In a significant judgment, the consumer courts have come to the aid of a farmer in Punjab's Muktsar district who suffered losses because of substandard Bt cotton seeds.
Though relief for Baljinder Singh comes after more than four years, the dealer and manufacturer of the poor quality seeds have been held liable for, and asked to compensate for his loss.
Baljinder, who owns 1.5 acres of agricultural land at Gurusar village in Muktsar's Gidderbaha tehsil, first complained to the Muktsar agriculture officer in August 2007 after which the field was inspected by technical experts. Armed with their report, he demanded that Garg Pesticides and Rallis India pay him Rs 1 lakh as compensation, but the sellers and firm did not respond.
He then moved the district consumer disputes redressal forum in Muktsar.
In his complaint to the forum, he said he purchased BT cotton seed packets in May 2007 from Garg Pesticides at the Gidderbaha grain market for Rs 2,250, and sowed them in his land. He said Mumbai-based firm Rallis India Limited had produced the seeds. "At the time of purchase I was told that the seeds were of good quality and would yield 12 to 14 quintals of cotton crop," he said in his complaint before the forum.
However, despite taking good care of the crop and spending Rs 13,750 on fertilisers, irrigation, pesticides and payment to labourers, the plants neither grew to proper height nor bore fruit flowers, as assured by Garg Pesticides, the complaint said.
He alleged the seeds were not certified and of dubious quality. The consumer forum in Muktsar in 2008 directed Garg Pesticides and Rallis India to award Baljinder compensation of Rs 21,000 along with Rs 5,000 as compensation for harassment and Rs 1,000 as litigation cost.
Challenging this order, Garg Pesticides and Rallis India moved the Chandigarh-based Punjab state consumer disputes redressal commission, saying the seeds were not tested in any laboratory. They said the seeds were sealed in packets and sold as such to the complainant; therefore they were not liable to pay any compensation.
The productivity of the crop depends on various factors such as fertilisers and pesticides used and rainfall, they said. But both the consumer forum and commission held that the bad quality of seeds stands proved and had other factors been responsible, the seed would not have germinated or the plant would have died down at the bud stage.