NITI Aayog’s Three Year Action Agenda, which was recently released, calls for new technologies and said that technology in the form of high-yielding seeds and fertilisers were the driver of India’s attainment of self-sufficiency through the green revolution, and new technology remains one of the most important determinants of growth in agriculture.
“Genetically modified (GM) seeds have emerged as a powerful new technology promising high productivity, improved quality and lower use of fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides in the last one to two decades. They have also gained increasing acceptance among farmers around the world. Indian farmers also enthusiastically embraced these seeds in the only crop in which they have been permitted so far: cotton,” it said.
“ There is some concern that GM seeds can be monopolized by multinationals, which may then exploit our farmers. But this concern is readily addressed by limiting GM seeds to those varieties discovered by our own institutions and companies,” the Action Agenda paper said.
NITI’s Three Year Action Agenda also recommended that there is an urgent need to overhaul the public sector Research & Development (R&D) institutions while creating favourable environment for private sector participation in agricultural research and technology development. “ A genetic breakthrough in pulses and oilseeds is the need of the hour, and a challenge led approach to encourage consortia that can carry out crosscutting research with interdepartmental and multidisciplinary facets must be implemented immediately,” it said.
However, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology and Environment & Forests, after detailed study, detected several loopholes in GM mustard which the government strongly favours. The Committee has asked Environment Ministry to examine the impacts of such crops “thoroughly” before taking its final call. The panel, headed by the Congress member Renuka Chowdhury, submitted its report on ‘Genetically Modified crops and its impact on Environment’ to the Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday.
Referring to various representations made before it, the Panel comprising of 31 MPs including 11 from the ruling BJP said it was surprising to know that none of the agencies conducted the closed field trials on their own but were solely dependent on the data provided to them by the technology developer.
“The Committee feels that this leaves a scope for the technology developers to fudge the data to suit their own requirements”, said the Panel’s report.
The report comes days after the government told the Supreme Court that the Centre could take a final decision on the regulator’s go-ahead for commercial cultivation of GM mustard by September-end. It had, however, assured the apex court on July 31 that the transgenic mustard would not be allowed to be sowed till then.
The regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) had last year given its approval for commercial release of transgenic mustard, developed by a Delhi University institution.
The Standing Committee also questioned the composition of the GEAC. It noted that the members of the central regulator were mostly from the government and government-aided institutions and there was hardly any representation from the states particularly where Bt Cotton (transgenic cotton) had been introduced. It recommended that the GEAC must be headed by an expert from the field of biotechnology, given the understanding of scientific data and analysis of research and its implication before coming to a conclusion in the matter.
The government had submitted before the Panel that the safety aspects of transgenic crops are well taken care of. However, the arguments did not satisfy the Panel as there has been “no in-house scientific study carried out till date to analyse the impact of GM crops on human health”.