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Rare parliamentarian who 'thoroughly studied' socio-economic impact of GM crops

By Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi, Nivedita* 

Recently, Basudeb Acharia, former Member of Parliament, passed away. He left behind a legacy of scientific approach to the difficult question of deciding on GM crops. Contrary to the popular misconception about politicians in general, the Parliamentary Committee headed by him worked on GM crops like a bunch of scientists and at the end of it emerged as experts. This report stands out as the finest piece of Parliamentary work on science and business related questions.
Basudeb Acharia was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980 and multiple times thereafter. He passed away on 13 November 2023. During his tenure, he was a member of several standing committees including being the Chairperson of Lok Sabha’s Committee on Agriculture between 2009 and 2014.
While he served as the chairperson for the Standing Committee on Agriculture, the committee released a report on “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects”. The report was tabled in Parliament on August 9, 2012. The parliamentary committee headed by him recommended a ban on field trials of all genetically modified crops.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture blamed “collusion of the worst kind” behind the promotion of the genetically modified Bt Brinjal. It suggested that a team of independent scientists and environmentalists be appointed to study the propagation of Bt brinjal in the country, right from its introduction to the imposition of a moratorium on its commercialization by erstwhile environment minister Jairam Ramesh on February 9, 2010.
One of the major findings of the report was that “the regulatory framework for GM crops has several shortcomings.” It noted that the current framework does not provide for mandatory consultations with state governments or seek their permission to conduct open field trials on GM crops, such as Bt cotton and brinjal. In light of these findings, the report recommended that “all research and development activities on transgenic crops be carried out only in laboratories and that ongoing field trials in all states be discontinued.”
It has been more than a decade since the report was published. Unfortunately, the findings of the report on the gaps in GM crops regulatory framework still hold true and there is no change in the state of affairs since then.
Similarly Rajya Sabha’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests 301st report from 2017 on “Genetically Modified Crops and Its Impact on Environment” also said that “unless the bio-safety and socio-economic desirability, taking into consideration long run effects, is evaluated by a participatory, independent and transparent process and a retrieval and accountability regime is put in place, no GM crop should be introduced in the country”.
This is being entirely ignored in the GM mustard approval situation missing out on such process whilst the biosafety report has been hidden from public view in violation of Supreme Court and Chief Information Commission orders. The report also highlighted multiple state governments’ opposition to GM mustard and availability of higher yielding mustard alternative to GM mustard.
One cannot label destructive farming as progressive science and force it down the throat of millions
It must also be noted that Basudeb Acharia’s comments after tabling of the 2012 report are still relevant today:
“The committee found that the present regulatory system in our country which comprises of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is inadequate and the regulatory system needs to be more robust, ensuring severe scrutiny”.
He also said at another time:
“There is a serious concern on the socioeconomic impacts of GM crops. One cannot label destructive farming as progressive science and force it down the throat of millions. On the one hand we have seen how these GM crops are leading to monopoly of the companies like Monsanto in the seed sector on the other hand such technologies like herbicide tolerant GM crops will destroy the rural livelihoods dependent on agriculture”.
Coalition for a GM-Free India noted: 
“He was a rare parliamentarian, who believed in scientific methodology to arrive at decisions. Basudeb Acharia’s knowledge of GM crops surprised many, including officials who interacted with him. His scientific approach is an inspiration for other MPs to follow in his footsteps. His work in the Committees and his interventions in Parliamentary discussions need study and espousal.”
It added: 
“This Committee, headed by Basudeb Acharia, did a thorough study of the subject. It held consultations, heard experts, did field visits, and poured over reports and academic studies. Given the rigor of its work and methodology, the recommendations were unanimous with all the members, irrespective of party affiliations, alluding to them. Basudeb Acharia believed that India with more than 2000 varieties of brinjal, need not adopt a transgenic variety of brinjal.”
---
*With the Coalition for a GM-Free India

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