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08 Dec 2023, 14:51 HRS IST
  • PTI
  • Anti-GM crop activists urge 'supreme objectivity'

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19:36 HRS IST

New Delhi, May 22 (PTI) Anti-GM crop activists today urged new Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan to exercise "supreme objectivity" on decisions regarding the matter, claiming it is an "unacceptable conflict of interest" that he also holds the science and technology portfolio.

Vardhan, who took charge of the environment ministry today, following the sudden death of Anil Madhav Dave, is also the minister for science and technology and earth sciences.

Activists against Genetically Modified (GM) crops in a letter to Vardhan claimed that according to some people close to Dave, the latter was not in favour of approving GM mustard and was also "toying with the idea of resigning from his post", rather than giving his approval.

The anti-GM activists asked Vardhan to reject GM mustard, claiming it is a "hazardous scientific fraud" being perpetuated on the nation.

The remarks comes after the country's biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) recently gave its recommendation to the environment ministry approving GM mustard for commercial use.

As environment minister, Vardhan has to take a final call on the issue now, following the sudden death of Dave.

"We write to you now to impress upon you that this GM mustard deserves to be rejected in toto. GM mustard is a hazardous scientific fraud being perpetuated on the nation, that too with taxpayer' own funds. This is simply unacceptable," Sarson Satyagraha, a broad platform of hundreds of organisations representing farmers, scientists and others said in their letter to Vardhan.

The body said that it would like to see "lasting, farmer-controlled, farmer-friendly solutions" to be put into place rather than "hazardous, irreversible and uncontrollable" living technologies deployed in an "unscientific and unaccountable" manner.

"Your current post as an interim Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change incidentally also holds an unacceptable conflict of interest (with the parent Ministry of Science and Technology promoting and funding GMO R&D).

"Therefore (it) requires supreme objectivity based on rigorous evidence as well as perspectives of equity and sustainability. We have enormous and meticulous evidence to share from our side and seek a meeting with you where all details can be discussed threadbare," the letter said.

The body termed it as "ironical" that it had to write to Vardhan since it is his parent ministry of science and technology and the department of biotechnology (DBT), which has been funding, promoting and "passing off" GM mustard as a requirement for India's agriculture.

"It has also been passing it off as being safe whereas both these claims are unscientific and unfounded," the body wrote in the letter.

It is worth a mention here that while taking charge of the environment ministry today, Vardhan said, "Being the minister of science and technology and earth sciences, I will make sure that all the research that has taken place in science and its outcomes, can help us in strengthening the issues of this ministry, that they are all aptly applied in this ministry."

The activists in the letter hoped that as a medical doctor, Vardhan will understand the risks involved in a herbicide tolerant Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) entering the food and farming systems.

"Over the past several months, we have meticulously analysed and showed scientific evidence on the falsehoods related to GM mustard claims, both of its benefits and safety.

"We have shown that the benefit claims are exaggerated and unfounded, while lack of safety has been hidden by cleverly bypassing many tests and passing off an unsafe GMO as safe," the letter said.

The body claimed that some people close to deceased minister Dave, including BJP leaders, have been sharing in their obituaries that he was not in favour of approving GM mustard for commercialisation in India.

"It was clear that he was pitted against a dispensation that wanted to approve GM mustard, irrespective of whether there was any scientific evidence that justifies its need, efficacy or safety.

"He revealed to some activists that he was even toying with the idea of resigning from his post rather than sign on an approval," the letter said.

The activists said that on May 17, when Dave met with their delegation, "the 'Satyagraha' had thrown a challenge to the Indian regulators to engage with us in an open public debate, if they have science and science-based evidence to support their clearance of GM mustard with them".

"We also went to the ministry in a large delegation from different states of India, to communicate to the ministry that if GM mustard is not rejected soon, the government will have to face large resistance not only from ordinary citizens, but from state governments and other stakeholders," they said in the letter.

The activists said that Dave had also assured the delegation that he will work towards a comprehensive policy on GMOs in a manner that activists need not have to struggle on a case-by-case basis for each GMO and he would also take their concerns to the "right platform".

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