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  1. #1
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    Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch


    NEW DELHI, APR 13: In a verdict which may have a far-reaching consequence in the future, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Friday directed the department of bio-technology (DBT) to make public the data generated from the tests carried out on transgenic crops by agro-biotech companies.

    Chief commissioner Wajahat Habibullah delivered this right to information (RTI) power-punch, in response to an petition filed by Greenpeace India, after the review committee on genetic modification (RCGM) under DBT consistently refused to part with this closely guarded secret for over a year. Striking down the DBT's contention that the data falls under Section 8.1.(d), Habibullah pointed out that the request of the applicant for toxicity and allergenicity tests on genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, okra and brinjal cannot be refused under the RTI Act. Any further grounds for non-disclosure are invalid even if the data in reference are in the process of development. The information was also directed to be disclosed under section 4. (1). (d) of the RTI Act, which states " provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons.” Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan who appeared pleaded before the CIC on behalf of Greenpeace India said,” The Commission's order is significant as past experience shows that RCGM has not used the right kind of protocols for bio-safety testing". In February, last year, Greenpeace India had requested the RCGM to make public the toxicity and allergenicity data for four GM crops alongwith the minutes of the meeting. "Our victory today is in keeping with the spirit of the RTI, and has only strengthened the RTI as a tool to building a participatory democracy, " Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace India.

    Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch


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  2. #2
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    CIC orders govt to divulge toxicity of GM foods


    A better version of the same news is reported in Times of India. The same is reproduced here for the benefit of members

    NEW DELHI: If a genetically modified (GM) food causes allergies or contains toxins, can the government refuse to disclose such bio-safety information on the grounds that it involves "commercial confidence" or "trade secrets" and that it will compromise the "competitive position" of the bio-tech company concerned?

    Central Information Commission (CIC) said no on Thursday and ordered the department of biotechnology to disclose toxicity and allergenicity data on transgenic food crops that are being field-tested across the country.

    In a far-reaching interface between RTI and environmental protection, the head of CIC, Wajahat Habibullah, directed the government to make public within 10 working days all the relevant data on genetically engineered brinjal, okra, mustard and rice which have been approved for multi-location trials.

    The order came on an appeal filed by a Greenpeace activist, Divya Raghunandan, against government's refusal to disclose the data saying it was covered by Section 8 (1)(d) of RTI Act which exempts from disclosure "information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party".

    While arguing for the disclosure of the toxicity and allergenicity data, Raghunandan cited a recent rat-feeding study in Europe by three French scientists who, despite the efforts of bio-tech major Monsanto to keep the matter under wraps, established that a genetically modified maize brought out by that company was not a safe food.

    Raghunandan also drew attention to an alarming admission made by the government in response to her RTI application.

    Although it has approved their multi-location field trials, the government said that the data on rice, okra and mustard was "under development" and "yet to be evaluated" by it. Such laxity in regulation, she said, could lead to genetic contamination in the areas where field trials were being held even before the toxicity and allergenicity data had been analysed.

    Given the obvious public interest in the health risk assessment of genetically modified foods, CIC observed that the government should be, under Section 4 of the RTI Act, proactively putting out all the relevant data without waiting for applications for their disclosure.

    But CIC declined Raghunandan's plea for making public the minutes of the meetings of the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM), which approved the various proposals of multi-location field trials of genetically modified food crops.

    Since RCGM's minutes mention details of the proposals made by each of the bio-tech companies, Habibullah chose to leave it to the government to take a call on whether those confidential documents could be made public.

    CIC orders govt to divulge toxicity of GM foods-India-NEWS-The Times of India
    Last edited by ganpat1956; 14-04-07 at 12:26 PM.

  3. #3
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    Govt to divulge safety test data on GM crop


    The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the government to make public information on safety tests data of a genetically engineered crop, while noting that such details need to be divulged as a matter of "public interest."

    The Department of Bio-technology (DBT) which failed to comply with the Commission's order passed in April this year to disclose details about toxicity and allergenicity data of four genetically modified (GM) crops, has now been directed to divulge data on BT brinjal.

    The CIC's order of April 13 had also directed DBT to disclose bio-safety data of rice, okra (lady's finger) and mustard, after an Right to Information application was filed by Greenpeace activist Divya Raghunandan.

    The information about these three GM crops were denied on reasons that the relevant data was yet to be generated. DBT has been directed to the release the data within a stipulated time frame.

    "It is quite clear that genetically engineered organism or cells are recognised by government as an item potentially hazardous to public health. It automatically follows that full compliance with the rules is a matter of public interest," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said.

    The DBT had also attached a request from Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (MAHYCO), which had stated disclosure of any information apart from that of relevant summary tests studies, available on the portal of Genetically Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), would affect their competitive interest. The company's request was turned down by the CIC.

