Do not force GM food through draconian law, go for public referendum

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

A new game plan is in the offing after the denial of the release of the Bt brinjal for commercial cultivation. The Union ministry for science and technology is gearing up to table the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill in the Parliament. The science and technology ministry and its department of biotechnology are aggressive promoters of genetically modified (GM) crops, unmindful of its health and environmental hazards revealed by a series of studies done by scientists across the globe.

The Union environment and forests minister, Jairam Ramesh has done the right job. After the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) gave its green signal to Bt brinjal he exercised his discretion to withheld its release for commercial cultivation.

The GEAC is after all under the administrative control of the environment and forests ministry. The environment minister opted to go for public consultations across the country. The result was that the majority of the people voiced their opinion against the release of Bt brinjal.

The GEAC had not its homework properly before giving its nod for the clearance of Bt brinjal. Several lacunae was pointed out by the eminent molecular biologist, Dr Pushpa M Bhargava in the GEAC meetings to which he was a special invitee at the instance of the Supreme Court. But GEAC dominated by persons having vested interests ignored Dr Bhargava's suggestions and biosafety norms and pushed for the release of Bt brinjal.

The lobbyists for GM crops have now found a new friend in the Union science and technology minister, Prithviraj Chavan and have urged him to table a draconian law in the form of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill so that the voices of public resentment will be silenced. The Union food and agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar has openly come out favouring the release of Bt brinjal.

As per leaked out news the most obnoxious part of the proposed draconian law is to impose penalties if there is any criticism of modern biotechnology by any citizen  be it a writer, journalist, scientist, research institution or university. The penalties for “misleading public about organism and products” are 6 to 12 months of imprisonment and fine up to Rs 2 lakhs.

The decision of the proposed Authority will be out of the purview of law courts.Such a draconian law would not be keeping with the traditions of a vibrant democracy. In the colonial regime India did not had such a draconian law where the state would dictate the people to consume hazardous food.

India, being the largest democracy, should set examples and enrich democratic tradition. Hazardous GM food should not be imposed on unwilling people through draconian laws. It would be wise for the government to take a countrywide referendum on GM crops, instead of relying on the suggestions of handpicked scientists who act on the directions of multinational GM crop industry. In a democracy people should have the right to choose what they should eat not the government or seed multinationals.


(Editorial : Kisan Ki Awaaz Magazine)