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Aatmanirbhar Bharat needs an Aatmanirbhar seed sector

Indra Shekhar Singh

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Much stress has been laid on Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and even more on the fact that agriculture will be the backbone of the economy in times to come. But can we have a self-reliant India, or even self-reliant agriculture, without a sovereign seed sector? The Indian government needs to revisit some policies before we can proceed.

First, the government needs to end or change the 100% FDI policy for the seed sector. Currently, 100% FDI through an automatic route is allowed in the seed sector. Several countries like China, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and even some European countries have not allowed this. Many countries allow FDI in R&D in seed production and distribution, but a local partnership and shareholding is mandatory. This means that while Indian companies cannot have 100% owned subsidiaries in countries like China and Indonesia, companies from these countries can come and set up 100% owned subsidiaries in India. There is a need for revising the FDI policy in India not only for making India self-reliant regarding seeds, but also to protect and leverage the rich biodiversity possessed by our country. We are not only
committing a food security blunder, but also threatening India’s sovereignty.

The second obstacle is the dissonance in the regulatory systems. The implementation of a central legislation on seeds by the states’ seed licencing authorities differs since each state doesn’t interpret seed laws in the same way. This leads to difficulties for national-level seed companies, thereby, slowing down operations. There is a need for a uniform and harmonious licencing of seed companies and
varietal inclusion in the licence across the country. This problem has persisted for many years despite repeated representations by the industry. This step will resolve several issues and enable the seed companies to channelise their energies towards the primary task of developing, producing and distributing quality seeds to farmers.

There is also a need for the central licencing of seed companies with all the important operations like R&D, production, processing and marketing in several states in the new seed legislation. Central licencing and a varietal inclusion process for such companies will eliminate many of the obstacles which are being faced now.

We also need to encourage SMEs in the seed sector for quality seed production by providing free access to seed quality testing. This can be achieved by encouraging the setting up of third-party seed testing laboratories accredited by NABL. There is also a need to promote the establishment of independent seed testing laboratories by associations/trusts/societies without any conflicts of interest. Incentives towards reducing the establishment and operating costs can be provided, especially since these labs serve a very important process in the agricultural sector.

We should also look into R&D investment by SME companies with 100% shareholding by Indian citizens being reimbursed to the extent of 50%. This would encourage local companies to do more R&D. More Public Private Partnership (PPP) with government agri-research institutes (ICAR, IARI, CSIR and SAUs) will be encouraged again with private companies with 100% local-shareholding, and this would also enable public sector research to be oriented to the ground-level requirements of the industry and the farmers. On the issue of testing varietal testing fees in ICAR, All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) trials should be reduced and rationalised (for seed companies with 100% local ownership) so that a large number of seed companies can test their varieties at maximum locations. The current testing charges of ICAR prohibit the participation of small and medium companies in the AICRP trails.

We also need to establish crop improvement evaluation by trusts/societies/non-profit companies and by retired scientists or seed technologists. Attention must also be given to providing capital subsidies and funds to meet the viability gap and enhance the variety evaluation bandwidth in the country with an interest to encourage R&D and provide new hybrids/varieties quickly to farmers. Under the scheme of compulsory VCU testing envisaged in the new seed bill, this is absolutely important. No new businesses can emerge without adequate loans and capital, hence, an arrangement for adequate low interest working capital and soft loans for building infrastructure and investments in R&D should be made
available with banks. We need to classify all loans to seed companies as agriculture loans and keep them on the highest priority. Capital subsidy for seed infrastructure should be provided to the extent of 25%. All these provisions can be enabled with a new scheme akin to the “National Seed Project”, with an appropriate title like “Aatmanirbhar Beej Udyog”.

Special economic zones may also be identified for seed production and export to encourage seed production for export in the states which have excellent agro climatic conditions to take up quality seed production. Policy and procedures for custom seed production of foreign varieties, exclusively for export purposes, should be made too.

Aatmanirbhar Bharat needs to be built on our terms and our sovereign laws. Hence, IPR protection available for seeds and plant varieties, including transgenic plant varieties, is under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA). All trait licencing, including GM traits, shall be as per section 26 of PPVFRA. Section 3(j) of the Indian Patent Act (which excludes seeds and plant varieties) shall be enforced in letter and spirit in India so as to stop monopolies in the seed industry, which is detrimental to farmers and to national agriculture as well.

Moving to the public institutions, ICAR and SAUs should focus on the development of the human resource requirements of the seed industry through constant interaction, to make their syllabus and courses relevant to the industry’s needs.

Finally, the government needs to bring reforms to the seed sector too. We need to bring a rule, like in the case of coffee, tea or rubber, to tax about 20% income since seed production, which is agriculture in nature also involves processing, packing and labeling as per the Seeds Act.

If all these parameters are met, the Indian seed sector will undergo a revolution which will uplift our nation to be the pioneer, not only in the seed sector, but also in agriculture.

