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Withdraw biotech regulator bill: Indian Parliamentarians

May 04, 2013

Indian legislators have strongly opposed the proposed biotech regulatory bill calling it contrary to the national interests and giving in to the interests of large MNCs.

Sixteen members of the Lower House of the India Parliment (Lok Sabha) have expressed strong opposition to the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

The controversial bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha amid huge protests by opposition parties on the failure of the government on various issues. Jaipal Reddy, India’s minister for Science and Technology, introduced the bill despite vehement opposition from several MPs led by Basudeva Acharia, the floor leader of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

State governments and civil society organisations are especially agitated due to the absence of any decision making roles for state governments and the absence of clauses to over-ride the Right to Information Act, in the current BRAI Bill.

The Bill though listed, has been facing opposition by the Members of Parliament for the last 10 sessions of the Parliament. The most controversial element of the BRAI Bill is its proposal of an easy single window approval mechanism for GM crops in India.

Another major argument mooted against the bill is that BRAI which is to be located within the Ministry of Science and Technology, a promoter of GM crops, is riddled with conflicts of interests as no promoter can be a good regulator.

The controversial bill is also said to lack a scientific biosafety assessment, at a time when there is increasing scientific evidence pointing out the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, biodiversity and farming.

OneWorld South Asia speaks to some of the members of the Indian Parliament who have strongly opposed the BRAI bill..

Basudev Acharya, CPM floor leader, Lok Sabha.

There is a is a need for an all encompassing regulatory authority which has adequate representation from various ministries including the Ministry of Agriculture, Minstry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

There is a need of independent regulatory authority. We are opposing the bill because the Department of Bio-technology, which is the promoter, is also slated to play the role of a regulator. If this happens, there will definitely be a conflict of interest.

The people of this country have a right to know weather the fruits they are consuming are genetically modified. Instead of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), the government should bring a bio-safety bill for making an impartial assessment of the impact the genetically modified crops would have on health and environment.

Ram Chandra Dome, Lok Sabha, CPM.

The principal point of opposition to the BRAI bill is that instead of the Agriculture Ministry to which a majority of the subjects are related to, this bill has been introduced by Ministry of Science and Technology.

We strongly feel that the Ministry of Science and Technology has no right to pilot this bill and the agriculture ministry should have been the nodal ministry for such a regulatory authority.

We feel that this sort of regulatory system is mainly to protect the interest of the multi-national companies (MNCs) instead of the interest of the country. With this regulation, the MNCs have been given the indirect headway to encroach upon this sector.

This bill is only for the good of extraneous factors as it does not cater to the interest of Indian farmers and people at large.

Nama Nageswar Rao, TDP- Lok Sabha Floor Leader

The end result of the BRAI bill should be to bring benefits to the people. We are not completely opposing the bill but we think certain changes are required.

The bill needs a lot of debate and it should be made in such a way that it should not exist for the interests of the corporate sector but focus on the welfare of the farmers.

KN Balagopal, Rajya Sabha, CPM.

The BRAI bill has been introduced without any proper and detailed study, therefore it is half-baked as it does show how the regulation will be done.

The experience of Bt cotton was not good as it has eliminated many indigenous cotton varieties. It not only increased the cost of production for the farmers but also proved to be of no help in increasing the yield.

Unless a proper mechanism is evolved for conducting field trials and regulations, the country cannot afford to play with the technology which has not been adequately tested on the ground.

Even in the United States, there are some restrictions, but in India, there seems to be a complete disregard to the safeguards. The general tendency of the government is for commercialisation of such technologies without any concern to the traditional knowledge.

M P Achuthan, Rajya Sabha, CPI.

The BRAI bill does not take into consideration the biodiversity of our country. If passed in the present shape, this bill will give ample scope to the multi-national companies (MNCs) to penetrate into our country without any safeguards in this regard.

India already has an agreement with the United States in the agricultural field, and this will further the interests of MNCs like Monsanto Biotech, which are actively trying to push the bill for their vested interests.

The government is not fulfilling its duty of keeping in mind the interests of the farmers. Once this bill takes the shape of a law, the prices will be decided by such international companies and the market will also be controlled by them, making the Indian farmer fall in the vicious grip of these companies.

C P Narayanan, Rajya Sabha, CPM.

The standing committee on agriculture, which had given its report to the Parliament, suggested that a biosafety regime should be introduced instead of a regulatory authority for biotechnology.

The committee was of the view that the Parliament has to be very careful in introducing a bill on biotechnology regulation. Not just CPM but eminent personalities like social activist Aruna Roy have suggested caution against such a bill.

MNCs are interested in GM crops. It will do more harm than good and will have far reaching effects on agriculture. Both agriculture and public health are state subjects under the constitution and yet, the Parliament has not consulted adequately with the states before introducing this bill, hence it lacks around consultation and consensus.

Even experts and scientists of this country are not unanimous on the bill. We are of the view that diverse views are needed to be considered before proposing any such bill.

India needs to abide by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which it is a signatory.

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