Archive for the 'BRAI Bill' Category

Letter to Dr.Manmohan Singh, PM on Biotechnology Bill by Law Makers

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Letter to the Prime Minister of India by Shree R S Das, MP

Stop BRAI Bill

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh: BRAI Bill – Bulldozing public opinion

The government has finalised the draft of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill. A close reading of the draft shows that, on the one hand, this Bill intends to provide single-window clearance to genetically-modified (GM) crops promoted by multinational seed companies; on the other, it ignores the possible risks and threats to our agriculture, health and environment from this controversial technology.

The nation saw a widespread debate on Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop to have been considered for commercial cultivation in the country. Public consultations organised during that debate clearly highlighted the objections and concerns of all sections of society, including scientists, on GM foods in general and Bt brinjal in particular.

Despite the moratorium, there have been many efforts in the past several months to overlook the legitimate concerns over GM crops and this proposed regulatory system called BRAI is one such significant effort.Twelve state governments, including the largest brinjal-cultivating states – West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha – expressed their concerns with regard to this novel and unnatural GM food crop. The government responded rightly to the diverse voices all around and placed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal on February 9, 2010.

A hasty move in the wrong direction

The fact that the draft of the Bill was not put in the public domain and the haste with which the Bill was listed for tabling – it was given to the MPs just a few hours before its scheduled introduction in the Lok Sabha on August 17 – makes it clear that the government is in no mood for an informed debate either inside or outside Parliament on BRAI. It was thanks to the raging anti-corruption debates in the Lok Sabha that the Bill could not be introduced by the ministry of science and technology.

The problems with the current proposal of the regulatory system starts with the conflicting interest in which ministry is tabling the Bill, the ministry of science and technology that also has the mandate to promote GM crops in the country. The Bill also proposes to have an appellate tribunal that is the sole forum for redressal. This is a scary situation in which the promoter himself becomes the regulator, prosecutor and the judge. This is the recipe for a corrupt autocratic system.

One of the biggest issues with the current regulatory system, with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) as the nodal agency, was that it overrules the constitutional role of state governments in policy decisions regarding agriculture and health. After almost 13 years of existence and resistance to it, the GEAC recently amended its rules to give state governments the decision-making power on the approval of field trials, which is the first level of open release of GM crops. The proposed BRAI seeks to reverse this and take control of decisions related to any open releases of GM crops, be it for experiments or for commercialisation. This is clearly an unconstitutional move since agriculture and health, two sectors that would be impacted by GM crops, are under the state list of the Indian Constitution and states should have a role in deciding anything that has an impact on these sectors.

Adding to the unconstitutionality is the powers that have been given to the five-member Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to override the provisions in the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The provisions laid out in Section 2, Section 28, Section 70 and Section 77 of this Bill undermine the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right to life, by violating the provisions and protection of the RTI Act. And by preventing civil courts to have jurisdiction on any matter under the Act.

Anti-farmer and anti-people

This draft Bill clearly intends to circumvent opposition to GM and to facilitate the monopolisation of our seed sector by multinational seed giants like Monsanto. Besides having the wrong mandate, the proposals are completely sidestepping the precautionary approach and not addressing all the serious shortcomings of the existing regulatory regime. The BRAI proposal does not talk about the mandate of protecting India’s environment and health from the risks of modern biotechnology, which should be the primary mandate for any regulatory regime.

Given the growing concern in the country about the impact of GM crops to our health, our farmers livelihoods and food and seed sovereignty, it is high time that the government recognises it. Instead of coming up with such cantankerous legislations as the BRAI Bill to promote risky technologies like genetic modification, it should go after real solutions that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

In the light of public concern on GM crops and such blatant violations of constitutional rights in the current BRAI Bill version, the prime minister should not let his science and technology minister introduce the BRAI Bill in Parliament without widespread public consultations.

