ByÂ Ignatius Joseph:
The controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on April 22 amid vehement protests from opposition parties. The BRAI bill is contentious because it proposes to create a new regulatory body which will be a single-window clearance system for genetically modified crops in the country. The bill was introduced by Union Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Science’s Jaipal Reddy despite protests from several MP’s led by Basudeva Acharia, the floor leader of CPI (M).
Greenpeace India along with a wide cross section of civil society, scientists, farmer unions etc. has been opposing the BRAI bill ever since it was listed for introduction two years ago. Apart from it proposing a single clearance window, the whole regulatory mechanism is located in the Science and Technology Ministry which is mandated to promote genetically modified food (GM) technology. This is clearly a conflict of interest as the same ministry which is a promoter of GM technology cannot be a good regulator. (Link to legal assessment of BRAI bill).
The BRAI bill also lacks scientific biosafety assessments at a time when there is increasing scientific evidence that points to the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, biodiversity and farming. State governments and civil society organisations are also agitated due to the absence of any decision making roles on agricultural issues for state governments. Astonishingly, there are also clauses to override the Right to Information Act in the current BRAI Bill.
Neha Saigal, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India says, “This bill shows that the UPA government has not only ignored the voices of the public but also the credible and exhaustive report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture which had tabled its report ‘Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops — Prospects and Effects’ in the Monsoon Session last year. The PSC had clearly recommended that BRAI Bill is not the way forward for regulating GM crops in the country.”
Even in 2010, when the then Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal, he had said that there was a lack of long-term independent biosafety testing in India and the country is at a nascent stage to be dabbling in GM food technology.Â He had also stated that India must not be dependent on the private sector seed industry, which is bound to happen if GM crops are commercialised.
In September 2011, as a part of the protests against the BRAI Bill, Greenpeace organized a cook out of brinjal curry at Delhi Haat. A world record was set when chefs cooked 342.5 kg of pure, organic, GM-free Baingan Bharta. This was the largest amount of the dish ever cooked and even the crowds at Dilli Haat could not eat all of it.
In August 2011, Greenpeace activists had protested outside the Parliament against the BRAI bill after it was listed to be tabled by then Minister for Science and Technology, Vilasrao Deshmukh. The activists were arrested but increasing protests from various quarters ensured that the bill was stalled. Since the BRAI bill made its first appearance over 4, 00,000 people have signed Greenpeace petitions against it.
These protests and many more over the years from several organisations, scientists, farmer unions and the public at large prove that the people understand the risks associated with GM crops and they do not want it in the country. A robust biosafety protection regime is the need of the hour, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, in the place of the BRAI Bill which will only benefit large Biotech seed corporations.