Supreme Court takes up plea against GM mustard; its release on hold

The environmental release of genetically modified (GM) mustard will remain on hold for now with the Supreme Court taking up a plea challenging the release.

The Centre Thursday assured a Bench of Justices Dinesh Maheswhari and Sudhanshu Dhulia — which fixed November 10 to hear the application by activist Aruna Rodrigues — that it will not take any precipitative action in the meantime.

With Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati giving the assurance, the top court Bench did not mention the status quo in its order.

Rodrigues’ application has challenged the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s October 18 decision granting approval for commercial cultivation of GM Mustard and the October 25 decision of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to allow environmental release of Genetically Modified Mustard/ HT Mustard /DMH 11 in five states.

Appearing for the applicant, Advocate Prashant Bhushan pointed out that in 2012, the court had constituted a technical expert committee to examine the question of GM crops in India. That committee, he added, called HT (herbicide tolerant) crops unsustainable and unsuitable for India; noted that the herbicide sprayed on HT crops caused cancer; had recommended that non-GMO alternatives were available in the country; and recommended a total ban on all HT crops on precautionary principle as no long term safety studies were done on impact of edible GM crops.

Bhushan told the bench that the Centre had on multiple occasions in 2016 and 2017 assured the court that no decision had been taken to release GM Mustard in the environment and that any such decision, if taken, would be placed before it.

The Bench sought to know the exact status of the decision on the GM mustard.

Bhati said the mustard will be sown inside the facilities of The Indian Council of Agricultural Research under the strict vigilance of scientists. She also agreed to produce documents regarding approval before the court.

Following the submission, the Bench allowed the government time to produce the documents and fixed the matter for hearing on November 10.

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