The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Government of India through the Ministries of Environment and Forests, Science and Technology and Agriculture, on a public interest litigation filed by Gene Campaign, challenging the validity of the rules made for genetically modified organisms and seeking a moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops until an effective oversight mechanism is put in place. The PIL was filed by senior advocate Sri Sanjay Parikh, appearing on behalf of Gene Campaign and Dr. Suman Sahai.
The present Indian GM regulatory regime is based on the following legal documents:
- Environmental Protection Act, 1986 (Parent legislation)
- Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms and Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 (Secondary legislation)
- Recombinant Safety Guidelines, 1990
- Revised Guidelines for research in Transgenic Plants and Guidelines for Toxicity and Allergenicity Evaluation of Transgenic Seeds, Plants and Plant Parts, 1998
The petitioners contend that Biotechnology is being promoted in India in the absence of a national policy and without national consensus. Implementation is being done in an ad hoc manner and without adequate precautions or appropriate regulations prescribed by international practice and convention. There is neither clear-cut direction nor an effective oversight mechanism. Gene Campaign has been voicing its concerns since long, over:
- The arbitrariness in the application of biotechnology in food and agriculture;
- Inadequate regulatory mechanism to control the potential environmental and health hazards due to genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
- Lack of attention to the socio-economic and ethical aspects of GM technology in food and agriculture; and
- Lack of transparency and public participation in the decision-making process.
On November 26-27, 2003, Gene Campaign had organised a multi-stakeholder consultation at New Delhi in the form of a National Symposium titled Relevance of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security. The well-attended Symposium brought forth a wide range of views.
Faced with what it views as continuing stonewalling from the government departments, Gene Campaign approached the Judiciary for relief. It filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India on 7th January 2004. The PIL challenges the constitutionality of the Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 that have been framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Further, the PIL alleges that the Rules in India have not been brought in line with the International Conventions like the Biosafety Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which the Indian Government is bound, being a signatory.