In the aftermath of the Supreme Court hearing last week, it's become all too clear that the Government of India sees its role as one of promoting rather than regulating GM crops.
Below is the text of the legal notice that's been sent to the environment ministry by the lawyer for the petitioners in the case. It charges the ministry with deliberately misinterpreting the Supreme Court's order.
The charge relates both to a press release issued by the ministry, which seems to have seriously misled much of the Indian press, and to a speech by the minister of state for environment and forests, Namo Narain Meena.
Both the press release and the minister himself stated unequivocally that the stay on GM crop trials granted by the Supreme Court back in September had been vacated.
But, in fact, as the legal notice to the ministry points out, the Supreme Court has not vacated its order as regards fresh field trials of GM crops. Those that haven't already had approval remain banned.
What the Supreme Court has actually done is add stringent *new conditions* onto the trials that already had approval.
And, in the words of the Times of India, the Supreme Court has also tightened "the leash on the government" still further, by ordering it to release toxicity and allergenicity data.
As the paper notes, this "precedent setting order has elated the green groups as they have been constantly asking for such data to be put out in the public domain."
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO complex
Lodi road, New Delhi
SUBJECT: PRESS RELEASE BY THE MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT ON 9th MAY 2007 CLAIMING THAT THE SUPREME COURT HAD VACATED THE INTERIM ORDER STAYING FURTHER FIELD TRIAL APPROVALS OF GM CROPS.
I wish to bring to your attention the above-mentioned press release by the Ministry of environment which claims that the stay on the approvals of the GEAC by the Supreme Court had been vacated by the court during the hearing that day. I am in annexing a copy of your press release.
To begin with, it is distressing to note the Ministry of environment acting as the promoter of genetically modified foods, when its statutory duty is to act as the regulator of these products, which by law and under the rules have been determined to be per se hazardous. Apart from this, the press release gives a completely incorrect and misleading impression about the court order. In fact the court ordered (copy annexed) does nothing of the kind as claimed in the press release. The court order does not in any way vacate or alter the interim order passed by the court on 22 September 2006. It only clarifies that if any trials are going on or are to go on, pursuant to the approvals granted by the GEAC between the period from 2/5/2006 and 22/9/ 2006, they would be subject to the following restrictions: --
1. The GEAC shall take sufficient precautions to see that these trials are not causing any contamination to the cultivation of neighbouring fields.
2. There should be at least 200 m distance from the trial fields from the neighbouring fields having the same type of cultivation.
3. In all the trials that are being conducted, the name of the scientist and other details of who will be responsible for all aspects of the trials should be reported to the GEAC and there should be regular supervision by them.
4. Prior to bringing out the GM material from the greenhouse for the conduct of open field trials, the approved institution should submit a validated even specific test protocol at an LOD of at least .01% to detect and confirm that there has been no contamination.
In these circumstances, it would be desirable for you to issue a fresh press release to correct the misleading impression created by your earlier release. In any case, you must make sure that the GEAC, which is under the Ministry of Environment does not proceed to act by assuming that they are now free to grant fresh approvals for field trials of GM products. The GEAC must also be told to ensure the implementation of the above restrictions which have been placed on field trials which were approved between 2 May 2006 and 22nd September 2006.
I would be grateful if you let me know what action has been taken by you on this letter/notice.
Copy to: --
1. The Chairman, GEAC
2. The Chairman, RCGM
3. The Secretary, Department of Biotechnology