New Delhi: The biotech regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), on Friday cleared the way for confined field trials of 15 more genetically modified (GM) crops, including chick pea, mustard, rice and brinjal.

Hem Pande, the chairman of GEAC, said that all these crops are rabi crops, for which the sowing season will begin in winter.

“We had previously given an approval for kharif crops, now it is rabi," said Pande. Kharif crops are sown in the rainy season.

The GEAC had cleared confined field trials, or small-scale experiments, on 11 GM varieties including four of rice, two each of wheat and cotton, and one each of maize, sorghum and groundnut in March.

Pande said all the GM crop applications that had been pending since 2012 have been disposed of in the three meetings that have been held since March (the second meeting was in May and the third in July).

“The 60-70 applications which have been pending since 2012 have been cleared, except in cases where the parties did not show interest or did not come back to us with additional information," he added.

To be sure, all the companies will have to get a no-objection from the states before going ahead.

While Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana have allowed confined field trials in the past, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan have said no to the trials.

Ram Kaundinya, chairman of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG), said the group was pleased with the government’s decision.

“This is what we have been asking for the past three years—to approve field testing of new crops and traits. (Former environment minister) M. Veerappa Moily paved the way for it and we hope the new government will be supportive."

Kaundinya said trials for GM varieties of sugarcane and corn had also been given the go-ahead.

Moily had given the go-ahead for confined field trials of GM crops in February. Field trials began that month after a gap of almost three years; Moily’s predecessors Jayanthi Natarajan and Jairam Ramesh had refused to allow the trials.

The Supreme Court is also hearing a petition in the GM field trials case. It had set up a six-member technical expert committee, which suggested an indefinite moratorium on such trials unless shortcomings in the regulatory process were plugged. But one member gave a dissenting note opposing the moratorium. Subsequently, the apex court asked the government to submit its stand on this issue.

Opponents of GM crops say that they can harm agriculture, the environment and human health.

Rajesh Krishnan, convenor of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, an informal network of organizations and individuals campaigning against the introduction of GM crops in India, said the group was deeply disappointed as GM regulation has not changed even with a new government in place.

“When they (National Democratic Alliance) were in opposition, then they had stood with people and had opposed field trials. Even in their manifesto, they had mentioned that they’ll take precautions," Krishnan said.

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