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In­di­an Law Would Make Crit­i­ciz­ing GM Crops an Im­pris­onable Of­fense

Im­ran Khan

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Crit­i­cis­ing GM crops may land you in jail


BAN­GA­LORE: Crit­i­cis­ing Ge­net­i­cal­ly Mod­i­fied (GM) prod­ucts could land you in jail — if the dra­co­ni­an draft Biotech­nol­o­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Au­thor­i­ty Bill (BRAB) of 2009, which will be tabled in the cur­rent ses­sion of the par­lia­ment by the UPA gov­ern­ment, is passed.

In an un­prece­dent­ed muz­zle on the right to free­dom of speech of the cit­i­zen, Chap­ter 13 sec­tion 63 of the draft bill says, “Who­ev­er, with­out any ev­i­dence or sci­en­tif­ic record mis­leads the pub­lic about the safe­ty of the or­gan­isms and prod­ucts…shall be pun­ished with im­pris­on­ment for a term that shall not be less than six months but which may ex­tend to one year and with fine which may ex­tend to two lakh ru­pees or with both.” The BRAI Bill draft­ed by the de­part­ment of bio-​tech­nol­o­gy un­der the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy comes on the heels of a mora­to­ri­um on Bt Brin­jal an­nounced by the En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Jairam Ramesh.

“What they are do­ing is much worse than what Hitler or Mus­soli­ni did. Through this bill, they want to take ab­so­lute au­thor­i­ty. They are be­hav­ing like a ven­dor in­stead of a reg­u­la­tor,” Push­pa M Bhar­ga­va, a mem­ber of the Supreme Court ap­point­ed Ge­net­ic En­gi­neer­ing Ap­proval Com­mit­tee (GEAC) said.

There are al­so oth­er pro­vi­sions in this bill which are dis­con­cert­ing.

Ar­ti­cle 27 (1) of the bill seeks to keep the in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ed to the re­search, ap­proval and sci­ence of the GM Prod­ucts out of the purview of the Right to In­for­ma­tion ( RTI) Act.

In oth­er words, farm­ers, NGO’s and En­vi­ron­men­tal groups that have been on the fore­front of the cam­paign against BT Brin­jal and oth­er ge­net­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied crops, can longer ob­tain in­for­ma­tion about it.

Not on­ly that, the three mem­ber ex­perts of the De­part­ment of Biotech­nol­o­gy will over­ride any ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion about GM tech­nol­o­gy in the states.

The draft bill al­so states that the BRAI will set up its own ap­pel­late tri­bunal which will have the ju­ris­dic­tion to hear ar­gu­ments on the is­sues con­cern­ing biotech­nol­o­gy. In case of any dis­putes, pe­ti­tion­ers can on­ly ap­proach the Supreme Court of In­dia.

“The BRAI bill is more dra­co­ni­an than what the na­tion faced dur­ing the Emer­gen­cy ‘’ says Devin­der Shar­ma, writ­er and Food Pol­i­cy An­a­lyst. “If the Bill was al­ready in force, I would have been in jail.

Jairam Ramesh too would have been in jail for chal­leng­ing the health and en­vi­ron­men­tal claims of the com­pa­ny de­vel­op­ing Bt Brin­jal,” he said. The bill demon­strates the ex­traor­di­nary hold the multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies have over the UPA gov­ern­ment, he added. Kavitha Ku­ru­gun­ti of Kheti Vi­rasat Mis­sion said that this bill is just a way to si­lence the voic­es who are op­posed to GM tech­nol­o­gy.

Feb. 26, 2010