New Delhi: Spurred in part by the controversy over Bt brinjal, the government is planning a regulatory board that will oversee all the new nanotechnology devices that come to market.
“The reason we had problems with Bt brinjal is because we don’t have a strong regulatory body,” said T.N. Rao, director of the Centre for Nanomaterials at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials, a Hyderabad-based lab. “Nanotechnology is being used for medicine and health. We must be sure that it is being used safely.”
Nanotechnology, the study of materials on a sub-microscopic scale, is one of the hottest trends in global science. The government has already spent part of a special Rs1,000 crore fund for nanotech research. Nanoparticles are at least 1,000 times smaller than a human hair, and have huge potential in medicine, agriculture and lifestyle products.
But products based on nanotechnology have also created controversy. When Samsung released a “Nano Silver” washing machine in the US, environmental groups claimed the silver-laced waste water might damage the earth. The US’ Environmental Protection Agency temporarily banned the machine, and is in the midst of drafting regulations specifically for nanotechnology. A version of that machine is available in India.
Regulation will present its own set of challenges. “We don’t even have standards for judging what makes a product dangerous,” said Rao. “On what basis will they regulate?”
There’s also the risk nanotechnology might end up in the same stew at Bt brinjal. The genetic engineering approval committee, a statutory body formed under the Environment Protection Act, conducted a series of tests on Bt brinjal but passed the final decision on to the ministry of environment and forests. The resulting debate went on for months and involved politicians, non-profit organizations and courts.
“The regulatory board will have experts from all different fields, including medicine and agriculture,” said Rao, who heads the department of science and technology’s Nano Mission, responsible for giving out the research funds.
Rao first announced the potential regulation over the weekend at the International Conference on Nano Science and Technology, a nanotechnology conference at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He said the board will be formed sometime next month.