International scientists, who are part of a review panel on Bt brinjal organised by civil society activists, recently found themselves tripped by the government's rule that there must be a two-month gap between visits to India on a tourist visa.
A Norwegian scientist was refused permission to visit India this month, after an initial trip last month to hold preliminary discussions with his Indian and international colleagues preparing an ‘independent scientific peer review panel report on the biosafety of Bt brinjal.' The scientist's visa application was dismissed on the grounds that the tourist visa guidelines introduced last year prohibited multiple visits within two months, according to Aruna Rodrigues who helped to bring the panel together and is the lead petitioner in the public interest litigation petition filed in the Supreme Court on genetically modified organisms
In fact, the guidelines do provide for a relaxation of this norm, in case of any exigent situation, if special permission is obtained.
An American member of the panel, who also visited India last month for the preliminary discussions, was advised not to apply for another visa this month, as it was unlikely to be granted, Ms. Rodrigues said.
The panel was constituted about three months ago to help guide the emergence of a bio-safety protocol for Bt brinjal and other GM crops. It includes both Indian and international scientists from several fields: P.M. Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and a Supreme Court-nominated member of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC); G.K. Veeresh, an entomologist and former Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University; Terje Traavik of the GenOk Centre for Biosafety, University of Tromso; Sissel Rogne of the Institute for Nature Management, University of Life Sciences; and David Andow, a professor of insect ecology, University of Minnesota.
The panel was originally expected to present its report in New Delhi on Sunday. Exchanging information and communicating back and forth among three countries took longer than expected, and the final report is now expected in May.
However, with one of the scientists travelling to India next month for personal purposes, the government's two-month restriction may come into play again, preventing another trip in May for the presentation of the report.