Parliamentary committee has extended date till August 25; activists demand public consultations across the country in regional languages
Owing to increasing public pressure, the Parliamentary Standing Committee that is examining the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2013 has extended the time for submission of views and suggestions on the proposed law. The law would make it possible for makers of genetically modified crops gain easy market access in India. Till now India has been growing only one genetically modified crop—cotton.
The Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forests has published advertisements in various newspapers, stating it has received requests from a number of individuals and organisations, seeking extension of the time for submission of memoranda. It has decided to extend the time of submission of views and suggestions on BRAI by another 45 days with effect from July 10. The last date for submitting objections to BRAI Bill now is August 25.
The anti-GM lobby has been carrying out a campaign for extension of this deadline. Various citizens along with civil society organisations had asked T Subbarami Reddy, chairperson of the standing committee, to abide by the recent recommendations by the National Advisory council, led by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, on pre-legislative consultations and provide at least 90 days for public feedback on this bill.
The BRAI Bill, intended for the regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), was introduced in the last session of Parliament by Jaipal Reddy, the Union minister for science and technology. The Bill had faced widespread opposition both inside and outside Parliament on its intent and content and was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for consideration.
BRAI’s critics say it has been designed as a single window clearance for quick approval of GMOs. This is amidst growing scientific evidence on the negative impacts of GMOs on human health, environment and farm livelihoods.
NAC recommendations not followed
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convener of Coalition for GM-Free India said the public consultations should be wide-ranging. "We wish the standing committee takes the whole process of public consultations on a proposed legislation of this significance to every citizen more seriously. The first thing the committee should now do is to translate the BRAI Bill into all national languages and not limit it to Hindi and English alone. We are a country of 120 crore people, a majority of whom would be more comfortable giving feedback in other national languages." He reiterated the demand for withdrawing BRAI Bill.
Commenting on the development, Neha Saigal, sustainable agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace India, also stressed on compeehensive pre-legislative consultations. “While we welcome the decision, we would like to underline that the Committee has still not followed the National Advisory Council’s recommendation on a comprehensive pre-legislative consultation which includes at least a 90 days period for public feedback and which involves proactive dissemination of the contents of the legislation for an informed response from citizens.”
She was critical of the parliamentary panel for “not making an effort to reach out to the public effectively through processes like public hearings across the country as we saw in the case of Bt Brinjal.” She said consultation still remains a Delhi-centric process.
Meanwhile, daughter of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule, has been also appointed member of the panel to which the controversial BRAI Bill has been referred. The agriculture ministry, under the present minister, is known for its pro-GM stand, which gives rise to speculation about the timing of his daughter's appointment to the committee from May 1.
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