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The agri-biotech sector has termed the Centre’s move to not allow field trials of Bt brinjal or any other genetically modified crops without considering the recommendation of States and union territories as “regressive”.

Industry players said the Centre’s latest move may hit fresh investments in the agriculture research and development and may block new technologies that can help reduce the use of water and fertiliser consumption, considered crucial to fight climate change.

In a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, Minister for Environment Minister and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said: “It has been decided that proposals for field trials of GM crops, including Bt brinjal, will not be taken up for consideration in the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) without the recommendation of the concerned State/UT Government”.

Field trials

“We are disappointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s regressive decision to not go ahead with the Bt Brinjal field trials or any other GM crop trials without considering the recommendations from States and UTs. This further complicates the already cumbersome process of conducting field trials of transgenic crops in India,” said Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India and alliance for Agri Innovation.

Bajaj said that as per the regulatory process, the GEAC reviews the data submitted along with the application to conduct field trials and is the only body by law to review the safety of the submitted data and grant final approval of field trials.

“The proposed process further puts a question mark for science to progress in agricultural biotechnology let alone commercialisation and will lead to complete stoppage of GM research in India,” Bajaj said. Ram Kaundinya, Director General of FSII, said: “This will jeopardise the huge investments made by the Indian private sector companies in this space as well as the investments being made by the government through public institutions. Careers of thousands of students studying biotechnology will be finished.”

Making a case for use of technology, Kaundinya said, “If we do not use GM technology, we will also lose opportunities to save water and reduce fertiliser and pesticide consumption. Most importantly, it puts the Indian farmer at the grave risk of becoming uncompetitive in the international markets.”

Farmers to be impacted

Further, Kaundinya said that there was a need to ensure that farmers in India get access to the same technology that farmers in many other countries enjoy.

“Our Prime Minister has committed to the doubling of farmers’ income and adoption of new innovations is a major component of the strategy to achieving this goal. Therefore, we urge that the science based regulatory process in the country be restored and all applications are assessed in purely scientific and time-based manner. In fact, we request that the Government develops a science-based biotechnology policy”.