Even in an era in which researchers have been building unprecedented ties with industry partners, biotechnology stands out as a special case. As the Harvard Business School professor, Gary Pisano, has pointed out, in the case of biotech 'the science is the business'.
Such an unprecedented fusion of these previously distinct realms requires - if the public interest is to be maintained - not just great regulatory rigour but truly independent scrutiny and societal engagement.
That's why what happened yesterday in India's Supreme Court was in many ways the most abject surrender to vested interests. This is a particular tragedy when the Government of India and key regulators seem to be in thrall to exactly the same interests.
Supreme Court should encourage active citizenship in Science & Technology matters
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, PRESS RELEASE
Hyderabad, February 14, 2008: Reacting to the pronouncements of a SC Bench hearing the Public Interest Litigation filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others in the matter of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Centre for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA] opined that the SC should encourage active citizenship in matters of Science & Technology. 'Science & democracy is a full blown subject in itself and for the judicial system to take a view that S & T matters should be left to 'experts' alone is going to affect citizens' engagement with S & T issues that pertain to their everyday life. Such a view could be very detrimental, especially in today's world of corporate science where the political economy of S & T pushed by large corporations with their profits in mind is apparent to everyone. Even if one goes by what the SC has to say, it is not out of place to remind everyone that a majority of nations across the world have already disallowed entry of GMOs in their farming based on experts' views amongst other things!', pointed out Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC] to scrutinize applications and permit field trials of GE crops subject to a few conditions like the inclusion of eminent scientists like Dr Pushpa Bhargava and Dr M S Swaminathan on the panel while considering such applications and to put out guidelines and rules under which such approvals are being given.
'While it might be true that the Courts are not equipped to go into such technical matters and are not best placed to adjudicate on such matters, the situation is such that the petitioners knocked on the SC's doors when the concerned authorities failed to respond to repeated reports and evidence on lack of scientificity, irregularities and violations. Never once did the authorities take any action to fix liability so far, while conflicting interests are apparent in the authorities', added Ms Kavitha Kuruganti, CSA.
CSA hoped that Dr Swaminathan and Dr Pushpa Bhargava will get an opportunity to exercise their larger views and expertise in the matter as invitees to GEAC. 'For instance, Dr Swaminathan, in his Task Force report, has already articulated concerns on herbicide-tolerant crops affecting the employment potential of millions of farming men and women in the country. He had also expressed concern about primary and secondary centres of genetic diversity of particular crops in India being contaminated by GM crops and that guidelines should be evolved to protect them. Similar are his concerns on trade security expressed earlier. Dr Bhargava's views on regulators needing social perspectives in addition to technical expertise are well known. If experts like them are allowed to step in only for little improvements in the current reductionist framework of case by case approvals that GEAC considers based on recommendations by RCGM, it will be gross injustice to the expertise of these eminent persons', they pointed out.
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