SC blocks commercial release of GM mustard

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the government not to commercially release genetically modified (GM) mustard crop after the latter said that it is still in the process of taking public opinion on the issue.

A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said the Centre will not commercially release the GM mustard crop till 17 October when it will hear the matter in detail.

Refuting the allegation that sowing of the seeds was being done without relevant tests, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta assured the court that no commercial release of the seeds will be done till 17 October and views and suggestions of the public would be taken and put up before the appraisal committee before releasing them.

Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for campaigner Aruna Rodrigues, alleged that the Centre is sowing the seeds in various fields and said the bio-safety dossier has to be put on website but this has not been done yet. He alleged that without doing relevant tests, they were carrying out field trials of the crop and sought a 10-year moratorium on them.

In an application filed in an ongoing case relating to GM seeds in the country, Rodrigues has sought prohibition of open field trials and commercial release of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops including HT Mustard Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH) 11 and its parent lines / variants.

On Thursday, the environment ministry's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) sent all the comments received on bio-safety report on the environment release of GM mustard to the concern panel for further evaluation.

 ''All the comments received by the GEAC secretariat have been sent to the sub-committee for further examination. After evaluating all the comments, the sub-committee has been requested to submit their report to GEAC,'' an official statement of the ministry has said.

A technical sub-committee set up by GEAC in its report a month back had concluded that a GM mustard seed variety developed by scientists of Delhi university, was 'safe' for both human and animal health.

This is the first proposal for allowing GM food crops that has come up before the Modi government after the previous UPA government had put a moratorium on commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in 2010. Currently, Bt cotton is the only GM crop allowed for commercial cultivation.

According to the Rodrigues, the GMO story in India has been illegal from its inception, ie the commercialisation of Bt cotton in 2002. ''The Bt brinjal episode is a test case … of fraud in that studies said to have been done were not done, oversight covertly negligent and commercial approval still given; a decision overturned by the sanity of erstwhile environment minister Jairam Ramesh,'' he said.

But there is nothing that begins to match the breath-taking fraud of the agronomic testing of HT DMH11 and its 2 parental HT GMOs, Rodrigues said, adding that ''any remaining inhibitions of maintaining a semblance of regulatory oversight have been discarded by our regulators and relevant ministries … these matters require criminal prosecution.''

''…the commercial approval of 3 HT Mustard GMOs has been unbelievably rapid and un-nerving. We are in dire straits,'' Bhushan said.

 All this exposes the ''serious cover-up, even fraud in global norms of risk assessment of GMOs, emanating from the USA, and which has had direct repercussions on India. HT DMH 11 is full evidence of this fact,'' he said.