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Biosafety Data of Transgenic Brinjal Made Public

Meena Menon The Hindu

MUMBAI: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has published information on biosafety studies of Bt brinjal, developed by MAHYCO, on its official website. The data in eight volumes, runs into more than 1,100 pages.

Sources in the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) confirmed that it was the complete data sent by the company which was analysed by the department and forwarded to the GEAC. Greenpeace, which has been demanding that the data be made public and is involved in a long Right to Information (RTI) battle, says the data looks comprehensive, but there is neither an official notification nor an assurance of its completeness from the authorities.

However, MAHYCO had sought a stay on the data being made public after an order of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) last November. The Delhi High Court did grant the stay in December 2007 after MAHYCO, the Indian partner of the multinational agri biotech giant Monsanto, said the company could suffer commercial losses if the confidential data was disclosed to the public.

In the last hearing of the case in Delhi on August 20 there was no mention of the data being available on the website. Since the issue was sub judice and the DBT was one of the respondents it could not make the data public. DBT sources said there was nothing secret about the data and the only reason it did not share it with Greenpeace was because of the company's objections as a third party that their business interests would be affected. Now GEAC in its own wisdom has decided to post the data on the Internet.

Greenpeace said it has been close to 30 months since the first application for the biosafety data and minutes of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) committee meetings were submitted under the RTI Act 2005 by Divya Raghunandan. Since then the data was consistently denied by the DBT till the CIC directed the department to disclose the data to the appellant finally in November 2007.

Though it had come very late, this was a welcome step by GEAC, said Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace who had filed the RTI way back in February 2006. Recently, Dr. P.M. Bhargava, special invitee of the Supreme Court in the GEAC, raised concerns on the veracity of the Bt cotton as well as the Bt brinjal data as the procedures followed were flawed.