Plea to remove Agriculture Ministry’s nominee from panel

The Coalition for GM-free India has urged the Supreme Court to “remove” the Agriculture Ministry’s nominee from the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on genetically modified crops on account of alleged ‘conflict of interest’ in the matter of a PIL filed on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The committee that was set up to advise the court on the technicality of whether the GMOs should be banned or not, has, in its interim report, recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops in the country till such time a proper regulatory system is put in place.

However, after the Agriculture Ministry objected to the absence of its representation on the TEC, the court appointed R.S. Paroda, former Director-general of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research, as the sixth member on the panel even after the submission of the interim report by the TEC. The Ministry’s earlier nominee V.L. Chopra declined to be on the panel.

“Funded by Monsanto”

Following reports in a section of the media, the Coalition has — in a letter to the apex court — alleged a ‘conflict of interest’ in the appointment of Dr. Paroda whose organisations are said to have received funds from biotech major Monsanto and its Indian associates for different programmes.

In the letter Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convenor for the Coalition, said that on the board of Dr. Paroda-headed Trust for Advancement of Agriculture Sciences (TAAS) is B R Barwale, chairperson of Mahyco Research Foundation, one of the biggest GM companies in India and representatives of Monsanto India, Rasi Seeds, Nuziveedu seeds and the National Seed Association of India.

“Dr. Paroda’s organisation APAARI runs a programme called Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology which is said to have been funded by private GM companies,” the letter adds.

“Moreover, Dr. Paroda has served on the Global Biotech Advisory Council of Monsanto. Needless to say that Monsanto will be the largest beneficiary of any decision that would allow GM crops into the country,” states the Coalition comprising several non-voluntary and civil society organisations.

“The Supreme Court on various occasions, in this very case, stressed the need for independence in regulation of GM crops….The TEC’s interim report, finalised unanimously in October 2012 and submitted to the Court, too emphasised the need to remove conflict of interest and said that for the regulatory process as a whole to have public confidence [this is a must on something as fundamental as food safety] it is important for the regulatory structure to be free from conflict of interest,” the latter said.