    Raghunandan also contended before the Commission that she be granted a compensation of Rs 50,000 for the delay of time and money in chasing the information request filed 20 months ago. The applicant has been asked to provide the CIC details of loss suffered for assessment.



  4. #4
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    Re: Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch



    As reported by Joe C Mathew on business-standard.com on 21 March 2008:
    Monsanto, Greenpeace clash over GM brinjal safety in India

    Monsanto, Greenpeace clash over GM brinjal safety in India

    The MNC's seed partner doesn't want details of its safety test in the public domain.

    A case filed in the Delhi High Court will decide the fate of exclusive data shared by companies with the government. Companies, especially those in the pharmaceutical and agri-chemicals businesses, don’t want such data to be made public in order to protect their commercial interests.

    Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco), the seed partner of multinational agro-biotech major Monsanto Corporation, has moved the Delhi High Court against a Central Information Commission order seeking details of the safety test data generated during clinical trials of its genetically modified (GM) brinjal, the first GM edible crop to be introduced in India.

    Mahyco had submitted the data with the department of biotechnology for regulatory clearances. Divya Raghunandan, a representative of global environmental watchdog Greenpeace, had sought this information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

    The department turned down the plea on the grounds that the information sought by Greenpeace included “commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party”.

    Overruling the department, the Central Information Commission found merit in the Greenpeace argument that the data were not meant for commercial purposes and was sought to ascertain the risks that transgenic crops pose, particularly when open air field trials are being conducted in several places across the country.

    Mahyco has gone to court to keep the data from being put out in the public domain. In its petition, it has also said that the Central Information Commission’s order violates the obligations of India under the Trade- Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organisation.

    The Delhi High Court passed an interim order in December 2007 staying the order till the next hearing of the case on April 23.

    Some activists have thrown in their lot with Greenpeace. “The RTI Act clearly overrules any other rule that provides ‘data protection’ if the public authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information,” RTI activist Prashant Bhushan said.

    However, the department of biotechnology has said that the regulatory clearance for conducting trials of Mahyco’s brinjal was given after proper scrutiny and they pose no public health hazards.

    Greenpeace has obtained similar data on Monsanto’s genetically modified insect resistant maize in Europe through a court order. The Monsanto data, when independently evaluated, had given rise to conclusions that were contradictory to Monsanto’s observations.

    Armed with the new data, the international NGO had launched a campaign, though not with much success, to see that the marketing approval given to the particular maize variety (MON 863) in Europe was withdrawn. Greenpeace is looking at the possibilities of a similar review of the data generated by Mahyco for its brinjal variety..
    Twitter: @cjkarira

  5. #5
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    MAHYCO refuses to share safety data on GM crops


    As reported by Vibha Varshney DOWN TO EARTH - Science and Environment Magazine on 04 April 2008:
    MAHYCO refuses to share safety data on GM crops | News | Down To Earth magazine

    MAHYCO refuses to share safety data on GM crops

    New Delhi, April 4: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has pulled up the public information officer of the Airports Authority of [COLOR=blue ! important][COLOR=blue ! important]India[/COLOR][/COLOR] (AAI) for not providing information in the stipulated period of one month.


    AAI PIO B.V. Subha Rao of the Chennai office has been found to have violated the provisions of the act and issued a showcause notice as to why he should not be penalised.


    Taking a stern view of the delay in providing the information, information commissioner M.M. Ansari pulled up CPIO B.V. Subba Rao of the Chennai office, where the information was filed. He said the CPIO is held responsible for violation of Section 7(1) of the act as he did not respond within the stipulated period of 30 days. The application was replied after nearly four months. The CPIO is, therefore, directed to show cause as to why a penalty of Rs 250 per day, up to a maximum of Rs 25,000, should not be imposed on him for the delay in furnishing the information.


    The CIC also directed him to submit his explanation within 15 working days and also appear for a personal hearing on May 23, failing which penalty would be imposed.


    The applicant, Mr V. Francis Xavier, filed an application under the Right to Information Act to the Airports Authority of India.


    The applicant and others had grievances relating to fixation of scale of pay. In this context, they had made various representations for rectification of anomaly in the scale of pay. They alleged that no worthwhile action was taken and so they sought to know the status of the action taken on their application through and application under the RTI Act.
    Twitter: @cjkarira

  6. #6
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    Re: Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch


    As reported by TNN on timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 09 April 2008:
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/I...ow/2936225.cms

    Centre nod to make public toxicity data of GM crops

    NEW DELHI: After persistently refusing right to information applications seeking access to the toxicity and allergenicity data relating to genetically modified crops, the Centre on Tuesday agreed before the SC to make these public, much to the joy of anti-GM crop campaigners.

    The government's refusal to part with this information had led to petitions filed by NGO "Gene Campaign" and Aruna Rodrigues, who alleged that the data had vital bearing on the safety of human beings and environs.

