Feb 19, 2010

India seeks jail for GM food critics

I am not sure whether you would believe your ears. You can't probably imagine that any sensible government (except for USA, of course) can try to gag your voice. If you thought that your fundamental right to speech and freedom is guaranteed under the Constitution, you need to think again. The proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) bill is actually trying not only to silence the opposition to GM foods, but also has provisions that can put you in jail for a minimum of six months.

Look at the power of the GM companies, the ghost of the Emergency era is back. During the Emergency, all those who opposed Mrs Indira Gandhi were jailed. But the proposed NBRA goes still further. In addition to putting you in jail, it also imposes a fine of Rs 2 lakh. And if you hold a demonstration against a university or try to 'obstruct' research, you face imprisonment for three months and/or a fine of Rs 5 lakh.

This is the power and reach of the GM companies. The US is already contemplating legal provisions which will outlaw organic farming. In India, the Department of Biotechnology, which has possibly framed this legislation, is aiming at turning Indian science into a ghetto.

If the bill was already in force, you and me (those who opposed the introduction of Bt brinjal) would have been in jail by now. Dr M S Swaminathan and Dr Pushpa Bhargava too would have been in jail. Interestingly, and as I told Mail Today: "Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who has questioned the safety of GM crops, would have been behind bars because he would have violated it.”

Here is the report from the front page of Mail Today:

GOVT MOOTS JAIL FOR GM FOOD CRITICS

By Dinesh C Sharma in New Delhi
http://epaper.mailtoday.in/epaperhome.aspx?issue=1922010

Draconian clause in biotech regulatory Bill aims at muzzling debate on safety of GM products

IF THE ministry of science and technology has its way, criticising genetically- modified ( GM) products could land you in jail.

An Indian citizen who questions the safety of any GM food or medicine could be put behind bars for a minimum period of six months under a new law proposed by the ministry.

The clause to silence critics of GM food is contained in the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India ( BRAI) Bill,2009 prepared by the Department of Biotechnology, which is a wing of the ministry of science and technology headed by Prithviraj Chavan.

'Misleading public about organism and products’ is one of the crimes for which punishment has been prescribed in Section 63, Chapter 13 of the Bill which deals with various “ offences and penalties”. The clause specifically deals with critics of biotech products including GM food crops.


It reads, “ Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products specified in Part I or Part II or Part III of the Schedule I, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both.”

GM products covered under the Schedule I include genetically engineered plants and organisms, DNA vaccines, cellular products, gene therapy products, stem cell products and other such genetically engineered or transgenic products.

The list also includes vaccines for use in humans or animals that contain living genetically engineered organisms, cellular products including products composed of human, bacterial or animal cells as well as genetically engineered micro- organisms that may have application in agriculture, fisheries, forestry or food production.

Curiously, while every little term in the proposed law such as a “ company” or a “ director” has been defined, no explanation or definition has been given for terms used in section 63 such as “ evidence”, “ scientific record” and “ misleading”. If the Bill becomes a law and comes into force, anyone questioning the safety of Bt brinjal or stem cell therapy “ without evidence or scientific record” can be put behind bars. This is a scary scenario because many of the technologies mentioned in the Bill are still in the realm of research and have not been proven safe for humans.

Not just this, the Bill has another provision to punish anyone who “ without reasonable excuse, resists, obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, impersonate, threaten, intimidate or assault an officer of the Authority or any person assigned to discharge any function under this Act, or in exercising his functions under this Act” with a jail term of three months and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. In short, this clause seeks to punish anyone holding a demonstration or rally near the BRAI or where any official of the authority is visiting.

"This is a gag order, absolutely draconian and violative of Article ( 19) ( 1) ( a) of the Indian constitution which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “ It is definitely meant to scare people so that they don’t say anything against GM technology. Even journalists writing critical articles can be punished.”