The author represents the Vaishali constituency of Bihar in the Lok Sabha and is a member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. He was Union cabinet minister for rural development in the first United Progressive Alliance Cabinet

Letters to PM on crop trials

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Patna, Nov. 7: Three NDA MPs from Bihar — C.P. Thakur of the BJP, Jai Narayan Nishad and Anil Kumar Sahani of the JD(U)— have written separate letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern over reports of Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill being introduced in the winter session of Parliament.

They have sought an intervention to stop the process in the interest of farmers. “I have strong objections to it being infringement on the authority of the state on matters related to agriculture and health,” said Thakur in his letter. He also objected to the fact that the proposed bill would be tabled by the ministry of science and technology when it should have been under the ministry of environment or health.

Jai Narayan Nishad, in his letter, has pointed out that seven states — Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Kerala — have already objected to genetically modified crop trials. “You must also be aware that during the Bt Brinjal debate, 13 states had objected to the approval for its commercial cultivation,” Nishad said, adding that the bill and its provisions are going to leave behind a large impact because the livelihood of most of the people of the country depends on agriculture.

He has also expressed apprehensions about degradation of environment resources and serious changes in crop because of GM crops. “I believe you will agree that regulatory regime that does not pay attention to these issues, bio-safety-related as well as those beyond bio-safety, will only benefit the industry and fail our vast majority of poor,” Nishad said.

Sahani in his letter stressed that he has found the contents of the proposed bill “too centralised and thereby contradictory to the principle of decentralisation of governance”, he remarked recalling that the Bihar government had not only objected to the trial of genetic seeds within its state but also apprised the environment ministry of its strong objection to GM field trials. He urged the PM to take public opinion through debates and invite critical inputs before the bill is introduced in Parliament.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar has been in the forefront of objecting the proposed bill. A few months ago, he had written letters stressing that the proposed bill infringes on the rights of the state and that there was no provision for timely compensation to the farmers should the GM seeds fail.

He had been swift to oppose GM seed trial in Sabour and had expressed shock that the trials should have been done without the consent of the state government.

GM Free Bihar Movement Rejects BRAI Bill

Patna, October 16, 2011: The GM Free Bihar Movement today rejected the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill as anti-people and anti-nature, saying that the Bihar Government should also pitch in immediately to stall the Bill before it becomes a law.

Activists, Consumers, Students & Farmers are raising their voice against BRAI BIll on World Food Day

At a dharna held at the Kargil Chowk, farmers and activists also started a signature campaign against the Bill which they said denied State Governments their authority over Agriculture and Health, which are primarily state subjects.

They felt that besides other failings, there is urgent need to review the Bill before its introduction to the Parliament so that the interests of farmers could be protected and that the Bill should be introduced not by the Ministry of Science and Technology but by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Environment & Forests.

The speakers at the protest also attacked the Bill for its attempts to bypass the citizens’ Right to Information, as they said, “This Bill, through Section 28, expressly seeks to classify some information as Confidential Commercial Information and leaves it to the discretion of officials of the Authority to share or not share this information.”

“This is regressive, given that the Bt brinjal controversy saw express Supreme Court orders to the regulators asking them to put out all the biosafety data in the public domain,” said Rekha Modi, a Senior Activist from Bihar. She further said that the Bill has very weak penal clauses and does not address liability issues at all.

“The bill will affect our farmers, it will hit our villages. But even then it does not provide for consultation with people at our panchayat levels which is most shocking,” said Pankaj Bhushan, the coordinator of the GM Free Bihar Movement.

Bhushan said Indian farmers have lakhs of varieties of crops developed through their knowledge that will be under threat if the bill in present form becomes law. “That is what we are protesting because we want our farmers, our nature to be protected for they are our real wealth with which we are born,” he added.

Even the noted agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan recently criticised the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) bill, saying it is against the spirit of Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and decentralised governance.

The GM Free Bihar Movement also pointed to a recent press release issued by Senior National Advisory Council Member & associated with The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) Ms. Aruna Roy, who too criticized the BRAI Bill for total lack of transparency and being an antidote to RTI.

Activist & member GM Free Bihar Movement, Prakash Bablu said The BRAI Bill is also a regrettable attempt to curtail spaces for people’s participation and democratic oversight in decisions that could affect the lives of the entire population of our country.

