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Supreme Court questions Central government if there is any compelling reason to introduce GM mustard in India right away

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The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Central government whether there was any compelling reason to introduce genetically-modified mustard (GM mustard) in India right away 

A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and BV Nagarathna asked Centre’s top law officer Attorney General R Venkataramani whether the government should take all safeguards so that there are no adverse effects once GM Mustard is introduced.

“Is there a compelling reason to make GM mustard available now or you need to take more safeguard, safety measures etc so that there is no irreparable injury or adverse affect? Are you saying that if we do not do it then we are doomed. Indian farmers are not like Western farmers. Let us understand the reality in India. There may be a lot of krishi melas etc but the situation is different,” Justice Nagarathna orally observed.

The top court was hearing petitions challenging the Union Environment Ministry’s recent decision allowing commercial cultivation of GM mustard.

The counsel for the petitioners, advocate Prashant Bhushan, had yesterday argued that mixing of genetically modified varieties with regular ones can affect yield as well as the health of the latter.

The AG today submitted that the Court was being called upon to decide on the report of an expert committee appointed by the government.

“A scientist can also take an ideological stand. Court is asked to take a value judgment, in essence, we are confronted with whether the exercise was done right. In every walk of life today, science and technology converge in so many minute ways. If we put in ideology value judgments will have to come in.”

Justice Maheshwari pointed out that the said committee was appointed on directions of the top court.

To this the AG responded saying,

“Court without being aided by a committee of scientific experts will not lay down something which may have far reaching repercussions.”

After the AG started listing the benefits of genetically modified crops, Justice Nagarathna posed the question on the urgency to introduce the same.

The AG then contended that the argument that the Union government could not have taken such a step, is a blind argument and the petitioners were against research in the scientific fields.

To this, Justice Nagarathna responded,

“The petitioner is not against research but they are on precautionary principle”.

The said principle is a legal approach to innovations or develomental activities which have the the potential to cause harm. The principle advocates caution and review before taking any decision.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday, December 7.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had, earlier this year, cleared a proposal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard.

It was also approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

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