The Supreme Court on Monday asked the central government to take a “considered” and “well-informed” view before taking a policy decision on the commercial release of genetically-modified (GM) mustard crop, saying the effects of such a move would be “irreversible”.
“It is an extremely, extremely important issue. You (Centre) take a well-informed and considered decision, as once it is allowed then the effect would be irreversible,” a bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud said. The bench granted a week’s time to the Centre, represented by additional solicitor general (ASG) Tushar Mehta, to apprise it of by when will it take a policy decision on the roll out.
The additional solicitor general, at the outset, said so far, the Centre has not taken any policy decision on the commercial release of GM mustard crop and was considering various aspects. It has also invited suggestions and objections on the issue. The bench, which initially granted four weeks time to the Centre, later allowed the plea of the additional solicitor general that he would take instruction and come back within a week and inform the court about the time within which a policy decision would be taken.
The apex court had on October 17 last year extended the stay on the commercial release of GM mustard crop till further orders. It had asked the government to seek public opinion on such seeds before releasing it for cultivation purposes.
Mustard is one of India’s most important winter crops, which is sown between mid-October and late November. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, had alleged that the government was sowing the seeds in various fields and that the bio-safety dossier, which has to be made public by putting it on the website, has not yet been done. Alleging that field trials were being carried out without the relevant tests, Bhushan had sought a 10-year moratorium on them.
A technical expert committee (TEC) report had also said the entire regulatory system was in “shambles” and a 10-year moratorium should be given, he had said. Rodrigues had filed the plea seeking a stay on the commercial release of GM mustard and prohibition of its open field trials. He had also urged the court to prohibit open field trials and commercial release of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, including HT mustard DMH 11 and its parent lines/variants as recommended by the TEC in its report. “Since the claimed yield superiority of herbicide tolerant DMH 11 through the B&B system over non-GMO varieties and hybrids is quite simply not true, in fact a hoax, ... There is no purpose to this GMO HT mustard for India,” the petition said. It said the contamination caused by mustard HT DMH 11 and its herbicide tolerant parents would be “irremediable and irreversible”.
“The contamination of our seed stock and germ plasm as will happen with mustard HT DMH 11 and its herbicide tolerant parents will be irremediable and irreversible making our food toxic at the molecular level without recourse,” the plea had said. So what is GM crop? Hybrid variety of a crop is obtained by crossing of two genetically diverse plants of same species and it can give higher yields than their parents. But mustard cannot be naturally hybridised because it is a self-pollinating plant having both male and female reproductive parts in a single flower. But researchers have created hybridised mustard using GM technology.
The GM hybridised mustard, as is claimed, gives 30 per cent more yield than the present best varieties. Researchers have used “barnase / barstar” technology for genetic modification. A barnase gene is isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. The gene can code for a protein that impairs the pollen production in a plant making it male-sterile. This male -sterile variety is crossed with a parent variety having a gene called ‘barstar’ to block the action of barnase gene. The resulting variety, having both foreign genes, is a fertile plant and it can increase yield of the crop.
(With input from PTI)