Environment Minister Veerappa Moily is expected to cast his vote in favour of allowing genetically modified (GM) food crops in the country, overturning the position of his immediate predecessors – Jayanthi Natarajan and Jairam Ramesh.
Moily’s support will pave the way for the government to submit an affidavit in the Supreme Court acquiescing to field trials of GM food crops on a conditional basis. The apex court is hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue and the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the agriculture ministry have pushed hard to submit such an affidavit, but were unable to do so because of resistance from Natarajan. Her opposition to field trials has been cited as one of the reasons for her departure from the Cabinet last week.
The new minister will need to take a decision on the GM issue soon, as the government is required to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court early next year. Senior government sources told ET that Moily is likely to agree to allow field trials in the country.
GM food is an emotive issue both in India as well as internationally, with powerful lobbies ranged on both sides of the debate. In 2009, then environment minister Ramesh had announced an indefinite ban on the sale of Bt Brinjal.
Several applications are pending
While Ramesh did not ban field trials, he made it mandatory for state governments to give their consent for such trials. With most state governments opposed to GM food, no field trials have been held in the country since 2009.
Bayer Bioscience, Mahyco, BASF India, Monsanto India and Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Research had in March received permission from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to conduct field trials for genetically modified rice, wheat, maize and castor. But the environment ministry under Natarajan decided to put the decision on hold in view of the PIL in the Supreme Court.
If the apex court rules in favour of the government’s submissions, these companies could commence trials.
There are 53 more applications for field trials pending before GEAC. Field trials are pilot projects conducted to test efficacy of seeds.
The PIL, filed by activist Aruna Rodrigues, demanded that field trials be put on hold till an independent and effective regulatory system had been put in place.
A Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the court had recommended an indefinite moratorium on such trials unless certain shortcomings in the regulatory process were plugged. But one member of the committee – RS Paroda, former director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and the agriculture ministry’s nominee – submitted a dissenting note opposing the moratorium.
The Supreme Court subsequently asked the government to submit its position on the issue. Keen to ensure a common position, the Prime Minister’s Office had asked the Cabinet secretary to work out a consensus position, one that would permit field trials to be carried out. But it was stymied as Natarajan opposed the consensus position.