New Delhi: Even as the government continues to put on hold its final decision on release of genetically modified (GM) mustard for commercial cultivation, Union science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan said that the proposal has not been shelved and remains under consideration.

Vardhan emphasized that GM mustard is a very contentious issue and said a lot of opinions have been expressed for and against its introduction.

“The environment ministry is studying the issue with meticulous precision. We are examining each and every aspect. To be clear, it is not that we have put it somewhere on the shelf. But decisions on such sensitive issues cannot be taken without applying science and scientific minds and taking the opinion of all the relevant stakeholders in the country. The government is doing that. There is no confusion about the whole issue," said Vardhan, who also holds the charge of the ministry of environment.

GM mustard, which has been developed by scientists from Delhi University, has been awaiting approval since 2015. In May last year, the apex authority on GM seeds, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had given its initial approval.

However, it was again referred back to GEAC for consideration, fuelling speculation that cultivation of the crop might never see the light of the day. If approved, it could become the first genetically engineered food crop to be commercially cultivated in India.

The Union minister also highlighted the government’s efforts to use biotechnology for the benefit of farmers. “Our scientists are already working to develop hybrid pest-resistant, disease-resistant and drought resistant varieties of crops, with focus on rice, wheat and maize," he said.

“Our bio-fuel policy focuses on bio ethanol and the technology has already been transferred to companies. HPCL is already on its way to set up its first plant in Panipat. We also have the technology for generating bio-diesel from jatropha seeds and it is ready to be scaled up," said Dr Renu Swarup, secretary, department of biotechnology.

The government also plans to extend the dissemination of agro-met advisories from the current 24 million farmers to 40 million farmers while covering blocks in districts.