The Bill has been criticised by several civil society activists. “If this law was in force today, environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who has questioned the safety of GM crops, would have been behind bars because he would have violated it,” said Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “ It is a dirty attempt to turn science into a ghetto, where all of us will be subjected to unhealthy GM products pushed down our throats by a willing government.” Kavitha Kuruganti of Kheti Virasat Mission said the Bill was meant to harass civil society’ groups concerned about the application of hazardous technologies.

"Who will decide what is ‘ misleading’, and on what basis? How about the ones who are making misleading claims about safety even when there is no conclusive proof of safety?” asked Kuruganti.

Aruna Rodrigues, whose public interest writ against GM crops is in the Supreme Court, said the Bill failed to recognise the basic scientific fact that all GM organisms are inherently hazardous.

She also questioned the ministry of science and technology hosting the BRAI when the subject actually was related to food safety, health and environment.

The proposal to set up an independent authority for biotechnology regulation has been in the pipeline for more than five years now, but the process of setting this up is being hastened after the recent moratorium imposed on Bt brinjal by environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee ( GEAC) – which is currently the apex regulatory body for biotechnology – is housed in the environment ministry.

Ramesh had asserted that the approval to Bt brinjal granted by GEAC was not final. He also plans to convert it into an ‘ appraisal’ committee. Piqued by this move, the department of biotechnology has speeded up the process of setting up BRAI, which will be housed within the department.

The proposed legislation has no clauses on public participation in the process of approval.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety ( under the Convention on Biological Diversity) which has been invoked in the preamble of the Bill, clearly states that signatory countries should “ consult the public in decision- making process regarding living modified organisms”. The liability clauses in this legislation are also very weak, experts pointed out. It has no explicit clauses on redressal, compensation, remediation or cleaning up in case of damage due to genetically modified organisms.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Devinder,

Thank you for a great article.
This is going to explode there and internationally. The companies have lost their minds. It is so clearly not about science. And so clear they don't trust they have any leg to stand on anymore. They fake their studies, they lie, they bribe, they corrupt science agencies and politicians, and when they lose, they then resort to prison for any who question their "science" at all.

I wrote this some time ago, but bad as their science is, I never considered what they would do to people for questioning it when it failed to win them what they so clearly wanted - India itself.

Distinguishing MONSANTO's totalitarian "use of science" from its claims to science
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Distinguishing-MONSANTO-s-by-Linn-Cohen-Cole-090204-80.html

Linn
USA

Anonymous said...

I am really appalled by this. I think I and others should try to publicise this in Pakistan as 'preventive' action.

Najma Sadeque
Karachi

Rose Bridger said...

Thanks for raising the alarm. I don't know of any gagging proposals for GM critics here in the UK, but there is an application for another GM potato test crop, and £20,000 has been spent on security as most of the previous crops were dug up and destroyed by protestors.

aravind said...

This is very criminal & a dangerous act , It looks like we are very soon falling into the trap of multinationals like Monsanto who are criminals. They can go to any extent, their plans are very horrendous. This is all part of the population reduction plan by the FAO & WHO as mentioned in their codex alimetaus & Agenda 21.

Watch these 12 video series completely to know
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIYI8nFS9KU

Regards
Raag

witan said...

The provision. “Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products specified in Part I or Part II or Part III of the Schedule I...etc.” in the proposed NBRA is capable of another interpretation. Note that it says “safety” and not “danger” or “hazard”. Therefore, it could mean somebody who wrongly claims that a certain GM food is SAFE can be punished.
The other penal provisions are not similarly ambiguous, and their purpose is very clear: to protect, at any cost, proponents and promoters of GM food.
Mr Devender Sharma, you seem to have a wrong impression that Dr M S Swaminathan is opposed to GM crops or to GM food. Not so long ago, he was perceived by the scientific community as a sort of spokesman and agent for Monsanto, and later for Syngenta. His own patron and protector, the late Normal Borlaug, was also a fervent advocate of GM food crops. Besides, Dr MSS cannot be considered to be an expert on biotechnology or genetic engineering, and one cannot also forget the unwholesome episodes in his career, like “Sharbati Sonora”, and “The Great Gene Robbery”. (By the way, the “The Great Gene Robbery” article by Claude Alvares (published in the now defunct Illustrated weekly of India, issue dated March 23, 1986) is still available at http://swamiscapers.blogspot.com/2007/04/great-gene-robbery-by-claude-alvares.html. I suggest those who are not familiar with the affair or have forgotten it should read it.)

