We need laws and policies to defend India’s Bija Swaraj

By Dr Vandana Shiva – Jivad – The Organic Way, Vandana Shiva’s Blog, 4 November 2019 | Source

A Seed Bill was introduced in 2004 for compulsory Registration and Certification of Seeds. It was also aimed at repealing the Seed Act 1966 which is supposed to prevent spurious seed being sold in the market.

A nation wide Seed Satyagraha submitted lakhs of signatures to the then Prime Minister with farmers declaring that their right to seed  and exchange seed was their birthright. Farmers are the first breeders who have evolved the rich biodiversity of crops and fruits in India -including 200,000 rice varieties, 15,000 wheat varieties, 1500 mango varieties and 1500 banana varieties.

We have a duty to conserve this rich heritage of the biodiversity of crops that has nourished us over centuries, feeds us today, and holds the future of our food sovereignty. We have a right to save and exchange our time tested seeds freely among ourselves as farmers in self governed living seed economies and living seed democracies. This is Bija Swaraj for farmers.Bija Swaraj is self organisation and self rule by  communities of farmers conserving, breeding, exchanging, selling their seeds in their communities.

The 2004 Seed Bill was sent to a standing Committee of Parliament. It failed to become an Act because it did not protect farmers rights and our seed heritage

The Seeds Bill 2019 is worse than the 2004 Bill. It is in fact a bill that threatens our Seed Sovereignty and Seed Freedom. It is a Bill that undermines Farmers Rights. It is a Bill that tries again to impose industrial seed from corporations through a UPOV like structure. We rejected UPOV and wrote  our sovereign sui generis law as the PVPFRA Act. It is a bill that attempts to hand over our seed system to global MNCs by opening the floodgates for GMO seeds  and non renewable hybrid seeds, increasing the farmers burden and aggravating the agrarian crisis.

While Corporate strategies of introducing non renewable, high cost hybrids is failing, farmers strategies based on conservation and evolutionary breeding of the native, desi varieties farmers have evolved are offering solutions for addressing the climate crisis ,the water crisis, desertification crisis, and the crisis of malnutrition.

Seed Sovereignty is the basis of food sovereignty and food security. Farmers Rights and Farmers Seed Soveregnty is the foundation for the freedom and sovereignty of the country.

In the context of increasing control over seed by 4 chemical giants ,defending our Seed Sovereignty and Farmers Rights is central  to defending our national sovereignty.

The Seed Bill fails to protect India’s seed sovereignty and uphold Farmers Rights.

Farmers seed sovereignty is the foundation of our nation’s seed and food sovereignty. The Nation’s Seed Sovereignty, National Bija Swaraj ,is based on protecting our agricultural Biodiversity through the Biodiversity Act 2003 http://nbaindia.org/uploaded/Biodiversityindia/Legal/31.%20Biological%20Diversity%20%20Act,%202002.pdf, strengthening our national seed systems, including the National Seed Corporation and State Seed Corporations which breed and produce reliable seeds adapted to India’s diverse agro climatic zones and provide them to farmers  at affordable costs. National Bija Swaraj is freedom from MNC control over our seeds by. MNC’s threaten our national sovereignty when they threaten our Seed Sovereignty.

Seed Security is national security and therefore must be kept in public hands – of farming communities, and of public institutions that were created for the public good, unlike giant corporations who control seed for super profits

Concentration of Corporate Control Over Seeds

4 agrochemical corporations now control the seed. Such concentration of control over the first link in the food system is a threat to our seed sovereignty and our national sovereignty. The Bill will increase this concentration and control.

The big chemical giants who have bought up smaller companies have merged further. Bayer has merged with Monsanto through a $ 63 billion deal. Dow and DuPont merged in a deal valued at $130 billion (announced in 2015). They were then divided into three companies, including an agriculture-focused firm called Corteva. Chemchina acquired Syngenta for $43 billion (announced in 2016)

These four firms are now estimated to control over 60% of global proprietary seed sales.

Global Seed Industry Changes Since 2013

While multinationals were not allowed in the Seed Sector prior to the 1990’s,34% of the seed market in India has already been captured by these MNCs prior to the merger of the six large corporations. The Bill will accelerate this capture of our seed supply by the Big giants.

With high levels of control, the corporations have increased seed prices, they have destroyed biodiversity, and farmers seed sovereignty. Farmers are forced to buy seed at high costs in every season.

