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6 Months on, GM Crops Panel Wants Expert off Board
Manoj MittaTimes of India

NEW DELHI: The marriage forced by the Supreme Court to introduce "transparency" took exactly six months to break down as the regulator for genetically modified organisms has come out with its intention to seek a divorce from independent expert P M Bhargava.

In its last monthly meeting held on August 13, the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) decided to "seek modification" of the February 13 SC order which had asked the 30-member regulatory body, which is part of the environment ministry, to invite Bhargava to participate in its
deliberations. It is trying to get Bhargava off its back although SC said that the whole purpose of his induction was to take on board the concern of the petitioner, Aruna Rodrigues, that "the constitution of
GEAC is not proper as it lacks independent experts, thereby leading to lack of transparency" in determining the bio-safety aspects of the GM crops that have already been cleared or are undergoing field trials.

The presence of Bhargava, founder director of the prestigious Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, in GEAC's meetings did serve the intended purpose of uncovering bio-safety compromises in the clearance already given to the commercial cultivation of Bt cotton and the proposal of making brinjal the first GM food crop in India.

GEAC, which is headed by additional secretary in environment ministry B S Parsheera, is miffed with Bhargava's attempts to reform the system. Bhargava was earlier in the news for his outspokenness as a member of the Knowledge Commission set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. According to the minutes of its meeting, GEAC made a series of allegations against Bhargava, a Padma Bhushan awardee:

* It held him responsible for "the malicious and distorted views on the regulatory process being reported in the newspapers periodically."

* His personal views, which were "without any scientific basis", were being used by NGOs to file PILs.

* His attempts to rake up public sentiments are "totally unprofessional and unethical".

* Bhargava committed a "breach of trust" by going to the media although he was not GEAC's spokesperson.

* Apart from advocating a moratorium on GMOs, Bhargava has "never provided any constructive inputs for streamlining the regulatory mechanism."

In an equally hard-hitting written response, Bhargava threatened to file a case of defamation against GEAC for "casting personal aspersions" without addressing any of "the purely scientific and professional views" expressed by him at its meetings. "May I, in all humility, remind you that I am not a member of GEAC. I am an invitee to GEAC, not because GEAC chose to do so, but only because of a Supreme Court's decision," Bhargava added, by way of explanation for not submitting to what he
called a "dictatorial set up."

Refuting the allegation that he had only offered criticism, Bhargava said GEAC's own minutes would bear out his "many inputs" and that he had in addition submitted a comprehensive list of the risks of GMOs with suggestions of how they could be assessed "in an objective and transparent way."

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