field trials of gm crops and the brai bill

gmcrops

Picture courtesy: http://www.ekalavvya.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/gmcrops.jpg

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY AYUSHI RAGHUWANSHI, A STUDENT OF NALSAR UNIVERSITY OF LAW.

INTRODUCTION

WHAT ARE GM CROPS?

GM or Genetically modified crops are artificially engineered crops which undergo certain gene modifications in order to get desired traits which do not occur naturally in the crop. Such traits include resistance to certain pests, diseases or environment conditions, reduction of spoilage, resistance to chemical treatments etc. GM crops under experimental development are modified with such traits as are beneficial to farmers, consumers and seed industry.

WHY IS THE ISSUE OF FIELD TRIALS OF GM CROPS SIGNIFICANT?

India is an agrarian economy and agriculture has significant contribution in the GDP of the country. India ranks second in terms of farm produce and a huge proportion of India’s population is involved in the farming activity. So any change, be it natural or scientific, in the farming culture is likely to have an enormous effect on the farmers and as a result on the entire country. When the issue of GM crops arises it becomes necessary that the farmers get to decide what they want to reap through the hard work they do on fields.

 The field trial of a GM crop is done in order to assess the viability of the crop and it precedes the commercialization of the crop. Also the issue is relevant in context of contemporary India as the GEAC (genetic engineering approval committee) has recommended the field trials of food crops like wheat, maize ,rice etc with the advent of new government.1

BRAI (BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATORY AUTHORITY BILL) 2014

The BRAI bill seeks to create a single window mechanism for the clearance of GM crops .The single window mechanism may lower the bar for the assessment of the GM crops making their advent easier. This legislation awaits nod from the upper house of the parliament. The newspaper coverage of the bill is satisfactory and is based on the critical analysis of the need and efficacy of such a bill. The BRAI bill is also shown as the bone of contention between the opposing parties in the parliament. But the bill is not very closely studied in a manner that it reaches the farmers and let them contemplate on its pros and cons.

It is not only sufficient that we look at law as it is given by the legislative authority. We should also look at the power dynamics that play out in the making of this law. The BRAI bill has given out the mechanism but if we look at it as it is in the book, we would be ignoring its influence on the lives of the people whose experience of law has been as an instrument of suppression. We should develop a critical lens in examining or evaluating the implications of a law.

   FOOD SECURITY AND GM CROPS

With the advent of the national food security act 2013 it has become the prerogative of the state to ensure food security and in this context the debate over the use of GM crops become even more contentious and open to scrutiny. The question arises whether GM crops can improve the implementation of the scheme or are they just not required? 2

  AIM OF THE ANALYSIS

Through my analysis I would like to showcase the political influences which have led to the recommendation of field trials of GM crops and how the passage of the BRAI bill has been influenced by the biases of the people involved in the framing and tabling of such a bill and the media coverage of the same. The aim is also to determine how the media is responsible in framing the public discussion on the issue. The researcher has used the reports from newspapers like The Hindu, The times of India, DNA etc.

ANALYSIS

The government in power (BJP) had in its election manifesto promised that it would not support the field trials of GM crops. Yet just after a few days in power it has shown unprecedented haste in working the issue of field trials of GM crops, instead pushing for the field trials.3 the progressive newspapers like THE HINDU have very well portrayed the BJP vs congress tug of war over the GM issue but the reason for such a political action is not depicted in the newspapers. The bigger political influence is never brought to light and hence it escapes the public discussion on the issue.

The bigger political issue relates to the monopolizing rule of MONSANTO in the vast domain of GM crops production.4 Monsanto is an agrochemical company based in the U.S.A.IT funds the presidential elections in the country thereby becoming a private player in the governance of the country. In India also MONSANTO is the controlling authority behind the Bt cotton and it is shaping the agricultural policy and influencing the paradigm of funding agricultural research in public universities and institutions.”It’s practice and colonization of institutions has led to the company being called as the “contemporary east India company “.5  When a country as powerful as America can be influenced by private firms like MONSANTO ,it is unreasonable to doubt that it(monsanto) is influential in Indian politics.

The regional newspapers are scarcely exposing the role of MONSANTO in the field trials controversy in India this has led to the debate being centered only around issues of environment, science and government policies on the GM crops.

The BRAI bill which has been tabled to remove the hurdles in the introduction of GM crops and lessen them to an extent has been in consonance with the MONSANTO protection act enacted in the USA. The overarching aim of both these laws is to make the process of allowing the GM seeds easier and quicker. While this law claims to be objective and neutral in its outlook, it is actually being made by incorporating the biases and prejudices of a lot of persons involved in the decision making process. This favoring of the law of one kind of dominant discourse which in turn is favoring a particular set of institutions and ideas, can be remedied to an extent by the conscious acknowledgement of the law makers of the private opinions and vested interests that go into the making of the law.

The BRAI bill seeks to establish an independent regulatory authority to regulate, research, import, transport, environmental release and sale of biotechnology products.6

The bill is critiqued from various sections because it restricts the use of RTI in knowing about the GM crops. Also the role of the states is restricted because they will only have advisory role now and they would not be allowed to refuse permitting a particular GMO. Now it is of significance to look at why it happened (which is missing in the newspapers) that such a bill is passed which prima facie seems working against the mandate of protecting the environment.

