Bhargava considers case of defamation
The judges in the Supreme Court appointed this eminent Indian molecular biologist to observe the conduct of the GEAC - India's apex GM regulatory committee, as a special invitee as a means of reassuring concerned citizens. But his attempts to improve and make public serious regulatory deficiencies have resulted in a campaign of vilification and an attempt to force him off the committee.
EXTRACT: Bhargava says this is the first time that such charges have been made against him in a scientific career spanning more than four decades. He asserts that "there is nothing that has transpired within the GEAC since I started attending it that would persuade me to retract what I have put in writing before the GEAC." ...Bhargava says he will consider "the unpleasant step of filing a case of defamation against the GEAC".
GM panel wants SC-appointed member out
Business Standard, September 17 2008
The Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC), which regulates the testing and introduction of genetically-modified (GM) crops in the country, is doing its best to eject a troublesome court-appointed body from its midst.
The GEAC members, comprising civil servants and heads of public laboratories, have not taken kindly to the points raised by another scientist, Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, who was made a special invitee to the committee by the Supreme Court in February this year, and is seeking his removal from the committee.
Bhargava had pointed out lapses in its supervision of the regulatory process, questioned some of its claims on the safety of GM crops and spoken out in the media. In response, the GEAC, in its meetings on July 9 and August 13, said (in minutes that are on its website) "that Dr Bhargava was responsible for the malicious and distorted views on the regulatory process being reported in the newspapers periodically". Bhargava was not present on either occasion, nor was the matter listed on the agenda.
Business Standard had published reports on the regulatory processes in the country, along with an interview with Bhargava (July 11, 2008). This newspaper had sought the response of eight of the GEAC members, including the chairman and the co-chairman, to the points raised by Bhargava. None had responded. This time, too, the GEAC has not replied to the paper's queries about the strictures against Bhargava.
The GEAC has also charged him with promoting views that “are without any scientific basis” and of conduct that is "totally unprofessional and unethical”.
Bhargava was nominated to the GEAC by the Supreme Court in the wake of several public interest petitions alleging lapses in the regulation of GM crops. The most recent of the petitions, filed by activist Aruna Rodrigues in 2005, had sought a ban on GM crops. In a February hearing, the court had said that Bhargava and the well-known agricultural scientist, MS Swaminathan, should be made special invitees to the GEAC.
While Bhargava began attending the monthly meetings of the regulatory body from April, Swaminathan chose to stay away. Bhargava says this is the first time that such charges have been made against him in a scientific career spanning more than four decades. He asserts that "there is nothing that has transpired within the GEAC since I started attending it that would persuade me to retract what I have put in writing before the GEAC."
The GEAC has warned that it will seek Bhargava's ouster in its counter-affidavit to the Supreme Court. In turn, Bhargava says he will consider "the unpleasant step of filing a case of defamation against the GEAC".