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MARCH 2010

All-encompassing BT Bill raises alarm
Nandini Chandrashekar, Feb 27, Bangalore
Here is a slap on the face of the people, who, through public consultations, declared that Bt Brinjal was unsafe and should not be introduced in India.

The Department of Biotechnology, which has had enough of the democratic process, will be tabling in the present budget session, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill 2009 (BRAI). The Authority intends to be the only agency in the country which will take the call on introduction, manufacture, testing, transport and use of organisms and products of ‘modern biotechnology’.

The Bill calls for the formation of a three-member Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, which will provide advice and technical support to the Central and State government for framing policies. It will also give technical support to the agencies in India which deal with international activities relating to establishing and implementing policies having impact on the regulation of modern biotechnology. It will also review, analyse and develop safety guidelines and act as a nodal agency in matters related to regulation of organisms and products with international, government and non-governmental organisations. If established, first and foremost, BRAI will take away powers from the State governments of having any say about what foods should be introduced in their region.

That would be the job of the state level regulatory authority, established under BRAI, which incidentally will have a panel of members, including those from the private sector, nominated by the Authority. Chapter 15, Section 86, clearly states that any law in the state corresponding to this Act in the state, will be repealed with the existence of this Act.

It gets worse. Any information under Right To Information (RTI), can be retained as confidential by the Authority and need not be disclosed to anyone. That takes care of the so called transparency by the Authority. In addition, harsh penalties have been prescribed for ‘whoever without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about safety of organisms or products...” The prescribed punishment shall not be less than six months and may extend to one year and with fine that may extend upto Rs 2 lakh.

In fact, the Authority has the powers to punish people, if they want to conduct clinical trials with such organisms, with imprisonment upto five years which can extend upto ten years along with a fine of Rs 10 lakh. With this, the BRAI will clearly be the sole agency dictating terms on every aspect of transgenic crops and organisms.

The Bill has rightly raised alarm bells from several quarters for its all-encompassing role in the introduction of foods that have been genetically modified. It is unclear whether this regulatory authority would supersede or completely do away with requiring clearances from Ministry of Environment and Forests or Biodiversity Board before introducing transgenic crops. DH News Service