIA, as part of the work plan drawn up under biotechnology, expressly identified as the additional training activity “licensing and intellectual property rights protection:long-term and short-term training in the process of licensing biotechnology discoveries”.10 The sixth board meeting talks about train-ings in state agriculture universities in India about IP management and technology trans-fer issues, for preparation to set upIP cells. The focus on licensing agreements and IP protection is a reflection of the increasingly-seen hierarchy within the seed industry of large MNCs like Monsanto being the trait-sellers and local companies and public sectorbodies being licensed seed sellers, with royalties and technology fees being paid to the MNC.TheKIA was also seen by some as a vehi-cle to bring in the USIPR model, where, following the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, even publicly funded research inUS universities and institutes is patented and licensed out for commercial development to companies such as Monsanto. Further, individual scientists from public sector bodies can hold IPRs along with a private sector colla-borator, negating the very purpose of pub-lic sector research meant for the masses. The Indian version of this act is already in its bill form, ready for Parliament.11 The implications of any changes in our IPR regime, especially in terms of emulat-ing the US model, would prove to be disas-trous for millions of our farmers. Such an IPR regime would also restrict public sector research and development efforts in agri-culture. If the USIPR regimes are adopted, it could also mean that each farmer would end up having a technology agreement with companies like Monsanto. Monsanto’s seed policy is characterised not only by the aggressive patenting of the techniques needed to create a GM crop, but also the patenting of the seeds and plants them-selves; the company is documented to be harassing and suing farmers for doing what they have done for centuries: saving seeds. Food SectorRight from the time the KIA was signed, there was much discussion on creating in-vestment opportunities for us corporations in Indian agriculture; theUS-India CEO Forum expressly talks about reducing restric-tions onforeign investments in the Indian retail sector. The presence of Archer Dan-iels Midland Company and Walmart in the American Board of the KIA is an indication of what interests will prevail related to food processing and retail sector.During the second board meeting, a specific work plan was created around facilitating agribusiness investment in India. This was to comprise one or more sector-specific “trade and investment mission/s to India” for the US private agri-business companies to meet counterparts, survey agri-business and identify opportunities and constraints faced by investors. There
COMMENTARYnovember 29, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly22is, however, no such talk about Indian investment in theUS! Under the KIA, Bharti-Walmart has ex-tended two internships to the National Institute of Agricultural Management and it is recorded in the sixth board meeting minutes that several other private sector companies have expressed their willing-ness towards such internship programmes. ConclusionsWhile the board minutes point to some of the regulatory changes being discussed in the KIA, especially related toGM regula-tion, contract farming, IPRs and licensing and sanitary and phytosanitary-related issues, reports from individual workshops and trainings organised under theKIA should provide greater insights into the details of such discussions. What is very important to note here is that legislation on some important issues pertaining to agriculture has been drafted in these two countries based on vastly dif-ferent philosophies (patents on life forms, for instance, which India has opposed in international fora, whereas it is an accepted and granted thing in the US patent regime) and international commitments (on bio-diversity conservation through the Conven-tion on Biological Diversity, on biosafety issues related to GMOs, through the Carta-gena Biosafety Protocol, on climate change issues through the Kyoto protocol, etc – the US is not part of these international agree-ments, on the other hand). Therefore, har-monisation should theoretically be impos-sible, unless this is meant as India changing its regulatory regimes and laws to follow the US line.It is time that before theKIA moves into 2009 (beyond its initial three year phase) that the government place in the Parlia-ment and in the public domain, a complete report of implementation so far, including of each fellowship programme, training and workshop organised under the KIA and what the KIA has achieved in terms of benefits to farmers after having utilised the taxpayers’ funds since 2005. It is also high time that elected repre-sentatives and political parties both at the centre and at the state level (agriculture by the Indian Constitution is a state subject too) took responsibility in review-ing the KIA and its implementation, spe-cifically in the context of the implications for small and marginal farmers.Notes 1,accessed on 15 May 2008. 2 “US-India Strategic Economic Partnership”, US India CEO Forum, March 2006, downloaded from, accessed on 2 February 2008. 3 WTO TBT Committee document-G/TBT/N/IND/ 17, 23 May 2006 (06-2495). 4 notification.html 5, accessed on 14 October 2006. 6 accessed on 19 October 2007. 7 accessed on 2 February 2008. 8 “India Biotechnology Annual (report) 2008”, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN report, No IN8077, May 2008. 9, accessed on 14 Oc-tober 2006.10, accessed on 4 April 2006.11 “Does India Need A Bayh Dole Act?”, Latha Jishnu, Business Standard, 9 July 2008.Arcelor-Mittal in JharkhandMoushumi BasuFor the tribals of villages in the Gumla and Khunti districts of Jharkhand, where the Arcelor-Mittal steel plant is to be situated, the company does not spell employment opportunities as much as an annihilationoftheir way of life, their culture andthe environment. Unconvinced by the rehabilitation and resettlement policies of the stategovernment and the company,theyare continuing their agitation against the steel major.The Jharkhand government has signed 112 memoranda of under-standing with various multinational companies in the last three years. Topping the list of key players is the world’s largest global steel corporation, Arcelor-Mittal. It has plans to set up one of the world’s big-gest steel plants of 12 million tonne per annum (MTPA) capacity in the state at an investment of Rs 40,000 crore ($9.3 billion), that is expected to start operations by 2012. The proposed steel project will be set up in two phases of 6MT each. While the first phase is expected to be completed within 48 months from the date of agree-ment on the detailed project report, the second phase will be completed within 54 months after completion of the first phase. In addition to the steel and mining projects, the steel major will explore the feasibility of setting up a 2,500MW capac-ity mega power plant. It will also set up townships for its employees as part of the project. The mega steel project which requires 12,000 acres and a 1,500 MW new power plant for its captive consumption will be situated in the Karra, Torpa and Rania block in Khunti district and Kamdara block in Gumla district. The central gov-ernmenthas approved the grant of lease oftheKarampada iron ore mines located in the reserve forest in Meghataburu Mauja in West Singbhum district for the pro-posed steel plant. Experts have opined that the estimated reserve in the mine is about 50 MT of mineralised and very good quality ore. The company has been allotted the Seregarha coal block in the state with an estimated reserve of 160 MT. The steel major has been asked to prepare the mining plan for Karampada and get the necessary approvals from the Indian Bureau of Mines so that the state cangoahead and sign a mining lease deed with the company for a tenure of 30 years according to company sources. The total iron ore requirement is esti-mated at 600 MT annually once the plant reaches its full production capacity. Moushumi Basu ( is a journalist based in Ranchi.

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