The war within the government over future of the Genetically Modified (GM) crops is getting bitter with environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan raising the issue of "conflict of interest" in constitution of a new empowered Group of Ministers (eGOM) on GM crops under agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
Scientific temper in sector of GM crops had apparently slowed down since former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on India's first engineered food crop - BT Brinjal - in 2010. The subsequent condition of not granting approval for field trials without a no-objection certificate from the states where the trials have to take place was said to be another reason.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had supported GM crops. He, in January, had said complex issues such as GM food or nuclear energy could not be settled by faith, emotion and fear. A scientific approach and understanding of these issues was as vital as core scientific capabilities, the PM had said.
Keeping in line with the PM's approach, the government initiated a process to constitute a panel of ministers that has power to decide on behalf of Cabinet.
The government wanted to make agriculture minister Sharad Pawar the panel head since it wanted a person, who understands dire consequences of India's food security and knows technological solutions for the same, in that post.
Natarajan apparently stonewalled the move by raising "conflict of interest". Without naming Pawar, the minister apparently asked the Prime Minister's Office not to nominate a person who favours GM crops.
A senior ministry functionary said as the (agriculture) minister had publicly advocated for promoting technology in India, there would be a bias in favour of GM crops if he was made the chairperson of the panel.
Natarajan wants a minister, who has no association with GM crops or the multi-national companies, to head the eGOM.