May 6, 2013
Learned Bench of Supreme Court of India,
In Civil Writ Petition 260 of 2005.
Sub: Conflict of interest of a member of the Court’s Technical Expert Committee – reg.
Ref: GMOs PIL, Civil Writ Petition 260 of 2005
Greetings from the Coalition for a GM-Free India !
I wish to introduce the Coalition for a GM-Free India as a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and individuals concerned about the adverse implications of transgenic technology in our food and farming, and committed to promoting sustainable ecological solutions to protect India’s food security and sovereignty.
We write to draw your attention to the disturbing news that has been carried in a prominent newspaper (Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 6th May, 2013) titled “GM panel member in conflict of interest row”. This is with reference to the Public Interest Litigation on GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) being heard by this Honorable Court through Writ Petition No. 260 of 2005, with Aruna Rodrigues and others as the petitioners. During the November 2012 hearing, the Court had inducted a new member, Dr R S Paroda, into a Technical Expert Committee set up in May 2012.
It seems that the Honorable Court has been seriously misled into appointing a member with conflict of interest into its Technical Expert Committee.
We wish to place before you the following facts for your kind consideration:
1. The Orders of 10th May 2012 setting up the TEC were based on a consensus agreement arrived at on 15th March 2011 between the petitioners and respondents, under the authority of the then Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh. In its May 10th 2012 Orders appointing the Technical Expert Committee, the court made the following explanatory remarks:
“This has given rise to serious controversies before this Court as to whether or not the field tests of GMOs should be banned, wholly or partially, in the entire country. It is obvious that such technical matters can hardly be the subject matter of judicial review. The Court has no expertise to determine such an issue, which, besides being a scientific question, would have very serious and far-reaching consequences.” (our emphasis).
2. Subsequent to the setting up of the TEC, one member dropped out and the other five gave a unanimous interim report complying with the Court’s Orders, in October 2012. Dr V L Chopra, one of the members appointed into the Committee, because of ‘commitments in hand, both professional and personal’, had declined to serve on the Committee and the same has been conveyed to the Registrar, Supreme Court and the Secretary, MoEF in the month of May 2012 itself.
3. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has always been a respondent (on behalf of Union of India) in this case from the beginning, by virtue of the regulatory mandate and responsibility resting with them. But in the November 2012 hearing, it was the Ministry of Agriculture which stepped in (which incidentally is a ministry that promotes GM crops through various projects and where its NARS [National Agricultural Research System] earns revenues for conducting field trials for other applicants and therefore, carries its own conflict of interest); it was this Ministry which insisted on the appointment of Dr R S Paroda as the sixth member of the Committee, after the interim report was submitted. The 9th November 2012 Orders of the Court said the following:
“Having considered various aspects and with consent of the parties, we hereby appoint Dr. Rajendra Singh Paroda as a member of the Committee who shall participate in place of Mr. Chopra. In the event he is not desirous of participating in the Committee, the Committee shall go on with five members without any further addition.”
In fact, this is surprising given that this Honourable Court in its earlier Orders of the 6th August 2012 said: “The person who has not joined inspite of the order may be dropped from the panel as the vacancy is not causing any prejudice.”
4. While this is the sequence of developments, we would now like to draw your kind attention to the fact that Dr Paroda is not an “independent expert” in any sense of the word, as was exposed by the above mentioned news report. Amongst many other roles that Dr Paroda discharges, his main identity is that of being the Chairperson of TAAS (Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences) since 2002 and he is also the Executive Secretary of APAARI (Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions) from 1993 onwards.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST OF DR R S PARODA:
5. On the Board of TAAS that Dr Paroda heads is the Chairperson of Mahyco Research Foundation, Dr B R Barwale (Source: http://www.taas.in/board_of_trustees.html). “Corporate Members” on this Board include Gyanendra Shukla of Monsanto India, M.Ramasami of Rasi Seeds, M Prabhakar Rao of Nuziveedu Seeds and National Seed Association of India’s Dr N K Dadlani. Mahyco is the main Indian business partner of Monsanto, the American multinational which controls most of the transgenic seed business in the world, in addition to having a large share in proprietary seed business globally.
6. Further, Dr R S Paroda’s organisation (APAARI) receives funding from Monsanto and Mahyco. APAARI runs a programme called APCoAB: Asia Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology, Pusa, New Delhi, with Mahyco, Monsanto etc., as funders. http://www.apcoab.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=5 lists Mahyco as one of the Supporters, under main initiators and supporters of APCoAB/APAARI. Steering Committee Meeting minutes of APCOAB are available on www.apcoab.org which show that Mahyco has been thanked and appreciation recorded for its contribution to APCOAB.
