New Delhi, 30th March 2014: In the latest development related to the public debate and controversy around Genetically Modified (GM) crops in India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India preponed its hearing on the PIL on GM crops from 15th April to 1st of April 2014 (1). This comes after the hasty, unethical and questionable decision by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to approve open air field trials of GM crops, when a code of conduct for General Elections is in place, and on the eve of the crucial hearing by the Court. This ‘revalidation of approvals’ by the regulators, supported by the Minister for Environment and Forests, Veerappa Moily (who later did a u-turn on his role in giving a go-ahead when confronted by farm unions), had faced widespread opposition from across the country. Even Congress-ruled state governments like Kerala responded by saying that they will not allow such trials. While biotech companies’ stocks have been seeing significant rise in the stock markets with this decision by the Government, several complaints have been shot off to the Election Commission against this move by the government at this point of time.
Meanwhile, in another development, earlier this week, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in their 59th report submitted to the Speaker had reiterated their earlier recommendation on stopping all kinds of environmental releases of GM crops including for field trials (2). The Committee noted that they “are not satisfied with the replies furnished by the government” with regard to regulatory mechanism for transgenics and containment of trials. The Committee desired that ‘further research and development on transgenics in agricultural crops should be done only in strict containment and field trials should not be undertaken till the Government puts in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight, surveillance and other structures. The Committee note from press reports that the Minister for Environment and Forests has decided to allow field trials of transgenics which is contrary to the recommendations of the Committee in the 37th Report. The Committee strongly deprecate this”.
The Standing Committee report specifically states that “the Committee are of the strong view that unless and until a comprehensive, transparent, effective and professional regulatory system is in place, there exists no scope for field trials of transgenics”. Expressing strong views on Bt cotton, the Committee records that “the first hand experience gained by the Committee is ample proof to show that the miseries of farmers have compounded since the time they started cultivating Bt cotton. The Committee would like the Government to appreciate the ground reality and not to thrust commercial cultivation of Bt cotton on farmers”. This is coming at a time when Karnataka government is ordering crores of rupees of compensation to be paid to loss-incurring Bt cotton farmers and also blacklisting Mahyco in the state (3).
It is worth noting that the approach of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, through its unanimous reports on the subject, is very similar to the majority report of the independent experts of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court on the matter of open air field trials. While the Government/regulators are trying to mislead the nation and the Supreme Court by alluding to open air trials as “confined”, the Parliamentary Standing Committee has correctly understood that confinement is not possible in open air trials, and therefore asked clearly for R&D to take place only in containment. Numerous examples of risks emerging from open air trials exist from the world over, and even in India, there is much documented evidence on various violations in open air field trials in addition to the hard reality that open air releases of GMOs including for field trials cannot be “confined”.
“The similarities in the recommendations of the majority report of the independent experts of the Supreme Court TEC and this Parliamentary Panel are very large and this is no coincidence. Both these bodies have taken the time to study the regulatory regime in great detail and have picked up Bt cotton and Bt brinjal as illustrative case studies of how the regulators have been performing, without capabilities and even accountability, in the country; both have also specified that decision-making has to first rid itself of any conflict of interest creeping in”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).
Another point worth noting is that Ms Jayanti Natarajan, the former MoEF was keen on her Ministry taking an independent view on the matter of GMOs and field trials and had requested the Prime Minister to allow her Ministry to respond separately in the Court, but was shunted out to be replaced by Veerappa Moily. In her long letter to the Prime Minister, she effectively countered the many arguments raised by the Government of India’s affidavit, put in by the Agriculture Ministry against the TEC’s unanimous interim report (4). “It is a great mystery as to what pressure is acting on some Ministries and Offices of the Government of India that they simply ignore enormous scientific evidence against GMOs in our food, farming and environment to the point that they replace a Minister who expresses her reservations on GMOs”, added Ms Kuruganti.
It needs to be mentioned here that the one member in the 6-member TEC who is toeing the Government of India’s line is not a bio-safety expert (while the debate at hand is that of biosafety assessment in India) and carries an objectionable conflict of interest into a Supreme Court technical committee probably for the first time in environmental jurisprudence in the country. Dr R S Paroda who has been brought into the Committee after the unanimous interim report of the TEC was submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2012 heads an organization which receives funding from biotech majors like Mahyco (Monsanto’s Indian associate).
The Coalition for a GM-Free India believes that these unscientific and anti-people forces in the Government are now standing in the way of justice being delivered in this case. “We want to remind the Government of India that people of this country will not forgive it for its irresponsible efforts to contaminate our food, farms and environment with GM crops”, said Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India. “We hope that the Supreme Court will see through this anti-people, anti-science position of the government and disallows all open air trials of GMOs”, he added.
Notes to the editor:
1. The Supreme court listings for the 1st of April can be seen at http://causelists.nic.in/scnew/otues/cl.html
2. The 59th report of the parliamentary standing committee on Agriculture can be accessed at
3. The order by the Karnataka state govt to blacklist Mahyco and ban the sales of Bt Cotton of the company can be accessed here http://indiagminfo.org/?p=704
4. The letter by former Union Minister for Environment and Forest to the Prime Minister received through RTI act can be accessed at http://indiagminfo.org/?attachment_id=680
For more Information:
Rajesh Krishnan, Convener, Coalition for a GM Free India,
Mob: 9845650032, email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Kavitha Kuruganti, Convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA),
Mob: 9393001550, email: email@example.com