PM upholds moratorium on Bt Brinjal

New Delhi, Feb 24 (Calcutta Tube) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upheld the moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal here Wednesday. He sided with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh despite opposition from Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan during a stormy discussion here.

Sources in the PM Office said that Manmohan Singh sided with Ramesh on the need for a cautious approach in the introduction of the world’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop — Bt Brinjal. He said that while there was a need for all sections of society to be convinced of its safety, bitechnology was an important option for ensuring food security.

A government spokesman said: ‘It was agreed that biotechnology is an important option for higher agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. The government will soon be moving forward in setting up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, which will inspire confidence and stimulate public and private investment in biotechnology.’

There were sharp exchanges at the meeting at the Prime Minister’s House that lasted a little over an hour. It was attended by four ministers – Ramesh, Pawar, Chavan as well as Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal.

Pawar and Chavan, who have been strong advocates of GM foods in India, reportedly said at the meeting that the moratorium was sending out wrong signals and was stopping investments in Indian agro-technology.

They also pointed out that a significant investment had already been made by private and public organisations in developing BT crops and all that would go waste if GM cultivation was banned.

Manmohan Singh had called this meeting after he received a letter from Pawar on the future of GM crops in the light of the food crisis.

Earlier in the day, Ramesh spelt out to reporters his differences with Pawar and Chavan. The idea of setting up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority under the proposed biotech bill was ‘deeply flawed’ and was ‘anti-democratic’, he said.

‘The bill overrides the RTI and the state government jurisdiction. I don’t think it is a good idea that three people (who will head the proposed authority) will decide on the future of GM in India like they were three gods,’ Ramesh said at the Indian Women Press Corps here.

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