Global Economy

Chief Ministry Panel, states talk use of GM crops in restricted spaces

Mumbai: A committee of chief ministers set up by the prime minister to look for ways to transform agriculture in the country is deliberating with various state governments on whether to permit GM crops “in restricted spaces”.

While the contentious move may take time as some state governments have opposed introduction of GM crops, the Chief Minister’s Panel on Agriculture has decided to make substantial changes in the Essential Commodities Act to avoid unnecessary stock limits, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Friday.

“Our oilseeds productivity is less, (hence) we are looking at new technology on seeds,” he said here after a meeting of the high-powered committee. “We are dependent on oilseeds that we import from other countries that use GM technology.”

Fadnavis, convenor of the panel, said they discussed the need to build a consensus on whether to use or not to use GM crops in restricted and specific areas. “I can’t decide as an expert whether it is good or bad.”

The chief ministers’ panel has, however, decided to bring in major changes in the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) to ensure that a rise in crop prices is not stymied by the imposition of stock limit through ECA.

“Whenever prices go up, state governments impose ECA at will, so there were views on whether ECA is needed today,” Fadnavis said. “The panel was of the view that ECA was needed. However, the provisions concerning agriculture needed to be changed to ensure farmers can earn profits.”

He said often ECA-imposed stock limits brought down prices of agricultural products, hurting the farmers income. Hence, the chief ministers’ panel is looking at bringing some restrictions on ECA, to ensure it’s imposed on farm products only if prices of these goods shoot up astronomically.

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“We need the law, because if there are extraordinary circumstances and prices go up substantially then we need a law to bring it down,” the Maharashtra chief minister said.

Official thinktank NITI Aayog on Friday gave a proposal to states that unless there is a drought or natural calamity states should not levy ECA on agri goods. It proposed that if the prices shoot up by more than 50% then the states can levy ECA.

Fadnavis, however, clarified that the chief ministers have not come to a decision on the Aayog proposal. He said the chief minister’s panel was of the opinion that ECA should only be imposed on agri products if it breaches a certain price barrier.

The Maharashtra chief minister also said the Centre would soon come up with certification norms for ‘pest free area’ and to certify organic produce. This is expected to boost agri product exports as many countries prefer produce from a pest free area, or organic produce.

The Centre would also empower Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) to take commercial decisions to boost and facilitate exports of agricultural products, he said.

Fadnavis also hinted that states were looking at changing the Agricultural Market Produce Committee to give more avenues to farmers to sell their produce.

He said the Centre and states were discussing ways to give information to farmers on the type of crops to be sowed based on intelligence from other countries.

“Earlier, cropping pattern that we had designed were based on food security,” Fadnavis said.

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