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Let farmers decide about GM crops, not governments

Kiran Batni http://kiranbatni

Updated: March 5, 2014, 9:48 AM IST
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Governments must 'do' as little as possible to be considered legitimate. People must 'do', not governments. When the latter 'do' anything at all, they tread on people's freedoms. From this perspective, things have gotten completely out of hand in India. Afflicted with a seemingly incurable variety of the 'doing' disease, the Government of India has decided to allow Genetically Modified Organisms to get into Indian agriculture. Against a mountain of evidence showing that they are unscientific, unhealthy, and undemocratic, Union environment minister Veerappa Moily (rumored to have brought in to replace his indecisive predecessor) has gone ahead and approved field trials of GM crops in India.

As if to prove that the central government is innocent and powerless in the whole scheme, the onus has been placed on the state governments to give the final nod to these trials. But the creation of Telangana has just illustrated how 'destructible' India's states are. Can anyone in his or her senses believe that the states will not be forced to comply with central diktat? In states where the same party is in power as in the centre, will there be any decision-making independent of the party high-command?

Given that the two big 'national' parties, Congress and BJP, stand for genetically modified food, will there be any independent decision-making anywhere in India? Given the general lack of well-qualified scientists working at the state-level, won't the states just be forced to do what the experts in the central labs say? Given that these central experts are, in turn, trained or influenced in other ways by the very companies that wish to spread their empires of disease and death in India, aren't they simply repeating what they're taught?

For anyone who understands the way in which the Indian polity is structured, the assertion that the final decision lies with the states carries little credibility. It appears to be that old 'government office' trick of shying away from responsibility and pointing the finger at the next table. Working together, these tables are all set to take away the people's right to decide what they eat. The day is not far, if things continue like this, when there will be no food in the market that is not genetically modified, i.e., poisoned.

There is every indication that many state governments will be tempted to say yes to the field trials for narrow political gains. It is in the very nature of GM technology to take what is in the power of every farmer-to grow food-and place it in the hands of a few 'experts' with the dubious claim of being better at it. This technology, together with the intricate web of intellectual property rights, is a superb tool to channel the power of the many into the hands of the few. Given that state governments are starved of power in the Indian polity, they are likely to grab the opportunity to get more power; the people's health and lives be damned. Everyone benefits from this-the GM companies, the central government, the state governments-except the farmers and consumers.

So what is the solution to the GM question? Should field trials be allowed or not allowed? Who should be the approving authority? The best way to handle this issue is to let the GM companies talk directly to the farmers whose lives are claimed to become better. They should pitch their magical technology to the end-users directly instead of winning over two layers of government. Let the farmers-the millions of farmers-decide for themselves whether or not they want to sign up for this technology and whether or not they'd like to allow trials in their own farms. The central and state governments must not be involved in this matter in any way whatsoever, including protecting the so-called intellectual property rights of the GM companies. Yes, you heard that right: governments should not protect the intellectual property rights of GM companies; any protection must be negotiated and obtained by the companies directly in consultation with the farmers. If these steps are taken, I have no doubt that the farmers will make the choice that is best for both themselves and consumers. I have no doubt that that choice will be a no to Genetically Modified food. It takes the flawed policies in the Constitution of India to make us eat poison. Left to ourselves, we'd eat food.

First Published: March 5, 2014, 9:48 AM IST

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