Govt. committee headed by Cabinet Secretary readies draft affidavit

If the Environment Ministry relents, the government will intend slamming the Supreme Court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on genetically modified (GM) crop regulations. The draft affidavit prepared jointly by the Ministries of Agriculture and Science to be submitted to the court, accessed by The Hindu, criticises the panel on several counts, including for “going beyond” its brief and bringing socio-economic considerations into what the Ministries want to be a purely ‘scientific’ argument.

The draft was readied through a committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary. The Hindu earlier reported on an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to bring about a common stance in favour of GM crops which faced opposition from the Environment Ministry.

In its final report, the TEC, constituted by the court in 2012, made scathing comments against the existing regulatory framework, suggested an array of reforms and asked for a moratorium on field trials of GM food crops meanwhile. The TEC said it found herbicide-tolerant GM crops completely unsuitable in the Indian context. It opposed release of GM crops where India is a centre of origin of the crop.

A member of the TEC put on board the panel on government request after the interim report was submitted, a retired official and a scientist from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research submitted a dissenting final report at the same time.

In their response, the Agriculture and Science Ministries say the panel went beyond its scope of work in passing a judgement on herbicide-tolerant crops as well as inspecting biosafety registers of approvals already given to other GM crops. Going ahead with field trials of BT food crops even as the government initiates future reforms in the regulatory mechanism is only one of the many points of criticism in the government dossier against the TEC.

Rejecting the recommendation that applications for commercialisation of GM crops be treated differently from those meant only for research, the two ministries say assessment of commercial viability is part of research and development.

No preliminary consultations

The Ministries also want to state before the court that it is not feasible to hold preliminary consultations with all stakeholders before the development of the GM product to help devise proper risk assessment procedures on a case-to-case basis. A ‘need assessment’ — studies to review if the GM crop is economically and socially required in the country or not — should not be made a prerequisite for testing, say the ministries.

On release of GM crops in areas of origin or diversity, they aver that the release does not “necessarily” lead to gene contamination or loss of diversity.

The Ministries want to submit a critique of how the report was prepared by the majority team and have noted that the dissenting view was disregarded. The Ministries have blamed the five TEC members, who authored the majority report, for not moving away from their fundamental concerns raised in the interim report.

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