Plant Nurseries in Goa and the Consumer
Iris C F Gomes
Along the highway, it is common to see plant nurseries presenting an attractive sight. The prices that are charged for these plants vary, some charging over a hundred rupees for plants that would normally cost a price in double digits. Many of these nurseries are without a licence and are not authorised to sell plants. The Friday Balcão met on 9th of February 2018 to discuss the Goa Fruit and Ornamental Plant Nurseries (Regulation) Act, 1995, its implications on those who operate plant nurseries without a licence and use handcarts to sell plants from place to place, as well as the role of the government, legitimate businessmen and consumers.
The reason for the discussion titled ‘Strengthening Regulations for Plant Nurseries in Goa: Role of Govt, Business and Consumers’ at the Friday Balcão, was the numerous complaints the various Consumer Forums were receiving about people having bought mango saplings or coconut saplings believing they were of a certain variety and then they turned out to be different plants or poor quality plants. One particular incident that stands out is when a man from Ucassaim was sold what he believed to be avocado trees for Rs 40,000, only to realise that the pictures showing the trees that were used to convince him were taken in Israel. Following this was an article in The Navhind Times about the unchecked growth of illegal plant nurseries.
This led to a letter from GOACAN (Goa Civic and Consumer Action Network) to the North Goa district collector (the collector is also the chairperson of the District Consumer Protection Council) to convene a meeting by bringing together ICAR (Central Coastal Agricultural Research Institute), Goa, the Botanical Society of Goa, the Goa Nurserymen’s Association and officers of the Directorate of Agriculture to discuss the non-implementation of the Act and any flaws that the Act might have. This eventually led to a notice being issued in December 2016 to the ZAOs (Zonal Agricultural Officers) by the former Director of Agriculture, Ulhas Rai Kakode, to take action against the un-registered nurseries and unauthorised handcarts with plants. Municipal councils were asked if they had given permission to nursery handcarts to operate and informed that if they had, they would have to be revoked since this went against the Goa Fruit and Ornamental Plant Nurseries (Regulation) Act , 1995.
Despite repeated attempts at curbing these illegal activities and duping of consumers, a handcart was apprehended in Cuncolim on 19th of December 2017. The handcart belonged to an unlicensed nursery belonging to Feku Rai, who claimed that it was operated on the basis of daily sopo (occupation fees) paid to the Cuncolim Municipal Council. The handcart was confiscated after urging the police and municipality to carry out their responsibility.
At a meeting with Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai and concerned authorities of the Directorate of Agriculture, which took place after the seminar on ‘Fruits and Vegetables - Food or Poison?’, GOACAN asked that the licensed nurseries have a board put up that has proof of registration, etc and that strict action be taken against the handcarts which in some instances were seen to function as lookouts for burglars. The boards with the necessary information will protect consumers from unscrupulous elements.
At a meeting, held on the 30th of January 2018, members of GOACAN were confronted with the demand to amend the law by removing ornamental plants from the quotient. There are 9 states in India that have a law pertaining to fruiting plants, and Goa is the sole state to have both fruiting and flowering plants encompassed by a single law. Mr Roland Martins, the co-ordinator of GOACAN, likened the demand for scrapping the law to running backwards in a race to the starting point just as you are reaching the finishing line.
To combat this irrational petition and educate people in a law that would make a world of a difference to young people aspiring to earn their livelihood through agriculture and horticulture, the Friday Balcão invited people to a discussion with Miguel Braganza, a well-known horticulturist and the secretary of the Botanical Society of Goa.
The Goa Fruit and Ornamental Plant Nurseries (Regulation) Act, 1995 is based on the model act received from the Central Government, Ministry of Agriculture in 1993. The Act was passed in 1996 and was notified for implementation on 15th of February 1998. The rules are connected with the Act and more of these rules can be added depending on the need as the Constitution makes provision for the addition of rules for the protection of the nation and its citizens. All such rules may also be created to ensure the implementation of the Act.
For most people, even officers of the Directorate of Agriculture, who believe that the Goa Fruit and Ornamental Plant Nurseries (Regulation) Act does not carry weight with it punitive action, there is section 15 of the Act that states that going against the provisions or rules of the Act, or obstructing an officer from carrying out his duties related to the Act will invite a punitive action of a fine of up to Rs 1000 and/or up to one month’s imprisonment. However, the provision does not have effective rules to support it to make it a compounding offence ie who can collect the fine. For example, a rule could be made that the ZAO can collect the fine as compounding of the offence or if there is no such rule then the case would go before the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class who is also responsible for enforcing a prison sentence.
Section 2, subsection ‘e’ of the Act specifies that the inspecting officer can be an agricultural officer or ZAO, but nobody below that rank. Therefore the law has already made it clear as to who the inspecting officer should be. Any offence will be recognised by the court only if it is in the form of a report by the Director of Agriculture or a ZAO.
The enforcing officers simply do not want the responsibility of confiscating perishable plants because they may have to replace them or pay for them if unable to prove the contravention at the end of the usually lengthy process of proving whether the Act has been breached. The Act has been around for 20 years but not much has been done by way of implementing it. Now that there is pressure to put it in action, an amendment is being sought. ‘An amendment is required when the law cannot be implemented,’ says Mr Braganza, thus proving that the call for an amendment is a sign of regression.
The other problem is that licences have not been issued to nursery owners for this year, leaving about a huge percentage without licences. This has complicated the situation since the nursery owners have been notified by the Directorate of Agriculture to display boards carrying the licence number, date of issue and validity, apart from the name of the nursery, the address and owner’s name.
With respect to the legality of handcarts, the Act clearly states that the nursery owner must have a fixed address for his nursery and if he has another one at a different location then that nursery requires a separate licence. The licence is valid for 5 years from the date of issuance.
Another problem seems to be the negligence on the part of the ZAOs to check if the ‘mother plant’, which is the source of more plants of a particular type to be sold, is originally from Goa and grown on the nursery premises. ‘How many cuttings you can make from the mother plant in a year is determined by how big the plant is,’ says Mr Braganza. If is from another source then the nursery owner needs a letter from the other nursery saying that they are supplying the cuttings, etc. Imported plants need a certificate of source. There must be a survey plan showing where the mother plants are located and all plants have to be listed. When applying for a licence or seeking a renewal, a list of all the plants is presented. The ZAO will determine how many cuttings can be made from each mother plant and this will be reflected in the licence. If the nursery owner wants to increase the number of plants, he must ask for an amendment to his licence. All application forms are available online at https://www.agri.goa.gov.in/wicket/page?3.
Although nursery owners complain that the procedure for seeking a licence and its renewal is tedious, the fact remains that the law is in place to protect the consumer from being cheated with poor quality plants and seeds, and fake agricultural and horticultural products. The onus is on the Directorate of Agriculture, not to turn away from a perfectly credible law, but to spread awareness and make the best possible use of it to serve the public.