New Delhi: A panel appointed by the Haryana government to look into a case of genetically modified brinjals making their way to the vegetable markets of northern India has recommended to the Modi government that it investigate the incident through central agencies.
The committee — chaired by Haryana Chief Secretary Depinder Singh Dhesi — made the recommendation in a meeting on 14 May held at Haryana Agriculture University (HAU), Hisar.
It came a couple of weeks after the case surfaced, when a farm activist conducted tests to report the Bt gene in brinjals available in the market. Bt crop is illegal for production in India.
During the meeting, the panel analysed the report submitted by the New Delhi-based National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, confirming that Bt brinjals did make it to the market.
“The act of growing and selling Bt brinjal was found to be a violation as per the rules of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests,” Ranbir Singh, joint director of horticulture department, Haryana, told ThePrint. He was present at the meeting.
“The section 7(1) of rules — manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous microorganisms genetically engineered organisms or cells rules, 1989 — clearly says that selling the Bt brinjals was a violation,” said Singh.
The panel further suggested to the union government to decide the future course of action.
“The committee has decided that the environment and health are national issues and the matter should further be investigated only by the central agencies,” he added.
The members of the panel included Pushpa Kharb, head of department of biotechnology, and Anil Kumar, HOD, plant pathology, at HAU. The committee also had representations from the office of state bacteriologists in Haryana.
Bt crop ‘destroyed’
Haryana’s horticulture department has allayed fears of widespread contamination of crop among the vegetable markets, ThePrint reported last week. It has ruled out the possibility of an ‘extensive spread’, saying the brinjals came from just one farm.
However, Singh claimed that the Haryana government destroyed the entire Bt crop found in the farm in question in Ratia village of Fatehabad district in the state.
“We have established that the act of selling the crop was a violation and hence, the plant has been uprooted and deeply buried,” said Singh.
In a show of evidence, the department has clicked pictures of officials uprooting and burying the Bt brinjal plants in Ratia.
Bt brinjal contamination controversy
Earlier this month, whistleblower Rajinder Chaudhary, a farm activist with Kudrati Kheti Abhiyaan, conducted a preliminary test showing a Bt positive gene in brinjal.
Bt crop is genetically modified to carry a gene from a naturally-occurring, soil-borne bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
In February 2010, then minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh had overruled the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which had approved commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal — the first crop genetically modified for mass production in India — on 14 October 2009.
The contamination incident in Haryana has been termed “the most serious breach of India’s biosafety, brinjal biodiversity, and therefore, bio-security” by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in a PIL filed in the Supreme Court against GM crops.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan has also sent a legal notice to Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan about this case.
However, top scientists and geneticists like Deepak Pental and G. Padmanabhan expect the government to legalise the crop as its consumption is absolutely safe and it gives farmers the chances of boosting their income by increasing the production.