New Delhi: Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, defending his controversial decision to impose a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal says, "On Bt Brinjal, I would not say, from my experience that foreign NGOs influenced the decision". His remarks came against the backdrop of Prime Minister's comments that some NGOs based in the United States and Scandinavian countries were not "fully appreciative" of the development challenges India faces and, were creating controversies on issues like GM food. He spoke to CNN IBN's Rupashree Nanda in Kochi while on a three day visit to Kerala.
Rupashree Nanda: As environment minister, you imposed a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. Now, there are concerns expressed at the highest quarters that perhaps controversies have been created due to funding from foreign NGOs especially based in US and Scandinavian countries?
Jairam Ramesh: The moratorium on Bt Brinjal was put on the 9th of February, 2010. Two years have passed. I went through a seven month process of public consultations with scientists, with NGOs, with civil society organisations, with farmer organizations, a cross section of society in which almost 8000 people participated. It's all on our website. It's all been documented, video graphed. I wrote to all chief ministers. I wrote to 50 scientists across the world and in India. There were four conclusions. States opposed Bt Brinjal. There was no scientific consensus on the need for Bt Brinjal, scientists themselves were divided. Infact, the father of the green revolution, Dr Swaminathan himself had raised questions on the way we were going. The full protocol of tests had not been completed. Remember, unlike Bt Cotton, Bt Brinjal is something that you eat every day. So the safety and reliability tests had not been concluded. I am not talking of the NGOs. I can say confidently that while the NGOs had a point of view, my position on Bt Brinjal was determined by opposition of state governments, the lack of consensus among the scientific community, the fact that the tests had not been completed and there was no independent regulatory mechanism…professional regulatory mechanism which would instill confidence in the public that food crop which is going to be ingested is going to be safe for consumption. I had not banned Bt Brinjal. I said lets, fulfill these four conditions and then re-visit the issue.
Rupashree Nanda: Is it fair then, to say that there is a foreign hand in controversies that were created around Bt Brinjal, in genetically modified food in India...
Jairam Ramesh: No, no, in fact Greenpeace called me an agent of Monsanto. In one of the public hearings, in Bangalore, Greenpeace which is a foreign funded NGO I suppose, but now Geenpeace is also Indian funded, were the ones who were accusing me of propagating the line of Monsanto. On Bt Brinjal since I was directly involved I can confidently say no NGO influenced my view. Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, B.S Yedyurappa all raised questions on Bt Brinjal I cannot ignore. Ultimately, in agriculture you have to take the states along with you and no state was with us on Bt Brinjal. Narendra Modi who is a great champion of Bt cotton was not with us on Bt Brinjal. Bt Cotton does not have the same kind of safety risks on humans as Bt Brinjal will have.
Rupashree Nanda: Is it fair to say that foreign NGOs are fomenting controversies here in India? Aren't we undermining our politics, our administration when we give that kind of theory too much precedence?
Jairam Ramesh: I don't have access to all information to funding of NGOs. I don't have that information. But, all I can say is that in the limited context of Bt Brinjal, yes NGOs took a position. 99.99 % of NGOs were against Bt Brinjal. I heard them. I heard people who were for Bt Brinjal. I heard people who were against Bt Brinjal, I heard people who were agnostic on Bt Brinjal, heard people who were ambivalent and then I took a considered view. On Bt Brinjal, I would not say, from my experience that foreign NGOs influenced the decision.
Rupashree Nanda: Would you have a different view on Kudankulam?
Jairam Ramesh: I don't think you can compare Kudankulam and Bt Brinjal. In Kudankulam, safety concerns have arisen because of post Fukushima concerns. And also because the Environmental Impact Assessment started in the mid nineties much after Kudankulam came on stream. If you read what the Nuclear Power Corporation has said, they are taking a number of safeguard measures to address the concerns of fishermen communities. I don't have full information on funding of NGOs. But, obviously the home ministry has some information and is taking some action.