Rebutting Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s statement on commercialisation of Bt brinjal, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said the Centre had every right and “in fact, a basic responsibility” to take the final decision where public safety was concerned.
He was responding to Mr. Pawar’s reported statement on Wednesday that the Centre had no opinion on the Bt brinjal issue. “The decisions of the expert committee [Genetic Engineering Approval Committee] are final. The Ministry does not have any say on the issue,” Mr. Pawar was quoted as saying in a section of the media. In a letter to him, Mr. Ramesh said: “I respect the GEAC and the work it has done. It may well be a statutory body but when critical issues of human safety are involved, the government has every right to take the final decision based on the panel’s recommendations.”
Bt brinjal would be the first genetically modified food crop. In view of the concerns raised, he decided to hold public consultations across the country before taking a final decision.
Mr. Ramesh said he had written to the Chief Ministers of six important brinjal cultivating States including West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra. “In addition, I have sought feedback from over 50 top scientists both in India and from abroad.”
Assuring Mr. Pawar that he had “no personal agenda whatsoever,” Mr. Ramesh said that as the Minister concerned and as concerned Minister, “I am entitled to take my own time in arriving at a decision on what to do with the GEAC recommendations.”
By January-end he would wind up all public hearings and by February 20 he would be in a position to take a considered view on the GEAC recommendations. “I will then be sharing my final view with the Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh] as well as with you and the Health Minister [Ghulam Nabi Azad],” Mr. Ramesh said.
The GEAC last year gave its nod for commercial release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal seed.