Was the chairman of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s second expert committee (EC2), R. Arjula Reddy, under “tremendous pressure” to recommend commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in the country?

In what appears a new twist to the controversy over the impending commercial release of the genetically modified crop, with the toxin producing Bt gene in it, strongly resisted by civil society groups, Professor Reddy is stated to have confided to P.M. Bhargava, scientist and Supreme Court nominee on the GEAC, that he was under pressure and that he received calls from “Agriculture Minister, GEAC and industry” to give his nod.

Prof. Reddy disclosed this to Dr. Bhargava during a confidential telephonic conversation, while confirming that eight of the tests Dr. Bhargava had suggested could not be taken up. Even in the case the tests that were conducted, “they were not done satisfactorily and adequately.” When contacted, Prof. Reddy’s mobile kept indicating that he was not available.

Dr. Bhargava says that when Prof. Reddy conveyed his dilemma, he advised him to follow his conscience. Dr. Bhargava has now sent a signed statement, recalling this conversation, to accompany a memorandum by the Coalition For a GM-Free India to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, urging them to reconsider the approval.

Report ‘rigged’

G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, which is part of the Coalition, told The Hindu that Prof. Reddy’s admission vindicated civil society groups’ stand that the report was ‘rigged’ to favour the commercial release of Bt. Brinjal without proper tests. “It looks like EC2 has been designed to approve Bt brinjal,” he said demanding withdrawal of the report.

Prof. Reddy’s admission is not the only issue. The Coalition has brought to light other facts. K.K. Tripathi, Member-Secretary of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM in the DBT) and member of EC2, has a Central Vigilance Commission complaint pending against him of exercising undue discretionary powers to promote the interests of the companies of his choice, Mahyco in this instance, and harm others.

Conflicting interests

At least two Bt brinjal developers on EC2 bring in conflicting interests. One of them, Mathura Rai, director of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, is part of the consortium project that is developing Bt brinjal in India with American aid, the Coalition alleged. Moreover, he supervised large scale trials of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal during the last two years, and now is part of EC2 asked “to review findings of his own institution’s large scale trials and biosafety tests.”

“The new information puts a huge question mark on the scientific value and objectivity of this Expert Committee in assessing Bt brinjal and its safety,” Dr. Ramanjaneyulu said.

Arjula Reddy is stated to have confided to court nominee that he received calls from “Agriculture Minister, GEAC, industry”

A complaint is pending against EC2 member for promoting interests of companies of his choice, Mahyco in this case

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