Today's Paper » NATIONALMUMBAI, December 18, 2013
Vikhe Patil wanted a public hearing to be held before clearing the trials
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan overruled reservations expressed by the State’s Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil in clearing no objection certificates (NOC) for “confined” field trials of genetically modified crops in the state, The Hindu has learnt.
The NOCs were granted last month to 28 applications from seven companies and a government body on orders issued by additional chief secretary (agricultural) S K Goyal. “Confined” field trials are conducted in a restricted area under close supervision to prevent the contamination of external crops by the genetically modified (GM) variety and vice versa.
The Hindu has learnt that Mr Vikhe Patil wanted a public hearing to be held before clearing the trials. “On issues of new technology which impact communities, public hearings should be held,” Mr. Vikhe Patil told The Hindu . Mr. Chavan, who is attending the state assembly session in Nagpur did not respond when asked for his comments.
Mr. Vikhe Patil said he was wary after the Bt cotton experience in Maharashtra. “The experiment with BT cotton has been a disaster. It has impacted local cotton varieties which have not been protected,”said Mr Vikhe Patil. He added, “Bt cotton yields have been low. It is meant for irrigated farms, not rain-dependent crops,” Mr Vikhe Patil added.
The Union Environment Ministry had asked for a stay on field trials of GM crops till the Supreme Court rules on a public interest litigation opposing GM crops.
Before the confined field trials can begin in Maharashtra, a final clearance will have to be sought from the Ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
The NOCs have been granted to transgenic varieties of rice, wheat, maize, brinjal and cotton. The companies granted clearances include Monsanto India Ltd, Mahyco Ltd, Bayer Bio Science Pvt Ltd, Syngenta Bio Sciences Pvt Ltd, Pioneer Overseas Corporation, Dow Agro Sciences India Pvt Ltd and Ankur Seeds Pvt Ltd. The government’s Central Institute for Cotton Research has also been given an NOC.
The clearances have been given on the basis of a report of a committee headed by eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar. Most of its members were drawn from of state agricultural universities. The committee also had a scientific think tank team which included the director of the CICR K R Kranthi as a member. This, even though the CICR had itself applied for an NOC for GM crop trials.
“The Kakodkar committee recommended the approval of certain NOCs based on conditions and we have accepted their report,” said Mr. Goyal. The Kakodkar committee had been set up by the Chief Minister and deliberated on the issue for almost a year. It submitted its report in August.
“The Maharashtra government should not have cleared field trials when the case is still before the Supreme Court. There is no difference between confined and open field trials. The former is a misnomer,”said Aruna Rodrigues, lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case against GM organisms.
She added, “The committee which cleared this should have had independent experts on food crops, not scientists linked to government bodies or those who do not have food crop expertise.”
The trials will have to be conducted under supervision, according to the conditions laid down by the Kakodkar committee. “The trials will have to be conducted on the land of a state agricultural university. They will have to be monitored by a committee chaired by the district collector. The trials will be inspected by experts and the companies will have to ensure there is no external contamination,” said state agricultural commissioner Umakant Dangat, who was a member of the Kakodkar committee.
The Kakodkar committee had initially received 32 applications from 11 companies. It finally cleared 28 applications. It rejected the Rubber Research Institute of India’s proposal for an NOC on trials involving the rubber crop. It pointed out that the scientific data submitted by the body was not satisfactory and that rubber was not a primary crop in the state.
Permitting field trials for GM crops has long been a contentious issue. In 2010, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till scientific studies proved its safety.
In 2012, the Parliamentary Standing Committee called for a halt to field trials in different states saying the regulatory mechanisms were weak and the impact of transgenic crops on bio-diversity was still not clear.
Also since 2005, a petition against GM crops is being heard in the Supreme Court. In June this year, the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court called for a halt to open field trials of GM crops till stringent conditions were fulfilled. It also called for a ban on the release of any genetically modified organism where India is the centre of bio-diversity.
The issue has seen a clash between union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, a firm advocate of GM crops. Mr. Pawar had argued that transgenic crops can solve the problem of food security.
He has also claimed that farmers are themselves opting for Bt cotton since they find it profitable because it has higher yields and is also as disease resistant.
Keeping the ongoing Supreme Court case in mind, Evironment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had in July put the field trials of GM crops on hold.
Besides the court case, she also pointed out that the regulatory mechanism to monitor transgenic crops was still in a nascent stage.
“The experiment with BT cotton has been a disaster. It has impacted local cotton varieties which have not been protected,”said Mr. Vikhe Patil
SOURCE : http://www.thehindu.com/