Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Mukesh R. Shah, CJ. and Ashutosh Kumar, J. while hearing a petition seeking mandamus against State for implementing organic farming policy, observed that efforts on the same were underway and dismissed the petition holding that the nature of petitioner’s prayers were that of a roving enquiry.

The instant public interest petition had been filed seeking a mandamus directing the respondent to encourage farmers of the State to opt for organic farming in order to save productivity of the earth and environment. Further, the petitioner also sought the details of the expenditure incurred for encouraging organic farming in the State as well as of the allocated subsidy amount for organic farming disbursed in various financial years since 2007-08.

The court noted that the averments in writ petition admitted that the State Government had taken a policy decision of encouraging farmers for undertaking organic farming, and for the aforesaid purpose, budgetary limits had been fixed and subsidies had been offered. The petitioners had not raised any allegation of siphoning of funds or embezzlement of public money. Thus, the prayers made in the writ petition were more in the nature of fishing and roving enquiry from the respondents, which is impermissible in public interest litigation.

The respondent’s submission before the court was that even though organic farming, being a labour-intensive exercise, is much more expensive owing to production cost being higher and less yield being produced per hectare; but still the State was using budgetary allocation to make the farmers aware of the advantages of using/ manufacturing vermi-compost and green manure. Setting up of gobar gas units was being encouraged by providing subsidy to the entrepreneurs for the said purpose.

Further, the State also submitted list programmes which had been initiated and the budgetary allocation as well as expenses incurred on “Organic Corridor Scheme” project launched in the year 2017-18. As a part of first phase, organic corridors had been developed in villages adjoining National/State highways running by the side of Ganga river. The process for certification of fields after elimination of chemical residue was afoot. Lastly, the State submitted that it was planning to implement the scheme at a larger scale by 2022; and the entire process of converting agricultural operations to organic method being a long drawn process, it would take a while before the results are visible.

Having regard to the detailed submissions made by the State and vague prayers in the petition, the High Court observed that the State was making efforts to achieve the objective of organic farming by 2022 and expecting results in such a short time would be chimerical. On that observation, the writ petition was dismissed. [Bihar Rajya Kishan Sabha v State of Bihar,2018 SCC OnLine Pat 1808, decided on 09-10-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): A Division Bench comprising of R.K. Agrawal, J. and M. Shreesha, Member dismissed the revision petition filed against the order of Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission confirming payment of compensation to the respondent/complainant – farmers for supply of inferior quality of seeds by the petitioner manufacturing company.

The respondent had purchased onion seeds from the petitioners and sown the same in their fields. When even after due care, the growth of crop was unsatisfactory, they informed about the same to the petitioner and lodged a formal complaint. An enquiry committee visited the fields of the respondent and made a detailed inspection report observing that the crop failure was on account of inferior quality of seeds. Despite sending a notice to the petitioner, the respondent received no response, constraining him to approach the District Forum seeking direction to for payment of expenses incurred towards the failure of crop along with compensation and costs. After appreciating the evidence on record, District Forum ordered payment of expenses along with compensation and costs. The said order was challenged by the petitioner in State Commission, which confirmed the order of District Forum. It is in this factual background, that the instant revision petition was filed by the petitioner.

Primary contention of revision petitioners was that the State Commission had erred in not appreciating that germination of seeds depends upon environmental factors and crop management practices such as climate, moisture content, temperature, usage of fertilizers and water supply; and that no samples of seeds were sent by the respondent for analysis as mandated by Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The Commission relied on judgment of the Apex Court in National Seeds Cooperation Ltd. v M. Madhusudhan Reddy, (2012) 2 SCC 506 and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. v Alavalapati Chandra Reddy, (1998) 6 SCC 738, to state that the onus to prove that the seeds manufactured are of good quality lies on the manufacturer as the farmers are not expected to store some of the seeds for future testing. Moreover, as per the Seeds Act, 1966 manufacturer is required to keep a small sample of each batch of seeds for a minimum period of time depending upon the nature of the seeds. Therefore, there was no reason for the petitioner to not have sent the seeds to a laboratory for testing as per Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act.

