The article warned that genetically modified
cotton would destroy Indian cotton farmers, and is not suited for Indian
conditions. This was immediately taken up by the Berlin based “Coalition for the
South”, translated into German, and published widely all over the world.
Knowledgeable scientists across the world endorsed this view.
However, here in free India, a coterie
of agricultural scientists with vested interests in the crop
biotechnology sector, ganged up to gag this author. A media war
(print and electronic) broke out, with one Rajya Sabha MP openly
clamouring for Bt cotton; he openly ridiculed the author and totally
It is important to note that the ban recommended
by the Parliamentary Committee came exactly a day after the Maharashtra
Government cancelled Mahyco’s (Indian arm of Monsanto, the US based agri
business giant) licence to sell its Bt cotton seeds. Behind this lies the
valiant fight of this author and a few other committed scientists and social
activists, who have focused on the maximum number of suicides in Vidarbha
district of Maharashtra, where farmers after switching to Bt cotton from hybrids
and desi varieties, found themselves bankrupt. They had no option but to
take their lives to escape the Shylockian clutches of money lenders.
In 2002, when Monsanto-Mahyco sold a
packet of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed to Indian cotton farmers for a
unheard of price of Rs 1950/packet, this author on a visit to China
found that Monsanto was selling the same quantity of Bt cotton seed
for just US $2/packet. Translated to Indian Rupee, the equivalence
at the time worked out to less than Rs 100. The company made more
than Rs 600 crores in one cotton crop season in 2002.
Tragically, no other agricultural
scientist in India questioned this unheard of fleecing of Indian
cotton farmers. Matters came to a head when in September 2006
Monsanto with its Indian subsidiary Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed
Company) thrust the unscientifically tested Bt brinjal on poor,
illiterate and unsuspecting farmers of Andhra, in Warangal district.
This author and a band of committed
scientists and social activists moved the Supreme Court against
this. The then Chief Justice Mr Sabharval, just before his
retirement, observed that “The entire question of genetically
modified crops should be examined by competent, knowledgeable
scientists, who are also patriotic,” and following this observation
by the CJI, an Independent Expert Committee was formed of which the
author was unanimously elected Chairman. The committee consisted of
some eminent and independent experts, agronomists, entomologists,
economists, plant physiologists and farmers’ representatives.
The committee submitted its report to
the Supreme Court on 15 October 2006, clearly indicting Monsanto and
Mahyco for unscientifically conducted field trials, putting not only
Indian agriculture to crisis, but poor and illiterate farmers to
great risk and the unsuspecting Indian population to health risks.
Justice Sabharval was succeeded by Justice Balakrishnan as the Chief
Justice of India. There followed endless foot dragging, until Jairam
Ramesh, the then Environment and Forest Minister, took a pro-active
role in inviting many stake holders on Bt brinjal to give their
In an open letter to the minister
published in The New Indian Express on 9 February 2010, this
author pleaded for a moratorium on Bt brinjal. On 10 February, the
very next day, the minister put a moratorium on Bt brinjal.
Meanwhile, another drama was being
enacted in the Supreme Court to subvert the efforts of committed
scientists and social activists. The Government of India nominated
two scientists to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
later rechristened the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The
first was the reigning agricultural scientist of the country, with
tremendous political clout, who was pulling strings behind the stage
to promote GM crops; the second a person with absolutely no
background in agriculture.
It was clearly a clever move to gag
this author, as GEAC was vested with the supreme power for approval
of all GM crops for field trials in India. The case for the author
and his co-activists on GM crops was superbly and forcefully argued
by noted Supreme Court Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. Anyway, the
proceedings went on without a definite conclusion, until Jairam
Ramesh took the decision on moratorium on Bt brinjal.
But truth always prevails, and now the
Parliamentary Committee, after three years of looking into all
relevant documents, has concluded that the field trials of GM crops
should be totally banned, thus vindicating the stand taken by this
author and his associates in the Supreme Court, and outside of it.
We demanded a “thorough probe” into how permission was given to
commercialise Bt brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not
properly carried out, as pointed in the Independent Expert
Committee’s Report submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2006.
The Independent Expert Committee
criticised the role of the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic
Manipulation. It is worth noting that at the height of the
controversy surrounding Bt brinjal, the Minister of Science and
Technology in the Government of India was putting pressure on GEAC,
along with the biotechnology industry. It is also surprising that
the minister of food, from Kerala, wrote an article in the leading
regional daily Mathrubhumi, two years ago, openly pleading
for Bt brinjal, and fully supporting GM crops!
It is for citizens to conclude from
all this that the Government of India is clearly for GM crops.
Clearly American pressure is operating intensely to promote GM crops
in India, as it thinks it can capture the vast Indian market. The
“Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture” (KIA) signed by Manmohan Singh
and George Bush in November 2005, rolling out the red carpet for
American crop biotechnologists on Indian soil (where during the
official discussions representatives of Monsanto were present) is a
clear pointer which way Government of India wants to go on GM
technology, inasmuch as agriculture is concerned. In a subsequent
visit, Hillary Clinton made an open plea in this regard in India.
Even the Prime Minister’s statement on GM crops last year reflects
this mindset. It is a shame on free India that the largest number of
suicides of farmers occurred from areas where Bt cotton was used.
The Parliamentary Committee report clearly noted “The farmers had no
option but to use Bt cotton”.
To rectify its mistakes, India must
now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists
with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology
Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill. As per the provisions of
this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-,
and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM
crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.
Indian agriculture is not similar to
American or European agriculture. Our agriculture, where more than
70 per cent poor and marginal farmers are involved, is a “way of
living”. Do we want to destroy this culture and bring in
agri-business? The oft-repeated claim that “biotechnology is the
panacea” for Indian agriculture is rubbish. The idea is to control
the seed industry and once the seed industry is controlled, the food
supply chain is controlled. Even in the US, where Bt cotton
originated, there is not a single instance where Bt cotton grew
without the use of pesticides; this effectively negates all claims
made by Monsanto.
the Author: K P Prabhakaran Nair was Chairman, Independent Expert
Committee, appointed to examine the role of Bt brinjal in India.]