A member of Parliament has accused the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change of evading the answers he sought on the status of bio-safety studies done on genetically modified (GM) mustard.
Dharam Vira Gandhi of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleges that the ministry did not respond to his demand for giving out the results of the bio-safety studies that have been conducted as part of field trials on GM mustard.
Gandhi sought clarity on this issue through a question in the Parliament after he received several complaints that the ministry was withholding this information from citizens who had sought this by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
"It is unfortunate that the ministry hides such important information even in the floor of the Parliament. I had raised this issue as several efforts to get this information through RTI queries have been stonewalled by the regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee - GEAC," he states, adding that the secrecy around an issue that is going to impact the environment, citizen's health, farming etc., is dangerous.
Gandhi had asked the ministry to specify whether the government was planning to permit GM mustard crop to be cultivated across the country. He also sought the details of the data and information related to its safety tests and the measures being taken by the government to implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court appointed Technical Committee and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture on any open air release of GM organisms including field trials and cultivation.
In its written response, the ministry had revealed that the GEAC, the apex body that approves large scale use and commercial release of genetically modified organisms, is considering an application from the Centre for the Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi (CGMCP) for commercial release of transgenic mustard.
The ministry also informed that GEAC has allowed CGMCP to conduct BRL-II trials of transgenic mustard hybrid (DMH-11) containing bar, barnase and barstar genes in three places i.e. Ludhiana, Bhatinda and Delhi.
Without giving the details of the specific trial, it stated that the government policy on GM crop is to take a decision only after full scientific valuation of its bio-safety and impact on the environment and on the consumers.
It also stated that introduction of any new GM crop is preceded by a careful analysis of risks and evaluation of long-term benefits for which extensive rules and guidelines are framed by the government for evaluating environmental and health safety impacts of genetically modified organisms.
However, Gandhi finds the reply unsatisfactory and seeks more transparency as introduction of GM mustard has been opposed by farmers unions, scientists and civil society groups terming it as unneeded, unwanted and unsafe crop. It has also been opposed by state governments of Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, which are among the major mustard producing states in the country, Gandhi points out.
GM crop is a highly sensitive issue in the country.
The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by Supreme Court on the subject had submitted two reports that highlighted certain regulatory gaps and suggestions for improving the bio-safety regulation in India.
Majority members of TEC had recommended that the GM crop field trials be put on hold till all recommendations are implemented. The government is yet to accept this recommendation for imposing moratorium on GM field trials as it maintains that the current regulations and protocols followed in bio-safety assessment are as per international best practices, and the field trials are an integral part of bio-safety assessment and trials are necessary to generate bio-safety data.
Further, the government views that any ban on GM crop field trials would stop all research activities in the country, which may have long-term implications on food security issues. The Supreme Court is yet to pronounce a final order in this matter, though it has not imposed any ban on GM crop field trials.