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PIL to SC: Convert religious, charitable places into Covid Care Centers

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A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to convert the religious and charitable places that enjoy tax benefits, into Covid Care Centers as well as cease any further transactions with immediate effect and utilise their funds for Covid patients.

The plea also requested for a district-wise data collection of Covid-19 patients across the country containing the details of demand for oxygen, medicine, hospitalisation etc. It should be developed through a dashboard /web portal enabling the Covid-19 patients to register and search for their respective medical requirements, said the plea, adding that district-wise nodal officers should be appointed for this work.

The petition filed by Manu Gaur, President of Taxpayers Association of India, also urges to open the use of necessary drugs and medicines and to waive the GST on the same during the Covid period and/or to invite the other companies to come manufacture and distribute for saving lives of citizens of India.

Demanding to convert religious places into Covid centres, the plea said their funds should be used in Covid-19 relief “as this money has been given by the public for social and religious work and in today›s time there is no greater social work and religion than saving the lives of people from Coronavirus.”

Along with this, it was also requested in the petition that all the Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic, Unani and Naturopathy hospitals of the country should also be converted to Covid-19 Care Centers.

The petition also emphasised that 100 percent vaccination of home delivery staff, public transport etc. should be done.

“Also, the business institutions/industries, etc. who get all their workers fully vaccinated, should be given the freedom to run their Organisation. The vaccination certificate of those who have been fully vaccinated should be recognised as a pass in the Lockdown period. Similarly, there should be an incentive for vaccination and will also slow down the infection spread. A Covid-19 control room should be made in every district like a usual police control room, which can make necessary arrangements for the citizens,” the plea said.

The petition also called for making MPs and MLAs accountable with the local administration for the Covid-19 arrangements in their constituencies as salaries, allowances and pensions to them are paid from taxpayers› money so somehow they should be responsible. ANI

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PIL SEEKS TO VACCINATE STUDENTS APPEARING FOR BOARD EXAMS, DELHI HC ISSUES NOTICE

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NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice to the Union of India and Government of NCT of Delhi on a PIL seeking direction to provide and administer COVID-19 Vaccination free of cost to the students of class ‘XII’ in Delhi, who will be appearing for their board exams in an off-line mode.

The Bench of Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh on Friday sought responses from the Union Ministry of Health Family and Welfare, Union Ministry of Education and the Government of NCT of Delhi and slated the matter for 4th June. The Petitioner, Jyoti Aggarwal practising lawyer in Delhi HC submit that, all the students of Class XII’ appearing for the off-line written and practical board exams for the session 2020-2021 from the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), be given the Covid-19 vaccination on urgent basis.

According to the petition, 2.5 Lakh students for class ‘XII’, have enrolled for appearing in the Board exams for the Session 2020-2021 in Delhi. It is also highlighted that students will be appearing for their off-line written and practical exams.

The plea states that there are reports that the new strain of Covid is affecting the youngsters the most. The studies also suggest that the new strain of novel coronavirus has led to an increase in concerns due to its ability to high transmission.

The Class XII Board exams were expected to be held in May. However, due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, the Central government decided to postpone these exams until further orders. 

—Correspondent WITH ANI INPUTS

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RBI’s Rs 50,000 crore liquidity facility can increase hospital bed capacity by 20%: Report

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The Rs 50,000 crore liquidity window offered by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to banks under priority sector lending to augment Covid-19 healthcare infrastructure will help raise treatment capacity, availability of medicines, and medical equipment, said Crisil Ratings on Friday. 

Hospitals can be among the biggest beneficiaries as incremental funding can potentially increase bed capacity in the country by 15 to 20 percent, it said.

Loans under the scheme for tenures up to three years are available to banks at a repo rate till 31 March 2022. Such loans will also be classified under the priority sector.

Consequently, banks are expected to extend these loans below current interest rates for companies engaged in healthcare activities. These include makers and suppliers of vaccines and drugs; hospitals; pathology labs; suppliers of oxygen; makers of emergency medical equipment; logistics firms; and Covid-19 patients.

As many as 354 Crisil-rated companies with aggregate bank exposure of Rs 40,000 crore will be eligible for such loans. Though pharmaceutical firms account for 68 percent of rated bank exposure, hospitals (24 percent of rated exposure) are likely to avail the majority of the funding available.

The borrowing cost of hospitals rated by Crisil is 10.5 to 11 percent and new loans taken for expansion under this RBI scheme could be 300 to 350 basis points cheaper, leading to substantial interest savings.

Subodh Rai, Chief Ratings Officer at Crisil Ratings, said increased availability of funds at low cost will incentivise hospitals to augment beds, oxygen storage, ICUs and critical medical equipment. “Even if half of the funding available is used to add hospital beds through brownfield expansion, it will mean five lakh incremental beds or 15 to 20 percent of India›s current capacity.”