Seed Sovereignty rests on Farmers Rights

Farmers Rights are also enshrined in the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act of India, which is a sui generis option given in Article 27.3 b of the TRIPS agreement of WTO. I was a member of the expert group to draft the act

CHAPTER VI of the act is on FARMERS’ RIGHTS states

  1. Farmers’ rights.—(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act,(iv) a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act


The farmers rights clause forced Pepsi to withdraw its case against potato farmers in Gujrat

Any law related to seed needs to uphold Farmers Rights as enshrined in our national sovereign laws.

Scientific advances has clearly established that industrial seed breeding  for chemicals has increased the toxic burden on the planet ,increased the chronic disease burden on society, contributed to the climate emergency and water emergency. Farmers seed conservation of farmers varieties is providing society with crops and foods which are more nutritious, more climate resilient and more water conserving.

For promoting chemical free agriculture, we need Desi Seeds. To protect, conserve, and spread desi seeds ,breed, evolve Desi Seeds, farmers seed sovereignty needs to be recognised and upheld. This is Bija Swaraj

The 2019 Seed Bill does the opposite. It is a corporate driven Bill for allowing seed monopolies, and introduction of untested ,ill adapted seeds in India which have already contributed to serious agrarian distress, and a rapid loss of our rich Biodiversity.

2019 Seed Bill :Weakening Farmers Rights, Strengthening Corporate Control

Throughout the Bill, there are attempts to weaken farmers rights, and increase corporate control over seed.

The very definition of “farmer” has been changed to allow corporations and traders to be counted as farmers.

The Original definition of farmer excluded any individual, company, trader or dealer who engages in the procurement and sale on a commercial basis. This has been deleted in the current draft

The definition is now a loose definition without clear exclusion of non farmers.

“Farmer means any person who owns cultivable land or any other category of farmers who are doing the agricultural work as may be notified by the Central / State Governments”

Because of our Seed Satyagraha for Bija Swaraj, the earlier draft had a clause which exempted farmers from the requirements of the Bill. This exemption clause has been deleted in the current draft, government can  Instead there is an exemption of  scientific and research institutions, and extension systems from the requirements of the Bill.

Over the last two decades of neo liberal privatisation of the seed system  our public breeding programs have collapsed, our public Seed Corporations are struggling without resources, our public research and extension systems have been displaced by the MNC’s with their research organisations, and their own extension systems.The 2019 version thus gives corporations a free hand, while removing the exemption of farmers, and hence destroying their seed sovereignty, both at the farmer level and at the national level

Bayer  has set up a new canola/mustard research station, spread in 10 acres at Palwal in Haryana, “will focus on breeding and development of core germplasm for high performing mustard hybrids for both Indian and global markets”.

Bayer CropScience has 25 per cent market share in canola hybrid seeds in the global market. India with approximately 6.5 million hectares under mustard cultivation is a big market for Bayer.



Under the new definition of “farmer” of anyone owning cultivable land under clause 11, Bayer could qualify as a “farmer”. And with the new exemptions of Clause 47, Bayer/Monsanto could also be exempted from any regulation under the Seed Law.

This is why this Bill is deregulation Bill for corporations, and an inspector/police raj for the farmers and horticulturalists who have bred and conserved India’s rich Agricultural Biodiversity, and who have a right to Seed Freedom, Bija Swaraj

Unscientific, corporate friendly definition of “Seed”

The Bill is not based on the science of biodiversity conservation or evolutionary breeding that is needed in times of climate change.

Seeds and all living systems, are self organising autopoeitic systems  iIn self organisation, self rule, self regulation, Bija Swaraj, lies the freedom and evolutionary potential of the seed, and our farmers ,and India as an ecological civilisation and a sovereign country not enslaved by corporate rule.

Giant Corporations have been trying to own and control the seed. External control and manufacturing ownership over autonomous beings is the source of their power and profits.

The Seed Bill is the latest expression of the corporate attempt to control and own our seeds. Since seed is the first link in the Food System. controlling seed means controlling our food and our lives.

This contest between self organisation and external control is currently in India’s highest courts.

In a case in the SC ,Monsanto tried to undermine the clause 3j in our patent Act which embodies the recognition of the integrity and self organisation of life. Monsanto failed in its attempt to dismantle Art 3j of our Patent Act which states

Chapter II of our Patent Act on INVENTIONS NOT PATENTABLE in article 3j states

  1. What are not inventions.—The following are not inventions within the meaning of this Act…

(j) plants and animals in whole or any part thereof other than micro organisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or

propagation of plants and animals;

Monsanto has been trying to use the tools of genetic engineering to patent and own life for the last 30 years. It has been attempting to be the “Patient, diagnostician ,physician” in defining living organisms, including seeds, as their invention and creation. One could say that for Monsanto GMO means God Move Over, Monsato defines itself as  the creator, and hence owner of life.

