The prime minister’s office has asked the government’s new economic think-tank, Niti Aayog, to help draft a policy on genetically modified (GM) crops, a move signalling the Centre’s willingness to settle the polarising issue, a person familiar with the development told HT.
Niti Aayog vice chairperson Arvind Panagariya held a round of discussions with GM crop developers, opponents, government scientists and farmers on June 3, against the backdrop of opposition from the RSS and its affiliates who say such technologies could destroy India’s agrarian sector.
“We hope a strong administrator like PM Narendra Modi can cut through the haze and take a tough stand. You can either take a hard decision or kill something by taking no action,” said Deepak Pental, a Delhi University professor and developer of a high-yielding GM mustard variety, who made a presentation before Panagariya.
“DMH-11 GM mustard has high yields. The government has spent Rs 70 crore to develop it. It can be of great benefit to farmers at a time when we import so much of expensive mustard oil.”
GM crops are grown from genetically-altered seeds for benefits ranging from resistance to pests, higher yields and even higher nutrients.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month came out in support of such crops, saying they can lead to a second green revolution, while he supported biotech cotton when he was chief minister of Gujarat for over a decade.
The Niti Aayog, which replaced the Soviet-influenced planning commission after the NDA government came to power, has a task force on agriculture headed by Panagariya.
The Indian-American economist did not respond to text messages from HT.
In her presentation, anti-GM advocate Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture highlighted findings of numerous panels, including a parliamentary committee, which have opposed GM technologies.
“We should not consider it until there is a complete regulatory overhaul. Don’t go for transgenic when alternatives are available. Every impact assessment should include not just bio-safety tests but also need assessment,” she said.
Sources said the consultations involved a raft of officials, including the secretaries of the agriculture and biotechnology ministries, the head of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the chief of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, a representative from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, among others.
A senior Niti Aayog source said the discussions were part of the mandate of a task force on agriculture which was examining the options of pushing up farm productivity.
The issue of whether to allow more GM crops, especially food varieties, has been a contentious subject. Anti-GM groups have taken the matter to the Supreme Court, while advocates say such technologies hold the key to the transformation of India’s low-productivity agricultural sector.
A prominent activist said the government itself appeared divided.
While ministers like agriculture’s Radha Mohan Singh and women and child development’s Maneka Gandhi have articulated their views against such technologies, environment minister Prakash Jadavekar has said he sees no harm in allowing trials of GM crops.
“How can you stop science?” Javadekar said to HT last year.