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Harsh Vardhan plans meetings on GM mustard

LiveMint logoLiveMint 07-06-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: India’s new environment minister Dr Harsh Vardhan is likely to take a final call soon on approving commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard.

The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has prepared a list of stakeholders and opinion makers it plans to meet within the next few weeks.

But farmer organizations that are against the commercialization of GM mustard said the government, already facing opposition from farmers for different reasons, will see intensified protests if the proposal is cleared.

Vardhan assumed charge of the ministry after the death of environment minister Anil Madhav Dave last month.

“The issue has been discussed with the minister. He desires to meet some more opinion holders and stakeholders before taking a final call. He is likely to take a final call as the regulator—Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)—has already given a go-ahead,” said a senior environment ministry official, requesting anonymity.

Although the environment minister is the final authority on the subject, the fact that it has become a political issue means it will now need a firm push by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government.

Commercialization will also require clearance by the Supreme Court which is hearing a case on it.

GEAC on 11 May recommended approval for commercial production of GM mustard. GM mustard has been developed by the Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.

At present, cotton is the only GM crop allowed in India and if the environment ministry grants permission, GM mustard will become first GM food crop in India. In 2010, GEAC had cleared GM brinjal too but the ministry did not clear it following protests from civil society groups.

A GEAC member, who did not wish to be identified, said, “We have at present recommended clearance for four years only. If we find that its ineffective we can discontinue it. The whole effort is about giving farmer a choice,” the GEAC member added.

However, Yudhvir Singh of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, said, “It’s a huge issue for Indian farmers. Mustard is an important crop in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. If GM mustard is approved it will fuel farmers’ anger further against the government. Government needs to have a consultation with genuine farmer groups.”

Other civil society groups too have called the consultation process a farce.

“It would be a farcical process again since meaningful engagement is not possible without all data (being) put in the public domain. Consultations are not what are needed right now. Evidence is clearly on the table that GM mustard is neither needed nor safe. Government should simply reject it,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states.

Apart from such groups, GM mustard is also facing resistance form groups like Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the ideological parent of the ruling BJP.

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