Prime minister wants India to trial GM rice and vegetables

India's prime minister Narendra Modi has come up with the idea that GM rice and vegetables  will be a driver of the economy. He does not appear to realise that there is close to zero consumer demand for such products, and that conducting open field trials of these crops would put at risk India's export markets (item 2 below).

Yet a high level committee chaired by T.S.R. Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary of India, has urged caution, citing GM crops as an example of the "mindless use of science and technology" (item 1).

This is the third committee to urge caution in this way. An Indian parliamentary committee and the technical committee of India's Supreme Court have both similarly urged caution, recommending bans on GM field trials until stronger regulatory controls can be put in place.

1. Don’t rush into GM crops’ field trials: panel
2. Modi's 'Make in India' bats for GM food crops

1. Don’t rush into GM crops’ field trials: panel

by Jay Mazoomdaar
The Indian Express, 1 Dec 2014

The government should exercise caution and seek “greater assurance” given the “potential for medium/long-term adverse affects through unprepared introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) food crops”, a high-level committee (HLC) chaired by T S R Subramanian has warned.

“I am not against GM crops but we need to take appropriate caution. All I am saying is that don’t take chances that you cannot undo,” Subramanian told The Indian Express. “Keep your eyes open and check carefully the possible consequences (of field trials) on our biodiversity. European countries are not allowing field trials and they are not idiots.”

Set up to review six green laws, the committee, in its 106-page report submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) earlier this month, recommended the use of latest technologies to prepare an environmental map of the country that will help assess project proposals objectively and quickly and effectively monitor compliance with conditions imposed for clearances.

But, on page 93, the report cautions that “while utilising science and technology, their limitations as well as the need for appropriate human intervention should not be lost sight of”.

It goes on to say: “The potential consequences of mindless use of science and technology could possibly be illustrated by referring to the potential for medium/long-term adverse effects through unprepared introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) food crops. While other Ministries naturally would aggressively push for early field trials and induction, the role of the MoEF & CC may have to be one of being a Devil’s Advocate to advise due caution.”

Pointing out that Europe does not permit field trials, the report warns that “the average Indian farm is of very small size (which could lead to severe adverse impact on biodiversity through gene-flow)” and that “there are no independent expert agencies in the country”.

Subramanian claimed that his panel sought to improve rather than merely maintain the environmental standards and biological assets of the country. The HLC report envisages a National Environmental Monitoring Authority (NEMA), a statutory body that will prepare an environmental map of the country incorporating details of forest cover, pollution, hydrology, wildlife protected areas, human settlement, eco-sensitive zones, pristine and fragile zones, etc. This, it says, will help lay down a unified, transparent and single-window process for project approvals.

“The mapping may take up to three years but will go a long way in effective environment management. The ground status has to be in the public domain to ensure transparency. Till then, the NEMA will evaluate project proposals case by case and we have recommended geo-referenced maps in 1/50,000 scale available with the Forest Survey of India for the purpose,” said Subramanian.

The committee also proposed the enactment of a new umbrella law — the Environment Law (Management) Act (ELMA) — under which a new appellate board under a retired high court judge will hear appeals related to project clearances. While decisions of this board can be challenged at the National Green Tribunal, the latter will not be able to examine the technical aspects of any project clearance.

“Once something reaches court, it often takes up to five years to get any decision. What we have proposed is based on transparency and the principal of utmost good faith. For any violation, there will be heavy penalties under the ELMA. These cases will be heard at Special Environmental Courts to be set up in every district. Anyone is free to challenge the decisions of these courts in high courts and subsequently in the SC,” said Subramanian.

2. Modi's 'Make in India' bats for GM food crops

Somesh Jha
Business Standard (India), November 29, 2014

* This comes despite sharp criticism received from various RSS affiliated organisations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Make in India campaign has pitched India as a potential investment destination for genetically modified (GM) crops.

“India has the potential to become a major producer of transgenic rice and several genetically modified or engineered vegetables,” said a statement in the “Reasons to Invest” section of the biotechnology sector posted on the campaign’s official website.

This is despite sharp criticism the Union government has faced from various Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated organisations for giving permission to conduct field trials for two varieties of GM crops in a few states recently.

Modi’s signature campaign is aimed at making India an investment hub and export powerhouse.

The website also states GM food crops are an investment opportunity for foreign players as they will offer “new business opportunities” in the country. “Hybrid seeds, including GM seeds, represent new business opportunities in India based on yield improvement.”

This is the first time the National Democratic Alliance government has made public its stance on allowing field trials for GM food crops.

On Wednesday, the Union government had stated in Parliament it had not banned the field trials of GM crops. “As of date, there is no ban on GM crops field trials, neither by the government nor the Supreme Court,” Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

Javadekar said the previous government, led by the United Progressive Alliance, had submitted a joint common affidavit in April 2014 advocating the field trials of GM crops to be allowed across the country. Javadekar, however, did not criticise this move.

“The Union government is of the view that research in GM and confined field trials for generating bio-safety data with all due precautions should be allowed to continue in the national interest,” he said.

The NDA government had passed an order on August 21 based on the approval given by the biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), in its meeting held on August 18 to allow field trials of two GM food crops — mustard and brinjal.

The GEAC had approved field trials of 13 GM crops, including those of mustard, cotton, brinjal, rice and chickpea which were strongly opposed by the Sangh Parivar organisations such as Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). Under pressure from these groups, Javadekar had reportedly put on hold field trials on July 29.