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Jairam to Bt Brinjal protester: Seek mental help

Heckled for being "Hitler-like" at the public hearing on Bt Brinjal issue, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh today lost his cool asking a protestor who accused him of being an agent of a leading biotech firm to seek mental help.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2010 19:01 IST

Chaos, anger, repartees and some scientific reasoning marked the seventh public hearing on Bt Brinjal in Bangalore with Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh facing attacks from groups supporting and opposing the crop variety, prompting him to hit back at them.

The minister, at the receiving end with NGOS, farmers, doctors and scientists making out a case for and against commercialisation of Bt Brinjal, countered some detractors, shouting "I will not listen to you".

The three-and-half-hour debate saw the minister lose his cool when he was accused by one of the participants of being an "agent" of biotech firm Monsanto.

"I am not a Monsanto agent", a livid Ramesh snapped. "You need help", he said apparently indicating that the participant was mentally unsound.

As the debate here saw decibel levels rise, the Minister tried to use his authority to bring in some discipline and some time turned to humour to calm down an agitated voice. "This not the Parliament", he told a participant who tried to yell to be heard above the din and spoke out of turn.

"They must stop telecasting parliamentary proceedings... This is highly infectious," Ramesh said even as the participants yelled to have their voices heard.

To an allegation that he was in the loop of the pro-GM lobby and a gazette notification proved it, he yelled, "I will not tolerate wild allegations". An angry Ramesh made frantic calls to his department to have some clarity on the notification.

Dismissing as far-fetched the conspiracy angle of his involvement, Ramesh said the gazette only stated that the listed commodities could be exported without permission from the National Bio Diversity Authorities and was in no way connected to GM crops.

However, he said he would look into the notification and would withdraw it if it was in any way found to be connected to genetically modified crops.

He said "false rumours" were being spread and the actual issue was being hijacked by throwing in "conspiracy angles". "I want scientific contributions, not political contributions", he admonished a member trying to make a point.

Despite being booed as being "Hitler-like" when he refused to hear some of the points, he said he had been "patient" and had been "fair and democratic" while eliciting opinions.

When a scientist stated that when farmers had accepted mobile and other technology why were they refusing to accept BT Brinjal, he told him: "I am sorry a scientist has spoken so. I apologise to all of you. Science should not teach you arrogance. I am trying to find a middle path between anti-democratic nature of NGOs and arrogance of scientist," he said amid applause.

The debate also took a linguistic turn when a group objected to a scientist airing his views in English and not Tamil, raising a counter-protest from Kannadigas.

Former prime minister Deve Gowda, who was also present at the meeting, praised Ramesh for holding the public consultation and raised doubts over safety of GM crops and whom it would benefit.

While some farmers during the debate argued that introduction of BT brinjal would impact lifespan and would result in multinationals monopolising the scenario, others said it would help in doubling yield and economic gains.

Some of the scientists questioned the long term implication and expressed fears of contamination through cross pollination, others clearly questioned why India was being used for experimentation.

Ramesh, who had earlier said that a decision on introduction of BT brinjal would be taken by February 10, said it would attempt to balance science and community. "I cannot ignore public opinion. I have to walk a line between science and society."

Asserting that there was no pressure on him, he said the decision would be fair one. "It might make 50 per cent happy, 50 per cent unhappy. It is not going to be an easy decision to take. It will set the pattern for future decisions for food crops, so I have to be careful."

He said he had received letters from the chief ministers of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh opposing Bt Brinjal. The Tamil Nadu chief secretary had orally communicated similar view, he said, adding that he is was yet to hear from Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat.

Ramesh said he so far had seven consultations with 8,000 people, received letters and written to various scientists, governments, farmers, NGOs and other organisations.