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The current debate on GM crops in India is fragmented

Sachin Chaturvedi

With a recent statement in the Lok Sabha on the success of genetically modified crops, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar further polarised the ongoing debate on such crops in India. Though this was not the first time he has aired his views, the platform he chose further confused those trying to understand the eventual policy of the government. The regulation of GM crops is actually with the ministry of environment and forests, which appears dismissive of them. It does not seem to have made an effort to bring the regulatory apparatus (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, GEAC) back on track, which was thrown into disarray in 2010 when a moratorium on Bt Brinjal was announced by the current minister's predecessor, even though it had been approved by the GEAC. Moreover, the statement has come at a time when all eyes are on the Supreme Court, whose technical expert committee has submitted its report on whether field trials of GM crops can continue.

The current debate on GM crops in India is highly fragmented. Those of us that have been watching the GM debate for the last two decades-plus across different countries are no longer amused. It is quite possible to have different perspectives and ideas about new technologies. Some may oppose them due to apprehensions or reservations, while some may promote them with an eye towards the commercial opportunities they offer.

In his statement, Pawar left no stone unturned to establish the necessity and success of genetic modification. He articulated the Bt cotton success story and called for a "sensible approach" on GM crops. The very next day, certain civil society actors came up with counter-arguments. This is not so different from the debates on nuclear power plants and nano-materials, which only goes to show how urgently India needs to work on establishing a science-society dialogue, so we can rationally respond to technological solutions before the debates take the shape of an anti-technology movement.

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