NEW pests and the outbreak of new diseases in the country’s farm sector as a result of genetic engineering, climate change and bioterrorism, and the spread of trans-boundary diseases pose immeasurable risks to the environment, plants, animals and human beings. In order to counter such potential threats, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar introduced the Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013, in the Lok Sabha on March 11.
The multiple mandates of the Bill include integration of plant and animal quarantine services, and the establishment of an authority for the prevention, control, eradication and management of pests and diseases of plants and animals and unwanted organisms to ensure agricultural biosecurity and to facilitate the import and export of plants, plant products, animals, animal products, aquatic organisms and regulate agriculturally important microorganisms.
Experts say that advances in genetic engineering that led to the release of living modified organisms or products such as genetically modified organisms call for due diligence of risk assessment and management. The spread of diseases such as avian influenza and the Ug-99 wheat stem rust fungus portend huge threats to human, animal and plant safety.
The Bill seeks to bring plant, animal and marine protection and extant quarantine set-ups under a single authority with adequate powers. The authority’s remit will encompass the four sectors of agricultural biosecurity—plant health, animal health, living aquatic resources (like fisheries) and agriculturally important microorganisms. Subsection 75 of the Act, once enacted, bars any jurisdiction to civil court in respect of any matter which the authority or Central government is empowered to determine; nor can civil courts grant any injunction in respect of any action taken or to be taken by the Centre under this Act. Such sweeping powers to the proposed authority are being seen as necessary, given the threat perceptions to the country’s fragile farm biosecurity.
The Bill also proposes prevention and control of pest infestation or infection, including declaration of a place as “controlled area”. It also provides for inspection, taking of samples, entry and search of premises and checking of conveyances by designated officers to ensure compliance of sanitary and phytosanitary standards. It also allows seizure, treatment and disposal of plants, animals and their products to prevent spread of pests. The Bill proposes the declaration of a biosecurity emergency in case of any outbreak of organisms threatening biosecurity and the initiation of actions and procedures to deal with it.
The Bill is in conformity with the national policy for farmers (2007) which focusses on strengthening the biosecurity of crops, farm animals, fish and forest trees to safeguard the livelihood and income security of farmer households and the health and trade security of the nation.