NOTE: This is a first hand account of the extraordinary goings on last Wednesday in India's Supreme Court, when the bench lead by K G Balakrishnan, the Chief Justice of India, was supposed to be hearing the case for the Petitioners but something very different occurred. Thanks to Aruna Rodrigues, the Chief Petitioner, for this concise account.
As they say, 'Baby's day out' in the Supreme Court of India started at around 11.30 am on the 13th February 2008.
The Chief Justice of India believes strongly in the benefits of GM crops. He said 3 things during the first half hour of the proceedings, not allowing Counsel for the Petitioners, Prashant Bhushan to speak to present our Application, which was the Contempt Petition and the Rejoinder to the Respondents' Reply. We had also prepared what is called a 'Written Submission' which is a 'Brief' in one comprehensive volume, with all the relevant 'Annexures' of all the Applications that have been submitted since the filing of the Writ P, 4 years ago; (a précis of some 25 volumes). (No new stuff). This makes things infinitely more manageable in court.
The 3 things the Chief Justice of India's Supreme Court said are: (account is not verbatim)
(a) GM crops will help Indian agriculture because of the higher yields from these crops
(b) Therefore, such Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is impeding the Government's efforts to help Indian agriculture
(c) And words to the following effect: Who might these people be and this evidence that you are presenting? We don't know who these scientists are. We have to be very careful (true). What is the Salk Institute and who is this Prof David Schubert? Afterall, these people may well be attempting to block India's progress in agriculture by denying us the benefits of GM technology
Our response was that the credentials of all these scientists (4 main ones) were presented when the Writ Petition was filed in May of 2005 and we would be only too happy and able to provide every detail to the satisfaction of the hon'ble court. It apparently didn't occur to the Chief Justice to enquire about the credentials of the crop developers, led by Monsanto (Mahyco in India), who the GEAC (India's GM regulators) so zealously guard and promote.
Heavily interrupted at every point - this went on for perhaps a half hour, with the Chief Justice holding forth on the benefits of GM crops, Prashant was finally driven to respond sharply, as has been reported in the press. He said in effect that he would not present evidence in this Court, and invited their Lordships to give their judgement without hearing the Petitioners.
Prashant Bhushan bought us till 4pm. I have no doubt that otherwise, this PIL would have been terminated. The proceedings were a scandal with a line-up of advocates from the Respondents and crop developers completely disrupting Prashant Bhushan's arguments.
The final ORDER of the presence of Dr. PN Bhargava from our side and MS Swaminathan from the Union of India in the GEAC meetings as invitees, along with the formulation of BIOSAFETY GUIDELINES all of which, must be in place before the GEAC can give approvals for field trials, is important.
The next hearing is in April.