Human Rights

“Biotech Bill more draconian than TADA”

New Delhi: “We don't need a Bill that encourages free entry of GM (genetically modified) food into India, without ensuring health safety of the people,” said the General Secretary of Urdu Editors Guild, Asghar Ansari. The statement refers to the recent controversy on the entry of GM foods in India and the Bill on it to be introduced in Parliament. Asghar Ansari referred to the work done by Jairam Ramesh in putting moratorium on the introduction of BT Brinjal will go waste if the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill 2009' (BRAI) is passed by Parliament. The bill proposes to gag the media (Section 63) and this infringes upon the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech. The penalty for creating awareness (“misleading the public”) about the ill-effects of Genetically Modified issues may lead to an imprisonment, from a minimum of six months to a maximum of one year with a fine of 2 lakh rupees. The clauses of this bill are draconian and more stringent than even the repealed acts like POTA, TADA etc.

There is no provision for action against a GM company for concealment of facts (ill-effects) as it happened in case of tobacco in USA where courts fined heavily to the tune of US dollars 250 billion. Furthermore, the entire process and working of GM companies would be veiled under the clause of 'Confidential Commercial Information' (Sections 2 (h) and 27) which keeps the entire operation outside the purview of RTI Act. Unfortunately, the Gene terminator is used to terminate the germination quality of the seeds so that farmers have to buy new seeds every year. The terminated seeds of the GM crops are dumped into the soil for destruction. In the process gene terminator poisons the soil whose side effects may be known only years later.

A few years back, BT Cotton was introduced in India without thorough research and experimentation. Its negative fallouts are now being revealed in many places in Punjab, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Farm labourers who work as cotton pickers develop allergy and rash on their skins. It is high time to conduct a thorough investigation and contain the problem before it is unleashed on an ususpecting public.

GM crops should be introduced in our country only after proven tests and experiments. European countries have barrred USA companies from introducing GM crops. Here it is a fight between USA and Europe being fought on on our soil. Top scientists in India, USA and Europe have spoken against the effects of GM crops on human health and urged to conduct full and thorough investigations.  The nature of a welfare state should not be to gag people but to accommodate the voices of dissent and concern before framing up any public policy or bill.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2010 on page no. 11

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