The Supreme Court today made clear that it would hear a plea challenging the commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard crop in the country if the government takes a decision in favour of the roll out. The important observation came from a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud when Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P S Narasimha, appearing for the Centre, said that the government would be taking a policy decision on commercial roll out within a month or a month- and-a-half. “We will post the matter in the second week of September. If your decision is to allow the roll out, then we will hear it,” the bench said and asked the ASG as to when the mustard sowing season begins.
“The sowing begins in October,” the law officer replied.
The bench then said if the government approves the roll out then then it will hear the plea against the GM mustard seeds before the sowing season begins. Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre to take a “considered” and “well-informed” view before taking a policy decision on the commercial release of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard crop. The government had said it was yet to take a policy decision on the commercial release of GM mustard crop and has been considering suggestions and objections on the issue. The apex court had on October 17 last year extended the stay on the commercial release of GM mustard crop till further orders. It had asked the government to seek public opinion on such seeds before releasing it for cultivation purposes.
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Mustard is one of India’s most important winter crops which is sown between mid-October and late November. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, had alleged that the government was sowing the seeds in various fields and that the bio-safety dossier, which has to be made public by putting it on the website, has not yet been done. Alleging that field trials were being carried out without the relevant tests, Bhushan had sought a 10-year moratorium on them. A Technical Expert Committee (TEC) report had also said that the entire regulatory system was in “shambles” and a 10- year moratorium should be given, he had said. Rodrigues had filed the plea seeking a stay on the commercial release of GM mustard and prohibition of its open field trials.
He 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 TEC in its report. “Since the claimed yield superiority of HT DMH 11 through the B&B system over non-GMO varieties and hybrids is quite simply not true, in fact a hoax, … there is no purpose to this GMO HT mustard for India,” the petition said. It said the contamination caused by mustard HT DMH 11 and its HT parents would be “irremediable and irreversible”. “The contamination of our seed stock and germ plasm as will happen with mustard HT DMH 11 and its HT parents will be irremediable and irreversible making our food toxic at the molecular level without recourse,” the plea had said.