EXTRACTS: While its mandate is to protect the environment and not the industry, GEAC [India's apex regulatory body] has acted as an agent of the biotech industry.
It is now left to the civil society organisations and the media to play the role of vigilantes. And therefore the strict conditions that the Supreme Court has laid down for GM trials should be taken up for close monitoring by these two wings of our democracy. If they do not keep watch, the profit hungry industry and the acquiescent bureaucrats will have their way.
Does India need GM food crops?
Industry is suppressing harmful effects of GM crops
Financial Express, May 21 2007
So, there is a "historic" order of the Supreme Court, which has permitted the ongoing GM trials to continue in the country but under severe restrictions imposed. The most important of them are: ensuring a minimum 200 meter isolation distance (between GM crops and non GM crops); ensuring that a senior scientist is in charge of monitoring; before a GM crop is permitted for field trials, GEAC must put all facts before the citizens of this country telling us how toxic is the crop and how much of allergy it can produce in humans and animals; and put up a clear protocol and establish that the contamination will not be more than 0.01%.
This is a tough order and probably must have put the fear of God in the biotech industry. But knowing the way the industry has manipulated law and court orders around the world, one is skeptical whether this order will be followed to the truthful end by the regulators. It is astounding that even before the ink had dried from the order, GEAC had claimed that SC had vacated its earlier interim order banning GM trials.
That this was a mischievous interpretation of the court order is not the only crime of GEAC. Highly distressing was the note of glee and triumph in the GEAC press release. While its mandate is to protect the environment and not the industry, GEAC has acted as an agent of the biotech industry. One would not be surprised if such a trumpet of triumph had been sounded by the department of biotechnology whose very existence is linked to the spread of biotechnology or the ministry of commerce for whom FDI is more important than food and death in the country.
But that the regulator jumps the guns and spreads a misinformation campaign speaks volumes about the dubious role GEAC is playing in regulating the industry since a couple of years. This is a serious matter and therefore the shadow of doubt falls on the regulator's capacity to implement the current SC order.
It took the Union minister of health A Ramadoss to caution the nation that unless studied in detail for its effects on health, GM trials should not be permitted. But the Indian bureaucracy is sanguine in its corrupt backing of GE crops while the CII salivates at the thought of the billions it can bring in FDI. Damn the issues of ecology and environment, their effects on the health of soil, livestock and humans.
The mounting evidence of the toxicity and new diseases being spread on Indian farmlands by the Bt cotton is being suppressed and marginalised by the captains of bureaucracy and the industry. Therefore, however radical the judiciary's actions are, the ground level implementation can be zilch.
It is now left to the civil society organisations and the media to play the role of vigilantes. And therefore the strict conditions that SC has laid down for GM trials should be taken up for close monitoring by these two wings of our democracy. If they do not keep watch, the profit hungry industry and the acquiescent bureaucrats will have their way.
-The writer is director, Deccan Development Society