Give quick relief to farmers in distress
Pushpa Girimaji

Farmers rarely file complaints before courts constituted under the Consumer Protection Act. But when they do, such complaints invariably pertain to their very source of livelihood—farming or agriculture—and relate to defective seeds, resulting in low and poor-quality yield. In all such cases, it is obvious that farmers need help urgently to overcome the financial crisis caused by the failure of the crop. So, whenever they file a complaint before consumer courts, seeking compensation against defective seeds or fertilisers or pesticides, the least that the courts can do is to take up such cases on a priority basis, and give the farmers relief in the quickest possible time.

In fact such cases should be heard to the exclusion of all others and settled in record time so that the farmers in distress get some relief and quickly. This urgency is heightened all the more by the increasing number of suicides by farmers—particularly in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

But look at the reality. Cases filed by around 130 farmers from Maharashtra, seeking compensation for the loss of yield caused by the poor quality of hybrid cotton seeds sold to them, take 11 to 14 long years to reach a logical conclusion. Is it any wonder that during the pendency of such cases 10 farmers died? May be they died from natural causes or may be they committed suicide.

The entire chain of events puts a huge question mark over the suitability of this forum (consumer courts) for farmers in distress. Unless, of course, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs gives specific instructions to all courts in the country to take up complaints by farmers on a priority basis and complete the process of resolution of disputes within the shortest possible time.

The complaint pertained to a variety of hybrid cotton seeds sold to farmers. The seed, developed by Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth in the form of "breeder seed", was passed on to Ajeet Seed Ltd, which in turn passed the female line to Nath Seeds Ltd, which, using their male line, developed the "foundation seed". After getting a certificate from the state seed certification agency, Maharashtra, Nath Seeds produced and marketed CAHH-468 variety of hybrid cotton seeds. However, farmers who used these in their fields during the sowing season, found that they got no yield. Following complaints from farmers, the state government appointed an enquiry committee, which concluded that there was substantial percentage of sterile plants in the crop of hybrid cotton CAHH-463. It held the seed producers guilty of producing defective seeds and the state seed certification agency equally guilty of certifying it.

The Andhra Pradesh seed certification agency, after noticing about 50-60 per cent of male sterile plants during its field test, had held that the seed production programme of hybrid cotton CAHH-468 should not be registered. But the Maharashtra seed certification agency did not take a similar cautious step.

Subsequently, the farmers filed class action suits against the seed companies as well as the Government of Maharashtra. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum directed them to pay jointly and severally, to each of the farmers, Rs 6,000 per every acre of land sown, along with interest calculated at the rate of 18 per cent per anum, besides a compensation of Rs 5,000 and costs of Rs 2,000.

Justice delayed is justice denied. The farmers may have finally got compensation, but will it take away the suffering undergone by them following the loss of yield? Courts have to answer this question.