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‘Govt doesn’t listen to reason’

In three days, Nagpur will host a public meeting to gather views on allowing India’s first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, to reach our tables.

mumbai Updated: Jan 24, 2010 01:00 IST

In three days, Nagpur will host a public meeting to gather views on allowing India’s first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, to reach our tables.

Last year, the Genetic Engineering Approval Comm-ittee (GEAC) allowed commercial cultivation of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal — a transgenic variety created by inserting a gene to give the plant resistance to pests. But the controversy over health and safety issues led environment minister Jairam Ramesh to hold meetings with farmers and activists before the government takes a decision.

Snehal Rebello spoke to scientist PM Bhargava, the Supreme Court-appointed observer to the GEAC, after a French study and three international scientists termed Bt brinjal unsafe.

Nationwide public meetings are being held to take the opinion of all stakeholders. What do you expect will come from it?

I predict overwhelming opposition. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh is far too intelligent not to know that Bt brinjal is a disaster. But there is tremendous pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, agriculture ministry and ministry of science and technology. So through the public meetings, if 95 per cent disagree, he can force the government against it.

Can the outcome of these hearings influence the government’s decision?

The government does not listen to reason or its people. There is a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and multinational companies.

There’s been opposition in Kolkata, Bhubhaneshwar and Ahmedabad. What do you expect in Maharashtra?

People from Vidarbha, who will be worst affected, will be there. The failure of Bt Cotton has led to many suicides. In my interactions with stakeholders in some states, there has been only opposition.

Does India need Bt brinjal?

Absolutely not. We are over producing brinjal and there have been no brinjal farmer suicides. It’s also the lowest priced vegetable. Genetically modified brinjal is like buying a drug for Rs 50 that’s imported from the US rather than a 5 paise drug that’s made in India.

What are the issues surrounding its commercial cultivation?

It has not been adequately tested. Besides, consumers have the right to know what they are eating. India has no labelling laws to distinguish between Bt and non-Bt food. More importantly, Bt pollen can travel across 30 metres leading to contamination of non-Bt crops. What will marginal farmers be left with?

The pro-GM section says Bt brinjal will increase productivity…

That’s rubbish. There are other ways of controlling pests. Farmers can adopt integrated pest management technologies like the bio-pesticides promoted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Besides Bt brinjal trials for other vegetables are also underway.

Exactly! There are 10-12 vegetables in the pipeline. Once Bt brinjal gets approval, then others too will be approved. That will be a disaster.