India: Feminist environmentalists pinpoint IB Report's threat to country’s Food & Seed Sovereignty Print E-mail
PRESS RELEASE 17th June 2014

India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk

Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?

The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.
The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have been filed. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.

IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty?

In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise in these matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.  

IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’:

The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? The strategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.

Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB:

The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.

The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.

The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.

The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Our regulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.

NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty:

The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-National Corporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.

Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands:

India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excluding other profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.

If India's intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.

This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India no credit.

Signed:
 Vandana Shiva,       Aruna Rodrigues,   Kavitha Kuruganti
    Navdanya
  8100 25169                                                             98263 96033                                             96112 98718

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 Wednesday June 18 2014

The importance of dissent in democracy

Pushpa M. Bhargava
The Hindu Illustration: Deepak Harichandan
In a democracy, non-governmental organisations provide a platform to civil society to dissent in an informed and reasoned manner

On October 31, 1570, Martin Luther nailed on the door of a church in Germany 95 objections to the Catholic faith that led to the emergence of Protestanism. Soon after, Galileo Galilei challenged the Church by stating that the Earth and other planets revolve round the Sun. He died under house arrest.

In 1927, Heinrich Wieland received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering a structure of cholic acid which was proven to be wrong within a year. In 1959, Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of enzymes that carry out the synthesis of RNA and DNA in living organisms. It turned out that these enzymes were not the right ones.

In fact, the history of progress of mankind is a history of informed dissent; much of creative activity of high quality in all areas of human endeavour at any given time has been a reflection of such dissent.

Today we favour democracy as the most acceptable form of governance because a citizen has a right to dissent without fear of victimisation ­ as long as such dissent does not lead to inhuman or unconstitutional action. By contrast, dissent in an authoritarian, dictatorial or colonial regime could lead to the severest of punishments ­ loss of life ­ as happened in colonial India, Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR.
Platform for dissent

In a democracy, non-governmental organisations provide a platform to civil society to dissent in an informed and reasoned manner. They provide a mechanism for the ruled to keep a check on the rulers.

There are of course NGOs that engage in illegal or objectionable activities using Indian and/or foreign funds, much like how 34 per cent of newly elected MPs in Parliament have criminal cases against them. Just as the majority of MPs do not have cases against them, a large proportion of our NGOs operate transparently and legally.

The power that NGOs wield has increased concurrently with the increased demand for real and operational democracy. If it were not for our NGOs, we would not have the system of obligatory declaration of assets, now required by all those aspiring to be MPs. We would also not have the the Right to Information Act or the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act.

Denigrating good NGOs would therefore imply that our democracy is only notional and not functional. Such denigration would smack of a dictatorial attitude.

The recent Intelligence Bureau report on the “Concerted efforts of select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects” casts serious aspersions on some of our best NGOs and distinguished citizens. The report also alleges that these NGOs would have a negative impact on GDP growth by 2-3 per cent by stalling, through agitation, development projects such as nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, GMOs, projects by POSCO and Vedanta, hydel projects, and “extractive industries” in the north-east.

By casting unwarranted and unproven aspersions on highly reputed NGOs such as Greenpeace and Nobel Prize-winning Amnesty International, and individuals such as Suman Sahai, Vandana Shiva, Aruna Rodrigues, Prashant Bhushan, Udayakumar, Admiral Ramdos and Praful Bidwai, the IB has indirectly indicted every individual and NGO that has voiced reasoned dissent in the interest of our country and its people, within our constitutional framework. Such an attitude on the part of the IB makes a mockery of our democracy.

What is wrong in receiving funds from well-meaning individuals or bona fide organisations abroad who want to help a worthwhile cause in India? Doesn’t the Indian government, for example, help worthwhile causes in Afghanistan? In fact, the Bureau should have looked at the damage caused by government funding to organisations like Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan started as a fully justified campaign on June 12 against the illegal raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam from 122 to 139 metres, which will adversely impact over 2.5 lakh people engaged in various occupations. We know from past experience that nothing will be done for those who stand to be displaced by this move. But IB would probably condemn the above campaign in its next report.

Let us look at how specious and ridiculous the arguments in the IB report are. There is massive opposition to nuclear power plants around the world, and many countries such as Japan and Germany have decided to abrogate them in a time-bound fashion. In our own country, many highly distinguished individuals such as a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and several former Secretaries to the Government of India, who are knowledgeable in the area, have opposed further investment in nuclear energy. None of them has any connection with Greenpeace, nor do they have any vested interest. They have provided valid reasons for their views.

Let us take another example ­ coal mining for coal-fired thermal power plants. Such mining requires destroying India’s forest wealth and the livelihood of tribals. What about our national commitment since Independence to have over 30 per cent of our area under forest cover? Why should we invest so heavily in nuclear, thermal or large hydel power plants, none of which will be environment or people-friendly, when we have far better alternatives staring us in our face: solar power, wind power, micro and mini hydel, biomass and biogas, lot of which can be produced and used locally? Isn’t it strange that our country does not have even one single institute totally devoted to research on solar power? We want to spend enormous amounts of money to buy nuclear reactors from the U.S. but we do not want to learn lessons on solar power from Germany. What is then wrong with NGOs in our country such as Greenpeace for taking a courageous stand against nuclear, coal-fired thermal or large hydel power plants?

It is hilarious that the possession of a map showing nuclear installations in India and a list of Indians who oppose nuclear power ­ all of which is public knowledge ­ is a crime in the eyes of the IB. The ignorance of the Bureau with regard to the Bt-cotton story in India, and of the problems with GM crops, is appalling. For example, Bt-cotton has totally failed in rain-fed areas that account for nearly two-thirds of cotton-growing area in the country. Even if, as the IB claims, there is a negative impact on GDP because of opposition to certain projects, so what? Our experience of high growth rate in some recent years has by no means been satisfactory, for it has barely touched the bottom 80 per cent of our population and has vastly increased the economic gap between the top 20 and bottom 80 per cent.

Action against illegal activities
It is only proper that the government takes action against those organisations that obtain foreign funds illegally and/or are not transparent in using them as required by law. Many organisations do not take money from the government or business houses. It is admirable that they survive on donations by individuals in India and/or abroad. They follow the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and their accounting is transparent. I believe that in the long-term interests of inclusive growth in the country, it is much wiser to support such organisations than to have FDI in retail which will benefit a select few but adversely affect millions of people in the country.

(Pushpa M. Bhargava is the founder- director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, and chairman of the Southern Regional Centre of Council for Social Development.)