The GEAC nod for the commercial use of locally-developed GM mustard is good news since it has the potential to increase productivity quite dramatically and raise farmer profits. Deepak Pental, the former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, who developed the crop is of the view that, on approval, the seed will be so popular, it will spread in the same manner that Bt Cotton did in the 2000s. According to Ashok Gulati, former chairman of the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices, returns for cotton farmers were around `12,946 per hectare for triennium ending 2001-02, just before Bt was introduced, and it rose to `45,438 for the triennium 2012-13—this, according to him, is the main reason why, today, more than 95% of India’s cotton area is under Bt.
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But before celebrating the possibility of GM mustard getting the government nod, keep in mind the GEAC also gave its approval to Bt Brinjal, but after intense lobbying by various groups, the UPA decided not to give the final clearance. Also, as long as government policy remains what it is, GM crops are unlikely to take off. Despite no evidence of Bt cotton seeds being very expensive, the government put price controls—after reducing Monsanto’s royalty from Rs 183 per bag to Rs 49, the government came out with an order to restrict royalty on future seeds to just 10% of the market price, and that price, in turn, is subject to government control. As a result, Monsanto has not only withdrawn its application to introduce a new version of Bollgard 2, it is also unlikely to introduce Bollgard 3 which offers more protection against bollworm; in the case of maize, it has decided not to present its dossier on data from trials to the GEAC. And while a political nod is awaited, keep in mind NITI Aayog, has suggested limiting approvals to those varieties ‘discovered by our own institutions and companies’ to counter local opposition to MNC products. That might go down well politically, but given the large R&D budgets of global players, limiting competition is a bad idea.