Shopkeepers take advantage of their low awareness and literacy rates to sell them fake farm inputs in the packaging of branded companies
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: “After taking a loan of Rs 5 lakh from the government cooperative society in Bhopal district to sow maize in 10 acres of land, I worked day and night in the hope of getting a good crop. I thought I could repay my loan by selling the produce. All that was ruined by Barazide, an insecticide purchased from Menmers Patel Krishi Seva Kendra, a registered private shop. My entire crop wilted after using it. I did not know I was using a fake version of Barazide,” said Dinesh Kamdar (45) of Ichhawar tehsil in Sehore district.
Fake fertilisers, seeds and pesticides sold in the packaging of
branded companies have been affecting thousands of farmers in Madhya Pradesh,
making them lose their money, crops and hard work. Based on the complaints
received from farmers in Bhopal and Sehore districts, 3,000 acres of
soybean crop has been destroyed.
Kamdar said he has been getting messages from the cooperative
society to pay the loan instalments. “I neither have money nor hopes. Now, only
god can help. I will be able to sow another crop only when this loan is repaid,” he laments.
Prakash Singh Gurjar (32) lost soybean on eight acres to non-standard
agrochemicals. “I have complained to the agriculture department officials,
tehsildar, sub-divisional magistrate
and the district Collector, but have not received any reply to date. Neither did I receive any compensation. In the name of action, the officials take samples and seal the shop. Afterwards, they
collude with the shopkeeper to give a clean chit in the sample report. Again,
the shop will open.”
Farmers from Ahmedpur, Barkheda Hasan, Mungaoli, Naiheri, Barkheda Deva, Bairagarh Chhatri and Gram Bazaar and over half a dozen villages in Sehore district have purchased insecticides from Mahakal Agricultural Service Centre located in Bazaar Barkheda village. Shop owner Deepak Sharma gave them Bonsai, a weedicide, saying it will remove weeds in their fields without damaging the soybean crop. However, despite using the prescribed standards, the crops were destroyed.
Ram Gurjar (32), Dheeraj Gurjar (45) and Raju Gurjar (35) said they complained to Sehore District Collector Praveen Singh Adhayach and the agriculture
department officials. “Subsequently, a team of officials and agricultural scientists inspected
our fields. After a few months, we learnt that the shop had been sealed. But our
problem has not been solved yet. The administration should have taken such an
action, which could provide us with compensation. Or, our losses should have been
covered through insurance claims,” they said in unison.
With tears in his eyes, Raju said the shopkeeper chose them for the wily act and left the place afterwards. “Now, all of us have decided to lodge a joint complaint against the original company concerned and the shopkeeper in the consumer forum,” he said.
Sita Bai (33) of Rampura Balachon of Berasia tehsil in Bhopal district also lost her soybean crop in kharif season (June-October) to weedicide Bonsai. She had taken a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh from the government cooperative society.
Manufacturers of fake agrochemicals usually collect the used bottles of original brands from scrap dealers. They then illegally reprint the labels of the originals and paste them on these bottles, before filling it up with spurious products. All the manufacturing details on the bottles will be that of the original companies such as Bayer, Syngenta, Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals, Coromandel International Limited and Indian Potash Limited.
On condition of anonymity, a registered agrochemical seller in Gunga village of Bhopal district told 101Reporters that most of the shopkeepers know that the agrochemicals they sell are fake or are of poor quality. Their aim is to make a fast buck.
"The rate of a 500 gm insecticide bottle from a certified and well-known company is Rs 300. The shopkeeper gets it at a wholesale rate of Rs 280. When he sells it for Rs 300, he makes a profit of Rs 20. But if he sells the same bottle with fake agrochemicals in it for Rs 300, his profit increases much more as he gets the product at a cheaper rate from the seller," the registered seller explained, adding that nowadays it is difficult for farmers to differentiate between genuine and fake agrochemicals.
Suraj Singh (40) of Rampura Balachon lost his paddy crop in four acres after using Green Mix herbicide. Though he thought he was buying the original Green Mix manufactured by the Insecticides (India) Limited, test report revealed that the herbicide was non-standard. Subsequently, the shop was sealed. Although companies use barcodes and product codes as per the rules of the Central and state governments, they are not preventing fraudsters from duping products.
When 101Reporters brought up the issue before Satyaprakash Sharma, the call centre supervisor of Insecticides (India) Limited, he said the farmer might not have used the agrochemical manufactured by the company. On further persuasion, he said the farmer might have used the medicine over and above the prescribed standards.
