India is a nation which has long been known for people’s movements and Jantar Mantar in Delhi has been one of those symbolic places for people around the country to join hands and demand “their right” or “what is right.” These movements are often inspired by our journey to independence which involved direct action and non-violence.
On the 25th of June, one month before the Monsoon Session commences this year, Greenpeace, Coalition for a GM Free India, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, India Against Corruption along with farmer unions from across the country came together on one platform to fight the Government’s decision to bring in the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, which will allow the likes of American multinational Monsanto to monopolise our food and farming. The BRAI bill has now rightly been called ‘India’s Monsanto Promotion and Protection Act.’
The groups were from diverse backgrounds and fighting different yet similar struggles united to protest and fight this draconian legislation. This can also be seen as the start of our ‘salt satyagraha’ which at the time of independence was our fight against the British salt monopoly. But today it’s about fighting off the monopoly of biotech giants who want to control our food and farming, just so they can continue to enjoy huge profits.
Along with the stalwarts from civil society and farmer unions, this struggle against the BRAI Bill was beyond politics as it brought together the right, left and centre, with individuals like Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Admi Party, Sitaram Yechury from CPI(M) who joined this platform while leaders like Rajnath Singh showed solidarity to this struggle through a written letter.
Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Admi Party greets Sitaram Yechury from CPI(M).
The reason why so many groups, leaders and farmers have come to join hands and fight off this bill is very simple. The BRAI bill follows an approach to promote GM crops in the country in the name of regulation. Genetic Modification is a risky and out-dated technology that is promoted by the biotech industry to increase their profits. At the same time it has no benefit to the poorest farmers. GM crops have been rejected by the majority of countries due to their lack of safety to human/animal health and the environment. They are also a threat to the socio-economic fabric of developing countries as they allow control over the farmer’s main input which is the seed. We have already seen this happen in the case of Bt cotton, where 93% of the cotton seed sector is now under Monsanto’s proprietary technology.
The BRAI bill is a centralised system that lacks transparency and public participation and it has no proper mechanisms for safety assessments. It is going to make India a giant lab for GM experiments by companies like Monsanto. That apart, our government will also be handing over our food security and sovereignty to these biotech giants on a platter. This is definitely not the future we want for this country’s consumers, farmers and our rich heritage. See report: BRAI bill 2013 - India's Monsanto Promotion & Protection Act?
This people’s movement started on the 25th of June 2013 and saw people demanding the withdrawal of India’s Monsanto Promotion and Protection Act aka the BRAI Bill. The movement is only going to get stronger as it is beyond this piece of legislation and about the likes of Monsanto monopolising and taking control of our food and farming. The standing committee of science & technology and environment & forests which is now reviewing the BRAI Bill, should heed to the people’s concerns on this legislation and not let the nation down as this struggle is only set to get louder and stronger.
Neha Saigal is Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace India.