The Compound Eye

Policy Focus

The Seeds Bill, 2019

Seeds occupy a seat of high importance in Indian agriculture. The long struggle to replace the Seeds Act, 1966 with a fresh legislation began in 2004 and has entered its latest battle with the introduction of The Seeds Bill, 2019. The Bill's stated objective is "to provide for regulating the quality of seeds, for sale, import and export and to facilitate production and supply of seeds for quality and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

The 2004 version of the Bill received opposition primarily because it was not seen as a stringent protector of farmers. Clauses such as sweeping powers given to seed inspectors to enter and search without a warrant were particularly abhorred. The Bill was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. The Standing Committee's recommendations can be found here. In response the government circulated official amendments to address some of these issues. A newer version of the Bill was introduced in 2010 but that also failed to pass through Parliament. 

The current Seeds Bill, 2019 likely to be taken up in the winter session of the Parliament has also received criticism. There are two strange changes to the Bill: first the definition of farmers has been changed to include anyone who owns cultivable land. Previously companies were not counted as farmers, but under this definition may not be exempt from some parts of the Bill. Second, there is an addition of section of controlling prices under emerging situations such as food scarcity or monopolistic pricing. Headlines of rising onion prices causing tears in consumers eyes are no longer a rare occurrence. But such adhocism in price policy can cause uncertainty in the market. A transparent mechanism on what comprises an emergent situation and how price caps would be decided needs to be included in this section. Further, seeking alternatives to balance the demand and supply of food products instead of price caps should be prioritised. 

There are more concerns regarding the compensation structure for farmers and the protocol for farmers to prove fraud by seed companies. This report argues for improved technology adoption to increase transparency in seed supply chain before the inclusion of such protocols. Finally Vandana Shiva has argued that the Bill threatens India's Seed Sovereignty and Farmers' Rights. 

We will have to wait and see how the Bill progresses, but calls for another Standing Committee review have already been made.   

It's Controversial

Paying with Your Lung

The 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health was held in Hyderabad from 30th Oct - 2nd Nov, 2019. With a focus on Tuberculosis (TB), the theme for the conference was: Ending the Emergency: Science, Leadership, Action. India has the highest diseases burden of TB in the world and aims to eliminate TB by 2025. 

TB is widely considered a disease of poverty and particularly in India and other middle-to-low income countries is treated by doctors in civic hospitals. There are very few resources available for TB patients and doctors to attend conferences where the latest treatment regimes or scientific research get disseminated. The conference in Hyderabad would have been ideal for Indian attendees to participate in the global dialogue. It therefore came as a surprise to many that delegate registrations began from rates of INR 27000, ranging to INR 65,000 (food not included) for the 4 day event. 

Many doctors and TB survivors could not attend the event and in some instances invited speakers also declined to participate citing the irony of the event. Leading this charge on twitter was bioethicist, Anant Bhan. His explanation for not attending can be found here. In response to his tweet, experts from around the world have also expressed their inability to participate in the event. Please read this detailed article on how the high delegation prices impacted those who wanted to attend the conference. 

Science in India

India International Science Fest: 

The India International Science Fest was held in Kolkata between 5th and 8th November 2019. According to their website, the "India International Science Festival (IISF) is a celebration to promote Science and Technology and demonstrate how science could lead India towards a developed nation within a short span of time. The aim is to engage the public with science and celebrate the joy of science and show the ways how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) provide us with the solutions to improve our lives."

Three Guinness world records were set during this edition of the IISF:

a)  1,598 school students attended a class on astrophysics and assembled working models of spectroscopes using discarded CDs and ordinary cardboard boxes achieving the Guinness World Record for the ‘largest astrophysics lesson and assembly of spectroscopes’ 

b) 268 students successfully assembled radio kits from scratch

c) 415 school students came together to form the largest ever human image of a chromosome

Inspiring young citizens of India to take up science is a great thing, now if only the Ministry of Science and Technology would get increased funding to train and hire all these inspiring scientists. 

Meanwhile, They Said It:

Eat carrots to fight effects of pollution: Union Minister for Health, Harsh Vardhan shared health tips on Twitter. He suggested eating carrots for its help against pollution-related harm to health. Wonder how the carrots protect themselves from this spreading pollution? 

Pray to Lord Indra to fight pollution: If carrots are too much work, UP minister Sunil Bharala suggests holding a yagna to pray to Lord Indra for rainfall. That should reduce the pollution that now assails Delhi and its neighbouring parts.

And the most nuanced of all: At the IISF, CSIR Director General Shekhar Mande said that "We, the scientist community, can only speak about our own scientific inventions, and findings, based on scientific theories. We cannot speak on what others say." He had been asked his views about certain comments made by some union ministers in the past about the links between mythology and country's ancient scientific marvels.

Please click here if you would like to subscribe to this newsletter
Enjoyed reading this newsletter? Please share with others. Forwarding options below
Shambhavi Naik Research Fellow
080 4372 5304

Takshashila Institution

37/5 Yellappa Chetty Layout Ulsoor Road, Ulsoor, Bangalore