In comparison, for entities in other healthcare-related sectors such as pharmaceuticals, the capital requirements for enhancing the production capacity of critical Covid-19 related drugs is not very high.

Further pharmaceutical companies, owing to their strong credit profiles and availability of export credit facilities, have a relatively lower average cost of borrowing (8 to 8.5 percent). Thus a majority of pharmaceutical companies may not be keen to take on substantial debt under the RBI window to fund expansion.

Also, only a few companies are manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines and these have availed of government advances/ grants for funding their requirement of Rs 5,000 crore.

While incentives under the liquidity window are attractive, hospital firms will carefully evaluate decisions considering the sustainability of demand and availability of critical resources like manpower and equipment. WITH ANI INPUTS

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EARLY SUMMER VACATIONS IN UTTARAKHAND COLLEGES

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DEHRADUN: In view of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, Uttarakhand’s Department of Education, on Friday, announced summer vacation in all higher education institutes from 7 May to 12 June.

Earlier, the state education department announced that all colleges and universities will remain closed from 3 May until further orders. In wake of the surge in Covid-19 cases, the Uttarakhand government extended the ‘Corona curfew’ in Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar, and Nainital districts till 10 May.

“Corona curfew’ has been extended till 10 May in the districts of Dehradun, Haridwar, and Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand,” said state government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal.

Uttarakhand reported 9,642 fresh cases, 4,643 discharges and 137 deaths in the last 24 hours, as per the State health department today.On 5 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat to enquire about the pandemic situation and assured further help from the Centre. In a tweet, Rawat had informed that PM Modi enquired about the steps taken by the state government to control the spread of the virus. 

-Correspondent ANI 

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41 NAVAL PERSONNEL DEPLOYED AT PM COVID CARE HOSPITAL IN AHMEDABAD

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The Ministry of Defence has deployed 41 naval personnel from Western Naval Command to PM Cares Covid Hospital, Dhanvantari in Ahmedabad to enhance the health care system amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

In an official press release, the ministry informed that the team has been deployed for two months and will assist the hospital administration in handling COVID-19 patients. These Naval personnel comprises medical officers, nursing officers, paramedics, and support staff.

According to the ministry, a 57 member naval medical team was already positioned at the hospital on April 29. This team consisted of four doctors, seven nurses, 26 paramedics, and 20 supporting staff. It was said earlier that the deployment of this team was for two months and would be extended based on the requirement. ‘PM Cares COVID Hospital’ at Dhanvantari is a special hospital set up to manage the COVID crisis in Gujarat. The state currently has 1,47,525 active Covid-19 cases, as per the Union Health Ministry. 

WITH ANI INPUTS 

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AMBULANCE OWNER ARRESTED FOR CHARGING RS 1.2 LAKH FROM COVID PATIENT’S DAUGHTER

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The Delhi Police arrested an owner of an ambulance service company for allegedly charging Rs 1.20 lakh to shift a patient to a hospital, the police said on Friday.

The patient travelled from DLF Gurugram to Ludhiana on Wednesday. According to a statement from the Delhi Police, acting on the specific information, the Inder Puri police station team nabbed the accused Mimoh Kumar Bundwal, who was running an ambulance service company in the name of Cardiacare ambulance Pvt Ltd and was looting needy people by charging 2/3 times above the actual rent for transportation of Covid-19 patients in its ambulances.

During the investigation, it was revealed that he was in this profiteering business for the last one month and has cheated numerous people.

“The accused himself is an MBBS doctor who is involved in the ambulance business for the last two years,” the police said.

During the investigation, the bank account of the ambulance service company was also obtained and is being analysed. The accused has returned the cheated money to the victim after being nabbed by the police.

The police have also seized one ambulance given by him to numerous patients over the last month in the case. “My mother is Covid-19 positive and was in very critical condition. We were not getting a bed in Delhi-NCR, Gurugram and Faridabad. So we came to know about one hospital in Ludhiana where there was one empty bed. We contacted them and gave all the details about my mother’s condition and they agreed to take her. So we looked for the ambulance but no one has the oxygen and I needed an ambulance with an oxygen supply,” said Amandeep Kaur, the patient’s daughter.

“In the end, I contacted the Cardiacare ambulance service and they agreed to go but they asked Rs 1.40 lakh. Later when I told them that I have my own oxygen cylinder then they said that they will take Rs 1.20 lakh,” Kaur said.

She said that the ambulance driver took 20,000 initial amount in cash from her and later her husband transferred 95 thousand to their bank account. “Later, when I reached here one of my friends circulated the bill on social media and at the end reached to Human Rights department in Ludhiana and investigation started. I have also lodged a complaint in Delhi’s Inder Puri police station,” she added. A case has been registered under section 420 Indian Penal Code (IPC) in Inder Puri police station. Further investigation is in progress.

WITH ANI INPUTS

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