Open letter to Hon. Prime Minister of India

Dear Mr. Manmohan Singh,

A contentious bill labeled by some as the wrong bill, drafted by the wrong people, for the wrong reasons. This could be any of the numerous bills, listed to be tabled in Parliament during the winter session, but the one I am specifically referring to is the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill 2011. The BRAI bill has been receiving opposition from different quarters of society from the time it was drafted in a secretive fashion and was due to be introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament, but never made it.

The winter session in Parliament is over and fortunately the BRAI bill was not listed for introduction. With the strong bio-tech industry lobby and the blatant nexus between multinational seed companies, pushing their genetically modified (GM) crops in India, anything can happen in the next session of Parliament.

It is not just good luck and faith that has kept this draconian bill from being a part of our legislative system. Pressure from the public with varied expertise has played an important role. In fact, some of our Members of Parliament, have not only written formal letters of opposition to our government to withdraw the BRAI bill but have also opposed the introduction of this bill in Parliament.

This comes as no surprise to me, as anyone who is concerned about transparency, consultation and democracy in legislative process and most importantly the safety of food, will oppose the BRAI bill. But these are obviously not concerns for our Union government, still adamant about introducing this bill.

To begin with, the BRAI bill has the wrong mandate with promotion of GM crops as the primary objective, clearly ignoring the risks associated with the controversial GM technology to health and the environment. Then there is the in your face conflict of interest where the bill is introduced by the Ministry of Science and Technology. My question to you is, "How can promoters be regulators?"

The bill is based on narrow and centralised decision making, taking away the state government's authority over their agriculture and health. It even overrides people's right to information, ignoring public participation.

Does this have something to do with the moratorium on Bt brinjal? The fact that public consultations around the country prevented the introduction of the first GM food crop? Is this the reason that the BRAI bill, which clearly has strong support of the Biotech seed industry, is being enforced upon citizens of India in spite of the massive opposition.

You might have ignored consulting us on this bill, but we went ahead and had our own public consultations and round tables around the country where farmers, consumers, health professionals, lawyers, scientists came to the conclusion that the BRAI bill needs to be scrapped.

The concerns on the Bill were also raised at the National Advisory Council. Smt. Aruna Roy (NCPRI) also submitted her petition on the BRAI bill at NAC last month with the following concerns:

  • That it exempts itself from the RTI Act by declaring the Authority the sole arbiter of which information can be declared confidential and exempt from disclosure.
  • There is a lack of public consultation with important stakeholders.
  • There are strong objections and concerns on issues such as conflict of interestthat have been ignored

At the time of the monsoon session over one lakh people signed petitions asking you to withdraw the BRAI bill, but you ignored us, we held protests, public consultations and organizations formally wrote to you but you ignored us again. But we didn't give up as we knew that our food, health and environment are at risk with the intentions of the BRAI bill. So we wrote to our local MPs asking them to oppose this piece of legislation from being introduced and guess what they actually responded positively.

Here is a list of a few of them and I am quite sure that it will be hard for you to ignore them:

  1. Shri Basudev Achariya (MP, Bankura, West Bengal).
  2. Dr Raghuvansh Prasad (MP, Vaishali, Bihar).
  3. Shri Om Prakash Yadav (MP, Siwan, Bihar).
  4. Shri Uma Shankar Singh (MP, Maharajganj, Bihar).
  5. Smt Ashwamedha Devi (MP, Urjaipur, Bihar).
  6. Capt. Jainarain Prasad Nishad (MP, Muzzafarpur, Bihar).
  7. Smt Jyoti Mirdha (Nagaur, Rajasthan).

I think Mr Prime Minister, it's time for you to listen to the people who trust you to make the important decisions for them and not pass bills in the interest of international corporations who obviously don't have our interest in mind. But the difference is that you do, so we urge you to scrap the BRAI bill and give us back the right to safe food.

Regards
Neha Saigal
Greenpeace Campaigner