New Delhi: A parliamentary standing committee headed by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury has asked the environment ministry to hold clearance for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) mustard crop as the panel is looking into the issue.

The parliamentary standing committee on science & technology, environment & forests had started looking into the issue of “GM crops and its environmental impacts" last year after a number of civil society groups complained against allowing cultivation of GM food crops such as GM mustard.

GM mustard has been developed by the Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP). At present cotton is the only GM crop allowed in India.

Last week, India’s regulator for transgenic products, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under union environment ministry, recommended approval for GM mustard’s commercial production. Since then several coalitions of farmers, scientists and civil society groups have opposed the move.

The GEAC’s recommendation, however, has to be approved by union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave.

Renuka Chowdhury confirmed that she had written to the union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) to hold the clearance for GM mustard.

“We have already had several meetings on the issue across the country with concerned stakeholders. We are looking at concerns like impact of GM mustard on health and environment," said Chowdhury.

ALSO READ: What a nod for GM mustard means for the future of India’s agriculture?

The parliamentary committee has held several meetings in Delhi to discuss the issue and consultations across India.

It is also likely to meet again this month.

GM brinjal was cleared by the GEAC in 2010, but was put on hold by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh following protests from civil society groups.

For mustard too, civil society groups are up in arms. They are fighting a case in the Supreme Court where the government has promised to not move ahead with GM mustard without the court’s approval.

Senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, lawyer for Aruna Rodrigues—a petitioner in the case, in the apex court case, on Saturday wrote to Dave urging him not to endorse the “outrageous and antinational approval" of GEAC and “reject it in the public interest."

The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements also wrote to Dave asking him to reject GM Mustard’s commercialisation application.

“The proliferation of GM crops will transfer the ecological wealth that farmers conserve and protect to the bank accounts of profit-hungry corporate interests. The privatization of seed and the property rights associated with Genetically Modification Organisms is a dangerous weapon against farmers who can be sued by corporations for infractions" and a push towards acute economic distress," the group’s letter said.

“It is also an affront on the sovereignty of our nation and our right to control our own biological diversity. We strongly oppose and urge you to take these points into consideration, to stop and reject the approval of the GM Mustard and all other GM field trials. In doing so, you avoid the irreparable damage that GMOs will cause to our food sovereignty," the letter added.

BJP, which leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, in its 2014 election manifesto, had said GM crops would not be allowed without proper scientific investigation. But government believes it is critical for boosting farm productivity in India.

Thus it would be interesting to see how the NDA government moves ahead on it, as the resistance is not only from civil society groups but from others as well. For instance, saffron groups like Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the ideological parent of the ruling BJP, has also vowed to go to any extent to oppose it.

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