Parliament panel seeks probe into Bt Brinjal

FP
A Parliamentary panel Thursday recommended a thorough probe into the controversy surrounding the approval given to Bt Brinjal and its subsequent withdrawal, saying it had found indications that the industry, a minister and the regulator for genetically engineered substances had colluded to push it in India.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had approved the commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal in late 2009 but the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a moratorium following protests by NGOs and environmentalists.

Relying on the testimony of P M Bhargava, the Supreme Court appointed nominee in the GEAC, the parliamentary committee has said that the co-chairman, GEAC, Arjula Reddy, "was under tremendous pressure as he was getting calls from industry, GEAC and from the Minister to approve Bt Brinjal". The panel has not named the minister.

Bhargava had made this claim on the basis of "the confession" made by Reddy to him, the panel has said. But Reddy denied this and said he never received any call from any minister. He said Bhargava had taken his conversation out of context.

"That's not correct," Reddy told The Indian Express. "My conversation has been put out of context.

I was under pressure to complete the report and not delay it. No minister or anybody else called me to give a favourable report."

The chairman of the panel, CPI (M) MP Basudeb Acharia, said that the committee had not verified Bhargava's claim with Reddy. "We relied on Bhargava," Acharia said. "We should have (verified)."

The panel has recommended a probe into the entire Bt Brinjal issue by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists. "Nothing can be more disconcerting to the committee than these goings on as they are not merely slippages due to oversight or human error but indicative of collusion of worst kind (sic)," the committee said.

The committee has suggested that the government go beyond the proposed Bio-technology Regulatory Authority mechanism and come out with an "all encompassing umbrella legislation on bio-safety" without any further delay to ensure bio-safety, biodiversity, human and livestock health, environmental protection.

In another suggestion, the committee has asked the government to immediately issue a regulation for labeling of genetically modified products.

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