The fact that this Bill has been listed for introduction in Parliament with no discussion of its contents in the public domain is an indication of the intent to push this bill through without discussion and debate, said Kanchan Bala, Activist from Patna.

Social Worker Archna Sharma said this bill will end our choice of food in near future.

Pankaj Bhushan

Convener, GM Free Bihar Movement

National Co Convener, Alliance for Sustainable & Holitic Agriculture (ASHA)

9472999999

kisanswarajpankaj@gmail.com

WRONG BILL BY WRONG PEOPLE FOR WRONG REASONS

BRAI BILL 2011 IS NO BETTER THAN ANTI-PEOPLE, ANTI-NATURE BRAI 2009

August 16th 2011: The BRAI Bill is a blatant attempt to bulldoze through the public resistance and genuine concerns about Genetically Modified crops, and to deny state governments their Constitutional authority over Agriculture and Health, said the Coalition for a GM-Free India in its reaction to the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India  2011 Bill to be introduced in the Parliament tomorrow. The Coalition urged Parliamentarians to object to the very introduction of the Bill in the Parliament tomorrow, stating that ‘it is a wrong bill by the wrong people for the wrong reasons’. The scam-ridden UPA government will only take a further beating in the eyes of the public if it tries to introduce and pass this Bill, warned the Coalition.

“This BRAI mechanism makes the regulatory system even weaker than the existing GEAC mechanism. As the nation remembers, the Bt Brinjal public hearings process saw state governments, farmer organizations, scientists, environmentalists, health experts and rest of civil society come out with huge concerns about GM crops, and the Government through its moratorium decision admitted the failure of GEAC regulatory mechanism and promised to strengthen the regulatory system. How can the same Government bring in a regulatory mechanism which is actually much weaker than GEAC and which overrides the state governments, local governments and public inputs?” demanded the Coalition.

“As we have said all along, regulation of modern biotechnology is not like regulation as in other sectors like telecom, where corrupt politicians and bureaucrats can hope to make money. The fundamental basis of regulation lies in the risks associated with modern biotechnology. Therefore, there should only be one primary mandate or objective to this statute: to prevent risks to the health and safety of people of India, its environment and its biological diversity in particular, from the development, handling, transport, use, transfer and release of any living modified organisms. Given such a mandate, this Bill should be introduced not by the Ministry of Science and Technology but by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Environment & Forests. The current Bill is objectionable on such fundamental grounds apart from its other failings,” said the Coalition in a press release.

The following are the main objections listed out by the Coalition in response to this Bill:

1.            Wrong Ministry introducing it with wrong objectives: As mentioned above, there should be only one reason why this Bill should be enacted and that should be to uphold the biosafety of the people of India and its environment from the risks of modern biotechnology. If a technology is inherently unsafe, no amount of regulation can make it safer as is the case with the use of Genetic Engineering in our food and farming systems. Given that this statute is trying to replace the current regulatory regime as governed by the EPA’s 1989 Rules which have been expressly formulated to protect health, Nature and environment from the risks of modern biotechnology, there should be a strong, rational reason why the same will not be the objective for BRAI. What new scientific evidence or other evidence has emerged since then that this objective is being changed to also introduce fast-track clearance systems in the name of ‘effective and efficient’ regulatory procedures?

2.            Over-riding state governments’ authority over their agriculture and health: This Bill has a clause in the very first chapter (Section (2)) which seeks to keep the regulatory control in the hands of Union Government, in the name of “public interest”. This is unconstitutional and retrogressive, especially given the recent change in regulatory norms in India, rightfully so for the first time, allowing state governments to have a greater say in the deployment of modern biotechnology especially in the context of field trials/environmental release of GMOs.

3.            Bypassing the citizens’ Right to Information: This Bill, through Section 28, expressly seeks to classify some information as Confidential Commercial Information and leaves it to the discretion of officials of the Authority to share or not share this information. This once again is regressive, given that the Bt brinjal controversy saw express Supreme Court orders to the regulators asking them to put out all the biosafety data in the public domain. What is the point in incorporating a component of obtaining public feedback through Section 27 (5) if the biosafety data is not put out in the public domain? This is completely objectionable and no political party should support clauses like this.

