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Nidhi Jamwal and Kushal P S Yadav, prosecuted as 'trespassers'

Published: Sunday 30 November 2003

-- (Credit: EMKAY)William L Jordan, senior policy advisor with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (usepa) said that 'people want transparency and participation'. Everyone in the Napoleon-I hall of Le Meridian hotel in New Delhi nodded. Jordan was speaking during the 'Symposium on Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residues in Water and Food' organised by The International Life Sciences Institute (ilsi)-India. Held on October 28-29, the symposium was funded by Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (csir). But this symposium was anything but transparent and participatory.

This conference was organised with invitations to limited 'experts'. These 'experts' belong to the pesticide industry, ministries of the Indian government, a handful of international experts, one non-governmental organisation (ngo) and one consumer organisation. Kushal P S Yadav, a colleague of mine, and I reached the venue on 28th morning. We were politely informed that since we had not registered, we would not be provided the 'kit' or the programme schedule. But attending a conference is hardly a big deal; entry is taken for granted. So I entered the hall. Kushal had some work to do and promised to join me in the afternoon.

Some very eminent speakers from usepa, the European Union, Australia and the Codex Alimentarius Commission spoke about procedures followed in their respective countries to register pesticides, and to set maximum residue limits (mrls). At lunch, I went around fixing up meetings/interviews with these experts. After lunch, Rekha Sinha, executive director of ilsi-India, walked up to me and asked where I was from. I informed her that I was a journalist, also representing the Centre for Science and Environment (cse). She told me that the meeting was not open to the press. Not being a registered delegate, could I move out of the hall? I retorted: why couldn't I be allowed in? I was told that organisers decide whom to invite, or not. Then began a heated argument, in the midst of which Kushal walked in. Sinha told Kushal I was a psychological case who should not be allowed in public.

Kushal and I demanded a word with the organisers, who never came out of the hall. We waited for almost 40 minutes outside the hall on the stairs. Finally we broke the 'protocol' and went ahead. Then we understood why we were not being allowed in. The hall was full of pesticide industry and cola representatives. In question-answer sessions, scientists were boorishly bad-mouthing cse. Everyone was asking each other: Are you from Coke or Pepsi? Someone remarked: "This seems to be an enormous tutorial on pesticide residues for the cola staff."

The next day, we went armed with an invitation: we had called csir, which intervened and sent us a fax. Yesterday's dirty looks had become dirtier. Right from alleging that we were trying to 'steal' laptops to using foul language, various insults were heaped upon us. Our photographer Surya Sen was questioned on what was he trying to shoot. I had fixed up an interview with Amelia W Tejada, agricultural officer (pesticide residues) with the Food and Agriculture Organization (fao) of the United Nations; by the end of the day, she gave me a note saying she had been reminded that she couldn't speak to me without written permission from her Rome office. So the interview was called off. How come she realised she couldn't speak to me after 2 days? Had someone 'warned' her?

We have been working with cse for quite a while now and have attended many national and international seminars/conferences. We have never been treated like this. There was an organised attempt to keep us away, especially from international experts. We were literally hounded. Organisers pried on us wherever we went. I wrote an email to the head office of ilsi at Washington on October 29 morning. But till date, they have not bothered to reply.

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