The debate over regulating genetically modified crops in India is back after two years of silence that followed the moratorium on the Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant. This is thanks to the government’s wavering policy on agricultural biotechnology. If you study its policy since the eggplant flare-up, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was designed to do two things that don’t quite fit together.
Here is what happened:
The government released its report on the hills of the Western Ghats nearly nine months after the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) submitted it, and then only under a court order. The report, among other things, warned that genetically modified organisms were a threat to biodiversity in India. The government attached a disclaimer to the report, saying that it has not formally accepted the conclusions.
Meanwhile, minutes of meetings of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) — the central government’s regulatory body for GM crops — reveal that the committee is trying to convince state governments to allow field trials of genetically modified crops.
This is happening as India’s National Biodiversity Authority considers whether it will sue Monsanto and some of the agricultural universities involved in promoting Bt brinjal in India, according to information given by the authority in response to a Right To Information filing.
The authority has said that the agricultural universities and Monsanto are guilty of bio-piracy. That means exploiting the knowledge of India’s indigenous peoples for commercial gain without permission, compensation or recognition.