The nationwide public consultations on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal concluded here on Saturday amidst chaos and deep divisions among stakeholders on the acceptability of genetically modified food crops. Disclosure of the details of a gazette notification that has kept 190 plant species, including brinjal, out of the purview of the Biological Diversity Act added to the ongoing controversy.
The consultation, which witnessed frequent disruptions by both pro and anti-GM technology groups, saw tempers rising when Chairman of the Karnataka Organic Mission S. Ananda displayed the October 26, 2009 notification of the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment and charged that the consultation could be an eyewash. For a few moments, the Jnana Jyothi Auditorium, where the consultation took place, saw exchange of words between Mr. Ananda and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, who chaired the consultation. Clarifying that the notification had been issued to facilitate exports, the Minister said it had nothing to do with the Bt brinjal issue.
Earlier, the former Managing Director of Monsanto, T.V. Jagadeeshan, said: “We do not need Bt brinjal, as there are already 2,400 varieties in India. The companies have a record of making governmental agencies go by their data. The companies also cook up their data.”
Joining the anti-GM group, Jnanpith award winner U.R. Ananthamurthy said the farmers with their traditional knowledge were in the best position to decide.
The former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to approve the cultivation of Bt brinjal and said the farmers should not be made scapegoats by bowing to pressure from multi-national corporations (MNCs).
Kerala Biodiversity Board Chairman V.S. Vijayan said: “There are many traditional ways of combating the pest, and our concern is the contamination of biodiversity; cross-pollination can cause irreversible damage. Why should Indians be subjected to the first GM vegetable in the world?”
While the pro and anti-Bt brinjal voices among the farmers were almost equal, voices from scientists opposed to the technology were far more than those who supported it.
During the nearly three-and-half-hour consultation, Mr. Ramesh, who addressed the audience both in Kannada and English, heard patiently views of more than 70 speakers from a cross-section of the farming community, consumer groups, NGOs, scientists and others, many of whom came from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa.
Earlier, the Minister walked into the venue almost an hour before the consultation began through the back gate, as hundreds of protesters stood in waiting for him at