LHC issues notices to federal govt over unconstitutional legislature

The Lahore High Court on Tuesday issued notices to the federal and Punjab governments in writ petitions challenging the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016.

The petitions, filed by a Multan-based NGO Sojhla for Social Change through environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam, were presented before Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah.

The petitions contend that the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015, and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, are unconstitutional, violate fundamental rights, and completely ignore farmers’ rights recognised by Pakistan under various international agreements.

The petitioners contend that Pakistan is a signatory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Convention on Biological Diversity, both of which recognise and protect farmers’ rights.

Farmers’ rights are traditional rights farmers have on the seeds or the propagating material of plant varieties. This right arises out of the important role farmers around the world have been playing for thousands of years by selecting and conserving varieties of different crop plants that are cultivated for food and/or as cash-crops. During the process of selection, conservation and cultivation, farmers have gained extensive knowledge of each variety and provided the world with invaluable genetic resources which are the foundation of all hybrid and genetically modified varieties being introduced in the market under stringent intellectual property rights held by agrochemical corporations.

In addition, this knowledge base of each variety available with farmers is highly valuable to modern scientific improvement. It makes the contribution of farmers to plant genetic diversity as important as the contribution scientists make by developing modern plant varieties.

Farmers’ rights are therefore recognised and protected under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015, and Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, prohibit the handling of seed or registered varieties without licences obtained by the federal government and criminalise contraventions thereof.

The petitions filed by Sojlha for Social Change contend such provisions violate the principles of farmer’s rights and that parliament could not legislate on the subject of seeds or plant breeders’ rights as these were provincial subjects after the 18th Amendment, meaning thereby that only provincial assemblies could legislate on the subject.

“When the first opportunity to protect farmer’s rights recognised under an international treaty presented itself, the parliament chose to make a law totally ignoring farmers in preference for seed companies”, said Ahmad Rafay Alam, counsel for Sojlha for Social Change.

A major force behind this petition is the activism undertaken by the leadership of a national small and landless farmers’ platform, the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT).

Only a few weeks ago, the Lahore High Court issued notices on similar writ petitions filed by Advocate Sheraz Zaka challenging the same two acts.

The court will now hear the connected petitions together on November 17, 2017.

LHC issues notices to federal govt over unconstitutional legislature

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