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GoI's 'irresponsible, unscientific' policy on GM mustard seeks to criminalise farmers

Counterview Desk 

The Coalition for a GM-Free India has asked the Government of India (GoI) to show how it will prevent farmers from using herbicides on HT mustard crop that received approval in October 2022. In a letter sent to Bhupendar Yadav. Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, it said, the GoI has no statutory powers to regulate farmers in their use of herbicides either under Insecticides Act or Environment Protection Act (EPA).
The letter, signed by Kavitha Kuruganti, said, the GoI has been “disingenuously arguing that Delhi University’s GM mustard which has used the bar-barnase-barstar technology in the name of pollination control, is not herbicide tolerant. It has also said, including in Supreme Court affidavits and the regulators’ approval letter to the crop developer, that farmers will be penalised under the Insecticides Act 1968 and EPA if they use herbicide on GM mustard crop.”
It quoted the regulators’ approval letter as stating, “Usage of any formulation of herbicide is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s field under any situation… Any such use in the farmer’s field without due approval from CIB&RC would attract appropriate legal action under Central Insecticides Act 1968 and Environment Protection Act 1986”, underlining, “This essentially means that the GoI is “ready to criminalise ordinary distress-stricken farmers of the country with jail terms after taking an irresponsible and unscientific policy decision.”
The Coalition underlined, “The very inclusion of a condition about usage of herbicide in farmers’ fields is an admission that the GM mustard crop is indeed herbicide tolerant, including in the hybrid version meant for cultivation by farmers.”


On October 25th 2022, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) wrote an approval letter for the environmental release of GM HT Mustard to the applicant CGMCP in Delhi University. Based on the untenable conditions placed in the approval letter and the specious argument that GM mustard is a herbicide tolerant crop only in the seed production stage and not thereafter, the Union of India is misleading the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India with an assurance that GM mustard is not an HT crop. By repeatedly giving this assurance that GM mustard is not a herbicide tolerant crop (on irresponsible reasoning that the crop applicant did not apply for its environmental release as an HT crop and does not intend to commercially exploit that trait!), the Government of India is trying to circumvent the clear recommendation by the Court-appointed TEC for a ban on HT crops in India (similar recommendations were given by other credible committees too). The Government is, clearly, trying to prevent the SC from adjudicating on GM mustard on the basis of the TEC report, both because it knows that GM mustard is indeed an HT crop and because the Government is also aware of the many adverse impacts of HT crops.
Government should stop its efforts to criminalise farmers: Against this backdrop, the Government of India is latching on to a particular condition in the GM mustard environmental release approval letter issued in October 2022, to present an assurance to the Hon’ble Supreme Court and concerned citizens that farmers will not be allowed to use GM mustard as an HT crop. The very fact that Condition Number VII appears on Page 2 of the approval letter is an admission that GM mustard indeed is an HT crop with the distinct possibility of farmers using the corresponding herbicide Glufosinate on the crop.
Instead of avoiding the approval of such a hazardous crop, the Government of India is seeking the easy option of criminalisation of farmers by putting in such a condition. Meanwhile, this letter is to highlight the fact that such criminalisation or penalising of farmers is legally not possible!
In the additional affidavit filed in the SC on 09.11.2022 by the Union of India, it was stated that “the use of herbicide by farmers is not permitted in the fields for cultivation of GM mustard crop in accordance with the recommendation made by the GEAC…This is clearly enshrined in conditions VI and VII of the permit letter issued by the Government of India on 25.10.2022. Any such use in the farmer’s field without due approval from CIB&RC would attract appropriate legal action under Central Insecticides Act 1968 and Rules 1971, Environment Protection Act 1986 and Rules made thereunder”.
The permission letter dated 25/10/2022 stated VII. Usage of any formulation of herbicide is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s filed under any situation and such use would require the necessary permission as per the procedures and protocols of safety assessment of insecticides/herbicides by CIB&RC would attract appropriate legal action under Central Insecticides Act 1968 and Rules 1971, EP Act 1986 and Rules made thereunder.”
It is highly misleading for GoI to assure the Court that regulators will prevent farmers from using herbicide on HT GM mustard crop
Insecticides Act 1968 EXEMPTS farmers from the purview of regulation: However, under Section 38 of the Insecticides Act 1968, farmers are exempted from the purview of statutory regulation.
“38. Exemption.—(1) Nothing in this Act shall apply to— (a) the use of any insecticide by any person for his own household purposes or for kitchen garden or in respect of any land under his cultivation; (b) any substance specified or included in the Schedule or any preparation containing any one or more such substances, if such substance or preparation is intended for purposes other than preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any insects, rodents, fungi, weeds and other forms of plant or animal life not useful to human beings. (2) The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, and subject to such conditions, if any, as it may specify therein, exempt from all or any of the provisions of this Act or the rules made thereunder, any educational, scientific or research organisation engaged in carrying out experiments with insecticides.”
Therefore, it is highly misleading for the Government of India to assure the Court that regulators will prevent farmers from using herbicide on this HT GM mustard crop.
Environment Protection Act 1986 also cannot regulate farmers from using herbicide: Section 15 of EPA 1986 provides for “Penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act and the Rules, Orders and Directions”. This applies to whoever fails to comply with, or contravenes any of the provisions of the EPA or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder. The permission letter of October 25th 2022 is not a Rule or Order or Direction, and there are no Rules or orders or directions under the EPA which regulate farmers in their usage of herbicides. Under the EPA 1989 Rules, no SBCCs and DLCs function at the ground level in any case, to be implementation arms to the GoI regulators. Therefore, it is once again incorrect on the part of the GoI to assure the Supreme Court that regulators under the EPA will prevent farmers from using herbicide on GM HT Mustard.
In such a situation, the Coalition for a GM-Free India challenges the Government of India to explain how it will prevent farmers from using herbicides on a HT crop, while regulation can certainly prevent farmers from using unapproved GM seeds. Even though the latter powers exist, the GEAC and other regulators already showed their incapability in regulating the vast spread of illegal herbicide tolerant GM cotton in many states of the country.
It is in this context that we demand that the Government of India (a) stop misleading the Hon’ble Supreme Court, (b) abide by the SC-appointed independent TEC report recommendations, and (c) ban all HT crops in India immediately, including for field trials.


V M said…
The coalition is playing with words. The meaning is being misinterpreted. When the Government says that consumption of opium will be penalized, it doesn't mean that the Government is criminalizing the people. Similarly, when the Government says that killing a person will be penalized, it doesn't mean that the Government is criminalizing the people. The rule made by the Government should be understood positively as a deterrent.


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