The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that the decision for environmental release of genetically modified (GM) mustard crop is yet to be taken and it will take at least two years for actual commercial production to start if planted now. Stating that the apex court does not have the advantage of the scientific reports, data, details and statistics, including the after-effects of such a decision, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar that the prayer to seek stay in advance was “unwarranted” and the government was aided by a large body of scientists to ensure that no adverse impact on environment took place because of the trials. “If there is adverse impact then there may have to be an injunction (against the testings), either by you, or by us” Justice Khehar told the government. The law officer further said that only 15 kg of GM mustard seeds (DMH-11 hybrid seeds) are available with the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), University of Delhi, and the same will be planted for the purpose of cultivating more seeds only.
He further said that if the decision is taken now, the developer after planting these 15 kg would produce seeds in the subsequent years and it can only undertake post release studies to generate information on yield, impact on honeybees, among others. Neither the existing 15 kg seeds nor those which would be available in the subsequent year, but the seeds that would be developed approximately after two years, would be used for commercial production, the government said in its affidavit. Assuring the Supreme Court that it will not release GM mustard without its nod, the ASG further argued that the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the regulatory committee, after detailed examination of food and environment safety data generated on GM mustard, had recommended the government to take a decision on environmental release of the seed. Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activist and campaigner Aruna Rodrigues, argued that open field trials of these seeds would have irreversible impact on the environment and would lead to contamination of other crops. “I would not object to green house testing of the seeds, but they are doing open air testing of the GM mustard seeds,” he said.
The SC then asked the government to file a detailed affidavit by Friday, undertaking that the GM mustard testing will not have any environment impact. It posted the matter for further hearing on July 31. Rodrigues had filed the plea seeking a stay on the commercial release of GM mustard crop and prohibition of its open field trials. She had also urged the court to prohibit open field trials and commercial release of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops including HT mustard DMH 11 and its parent lines/variants as recommended by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) report. Alleging that field trials were being carried out without doing the relevant tests, Bhushan said a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) report had also said that the entire regulatory system was in shambles and 10-year moratorium should be given. The apex court had in a series of orders passed in February 2007, April 2008 and August 2008 sought to restrain both small-scale and large-scale field trials in any food crops as well as their commercial introduction in the country. While the use of GM mustard has been given a nod by the sub-committee, there are many who are protesting the move, saying that it will only help in increasing the sales of seed and ensure profits for multinationals.