The Delhi High Court has set aside the Centre's decision to restrict production of Basmati rice only to the Indo-Gangetic plains in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir under the garb of maintaining the quality and purity of the seeds.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru set aside two Office Memorandums (OMs) dated May 29, 2008 and February 7, 2014 and a letter issued by the Ministry of Agriculture vide which the Geographical Indication (GI) of Basmati was restricted to the Indo-Gangetic region in these seven states which meant that only the rice grown in these specified regions would be termed Basmati and the seeds so produced for Basmati cultivation could not be grown outside.
"The import of the OMs is not to ensure that the quality of seeds produced is maintained, but to restrict the area where the seeds could be used for production of crops. The effect of the impugned notifications is that breeder seeds would not be available for production outside the specified areas. The clear object is to ensure that the crop of Basmati rice is only grown in specified areas. This would not only be outside the scope of the Seeds Act but …relates to the field of agriculture, which is a state subject," said Justice Bakhru.
The memorandums have been set aside on a petition moved by the State of Madhya Pradesh which disputing that its 13 districts should also be included as Geographical Indication for Basmati variety of rice.
The allocation of seeds for Basmati allotted during Kharif-2016 (cropping season of autumn) was also withdrawn pursuant to the memorandum that production of Basmati variety seeds would not be taken outside the GI-defined areas.
The Madhya Pradesh government contended that the memorandums do not comply with the Seeds Act.
The court then delved into various provisions of the Seeds Act and noted, "The Seeds Act is not concerned with where and how the seeds are used. Once a person dealing with notified variety of seeds conforms to the requirement of Section 7 of the Seeds Act, there is no restriction as to where and how the crop is to be grown. The Seeds Act is limited to ensuring that the seeds available to farmers conform to the minimum limits of germination and purity and the marks or label affixed thereon correctly indicate so".
Examining the memorandums on the touchstone of the Seeds Act, Justice Bakhru said, "It is important to note that the import of OM-I is to restrict Basmati production to only regions in the Indo-Gangetic plain. OM-I, apart from specifying the characteristics of Basmati rice, seeks to ascribe a Geographical Indication to the said variety(ies). This is, clearly, outside the scope of the Seeds Act."
"OM-II seeks to proscribe registration of Basmati variety for certification and foundation seed production outside the area detailed under G-I for Basmati rice. The production of certified seeds is required to be carried out in the manner as prescribed under the Seeds Act. As noticed above, in terms of Rule 14 of the Seeds Rules, the production of foundation seeds has to be supervised and approved by the Seeds Certification Agency so as to maintain specific genetic purity and identity. It is nobody's case that production of foundation seeds outside the GI for Basmati rice would dilute its genetic identity or purity. OM-II is plainly alien to the scope and object to the Seeds Act, which is to ensure that the quality seeds are available to farmers. The import of OM-II is to restrict the area of production of seeds, which is wholly outside the scheme of the Seeds Act".
The court refrained from expressing any opinion on a 2017 notification issued by the Centre restricting the seeds production of Basmati varieties of rice to the rice-growing areas of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, parts of western Uttar Pradesh and State of Jammu and Kashmir.