“The need to curb transparency and accountability arises only when something dangerous has to be kept hidden from the public sphere”. 8

.The government in power nodded for the field trials of GMO’s by the 7 states (West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar etc.). There was a refusal on behalf of the state governments to do so. The only option left was to bulldoze the public resistance on the issue through a legal mechanism. The introduction of the bill was done by the department of science and technology which is a promoter of the genetic technology. It is contended that either the ministry of health and family or the ministry of environment and forest should have tabled the bill. This again creates doubts about its validity and neutrality. This shows us that the critique of the idealized decision making process should be thought of not only as the critique of the judgments of courts but also as that of the laws made by the parliament.

“The separation of law from politics is accomplished and ensured by asserting its subservience to constitution, statutes and precedents, the quasi- scientific and objective nature of legal analysis and the technical expertise of lawyers and judges.”7 In this case, the scientific objective of the GM crops claimed by the group of experts that constituted the committee to recommend the tabling of this bill has been an instrument in separating politics from law. And once the law is attributed this unbiased unpolitical charisma its passage become easy and the legal backing and authority asserts its validity. In this process law has proved to be true the scientificity of GM crops while accrediting itself with doing good. Even the critical views on law which talk about it being very rigid or influenced by the ideas of the special few are seen as aberrations from the law rather than its inherent characteristics. The problem that still persists is that the people are not able look at the law from a different perspective due to the lack of proper information of the same. The newspapers    become mouthpieces of a particular ideology or an institution (like Monsanto) and by that very action let the evil go scot free not getting public glare and aggression. The newspapers in this way have refrained from imparting the due legal literacy about the issue. The bill is hardly debated in the editorial column and the only idea that the people have of the bill is that it’s something related to science and gm and hence not very significant. For the people to critique the bill it is required that they sufficiently know about it through media sources like newspapers.

FARMERS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

“Social justice is the ability the people have to realize their potential in the society.”

When we talk about farmers while contemplating the idea of social justice, it becomes necessary to associate their potential realization to agriculture. It is when the farmers have free choice to decide the types of seeds to be grown that they can realize their potential in the society. So if the public debate on field trials of GM crops does not include the galore of voices of the farmers on this issue the very core of the debate enfeebles and moves away from the realization of social justice.

It is evident from the newspaper reports that the government has been the focus point of the debate over the GM issue. The times of India reported that the government will take the issues of judicial safeguards and processes-into account before approving the GM crops.7This again shows the indifference shown to the farmers and their voices.

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CONCLUSION

The depiction of the whole debate of the field trials of the GM crops in the newspapers suffers from various shortcomings. Firstly, politicians are quoted more than the whole lot of people whose fate depend on the  outcome of the debate (farmers and people).This makes the fact of GM crops creeping into the Indian soil more digestible for the people whole could not associate the issue with the life of farmers and their own futures.

Secondly, The advocates of anti-GMO’s need to aggressively reach out to the widely circulated dailies like Dainik Bhaskar(other major newspapers which reach the highest number of people) in order to become the quoted authorities on whom the masses can depend to frame their opinions and discussions on a particular issue .

Thirdly, there is a need of better legislation in matters like field trials of GM because when one talks about GM crops law is not a near proximity. Law should be the command that gets to decide the future of agriculture and the rules should be made by those who will be affected.

 The newspapers should live up to the name used for them – the fourth pillar of democracy. We should discourage the newspaper ownership by people who have political affiliations. This, most probably, would lead to biased and colored news which. It is only when people are given an opportunity to look at the news critically will they be able to take an informed and appropriate choices.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ENDNOTES

1MEENA MENON, GEAC CLEARS FIELD TRIALS FOR GM CROPS, THE HINDU, JULY18, 2014.

 2PANKAJ PATHAK ,NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT 2014 ,THE TIMES OF INDIA, MAY 11, 2014.

3XIOUZHI LIM, INDIAN BIOTECH REGULATOR APPROVE FIELD TRIALS FOR 15 GM CROPS,DRAWS BRUSH HAIR CRITICISM (AUG 11,2014).

5KAMLAKAR DUVVURU, MONSANTO A CONTEMPORAARY EAST INDIA COMPANY, AND CORPORATE KNOWLEDGE IN INDIA,(AUG 11 2014 10;04AM)http;//dissidentvoice.org/2009/07monsanto-a-contemporary-east-india-company-and-corporate-knowledge-in-india/.

6http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-biotechnology-regulatory-authority-of-india-bill-2013-2709/

7 Devender Sharma, India seeks jail for GM food critics, feb 19,  http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/02/india-seeks-jail-for-gm-food-critics.html

8DAVID KAIRYS ,THE POLITICS OF LAW:A PROGRESSIVE CRITIQUE(3rd ed, BASICBOOKS, USA, 1990)

9JOHN RAWLS, A THEORY OF JUSTICE (1971) AND A SWIFT POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY(3RD EDN 2013)C

10VISHWA MOHAN, GOVERNMENT DROPS ENOUGH HINT TO ALLOW CONFINED FIELD TRIALS OF GM CROPS, 6 AUG 2014.

 

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