It is strange. At a time when mega scams are tumbling out of the cupboard every other day, and the electronic media has done a commendable job chasing these scams and keeping the pressure on, somehow you will find that a major scandal in the name of science, and involving the multinational seed giant Monsanto, India's apex regulatory authority -- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and the umbrella farm educational and research organisation -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) -- will get a quiet burial.
One reason is that the media does not understand the intricacies as well as the grave implications of what illegal GM research trials mean. The other of course is that it involves the MNC giant, and dragging an MNC on prime time day after day will not be 'appropriate' for the sake of foreign direct investments.
If it does not turn into a national issue, it will be a great tragedy, an opportunity lost. Indian science is riddled with massive corruption and it is time to use the broom to clean up the mess. GM maize trial scandal in Bihar provides an opportunity to launch the cleansing process.
Nevertheless, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar deserves all kudos for laying bare the fraudulent ways of GM research in India. In a letter addressed to the Environment & Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, Nitish Kumar has accused the multinational seed corporation Monsanto, the GEAC and ICAR of conniving to begin trials of GM maize in his State even before it had got clearance from the environment ministry and without informing the state government either, reports Times of India (Mar 15. 2011).
This is scandalous. And this is not the first time it has happened. But this is probably the first time that a Chief Minister has dared to expose the nexus, involving the apex regulatory body as well as multinational giant. Although Jairam Ramesh has promptly asked GEAC to give at least a month's notice to State governments before commencing field trials, I think what is needed urgently is to examine the entire process of scientific approval and the way the GEAC itself has made a mockery of the regulatory regime.
There is a need to hold the country director of Monsanto, as well as the head of GEAC and ICAR accountable for this scientific scandal.
Interestingly, this is also the first time when Monsanto (along with scientists of the Pusa Agricultural University in Bihar where the trials were being conducted) have themselves uprooted the GM crop plants. In his letter, Nitish Kumar says that following Environment Minister's orders, the laid trial was "hurriedly uprooted in an unscientific manner" and that too in the absence of the State Agriculture department. He has also called for a thorough investigation into the 'isolation distance' requirement, and seeks enquiry to know whether safeguard norms for Bt maize as per protocol were followed or not. [Read the news report - GM maize trials done on the sly: Nitish Kumar http://bit.ly/eKZJtf]
Such serious flaws in the regulatory regime had been time and again brought to the notice of GEAC but without any appropriate action. That is why I have always said that GEAC is merely a rubber stamp for the GM industry. Nitish Kumar's letter has vindicated my stand.
Nitish Kumar has also highlighted another major flaw in the seed regulatory laws that does not hold the seed companies liable for any major mishap. While the Seed Bill 2010 is pending before Parliament, the fact remains that it is too soft on the industry. In other words, it actually facilitates the process of private control over seed, and at the same time provides for no exemplary punishment to the seed industry for destroying livelihoods when its seed fails to germinate or to set seeds.
According to the Economic Times (Mar 15, 2011): "Nitish Kumar informed Ramesh of Bihar's "bitter experience of private hybrids" in maize in December 2009-10 , when the state had to step in with distributed assistance to farmers. The state exchequer had to take on an extra burden of Rs 61 crore, which it had to pay as compensation to farmers using private hybrids, on account of "non-formation of grain" . The private companies had disowned their responsibility and the state government had to step in to provide assistance. [Consult States before GM crop trials: Nitish http://bit.ly/eIsRx3]
Nitish Kumar told the media yesterday in Patna that the 'bitter experience' farmers had with hybrid maize seed also pertained to the seed supplied by Monsanto-Mahyco.
It is primarily for this reason that I have been demanding a Seed Liability bill instead of the present Seed Bill that lies before Parliament. You may like to read an earlier post: India Needs a Seed Liability Bill http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2010/11/india-needs-seed-liability-bill.html