7. Moreover, Dr Paroda has in the past served on the Global Biotech Advisory Council of Monsanto. Needless to say, it is Monsanto which would be the largest beneficiary of any decision that would allow GM crops into the country. As you would kindly be aware, Monsanto’s proprietary Bt cotton has a 93% share in the Indian market today, within just 11 years of the formal approval of Bt cotton in India.
THIS COURT HAS STRESSED ON INDEPENDENT EXPERTS IN THE PAST, REPEATEDLY:
8. We wish to draw your attention to the fact that this Honourable Court in the past on various occasions, in this very case, had stressed upon the need for independence in regulation. On 22nd September 2006, the Court, in its Order, said the following amongst other matters:
“The Government would also consider associating independent experts in GEAC. (The petitioners may give their suggestions to learned counsel for the respondents in this regard within a period of one week from today).”
9. Again on 13th October 2006, the Court Orders read this:
“…. The Government, if it has in its view certain other independent experts, their names shall be placed on record and supplied in advance to learned counsel for the petitioner. Before suggesting the names of independent experts to be associated with GEAC, the Government shall ask prospective persons as to whether they are being funded directly or indirectly by biotech industry. List the applications after five weeks.”
10. Again on 15th December 2006 in the case of a discussion related to a GM mustard field experiment, the Court once again said: “We expect independent expert opinion from GEAC on this subject.”
11. On 13th February 2008, the Hon’ble Court noted the following while directing the Ministry of Environment to invite Dr P M Bhargava and Dr M S Swaminathan to the GEAC meetings as Invitees: “It is also contended that the constitution of GEAC is not proper as it lacks independent experts, thereby leading to lack of transparency.”
THE TEC’S FIRST UNANIMOUS REPORT ALSO STRESSES ON INDEPENDENT EXPERTISE:
12. We wish to point out that the TEC’s interim report, finalized unanimously in October 2012 and submitted to the Court, emphasized the need to remove conflict of interest in regulation! (page 11)
“Need for removing conflicts of interest: For the regulatory process as a whole to have public confidence (this is a must on something as fundamental as food safety), it is important for the regulatory structure to be free of conflict of interest…….The regulatory body for GM products should be located entirely outside of the DBT and a suggestion is that it could be either in the MoEF or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or both (environmental and health safety respectively). It is also important that members of the regulatory bodies should not have any interests, explicit or implicit, in the development/promotion of transgenic products that would be deployed commercially.”
In the Recommendations section, (Page 14 Point 5 (iii)), the TEC once again says,: “conflict of interest in the regulatory body has been removed as discussed above”, while asking for field trials to be stopped unless conditions like this specific one are met.
THIS COURT WAS MISLED WITH REGARD TO DR PARODA’S APPOINTMENT INTO THE TEC:
13. Sirs, we write to the learned Bench to point out that when the Court had over the years stressed upon independent expertise, and expressly asked the government to first ask prospective persons whether they are being funded directly or indirectly by the biotech industry, the same caution was not applied when Dr R S Paroda was appointed as the sixth member into the TEC!
14. We are worried that the practice of appointing of “experts” into technical committees that advise the Hon’ble Court on complex technical matters would get seriously jeopardised when “experts” who cannot be termed independent and devoid of conflict of interest come into the picture. This would set a bad precedence for S&T jurisprudence in the country. After all, one of the biggest contentions in the case against GMOs is the monopolistic corporate control that goes hand in hand with the technology. If such monopolistic corporate powers find their way into expert committees that the Hon’ble Court turns to, directly or indirectly, can ordinary citizens find justice delivered in the case of some of the most controversial S&T questions of our time?
Respected Sirs, we end by noting that when the five member TEC consisting of independent experts sat down to deliberate on the questions posed to them, it was noteworthy that they came up with a unanimous report that emphasized on the precautionary approach, needs assessment, stringent biosafety assessment etc. This unanimity is noteworthy as it demonstrates clearly the validity of the concerns around this technology.
It is after reading the unanimous TEC report that the Ministry of Agriculture moved in to oppose the TEC report and induct a sixth member, who is not independent of industry interests. It is highly objectionable that these interests were not disclosed by the Ministry at the time of suggesting the name. It is also surprising that Dr Paroda himself did not proactively reveal this conflict of interest and recuse himself. It seems like the government has picked up the name of Dr R S Paroda almost out of desperation, particularly after the interim report of the TEC was released.
It is in this context of deep concern about conflict of interest pervading even the Expert Committees set up by the Highest Court in this country that we write this letter. We urge the Learned Bench not to allow the government to bring in vested interests into this process. We urge you to remove Dr R S Paroda from the TEC and urge you to uphold the principle of “independent expertise” that this Hon’ble Court has been stressing upon over the years in this very PIL. Thank you.
(You can read the Hindustan Times article on Paroda’s conflict of interest here: http://www.hindustantimes.com/