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How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas* 

On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways. 
Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated.
On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process.
What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14, 1892. More than a century after the family began live in the house, on April 17, 1995, a notice was served to Rodrigues’ mother Theresa under the Public Premises (eviction of unauthorized occupants) Act, 1971. A response to this notice was submitted promptly, on April 20, 1995. 
The matter has since been in court, although the last order issued, on August 1, 2001, mentioned clearly that status quo would be maintained, with the occupants having rights of occupation that shall not be disturbed except through due process of law. That order, from over 20 years ago, was not challenged, and thus held.
On December 20, 2022, the judge ruled in the civil suit filed by the petitioner that the title was denied but the court nevertheless upheld the right of occupation of the petitioner to the bungalow. The same judge refused to sanction a stay at around 5:30 pm. The forced eviction followed on the next day at 9am, even though the petitioner had not yet seen the order of the court. Rodrigues requested the Defence Estates Officer repeatedly to show her any orders from the court that required her eviction, but he maintained that he was not required to do so.
Why, one might ask, was this action taken so abruptly, at this time? The media in India has been silent on this eviction so far, but journalist Colin Todhunter, who has been following agriculture-related developments worldwide, commented
“Her (Rodrigues) tireless efforts have been a thorn in the side of global agritech corporations and seriously compromised regulatory officials who have for the best part of two decades been trying to get GM food crops cultivated in India.”
The Supreme Court has been hearing the case of the genetically modified mustard. On Friday, at an online press conference, a group of citizens noted how there were at least 15 instances of serious regulatory lapses in the approval granted for the cultivation of GM mustard. 
The press conference on Friday was limited to noting the lapses in procedure, and an earlier press conference had detailed the problematic areas with genetic modification of mustard, a crop whose country of origin/ diversification India is; also, there are already non-GMO varieties and hybrids of mustard under cultivation in the country that offer higher yields than the genetically modified variety, HT hybrid DMH 11, produced by Delhi University.
“This report was released ahead of a crucial hearing by the Supreme Court on the matters related to the approval of GM HT mustard. The Coalition is a platform that works to keep India’s food systems free from gene technologies, and to promote safe, farmer-controlled, sustainable and viable alternatives,” the press release noted.
It explained that “the Attorney General (AG) on behalf of Union of India has been attempting to move the Hon’ble Bench’s attention away from the Court-Appointed TEC’s ban recommendation with regard to HT crops. The Technical Expert Committee’s ban recommendation on HT crops is based on scientific evidence and after listening to various stakeholders including the Government of India."
It added, "The Government of India-nominated experts into the TEC were also asking for this ban, unanimously with three other independent experts nominated by the petitioners. This should have clinched matters, and the Government should have banned these dangerous GM crops.”
Since the AG had in court asked if there were any regulatory lapses, the report was released in the public domain. No independent health expert was part of the GM mustard appraisal process.
The regulatory mechanism in India, the AG argued in court, is among the best in the world. Yet, the formal approval letter to the applicant for planting the crop was issued on October 25, 2022; GM mustard seed for planting, however, was delivered to the Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research (DRMR) even earlier, on October 22, 2022 – how could that have happened, in a regulatory system that is “the best in the world”?
In the case of BT Brinjal, pollen flow studies were conducted for three years in two locations; brinjal is cultivated on about seven lakh hectares in India; mustard is cultivated on about 80 lakh hectares, and mustard affects the lives and livelihoods of a far larger number of Indian citizens; yet the government thought fit to conduct pollen flow study of GM mustard only in one location, in one season. 
The impact on soil of cultivation of BT Brinjal was studied for four years, including the impact on earthworms; in the case of GM mustard, the study did not include earthworm and collembola populations.
BT Brinjal was put through mucous membrane irritation test, primary skin irritation test, allergenicity testing in rats, feeding studies on fish, rabbits, broiler chickens or dairy cows – such tests were not conducted in the case of GM mustard, and adequate health safety tests have thus not been conducted. 
The applicant had sought exemption from livestock feeding tests, but it is unclear whether this exemption was granted by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation of the department of biotechnology of the Government of India. Mustard leaves and flowers, besides seed, are used as food and it is essential that such tests are done.
India does not have guidelines and protocols for herbicide tolerance testing of crops, and these tests too have not been conducted. “No data of biosafety or seed setting/yields has been presented of ‘experimental seed production’ data generated, which would have certainly used herbicide Glufosinate Ammonium, and its environmental and health impacts. This, despite the fact that seed production trials have been permitted,” the report notes, adding that India has an inadequate regulatory regime for GMOs; even that limited regime has not been followed meticulously in the case of GM mustard.
That soldiers bearing arms should have evicted Aruna Rodrigues shows glaring erosion of culture of honour in Indian Army
Dr Akshay Pradhan, who was part of the Delhi University team developing GM mustard, was brought in as a member of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee in 2014, exposing a clear conflict of interest. Two other GEAC members, Dr B Sesikeran and Dr Swapan Kumar Datta were also involved in the development of GM mustard and had close ties with industry. Minutes of the GEAC meeting also show that the regulator asked the applicant to develop test protocols.
In at least four instances, the GEAC or its sub-committee recorded that a study had to be undertaken, but the study remained undone afterwards. Despite orders of the Supreme Court and the Central Information Commission, the biosafety dossier was not published and made available in the public domain. 
Thus, independent scientific scrutiny of its contents was not made possible. In the case of BT Brinjal, the fact that this dossier was available for public scrutiny made it possible for several leading international scientists to expose serious deficiencies in BT brinjal.
“Conditional approval for environmental release prior to commercial cultivation” does not exist under the purview of the regulatory regime; yet, this is what is claimed was granted for the environmental release of GM mustard. 
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 2000, an international agreement to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms, requires liability and redressal regimes, in case of adverse health or environmental impacts. No such regime is in place in India, although India is a signatory to this international convention.
In India, GEAC is an appraisal committee with no power to grant approval; it is thus not, by law, the appropriate authority to grant approval for GM mustard. Under the Constitution, agriculture is a state subject and several states have opposed the introduction of GM mustard.
Given the list of regulatory failures, is it any wonder that the lead petitioner in the GM mustard case in the Supreme Court should have faced sudden eviction from her house?
Aruna Rodrigues is the daughter of Brigadier EA Rodrigues, independent India’s first Director, Ordnance Services. 
The fact that soldiers of the Indian Army bearing arms should have evicted her shows the glaring erosion of the culture of honour in the Indian Army. The panchnama clearly states that appellant number 1, Aruna Rodrigues’ elder sister Anne Chandiramani, was present at the site and refused to sign the panchnama – Anne was admitted to hospital at the time, and her discharge summary is proof of the lies in that document.
The next hearing of the GM mustard case comes up in the Supreme Court on January 10, 2023. Aruna Rodrigues’ eviction matter is to be heard by the local court on January 12.
---
*Freelance journalist

Comments

Nikhil Verma said…
Thank you for sharing this important story..
Anonymous said…
Thank you for exposing the
rot.

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