For thirty years I have defended the integrity of life ,freedom of the seed, and freedom of farmers to save and exchange seed. My deep commitment to the philosophy of Vasudhaiv Kutumbkan, the Earth as one Family and one Community, translates into a commitment to defend 3j of our Patent Act  and Farmers Rights. Contrary to Monsanto’s myth,life is not Monsanto’s invention. Life is self organised evolution in renewal and continuity. Life and seeds have intrinsic worth and integrity. Seeds are a commons and a public good on which rests the conservation of biodiversity – of insects, pollinators and soil organisms, the livelihood security of farming communities, and the public health of the country’s citizens.

The 1966 Seed Act had a clear definition of “seed”

(11) “seed” means any of the following classes of seeds used for sowing or planting- seeds of food crops including edible oil seeds and seeds of fruits and vegetables;

cotton seeds;
seeds of cattle fodder;

and includes seedlings, and tubers, bulbs, rhizomes, roots, cuttings, all types of grafts and other vegetatively propagated material, of food crops or cattle fodder;

“variety” means a sub-division of a kind identifiable by growth, yield, plant, fruit, seed, or other characteristic.

In the draft Seed Bill new commercial definitions of seed have been introduced which are guided more by providing corporations like Bayer/Monsanto easy market access than by the objective of conserving our rich biodiversity ,guaranteeing farmers freedom to save and exchange seeds they have evolved, and ensuring high quality ,reliable, affordable, ecologically adapted seed for their ecosystem and agroclimatic zone are available in the market.

The Bill introduces unscientific definitions on “national seed variety” and state seed variety in Clauses 17 and 31

(17) “national seed varieties” means those varieties which are cultivated in more than one State•

(31) “State seed varieties” mean those varieties which are cultivated in one State only

Seed is the expression of diversity of traits and diversity of the agroclimatic zones where seed varieties have been bred by farmers, and to which they are adapted. To describe seeds not according to their traits and agroclimatic zones, but as “national seed” if they are cultivated in more than one state and state seed variety if they are cultivated only in one state has no basis in science, but only a commercial basis, to facilitate the marketing and spread of unreliable, costly seeds from MNCs.

Corporations have introduced hybrid corn, GMO Bt Cotton, and hybrid rice in regions where they were not suitable. This has led to large scale failures. In 2003 ,the Bihar Government  ordered a probe into the failure of the Monsanto’s ‘Kargil 900m’ maize crop, which was cultivated over 1.4 lakh hectares in the state


Despite the public and private emphasis placed on the potential of hybrid rice seed to raise yield ceilings, a number of problems have been associated with their use in India. These include technical issues related to inferior grain quality, inadequate disease or insect resistance, poor taste or texture and inconsistent yields (Janaiah 2002;Spielman et al. 2013;Singh et al. 2015) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262122778_Hybrid_Rice_for_Indian_Farmers_Myths_and_Realities

FAO has also confirmed that hybrid rice has “inferior grain quality; inadequate disease/insect resistance in the first generation of hybrids; inconsistent and low seed yield; inadequate supply of pure seed of parental lines; and the high cost of seed”


Such large scale failures are frequent, and the corporations go scot free. Before enlarging corporate Rights through the Seed Bill, the country needs an assessments of the corporate seed sector.

New Seeds were evaluated in 22 agroclimatic zones was to ensure farmers get quality seed

Under the 1966 Seed Act.

The 2019 Seed Bill has made Evaluation an option

Evaluation of performance

| 49720. The Committee may, for conducting trials to assess the performance, accredit centres of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, State Agricultural Universities and such other organizations fulfilling the eligibility requirements as may be prescribed, to conduct trials to evaluate the performance of any kind or variety of seeds.

Government Regulations are supposed to Regulate to protect citizens and the public good. The Seed Bill should ensure compensation to farmers in case of seed failure  under the Bill which claims to regulate the quality of seed. However ,the Seed Bill leaves it to the farmer to get compensation for Seed Failure under the consumer act, why do we need a Seed Bill. The Clauses on Liability are empty if there is no liability in case of seed failure.

