National stir warns govt: GM mustard is going to lead to agricultural distress, farmers’ suicides

mustardA report on the dharna at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, against GM mustard, in which farmers’ associations, farm-workers’ unions, women’s organisations, scientists and other people’s movements joined and warned of a bigger national stir:

The fight against GM Mustard has developed into a united front across the nation, a glimpse of which was seen at a one day Dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Under the banner of Sarson Satyagraha, state governments, political parties, farmer unions, farm workers unions, trade unions of various political ideologies, Industry representatives, scientists,  women’s rights organisations, Right to Food campaign and other civil society organisations joined hands to pledge that any efforts by the Central Government to approve the controversial GM Mustard would be thwarted through a united struggle. The gathering of forces by these diverse groups is a result of central government’s plans to approve the commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) Herbicide Tolerant (HT) Mustard.

The protest saw the participation of 150 organizations from across India, including 29 national level organizations and alliances like Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Sabha, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA),  Organic Farming Association of India, Confederation of Beekeeping Industry of India, Azadi Bachao Andolan, All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), National Right to Food Campaign etc. In terms of membership and involvement, these organizations represent a few crores of Indian citizens, including farmers, agricultural workers, scientists, and all sections of the society. They were joined by leaders from the political parties of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, JD(U), CPI(M), CPI, DMK and Swaraj India Party in the dharna.

If approved, this HT GM crop with 3 bacterial genes in it for characters like male sterility and herbicide tolerance would be the first GM food crop as well as the first HT crop to be approved in the country.

Earlier this month the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency for GM crops under the Ministry for Environment, wound up a public feedback process on bio-safety studies of GM mustard which was widely criticised as a sham – clearly signalling that the government is in a hurry to get the HT GM Mustard approved in time for the November season.

Firing the first salvo at the dharna today, the leaders of the biggest farmer unions in the country called the efforts to push GM crops into the farms and food nothing but anti-farmer.

“Real farmer organizations of the country have never asked for a GM crop,” said Yudhvir Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union. Ratan Lal of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh said that the threat of GM crops is similar to the threat of East India Company which gradually colonized the entire country, and farmer should fight together to stop GM crops. Farmer leaders from across the spectrum including Hannan Molla and Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha, Rakesh Tikait from Bhartiya Kisan Union, Rampal Jat from Rajasthan and Badribhai from Gujarat declared that if the government doesn’t listen to farmers’ voice and stop GM mustard, they will step up the fight and take to the streets. Instead of doubling incomes, this approach is only going to lead to agriculture distress and farm suicides.

In a video message to the gathering, the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told a big hoax is being played on farmers by bringing GM crops in their name. He reminded the Prime Minister that Bihar has always opposed GM crops – whether Bt Brinjal or field trials of GM Maize. He warned that if the Centre doesn’t listen to the state governments and goes ahead with GM Mustard, it will face strong opposition from the people of Bihar – who will not allow GM in the state at any cost.

Delhi Minister Kapil Mishra questioned why the Central government is not listening to even its allies such as Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

He said that Aam Aadmi Party fully supports the struggle against GM crops, and that the Jashn-e-Sarson festival of mustard which was organized by the Delhi government in September received tremendous response from people across the spectrum. Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi from Assam declared that this Satyagraha is not against science, and that the farmers should be respected as practising scientists. He questioned why thousands of farmers coming to Delhi are not getting appointment with the Prime Minister but corporate CEOs get to travel along with him. He reminded that in the case of Bt Brinjal, the UPA government took a democratic approach to decision-making, and urged PM Modi to do the same.

“It’s clear that all sections of our society and state governments are realizing the impending dangers of this HT GM Mustard. This resistance movement will only get stronger and it is very likely that the government will find itself in the same situation as with the land ordinance,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

In a new turn of events, major agricultural worker unions in the country have decided to join the opposition to GM crops growing the country. Highlighting the fact that adoption of HT crops will drastically impact rural employment, Thirinavukkarasu of the All India Agricultural workers Union pointed to the complete contradiction in the government policies where on the one hand, thousands of crores are being spend for creating rural employment under grand schemes like the NREGS and on the other hand promoting technologies like Herbicide-Tolerant crops.”

This was echoed by Amarjeeth Kaur of AITUC. It is estimated that if GM mustard is adopted on even a low 25% of mustard cultivation area in India, this will result in an approximate employment loss of 4.25 crore person-days in rural areas. This will have impact on major mustard growing states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana which are BJP-ruled states.

Scientific experts like Dr Debal Deb, renowned plant breeding expert, Dr Suman Sahai, geneticist and policy expert, Dr Amar Singh Azad, public health expert, and Dr.Jyotsna, Ayurveda expert spoke at the dharna and said that the push for GM mustard doesn’t represent progress of science but undermining of true science.

Sarson Satyagraha sought to send a strong message to the Prime Minister, with a detailed memorandum highlighting concerns of all sections, and the scientific arguments against GM mustard, which was endorsed by leaders across the spectrum. Various delegations from the gathering the Sarson Satyagraha comprising farmer leaders and scientific experts went to meet with the PMO, the Environment minister, the Agriculture minister, the Health minister, Commerce minister, Minister of Women and Child Development to remind them of their mandate and roles and to urge them to intervene to stop GM Mustard and other similar GM crops.

In the latest development on the judicial front, the supreme court of India yesterday in the ongoing PIL challenging the release of GMOs into the environment directed the government not to commercialise the GM Mustard until further orders. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan addressing the dharna said that “it’s unfortunate that the Govt of India today stands between justice and the nation and is continuously trying to mislead the ho’nble Supreme Court with false affidavits and outright lies in the court.”

A misleading argument has been around India already consuming imported GM oil, and this fact being the rationale for approving commercial cultivation within the country. We have strongly objected to the decisions to allow import of GM canola and GM soybean oil. These are untested products and lack of any scientific research on adverse impacts of such consumption cannot be construed to be proof of safety.

Even so, the imported GM oil constitutes only around 10-11% of India’s edible oil consumption. In fact, imported GM canola oil is less than 2% of our total consumption. It is also apparent that if in-country cultivation is allowed, it is no longer about consumption of highly processed oils, but more consumption of transgenic mustard in more direct and unprocessed forms including seed, leaves and paste. Furthermore, an argument around consumption of imported oil cannot be an argument for allowing cultivation which brings with it other serious issues of impact on agriculture and environment, especially given that this is a herbicide tolerant crop.

The dharna ended with all the participants taking a solemn oath to fight to ensure that no more GM crops enter our food and farming system.

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