By Abhinav Gour
Published on: June 30, 2022, at 16:06 IST
A farmer sprays pesticides at a cucumber field near Ahmedabad, India. Credit: AMIT DAVE / Reuters
Pesticides protect crops against pests, which is crucial for maintaining agricultural production. The availability of safe and effective pesticides and their appropriate application by farmers is vital to agricultural production and productivity’s long-term viability. Pesticides are also beneficial in controlling vectors that spread illnesses such as malaria in public health programmes.
Pesticides, on the other hand, have toxic properties and require a well-ordered system of management and regulation encompassing all important stages in their life-cycle, from manufacture to import, packaging, labelling, pricing, storage, advertisement, sale, transport, distribution, use, and disposal, to ensure the availability of safe and effective pesticides and to strive to minimise risk to humans, animals, non-pest living organisms, and the environment.
To ensure the same, the Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on March 23, 2020. Its objective was to control pesticide manufacturing, importation, sale, storage, distribution, usage, and disposal to assure the availability of safe pesticides and reduce the danger to humans, animals, and the environment. The Bill aims to replace the 1968 Insecticides Act.
Background and Timeline
The government’s five-decade experience of implementing the Insecticides Act of 1968, as well as comments from multiple stakeholders, demanded a re-evaluation of the statute.
- 2000-01: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture offered recommendations for revisions to the Act and increased penalties for the selling of spurious pesticides. The Parliamentary Standing Committee proposed that makers of spurious pesticides face harsher sanctions and punishments proportionate with their actions, including various other recommendations.
- 2008-2009: In light of this, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation drafted the Pesticides Management Bill, 2008, following extensive discussions with stakeholders and relevant Ministries. The Cabinet approved the Bill on April 24, 2008, and it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on October 21, 2008. The Pesticides Management Bill of 2008 was referred to the Agriculture Standing Committee. In 2009, the Standing Committee submitted its Report to the Parliament after hearing numerous experts from various fields. In their Report, the Committee offered a list of thirty-seven recommendations. The Committee made several important recommendations, including ensuring farmer representation on the Central Pesticides Board, NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) accreditation for all pesticide testing laboratories, data protection for new molecules, a time limit for fixing MRLs (Maximum Residue Limit) for the pesticides, accountability of pesticide inspectors, and analysis of pesticide residue in imported consignments. The Department had accepted the majority of the Standing Committee’s recommendations, appropriately included in the Bill.
- 2014: Following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, this Bill was given an internal assessment before being presented to the Cabinet with new amendments for consideration. The Ministry of Law and Justice proposed that rather than moving official modifications to correct the alterations and add more than 90 Enactments for repeal via lengthy Amendments, it would be preferable to withdraw ‘The Pesticide Management Bill, 2008,’ and present a new Bill.
- 2017: The Pesticide Management Bill 2017 was developed and circulated to concerned Ministries, States, and UTs in June 2017, as per the recommendation. In 2018, a stakeholders meeting was convened to discuss enhancing the proposed Bill. A copy of the Bill was posted on the Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare’s website, requesting comments and ideas from stakeholders. The Department received several recommendations and opinions. The recommendations were considered, and the Bill was scrutinised and, when required, were appropriately integrated into the Bill.
- 2019: The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020, was sent to Central Government Ministries and Departments in December 2019. Various Departments’ comments were received, reviewed, and appropriately included in the Draft Bill. The ‘Pesticides Management Bill’, 2020, was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on March 23, 2020.
On June 2, 2021, the Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha, in conjunction with the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, submitted ‘The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020’ to the Standing Committee on Agriculture for study.
Pesticide Management Bill, 2020
The salient features of the Bill as notified by the government are summarised under the following heads:
The phrase ‘insecticide’ has been replaced in the title by the more comprehensive and acceptable term ‘Pesticide.’ The long title has been expanded to regulate pesticides, including their manufacture, import, packaging, labelling, pricing, storage, advertisement, sale, transport, distribution, use, and disposal, to ensure the availability of safe and effective pesticides, and to strive to minimise risk to humans, animals, living organisms other than pests, and the environment, with a goal of promoting biological and traditional know-how pesticides. To give improved clarity and administration, the number and breadth of definitions have been raised.
Central Pesticides Board
According to the previous bills, a Central Pesticides Board will be established by the central government to advise the central and state governments on scientific and technical issues related to the Act. It will also assist the central government in the development of standards and best practises for
- Pesticide producers, laboratories, and pest control operators;
- Working conditions and worker training;
- Pesticide recall and disposal. The Board will also develop standard practices for dealing with pesticide poisoning instances.