Apart from being devoid of merits, the revision petition was also held to be barred by limitation as the same was filed with a delay of 188 days and there was no explanation as to the reason for such delay. As such, the petition was dismissed on both delay as well as merits. [National Horticulture Research & Development Foundation v. Sahebrao Jibhau Deware, Revision Petition No. 279 of 2018, decided on 28-09-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Human Rights Commission: NHRC has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that the Government of Maharashtra in the State Assembly has informed that 639 farmers committed suicide in the State between March and May, 2018. The reported reasons were crop failure, debt and inability to repay bank loans.

The Commission has issued notices to the Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture and the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra calling for the detailed reports in the matter, specifically mentioning the status of implementation of the schemes for the farmers and relief to the aggrieved families. The response is expected within four weeks. The Union Government is expected to inform the Commission, if they have any specific plan or mechanism in their mind to effectively address the situation.

The Commission has observed that it is not for the first time that such news has come to its notice. It has been receiving complaints regarding the deaths of farmers across the country, including the State of Maharashtra. It has also taken suo motu cognizance of such matters. Committing suicide by the farmers in such a large number is a serious matter as it involves the right to life of the victims. Their families also come under tremendous pressure due to sudden demise of an earning member.

It has further observed that in spite of announcement of several schemes including crop insurance and loan waiver by the Central and State Governments, the forlorn story of poor farmers generally remains the same. The farmers are still choosing to end their lives, understandably, if not being able to cope up with the stress, financial crunch and social stigma due to crop failure. There is a need for the Central and State Governments to see that the schemes announced by them are implemented in true spirit, to achieve the target so that such tragic deaths of the farmers could be averted.

According to the media report, carried on 15th July, 2018, a total 639 farmers had committed suicide in Maharashtra between March 1 and May 31, 2018. The information had been provided by the State Revenue Minister in the State Assembly in response to the questions of the opposition members. They had, reportedly, alleged that all the schemes of the government, including the loan waiver, compensation to farmers in case of loss of crops and minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural goods, had failed, due to which the cases of suicide by the farmers have increased.

The news reports further say that as claimed by the opposition, in the last four years, as many as 13,000 farmers had ended life, of which 1500 committed suicide in the last one year alone. The Revenue Minister had reportedly stated that according to the parameters set by the State Government in October last year for declaration of drought, 8 talukas of Yavatmal, Washim and Jalgaon Districts were declared affected by medium intensity drought in April this year and the compensation along with other assistance has been provided to the affected farmers, accordingly.

It is further mentioned that on 29th May, 2018, the Union Government made amendments in the rules for declaration of drought-hit areas, based on the suggestions made by the states and accordingly the state revenue and forest departments have made the changes on 28.6.2018. The Chief Minister of the State has reportedly stated that appropriate action will be taken to recover the mortgaged lands of the farmers from the respective lenders.

National Human Rights Commission

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): A Single Member Bench of NCDRC presided by V.K. Jain, J. upheld the order of State Commission of Haryana granting relief of about Rs two lakh from the Indian Farmers Fertilizers Cooperative Limited (IFFCO, the petitioner) for selling “adulterated” seeds to two farmers who suffered financial losses due to poor yield.

According to the complainant farmers, they were assured by the petitioner that the seeds would give proper yield of 8 to10 quintals per acre. On poor yield, they made complainants to the Agriculture Department which carried out an inspection and found the plants to be of different variety and about 60-70% of the plants with high growth without any fruits. The complainants approached the  District Forum concerned. Their claims were denied by the District Forum but were upheld by the State Commission on appeal. Aggrieved petitioner approached NCRDC.

The emphasis of the petitioner’s arguments was that that despite circular dated 03.01.2002, the Agriculture Department did not associate representative of the Seed Agency and the Scientists of KGK/KVK, HAU in the inspection and the report was prepared at the back of the petitioner without any notice to it.

Commission relied on its own decision in Reliance Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd. v. Umesh Singh Chandan Singh Saddiwal, 2016 SCC OnLine NCDRC 78 and Apex’s Court judgment in Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. v. Alavalapati Chandra Reddy, (1998) 6 SCC 738. The Commission held that the failure of the Seed Inspector or for that matter District Level Enquiry Committee to follow the procedure under Seed Act or Rules thereunder cannot be fatal to a complaint, filed under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. Hence, such failure cannot lead to dismissal of a Consumer Complaint, if the complainant is otherwise able to prove his case. Commission also noted that there is no way by which a farmer can compel the seed inspector or the committee to follow the said procedure. [IFFCO v. Vijay Kumar, Revision Petition No. 912 of 2018, order dated 14-06-2018]