Criticising Genetically Modified (GM) products could land you in jail — if the draconian draft Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill (BRAB) of 2009, which will be tabled in the current session of the parliament by the UPA government, is passed.
In an unprecedented muzzle on the right to freedom of speech of the citizen, Chapter 13 section 63 of the draft bill says, “Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products…shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both.” The BRAI Bill drafted by the department of bio-technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology comes on the heels of a moratorium on Bt Brinjal announced by the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
“What they are doing is much worse than what Hitler or Mussolini did. Through this bill, they want to take absolute authority. They are behaving like a vendor instead of a regulator,” Pushpa M Bhargava, a member of the Supreme Court appointed Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) said.
There are also other provisions in this bill which are disconcerting.
Article 27 (1) of the bill seeks to keep the information related to the research, approval and science of the GM Products out of the purview of the Right to Information ( RTI) Act.
In other words, farmers, NGO’s and Environmental groups that have been on the forefront of the campaign against BT Brinjal and other genetically modified crops, can longer obtain information about it.
Not only that, the three member experts of the Department of Biotechnology will override any existing legislation about GM technology in the states.
The draft bill also states that the BRAI will set up its own appellate tribunal which will have the jurisdiction to hear arguments on the issues concerning biotechnology. In case of any disputes, petitioners can only approach the Supreme Court of India.
“The BRAI bill is more draconian than what the nation faced during the Emergency ‘’ says Devinder Sharma, writer and Food Policy Analyst. “If the Bill was already in force, I would have been in jail.
Jairam Ramesh too would have been in jail for challenging the health and environmental claims of the company developing Bt Brinjal,” he said. The bill demonstrates the extraordinary hold the multinational companies have over the UPA government, he added. Kavitha Kurugunti of Kheti Virasat Mission said that this bill is just a way to silence the voices who are opposed to GM technology.