Supreme Court gives go-ahead to GM trials

Published: Saturday 15 March 2008

the Supreme Court of India said trials of genetically engineered crops may resume. On February 13, a division bench asked the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) to allow gm field trials, asking the agency to follow biosafety guidelines.

The court was responding to a petition by anti- gm activist Aruna Rodrigues that sought a ban on the trials on grounds that the crops would cause serious health hazards. The court said, "The fear of the unknown (of safety of gm crops) could not be a ground to restrict research in a country like India, which has millions to feed."

The bench comprising chief justice K G Balakrishnan, justice R V Raveendran and justice J M Panchal asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to include molecular biologist Pushpa Bhargava and agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan in the panel tat approves trial applications and make guidelines for granting approvals.

The ruling came after a heated debate that saw the petitioners' counsel Prashant Bhushan walking out for not being given an opportunity to present his case. Bhushan said the bench seemed to have overlooked the fact that India's international trade and exports could be hampered due to the trials. Recently, Russia expressed concerns about contamination of gm food grains from India.

The chief justice observed that various groups were using public litigations to settle scores and some economic groups supported the petitioners to settle rivalries. The court said it was difficult for it to handle petitions on such highly technical issues as it lacked expertise and pointed out there was an exclusive body of experts at geac, the approval committee.

Fourteen of the 29 members in geac are technical experts and it should not be a problem for them to screen applications, the bench said. Bhushan pointed out that the chairperson of geac does not have technical expertise. "The petitioners moved the court when the authorities failed to respond to appeals on the scientific problems and irregularities in the trials. The authorities did not take any action," says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Secunderabad-based ngo, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

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