New Delhi: Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make necessary interventions to save farmers from the onslaught of Monsanto. In a letter to Modi, SJM national co-convener Dr Ashwani Mahajan has expressed apprehensions over the wide ramification of Union Agriculture Ministry’s failure in placing the Central government’s views on the Indian Patent Act and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, before Delhi High Court in case between Monsanto Technology and others versus Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd and others’
Dr Mahajan says that ‘the intervention by the Union of India was important to place on record the legislative intent in the provision under Section 3(j) of the Indian Patent Act and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, and any decision by the High Court will necessarily impact all litigations in which the Centre is a party nullifying its actions taken against Monsanto in the interest of the farmers. This is unfortunate because, to the best of our knowledge and understanding, the proposed affidavit and written submission had been prepared well in advance by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, and discussed with joint secretary R K Singh and Deputy Commissioner D S Misra of the Ministry, before he went on a brief vacation.’
“We understand that the Department was aware that the hearing of the said appeal had been concluded by the Division Bench and that written submissions were required to be filed before June 5, 2017. Further, an application was sent for affirmation by Sunil Mathews, Advocate. Despite this, no action was taken by the Ministry. This development is a major blow to India’s fight against seed monopolies. However, we feel that despite this setback, the Government of India should file written submissions regarding questions of law related to patenting of seeds while avoiding the internal dispute between the two companies. We are conscious of the fact that the Division Bench could have begun to write the judgment in appeal during vacations in the absence of the legal stand of the Government of India, but nevertheless, an attempt should be made to place Government’s stand on record,” adds Dr Mahajan in the letter.
It is worth mentioning that BT cotton seed prices have been a contentious issue in the country for over a decade and some state governments and farmers associations had approached the then existing MRTP Commission. Some state governments enacted their own laws to regulate cotton seed prices and the ‘trait value’ to be levied. This created a chaotic situation in which every state fixed the cotton seed prices for its own state while Monsanto technology fixed different ‘trait values’ for different states even as it challenged the said state enactments by claiming its patent rights.
Dr Mahan states in the letter that “the Union Ministry of Agriculture has filed a reference before the Competition Commission of India (CCI) against Monsanto and its subsidiaries for their anti-competitive business practices. CCI found a strong prima facie case of violation of Section 3 and 4 of the Competition Act and directed an investigation vide order dated 10 February 2016 against Monsanto and its subsidiary companies and the persons involved. Simultaneously, Monsanto launched a spate of litigations by itself or through subsidiary companies before various forums, challenging the Constitutional validity of Cotton Seeds Prices (Control) Order, 2015 in writ petition No.12069 of 2015 before the High Court of Delhi.”
“While the Government of India does not have any locus standi in contractual disputes between the two private parties, there are several legal questions raised by both parties which are based upon the interpretation of the Indian Patent Act and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. Thus, any decision that the High Court arrives at on the interpretation of law and especially regarding interpretation of Section 3(j) of the Indian Patent Act (according to which seeds and life forms cannot be patented) and the applicability of PPV&FR Act for transgenic plants, will directly impact the decisions taken by the Govt. for the welfare of the farmers,” says the letter.
Why the SJM is so worried? India has approximately 600 million farmers and agriculture accounts for over 26 per cent of the country’s capital GDP. Therefore, the SJM feels that “the legal issue being decided by the Court cannot, indeed should not, be decided without the stand of the Government of India being put on record regarding the question of law. It is obvious that any decision on the point of law in the said appeal would directly impact the interpretation of the existing Indian Patent law as well as PPV&FR Act, as also all pending writ petitions that are being defended by the Government of India and other Central agencies.”
Dr Mahajan has also felt that the “Government of India should take due cognisance of the laxity and culpable negligence of the concerned officials of the Union Ministry of Agriculture, for humiliating the Union Government before the High Court of Delhi and playing with the future of lakhs of Indian farmers and consumers. We request for suitable directions to the Ministry of the Agriculture to act swiftly so as to protect the provision of non-patentability of seeds in the Patent Act and the rights granted to the farmers and breeders under the PPVFR Act by intervening in the interpretation of point of law immediately.”