New Delhi: Nearly 150 organizations from across India protested on Tuesday at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, warning the central government of a stir against it if it approves commercialization of genetically modified (GM) mustard.
GM mustard has been developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants. On 5 September, the genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC), which is India’s nodal regulator for GM crops, made public a safety assessment report prepared by one of its sub-committees which stated that GM mustard technology has been found to be “safe for food/feed and environment”.
The environment ministry invited comments from all stakeholders including public on the report till 5 October. A total of 759 comments were received which were sent to the sub-committee for further examination. Once the sub-committee submits its report, GEAC will take a final decision on whether to allow commercialization of GM mustard.
Environmentalists have, however, been against it and have also approached the Supreme Court where the central government on Monday said that it will not release GM mustard without the court’s nod.
The petitioners had alleged that “various counts of fraud and regulatory collusion in field trials” of GM mustard conducted over the years in multiple locations have made its commercial release a risky proposition.
The protest at Jantar Mantar saw the participation of organizations from across India, including 29 national-level organizations and alliances like Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Sabha, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Organic Farming Association of India, Confederation of Beekeeping Industry of India, Azadi Bachao Andolan, All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) and National Right to Food Campaign.
The protestors were joined by leaders from political parties like Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Dal (United), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) and Swaraj India Party.
Ratan Lal of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh said that the threat of GM crops is similar to the threat of East India Company which gradually colonized the entire country, and farmers should band together to stop GM crops.
Other farmer leaders like Hannan Molla and Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha, Rakesh Tikait from Bhartiya Kisan Union, Rampal Jat from Rajasthan and Badribhai from Gujarat declared that if the government doesn’t listen to farmers and stop GM mustard, they would step up the fight and take to the streets.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, in a video message played at the protest, said a big hoax is being played on farmers by bringing in GM crops.
GM crops have always been a contentious issue in India. The issue flared up a few years ago during Jairam Ramesh’s tenure as environment minister, when he had to put a moratorium on commercialization of Bt brinjal under pressure from non-governmental organizations and activists.
If GM mustard gets approval from the GEAC, it will become the first transgenic food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. At present, only GM cotton is cultivated in the country.