After Dave, what will happen to GM Mustard?

Published: May 19, 2017 - 18:04 Updated: August 1, 2017 - 16:48

The genetically modified variety of mustard has been facing stiff opposition from farmers and activists as it is said that the crop will degrade the quality of soil and increase health risks

“We were hopeful that there will be a positive decision and the Environment Ministry will take some steps against GM Mustard. But now everything has changed. We will have to restart the movement with a new strategy and make a fresh presentation before the new minister,” remarked Yudhvir Singh, General Secretary, All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (AICCFM). After the death of Anil Madhav Dave, former Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change who was about to take a decision on GM Mustard which has been met with widespread opposition from farmers, political leaders and activists, the fate of the genetically modified variety of mustard hangs in the balance. Singh had led a delegation to meet Dave a day before his death.

GM Mustard recently received a nod for commercial cultivation by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and is awaiting approval from the ministry. The Centre has now given the additional charge of the environment ministry to the science and technology minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Meanwhile, a resolution was introduced in the Kerala Legislative Assembly on Friday by Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar, asking the Centre to stall the approval to GM Mustard which has been receiving stiff opposition from farmers who say that the crop will degrade the quality of the soil.

Anti-GMO activist Kavita Kuruganti, who is at the forefront of Sarson Satyagraha, said, “Dave was a man who stood for environment sustainability and it does make a huge difference that he is not there anymore. However, all the other facts remain the same. Due to a lack of basis for safety and benefit claims, opposition from the state government and the ongoing case in the Supreme Court, the government is not going to find it easy to steamroller its way on the issue of GM Mustard.”

The activists are planning to send a letter to Dr Harsh Vardhan on the issue and brief him over their reservations on the commercial application of the genetically engineered strain of mustard.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had also written to the Centre, demanding cancellation of the application for the cultivation of GM Mustard. Kumar, in his letter to the then Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave, had said, “I strongly urge you that this GM mustard application must be rejected instantaneously. No decision on GM crops should be taken in haste, which can harm the interests of farmers and the people of India at large (sic).” The Aam Aadmi Party-led government in Delhi has also expressed its reservation on the commercial use of the genetic variety in the past.

Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) has been developed indigenously by a team led by former Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental. Farmers allege that the genetically altered mustard will increase the dependence on chemical fertilisers for cultivation which will, in turn, lead to health risks. Meanwhile, the government claims that the DMH will increase productivity in the country and cut down our dependence on edible oil from foreign nations. With an estimated import of 11 million tonnes (MT), India is the second largest importer of edible oil after China in the world. Officials in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said that they expect a growth of about 28-30 percent following the use of transgenic mustard.

Oppositions leaders and farmers have continuously raised their pitch against the plans of the government to give its nod to the new mustard variety, reiterating that if the Centre is keen on increasing oilseed productivity, it should first introduce certain policy changes.

It is noteworthy that GM Mustard is a herbicide-tolerant variety which will lead to an increased use of toxic chemicals on plants. This will not only increase the production cost but harm the environment as well. The RSS’ Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which has also been opposing the GM Mustard, has contended that the use of this new variety will render lakhs of women, who work as daily labourers to remove weeds in small farms around the country, jobless. Activists are now hoping that Dr Vardhan will not rush into making a decision while keeping his predecessor’s commitment.