Congress officially backs Ramesh, nixes Bt brinjal lobby

Amid the controversy over allowing the commercial use of Bt brinjal, the Congress has backed environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who last week declared a moratorium on the use of the genetically modified seed (See: India dumps Bt brinjal)

Asked about the different viewpoints within the government on the issue of Bt brinjal, party spokesman Shakil Ahmed said, ''Ramesh has expressed the government view on the issue and we stand by that. After all, the people's health is paramount.''

The official backing for Ramesh is significant as several senior ministers have differed with his decision. On Saturday, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had said, ''As far as science is concerned, it (Bt brinjal) is safe,'' and added that new technologies like genetic engineering should not be blocked by ''slogan-shouting and protests''.

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar too is known to be opposed to Ramesh's decision. He defended Bt brinjal earlier this month, citing the green light given to the vegetable by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). He has reportedly asked scientists and officials to gather evidence to counter the claims of the anti-Bt brinjal lobby.

Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal, Chavan's predecessor as science and technology minister, has also expressed disappointment with the decision.

Ramesh announced the government decision to put a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal after holding public hearings, which were dominated by green activists.

Apparently, the prime minister's office too is in favour of introducing Bt brinjal, and Ramesh is also not personally against it. But it is the Congress party itself that is wary of the genetically-modified vegetable, and has forced the minister's hand.