Massive conflicts of interest among Indian regulators (1/2/2007)

Some staggering stuff on conflicts of interest below. India's Ag Minister's son was said by farmer pressure group VJAS to have financial interests in a Bt cotton seed touting business before. Now we read:

EXTRACT: Dr C D Mayee's son, Dr Hrishikesh Mayee, is reported to have gotten married to the daughter of Mr Vijay Kashikar, a Director of Ankur Seeds on January 23 rd this year. Ankur Seeds is one of the Bt Cotton companies in India (reported to have a 300-crore turnover) which has been permitted by the GEAC to sell its genetically engineered seeds to the farmers.


February 1, 2007 : In the ongoing Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) filed by Aruna Rodrigues, Devinder Sharma, P V Satheesh and Rajeev Baruah, the next hearing is slated for 5th February. Yesterday's hearing had to postponed because the Union of India [India's central government] did not file their response and requested for a day's time. This is for your information.

As you are aware, the current issues before the Court in this case, (especially after the interim orders in September 2006 where the SC halted further GM field trial approvals in the country), are related to

* conflict of interest in the regulatory regime of the country & the need for a truly independent Ombudsman mandated to protect India's health and environment and

* the Delhi University's GM Mustard trial which was permitted on conditional grounds & the need to stop ALL field trials anywhere and everywhere in the country.

Below, CSA has put together some information (collected from personal contacts and through other reports) related to some of the regulators in GEAC and RCGM. We request the media to look into these matters and investigate further. Thanks.


How can we believe that Indian GM regulation is driven by farmers' interests?

A look at some of the people involved in GM regulation in the country does not give us much hope that farmers' interests would be the foremost when the apex regulatory body, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), supported by Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM in the DBT) takes major decisions related to irreversible agricultural technologies to be used in the country.

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture tried to compile some such information for the public to understand where they have placed their trust.

1. Dr C D Mayee Co-Chair of GEAC, nominee from DBT as per the reconstitution of GEAC that took place on January 25th 2007: Dr Charudatta Mayee, as reported in a leading national daily, is also a Board member of ISAAA an international network funded by biotech majors such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont and whose high-profile Board Members, past and present, include Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of the AusBiotech Alliance. In addition to the Rockefeller Foundation, its financial sponsors include Monsanto (USA), Syngenta (Swiss), Dow AgroSciences (USA), Pioneer Hi-Bred (USA), Cargill (USA), Bayer CropScience (Germany), and a mysterious "Anonymous Donor" (USA), and US-AID of the State Department.

Dr C D Mayee's son, Dr Hrishikesh Mayee, is reported to have gotten married to the daughter of Mr Vijay Kashikar, a Director of Ankur Seeds on January 23 rd this year. Ankur Seeds is one of the Bt Cotton companies in India (reported to have a 300-crore turnover) which has been permitted by the GEAC to sell its genetically engineered seeds to the farmers.

2. Dr Venugopal Earlier, a CICR-Coimbatore scientist who oversaw some field trials of certain Bt Cotton hybrids while with CICR [Central Institute for Cotton Research]. Now with Rasi Seeds, which has a growing market of Bt Cotton hybrids in India.

3. Dr T V Ramanaiah, Ex-Member-Secretary, Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation [RCGM], Department of Biotechnology: The person known for the many approvals he had personally given as Member-Secretary of RCGM to the hundreds of GM crop field trials that have happened in India so far (some of the hurried approvals for the scores of trials permitted had their share of "cut & paste" mistakes too!) has quit his post in the DBT and has joined Pioneer HiBred International (a subsidiary of DuPont) as their 'Biotech Regulatory Affairs Manager' (as per a phone call to PHI). He is further named as a Spokesperson of the All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) [as confirmed by a phone call to AICBA], an industry body consisting of several companies as its members ones that have approved Bt Cotton varieties and other GE crops in the pipeline. This technocrat reported in a national business daily (Business Standard in November 2006, when violations from field trials were being reported including the fact that trials were taking place without the knowledge of trial farmers), to have said "As for informing farmers, how do you expect every farmer to be told about the various experiments that are being done?". The story goes on to quote RCGM authorities, presumably Dr Ramanaiah who is quoted extensively in the story as the RCGM voice,: "University of Hissar …. know it rather than telling hundreds of farmers about things they will not understand. ''

4. Dr Deepak Penthal: promoter of the controversial GM Mustard variety which has been permitted for trials by the Supreme Court in the ongoing Public Interest Litigation, on a conditional basis. He is also the Chairperson of a 12-member Expert Committee set up by the GEAC to look into the public feedback received on Mahyco's Bt Brinjal.

Meanwhile, a closer look at the 30-member GEAC reveals more conflict of interest and questionable "independent" expertise. While their expertise may not be in doubt here, the 'independent' status alluded to is worth looking at.

Other members in the GEAC :

Dr Akhilesh Tyagi UDSC (University of Delhi, South Campus) is shown as an Independent Expert whereas the Vice Chancellor himself is clearly a GM crop developer, walking up to the GEAC and the SC for approvals on behalf of the institution. Similarly, Prof A N Maitra, Dept. Of Chemistry, Delhi University is listed as an Independent Expert.

Dr B M Khadi, Director of CICR is shown as an Independent Expert, when CICR is busy trying to get approvals for its GM cotton varieties from the GEAC!

ICGEB (International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology) is a GM crop developer for GM cotton, GM Rice and GM Tobacco, as per DBT's reports in 2003 about GE crops in the pipeline (as reported by the USDA's GAIN report No. IN3125 in December 2003). The Director of ICGEB, Dr V S Chauhan is listed as an Independent Member of the GEAC!

Dr P Anand Kumar of National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, (NRCPB), Indian Agricultural Research Institute is also listed as an Independent Expert. IARI incidentally is into developing Bt Brinjal, GM Mustard, GM Pigeonpea (2003), GM Tobacco (2003), GM Tomato (2003), GM Cauliflower (2003), GM Cabbage (2003) and GM Rice. [ http://www.iari.res.in/divisions/biotechnology/ has more information on the projects that Dr Anand Kumar has handled]

Dr Rakesh Tuli of National Botanical Research Institute is also a regulator listed under "Nominees of Scientific Institutions" in the re-constituted GEAC list. Dr Tuli is also well-known for providing Bt genes to various institutions and companies for their transgenic crop development.

The GEAC itself saw many Chairpersons change over the past few years including some periods when there was no Chairperson in place. The following is the list of Chairpersons who came in and went out since 2002:

A M Gokhale, 2002, when the first Bt Cotton hybrids were allowed for commercial cultivation; his exit happened soon after rejection of possibly-Starlink-contaminated food aid consignments from the USA; Sushma Chowdhary - 2003; V K Duggal came in mid-year 2003; Meena Gupta, around November 2003, after a gap without a Chair; Bina Chotray, in 2004; Suresh Chandra, from December 2004; No Chairperson during November 2005-January 2006; Bir Singh Parsheera, from February 2006.

GEAC also does not have a set date for its meetings nor a quorum of members required for its decision-making. Given that only a small set of people seem to be appearing for the meetings for reasons and interests of their own, it is very hard to believe that decision-making in the apex regulatory body will actually ensure biosafety and the best interests of farmers and consumers in the country.

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