New Delhi: With the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) recommending commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) mustard, the stage is set for a battle between the authorities and the civil society groups who have vowed to oppose it in the courts as well as the streets.

GEAC’s approval for GM mustard’s commercial production came on Thursday and now, effectively, India is just a step away from allowing GM food crops. The GEAC’s recommendation will have to be approved by Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave.

Also Read: GM mustard gets backing from regulator

GM mustard has been developed by Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP). If approved, it would become the first GM food crop; at present only GM cotton is allowed.

The situation, however, seems a repeat of 2010 when GM brinjal was cleared by GEAC but was put on hold by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh in the face of huge protests from civil society groups.

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

Sarson (mustard) Satyagraha, a broad platform of hundreds of organisations representing farmers, consumers, scientists and others that have been at the forefront of resisting the approval of GM mustard in India has condemned the GEAC’s green signal for GM mustard.

“We have shown over the past several months, through rigorous analysis of available material, how this GM mustard dossier was rigged for favourable results, how it is an unneeded GMO, how it will increase chemicals in our food and farms and how regulators should have never allowed it to proceed this far," said a statement from Sarson Satyagraha.

It further alleged that GEAC ignored all valid questions raised by scientists and others and chose to function behind a shroud of secrecy.

“Earlier in the case of Bt brinjal too, they (GEAC) behaved irresponsibly and shamelessly unscientific. In this case, it is a hazardous herbicide tolerant food crop (GM mustard) at that, which has direct implications for a large number of Indian farmers, agricultural workers and consumers," the statement said.

The activists added that the final decision on GM mustard is now “a test on the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government on whether they are to be trusted with their promises or not".

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 GM crops are central to the government’s plans for pushing investment and growth in the biotechnology sector. The government also considers it critical for boosting farm productivity in India.

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 opposed it.

Close