    When the matter came up for hearing before a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran, counsel for petitioners Sanjay Parikh and Prashant Bhushan said the companies experimenting with GM crops could not claim privacy and copyright over the data as it did not relate to the manufacturing process but about the future damage potential of the crop.

    At this point, additional solicitor general Amarandra Saran, in what marked a major shift of stance, told the bench that the government was willing to put all data relating to toxicity and allerginicity of the GM crops, which are under experimentation prior to field trial, on the official website.

    Just two years ago, the Department of Bio-Technology had rejected an RTI appeal on the issue and said: "The toxicity and allergenicity data being generated on transgenic crops that are yet to get the approval for commercial cultivation, is the intellectual property of the applicant."

    "It also has commercial value and disclosure of information on the same is likely to adversely affect the competitive advantage of the applicant generating the data as it can be taken as publicly available information by the competitors in the same field."


    Twitter: @cjkarira

  7. #7
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    Legal tussle over giving out data on bio-safety tests of transgenic crops


    As reported by Special Correspondent in hindu.com on 15 April 2008:
    The Hindu : Front Page : Legal tussle over giving out data on bio-safety tests of transgenic crops

    Legal tussle over giving out data on bio-safety tests of transgenic crops

    MUMBAI: While the Supreme Court last Tuesday ordered that bio-safety tests on transgenic crops should be made public, there is a petition pending in the Delhi High Court, which has issued a stay on giving out data on bio-safety tests of genetically engineered brinjal which is under trial.

    The company testing transgenic brinjal, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), got a stay last year on the order of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) asking the department of biotechnology (DBT) to part with data on bio-safety tests of transgenic brinjal.

    Greenpeace is about to challenge Mahyco’s contentions by filing an affidavit by April 23 in the Delhi High Court. Greenpeace activist Divya Raghunandan sought information on bio-safety, toxicity and allergencity tests on transgenic crops like okra, mustard, brinjal and rice under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In April 2007, the CIC asked the DBT to provide all bio-safety data available with it saying that “any further grounds for non-disclosure are invalid even if the information was still in the process of development.”

    However, on May 30, 2007, the DBT provided only the names of tests, protocols and result summaries derived from the data for genetically engineered brinjal, but not actual ‘data’ as requested. the DBT said since the data on toxicity, allergencity and other bio-safety data ran into thousands of pages, it could be scrutinised in the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the presence of a Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) representative. There was no data given on the other three crops, rice, okra and mustard, and the DBT said it was still being generated.

    The CIC heard the case again on the basis of a non-compliance petition filed by Ms. Raghunandan on November 12, 2007. Mahyco also appealed on the grounds that the data at stake had immense implications for its commercial interests and that it was never given a chance to represent its case. This, however, was rejected by the CIC as he felt that the argument that it would affect a third party was addressed before and it did not arise now.

    Again on November 22, 2007, the CIC ordered the DBT to provide the requested information within ten working days or provide Ms. Raghunandan the time frame it needed.

    However, Mahyco approached the Delhi High Court and obtained a stay on the order of the CIC on December 6, 2007.

    It has also sought to quash the order on the grounds that the disclosure of the bio-safety information of transgenic crops will affect the commercial interests of the company. For, bio-safety data falls under the protected confidential information covered by the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime and is to be considered an intellectual property of the company.

    Mahyco managing director Raju Barwale in a statement to The Hindu said, “All of our information has been submitted to respective committees designated by the Government of India for appropriate review and analysis. The summary of our research data is also available on the DBT website.

    Our petition is about not following the process laid out under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, [it is] about violation of the principles of natural justice, about protection of confidential trade data from competitive interests permitted under the RTI Act and to avoid a law and order problem in view of instances of attacks on the field trials, again permitted under the RTI Act.” Mr. Barwale said, “We are unable to discuss this any further in view of the matter being sub judice.”
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    The Brinjal Battles