"We are an ISO-certified company. Before market launch, each of our medicines is tested at the government fertiliser and seed testing laboratories. They are not launched in the market until the test report assures the desired results," he claimed.
There are government-run fertiliser quality control laboratories in Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior, and a seed testing laboratory in Gwalior. These centres are responsible for checking the originality and effectiveness of agrochemicals and seeds. "Every crop season, agrochemicals and seeds are tested in these laboratories," Tarun Bhatnagar, Deputy Secretary of Madhya Pradesh Farmers Welfare and Agricultural Development Department, told 101Reporters.
KK Pandey, Deputy Director (Agriculture), Sehore district, told 101Reporters that the department has been conducting investigations from time to time. “Based on the complaints from villagers, we have cancelled the licence of Mahakal Agricultural Service Centre and sealed it.” Regarding the compensation pleas of farmers, he said he cannot talk about it as the matter did not come under his purview.
Too short a campaign
According to a research report on counterfeit agrochemicals from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 2015, the Indian crop protection industry was estimated to be worth Rs 250 billion in 2014 fiscal year. In 2013, non-genuine/illegal pesticides constituted Rs 32 billion, which is 25% by value and 30% by volume of the domestic pesticide industry of that year. The study indicated that the market was expected to grow at approximately 20% per year in value terms and if the problem is not addressed, it can reach approximately 40% share by value in the pesticide industry by fiscal year 2019.
The report said that overall yield for farmers across the country can go down by 4%, if non-genuine/ illegal products occupy 25% of the market share. "This implies 10.6 million tonnes of food production loss in the current year," the 2015 report said, while adding that Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were the highly affected states.
In a bid to weed out fake and adulterated agrochemicals, the then Congress government led by Kamal Nath organised a 15-day campaign titled shuddh ke liye yuddh in November 2019. Samples of 653 companies were found to be non-standard upon tests. Inspections were carried out at 7,402 fertiliser, pesticide and seed warehouses, manufacturing units, and on the premises of fertiliser vendors and seed sellers across the state. A total of 5,387 samples were sent for lab testing during the campaign.
However, the agriculture department has not conducted a similar campaign in the following years, whereas the departmental officials claim that they conduct investigations and take action on complaints from time to time.
Strong laws needed
The Insecticides Act, 1968, and the Insecticides Rules, 1971, regulate the import, manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution and use of insecticides. The Central and state governments register a product taking into account the parameters such as chemistry, bio-efficacy, packaging and processing. Among other things, the term 'misbranded' is used to denote a product imitating or sold under the name of another insecticide.
Monitoring the quality of pesticides under the 1968 Act is a joint responsibility of the Central and state governments. But the interesting thing is that there is no provision in the rules for fine and punishment against those selling non-standard and low quality insecticides. Only provisions for cancelling the licence and filing a first information report are present.
In a bid to replace the 1968 Act, the Central government tabled the Pesticide Management Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2008. However, it did not get approval and was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. The new Pesticide Management Bill draft was approved by the Union Cabinet in February 2020, and it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha the next month. But the Bill was again sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture.
According to the Bill, import/export of pesticides in contravention of the Bill provisions, dealing in unregistered, unlicensed or banned pesticides, misrepresentation of pesticides or causing grievous hurt or death, are punishable with both a fine or imprisonment ranging from two to five years, or both. In its report tabled in December 2021, the standing committee suggested creation of an online portal to record details of samples collected for testing and publishing of the tests results online. It further recommended accreditation of all pesticide testing laboratories.
On the need for a strong law to prevent sale of spurious agrochemicals, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh national president Shivkumar Sharma said that they have been demanding that the guilty be sentenced to a five-year jail term with a fine of Rs 10 crore.
However, the state government has been on a slow mode since 2018-19, regarding collection of data about incidents and complaints of distribution and sale of fake/substandard agrochemicals. Replying to a starred question from Jaora (Ratlam) MLA Dr Rajendra Pandey in the state Assembly on March 24 last year, Farmer Welfare and Agriculture Development Minister Kamal Patel said the information pertaining to spurious agrochemicals was being collected.
In short, the lack of proper government intervention and action against fake and substandard agrochemicals have brought the unsuspecting farmers on the verge of losing everything they own.
Read the second part of this story here
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
Cover Photo - Ram Gurjar spraying pesticide in the field (Photo - Sanavver Shafi, 101Reporters)
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