A billion-dollar perception battle over genetically modified (GM) crops is now down to the wire, as opponents clash not just in the courts, but also at public forums, in the media and the internet.
The knives came out after a top parliamentary panel recommended GM crops to be packed off. Then, a Supreme Court-appointed experts' panel suggested stopping field tests for 10 years. The court on Friday deferred a decision.
The spat is now a raging national debate. There are no fence sitters and the divide runs right through. The Centre has argued in court that India cannot close the GM option because of food security concerns. In February, the PM had said India's food output must grow 2% every year to match demand."This is a survival battle now," Ram Kaundinya, who heads the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG), said.
Government scientists are stepping in because public sector GM is bigger at Rs. 1,000 crore worth of R&D, compared to the private sector's Rs. 500 crore. The agriculture ministry has asked them to robustly defend GM technology.
Anti-GM movement in India is led by organisations, such as Gene Campaign and Greenpeace. Others who oppose see GM as being led by pushy MNCs.
It's a do or die.
So, ABLE-AG is summoning some global help. It had Prof Shanthu Shantharam of Iowa State University, a pro-GM scientist who served on the US's biotech regulator, signing off on a fresh petition. Oxford University's Chris Leaver, among others, is also being pressed.
Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner against GM crops, had invited four top foreign scientists to take on GM advocacy, including Prof Jack Heinemann.
Both sides are lobbying hard with politicians and even the media.
In separate mails to HT, Devadoss Valter, claiming to be a farmer leader from Tamil Nadu, opposed a GM ban, while, in a release from "Coalition for a GM-Free India", Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, supported it.
Six weeks from now, when the court hears the issue afresh, a historic order could be passed.