India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. He is trying to cover-up the lapses on the part of GEAC in according environment clearance to India's first genetically modified food crop -- Bt brinjal
In what appears to be a massive cover-up operation for the scientific swindle perpetrated in the case of the controversial approval granted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to India's first poisonous food crop -- Bt brinjal, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is now trying to legitimise the fraud.
By announcing a series of stakeholder consultations at 7 locations across the country, Jairam Ramesh is simply trying to deflect attention from the more pressing need to open up the fraudulent manner in which the GEAC granted approval to Bt brinjal. By holding stakeholder consultations, he is deliberately trying to bury the scandal.
A news report in Business Standard (Ramesh to begin talks on Bt brinjal in January: http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/ramesh-to-begin-talksbt-brinjal-in-january/381153/) says, and I quote: During his month-long tour, Ramesh would seek views from scientists, agriculture experts, farmers’ organisations, consumer groups and non-government organisations (NGOs) on the report submitted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on Bt brinjal in October.
The committee has recommended that Bt brinjal is safe for environment release in India. In accordance with the event-based approval mechanism, GEAC may approve all the Bt Brinjal hybrids and varieties containing event EE-I developed by Mahyco, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, and field tested so far.\
Informed sources told Business Standard that Ramesh had already announced that the proposed consultations aim at arriving at a careful decision in the public and national interest. The decision with regard to allowing Bt Brinjal for human consumption would be made after the consultation.
Therefore, the need for prescribing additional studies needs to be carried out on a case-by-case basis and consideration of data generated during the biosafety assessment. According to GEAC, raising the bar of the regulatory process based on hypothetical concerns and apprehensions would be highly detrimental for research and development in the area of agricultural biotechnology, especially for public sector institutions and the benefits to the society at large.
If you read the above paras carefully, you realise that the Ministry for Environment & Forests (MoEF) appears satisfied with its own regulatory process. This is nothing surprising, knowing that each Ministry tries to protect its actions (and officials), and it was primarily for the same reasons probably that the former Chief Minister of Haryana, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, did not initiate any action against its then Director General of Police S P S Rathore, who is now being charged with abetment of suicide of the Chandigarh-based minor girl, Ruchika.
I see a similarity because I think Jairam Ramesh is also trying to provide a cover-up for the wrong doings of the GEAC. Instead of holding a public dialogue on the dirty games played in the name of scientific regulation, he is very cleverly shifting the onus onto stakeholder consultations, which primarily means there was nothing wrong with the regulatory process.
This is where he goes utterly wrong. The report of the Expert Committee-II was a complete sham.
I am aware that Jairam Ramesh is basically trying to defend his Ministry's reply to an earlier Parliament question, which in my opinion was simply a part of the cover-up operation. If if you have missed the report, here it is: Indian Parliament misled by Ministry for Environment on Bt brinjal issue http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2009/12/indian-parliament-misled-by-ministry.html
Bt brinjal approval was rigged. Jairam Ramesh cannot turn a blind eye to the charges made against the GEAC (and the EC-II). By doing so, he is simply playing the role Mr Chautala allegedly played in the Rathore case in Haryana (for readers outside India, I suggest you google SPS Rathore and you will get to know why the nation is outraged at what this former cop did to a minor girl who later committed suicide).
Like the public outcry is now bringing justice to Ruchika, the regulatory authorities have to be made answerable to the people. Like what the Haryana police (and government at that time) did to protect its Director General of Police, the MoEF cannot provide a cover-up to the wrong doings of the GEAC. Each and every action of the GEAC has to be publicly scrutanised. After all, the GEAC decisions impacts the masses.
If Jairam Ramesh has missed seeing the communications pointing to the unscientific manner in which the EC-II accorded environmental clearance to Bt brinjal, I draw his attention to my blog: India's GM scandal: Bt brinjal approval rigged (http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2009/11/indias-gm-scandal-bt-brinjal-approval.html) These have to be responded to. He cannot simply dismiss it.
The MoEF has to first provide for an independent public scrutiny of the GEAC report, before any stakeholder consultations can be held across the country. I see no reason why Jairam Ramesh cannot hold a public audit of the GEAC report? Why can't he appoint a three member panel (a panel comprising distinguishing personalities) that should review the decision of the GEAC? And why not?
There should be a provision for a strict punishment for the GEAC members, if the panel feels that the approval process was rigged. I would suggest slapping Section 305 (abetment to a crime) against the GEAC chairman and his team. The time has come to hold the scientific regulatory system accountable.
Just for record, I draw Jairam Ramesh's attention to a statement arrived at by some of the most distinguished scientists: "Bt brinjal has not been properly tested for health or environmental safety. In feeding trials, numerous significant differences were noted compared to the best corresponding non-Bt controls.
Bt brinjal appears to contain 15% less kcal/100 g, has a different alkaloïd content, and 16-17 mg/kg Bt insecticide toxin poorly characterized for side effects, and produced by the plant genetically modified for this. In animals fed this GMO, several parameters were effected including blood cells or chemistry, with significant differences according to the period of measurement during the study or the sex of the animal. These include prothrombin (blood clotting) time, biochemical parameters such as total bilirubin (an indicator of liver health).
Alkaline phosphatase was also changed, as well as feed consumption and weight gain; milk production in cows was 10- 14% higher. There was more milk and more roughage dry matter intake as if the animals were treated by a hormone. Rats GM-fed had diarrhoea, higher water consumption, liver weight decrease as well as relative liver to body weight ratio decrease".
Interestingly, the EC-II treats these glaring health impacts as biologically insignificant, which even a biotechnology student will disagree with. How can the MoEF brush these shocking details under the carpet? Doesn't it point to the real motive behind the approval process?
And now let us look at how cleverly the GEAC has designed the consultation process. My information is that Jairam Ramesh has simply okayed what the GEAC proposed.
1. The consultations will be held in 7 cities: the first public consultation in Kolkata on January 13, followed by Bhubaneshwar on January 16, Ahmedabad on January 19, Hyderabad (January 22), Bangalore (January 23), Nagpur (January 27) and finally at Chandigarh on January 30. Why at these seven cities only? To this, Jairam Ramesh replies that these are the areas where brinjal cultivation is maximum.
The justification being proposed for these locations is flawed, and therefore smacks of an ulterior motive. Bt brinjal is a genetically modified food crop, which will be allowed for commercial sale after what Jairam Ramesh will gather from these consultations. This is simply a wrong approach.
Being the first genetically modified food crop, any assessment for its approval should be based on what the consumers have to say. The consultations should be therefore held in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Ludhiana, Guwahati, Lucknow, and for that matter in all the state headquarters.
2. The consultation process itself is a joke. Each of the consultation will begin at 12 noon, and finish by 1530. In just three and half hours, Jairam Ramesh is wanting people to register their views. Isn't that a farce in the name of stakeholder consultation? Who are you trying to befool, Mr Jairam Ramesh?
3. The ICAR has already given its approval for Bt brinjal. We also know that the GEAC has only examined the data provided by the GM companies. Which means that the regulatory process has taken into consideration (and has also upheld) what the scientists and the industry had to say. So why bring the scientists and industry again into the stakeholder consultations? Isn't that an effort to scuttle the limited process?
Instead of asking the Centre for Environment & Education (CEE) to hold these consultations, I suggest you hand over the entire case to Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI). This scientific fraud must be exposed, and the guilty punished, for the sake of welfare and health of the billion-plus people.