The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court that it will take a decision on the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) mustard only after considering various aspects including recommendations by expert bodies. Additional solicitor general PS Narasimha, representing the Centre told a bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra that “we are looking into all reports by experts including the one by a sub-committee of the Rajya Sabha, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal regulator for GM crops in India, before a final decision is taken.”
Seeking stay on grant of approval for commercial exploitation of GM crops including its plantation, counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for farm activist and campaigner Aruna Rodrigues, argued that “the entire system of regulating GM crops in India is in shambles. There is no transparency and it is riddled with conflict of interest.”
He further said that the “entire system of testing is inadequate. There is no technology to conduct the test. You are asking the companies, who have commercial interests, to do the tests. No transparency is maintained”.
Bhushan also accused GEAC of conflict of interest. “GEAC is riffled with conflict of interest. Its getting money from these companies,” he contended.
However, Narsimhan opposed Bhushan’s stand, saying “the regulatory regime worked for 34 years and 30 institutions were involved. Over the years, GEAC, which has approved commercial production of GM mustard, worked on it. Government is looking into it in detail. Caution is being applied. We are yet to look into the sub-committees report. They are just trying to scare people.”
The parliamentary panel in its report submitted to the government last month had criticised the latter for moving with haste towards commercialisation of GM crops, and said it should thoroughly examine the impact of GM crops on the environment before taking a final call.
Unless the biosafety and socioeconomic desirability of GM crops is evaluated by an independent and transparent process, and a retrieval and accountability regime is put in place, no GM crop should be introduced, the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology and environment and forests said, adding that imported GM foods should be labelled as such with immediate effect.
The court is hearing a batch of pleas led by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, challenging the commercial rollout of GM mustard and open field trials, citing health risks. 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.
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. The bench has posted the matter for final hearing on November 22.