Hyderabad: The illegal use of spurious BT cotton seeds in Telangana state and Andhra Pradesh is rising alarmingly. Cotton farmers are also buying illegal herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton seeds at a premium.

A latest study by the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (Fisec) observed that the prevalence of illegal HT cotton in Telangana state and AP stood at 15 per cent. It is estimated to be a Rs 1,000-crore business in the Telugu states. Seedsmen Association (SMA), which has 400 members in TS and AP, and a presence across the country, says none of its members were involved in such malpractices.

SMA secretary K. Niranjan Kumar said: “15 per cent of prevalence of BT cotton seeds in both the Telugu states means it is a matter of serious concern and illegal as well. We don’t encourage such malpractices.”

The unauthorised HT cotton seeds are not low-priced. The average price of HT cotton seeds was Rs 1,300 per packet, when compared to Rs 800 for legal Bt cotton seed packets. Both these varieties are genetically modified (GM). So why are cotton farmers preferring them?

A farmer from Karimnagar said he could spray herbicides like glyphosate that kills the weed, but not the cotton plant. HT cotton is genetically tolerant to chemical sprays, he said.

“Farmers are buying HT cotton seeds at a premium. The weeding cost is minimised. How suitable it is for Indian conditions we don’t know,” said Mr Kumar. According to Fisec, the other states where farmers are using unapproved HT cotton seeds are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab. The Fisec panel, under the department of biotechnology set up by the Prime Minister’s Office, collected 13,361 leaf and seed samples and found 15 per cent prevalence of unapproved HT cotton in the 2017 kharif crop season.

Last year, sales of genetically modified Bt cotton seeds were estimated at 45 million packets. At 15 per cent prevalence, the estimated number of illegal packets works out to 67.5 lakh, giving a rough business volume of Rs 800 crore to Rs 1,000 crore, said an expert. SMA alone sells two crore seeds packets of all varieties every year.

The Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations (Cifa) has expressed its concern over the usage of unapproved HT cotton seeds.

Cifa secretary Bojja Dasharatha Rami Reddy said: “It must not be encouraged. Mostly it’s happening in such a way that it goes unnoticed. We always advise farmers to use legally branded seeds only. We every season alert farmers not to fall prey to fake seeds.”

For instance, in the last kharif season, farmers in Karimnagar bought the seed variety VNR-145 from traders in Warangal city. The seeds were spurious and the crop remained unproductive even after using fertilisers. “It’s a huge loss of our time, effort and money,” said a farmer.

Legal metrology department controller Akun Sabharwal said: “In future, strict action will be taken if anybody violates rules and regulations and cheats farmers. No one will be spared if found guilty of cheating farmers.”

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