By Ignatius Joseph:
As the deadline for public feedback on the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill closed on August 25, a delegation from the Coalition for a GM free India and Greenpeace India, delivered petitions from over 4 lakh people demanding the withdrawal of BRAI bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. The BRAI bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in April 2013, was later sent to the Standing Committee to be reviewed. The Committee then offered the bill for public feedback so the petitions and individual feedback on the BRAI bill was presented to Dr T Subbarami Reddy, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on August 23, 2013.
Receiving the petitions, Dr Reddy assured the delegation that the Standing Committee will keep these public concerns in mind while deliberating on this controversial bill. The BRAI bill was first introduced by the Ministry of Science & Technology despite opposition from both inside and outside the Parliament. It is controversial due to its proposal of an easy single window approval mechanism for GM (Genetically Modified) crops in India and also because BRAI will be located within the Ministry of Science and Technology, a promoter of GM crops. This poses a serious conflict of interest as no promoter can be a fair regulator.
Renu Singh, a member of the Coalition for a GM Free India said, “The BRAI Bill, 2013 proposes to set up a single window clearance mechanism for contentious GM crops into the country. It is designed to lower the regulatory bar to give a free hand to biotech giants like Monsanto to push in their GM crops and take control of our seeds, farming and food. It is nothing but a Monsanto Protection and Promotion Act.”
The BRAI proposal has been facing strong opposition from various quarters due to its centralised, biased, unscientific and non-transparent nature in dealing with the regulation of GM crops. It also comes at a time when there is mounting scientific evidences on the adverse impact of GM crops on human health, environment and farmers livelihoods. State governments and civil society organisations are also agitated due to the absence of any decision making roles for state governments and clauses to override the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the current BRAI Bill.
On the eve of Quit India Day, August 8, thousands of citizens along with 18 MPs from various political parties including Congress, BJP, JD (U), CPI (M), CPI, DMK, BJD and farmer union leaders from across the country came together for a day long dharna on Parliament Street in New Delhi, followed by a march to Parliament demanding the withdrawal of the BRAI Bill.
Deb Kumar Chattopadhyay, the Greenpeace India activist who delivered the petitions to the Standing Committee said, “This Bill is an attempt to circumvent public opposition to GM crops in the country. While the government failed us, we have great hopes that the Parliamentary Standing Committee comprising of MPs from various political parties will pay heed to the voice of citizens.”
The activists on behalf of over 4,60,000 people who had joined the anti-BRAI and anti-GMO petition demanded that the Standing Committee recommend the withdrawal of the BRAI Bill. Currently, Bt cotton is the only GM crop in India but the introduction of BRAI can pave the way for numerous other crops including food crops.