Under the current bill, the Central Pesticides Board has been expanded to include more specialists and ex-officio members. The Central Government will designate two farmers, at least one of whom must be a woman, to serve on the Board. State representation in the Board has also been increased (from two to five).
The Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Ministry of Chemical and Fertilizers, and a specialist toxicologist from a reputable institute will now be members of the Registration Committee. It has been recommended that the functions of these organisations be enlarged.
Registration of Pesticides
Those wishing to import or produce a pesticide for general use, agriculture, industry, pest control, or public health must first get a pesticide certificate of registration from the Registration Committee.
The way in which the Registration Committee’s powers and duties are exercised should be defined by the Central Government to promote openness and efficient execution. Pesticides that are biological and based on traditional knowledge have been promoted, and indigenous manufacture has been encouraged.
The Registration Committee would be governed by variables such as necessity, end-use, the risk involved, and availability of safer alternatives when registering a pesticide, in addition to examining its safety and efficacy. It has been advocated that maximum residue levels for pesticides be made mandatory. Repeat registration of pesticides under Bill’s requirements is referred to as “Generic Pesticides.” Pesticides are subject to review, suspension, and revocation of registration, as well as a ban.
The State Government has the authority to set the qualifications for licencing officers, pesticide inspectors, and pesticide analysts and to appoint them. The state government may also advise a person that pesticides in the very dangerous or highly toxic categories are available for sale by prescription.
A clause has been included that allows licences to be presumed revoked if a pesticide’s registration is revoked. The Central Government may define ordinary use pesticides for which no licence to sell or stock is necessary via notification.
The Bill makes provision for the Central Government, or a State Government authorised in this capacity to accredit commercial labs to carry out some or all of the activities of a Pesticides Testing Laboratory, subject to conformity with defined standards.
‘Punishment for obstruction,’ ‘Punishment for violations of the registration and licencing conditions,’ ‘Punishment for activities related to the import and export of pesticides,’ ‘Punishment for activities involving unregistered and unlicensed pesticides,’ and ‘Punishment for activities involving falsified pesticides,’ which includes intentionally or fraudulently misrepresenting the identity, complicity, or knowledge of the identity, complicity, In the case of successive offences by a person, a provision of not less than double the fine imposed at the time of the first conviction, irrespective of the maximum fine permitted for such offence, has been enacted. This was done in order to discourage repeat offenders.
Furthermore, if a person is guilty of violating the terms of registration six and licencing for the third time or more, he faces a sentence of up to one year in jail. For the different violations, fines ranging from 25,000 to 50 lakh have been granted, along with imprisonment for a duration of up to 5 years or both, depending on the severity.
The fine imposed under the penalty provisions is intended to be credited to a fund that will be used, among other things, to make ex-gratia payments to individuals or their legal heirs who have suffered harm, serious harm, or death as a result of occupational exposure to a pesticide. This fund will also get funding from the central government.
If the Central Government believes it is essential or expedient to ensure the distribution and availability of pesticides at reasonable rates, it may establish an authority to exercise such powers and execute such responsibilities pertaining to pesticide pricing regulation.
The pesticides management bill raised eyebrows and were in the news due to the concerns of the experts that it may hurt farmers’ livelihood and India’s agricultural system. Hence, they demanded that the Bill should also be referred before a select committee for wider consultations.
- The Bill can potentially hurt Pesticide Manufacturers
Several proposed provisions in the Pesticides Management Bill 2020 can potentially impact pesticide manufacturers negatively, reducing sales. Under the Bill, the licencing officer may revoke the licence if the licencing officer is convinced that the licence holder has violated any of the requirements of this Act or the rules promulgated thereunder.
Furthermore, if the government believes it is in the public interest to stop the sale of particular pesticides, it may restrict the distribution, sale, or use of the pesticide or a specific batch in a specific region for a term not exceeding one year.
- Indian Agricultural System and Agro-Chemical exports
The Bill prohibits the export of pesticides that are banned in India, even though they are legal in other countries. A technical grade pesticide does not need to be registered before any formulations can be imported into India.
This implies that no other business may produce a generic version of technical grade pesticides, giving imported formulations an unfair advantage because they may contain unregulated, low-quality, or even expired technical-grade pesticides acquired from an authorised nation.
