SC seeks Centre’s response on challenge to introduction of genetically modified mustard [Read Contempt Petition]

SC seeks Centre’s response on challenge to introduction of genetically modified mustard [Read Contempt Petition]

The Supreme Court on Monday demanded the Centre’s reply to a contempt petition filed against the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for allegedly allowing field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in violation of the court’s earlier orders.

The Petitioner, Ms. Aruna Rodrigues has sought initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Hem Pande, Chairperson of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Ministry of Environment and Forests, along with the Co-Chairperson and the Member Secretary. The contempt petitions have been sought to be initiated for “wilfully and deliberately disobeying” the explicit orders of the Supreme Court and proceeding with numerous GMO field trials in food crops.

The Petition, filed through Advocate Prashant Bhushan, stated that these field trials have ignored the fundamental bio-safety precautions as ordered by the Court. Contamination during open field trials is specifically barred by the order dated 8th May 2007, passed by the Apex Court.

The orders relied on by the petition are dated February 15, 2007; May 8, 2007; April 8, 2008; and August 12, 2008. In the order dated May 8, 2007, the Court declared its intent that field trials (which were all limited scale BRLI) should not cause “any contamination to the cultivation of neighbouring fields” also requiring “validated event-specific protocols of testing to an LOD (Limit of Detection) of at least 0.01% to detect and confirm that there has been no contamination” as a necessary precaution and alert system to contain any contamination, that may occur because of these (limited/small-scale) field trials.

The orders mentioned by the petition were delivered in a Writ Petition filed by the Petitioners seeking to put in place a protocol that shall mandate the independent, sound and transparent scientific-examination of all relevant aspects of bio-safety before each GMO is sought to be approved and released into the environment. These objectives were recognised by the Supreme Court through its orders that have been referred to in the petition. They claimed to have singled out mustard DMH 11 because of the exceptional contamination risks associated with mustard and the specific grave hazards consequent to contamination.

The petition stated that the case of Mustard called DMH 11 is especially critical since the Application for commercialisation has reportedly been sent by the crop developer Dr Deepak Pental of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants' (CGCMP) to the GEAC in Sept 2015. It said it is being considered for surreptitious approval for commercialisation according to newspaper reports. This was against the report of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the SC which has called for no open field trials or any commercial release of GM crops.

It further emphasised that all bio-safety data/safety dossiers/Meeting Minutes have been barred from public domain access. This was with reference to orders and the Court process that ensued from the 1st Order of February 15, 2007, then April 8 2008 and finally August 12, 2008. Several requests made for data through RTIs were also rejected.

The Petitioners highlighted the case of Mustard DMH 11 because it is believed from newspaper reports that it may get GEAC approval for commercialisation within November/ or in time for Rabi sowing. It revisited the case of contempt of Court in the issue of Bt Brinjal because it felt that the situation in case of mustard was virtually identical to that of Brinjal.

“The current and un-nerving repetition of this history now with Mustard DMH 11 confirms in no uncertain terms the official Government agenda that supports GM crops, despite the serious and growing evidence of independent science, of the grave threats to health and the environment. This includes the empirically proven failed technology of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops... Thus, India faces a very present, dire crisis; the consequences to health, food purity, food security, farming practices, farmers’ livelihoods and biodiversity, are irremediable, because genetic contamination at the molecular level is irreversible,” the petition stated.

Read the Petition here.