ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Genetically Modified Crops: Policy Logjam

In its interim report to the Supreme Court, the Technical Expert Committee has called for a 10-year moratorium on fi eld trials of genetically modifi ed crops in India. An evolving process, regulation of biotechnology needs to take into account the lessons learnt, current and future needs, changes in laws and rules, and advances in science and technology. While the current regulatory framework can be improved, a blanket moratorium does not help us move beyond polarised debates in biotechnology.

The interim report of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on genetically modified (GM) crops, which was submitted in late 2012, provides yet more evidence of the urgent need for effective communication between natural and social scientists. The polarisation of perceptions has posed serious questions about the role of biotechnology (read science) with regard to our agricultural crops (read society). However, the efforts for reconciliation are not discernible. In fact, the TEC’s report is not the first one articulating the collective understanding and approach towards genetic manipulation. With a narrow narrative, the questions on social and economic relevance of biotechnology sound far more amplified. The report has come at a time, as critics point out, when the nation is still grappling with the moratorium on Bt brinjal, which de facto engulfed the full stream of crops awaiting approval for commercialisation.

The TEC was mandated by the Supreme Court (SC) of India in the course of the proceedings of a public interest litigation filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others challenging the current regulation of biotechnology in India (Writ Petition (Civil) No 260 of 2005). The members of the TEC are Imran Siddiqui, P S Ramakrishnan, P C Chauhan, P C Kesavan and B Sivakumar. Hearing the case in November 2012, the Court asked the TEC to submit its final report in six weeks. The TEC met various stakeholders, who provided inputs to the committee in the form of presentations and written submissions. Based on these inputs and its own deliberations, the TEC prepared an interim report with unanimous recommendations.

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