India - NBA chairman in eye of storm (3/2/2008)

1.NBA chairman in the eye of a storm
2.Report of the protest meeting in response to NBA Chief
1.NBA chairman in the eye of a storm
Narendra Ch
Merinews, 3 February 2008

*Activists from grassroots organisations demanded withdrawal of biased and anti-conservation public statements of the chairman supporting GE of the Biological Diversity Act. If not, he should resign.*

THE NATIONAL Biodiversity Authority (NBA) chairman Dr S Kannaiyan is in the eye of a storm. Many prominent activists from grassroots organisations are seeing red. They demanded immediate withdrawal of highly biased and anti-conservation public statements of Dr Kannaiyan.
He supported genetic engineering (GE) and invoked Section 36.4 (ii) of the Biological Diversity Act (BDA).
In an open letter to the chairman they expressed shock about his comments made at the national seminar on 'Biodiversity, Bio-resources and Biotechnology for Sustainable Livelihood of the Rural Community,' held at Chennai last week.
They said that several newspapers quoted him saying, 'Genetically modified crops were the only answer to increase the production and productivity and to solve malnutrition problem in the country. I am surprised to note that many non-governmental organisations are shouting from rooftops against the introduction of GM crops. They are either ignorant about the ground realities or have some ulterior motive.'
The organisations expressed concern that these comments were made by him in his official capacity as the chairman of the NBA. This body has a critical role in the conservation of biological diversity, protection of people’s resources and knowledge to feed and heal them in ecologically benign and culturally appropriate ways.
They recalled that the very provision of the BDA acknowledges the potential hazards of genetically modified organisms. Section 36.4 (ii) of the Biological Diversity Act 2002, states, 'The central government shall undertake measures to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology likely to have adverse impact on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and human health.'
As one of the key custodians of this law, they said, he ought to be advising the central government on prevention of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as a precautionary measure rather than risk the rich and mega-diverse biodiversity of India and with it, the culture and livelihoods of millions of people.
Simply put GE is antithetical to diversity and not only perpetuates monocultures, but also unleashes non-tested unnatural products that could cause genetic pollution, also compromising the food sovereignty of our people with increasing dependencies on corporate-sponsored 'science', they alleged.
If it is the promotion of GE that is on the agenda of the apex body whose role is for the conservation and sustainable use, then it does not leave communities and people’s movements with much faith in the institution. It is not clear by what authority, in what capacity and with what evidence he has to conclude that GM crops are the only solution, they added.
They said that his statements had also confirmed civil society's apprehensions in registering biodiversity management committees (BMCs) and making peoples' biodiversity registers (PBRs). With this approach, they deplored that the network of BMCs would be used to market GM crops into an already destroyed farming sector, overriding existing diversity in knowledge and resources.
With his lack of confidence in his own people’s ways, they said that they do not think he could expect a reciprocal treatment. So, they urged him to withdraw his highly biased statements immediately. These are unscientific and deeply disrespectful of our people’s customs, traditions and practices. He should render an unconditional apology to all the activists who are tirelessly struggling for an objective and independent assessment of genetic engineering in agriculture.
They also demanded to immediately invoke the spirit of clause Section 36.4 (ii) and immediately put a stay on grant of clearances for field trials and use of GE crops, as a precautionary conservation measure. If the above is not acceptable, they advised him to resign from the post of NBA chairperson, as people have lost their faith in the office whose bias is clearly supporting and safeguarding ideologies, which are inherently against conservation.
The organisations signed on the letter are: Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh - Pune, Maharashtra; Devinder Sharma Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security - New Delhi, Kanchi Kohli Kalpavriksh - Delhi, Kavitha Kuruganti and GV Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture – Karnataka, PV Satheesh, Deccan Development Society - Andhra Pradesh, Shalini Bhutani, GRAIN – Delhi, Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Thanal - Kerala and Bharat Mansata, Earthcare Books.
They have marked copies of their letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ministry of Environment and Forests Secretary, Meena Gupta.
2.Report of the protest meeting in response to NBA Chief for his irresponsible speech defending GM crops

Deccan Development Society, 28 January 2008     

Venue: Opposite to Chennai Collectorate

Participants: Around 150 people representing SAGE TN partners, Consumer organizations, NGOs, Farmers movements and political party leaders.

Organized by: SAGE TN Chapter


This protest meeting to condemn Prof. Kannaiyan, NBA (National Biodiversity Authority) was organized in response to his irresponsible speech defending GM crops when inaugurating a seminar on bio diversity, bio resources, bio technology and sustainable livelihood of the rural communities organized by Loyola College, Chennai on 18th January 2008. His speech was not only defending GM crops for future food production for the increasing population but also criticized those who oppose GM in a provoking words. To oppose his misleading and arrogant speech SAGE TN Chapter in collaboration with other NGOs, farmers movement and consumer movements organized this protest meeting demanding his immediate resignation from the chair of NBA.

