In a signal that the new dispensation at the Ministry of Environment and Forests has an open mind on the issue of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the Veerappa Moily-led ministry has decided to revive the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) after a break of almost one year. Sources told The Indian Express the GEAC is expected to meet by February end, ahead of the kharif season.
“The GEAC process will resume and proceed as it should. The ministry will not hold back the GEAC or its procedures and processes in any way. It will meet very soon,” ministry officials confirmed.
The ministry has put the GEAC mechanism back on track at a time when it is also expected to file a joint affidavit in the apex court backing filed trials of GM crops with strict pre-conditions.
The two-tier regulatory framework for GM crops includes a Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under Department of Biotechnology and the GEAC under the MoEF. The GEAC considers proposals for trials only after approval from the RCGM, a body comprising scientists well versed with the technology.
The GEAC last met in March 2013 after which the then Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan did not call any further meetings.
Though the committee cleared field trials of GM rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton varieties, the ministry soon pulled off the minutes of the meeting from its website and decided to hold back the GEAC clearances. Natarajan did not approve the minutes of the meeting and, in fact, wrote to the Prime Minister saying field trials of GM crops in the current situation were not feasible as the issue was pending in Supreme Court.
The RCGM, meanwhile, is learnt to have met seven times between March and December 2012. Sources said the RCGM approved about 70 proposals for GEAC clearances in this time. But these research proposals could not make headway. Sources said these proposals were in addition to about 50 proposals already lying with the GEAC before it stopped meeting.
The GM crop seed industry is agitated as it missed crop trials last kharif season and needs clarity from the GEAC on whether it would be able to proceed with its experiments this time round.