June 13, 2013
Dr. T Subbarami Reddy, MP
Parliamentary Standing Committee for Science & Technology, Environment & Forests.
Re: To seek extension of time to 90 days for public feedback on the BRAI Bill
Please accept our warm greetings !
We have seen the notification issued on June 11, 2013 by the Rajyasabha Secretariat regarding the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2013. According to the notification, feedback must be sent within 30 days. We write to press upon you the fact that this time limit as well as the present public feedback process itself is highly inadequate, and needs to be extended and expanded.
The Bill, as you are well aware, affects every citizen in the country and encompasses issues related to human and animal health, environmental safety, livelihoods in the farming sector, and above all food safety, food and seed sovereignty. Therefore, it is imperative that before making recommendations, ample time and opportunity is provided for wide dissemination of the Bill and also sufficient time is granted for people to respond.
As you are aware, the BRAI Bill has been a very controversial piece of legislation since its inception and has caused considerable disquiet among many stakeholders. Firstly, Genetically Modified Organisms, a technology that BRAI is mandated to regulate is controversial the world over because it has not been proven safe for health and the environment. It is therefore the cause of considerable concern, especially with bans, moratoriums and other restrictions in many countries. Serious problems with the technology have emerged in countries that have adopted it including trade ramifications causing massive losses for farmers and the exchequer. Secondly, the way the Bill has been drafted and tabled disregarding considerable opposition, and its basic premise of promoting biotechnology instead of regulating it with the prior objective concern of protecting bio-safety, has caused real consternation. It is also deeply disturbing that the BRAI Bill despite its criticality was not made available for public feedback in the pre-drafting stages.
The disquiet and serious concerns surrounding this technology on all counts – safety, environmental impacts, health impacts , socio-economic impacts , many of which have been illustrated in studies the world over and real life examples from many countries including India in the case of Bt cotton and the test case of the comprehensive appraisal of Bt brinjal— demands that the Bill is reviewed and evaluated transparently, with access to one and all in the process . We attach the link to a compilation of over 400 studies which point to the problems with transgenics in agriculture.1
Further the introduction of the Bill in the Parliament and the processes post that have also been contentious – the Minister in charge had recommended that the Bill should be sent to a Joint Committee, appreciating the fact that this is a vast subject spanning food, farming , health and environment. Despite this the Bill was referred to this Standing Committee.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture which tabled its report, titled ‘Cultivation of GM Crops: Prospects and Effects’, in August 2012, after a detailed analysis of over two years has clearly stated:
“The Committee feel that regulating biotechnology is too small a focus in the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health, etc. and a multitude of other such related issues. They have, therefore, already recommended in a previous Chapter setting up of an all encompassing Bio-safety Authority through an act of Parliament, which is extensively discussed and debated amongst all stakeholders, before acquiring shape of the law”. (Section 8.120)
The Technical Expert Committee formed by the Supreme Court, in connection with the Public Interest Litigation on GM crops, is expected to submit its final report on the issues of field trials by the end of June 2013. This SC Committee report will be undoubtedly relevant for critical comment on the BRAI Bill.
The National Advisory Council (NAC), chaired by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, has drafted guidelines for pre-legislative consultations. The NAC has recommended a multi-stage pre-legislative consultation process based on the principles of “transparency, equity and inclusiveness”. It has recommended that any draft Bill should be made available proactively in the public domain for at least 90 days for public comments and after that a consultation process with all stakeholders should also be done. According to NAC draft, “the need for such a policy of consultation is necessary, to evolve from a representative democracy to a participatory, deliberative democracy; particularly for accountability to the people in the formulation of law and policy”2.
Therefore, we strongly urge that in keeping with enlightened democratic tradition and processes, and considering the complexity and concerns about the technology, the BRAI Bill should be made available for at least 90 days for public feedback. In addition, public hearings should be held in various states to gather broad based public opinion in a transparent and accessible manner, where any concerned citizen can opine on the Bill.
Keeping in view the seriousness of the issue, we strongly request that:
The Bill be made widely available in all local languages as farmers are important stakeholders who should have access to the text of the Bill and be able to participate in this important legislation affecting their livelihood
The period for written feedback from the public should be extended to 90 days
Public hearings be scheduled and held in various States to seek broad-based public opinion and to instil confidence in the public about the process of finalising this law.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan & Pankaj Bhushan
Coalition for GM Free India
Coalition for a GM-Free India is a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions and consumer groups and individuals committed to keep the food and farms in India free of Genetically Modified Organisms and working towards sustainable ways of farming.
Coalition for a GM-free India
A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi 110 016, Phone/Fax: 011-26517814
Website: www.indiagminfo.org, email : firstname.lastname@example.org