The protest meeting was started with a slogans condemning the NBA chief speech, demanding an apology to farmers and immediate resignation of his post.  After the slogans, Dr. G. Nammalvar, President of Tamil Nadu Organic Agriculturalist Movement and the member of SAGE TN Chapter explained the objective of this protest to the media gathered there.  In his speech he explained the media about how the chemical farming destroyed our rich bio diversity in the last 40 years in the name of Green Revolution and how our fore fathers conserved our bio diversity for centuries with their practical knowledge, the emerging threats to bio diversity through the introduction of Genetically Engineered Seeds and technologies and the background in which the Convention of Biological Diversity was organized and the birth of National Biodiversity Authority in India. 

He also questioned why the custodian of Bio diversity to defend a technology which is totally unnatural, unethical, a bigger threat to our existing bio diversity and inducing genetic pollution.  He also showed evidences to the press that the objectives  of State Bio diversity Board mentioned in the handbook released by State Bio diversity Board of Kerala that on one of its objective is very clearly mentioned to conserve our already lost bio diversity from the threats of GM crops, the article 8 of Convention on Biological Diversity and the FAO document of “Organic farming can feed the World” and questioned the press who is ignorant about the ground realities? He also quoted examples and evidences of several states in India declaring Chemical free and GM free states and how persons like Prof. Kannaiyan working for the corporate interest to kill and destroy our bio diversity holding NBA chair and enjoying salaries from our people money and concluded that this protest demands his immediate resignation.

Print and Visual Media largely gathered during the press brief.  Television channels like Doordharsan, Sun TV, Makkal TV, Jaya TV and Tamilan TV are the prominent ones covered the protest meeting and press briefing.  The coverage was immediately telecasted in all the channels on the same day and repeatedly telecasted in the news channels. All most all the print media attended the press brief and they were given with press release of our strong responses to Prof. Kannaiyan’s irresponsible speech on the other day.

After the press briefing the protest meeting was started with other noted personalities who have come to support.  Leaders from political parties started to speak.  Mr. Esakimuthu, representing All India Muvendar Munnetra Kalagam have heavily condemned the speech of Prof. Kannaiyan holding responsible post for his irresponsible speech.  He also demanded his resignation from the post and extended his party’s support in future course of action.

Mr. Shake Dawood, representing Tamil Manila Muslim League supported the efforts taken by SAGE in its campaign against Genetic Engineering.  He recalled the meeting organized by SAGE for the political parties which has enlightened his knowledge on how the GM technologies destroyed our farming knowledge and bio diversity.  He condemned Prof. Kannaiyan for his arrogant words against NGOs and farmers movements who are working for the welfare of farming communities.  He added that farmers not studied bio diversity in papers but they are living with bio diversity, enjoying and experiencing with bio diversity and its contribution to their farming on each and every day.  He also supported SAGE efforts and expressed his well wishes for the success of SAGE in its struggle against GE.

Mr. Kannan, representing farmers wing of Bharathiya Janatha Party supported this protest on behalf of his party.  He added that it is our collective responsibility to show our opposition immediately and condemn his irresponsible statement.  This meeting has definitely and clear message to persons like Prof. Kannaiyan that the citizens will react if anything we spoke against the interest of the people.

Mr. Vettavalam Manikandan, representing Ahila India Uzhavar Uzhaipalar Katchi, a farmer's party came down heavily on Prof. Kannaiyan for his speech.  He pointed out that Prof. Kannaiyan has no right to talk about GMO and there is no mandate for him to do so.  He also questioned how Prof. Kannaiyan making a statement that those who are opposing GM are ignorant about the ground realities. Here most of the political parties in Tamil Nadu took an anti-GM stand.  Does Prof. Kannaiyan think that those parties also ignorant about ground realities.  Farmers are the one living with soil for centuries and have the practical knowledge thousand times more than the so-called scientist. It is a fate in this country that persons those who are threatening our farming are placed as Chairman of Farmers Commission and those who are threatening our bio-diversity are placed as custodian for our bio-diversity. He also announced that his party will observe a black flag protest when Prof. Kannaiyan’s visit schedule on 2nd weed of February to his own district Thiruvannamalai

Ms. Ponnuthayee, representing Women’s Collective of Chennai also spoke on the occasion. She compared the knowledge of village women in seed selection, preservation and storage with the knowledge of the so-called scientist and persons like Prof. Kannaiyan. She also condemned his speech that undermines the knowledge of farmers by defending GM crops. She also demanded his immediate resignation otherwise Women’s Collectives will host a district level protest meeting.

Mr. Oswald Quintal, the Joint Convenor of Tamil Nadu – TN Chapter also condemned him for his speech.  A person holding an important position, representing a large section of people, especially related with our bio diversity should speak in a responsible manner. He should set an example by stepping down from his post for the mistake he committed and it will be a lesson for others also.

Mr. Jayaraman, FEDCOT, Mr. M.P. Venkatakrishnan, Milk Producers corporation, and a representative from Rajivi Congress also spoke on the occasion were also spoke on the occasion and heavily condemned his speech. The reply letter demanding his resignation prepared by SAGE – TN was also signed and sent to Prof. Kannaiyan. The protest meeting was concluded with the vote of thanks by Mr. K.Suresh Kanna.

Note: Women's Collective will send the photos by mail and press clippings to DDS

Report Prepared by: K.Suresh Kanna.

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