The Supreme Court has refused to restrain the government from proceeding with the controversial open field trials of the GM crops for the coming Rabi season.
However, it will examine on November 7 the report filed by a technical expert committee that has sought 10 years moratorium on certain vital crops. A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and SJ Mukhopadhaya on Monday said the committee, set up by the court, has indicated the possibility of contamination of non-GM food by the GM food. But the court expressed its disagreement with such an opinion and said it does not think its appropriate to postpone the sowing of the Rabi crops.
Petitioner Aruna Rodrigues’s counsel Prashant Bhushan drew the judges attention towards the expert committee’s report which has suggested that the field trials of the GM crops would cause an ‘irreversible contamination’ of even the non-GM crops.
Also, Bhushan said, the committee has said that given the size of small farm plot size and relative lack of control in harvesting besides storage and transport problems in the country, it is likely that ‘such contamination would be high’. For example, Bhushan said if non-GM rice was contaminated by the GM rice, then India would lose a Rs14,000 crore rice market the world over.
“Just as Americans lost, we will lose European markets. This is a very, very serious matter. This is why even the parliamentary committee too had voiced its concern over the GM crops,” Bhushan added.
While adjourning the hearing, the court allowed various applications filed by various parties concerned with GM crops seeking their participation in the proceedings.
Constitutional expert KK Venugopal, who appeared for ABLE Associates of Biotechnology, a group of biotech led enterprises said his clients are ‘entitled to have their say’. He said he would point out where has the committee gone wrong.
When a government’s lawyer said the open field trials would be carried out in a ‘safe environment with all precautions and the GM crop would be burnt afterwards’’, the judges told him “Whether you burn it or do not burn it. We have to be careful. Contamination will not only be through the water but it can be through air.”
The report filed by the committee comprising PS Chuhan, PC Kesavan, PS Ramakrishnan, Imran Siddiqi and B Sivakumar says all field trials should be stopped until conditions have been followed during the trial period, outsourcing/subcontracting of field trials be banned and representation on regulatory bodies be expanded.
The committee has also recommended ‘safety dossiers’ of all GM crops approved for trials and those in the pipeline to be reviewed by independent bio-safety experts. It has expressed concern over the reports regarding ignoring the problematic aspects of safety data. The panel has also suggested involving international experts in this exercise.