Yesterday, the Minister for Environment and Forests decided against letting Bt Brinjal be commercially produced in India. The Ministry also put out a detailed explanation of the reasons for the same. I attempt to summarise it, state the facts, and then point out the sheer frenzy generated by activists. The point here is to note the efforts taken by the ministry to take into account diverse opinion through open consultations, and also raises questions about the nature of decision making in our country.
1. A number of state governments have decided to ban/ prevent either Bt Brinjal, or all GM crops.
2. Monsanto is the main producer of Bt Brinjal, and the Indian company Mahyco (developer of Bt Brinjal in India) is owned to the extent of 26% by Monsanto.
3. There are apprehensions that there will be diversity loss in the variety of Brinjal if Bt Brinjal is introduced, and this gear cannot be glossed over.
4. At the same time, the introduction of Bt Cotton in India has made India the second largest grower of cotton in the world.
5. More independent, and well-designed tests for Bt Brinjal have to be conducted. So far, the only available data is from Mahyco.
6. Apprehensions have been raised by eminent scientists, and inconsistencies have been noted in the tests conducted by GEAC, the government body responsible for conducting the tests.
7. The Indian Council of Agricultural research and a number of farmer’s groups have come out in support of the move to introduce Bt Brinjal.
If the reasons for the Ministry not giving a go-ahead for the commercial launch of Bt Brinjal are political, the statement certainly does not convey the impression. The reasons stated seem comprehensible and transparent.
Ministry’s public consultations:
The Ministry held consultations at seven locations across the country, and the Minister attended every single one of them. The Annexure (532 pages!!) to the report published on the Ministry website today lists every single concern raised during the consultative process.
The annexure also included the submissions made by every single scientist on the subject, including ones which are immensely critical, as well as ones which are very complementary to the introduction of Bt Brinjal.
Apart from the selective coverage of angry outbursts at public consultations, what stands out is the process the government undertook before taking its final decision. I am not going into the merits of the decision. I have no expertise to comment on the same. However, it is impressive that a number of meetings to incorporate the concerns of stakeholders were raised, and that the inputs given by them have been published by the Ministry for everyone to see on their website (www.moef.nic.in)
This probably indicates the level of direct interaction with the population our governments require to make decisions transparent and forthright. However, such forums can also be exploited by lobby-groups to exert a great degree of political influence, if required. As far as television coverage of this particular issue goes, one probably thinks farmers are jumping off every conceivable high-rise in their vicinity to save themselves from the probable introduction of genetically modified brinjals!!