A Draft Integrated Plant Nutrition Management Bill, circulated in the public domain for feedback, proposes to control prices, supply and import of fertiliser through a regulatory body, a move that has raised heckles across industry and farmer bodies who have termed it as a reminder of the “inspector raj”.
According to the draft Bill, “The Cente may, with a view to regulate equitable distribution of fertilisers and make fertilisers available at fair prices, by notification in the Official Gazette, fix the maximum prices or rates at which any fertiliser be sold by a dealer, manufacturer, importer or a fertiliser marketing entity. The Cente may have regard for the local conditions of any area, the period of storage of fertilisers and other relevant circumstances, fix different prices or rates for fertilisers having different periods of storage or for different areas or for different classes of consumers.”
Industry experts said the current Fertiliser Control Order is more than sufficient to deal with emergency situations and putting such draconian provisions under a separate Act may lead to bringing back the “inspector raj”, reminiscent of the pre-1991 era.
‘Liberalise fertiliser sector’
“Both inspector raj and corruption will return if we go back to control. The government should completely liberalise the fertiliser sector, maybe in phases, by providing subsidy through direct cash transfer to farmers as this will also help in bringing new products as per nutrient requirement,” said P K Joshi, former head of International Food Policy Research Institute (South Asia).
Providing a provision for the establishment of an Integrated Plant Nutrition Management Authority of India, the draft Bill said it (Authority) would “regulate the manner of registration for manufacturers of fertilisers, set out technical standards with respect to the quality of fertilisers and fertiliser products, and promote the sustainable use and development of innovative fertilisers”.
Mentioning that the Authority, Union and State governments shall be responsible for the enforcement of this law, the draft Bill also empowers the Centre to take “suo motu cognizance” of any irregularities in the actions of manufacturers, dealers or retailers and to initiate action for inquiry or to direct the State Controller to inquire into the matter. It has also allowed States to appoint “State Controllers of Fertilisers”.
But the industry is unhappy with the provision on appointment of Fertiliser Inspector. The Bill says: “The State Government, or the Cente, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint such a number of persons, as it thinks necessary and possessing such technical and other qualifications as may be prescribed by way of rules issued by the Centre to be Fertiliser Inspector for the purpose of this Act and any rules and regulations made thereunder.”
It further said a fertiliser inspector may exercise powers such as seeking “any information in their possession from any manufacturer, importer, fertiliser marketing entity, wholesale dealer or retailer” regarding the manufacture, storage and disposal of fertilisers. The inspector is also empowered to “enter and search any premises where any kind of fertiliser is manufactured or imported or stored or exhibited for sale if the fertiliser inspector has a reason to believe that any fertiliser has been or is being manufactured/imported, sold, offered for sale, stored, exhibited for sale or distributed in contravention to any of the provisions of this Act or the rules made under it.”
The inspector can seize or confiscate any fertiliser which he has a reason to believe contravenes the standards of quality established by this Act. “Currently district magistrates are empowered to take actions to ensure availability and check black marketing of fertilisers. As they are quite responsible, we have not come across any major incident of misuse of the Fertiliser Control Order. But creating post of inspectors with such sweeping powers is simply bad in a free market economy,” said a CEO of a leading fertiliser company requesting anonymity.
February 15, 2022