Posted On Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 01:13:10 AM
Bangalore - When the Environment Support Group (ESG), the notfor-profit trust involved in environmental and social justice initiatives, launched in 2006 its campaign against Bt Brinjal, thefirst-evergeneticallymodifiedfoodin the country, its concerns were pressing.
Not least among them was the unprecedented risk to public health posed by releasing ‘lab-cultured’ food that was “developed intransparently” and after being “poorly tested”.
Six years on, the fight has reached Round II. Last week, the battle against biopiracy and genetically modified aubergines received a fillip when the High Court of Karnataka dismissed, on October 11, petitions challenging criminal complaints against the developers of Bt Brinjal.
The verdict paves the way for the first-ever case of bio-piracy in the country, when the provisions of the Biodiversity Act dealing with biopiracy come into play. The HC decision to let the law run its course in the lower court is the culmination of claims that endemic varieties of brinjal were accessed by UAS and Ms Monsanto/ Mahyco.
Monsanto's proprietary 'Bt gene' was inserted in local varieties of brinjal to create Bt Brinjal. ESG claimed that permission from local biodiversity man- agement committees, the State Biodiversity Board and the National Biodiversity Authority was not taken.
As part of its campaign to stop corporations from “deciding what one eats and drinks”, the ESG had filed a public interest petition in the high court, seeking criminal proceedings against the alleged bio-pirates. It was this that prompted the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board (KBB) to file a criminal complaint before a magistrate's court in Dharwad.
The complaint is against the multinational company Ms Mahyco/Monsanto and officials of the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, including Dr RR Hanchinal, the vicechancellor,DrHSVijaykumar,the registrar and Dr SA Patil, former vicechancellor of the university who was also the chairman of the Karnataka Krishi Mission and the director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
The NBA and KBB had filed their complaint on November 24, 2012, and the UAS representatives responded by filing two separate petitions seekingquashingof this criminal complaint. In Januarythisyear,theHChad stayed proceedings, but on October 11 last week, Justice AS Pachhapure dismissed these petitions. This paves the way for the continuation of criminal proceedings in the lower court in Dharwad.
ESG, which had given representations and complaints to the NBA and KBB about alleged biopiracy by the multinational company and the representatives of UAS, had raised objection that the proprietary product, Bt Brinjal, was developed in violation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992.
The man who started it all
It was environmentalist and social justice activist Leo F Saldanha’s PIL in 2012 that is largely credited with hastening the 8powers-that-be to file a criminal case against those involved in India’s first 8bio-piracy case.
“The fight against bio-piracy is not limited to brinjal,” Saldanha told Mirror on Thursday.