    The brinjal battles

    An ongoing case on genetically modified brinjals has led to questions being raised on the Right to Information Act. Rahul Jayaram reports
    Its an unlikely candidate for controversy, but the lowly brinjal is at the heart of a battle. The issues at stake: whether agricultural and pharmaceutical companies should share classified data (read: trade secrets) with the government and independent watchdogs. The two sides in this joust: the Indian partner of a US-based biotech firm thats trying to ease in a new version of a genetically modified (GM) brinjal, on the one side, and the environmental group Greenpeace and, indirectly, the Central Information Commission (CIC), on the other.
    Last month, the Maharashtra-based Mahyco, the Indian partner of US agro-biotech firm Monsanto, moved the Delhi High Court against a CIC order seeking details of the safety test data generated during clinical trials of its GM brinjal the first GM edible crop that is to be introduced in India.
    Greenpeace had first filed the suit against Mahyco two years ago, invoking the Right to Information (RTI) Act, asking for details about its safety. But the case, Greenpeace claims, has shown the other side of the RTI, which has been hailed as a revolutionary initiative in contemporary India.
    The RTI may have been one of the most people-empowering ideas in the country, says Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace who filed the first suit against Mahyco in February 2006, but it has attributes which makes it prone to manipulation and obfuscation, especially by companies. Our legal experience with Mahyco attests to that.
    The suit begs several questions of the RTI. Is it too open-ended? Are its clauses stacked in favour of companies? Does its functioning need to be addressed? Mahyco, on its part, has declined to share its views on the issue. We cannot comment on this issue, said a senior Mahyco official.
    At the heart of this matter is the publics right to access information regarding what food will be on its plate in the future. Mahyco has plans to first bring in the GM brinjal, followed by genetically modified varieties of mustard and rice. Greenpeace and others involved in the case argue that the fact that Mahyco has dilly dallied about revealing data makes the matter suspicious.
    To be sure, such battles are not new in the West. Monsantos reputation took a hit when a variety of its GM corn seeds was slapped with a ban in Germany last May. The German federal ministry had then stated that Monsantos MON 810 corn seeds posed a danger to the environment and that the company hadnt given the agriculture ministry a detailed crop monitoring plan. Mahyco, Greenpeace contends, seems to be treading the same path.
    But Mahyco has regularly invoked Section 8.1d of the RTI Act, which gives companies the right to withhold information which may let out a trade secret or infringe intellectual property rights unless its proved that the disclosure of such information is essential to the interests of the public at large.
    What is more, Rajya Sabha MP and agricultural leader Sharad Joshi is sceptical about the environmentalists efforts, stressing that such cases hamper development. GM seeds may or may not be as productive as other seeds. But they are not designed to be harmful in the way they are understood to be, says the founder of the peasant organisation, Shetkari Sanghatana, Throughout history organisations and individual groups have opposed modernity. When factories came, they opposed them, saying these would kill agriculture. When trains came they opposed them, saying that they would harm the environment. When computers came they said they would take away all the jobs. But look at what happened India progressed. These are regressive forces.
    Others demur. Of course such disclosure is essential. Its about food, about public health. There can be no compromise on that, says activist Nikhil Dey of the National Campaign for Right to Information (NCPRI). When youre confident about the nature of your product, you wont hesitate revealing what its like or what its made of. If youre iffy about it, people raise eyebrows... This is the profit motive talking. NCPRI is a movement of committed individuals working towards making the Indian government and society more transparent and accountable. It had a big hand in pushing for RTI and consists of noted activists like Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh and Dey.
    As for the question of protecting intellectual property rights, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is the lawyer for Greenpeace, is quick to point out that there are no patent rights for GM products in India as of now. So that argument is not tenable. R. Jai Krishna, a Greenpeace campaigner for sustainable agriculture, stresses that data obtained from the field tests conducted by Mahyco can be copyrighted, not patented. Information can be copyrighted, products are patented. In any case, Indian law doesnt have any provision for patenting GM products as yet. The larger point that emerges is how the case appears to have allowed Mahyco to use different provisions within the RTI to shift positions and give summaries of field reports, not hard data.
    Yet Greenpeace and other activists are not pushing for changes to the RTI. I wouldnt recommend touching the broad framework, says Dey, but Id like to see more specific expert input in the legal system. The inherent bias towards company rights needs checks, and should have riders added whenever required.
    Jai Krishna suggests that an interesting way to work around this is to keep a watch on related monitoring bodies as well. The issue is the functioning of the RTI and the agents that make this happen, not the RTI per se, he emphasises.
    For example, in the current case the data given out by Mahyco whenever instructed to do so which Greenpeace anyway feels isnt entirely relevant to the safety aspect were studied by a review committee appointed by the department for biotechnology (DBT) under the order of the CIC. But a government-appointed review committee must have people who are asking the right questions, analysing the right data and doing the right tests, he says.
    In May 2007, the DBT provided only the result summaries of the data that are derived from the data for genetically engineered brinjal. Also, it directed the appellant to go to the ministry of environment and forests and take down the thousands of pages of data under the supervision of an officer. No data were given on the other three crops rice, okra and mustard, he says.
    But K.K. Tripathi of the review committee on genetic manipulation (RCGM) of the DBT, and part of the review committee on the case, is unaffected by any finger pointing. Hes also very noncommittal. We are doing what is asked of us by the CIC. Theres a process in place and we adhere to it. The results of the tests and data analyses are routinely put out. The high court will decide what is to be done, he says.
    But one thing is for sure. Little did we know a brinjal could have the potential to stir up the Indian legal system. Call it vegetable power?


    The Telegraph,Calcutta,14 May 2008.
    Last edited by opsharma; 15-05-08 at 12:00 AM.

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