The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a plea against commercial release of genetically modified mustard seed as it may cause irreversible damage to the domestic variety.
A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur posted the matter for hearing on Friday after counsel Prashant Bhushan sought urgent hearing on the issue.
In an application filed in an ongoing case relating to GM seeds in the country, activist and campaigner Aruna Rodrigues has sought prohibition of open field trials and commercial release of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops including HT Mustard Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH) 11 and its parent lines/variants.
She had also sought a direction to the government to constitute an inquiry to probe into the issue and put moratorium on the release of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment pending a “comprehensive, transparent and rigorous biosafety protocol in the public domain” conducted by agencies of independent expert bodies, the results of which are made public.”
In August, a technical sub-committee of the environment ministry gave a positive report on commercially cultivating the GM mustard seed, which is developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.
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.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the MoEF, had sought public comments on the GM mustard till Wednesday (October 5). The idea was to get a perspective on the safety aspects of the DMH-11 mustard. If approved for commercial use, this would be the second GM crop allowed in India after Bt cotton and the first GM food crop.
According to the application, the GMO story in India has been illegal from its inception ie the commercialisation of Bt cotton in 2002. “The Bt brinjal episode is a test case …of fraud in that studies said to have been done were not done, oversight covertly negligent and commercial approval still given; a decision overturned by the sanity of erstwhile environment minister Jairam Ramesh.”
But there is nothing that begins to match the breath-taking fraud of the agronomic testing of HT DMH11 and its 2 parental HT GMOs, Rodrigues said, adding that “any remaining inhibitions of maintaining a semblance of regulatory oversight have been discarded by our regulators and relevant ministries…These matters require criminal prosecution.”
“…the commercial approval of 3 HT Mustard GMOs has been unbelievably rapid and un-nerving. We are in dire straits,” Bhushan said.
All this exposes the “serious cover-up, even fraud in global norms of risk assessment of GMOs, emanating from the USA, and which has had direct repercussions on India. HT DMH 11 is full evidence of this fact,” he said.
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.