Opinion

Why the government is right in controlling the price of Monsanto's Bt cotton seeds

Since Monsanto’s entry into India in 1998, the price of cotton seeds has increased by about 71,000%.

Would we allow someone to claim they were the owner of a building only because they moved furniture into it and therefore claim a right to collect rent for it from the landlord?

When we do not allow such illogical claims to become the basis of property law, how can they be allowed to become the basis of ownership of seed and ownership of life?

That, in essence, is the argument against corporations such as Monsanto that deal with Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO. By adding one new gene to the cell of a plant, such corporations claimed they had invented and created the seed, the plant, and all future seeds which have now become their property.

In other words GMO meant: God Move Over.

By claiming to be the inventor of these seeds, Monsanto claimed to be the creator and owner of generations of seeds that reproduce themselves for life and the right to collect royalties from farmers.

These claims are illegal, unethical, unjust.

Over 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide because of extraction of illegal royalties. This crime must stop, which is why this writer joined Navdanya Seed Savers who submitted 30,000 signatures to the Agriculture Ministry to uphold the Seed Price Control Order, 2015, issued in December 2015 and the "Licensing and Formats for GM Technology Agreements Guidelines, 2016 issued on May 18. On May 22, the agriculture ministry invited the farmers and civil society to respond to the issue of price control within a period of 90 days.

Seed is the source of life. Life forms, forms of life – plants and seeds – are self-evolving, self organised sovereign beings. They have Intrinsic worth, value and standing. They multiply and reproduce. Signatures are still pouring in from around the country to uphold Bija Swaraj, or the seed sovereignty of Indian farmers, and to prevent the loot of India’s biodiversity by corporations like Monsanto.

Shaping intellectual property rights

By defining seed as their creation and invention, corporations have shaped the global intellectual property rights and patent laws so that they could prevent farmers from saving and sharing seeds. This is how the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights – or TRIPS – Agreement of the World Trade Organisation came to be drafted.

These corporations have assumed that they would continue to play the role of “patient , diagnostician and prescribing physician”. But it forgot two vital ingredients of patent laws – national sovereignty and the public interest , specially rights of the farmers.

Argentina and India played a big role in ensuring that clear exclusions and flexibility clauses were introduced in TRIPS, which allowed countries to exclude patents on plants and seeds.

India’s patent law excludes plants and animals, essentially biological processes, from being counted as an invention – as do laws in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. India is the only country to have a law with farmers' rights in its name, titled Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, which has the following clause on Farmers Rights:

“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”.

Essentially, India and other countries with such laws have argued that adding a gene or genetically modifying a seed does not amount to inventing or creating a cotton seed or a soya bean seed and its future generations. Monsanto is challenging these laws across the world, even though they are consistent with TRIPS, as they come in the way of Monsanto’s absolute seed monopoly.

In Argentina, a judge rejected Monsanto soya bean patent, saying: “The writer of a book cannot claim to be the inventor of a language."

Monsanto is not writing the book of life. It is just scrambling the letters in total ignorance of what its “genetic modification” means at the level of the organism, the seed or the eco system. Claiming patents on seed and patents on life is therefore equivalent to claiming destruction as creation, ignorance as innovation.

After having lost the case in the Intellectual Property courts, Monsanto has now brought a challenge in the Supreme Court of Argentina stating that a GMO soya plant is not a plant, and hence cannot be excluded from patentability on the basis of Argentina’s patent laws, just like it is trying to challenge the government of India by arguing that Bt Cotton seed is not a seed when it comes to regulation of seed prices.

So is Bt cotton seed a cotton seed – or not?

Inspite of having no patent on Bt cotton seed, Monsanto started to collected royalties from Indian farmers, pushing up the cotton seed price by about 71,000% (from Rs 5 per kg to Rs 1,600 for 450 gms). First the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act was used and then the government had to intervene by means of the Cotton Seeds Price (Control) Order, 2015 to regulate prices and royalty under the Essential Commodities Act to protect farmers' right to affordable and reliable seed .

Monsanto challenged the order in Delhi High Court and Karnataka High Court. It claimed that the GMO cotton seed is not a seed and its price cannot be regulated under the Essential Commodity Act. It argued that the licensing arrangements were private contracts, that the state could not regulate licences to ensure justice and fair competition. It contended that the royalty or trait value could not be determined by government. It insisted further that Monsanto does the breeding, multiplication and distribution of seeds in India.

But the Karnataka High Court dismissed all these contentions.

The licensing guidelines became necessary because Monsanto was functioning outside the law, as a rogue corporation. These guidelines are a clear reminder of the Indian laws that are in place related to seeds and plants, based on the scientific recognition that seeds make themselves and biological processes are not “manufacture”.

Monsanto is trying to have its cake and eat it too. To resist regulation of seed prices and royalties, it is arguing that a Bt cotton seed is not a seed. But it becomes a seed when it comes to collecting royalties.

The licensing rules recognise Monsanto’s rights to its Bt construct but they reiterate India’s laws that recognise that the seed reproduces itself through essentially biological processes of reproduction. And when Indian breeders breed new varieties using the trait, they are the breeders, not Monsanto – the intellectual property rights for plant varieties will therefore be assigned to the rightful breeders.

Monsanto claiming ownership of the seed because it had the tools to shoot a gene with a gene gun into the cell of the plant is the equivalent to a doctor who has facilitated in-vitro fertilisation claiming parenthood and ownership not only of the child thus born, but of all its descendants in the future. Society will surely reject such a claim.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.