Environment minister cornered over bio-piracy of brinjal

National Biodiversity Authority says decision on legal proceedings soon

 
By Jyotika Sood
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

  Jayanthi  
  "National Biodiversity Authority has received a complaint from Environment Support Group on alleged violation by Monsanto and their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties for development of Bt brinjal."  
 
 

—— Jayanthi Natarajan
Union Minister of Environment and Forests

 
 
 
Members of Parliament cornered Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in the Rajya Sabha this week over bio-piracy issue of Bt brinjal asking her what action was being taken against the alleged violators.



Members of Parliament M P Achuthan and D Raja asked Natrajan “whether it is a fact that the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) has found that the development of Bt brinjal was a case of bio-piracy and has recommended action against the US agri-business giant Monsanto and its Indian collaborators who developed and promoted the controversial, genetically modified vegetable; and if so the details thereof and Government’s reaction thereto?”

Natarajan in her reply stated that NBA has received a complaint from Environment Support Group, a non-profit in Bengaluru, on alleged violation by Mahyco/ Monsanto and their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties for development of Bt brinjal. NBA has decided to proceed as per law against the alleged violators on the basis of reports of the State Biodiversity Board for accessing local brinjal varieties without prior approval of the competent authority.

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The law mandates that when biodiversity is to be accessed in any manner for commercial, research and other uses, local communities who have protected local varieties and cultivators for generations must be consulted and if they agree, benefits must accrue to them as per internationally applicable Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol. According to National Biodiversity Rules, prior approval/consent is required from the local competent authorities like the state biodiversity board or panchayats before using an indigenous plant variety or germplasm.

Bt brinjal is the first GM food crop developed in India. It was developed under a public-private partnership (PPP) between Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (Coimbatore), University of Agricultural Sciences (Dharwad) and Mahyco, spearheaded by Cornell University of the US. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had, however, imposed a two-year moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal in February 2011.

  Balakrishna  
  "At the moment we are looking at information and there are still certain issues that are yet to be resolved and some information that is to be collected from various institutions and areas."  
 
 

—— Balakrishna Pisupati
NBA chairperson

 
 
 
Speaking to Down to Earth, Balakrishna Pisupati, chairperson of NBA, said, “At the moment we are looking at information and there are still certain issues that are to be resolved and some information that is to be collected from various institutions and areas. So, it is not possible to give a definite answer to whether NBA will take action against Mahyco, Monsanto, University of Agriculture (Dharwad) and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).” In case the legal proceedings are undertaken, both the National Biodiversity Board and the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board would be party to it, he added.

On questioning if Tamil Nadu Agricultural University was found guilty, he said, “Bt Brinjal was developed in a public-private partnership and we are still scrutinising the agreement and various steps involved in developing this crop. The role of TNAU is still under investigation.” It is tough to give a timeline when the decision on legal proceedings will come but “I can assure you that it will come soon”, said the NBA chairman.

The NBA comes into role only when genetic resource is assessed for a commercial use. “If an enterprise with more than 50 per cent stake of some foreign company or an NRI wants to use genetic resource from India, only then they have to seek permission from NBA. But in case of public institutions doing research on genetically modified vegetable and fruits, they do not have to seek NBAs permission for their research,” he added. Earlier at a meeting on June 20, NBA had decided that it may initiate legal action against Mahyco, a partner of biotech giant Monsanto, and their collaborators for accessing and using local brinjal varieties to develop the genetically modified (GM) or Bt brinjal without prior approval from the authorities. The minutes of the meeting were made public on August 11. (Read: NBA may prosecute Mahyco, collaborators).

The decision had come in response to a complaint by Environment Support Group before the Karnataka Biodiversity Board (KBB) in February. KBB in its report submitted to NBA on May 28 said “six local varieties for development of Bt Brinjal” have been accessed in Karnataka by Mahyco / Monsanto and their collaborators “without prior approval from state biodiversity board”. The KBB had sought “further action” by NBA on the complaint by the non-profit.

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