|Indian NGOs Demand Withdrawal of National Biotech Policy (14/5/2005)
Civil Society groups demand the immediate withdrawal of National Biotechnology Development Strategy Paper
Hyderabad - May 14, 2005: On the eve of the deadline fixed by the Department of Biotechnology for receiving feedback from the public on the National Biotechnology Development Strategy paper, scores of farmer and agricultural worker organisations, leading environmental and sustainable agriculture activists and eminent citizens of the country today demanded that the draft policy be withdrawn immediately and extensive consultations put into place before coming up with a policy. They contend that the policy has been drafted without any participatory processes on an important issue like Biotechnology in Agriculture even as they object to the policy proposals for fast-track approvals for genetically engineered crops in the country, in violation of all known/expected accountability mechanisms and bio-safety concerns.
It seems that the Ministry of Science & Technology and the Department of Biotechnology have not taken any lessons from experiences and regulatory mechanisms in other countries or even the Bt Cotton fiasco within India. There is only talk about creating awareness about benefits of biotechnology. There is no acknowledgement that the debate on benefits and risks has not even begun in India. Until that is resolved with all stakeholders including primary stakeholders like farmers and consumers, how can a policy presume that biotechnology in agriculture is inevitable?, questioned Dr Devinder Sharma, noted agriculture policy analyst and Trustee, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA).
The DBT has evolved this policy draft based on the recommendations provided by the M S Swaminathan Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology and the Mashelkar Committee on biotechnology in the pharmaceutical sector. It is well known that these committees themselves have run very non-inclusive and questionable processes in coming up with their recommendations. The formulation of this policy is also illegitimate because there are existing legislations that govern biotechnology in agriculture with specified regulatory mechanisms and at least three Supreme Court cases examining issues of regulation and biosafety. The policy has serious implications for organic farmers of this country as well as trade prospects for all farmers of the country given the fact that genetic contamination is a distinct possibility in a country like India and given that co-existence of GE and non-GE crops is not possible.
Commenting on the content of the policy paper, Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, CSA, added, The whole policy is geared towards promoting more corporate control over Indian agriculture with Intellectual Property Rights and Biotechnology going hand in hand everywhere. It also has unscientific and dangerous propositions with regard to biosafety tests, in addition to proposals to further weaken regulation in this country by proposing single window clearances. In this country, accountability for failures in Bt Cotton has not yet been fixed even as thousands of farmers have suffered huge losses. Though failure has been largely reported from Andhra Pradesh, it is not as though problems are not present in other states too, as our fact finding missions have shown. It only shows that there is no monitoring in the other states. In such a situation, how can the DBT propose more unaccountable systems?. Commenting on the many incentives and promotional steps proposed in support of the biotechnology industry, he wondered whether the starting point of this policy was the industry, or the farmers and consumers of this country who would purportedly benefit from biotechnology.
Demanding that the Government of India withdraw the policy draft immediately and that the Department of Biotechnology initiate large scale, honest, genuinely participatory processes of consultation with primary stakeholders in the country farmers and consumers on whether Genetic Engineering is really needed in Indian agriculture before coming up with a policy that takes it as an inevitable and beneficial technology, more than hundred leading organisations and agencies of the country including farmers organisations have given their response on the biotechnology policy draft to the Minister for Science and Technology, Mr Kapil Sibal and Secretary, DBT, Mr S K Bhan. The signatories include biotechnologists and agricultural scientists, in addition to organic farmers and sustainable agriculture groups and environmental activists. Many large farmers organisations, including the Congress Party-affiliated Bharat Krishak Samaj has opposed the policy draft. The groups have warned that they will intensify their agitation through out the country, against the dangerous policy if it is not withdrawn immediately, to be replaced by widespread and honest consultations.
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