Cathy Davis said...

Much ado about nothing..

Sridhar said...

Shame on this democrarcy. Imagine these fellows in the DBT had the cheeks to bring such a heiniously drafted bill on to the parliament.

If this is passed, then everything in India is open to criticism - which includes the PM, the President, why, even the Chief Justice...but not a Genetically Modified Organism...The whole GM research in India has matured indeed. It was playing God, but now it is God...or Is it a child of the Satan !!

Prakash Pandey said...

We must not let this happen.This can also be contested in a court of law.....This is criminal ....I have nothing much to say because it is obvious as to whose interests are being addressed by our democratically elected leaders.

It is a shame not on the politicians who're there to do what they are doing....the shame is on the people of the nation who are sleeping as their liberties are being stripped off and they are distracted mostly by the crap that is dished out in the name of entertainment and news. We are a nation of slaves , only that the prision is for our minds ....and we're told to think the way "they" want us to think.

Wake up folks .... and try to get others to wake up too.

Dr Sudhir Kumar Kaura said...

'BT Cotton is killing animals'


Devendra Uppal


Hindustan Times 12 June 2010


chdnewsdesk'AT'hindustantimes.com



HISAR: Dr Sudhir Kumar Kaura, a geneticist and biotechnologist, said here on Friday "BT Cotton may be a good source of income for resourceful farmers
who can bear the heavy cost of BT cotton seeds and associated farm care but it is also found to contain Hydrogen Cyanide, a deadly poison, by scientific investigation."


Dr Kaura said this was the situation allegedly created by BT Cotton in villages in North India. He said that animals were dying or coming under the toxic grip of BT Cotton allergy and possibly poisoning.


He said, "Evidence of presence of Hydrogen Cranide (HCN) have come from government laboratories in the state of Andhra Pradesh State (India), where thousands of sheep perished after feeding on BT Cotton some years back."


Dr Kaura said that buffaloes perish over many months compare to sheep. "Ill effects of BT Cotton include difficulty in conceiving properly, giving birth to significantly smaller sized offsprings, protrusion of uterus, allergy symptoms on skin, reduction in milk (10% in one week in some cases), dysfunction of teats, and others," he said.


"The taste of the milk from buffaloes who are fed BT Cotton, has changed. So, many people have stopped taking milk or milk products."


Dr Kaura said he was worried about people, especially children who work at BT Cotton farms, as many are experiencing allergy symptoms such as boils, itching, redness, white patches, and others.


He warned that if the government did not stop BT Cotton from being fed to animals, the small and marginal farmer economy which is basically driven by milk, would soon be shattered.


......................................................................


MORE INFO AND The govt reports declaring BT cotton as poisonous (containing HCN -Hydrogen Cyanide) is also AVAILABLE AT

www.kisanbachaoandolan.co.cc

Dr Sudhir Kumar said...

The Hindustan Times 12 November 2010
BT Cotton Farms Killing Fields: Expert

HT Correspondent

chdnewsdesk@hindustantimes.com



HISAR: Dr S K Kaura, a genetics expert and volunteer of Save Farmer Movement (Kisan Bachao Andolan), has alleged that genetically modified Bt Cotton was the cause of increasing incidence of skin disease among farmers. He furnished photos for evidence.

Demanding a ban, he said reports showing the presence of hydrogen cyanide (HCN), a deadly poison, in BT cotton plants were first made available in 2006.

He said Bt cotton is reponsible for killing a large number of animals in India and possible in other countries as well.

Bt cotton based feed is making animals such as cows and buffaloes unproductive or less productive, infertile, prone to untimely death, to deliver immature and dwarf offspring and also prone to other diseases and abortion." a statement quoted him.

Sheep and goat grazing in Bt Cotton fields are also dying, he alleged.