BRAI Bill is inadequate on biosafety and liability: Greenpeace

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Press release - February 9, 2012
Kolkata, 9 February 2012: Greenpeace India today launched a legal assessment report of the the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI),bill 2011.

The report authored by the Supreme Court lawyer, Ritwik Dutta suggests that the BRAI bill is fundamentally flawed as provisions of the bill do not conform with several principles which form the core of Indian and international environmental jurisprudence like absolute liability for hazardous and dangerous activities, polluter pays principle, precautionary principle, onus of proof on those who want to change the status quo, effective  public participation  in environmental decision making and access to biosafety information. 

The legal assessment comes in the wake of growing discontent in the scientific as well as civil society on the tabling of the BRAI bill that shall ensure a single window clearance for genetically modified (GM) crops in the country which is feared to lower the bar for their approval.

The report ‘BRAI Bill: A threat to our food and farming’ analyses the various inadequacies within the bill that threatens the safety of our food, health and biodiversity. Neither the preamble to the bill nor the Statement of the Objects and Reason explain how the new authority would be better than the existing system and why changes cannot be made in the existing one. “In compliance with the Cartagena protocol, India is under an obligation to ensure that its domestic laws are according to the provisions of the protocol. It appears from the preamble of the Bill that it adopts an adaptive approach, instead the main focus of the bill should be the prevention of risks associated with modern biotechnology," said Ritwick Dutta.  

The legal assessment also highlights the conflict of interest as the Department of Biotechnology
(DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology has proposed the BRAI bill and their mandate clearly mentions the promotion of the biotechnology in the country. This will only clear further impediments for the biotech companies who threaten to monopolize the Indian agriculture market.  The widespread public protest on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal and its subsequent result of an indefinite moratorium led the government to revise its strategy in shaking hands with the biotech companies.

The current bill also reduces the role of the state governments to a recommendatory capacity and they do not have any decision making powers to decide the release of genetically modified organisms (GMO) through field trials or assess the need for it in a particular state. States like Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka have formally written to the central government opposing the current BRAI proposal. “This is nothing but a challenge to the federal polity of the country,” said R.K Mukherjee from the Coalition for GM-free West Bengal. He further stated, “We hope that our Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee will notice the grave danger that BRAI poses to the people, agriculture and environment of Bengal and tell the central government in clear terms to scrap the bill.”

The report launch also saw Dr Tushar Kanti Chakraborty, molecular biologist, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB) and member, Forum Against Monopolistic Aggression(FAMA) speak on the threat of GM commercialization in the country. He pointed out, “The bill fails to make provisions for any kind of independent long term assessment of biosafety before the environmental release of the particular GMO. This is a serious threat to our health and agriculture as the resulting contamination from the GM crops will eventually destroy our biodiversity and our agriculture.”

The BRAI bill also sets forth a legal liability system that is poorly drafted whereby chief arbitrators of modern biotechnology are not held accountable for any wrong doing.  “The diluted form of liability in the clauses clearly reflects the government’s strategy to circumvent the liability rules to suit the biotech seed companies.  The principle of absolute liability should be put in place in the case of  GMO use and at the same time the government should ensure that detterent penalties  adopting the polluter pays principle is resorted to avoid casual approach towards such a hazardous technology,” said Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture campaign manager, Greenpeace India.

The launch of the report forms a critical part in exposing the manner in which the central government has proposed the faulty BRAI bill for introduction. Greenpeace India demands that the BRAI bill should be withdrawn and replaced with a regulatory regime whose main mandate should be to safeguard the health of citizens, the environment and consider the various social, economic and cultural aspects. The amendments to the current BRAI bill 2011 need to be made after engaging in a rigorous public debate with all the stakeholders.

Contacts: 

Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, Greenpeace India

Mob: +91-984 565 0032 email:

Pari Trivedi, Media Officer, Greenpeace India

Mob: +91-750 389 3981 email:

Notes to the Editor:

Link to the legal assessment report of BRAI bill:

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/report/BRAI-Critique-Report.pdf

Link to BRAI bill:

http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Biotech/Biotech%20Regulatory%20Auhority%20Bill,%202011.pdf