Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears keen on genetically modified (GM) mustard if it is found to be foolproof, despite opposition from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent.
At a meeting held in August, Modi had called upon three cabinet ministers and four top bureaucrats to carry out a thorough and speedy assessment of GM mustard. Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, environment minister Anil Dave, science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan and the secretaries of these ministries had attended the meeting, two sources have told HT.
Modi watched a presentation by the biotechnology department on GM mustard and then got a lowdown from Prof Deepak Pental – the lead scientist behind the project.
Analysts view this as a sign that Modi favours GM technology as a policy option in agriculture.
If the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee – India’s biotech regulator – clears GM mustard developed by Delhi University scientists, Modi will have to decide whether he should defy the RSS by approving a GM food crop for commercialisation.
In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP had said GM crops would not be allowed without a study of its “long-term” effects.
India wants to raise its oilseed output because it spends over Rs 65,000 crore annually on importing cooking oil, an item that stokes inflation. A GM crop is one in which a gene is altered for newer traits, such as high yield and pest resistance.
“The PM has talked about harnessing technology in every field, including GM crops, to double farmers’ income by 2022,” said Bhagirath Choudhary of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre, a pro-GM outfit.
However, the RSS and anti-GM groups argue that GM crops pose environmental and health risks. “GM is not acceptable,” Ashwini Mahajan, leader of the RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch, told HT. “We provided proof to the Prime Minister that GM mustard is neither indigenous nor capable of providing high yields. It will ultimately benefit multinationals like Bayer.”
However, Pental said he held the patent for the technology, and claimed his variety had over 30% higher yields.
Hearing an application filed in an ongoing case by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, the Supreme Court on Saturday asked the government to not release GM mustard till October 17, and seek public opinion before making a decision.