Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president of the Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, has expressed concerns over the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, which is likely to be tabled soon in Parliament.

Mr. Chaudhary, a critic of genetically modified crops, who was here to participate in a recently concluded seminar on biodiversity organised by the Nagarika Seva Trust, was addressing presspersons before his departure on Monday.

The Bill, which seeks to set up a single national-level regulatory body with exclusive authority over the release and control of genetically modified crops in the country, was described by Mr. Chaudhary as “draconian”. Claiming that the basic premise of the Bill was flawed, he said that it was against the principles of federalism that envisions agriculture as a State subject. (According to Section 81 of the Bill, the Act will have an overriding effect)

Pointing to a clause in the Bill that penalises public criticism of GM foods and crops, he said the new Bill sought to muzzle the critics of the biotechnology regime. The clause, which is titled “Misleading public about (genetically modified) organism and products”, advocates the imposition of a penalty, including six to 12 months of imprisonment and (or) a fine of up to Rs. 2 lakh.

According to him, the most disturbing aspect of the Bill is that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority will have sole powers to enforce the provisions of the Act and that it will operate outside the purview of the regular courts.

Calling for a national referendum on GM crops, he said that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had become prone to influence from “extraneous and alien forces”.

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