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GM Panel, SC Observer Spar Over Making Findings Public
Times of India, 20 Jul 2008


NEW DELHI: The apex body regulating use and tests of genetically modified products and crops in the country has run into controversy with the Supreme Court appointed observer, Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, accusing it of trying to muzzle his dissenting voice.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had been earlier instructed by the Supreme Court to take on board two observers to monitor the safety regulations and processes of the crucial body that clears field tests for new GM crops.

Bhargava, a noted independent scientist, had gone on record before the media as well as within GEAC meetings claiming that no GMO has been released in India (or anywhere else) or open field trials permitted, after doing a proper risk assessment.

But taking umbrage against Bhargava speaking out to the media, the committee, stacked with government officials and some industry representatives, noted that the observer should be mindful of "confidentiality in the functioning and deliberations of the Statutory Committees of the government...(what) the public is entitled to know is the combined wisdom and decisions of the committee and not the individual views expressed in the meetings", in its meeting on July 9, in the absence of the SC observer.

The minutes of the GEAC meetings are regularly drawn up by the environment ministry and shared through its website.

In a letter to the committee, Bhargava has now hit back saying: "This is surely an authoritarian (and not a democratic) view of a meeting. The public, I strongly believe, has a right to know about unresolved dissensions in a meeting. Even Supreme Court judgments have a dissenting note."

GEAC in its meeting had accused Bhargava of flipping in his stance, favouring GM crop trials within the meetings and on other forums, but speaking against the trials to media.

Bhargava in the strongly worded letter hinted at serious problems within the agency and wrote: "GEAC should not exhibit double standards by approving products of certain companies and not of others."

In Bhargava's absence, GEAC had commented that, "Bhargava should understand the gravity of the situation and should avoid giving distorted views on the regulatory process."

Bhargava, in his letter, criticized GEAC on several counts, including faulty permissions for testing BT Cotton and its toxicity for animals. He has also claimed that the committee was not following the laid down procedure in allowing field trials in different states, giving permissions merely on the basis of panchayats' agreeing and not asking for states' approvals.

The GEAC on its part has accused Bhargava of favouring NGOs and their contentions over science, which Bhargava has claimed are false accusations and demanded that the agency put up all its data in public domain to clear doubts.
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