We share with shock and utter dismay that the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board, a critical regulatory body to implement the Biological Diversity Act, has resolved recently that it will not initiate criminal prosecution against M/s Monsanto and M/s Mahyco and others involved in biopiracy while developing India's first GMO food: B.t. Brinjal. This decision was taken in the 19th meeting of the Board held on 20 January 2011.
Since Environment Support Group filed the complaint of biopiracy in February 2010, the Board has systematically investigated the issues raised, and repeatedly confirmed its intent to prosecute violators. This is evident from the minutes of the Board's meetings over the past two years. Such was the clarity and consistency with which the Board pursued the case, that it had spared no effort in investigating the complaint and also in seeking advise from National Biodiversity Authority.
A combination of pressure from the public and Parliamentarians, and also the extensive investigations conducted by the Board, resulted in forcing the Authority in June 2011 to finally confirm that ESG's complaint was legitimate and that appropriate action would be taken. Thereafter, Mrs. Jayanti Natarajan, Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests, made several statements in Parliament to confirm that the prosecution would be initiated as a collective effort of the National Biodiversity Authority and State Biodiversity Boards (in addition to Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Uttar Pradesh Board's also needed to take action as Monsanto/Mahyco and ors. had accessed native brinjal varieties from all these regions without appropriate permissions).
The January meeting was chaired by Karnataka Environment Minister Mr. Krishna Palemar. For the very first time, Mr. Kaushik Mukherjee, IAS, Addl. Chief Secretary and Head of Dept. of Ecology, Environment and Forests of Karnataka and the State's Forest Chief Mr. A. K. Varma, IFS, participated in the proceedings. Whatever transpired in the meeting, it appears that as key custodians of biodiversity and biodiversity protection laws, they seemed to have favoured a decision to abandon the prosecution, and shift the responsibility instead on the National Biodiversity Authority.
The law is very clear that protecting India's biodiversity is the collective responsibility of Biodiversity Management Committees at the District Level, State Biodiversity Boards and the National Biodiversity Authority. In addition, State Biodiversity Boards and the Authority have powers to initiate prosecution against violators, through the officials of the State Forest Departments and others. Such being the case, the fact the the Karnataka Biodiversity Board walked away from these statutory obligations to shelter Monsanto/Mahyco is scandalous, to say the least. Whats more, it is outrageous that this retrograde and illegal decision has been taken in a year when India will host the 11th Conference of Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity at Hyderabad in October this year.
The National Biodiversity Authority will now have to prosecute the violators. But this is not what the legal framework suggests. It is important for securing our biodiversity for present and future generations that the law of the land must be scrupulously implemented - which means the State Boards must not shy away from their regulatory obligation to prosecute violators, whatever be the pressures. Karnataka Government seems to have shamefully yielded to pressures from the politically powerful biotech sector, whose leaders have constantly complained about complying with biodiversity protection laws.
The public at large must pressurise the Karnataka Biodiversity Board to set right this major wrong that has been committed to the regulatory framework protecting biodiversity. A clear message needs to be sent that such capitulation will not be tolerated. We request you to join in this struggle.
Attached is a petition that we have already dispatched to Minister Palemar* demanding that an emergency session of the Board must be summoned, the retrograde decision must be withdrawn and that the State must support the Board to independently and fearlessly move ahead with the prosecution. If you agree with this position, we request you to endorse an online petition accessible here.
We will resubmit our petition along with your endorsements to the Minister next week. Your endorsements will have to reach us by 15th February 2012 .
We thank you for your solidarity and support.
*Update: On the very day we made this release, Mr. Krishna Palemar was caught watching pornography along with two of his Cabinet colleagues in the Karnataka Assembly and while it was in session. Public outrage over their morbid act has forced all three to resign. Karnataka does not have an Environment Minister now, and the petition will now be submitted to the Chief Minister and Governor.