The Report by The Standing Committee
The Standing Committee, after going through the Bill, has made recommendations that will have far-reaching effects after the proper implementation of the Pesticide Management Bill. The recommendations are summarised under the following heads:
Data Protection For New Molecules
The Committee is concerned that the ‘Pesticide Management Bill, 2020’ lacks any data protection provisions for the entry of new pesticide molecules into the country despite the recommendations made in 2008. Many stakeholders have made representations to the Committee on this subject.
Definition of Pesticides
Pesticides are defined in the Bill as any substance of chemical or biological origin used to prevent or eradicate pests in agriculture, industry, public health, pest control activities, or everyday usage. The Committee warns that a wide definition may put chemical pesticides (which must be strictly regulated) on the same level as conventional pest management methods.
It was suggested that the definition state that these pesticides must be those that have been recognised as having pesticide qualities in the Schedule by the Registration Committee (which provides pesticide registration).
Central Pesticides Board
According to the Committee, the board will serve only as an advisory body, with all regulatory authority placed in the Registration Committee, which is made up of a few technical people. It was suggested that the Board be given the authority to oversee the Registration Committee’s operations. Furthermore, with the agreement of the Board, the Registration Committee shall establish its method and conduct of business.
The Bill does not set a deadline for the Registration Committee to register pesticides. Pesticide registration was limited to 12 months under the 1968 Insecticide Act. The Committee stressed the need not to leave registration open-ended. It was suggested that pesticide registration applications be disposed of within two years.
The Registration Committee is required under the Bill to conduct periodic reviews of registered pesticides and has the authority to review any chemical at any time. After registering the pesticide, the Committee suggested that it be subjected to a ten-year evaluation.
Furthermore, pesticide evaluation should be delegated to a body other than the Registration Committee. To assess pesticides, the Committee advised forming a Review Committee comprised of biosafety and agro-ecology specialists.
Pesticide Inspectors and Analysts are held accountable under the Bill, which allows them to enter and search premises, confiscate records, collect and transmit samples for examination to a pesticide analyst, and halt pesticide distribution.
Pesticide Analysts examine the samples and submit results to the Inspectors. The Committee highlighted that the Bill makes no provision for these inspectors and analysts to be held accountable. Without any checks and balances, pesticide inspectors have been granted broad authority. It suggested that pesticide inspectors and analysts who act vexatiously or without reasonable cause under the Bill be subjected to a grievance redress procedure.
An internet portal should be built to accept complaints against such inspectors, and the investigation should be finished within 30 days.
Under the Bill, anybody who wants to produce, distribute, or sell pesticides or conduct pest management activities must apply for a licence with a state-appointed Licensing Officer. These permits might be awarded in 90 days. A single Licensing Officer may not be able to serve the entire state, according to the Committee. It was suggested that a Licensing Committee of three to four people be appointed to give licences. In addition, the time it takes to award permits should be lowered to 60 days.
Qualification of the Retailers
The Committee highlighted that the Bill does not specify the qualifications of retailers and personnel administering pesticides at corporate outlets. It was suggested that because pesticide merchants, dealers, and stockists deal with dangerous compounds, they should meet specific minimal qualification levels. Furthermore, farmers purchase pesticides based on the advice of such vendors.
The Committee emphasised that the law should handle the selling of spurious, counterfeit, and sub-standard pesticides. It proposed that all pesticide testing laboratories be accredited and develop an online portal to record data of samples obtained for testing and post the results of such tests online.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
The Committee highlighted that the Bill lacks measures to encourage IPM, which is a long-term plan for crop protection that takes a comprehensive approach rather than merely removing pests. It was recommended that IPM be included in the Bill.
The Bill had lacunae and had many provisions against the interests of the various stakeholders involved. It was rightly placed before the Standing Committee for wider consultation.
The Pesticide industry in India is expected to double in terms of revenue, and the age-old Act which currently governs the sector will not suffice. The government should consider the recommendations made by various reports over the years and the interest and opinions of various stakeholders involved in the smooth functioning of the Agricultural system in this country.
About the Author
The Article is written by Abhinav Gour, a first year law student pursuing BBA LLB(Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. The Author is in his first year and has a keen interest for legal writing and researching.
- The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020 (Bill No. 22 of 2020) ↑
- The Insecticides Act, 1968 (Act No. 46 of 1968) ↑
- The Pesticide Management Bill, 2008 (Bill No. 48 of 2008) ↑
- Ministry of Agriculture, “46th report, The Pesticides Management Bill, 2008” (2009) ↑
- The Pesticide Management Bill, 2017 ↑
- Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, “36th Report, Standing Committee on Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food Processing” ↑