LHC refers plea against 2015 law facilitating GM seeds to new cabinet

* The court observes that the petition will be decided on its merits if the government decides to keep the‘anti-farmer’ changes intact

LAHORE: Justice Sayyed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Lahore High Court on Tuesday referred a petition challenging a 2015 amendment to the law governing use, sale and preservation of seeds to the newly-inducted cabinet in the province.

The petition filed by a non-government organisation held that the amendment was in violation of the fundamental rights of farmers.

The judge observed that the new cabinet should be given a chance to decide if it would want to make changes to the law or to keep it intact. He said if the new government decided to keep the Plant Breeders Rights Act intact, then the case would be decided on its merits on October 11.

During the hearing, he observed that it was shocking that the future of the farmers had been put in jeopardy, adding that dependence on multi-national companies’ producing genetically modified seeds could pose threats to the national food security.

In a previous hearing, the court had directed the provincial government to bring a resolution in the Punjab Assembly urging the federal legislature (Parliament) to pass a Plant Breeders Rights Bill.

Earlier, the judge had issued notices to the federal government and directed it to respond to the petition filed by Human Voice, challenging the Pakistan Amended Seed Act of 2015 for allegedly violating farmers’ fundamental rights.

The petitioner maintained that the amendment was passed at the behest of US multinational seed manufacturing companies.

These orders were not complied with.

Petitioner’s counsel Sheraz Zaka had said during the proceedings that the impugned law was passed without the approval of the federal cabinet, and under article 144 of the Constitution, the amendment made in seed act could not have been passed by the federal legislature since it was a provincial subject. He argued that the impugned act would deprive the farmers of their traditional livellihood practices. It was meant to protect genetic breeding practices which were harmful for the environment as well as the national economy, he said.

He contended that the Parliament could not pass such a bill without resolutions passed by a provincial assembly asking it to do so. He submitted that the scope of the petition was wide and it required the attention of the court, keeping in consideration the federal government’s ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Earlier, Advocate Zaka said that the under the impugned law, farmers would be fined and imprisoned for preserving, selling and exchanging seeds, a tradition that has been practiced for centuries. He said this would badly affect the farming community.

He said that the impugned law had made it mandatory for farmers to buy seeds from a licensed company or its agent and they had to do so every time they cultivate a new crop. He stated that this rectriction would create a monopoly of companies and make farmers dependent on multinational corporations.

He said that the impugned act would lead to an increase in prices of agricultural products.

He requested the court to set aside the amendment made to the Seed Act of 2015 for being unconstitutional.

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.