REPORTS THAT the NDA government has decided to put in abeyance the proposed field trial of 13 genetically modified crops have propelled the future of the controversial experiment in India into uncertainty.
The field trials were cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee ( GEAC), India's apex biotech regulatory committee that falls in the purview of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, addressing reports that the trials had been put on hold, said the government " respects science" and will not take any decision " in haste". The studied statement evoked severe criticism of the government, given the BJP's avowed opposition to the concept of genetically engineered seeds since the 2009 elections.
" No genetically modified seed will be allowed for cultivation without full scientific data on longterm effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.
All food and food products produced with genetically modified seeds will be branded as ' GM Food'," the BJP said in its 2009 manifesto.
The promise was repeated by the BJP in 2014, except for the one pertaining to labeling of GM foods.
On August 8 last year, several senior BJP leaders joined an agitation that saw thousands of citizens call for GM organisms and GM seed major Monsanto to " quit India". Furthermore, seven BJP members were part of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture that had unanimously recommended against the release of GM crops.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh had last year expressed solidarity with social groups opposed to GM seeds and strongly opposed the Biotech Regulation Authority Bill, a single window fast- track clearance system proposed by the UPA. " The bill would affect the food security cycle. I congratulate the organisers ( of protest) and hope you are successful," he said in a letter.
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh had, on his first day in office, held a precautionary view and said the government was of the firm view that use of GM technology would be allowed only if it is absolutely necessary.
States, including those ruled by the BJP, have adopted a cautious approach to GM seeds. On Thursday, the Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously extended the ban on open field trials of GM crops.
Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, believes that with opposition from so many quarters, the GEAC's approval was questionable.
" In a federal polity, the Centre has no business to force its policy on states that are reluctant to allow GM field trials. It is not a matter of opposition by just Sangh outfits, but the health of the nation as a whole. If all are opposed to GMOs, then who is behind these approvals," she asked. " Neither science nor society is on the side of GM foods," she added.
A senior Indian Agricultural Research Institute scientist who did not wish to be named, added, " The government is falsely justifying propagation of GM trials by claiming it is crucial to the progress of India's scientific community.
It is being done to favour select foreign biotech companies that will end our traditional varieties and eliminate rich biodiversity."