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Activists up in arms against controversial biotech bill
NEW DELHI: The introduction of the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill in the LokSabha by Science and Technology minister, Jaipal Reddy has many civil society groups up in arms.
In 2011 groups like Aruna Roy led national campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI) and the Coalition for GM- free India had vehemently opposed the bill because of certain ‘anti-transparency’ provisions in the bill. Even before these concerns were addressed, Reddy introduced the bill again recently. One of the serious flaws identified by these groups is that section 28 overrides the right to information act. It says that the RTI act will not apply to confidential commercial information available with the BRAI and that it will only make information available if it considers being in public interest. The BRAI was conceived to replace the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) which would focus on regulating research, manufacture, import and use of products of modern biotechnology including genetically modified (GM) products. Some organizations are critical of the bill because there could be a ‘conflict of interest’ as BRAI is set to be a single window approval mechanism for GM crops in India. They say that BRAI which is be located within the Ministry of Science and technology is seen to be a promoter of GM crops and that a ‘promoter’ may not be a good ‘regulator.’ “The bill also lacks scientific bio-safety assessments at a time when there is increasing scientific evidence that points to the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, biodiversity and farming. Many state governments and civil society organizations are also agitated because of the absence of any decision making roles for state government and clauses to over ride the RTI Act in the current BRAI bill,” says Shivani Shah, sustainable agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace. Kavita Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) feels that the government has been “extremely undemocratic” in its attitude towards concerns raised by civil society groups. “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture had already conducted a detailed study of the BRAI bill and all other regulations on GM crops in the country and concluded that BRAI is not what we need. We need a Bio-safety Authority that can assess the impact of these crops on health and biodiversity. We need something similar to the Norwegian Gene Technology Act,” she says. Kavita demanded that the bill be withdrawn immediately. On Thursday, a lot of civil society and farmers groups also sent faxes to Jaipal Reddy’s office demanding the withdrawal of the bill. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in its August 2012 report tabled in the Parliament had stated: “The Government have been for some years now toying with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. The Committee feel that regulating biotechnology is too small a focus in the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health, and a multitude of other such related issues.”