Saying that the biotech bill is all "wrong and retrogressive", Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioning him not to introduce the "draconian" bill in Parliament.
In the letter dated March 11, of which IANS has a copy, the party's national secretary vehemently criticised the bill's main proposal to set up the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) under the ambit of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has drafted the bill.
"The bill that is now available in public domain is extremely retrogressive and poses serious questions on the very intentions behind the drafting of such a bill.... the proposed bill is flawed in many fundamental ways and should not even be mooted from the ministry that has drafted it at present and should not be tabled in Parliament," Raja said in the letter.
He denounced the bill's projection as a regulator of the GMO (genetically modified organisms) food and agriculture market saying that "the main mandate of a regulator should be to protect the health and environment of all Indians from the risks of this technology".
He asked why the regulator was instead being viewed as "an agency to stimulate public and private investment in Biotechnology" since "promotion can not be combined with regulation".
Raja said that such an authority should not function under the science and technology ministry but rather the environment ministry.
He added that the proposal that the BRAI "where decision making will be vested in the hands of just three individuals (technical experts)" was unacceptable.
The parliamentarian also sought to point out "draconian" proposals of the bill like bypassing the Right to Information legislation, the over-riding effect of this legislation on state governments and existing legislations like the Biological Diversity Act and the Environment Protection Act; as well as "attempts stifle the freedom of speech and expression by sections which seek to imprison and penalise critics and others".
"Such proposals are a reflection of the authoritarian and opaque mindsets of those who are promoting GM crops within and outside the government. Given the serious inadequacies and objections with this bill...I urge you not to allow anything mooted by the ministry of science and technology to be tabled in Parliament in the name of biotech regulation," Raja said.
Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had upheld the moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal siding with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh despite opposition from Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan after a stormy discussion on the matter.
According to a government spokesperson, at the meeting it was agreed that that biotechnology was an important option for higher agricultural productivity and ensuring food security.
"The government will soon be moving forward in setting up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, which will inspire confidence and stimulate public and private investment in biotechnology."
Minister Prithviraj Chavan had told the Rajya Sabha Thursday that the draft bill to establish the BRAI, proposed to be an autonomous and statutory agency to regulate the research, transport, import, manufacture and use of organisms and products of modern biotechnology, is currently "under review by a Committee of Secretaries".
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has, however, opposed the idea of setting up a biotech regulatory under the proposed bill calling it "deeply flawed" and "anti-democratic".