Compensation to farmer

| 207—2 1. Where the seed of registered kind or variety is sold to a farmer, the producer, distributor or vendor, as the case may be, shall disclose the expected performance of such kind or variety to the farmer under given conditions, and if, such registered seed fails to provide the expected performance under such given conditions, the farmer may claim compensation from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. (68 of 1 986)

We welcome the clauses on Seed Price Regulation. However we do not need a new Seed Bill for this. The Essential Commodity Act gives Government the power to regulate prices as it did in the case of lowering the price of Bt Cotton through the Seed Price Control order.


Instead of introducing a new bill which favours MNC corporations and spreading the spin in the media that the main purpose of the Bill is to regulate prices, the Government should uphold the Essential Commodities Act which has served the country well.

In the 1966 Act Seed Certification was voluntary.

Grant of certificate by certification agency

  1. (3)

Any person selling, keeping for sale, offering to sell, bartering or otherwise supplying any seed of any notified kind or variety may, if he desires to have such seed certified by the certification agency, apply to the certification agency for the grant of a certificate for the purpose.

The 2019 Draft Bill is a Compulsory Seed Certification Bill ,

Seed producers and seed processing units to be registered

247 22.(1) No producer or his sponsor shall grow or organize the production of seed unless he is registered  under this Act by the State Government in which he grows or organises such production.

(2)            No person shall maintain a seed processing unit unless such unit is  under this Act by the State Government

.While it does state in article 12  that

Provided that the farmers shall not be required to register the farmers’ varieties of seeds in the said register.

the deletion of Farmers rights in the Exclusion of clause 47 is a dilution of Bija Swaraj and Farmers Seed Sovereignty

Opening the flood gates for GMO seeds, The Rush to deregulate Biosafety.

The word “transgenic seeds” has been introduced throughout the text. A new category of “synthetic seeds “ has been introduced the the definition of “seed” in article 24.

Section 44 gives an opening for introduction of transgenic varieties on the basis of clearance by the GEAC

Special provision for registration of transgenic varieties

I (l) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 14, no seed of any transgenic variety shall be registered unless the applicant has obtained a clearance in respect of the same as required by or under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: (29 of 1986)

However ,the Biosafety Regulatory agency has been failing in its regulatory role. It approved Bt cotton which is failing. It approved Bt Brinjal which the Minister had to stop. It approved GMO must even though it has lower yields that indigenous public varieties ,and is tolerant to prohibited herbicide, glofisinate. A case in the Supreme Court has prevented its commercialisation.

The 2019 Seed Bill would allow commercialisation of Bt Brinjal; and Herbicide Resistant Mustard.

Bt Cotton was imported in India illegally in 1995, and its illegal field trials were started in 1998. It was commercialised in 2002.

GMO Bt cotton, the first GMO crop commercialised has failed to deliver on its promises of pest control, decreasing chemical use, and increasing yields.

Government data shows that Bt cotton contributed to emergence of resistance in the bollworm, forcing farmers to use more pesticides, with many dying due to pesticide poisoning. Yields have declined to pre Bt cotton days ,and costs of production have increased, adding to the financial burden of farmers.

The analysis and graphs below,based on government data ,is from a Press Release written by Aruna Rodregues and Dr Vandana Shiva.

While control of the Bollworm was the primary justification for Monsanto introducing Bt cotton, the bollworm has developed resistance and  new non target species such as (whitefly, jassids, mealybugs etc have emerged as major pests damaging the cotton cotton and trapping farmers in a pesticide treadmill and a debt trap.

Farmers are using more pesticides after Bt cotton was introduced. This undermines the government’s claim to promote chemical free, pesticide free farming

A second false claim related to transgenics and GMOs is that it increases yields. Firstly, Bt introduces a toxic. It is not a yield trait.

Further, yields have actually declined as acreage under Bt cotton has increased. Average All-India Bt cotton yields have stagnated, hovering at around/below 500 Kg/ha over the 14 years of 2005 to 2018, despite the use of ONLY HYBRIDS in Bt cotton, which is around 90% of sown cotton. Some zonal data are no more than even the poorest of African countries, which do not cultivate either Bt- cotton or hybrid cotton. In 2017, 31 Countries were ranked above India in terms of cotton yield and of these, only 10 grew GM cotton. 4

In 2005 and 2006, Bt cotton adoption was ONLY about 12 and 38% respectively (Figs. 4 below), and yet average yields had reached the current low yield plateau of about 450-500 Kg/Ha (CAB and DES data). Bt cotton was not responsible for the increase.

Costs of Seeds have gone up.

