Prime Ministers Statement – Is a purposive attempt to prevent a healthy debate on GM crops in India
It reeks of an inherent disrespect for science and democracy
27th February 2012: The Coalition for a GM-Free India is outraged by the statement made by the Prime Minister Sri.Manmohan Singh on foreign-funded NGOs as being the reason for the moratorium decision on Bt Brinjal. It is a clear attempt to undermine and disrespect the exercise of democratic rights by the citizens of this country regarding critical issues that concern one and all. His specifically pointing to the ongoing democratic struggle in Kudankulam and the Bt brinjal decision process two years back are unacceptable as both these are not just instances of public struggles to assert their wishes, but consequences of global experiences, scientific studies and a need to protect public and environmental health and justice.
Clearly the issue is not of NGOs or foreign funding; that is merely a ruse or excuse that the PM has seized to cover his and his government’s unwillingness to listen to the people of the nation. The more troubling aspect of his statement is that he seems to have made up his mind on pushing agricultural biotechnology, ignoring the genuine scientific concerns, with or without the consent of the people of the nation. In the recent past the same approach has been apparent in the issue of Bt brinjal, the Jaitapur & Kudankulam nuclear plants and FDI in retail. It is to be noted that in all these cases transnational corporations, with enormous clout, stand to make tremendous profits by pushing these projects/policies through. In the case of Bt brinjal, the biotechnology industry’s lobby group ABLE immediately came out lauding the PM’s statement, while in the case of Kudankulam the Russian envoy , whose country is building the power plant, supported his stand.
The opposition to the government policies which threaten the food sovereignty, public health and farmers’ rights has come from all segments of society ranging from politicians to farmers to scientists to civil society. It has taken many forms, all of them legitimate. The decision for a moratorium for Bt brinjal similarly was a result of opposition from the states, disagreement within the scientific community, objections raised by many segments of society and public concern which saw over 8000 people participate in the process of public consultation. The Bt brinjal moratorium decision was taken by then Minister for Environment & Forests, who clearly detailed the rationale for his decision to the nation – which the Prime Minister would be well-advised to read thoroughly. He is now in the unenviable and unpalatable situation of having to defend his own integrity. Is the PM suggesting that his own Minister was compromised?
It is a deep irony that Dr Manmohan Singh is resurrecting the “foreign hand” ruse from the 1970’s and Emergency era – while being at the forefront of inviting foreign investment and control of various parts of Indian economy and allowing the US government and MNCs to push policy changes. It would be instructive to remind ourselves of a few illustrative instances from the recent past:
(1) In 2006, the Prime Minister, on his U.S. visit, personally signed the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture whose express purpose is to reorient agricultural research and redesign the agricultural policies of the country. Three US-based corporations were placed on the Board of the K.I.A. – Monsanto, Archers-Daniel Midland and Walmart. Are these the entities that the P.M. believes are “fully appreciative of the development challenges of the country” and can help make the best decisions in the interests of the country?
(2) In 2008, as part of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program funded by US-AID, the testing protocols for GM crops in India were further weakened to make it easier to approve GM crops like Bt Brinjal. Does the PM believe that the appropriate standards for approval of GM crops in India should be decided by US-AID, but not influenced by inputs from transparent public hearings across the country organized by his own government’s Ministry of Environment?
(3) In the past few years, there were many instances of conflict of interest and malpractice in the government institutions and regulatory bodies regarding GM crops. Monsanto, the biggest corporation pushing GM crops in the world and in India, has been caught red-handed and penalized for using corrupt means to influence GM legislation in some countries, and has been credibly accused of doing the same in India. The seed industry has spawned multiple lobbying agencies which are well-funded from MNCs and have been hyper-active in pushing for weakening regulations and pushing GM crops. While the P.M. is apparently not worried by any of these undemocratic means of influencing the government policies on GM crops and agri-business, he is attacking farmers, scientists, NGOs and people’s organizations for using the democratic means of participating in public hearings, engaging with government officials, and producing scientific reports on the risks of GM crops.
With regard to Bt brinjal, it is not biotechnology and its wizardry sold by multinational corporations that should sway us. It should be an unbiased and independent assessment of what would benefit the poorest and the most marginal farmer, what is safe and sustainable in the long term, what will safeguard the food and seed sovereignty of the nation and what food would be acceptable to the mother to safely feed her child? Preventing the commercialization of Bt brinjal is a right decision on all counts!
We, the Coalition for a GM-Free India seek that the Prime Minister stop using his respectable and high office to divert and sabotage the important debate on safe food and farming that has been brought out by GM crops debate. We also seek that the PM respect democratic dissent in the country and remember that the foundational principle of a democracy is ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’, nothing supercedes that!
For more information:
Sridhar Radhakrishnan (Convener) : 09995358205
website : www.indiagminfo.org