Central Information Commission orders MoEFCC to provide biosafety dossier of GM mustard as well as data pertaining to all other GMOs in the pipeline

New Delhi, April 6th 2016: In Orders with far-reaching implications, the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body for GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in India under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change to verify and provide biosafety dossier of GM mustard as submitted by the crop developer in 2014 and in 2015 and any other material submitted by them and under review, after separating confidential information if any as per their (Public Information Officer of GEAC) independent decision. The CIC also directed that all biosafety data pertaining to all other GMOs in the pipeline also be put out before 30th April 2016, as this is part of voluntary disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act.

The case (CIC/SA/A/2015/901798) pending with the CIC from 4th September 2015 came up for Hearing on 9th March 2016 and was disposed off with the Orders passed on 1st April 2016. (Orders available at: http://www.rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/CIC_SA_A_2015_901798_M_182350.pdf)

In this case, the regulators and the Ministry were declining requests for a copy of the biosafety dossier as submitted by the applicant, despite the fact that earlier Supreme Court and Central Information Commission Orders exist from 2008 and 2009 respectively in similar cases. The appellant is Kavitha Kuruganti, an activist working for sustainable farm livelihoods and working for the cause of GMO-free India. The activist had contended that the CIC had concluded that biosafety data is a matter of overriding public interest, and that it had asked for all existing data to be shared before any massive trial. She had also argued that administrative precedents exist within the regulatory regime as seen in the case of Bt brinjal, where data was put out for public scrutiny, which after being accompanied by public consultations, led to an indefinite moratorium being placed on Bt brinjal given a lack of conclusive proof of safety, including many tests not conducted. She contended that biosafety data cannot be confidential since this is data pertaining to the results of testing of a GMO for safety assessment.


The CIC, Shri Madhabhushi Sridhar, who heard the case and passed the Orders, reasoned that if respondents could share the gist of meeting minutes, there is nothing to stop the disclosure of the entire text of minutes and that the public authority has no authority to limit the disclosure to ‘gist’ and refusing the rest.


CIC also argued that right to information of citizens about biosafety testing does not depend on its success or failure and the authority has to share the information irrespective of the outcome. The CIC also held the PIO responsible for not discharging his/her duty of substantiating what and how ‘confidence’ would be breached if biosafety data is shared. Denial of information on the pretext that it was under process is simply unreasonable, the CIC analysed.


“The public authority should understand that the information sought by appellant is supposed to be disclosed on their own as per the mandate under Section 4. The decision making process should be told, along with information about whether such process is adopted, minutes of the meetings, results of clinical trial, and entire information about GM mustard etc. This is in public interest. The people should know how and why GM mustard is being permitted or denied because they have to consume that food or feed and face consequences. It is a policy decision by the public authority which needs to be revealed to the public in general as mandated by S4 because they are going to be affected if  GM mustard is marked”, the CIC Orders stated.

On the defence of the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change citing Confidential Information of 3rd Party not being shared without giving an opportunity to the 3rd party to represent their case, the CIC directed the public authority to issue notice to 3rd party to represent their case and take an independent decision as to whether the information would constitute ‘confidential information’ as claimed by 3rd party and communicate the same before 30th April 2016. The public authority shall thus disclose information which cannot be considered as confidential and after avoiding other confidential information if any. All directions shall be complied before 30th April 2016, the CIC ordered.


For more information, contact Kavitha Kuruganti at kavitakuruganti@gmail.com or 8880067772.

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