Maharashtra farmers, under the aegis of Shetkari Sanghatana, activists and farmers launched a drive on Thursday to cultivate Bt brinjal from Ahmednagar district despite the genetically modified variety not being approved for commercial cultivation. The cultivation, which is illegal since it is unapproved by the nodal agency Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), was launched on Thursday to protest against the Union Government’s slackness in approving new varieties of ban on genetically modified (GM) crops. The Centre has asked State governments to crackdown on such cultivation. 

Speaking to reporters, Anil Ghanwat, President of Swatantra Bharat Party - the political wing of Shetkari Sanghatana, told reporters that across the world farmers are cultivating GM crops and benefiting from the latest technology. However, farmers in India are being denied the freedom of technology.

Shetkari Sanghatana leaders said that Bt brinjal seeds in India are developed by an Indian company with the help of a farm varsity. While this variety is yet to be legalised in India, Bangladesh approved it seven years ago and its farmers are reaping the benefits of Bt brinjal cultivation, said Ghanwat. On Thursday, Bt brinjal saplings were planted in Ghanwat’s farmland in the presence of farmers and activists across the State. Shetkari Sanghatana President Lalit Bahale said farmers are fighting for the freedom to use the technology as GM crop is the future for the farming community.

GM crop status

So far, the Union government has approved only the cultivation of non-food crop - cotton - among GM varieties. Since 2006, no new variety, including cotton, has been approved by GEAC, the nodal agency to clear GM crops in the country. Introduction of new GM crops also suffered a setback when the Supreme Court announced a 10-year- moratorium on cultivation of such varieties in 2009. Though the moratorium ended in 2019, no application has been filed for testing any new GM variety. Besides Bt brinjal, farmers have also been cultivating herbicide tolerant Bt cotton and a new GM variety cotton dubbed as 4G.