The same is true to the Oath of Secrecy that the Authority Chair and Members are expected to take in addition to other officials. Why is modern biotechnology and its deployment a secret affair, unless there is something to hide from the public? How can this Authority be trusted to act in the best interest of Indians with such clauses built in?

4.            3-member Authority to decide for all of us?: The Bill essentially proposes that a 3-member Authority, with support from 2 other part-time members will take decisions, even though certain new mechanisms like the Environment Appraisal Panel have been introduced, compared to the last version of the Bill seen in 2010. However, this Authority has been vested with all powers to decide and while it appears that the authority will take recommendations of Risk Assessment Unit and Products Ruling Committee, and has seemingly been rid of conflicting interests by placing restrictions on employment after cessation of office etc. (not before joining the Authority and therefore, nothing to prevent some appointee getting a hefty sum before joining the authority and then clearing applications in the corruption-laden systems all around us; similarly, no such restrictions for the officials in the Biosafety Assessment Units or Product Rulings Committee etc., are missing, even though they would be doing the recommendations that would form the basis of decision-making later on!), the entire authority of decision-making rests with this small group of scientists! There are even clauses which prevent invalidation of the proceedings of the Authority by mere vacancies (sic) etc., in this Bill. When an inter-ministerial body 30-member body like the GEAC, which was also taking biosafety recommendations from a group of scientists called the RCGM and acting accordingly, could be found lacking rigour or independence so often in the past, how can this Biotech Regulatory Authority with its 3 full-time and 2 part-time members be trusted and how can Indians place their faith on them? Further, biotech regulation is not just about biosafety for decisions to be taken based on someone declaring something to be ‘safe’. There are issues related to farmers’ rights, consumers’ rights, trade security, sustainable development etc., all linked to modern biotechnology and its applications.

5.            No Needs Evaluation: One of the fundamental recommendations of the Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology led by Dr.Swaminathan was that “transgenics should be resorted to when other options to achieve the desired objectives are either not available or not feasible.” The BRAI doesn’t talk about any needs evaluation and assessment of alternatives, which was also stressed by the Government in its Bt brinjal moratorium decision – and assumes that all biotechnology and GM crops are a fait accompli.

6.            There are no proposals at all for independent testing which is a great problem witnessed time and again in the current regulatory regime too. Worse, there are proposals of notifying labs under this Act that have not even been accredited!

7.            There are no improvements being made in terms of open air trials not happening before biosafety is thoroughly, independently and democratically assessed. Using quaint terms like ‘environmental release’ for actual commercial cultivation and using other terms like field trials for open air releases even though they are environmental releases too, the proposed Bill has no improvements to suggest to address the serious lacunae with field trials which are making state government after state government reject the possibility of any open air trials taking place in their state.

8.            The Bill has very weak penal clauses (Chapter XII on Offences and Penalties) and in fact does not address liability issues at all: without a liability regime in place, no regulatory regime is complete on this issue. Liability should put the onus of violations on the crop developer primarily and not the users. Further, liability should cover criminal and civil liability as well as redressal/compensation to affected parties like farmers in addition to remediation for damage caused.

9.            It is unacceptable that the Bill has a clause (70) which says that no court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act save on a complaint made by the Authority or any officer or person authorized by it! What is the rationale for this other than to protect offenders? Equally objectionable is Section 77 which prevents civil courts to have jurisdiction on any matter which the Appellate Tribunal under the Act is empowered to determine, wherein there is a bar on any injunction to be granted by any court in respect of any action taken by the Authority.

10.          It is also objectionable that this Act will have an over-riding effect over other laws in force since this Bill is indeed inconsistent with legislations like the Biological Diversity Act.

The above few points are only some of the main objections. There are several other problems with the Bill in terms of the Appellate Authority proposed, in its Inter-Ministerial Governing Board and its role and constitution etc. etc.


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