The Coalition for a GM-Free India, which represents various citizen groups, has called for scrapping of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill introduced in the Parliament on Tuesday.
It said that the Bill "completely overlooks biosafety, imperils our environment and threatens our socio-economic and cultural fabric". The Coalition called for an alternative legislation to “protect and enhance biosafety."
Democratic processes should be adhered to when dealing with issues as important as food and farming in our country, it added.
In letters of concern addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Coalition said that Genetic Modification (GM) “is an imprecise, unpredictable and highly risky technology whose safety is not yet established and whose spread cannot be controlled once released into the environment given that it is a living technology”.
“The recent past has seen more and more scientific evidence emerging both from the laboratory and the field, about the adverse health and environmental impacts of GM crops. Experience of Bt Cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in the country, clearly shows that GM crops are a threat to our seed sovereignty and farm livelihoods.”
The Coalition said that the Bill was drafted in a secretive fashion with no opportunity for the general public to comment on the legislation.
“There is a serious inherent conflict of interest as the regulatory authority is proposed to be under the Ministry of Science and Technology, which already has a mandate to promote GM crops, a product of modern biotechnology which authority is supposed to regulate.”
The Bill provides no mechanism for transparency. On the other hand, it proposes to override Right to Information Act for the benefit of commercial interests. It also overrides the State governments’ authority over health and agriculture and is inconsistent with legislation like the Biological Diversity Act. It also lacks any redress mechanisms where by stakeholders such as farmers and consumers can be compensated for damages, it said.
Several retired judges of the Supreme Court have also written letters of concern to the Prime Minister. They have called for better regulatory mechanism and demanded that every citizen's right to choose not to eat GM food should be completely safeguarded. The penalties for transgressing of the rights of consumers or farmers and for any environmental damage must be of a deterrent nature and quickly enforceable.
The former judges included M. H. Kania (former Chief Justice), Kuldip Singh, Jeevan Reddy, N. Santosh Hegde, Sujata Manohar, M. B. Shah, Ruma Pal, Sam Variava, B. N. Srikrishna and Shivraj Patil.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener of the Coalition, said here that more than 450 individuals and representatives of organisations had signed its appeal to the Prime Minister for scrapping of the Bill.