BRAI Bill: Greenpeace at Mamata’s door

By bappaditya paul

Encouraged by Miss Mamata Banerjee’s recent record of vetoing important UPA initiatives, Greenpeace has urged the West Bengal chief minister to help scuttle the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

The Bill, which was drafted by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and tabled during Parliament’s Monsoon Session last year, is likely to come up for discussion during the Budget Session in March. Its stated objective is to “promote safe use of Modern Biotechnology in India and set up a regulatory body for the purpose.”

The Greenpeace effort comes close on the heels of Miss Banerjee opposing the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), derailing the Teesta water-sharing pact with Bangladesh, and sending to the deep-freeze a proposal to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in India.

A group of nine volunteers from the international environmental NGO, led by student activist Mohammed Azim Ud Doula, met the West Bengal chief  minister at her Kalighat residence on 14 February. They handed her a draft of the BRAI Bill and some literature highlighting its negative aspects.

Greenpeace has also sought an appointment with Miss Banerjee for an elaborate discussion on the matter, and is now collecting signatures for a petition, which it plans to submit to the chief minister. Greenpeace sustainable agriculture campaigner Rajesh Krishnan said the BRAI Bill is nothing but an instrument to promote genetically modified (GM) crops, which are controversial around the world because of their ability to contaminate regular crops, and impact human health and the biodiversity.

“West Bengal is a leader in vegetable and rice production in India and is also a centre of origin and diversity of many crops like rice, brinjal, mustard etc.,” Mr Krishnan said. “The state has much to lose if GM crops are introduced. Hence, we want Miss Banerjee to utilise her clout to block the BRAI Bill.”

The Greenpeace campaigner lauded a 16 January order passed by Miss Banerjee’s government that banned the use of genetically modified seeds in an effort to protect the autonomy of small farmers and the food sovereignty of the country.

“This is a commendable step,” he said. “But if BRAI is in place, the Centre can override the powers of the state governments to pass such orders. Miss Banerjee is known for taking a stand on the interest of West Bengal and, by scuttling the BRAI Bill, she can became a flag-bearer for a just cause across the country.”

The West Bengal chief minister is scheduled to meet the Prime Minister in Delhi tomorrow to discuss the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Authority (GTA). Contentious issues such as the establishment of NCTC and the Teesta water pact with Bangladesh are also likely to come up for discussion.

( The author is on the staff of  The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 22 Feb 2012.)


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