Madhya Pradesh & Kerala Minister for Agriculture object to Biotech Bill

1.Kerala Minister for Agriculture objects to Biotech Bill

2.Madhya Pradesh opposes setting up of biotech regulatory authority

The Madhya Pradesh government has reacted strongly to the setting up of the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), accusing the Centre of attempting to impinge upon the autonomy of the State.

Orissa, Kerala, Assam and several other States have also been opposing the Bill.

In his earlier communication, Mr. Retnakaran [Kerala Minister for Agriculture] had said that almost all the provisions of the Bill were undemocratic and authoritarian. Commercial interest of the corporate bodies was given prime protection. Commercial information was exempted from disclosure even under the Right to Information Act. Independent Research on genetically modified crops was not allowed, as the entire research was to be done only by those organisations notified by the Biotechnology Authority.

“We are sure; you would agree with me that the destiny of India’s agriculture cannot be left to a three member Authority with unlimited powers and unquestionable freedom, that too without an iota of accountability and transparency,” he said.

Kerala Minister for Agriculture Mullakkara Retnakaran has expressed strong reservations about the Biotechnology Regulatory Bill approved by the Union Cabinet recently.

In a letter to Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar seeking his intervention, Mr. Retnakaran objected to the move to centralise and vest a three-member Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India with full powers to take all decisions related to biotechnology including introduction of genetically modified crops and foods in the country.

Terming the provisions of the Bill as draconian, he said that the even representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and Forests were not proposed to be included in the Authority. Besides, the Bill sought to curtail freedom of expression and punish anyone who records any view against introduction of any genetically modified crop or food. Even peaceful demonstration against introduction of genetically modified crops could attract imprisonment and fine.

The Minister told The Hindu that serious consultations with States, experts and the people should be undertaken before enacting the legislation. The biodiversity of the country was varied, and it was not even the governments but people who protected this diversity. The responsibility of protecting the biodiversity should remain with the States.

Mr. Retnakaran noted that the Bill proposed centralisation of authority contrary to the tendency to decentralise decision making. The powers of the State to take policy decision on matters related to agriculture was being sought to be trampled upon.

He said that he would soon be writing to the members of the Parliament from the State to oppose the provisions of the Bill in Parliament. Though he had communicated his objections to the Centre earlier, they had received due consideration.

In his earlier communication, Mr. Retnakaran had said that almost all the provisions of the Bill were undemocratic and authoritarian. Commercial interest of the corporate bodies was given prime protection. Commercial information was exempted from disclosure even under the Right to Information Act. Independent Research on genetically modified crops was not allowed, as the entire research was to be done only by those organisations notified by the Biotechnology Authority.

“We are sure; you would agree with me that the destiny of India’s agriculture cannot be left to a three member Authority with unlimited powers and unquestionable freedom, that too without an iota of accountability and transparency,” he said.

The Madhya Pradesh government has also reacted strongly to the setting up of the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), accusing the Centre of attempting to impinge upon the autonomy of the State.

The BRAI Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and is expected to be tabled in the current session of Parliament.

Orissa, Kerala, Assam and several other States have also been opposing the Bill.

The proposed Bill will set up the BRAI, having the role of a clearing house/facilitator/approver for applications pertaining to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). It is also expected to take over the functions of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which will assume the role of “appraiser” instead of “approver.”

State Agriculture Minister Ramakrishna Kusumaria told The Hindu that Madhya Pradesh would strongly oppose the Bill.

“It will have disastrous consequences for Indian Agriculture, which still relies heavily on traditional technologies. It will take the control of food from the farmer and give it to multinational corporations, who will enslave our agriculture,” he said.

According to Section 81 of the Bill, the Act will have an overriding effect over State-level acts and regulations since it makes the proposed authority solely responsible for releasing and controlling GMOs throughout the country and envisages only an advisory role for States.

Dr. Kusumaria said this ignored the constitutional powers that State governments had over their Agriculture and Health, and went against the federal structure of the republic.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh has reiterated several times the State government’s commitment to promoting organic agriculture, which was expected to be further marginalised once the BRAI became effective.

Activists from all over the country have been opposing the Bill in its current form, particularly raising objections over one of its provisions, which states: “Whoever, without any evidence or scientific records, misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products… shall be punished, with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year, and with fine which may extend to Rs. 2 lakh, or with both.”

Besides, several critics of the Bill have expressed concern over the BRAI’s implementing agency – the Department of Biotechnology, under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

According to critics, placing the BRAI under the Department of Biotechnology will result in a direct conflict of interest since the department is the promoter of GMOs in India. Activists have instead called for a National Biosafety Authority under either the Ministry of Environment and Forests or the Ministry of Health, since environment and health are expected to be directly affected by GMOs.

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