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What if risk of commercial release of GM Mustard is irreversible, Supreme Court asks government

Government says the risks are known and the approval given would not be blanket, but subject to specific conditions which cover every scenario or aspect of risk

January 24, 2023 09:27 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:20 am IST - NEW DELHI

Women carry fodder for their cattle through a mustard field. File

Women carry fodder for their cattle through a mustard field. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Supreme Court on January 24, 2023 asked the Centre what will happen if the risk of commercial release of GM Mustard crop is “irreversible”.

“What happens when the risk is irreversible?” Justice B.V. Nagarathna, accompanying Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, asked Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the government.

The top law officer said the risks are known and the approval given would not be blanket, but subject to specific conditions which cover every scenario or aspect of risk.

Justice Maheshwari said the court may add to these conditions.

Mr. Venkataramani said the conditions for release cannot be “straitjacket” and the government was open to modifications by the court.

The Attorney General said the petitioners have found fault with the environmental clearance of GM Mustard crop but has not challenged the adequacy or efficiency of the regulatory framework.

At this senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, for one of the petitioners, intervened to say that the rules have indeed been challenged.

Mr. Parikh had earlier argued how the widespread use of herbicide-tolerant crops would encourage farmers to spray chemical weed-killers, leaving toxic chemical residue in large amounts on the crops.

“The Supreme Court’s own Technical Expert Committee (TEC) had said that these GM crops were not meant for agriculture in the Indian context. They may be suitable in the western context where there are large farms, but not here,” Mr. Parikh had argued.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, for activist Aruna Rodrigues, had submitted that India had 5,477 varieties of mustard, which would be at risk.

Conflict of interest

He had argued that the regulatory system under the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) which cleared the environmental release of Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), a genetically-engineered variant of mustard, was “horrendous” and riddled with conflict of interest.

Mr. Bhushan said the Department of Biotechnology had funded DMH 11 and then was part of the regulatory mechanism. The environmental release of the hybrid mustard variety was cleared despite warnings from the Parliamentary Committee and the Supreme Court’s Technical Expert Committee report calling for its ban. Besides, the government had not placed the biosafety dossier on the GM crop in the public domain.

The government, on the other hand, in an affidavit had said the GEAC approval to the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) came after an exhaustive review which began in 2010.

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