The Coalition for a GM-Free India threw a challenge at the Government of India to show how it will prevent farmers from using herbicides on HT mustard crop that received approval in October 2022. In a letter sent to the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Coalition pointed out that the GoI has no statutory powers to regulate farmers in their use of herbicides either under Insecticides Act or Environment Protection Act.
Government of India has disingenuously been arguing that Delhi University’s GM mustard which has used the bar-barnase-barstar technology in the name of pollination control, is not herbicide tolerant. It has also said, including in Supreme Court affidavits and the regulators’ approval letter to the crop developer that farmers will be penalised under the Insecticides Act 1968 and EPA 1986 if they use herbicide on GM mustard crop. “Usage of any formulation of herbicide is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s field under any situation…any such use in the farmer’s field without due approval from CIB & RC would attract appropriate legal action under Central Insecticides Act 1968 and Environment Protection Act 1986”, states the approval letter. This essentially means that the Government of India is ready to criminalise ordinary distress-stricken farmers of the country with jail terms after taking an irresponsible and unscientific policy decision.
The Coalition pointed out in a press release that the Union of India is lying yet again – it is not possible to prevent farmers from using the herbicide with a HT crop like GM mustard, since farmers are exempted from the purview of regulation under Insecticides Act 1968. As per Section 38’s Exemption clause in the Insecticides Act 1968, “nothing in this Act shall apply to (a) the use of any insecticide by any person for his own household purposes or for kitchen garden or in respect of any land under his cultivation”. (https://ppqs.gov.in/sites/default/files/insecticides_act_1968_0.pdf)
The Coalition also pointed out that the very inclusion of a condition about usage of herbicide in farmers’ fields is an admission that the GM mustard crop is indeed herbicide tolerant including in the hybrid version meant for cultivation by farmers. Several scientists have already issued statements about the herbicide tolerant nature of GM mustard. Meanwhile, the Government of India is continuing with a specious argument that since the crop developer did not intend to exploit the herbicide tolerance trait in the crop commercially, GM mustard is not herbicide tolerant! On the other hand, published papers by the crop developer team show their intention to develop HT crops.
As far as the Environment Protection Act 1986’s penal clauses are concerned, they are applicable to contraventions to the provisions of the Act, or Rules, Orders, Directions issued thereunder. There are no provisions in the Act, nor any Rules/Orders/Directions that are applicable to farmers’ usage of herbicides in this Act. It is also unclear how anything will be termed a contravention under EPA to begin with, for any penal clauses to kick in, when Insecticides Act itself exempts farmers from regulation, while “environmental release” of a HT crop has been approved under EPA. It is clearly a case of the Government of India brazenly misleading the Supreme Court of India yet again, trying to assure the Hon’ble Court that a conditional approval in itself is a precautionary approach. This is simply untrue and irresponsible.