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SJM upset over Modi govt nod to GM crop field trials

The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated organisation, said it was ‘pained’ by the Centre’s flip-flop on field trials of two varieties of genetically-modified (GM) crops in a few states.

“If the government has given approval for field trials of GM brinjal and mustard, despite giving assurance to us, we are really pained at this,” said Ashwani Mahajan, all-India co-convener of SJM. Mahajan said his organisation was studying whether the trials, which had been given nod by the Centre were those approved by previous Union Environment Minister Veerappa Moily or the present incumbent Prakash Javadekar.

However, a reply given by the Union environment ministry under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to Manvendra Singh Inaniya, a Greenpeace campaigner, on September 18 stated that the government passed an order dated August 21 based on the approval given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in its meeting held on August 18. The GEAC had approved field trials of 13 GM crops, including those of mustard, cotton, brinjal, rice and chickpea. GEAC is a statutory body for recommending approval to any release of genetically-engineered products into the environment.

“If the government is intending to give approval to field trials of GM crops, they should have done it openly and not conveyed it merely through an RTI reply. We stand by our words that we look at this move in anguish and disbelief,” said Mahajan.

Greenpeace India said many state governments, including those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — have denied permission for field trials.

“It now seems that the Union government is not bothered about the opposition of various state governments regarding GM field trials, including the recent opposition by the Gujarat government, which confirmed that it will not issue a no-objection certificate (a statutory requirement from the state government for conducting open air trials) for any field trial of GM food crop,” said Inaniya, who filed the RTI. However, Business Standard couldn’t independently verify this.

The ministry order stated that Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants has been given permission to conduct field trials for a new variety of GM mustard and Maharashtra-based Bejo Sheetal Seeds Private Limited to test Bt brinjal.

The DU can conduct trials in 10 locations of Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and Bejo Sheetal can do so in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi and Andhra Pradesh.

However, this would require a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the state governments to conduct open air trials.

The GEAC decision was strongly opposed by the Sangh Parivar organisations such as SJM and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). Under pressure from these groups, Javadekar had reportedly put on hold field trials on July 29.

“The minister assured the members of SJM and BKS that the decision (on field trials) had been put on hold,” Mahajan had said in a press statement on July 30.

Javadekar has been ambivalent on his stance on field trials of GM crops. In a public event on August 6, he had said the country cannot ignore science but will also have to tread cautiously.

“We are not saying no to science. We have to take proper caution and proper action,” Javadekar had said.

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