A farm biotech company has been held accountable for losses from genetically modified (GM) crops for the first time in India, a move that could address the issue of farmer suicides in the country.
The decision, however, is being legally challenged.
Two-thirds of Indians depend on agricultural income for subsistence, and according to figures reported in Parliament, over 700 farmers had committed suicide in 2010-11 due to crop losses.
The Indian arm of German-origin Bayer Cropscience was ordered to pay Rs 45 lakh to 164 farmers in Maharashtra's Dhule district after one of its BT cotton hybrids failed.
In Madhya Pradesh, the state's consumer forum, which has the powers of a court, ordered Bayer Bio Science Private Limited to pay Rs 15,500 as compensation for each packet of BT cotton sold to 331 farmers.
"After investigations in Maharashtra, it was found that farmers suffered losses…of Rs 44,77, 672 and the competent authority directed Bayer Bio Science Private Limited to pay a compensation of a like amount," farm minister Sharad Pawar told Parliament on Friday.
Although GM cotton, officially allowed in 2002, sharply raised yields in the initial years, productivity is now declining, according to a flagship paper presented by KR Kranthi, director of the Central Cotton Research Institute (CICR), the country's BT referral lab.
The top scientist attributes part of the problem to a surfeit of BT hybrid variants that are showing new signs of vulnerability to pests.