One of the hallmarks of Jairam Ramesh’s tenure was that the Bt crop debate was taken from sporadic outcries to organized public hearings (I attended one and came away impressed). But then soon after, the minister ignored the vast scientific evidence that favoured the crop and pronounced a decision that leaned towards activism.
The Februrary 2010 moratorium on Bt Brinjal that came with the assurance that it applied only to Bt Brinjal and to no other crops under development, lasts until today, creating an enormously uncertain regulatory and funding environment that extends to education, research and business.As the monsoon session of the Parliament begins next week, let’s hope the Department of Biotechnology is able to push the NBRA (National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority) Bill. DBT officials say they have completed all technical formalities and are fully prepared. One only hopes that the now-too-common melodramas in the Parliament don’t hijack the presentation of the Bill. Biotechnology is too complex and important to be left to the politicians alone. It is time an independent authority looked into the research, safety, release, and labeling of biotech products.
To give credit to Jairam, the moratorium period was supposed to be used for building a broader consensus on genetic engineering in agriculture, as well as to have a detailed debate in the Parliament and the National Development Council on this. To be sure, none of that has happened (we all know what the politicians and the government have been busy with) but the cost of delay in adopting sound biotech could be pretty high for India. India allowed Bt cotton in 2002 and in the nine years since then, we could neither strengthen the regulatory regime nor devise a clear line of action. China meanwhile has gone from cotton to tomato, papaya and sweet pepper.
The Ministry of Science says several research proposals are stalled for lack of clarity on the issue. Please let’s not have some jerks in the Parliament cite the bumper crop harvest this season to put a spanner in the NBRA works!