At introduction in 2002, an equivalent packet of Bt cotton seed was more than 2000% higher than non-Bt varietal seed. Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Conservative estimates show that on average, the additional expenditure on seeds was at least Rs. 1179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total additional amount of Rs 14,000 crores on Bt– cotton seeds during the 17-year period from 2002 to 2018. The trait value charged (2002- 2018) is around Rs 7,000 Crores. This excludes Royalties accruing to Mahyco- Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton), and yet allowed by the regulators.

Besides increasing Seed Costs, other inputs have also dramatically  increased.

Net profit was Rs. 5971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt), but plummeted to net losses of Rs. 6286 in 2015.

source: Min Of Agriculture, Govt. of India: https://eands.dacnet.nic.in/Cost_of_Cultivation.htm Cost of cultivation /

The regulatory system has failed to make Monsanto accountable for the failure of Bt Cotton. The Regulatory system has failed to prevent the illegal spread of  Round Ready Herbicide Tolerant  Bt cotton.

What India needs is a strengthening of our Biosafety system, removing people in the GEAC who are involved in corporate lobby groups such as ILSI, ensuring there is no conflict of interest at any level.

To introduce GMOs through the Seed Bill will continue the illegal activities of global corporations who have already caused immense damage to our biodiversity, our farmers livelihoods. and our seed sovereignty.

New GMOs based on gene editing (CRISPR (Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) Cas-9 ) and gene drives are being rushed to the market inspite of uncertainties related to the technology.

Even while the science is uncertain, and unpredictable impacts observed, instead of using the precautionary principle, a false claim to precision is being made in the context of the the infant CRISPR technology of genetic modification.

While a deterministic assumption of genetic reductionism assumes that CRISPR ‘a relatively easy way to alter any organism’s DNA, just as a computer user can edit a word in a document’ and is precise and predictable, a new study published in Nature Methods revealed that CRISPR introduced hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome of mice.

It found more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations and more than 100 larger deletions and insertions. None of these DNA mutations were predicted by the computer algorithms that are widely used by researchers to screen the genome of an organism to look for potential off-target effects.

(Vandana Shiva and Kartikey Shiva, Oneness vs the 1%, Women Unlimited, 2018 pg 86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796662/

The European Court of Justice has ruled that gene edited organisms and seeds are GMOs because they have modified the genome of the organism.

Indian Biosafety laws need to add gene edited organisms to GMOS to be assessed for safety.

Before transgenics are allowed in the Seed Bill, the Biosafety Regulatory System needs to be strengthen and made independent of lobbyists who occupy key positions in various committees related to approval of GMOs. A Conflict of Interest assessment needs to be carried out and those with Conflict of Interest need to be removed from the Biosafety Regulatory system. .

Centralisation and undermining of the federal structure of our Seed Governance

In the 1966 Act ,the following was the structure of the Central Seed Committee

  1. (2)

The Central Government shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this Act, constitute a Committee called the Central Seed Committee to advise the Central Government and the State Governments on matters arising out of the administration of this Act and to carry out the other functions assigned to it by or under this Act.

(iii) one person to be nominated by the Government of each of the States.

In the 2019 Seed Bill ,the presence of a representative nominated by  each state has been changed to 5 representatives chosen by the centre on a rotational basis

(4)     The Committee shall consist of the following other members to be nominated by the Central Government, namely:—

the Secretary (Agriculture), to the State Government one each from the geographical zones as specified in the Schedule on rotation basis;

This is an undermining our federal structure as defined by our Constitution

Recommendations for Parliament 

Before the Seed Bill 2019 is considered, parliament should

1  Set up a committee to assess seed failures of corporate seeds  and instruct the government to ensure that the corporations  pay compensation to the farmers whose crops were destroyed because of false claims and promises. On the basis of report of the committee ,Parliament should recommend to Government how it can set up a strict liability framework to hold the MNC’s accountable for the false claims they make, and the high costs born by farmers because of repeated corporate seed failures

2  Parliament first needs to assess the role on MNCs in our seed   system, including their research organisations, their extension systems before this Bill proceeds.

3  A multiparty parliamentary committee needs to be be set up to assess the past performance of GMOs and  recommendations for strengthening the regulatory systems, specially in the context of new GMO technology.

The Seed Bill should be brought before parliament only after the parliamentary committees have submitted its reports  on the performance of transgenics and GMOs and guidance to Government on strengthening the Biosafety Regulations

4 A multiparty committee of Parliament needs to review the weakening of our national public seed system, and recommend strengthening our national seed sovereignty since Seed Soveregnty is the foundation of national sovereignty and national security