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‘Is There Any Compelling Reason To Release GM Mustard?’ SC Asks Union Govt

The court asked why the Union government is deviating from the 2013 expert committee report that said the release of GM crops should not be allowed in India till gaps in regulatory system are addressed.

New Delhi: Amid concerns over environmental contamination due to genetically modified crops, the Supreme Court on Thursday, December 1, asked the Union government whether there was “any compelling reason for the release of GM Mustard”.

“Is there a compelling reason to release this hybrid DMH-11 [Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11] now… Can you not take into account bringing more safeguards, safety measures, experimentation, consultation and consider releasing it a later stage after gaining a better understanding of it…,” the apex court asked Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the government.

DMH-11, a mustard hybrid, is the product of work by scientists at the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi.

A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and B.V. Nagarathna also asked the Union government whether “the release of GM Mustard now would permanently and irreparably affect the environment”.

The apex court’s question came a day after the petitioners argued that the regulatory system under the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which had cleared the environmental release of Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), a genetically-engineered variant of mustard, on October 25, was “horrendous” and riddled with conflict of interest, the Hindu reported.

Also read: What Stands in the Way of Transgenic Mustard Becoming India’s First GM Food Crop?

Advocate Prashant Bhushan and senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the petitioners, referred to the 2013 report by a technical expert committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, which had said that it would not be advisable to conduct any field trials in Bt transgenic crops till gaps in regulatory system are addressed.

It had recommended that the release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity as in Bt Brinjal should not be allowed.

However, AG Venkataramani took exception to this report and said that opposition by activists, experts, and scientists to GM crops is “ideological” rather than based on scientific rationale.

“The sum and substance of this report is that it is an ideological report. A scientist can also take an ideological stand. And now, on the basis of this report, this court is invited to make a value judgment,” LiveLaw reported him as saying.

Justice Nagarathna said, “We are not [based] on ideology. Our farmers are not like farmers of western countries as far as literacy and awareness is concerned about genes and mutations. No matter how many ‘Krishi Melas’ (agriculture fairs) and ‘Krishi Darshan’ (a programme on agriculture broadcast on DD Kisan channel) we have. That’s the ground reality. We have to look at everything in entirety.”

“The conclusion of this report is that such herbicide-tolerant food crops were found to be completely unsuitable for the Indian context, particularly because of its effects on sustainable agriculture and its socio-economic impacts on major sections of rural society,” Justice Maheshwari said.

He further said that when the government is proceeding to do something “that is, if not in conflict, at least in divergence with what has been said by this responsible body”, which had been constituted by the apex court itself, it would be required to satisfy the court that such departure is based on “a reasonable basis, rational criteria and scientific methodology”.

The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue on December 7.

The government has so far approved only one GM crop – Bt cotton – for commercial cultivation in 2002.

(With inputs from PTI)