Advocate Prashant Bhushan sent a legal notice to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Harsh Vardhan on Sunday, alleging that the ministry’s 2010 order imposing a moratorium on the commercial planting of genetically modified brinjal is being flouted. According to Bhushan, Bt Brinjal is being grown illegally in a farm in Haryana since 2017-’18.
Bhushan also sent a copy of the notice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and all parliamentarians. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had issued an order banning cultivation of Bt Brinjal in 2010. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh was the environment minister at the time.
Environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court against genetically modified crops, called the alleged violation “the most serious breach of India’s biosafety, brinjal biodiversity and therefore, bio-security”.
“India has the greatest brinjal germplasm in the world with 2,500 varieties including wild species, which are now under threat of irreversible contamination because of cumulative acts over time of senseless and criminally irresponsible regulatory oversight,” she said. Bhushan called for an immediate “self-imposed” moratorium on the environmental release of any genetically modified organism, including in field testing, except for Bt cotton.
Meanwhile, a group of farm activists wrote to the environment ministry, demanding that the government hold officials of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee responsible for allegedly failing to implement decisions taken in 2010 regarding the confiscation of banned seeds, PTI reported. They said the crop developer should be held accountable for any illegal cultivation of Bt brinjal unless the presence of other illegal seed supply chains are established. The activists also asked the ministry to order state governments to conduct regularly investigate cultivation of brinjal.
The Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, an alliance of around 400 farm organisations, said samples picked from the field of a farmer in Haryana’s Fatehabad district last month had tested positive for the Bt Cry1Ac protein.
“We hope the government will not allow history of Bt Cotton to repeat in the country,” Kapil Shah, a member of a farm organisation called Jatan Trust, told The Times of India.
The Centre allowed more than 15 million tonnes of genetically modified soyabean and canola oils to be imported between 2012 and 2017 for human consumption, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has told the Supreme Court in response to Rodrigues’ petition.
The court is also hearing another plea by Rodrigues asking for a better regulatory regime and stricter tests for genetically modified crops.