The Centre told the Supreme Court that it would take a decision in a month-and-a-half on whether it would allow the commercial roll-out of GM mustard. But the final word rests with the Court.
The plot line for the commercial launch of genetically modified (GM) mustard has so far uncannily resembled the controversial journey of Bt brinjal between 2009-2012.
The Central government Monday told the Supreme Court that it would take a decision in a month-and-a-half on whether it would allow the commercial roll-out of GM mustard. But for those who tracked the Bt brinjal issue, it all seems very familiar.
Back in 2012, the Environment ministry’s apex body for regulating genetically modified organisms, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had cleared the decks for the commercial launch of Bt brinjal. But a committee appointed by the apex court recommended that the government pull out of the project saying the launch could damage the environment.
The committee endorsed stopping all ongoing open field trials on such crops for 10 years until a new set of conditions were enforced, forcing then environment minister Jairam Ramesh to delay its release indefinitely.
Fearing a similar fate for GM mustard in the courts, the government seems to be hesitating taking a final call on its commercial launch although an in-principle approval was granted by the ministry over a year ago. States that lead mustard production in the country such as Bihar, Karnataka and Rajasthan have also opposed the commercial launch of the GM variety.
But the government has now been forced to give a commitment that a final decision is likely in the first week of September. The ministry’s assurance came after Chief Justice J.S. Khehar observed that the court could stop the government from introducing GM mustard if it finds evidence of adverse impact. Last year, environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues moved the top court seeking a stay on the government’s policy.
As of now GM cotton is the only other genetically modified crop that is cultivated in India.
The GEAC has told the Supreme Court that there are no risks to humans or the environment in commercially introducing genetically modified mustard.
The introduction of the GM variety will substantially enhance mustard production that has been stagnant for the last 20 years, the environment ministry said in an affidavit in the Supreme Court.
“No multi-nationals or private Indian company is involved in development of genetically engineered mustard,” the government stated. Dhara mustard hybrid-11 , the GE mustard variety was developed after 20 years of research by University of Delhi and has undergone 10 years of biosafety risk assessment, obtaining over 35 regulatory approvals, according to the government.
The government has said that 15 kg of the hybrid GM mustard will be cultivated in the first year of its launch and its yield will be closely monitored for another year.