‘Biotech bill against Indian constitution’

New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) Several clauses of the 2009 draft of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, which is awaiting the cabinet’s approval, go against India’s Constitution, a leading biosafety expert said here Tuesday.

The 2009 draft of the bill, proposed by the government’s Department for Science and Technology, seeks to make a national biotech regulator the ultimate authority on approvals and clearances instead of the existing committees under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The bill has already drawn severe criticism for failing to be transparent in its dealings. On Tuesday noted biosafety expert Vandana Shiva lashed out against two specific clauses.

‘The bill says not only can we not make choices about our food but we can’t even speak about safety. We can be jailed and fined. That does not happen in a democracy!

‘Finding out that for expressing your right to safe food, you can be thrown into jail is the highest level of terrorism and we will not allow the state to become a terrorist,’ Shiva told reporters.

Shiva, who was speaking at an event to celebrate the success of the GM (genetically modified) free movement in India, said that Articles 63 and 81 of the bill went ‘against the constitution’ and despite this ‘the PM’s office has pushed for this law directly’.

‘Under our constitution, health and agriculture are state subjects. After the public consultations there were 13 states who opposed Bt Brinjal cultivation. Article 63 talks about quelling the GM free movement. This article will be as good as killing democracy,’ Shiva asserted.

She also denounced indications in media reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would soon deliberate with Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on the moratorium on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal imposed by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

‘There is an attempt to dismantle existing laws like the Environment Protection Act to establish a food dictatorship in this country and deregulate the biotech industry – but the public hearings showed that the Indian public cannot be taken for a ride.

‘The PM has said that Jairam Ramesh will not have the last word. Well he never had the last word, it was the people of India who did. It was the public consultations which he reflected in his decision on the moratorium,’ Shiva said.

She said: ‘These attempts to get the prime minister to undo democracy in this country by Sharad Pawar is not acceptable to us. The movement that mobilised for the public hearing is going to grow. We will defend our food democracy and sovereignty.’

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