Bikaneri Narma fraud investigator Soporoy made co-chairperson
After maintaining silence on it for eight months, the Union ministry of environment and forests has finally re-constituted the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body which regulates manufacturing, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically engineered organisms and cells in the country.
The last GEAC term ended in June 2012 and since then there has been no meeting or screening of the genetically modified (GM) product applications in the country. As a result, GM research and field trials in the country, especially by the seed industry, was halted for over eight months. According to information, over 100 applications from different companies, both Indian and foreign, have piled up due to non-functioning of GEAC.
Additional secretary of environment ministry Hem Pande has reportedly been made chair of the expert panel while Jawaharlal Nehru University vice-chancellor Sudhir Kumar Soporoy has been appointed co-chairperson. Soporoy’s appointment is interesting since he chaired the committee that investigated Bikaneri Narma fraud by public research laboratories.
Joint secretary (biosafety) from the environment ministry, who is yet to be selected, would assist the duo as vice-chairperson in the 16-member committee, which was notified on March 11. The panel would work for a term of three years. The independent outside experts include former National Institute of Nutrition director B Sesikeran, S S Banga, a geneticist from the Punjab Agricultural University and C R Babu from School of Environmental Studies, Delhi University.
Among other experts from various ministries are K K Sinha from ministry of commerce and industry, S K Apte from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and a representative from the department of biotechnology in the ministry of science and technology.
The institutional nominees are Swapan Kumar Datta from Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), K Satyanarayan from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Ramesh V Sonti from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Swati Srivastava from Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, A K Sinha from Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage and chairperson of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Ranjini Warrier, director ministry of environment has been appointed member secretary.
Notably, some new curious appointments are chairperson of CPCB and K K Sinha from the ministry of commerce and industry who seem to have neither expertise nor ministerial/departmental association with genetically modified organisms or crops. Apart from the duo, S K Apte from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is another appointee whose presence seems to be interesting.
The committee, which is a statutory body, is responsible for approval of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous living micro-organisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental perspective. It also has the power for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment, including experimental field trials.
GEAC also looks after approval of proposals involving the use of living modified organism falling in the risk category III and above in the manufacture/import of recombinant pharma products or where the end product of the recombinant pharma product is a living modified organism.
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