Decision on GM mustard likely by September, govt tells SC

The government on Monday told the Supreme Court that a decision on the commercial launch  of genetically modified (GM) mustard will be taken in September, ahead of the sawing season that begins in October, even as environment minister Harsh Vardhan informed the Rajya Sabha that his ministry has not taken any decision on the environmental release of the GM seed.

The minister, however, informed the House that a regulatory committee has recommended the environmental release of genetically modified (GM) mustard to the government but no decision has been taken on it.

Hearing a batch of petitions challenging the commercial launch of GM mustard and open field trials, a division bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud said it will hear the pleas if the central government allows its commercial launch.

After hearing the petitioners' objections to the commercial launch of GM mustard and open field trials that cited health risks, the court asked the government to apprise it as to when it will take a "well-informed and well-intentioned" policy decision on its launch.

But, with the government denying any decision on the issue and considering that the sowing season of mustard begins in October, the bench posted further hearing in the matter for September.

Mustard is one of India's most important winter crops, which is sown between mid-October and late-November.

The petitioners comprising environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues and others have sought direction to the government to defer implementation of the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee, pending detailed inquiry and report on the field trials and application process of GM mustard crops.

The petitioners also sought a moratorium on the commercialisation of any other GM crop, stating that genetically modified crops should not be released in open until there was a "comprehensive, transparent and rigorous biosafety protocol in the public domain conducted by agencies of independent expert bodies, the results of which are made public".

In his written reply in the Rajya Sabha on the GM mustard issue, Harsh Vardhan said the application for GE mustard submitted by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), University of Delhi is not a herbicide tolerant (HT) crop but the usage of herbicide is limited only for hybrid seed production.

The minister said that the apex regulatory committee constituted under the rules for the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or GE organisms or cells (Rules 1989) held its 133rd meeting on 11 May this year.

"(It) has recommended the proposal for environmental release of GE mustard submitted by CGMCP to the government for its final decision. No decision has yet been taken," the minister said.

As per the data provided by the applicant to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the applicant has compared DMH-11 with Varuna (barnase), EH-2 (barstar), Varuna, EH-2, Maya or RL-1359.

Members wanted to know whether the genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) mustard, normally referred to DMH-II did outperform non-GM hybrid varieties in terms of yield.