US seed company Monsanto is welcome to leave India if it does not want to lower prices of genetically modified cotton seeds as directed by the government, a minister has said, in a sign the rift between New Delhi and the firm is widening.
The comments come as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist government expects to develop its own genetically modified cotton varieties early next year to end Monsanto's dominance; it controls over 90 percent of cotton seed supply.
New technologies are critical to lifting India's poor farm productivity, although even if India did develop a home-grown GM cotton variety in 2017, it would struggle to sustain a programme that needs to refresh seeds every decade or so, experts warned.
The introduction of Monsanto's GM cotton seeds in 2002 helped turn India into the biggest producer of the fibre, while other crops like pulses continue to suffer as transgenic food is banned and local research has stalled.
Despite the gains GM cotton brought for more than seven million cotton farmers in India, some of them and their associations have complained Monsanto overprices its products.
The company said in a statement this month it would have to re-evaluate its India business, because it was difficult to bring in new technologies in an "environment where such arbitrary and innovation-stifling government interventions make it impossible to recoup research and development investments".
But Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, the junior agriculture minister, told Reuters the government was trying to rectify "past mistakes" that allowed a foreign company to dictate seed prices and stifled local crop research.
"It's now upon Monsanto to decide whether they want to accept this rate or not," Balyan said.
"If they don't find it feasible, then they are free to take a call. The greed (of charging) a premium has to end.
"We're not scared if Monsanto leaves the country, because our team of scientists are working to develop (an) indigenous variety of (GM) seeds."