State mum on nod for GM crop trials
Ashwini Y S
The Deccan Herald, December 21 2011

*16 firms/institutions have been allowed to conduct experiments by panel

Bangalore – The [Karnataka State] government's nonchalance over the issue has raised concerns in many quarters. It has been over two months since the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) gave its approval to 16 companies and research institutions to conduct open air/field trials on 13 crops and 38 Genetically Modified Organisms in Karnataka.

The trials are pending State government's nod. The government, which had earlier declared that it would not allow GM field trials, has not made its stand clear on whether it will give permission for these field trials.

There are growing concerns over the government's nonchalance, especially because field trials have been approved for more than 10 food crops including corn, rice, potato, sorghum, water melon, banana, tomato, papaya, castor, pigeon pea (tur), groundnut and mustard, apart from rubber. The approvals are for Rabi 2011-12 and Kharif 2012. No approvals were given for Kharif 2011. Monsanto has yet again been given approval for carrying out field trials on corn.

In July, after fears of transgene leakage and subsequent contamination by Monsanto, which was alleged to have violated bio-safety rules during field trials of GM corn in Bijapur, Agriculture Minister Umesh V Katti had announced that Karnataka would not approve trials.

Also, Karnataka is the first State in the country to have come up with an Organic Farming Policy. The BJP government has spent over Rs 200 crore to promote organic farming, apart from keeping aside a budget of Rs four lakh to Rs five lakh for works to be taken up in the 176 taluks.

Despite these aspects, the State government has kept the matter in abeyance. When contacted Katti reiterated his statement and said no permissions would be given.

His department has, however, not denied the permissions so far – nor has it written to GEAC or the environment ministry asking them not to approve field trials for Karnataka.

Principal Secretary, Agriculture, Sandeep Dave said a final decision would be taken on granting permits or denying them only after a consultation was held with the farming community and environment groups.

“The Centre has every right to give its permission the State has no locus standi in this matter,” he said.

The fact, however, remains that the State governments have been vested with the powers to veto the GEAC approvals.

Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said the government was not showing any consistency.

“The government should have by now, in no uncertain terms, communicated to the GEAC that it should not be giving any more approvals in Karnataka. The government should have also communicated to the research institutions that they will not be given the approvals,” she said.

G Krishna Prasad of Sahaja Samrudha says the government is using the public institutions to bypass all regulations. "The approvals are huge in number and GEAC has been granting them in a loose manner without specifying seasons or locations. This is nothing but a mockery of the approval process," he said.

The companies and research institutions that have received permits are Monsanto; Pioneer; Dow Agro Sciences; Syngenta; Dupont; Bayer; Metahelix; Kolkota University; J K Agrogenetics; CPRI; Directorate of Sorghum Research, Hyderabad; Rubber Research Institute of India, Kottayam; IIHR, Bangalore; UAS, Dharwad; ICRISAT; Delhi University; National Research Center on Plant Biotechnology.