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Public Consultation on Bt Brinjal held by Jairam Ramesh

ESG Briefing Note: 06 February 2010

The final Public Consultation on the controversial Bt Brinjal issue was conducted by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests (i/c) in Bangalore today. Significantly, the Consultation witnessed the participation of former Prime Minister Mr. H. D. Devegowda and also Jnanpith awardee, Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy, and over 1000 people.

As was to be expected there were strident opinions from both the pro and anti Bt brinjal positions. A comprehensive report of this consultation will be available on the ESG website duly.

During the proceedings, Dr. A. S. Anand, Chairman of the Organic Farming Mission of Government of Karnataka made a categorical assertion that the entire consultation mechanism was a farce as MoEF had dropped 190 plants from the protection of the Biodiversity Act. This included Brinjal and almost all endemic varieties that constitute the genetic wealth of India.

Mr. Ramesh was startled by this allegation and demanded Dr. Anand should resign from his post if he was proven wrong. From the dias Mr. Ramesh called his officials and claimed that the fact that these 190 plants had been removed from the protection accorded by the Biodiversity Act was nothing to be alarmed about as it was only to facilitate their exports. As he also said he was not fully confident of this position, he confirmed he would go back to Delhi and clarify. If his stand was wrong, he would immediately withdraw the Notification and apologise to the nation.

In making his submission Dr. Anand relied on a note prepared by ESG and Krac-a-dawna Farm. This note is available for download (MS Word – 68 KB) along with the relevant Notification (PDF – 599 KB) cited above.

In a heated moment, Mr. Ramesh alleged that this was a totally unnecessary conspiracy being floated to gain publicity by the undersigned.

Basic premise of this note:
  1. It is that the Biological Diversity Act applies to all biological resources of the country. In case any use (as defined in the Act) of any biological resource is to be undertaken, and such use includes genetic engineering per the Act, then first and foremost the permission of the regulatory authorities under this Act has to be sought to use the biological resource. It is only on securing such approvals could any genetic modification be undertaken. In the case of the Mahyco promoted Bt Brinjal, there has been no conformance whatsoever with the Biodiversity Conservation Act, and thus the entire approval by GEAC fails because of this fundamental violation.
  2. Another serious issue raised was that the decision by MoEF to take out 190 plant species (which include several species protected under the Wildlife Act – because they are threatened) from the protection accorded by the Biodiversity Act, was undertaken without any consultation with State Biodiversity Boards or District Biodiversity Committees as is required, or even the Parliament or the wide public. (This position was supported by Dr. Vijayan, Chairman of the Kerala Biodiversity Board, when specifically asked by Mr. Ramesh. Dr. Vijayan also shared that he had never seen this document before, or was he consulted in the process of formulation of this Notification.) As a result the Central Government comprehensively failed in its fundamental duty to protect national biodiversity, especially when dealing with living modified organisms, as detailed in Sec 36 (4) of the Biological Diversity Act.

Former Prime Minister Mr. Devegowda appreciated Mr. Ramesh for so conducting consultations on a matter of such criticial importance to the country. He said whatever be the outcome, the farmer should not be the victim – as was presently the case with all developmental projects. Mr. Devegowda also raised deep concerns over the dropping of 190 plants from the purview of the Biological Diversity Act, and requested Mr. Ramesh to take a careful view of the matter. He wondered why this Notification was issued two weeks after the Minister had confirmed that he was going to hold Public Consultations.

We share this brief in the wider public interest so that we may ensure a prudent decision is taken in the national interest based on the Precuationary Principle, the Public Trust Doctrine and the Intergenerational Principle, and not on the balance of convenience.

ESG deeply appreciates the unprecedented and historic process of Public Consulations undertaken by Mr. Jairam Ramesh on the issue of commercial release of GMO foods in India.

Leo Saldanha
Environment Support Group

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