The case of the proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill is getting curiouser (or should I say getting solved). Ever since the controversial provisions in the proposed draft bill became known, the first reaction on everyone's lips was who could be so stupid to incorporate such draconian provisions that puts the critics of the GM technology behind bars. Even communist China does not have such laws in force.
In case you missed it, the specific provision that I am talking about, reads: "Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record, misleads the public against the safety of the organisms and products specified in Part 1, Part II or Part III of Schedule 1, shall be punishable 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."
No sooner the news broke out, the Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan was quick to deny it saying that the draft bill does not contain any such provisions. I was not amused since I had myself seen the draft bill, but I thought maybe the Minister had probably not read the bill. Or maybe he was trying to buy time by convincing the public that it was merely a diatribe against his ministry, and in the meanwhile drop the controversial provisions from the final draft that has still to be placed in Parliament.
Coomi Kapoor from the Indian Express has perhaps provided us the right answer. In her column "Inside Track" (Sunday Express, Feb 28, 2010), she writes that the bill was actually drafted in March 2008 when Kapil Sibal was the Minister for Science & Technology.
Now I understand why Prithviraj Chavan (he succeeded Kapil Sibal) was caught unaware about the draconian provisions in the proposed draft bill. Well, thank you Coomi for clearing the mist or to put it more succintly for solving the mystery. It is important for the nation to know the extra mile Ministers can walk to back multinationals and big business.
Anyway, discussing Budget 2010 with the yoga guru Swami Ramdev on Aastha TV channel on Feb 26, I brought up the issue of the draconian provisions in the proposed draft bill. Swami Ramdev was shocked to learn that the government could even think of introducing such a law.
Nevertheless, when I said that if the NBRA law was already in force, I as well as Swami Ramdev would have been in jail by now, he warned: "I dare them to arrest me. They will get a taste of what it means to gag independent voices," and added: "My opposition to GM foods will continue."
I hope Kapil Sibal is listening.