04 September 2013 BRAI protest 2013

File image from an anti BRAI ( Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India) bill protest in 2013


Back in 2009, when a government tried to force Bt Brinjal on the public, voices from across the nation came out together to fight for their right to safe food and farmers’ right to seed sovereignty. The government finally accepted the public consensus and placed a moratorium on the crop. Irregularities were found by independent expert scientists in the protocols and results of Bt Brinjal’s biosafety report and the companies involved are now under criminal proceeding of a biopiracy case. Five years later, the threat to our food and seeds has returned - big bad and ugly.

The current BJP government in the centre promised the people in its manifesto that it will take a “precautionary approach” in regards to GM (genetically modified) crops. But when it became apparent that the government wished to flood our food systems with GM crops of rice, brinjal, maize and potato, the strong public reaction forced the environment minister Prakash Javadekar to assure the public that decision has been put on hold. But something did not feel right and we filed an RTI to probe further. On repetitive visits to GEAC (The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) to push my RTI that they were holding back, we finally got the reply which bore the bad news. The permit letters for last stage trials of Bt Brinjal and GM Mustards had been issued by the ministry on 21st August, contradicting the minister’s statements. Parallel investigation by other concerned groups found that final stage GM Maize trials were happening secretively in Maharashtra. Such deceit on the matters of utmost national importance is a reason for grave concern.

But as the centre pushes harder, the state governments stand stronger than ever to protect agriculture and food systems from this threat. Recently, the Gujarat state government communicated formally that No Objection Certificate (NOC), will not be given for any GM food crops in the state. The NOC is a statutory requirement from the state govts for conducting open air trials. Gujarat thus joins other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana etc who had denied permissions for field trials of GM crops. Such strong responses of the states can be attributed to fact that agriculture being a state subject, they are closely observant of ground realities, an essential that the centre weighed by international pressure lacks. Ex-agriculture minister of Maharashtra Vikhe-Patil publicly claimed that the experiment with BT cotton has been a disaster and fought hard to resist field trials of other crops in his state. Tamil Nadu government has been strongly vocal against the GM with Jayalalitha saying it would only benefit MNC seed companies, and bring misery to the farming community.

As this blog goes live, hundreds of concerned citizens sit in outside Rahuri Agriculture University, Maharashtra to protest against the risky GM Maize field trials taking place there. The patent on seeds, its unknown effect on human health, its proven toxicity on lab animals, the financial stress on poor farmers and trade repercussions with contamination are reasons enough for the central government to stand up tall against international pressure and MNCs to stop GM field trials in India. The people of the nation won’t be fooled easily and rise time and again to protect their food, seed and freedom.

Manvendra Singh Inaniya is a sustainable agriculture campaigner at Greenpeace India