Disapproving the statements made, Karuna Raina, Nuclear Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India said, "The PM's statement comes in as an attempt to discredit the anti-GM and anti-nuclear movement which for long has been asking for a national debate. Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy, earlier this year, challenged the Govt to organise a national debate on nuclear power. They promised to withdraw their agitation if the majority of the people of India vote in favor of nuclear power. Considering that such debates have been requested time and again by the civil society, both pre and post Fukushima the PM should facilitate such debate and hold consultations around the country on relevance and role of this dangerous, risky and expensive energy option."
The Prime Minister's statement comes at a time when there is a growing opposition from across the society on GM crops. Last year, 2012, marked a decade of approval of Bt cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in India. The last decade has also seen a growing opposition to GM crops in the country. The ensuing debate has also raised serious concerns on the complete failure of the GM regulatory systems, an issue also highlighted by the Parliamentary standing committee on Agriculture in its report on GM crops tabled in the last Monsoon session of Parliament1. The committee comprising of Members of Parliament from across party lines, including 11 from the ruling Congress party, recommended the government against any haste in embracing GM crops and putting in place an all encompassing biosafety protection regime that has the main mandate to safeguard human health, biodiversity and our farm livelihoods from the potential impacts of GM crops. The committee also strongly recommended against any open release of GM crops, including for field trials, until then.
This was followed by the Technical Expert Committee set up by Supreme Court on the issue of GM crops coming out with a report which talks about a precautionary principle based approach towards GM crops owing to their potential to impact human health and biodiversity 2. The committee which had eminent scientists from the fields of molecular biology, nutrition science, biodiversity, toxicology etc. highlighted the various deficiencies in our regulatory system on GMOs and recommended for a moratorium on BT crops and Herbicide tolerant crops and a complete ban on those GM crops for which India is a centre of origin. In a never before instance of scientific solidarity on concerns with GM crops hundreds of scientists had written tot eh supreme court endorsing the TEC report.
"This is another classic case of the Prime Minister saying something while his government does the opposite," said Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India.
The only instance where there was a structured public and scientific debate on GM crops in our country was in the case of Bt brinjal and that resulted in the then Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh putting an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal. But ever since the Central government has been trying to circumvent the opposition to GM crops, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill through which the govt wants to set up a centralised, non-transparent, undemocratic and unscientific regulatory system for lowering the bar for GM crop approvals is a one such significant effort. "It's a pity that the government is not ready to hold a pre-legislation public consultation and debate on BRAI like in the case of Bt brinjal," added Rajesh. He further stated, "If the government prioritises the health of the citizens, our environment, nation's food security and the livelihoods of our farming communities, then instead of pushing forward the corporate agenda to take control of our seeds through such risky technologies like GM crops the government should focus on the promotion of ecological agriculture which has a triple bottom line of social, economical and ecological sustainability."
Notes to the Editor:
1. The report on GM crops by the parliamentary standing committee on Agriculture can be accessed at http://220.127.116.11/committee/committee_informations.aspx
2. Letter from scientists to the supreme court
3. TEC report