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GM panel member in conflict of interest row

Agriculture ministry didn't declare conflict in nomination of a scientist in SC committee, who has received money from major biotech companies. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: May 05, 2013 23:47 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Has the government mislead the Supreme Court in constitution of a court's committee on genetically modified (GM) crops?

Appears so, as one of the government nominees has a clear 'conflict of interest' in promoting GM crops as the organisations, he heads, has received money from multi-national biotech companies.

The agriculture ministry had nominated Rajendra Singh Paroda, former director general of Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IRAI), as member of Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee to submit a report on efficacy of GM crops in November 2012, in place of former planning commission member VL Chopra.

Paroda, a post doctorate in plant breeding and genetics from University of Wales, UK, was nominated as an independent expert on agriculture plant genetic resources as the ministry raised objection of absence of an agriculture scientist in the committee.

What the ministry failed to inform the court was Paroda's administrative role in two organizations, having received funding from biotech major Monsanto and its Indian associates for running different programmes. Monsanto was not available for comments.

Paroda did not react to emails send to his three different email addresses. His office confirmed to have received the emails from HT on Friday. "The questions have been shown to sir (Paroda)," his office said on Saturday.

Documents assessed by HT shows that Paroda heads Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Science (TAAS) on whose board is B R Barwale, chairperson of research foundation of one of the biggest GM companies in India Mahyco. Other board members include representatives of major seed companies in India.

He is also executive secretary of Asia Pacific Association for Agricultural Research Institutions (APARI) from 1993 onwards. The organisation's website shows that it has received funding from "Monsanto, Mahyco and Rockefeller Foundation" for various activities including use of "GM for sustainable agriculture."

Paroda had in his speeches at its steering committee meetings in different countries across Asia had appreciated the role of private GM companies in helping APARI and their funding for running its programmes. His association with the GM companies is said to be decades old.

His nomination is seen as the government's bid to push the agenda of private GM companies in the technical committee. It in its interim report earlier this year, when Paroda was not a member, had recommended ban on field trial of GM crops in India for 10 years.

The interim report had come as a huge setback to bio-tech industry and agriculture ministry, which poked holes in the report in its affidavit. The ministry also said the report was not balanced in absence of an expert on agriculture and plant genetic resources and nominated Paroda. The ministry failed to inform the court about Paroda's association with GM companies, a clear case of conflict of interest as per court's own rulings.

The government and the bio-tech industry believe that inclusion of Paroda in the committee can undo some of the damage done in the interim recommendations. The final report of the committee is expected next week when the Supreme Court would hear public interest litigation against GM crops.

Anti-GM activists now plan to lodge a format complaint with the Supreme Court against Paroda for failing to declare his conflict of interest. "We would send a petition to the court," an activist said.