Home India News Apex court wants Swaminathan, Bhargava on GM food panel

Apex court wants Swaminathan, Bhargava on GM food panel

New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the central government to consider appointing eminent scientists M.S. Swaminathan and P.M. Bhargava as special members of a technical panel that examines the pleas for allowing open-field trials of genetically modified foods and crops in India.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal sought the appointments of the two eminent scientists on the government’s technical panel saying it would usher transparency in the process of allowing field trials of GM food.

The bench’s request to the environment and forests ministry came in the form of an interim order on a petition alleging that the government was liberalising norms for allowing multinational companies to go in for open field trials of GM foods and crops in India.

The bench sought appointment of biotechnologist Bhargava, a Padma Vibhushan awardee and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, on the request for petitioner Aruna Rodrigues’ counsel Prashant Bhushan.

The court sought Bhargava’s appointment as special invittee to the meetings of the 29-member Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) amid the government’s law officers’ reservation to the idea.

But the bench dismissed the reservation saying that Bhargava will not be a voting member in the committee and by his sheer presence in a panel comprising of 29 members appointed by the government, he will not be able to influence the decision of the committee in granting permission to various applicants for conducting GM trials.

The bench observed that his presence in the panel would “usher an openness in the decisions of the committee”.

Bhargava also happens to be the vice chairman of the government’s Knowledge Commission, headed by Sam Pitroda.

Seeing the bench’s keenness to have Bhargava on the GEAC, the additional solicitor general also suggested the name of M.S. Swaminathan, the father India’s Green Revolution.

“We will be very happy to have him on the committee, but the question is if he would be willing to spare his time,” said the bench.

As the government’s law officer said that the scientist would not mind joining the committee, the bench also recommended his name to the government to appoint him as a special invitee to the committee.

The bench made recommendations for appointment of the two eminent scientists to allay the petitioner’s fear that the government might be playing in the hands of multinationals in allowing them GM trials.

Bhushan said that elsewhere on the world, including many developed western nations, the open and rampant field trials of the GM food and crops have been found resulting in an irreversible contamination of the environment.

The bench in its order also asked the government to make public its guidelines on the basis of which it allows the field trial of GM food and crops.