NEW DELHI: Field trials for the genetically modified (GM) varieties of eight major food crops, including rice, potato, mustard and tomato, are in the pipeline but guess how prepared India is to handle threat of contamination: 18 years after the Centre asked each state to set up a state biotechnology coordination committee (SBCC) to monitor GM crops, several key states are yet to do so.
Worse, among the defaulters are Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu which are the hotspots for trials of new GM crops. This information has come out of documents revealed through several RTI applications.
The SBCCs are empowered under the Environment Protection Act to monitor and inspect GM crop trials and can take punitive action in case of any violation. Besides, in view of possible threat of contamination of regular crops from GM crop trials and issues about safe storage, these committees are also responsible for reviewing safety and control measures in the industries and institutions handling genetically engineered organisms. In the absence of any other legal mechanism, these committees are the only monitors in what essentially becomes a state issue once the Union government approves the trials.
Among the defaulters, while some states have admitted they failed to create such committees, Kerala is unsure. While the Kerala directorate of agriculture claims the body has been set up, the science and technology department says no such body has been constituted.
The situation seems to be no better in states that can at least on paper claim to have the committees.
West Bengal constituted the SBCC only two months back, spurred by the controversy over some GM field trials in the state. In Punjab, the SBCC met for the first time only in 2005.
All these documents have been included in a petition filed before the Supreme Court as evidence of laxity in the regulations governing GM regulation in the country.
The petition has demanded that the government ensure all mandatory state-level bodies and procedures for monitoring are in place before the commencement of any field trial. It has also called for permission from the state authorities concerned.