Business as Usual

Strangely enough, the Modi brigade’s ‘extra-ordinary’ ability to survive popular unrests that periodically threaten their rule or misrule, speaks volumes about the bankruptcy of their opponents. In the face of stiff resistance and solidarity movement built by farmers across the country they retreated by withdrawing the pro-corporate farm laws, only to come back with a new plot in a very short time, to attack agriculture at the roots. Now they are circulating draft regulations for the approval of genetically modified (GM) food proposed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Good news is that major farmers’ unions, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) that carried the year-long agitation against Modi’s tyranny, have opposed the FSSAI move. Farmers are uniting with some non-government consumer groups to fight the emerging menace called GM food. India has so far developed and tested GM mustard and Bt brinjal but neither crop has been approved for commercial cultivation yet. What is commercially produced in India is GM cotton. Farmers in cotton growing regions know the health hazards they encounter in cultivating GM cotton. In truth there was a moratorium on Bt brinjal during the Congress regime after prolonged agitation and opposition by scientists and some civil liberties organisations. The argument that GM crop is necessary in view of dwindling crop land and climate change holds little water. After all food grains are rotting in FCI godowns. There is no famine-like situation even during severe droughts and floods. If people are starving in some areas it is because they have no money to purchase food. Demonetisation coupled with GST has virtually ruined marginalised sections of society while corona-related lock down and Covid restrictions continue to aggravate joblessness. Jobs in informal sector where about 90 per cent of low-paid workforce is employed, is vanishing very fast with the advent of corporates in almost every sector of the economy. What is needed is to create more jobs, the people don’t require Bt brinjal, they will be happy with traditional brinjal.

FSSAI has released the draft for public consultation without focusing on its short-term and long-term impact on people’s health. As they have failed to implement the farm laws, they are now trying to woo global agri-business by promoting GM food. The content of the draft regulations and associated forms suggested that the FSSAI was preparing to approve GM food applications on the basis of approvals in other countries. As per Coalition of Non-Government Consumer Groups the FSSAI is not really proposing any mechanism for an independent, long-term comprehensive bio-safety testing as the basis for decision making on applications of GM food. It is simply dangerous.

The Coalition for a GM Free India which represents sections of farmers and consumers has raised many valid reasons to discard GM food. The authorities now need ‘manipulated’ public response to have their way.

Surprisingly, political parties, opposition parties to be precise are reluctant to make GM food an issue. They leave it to NGOs while enjoying the heat of electoral politics all the time. And when it is election time in northern India nothing matters but caste equation. And caste factor means politics of reservation in one form or another. With assembly elections in UP and Punjab round the corner ‘OBC Law Seat Quota’ is gaining currency. Only the other day leading organisations representing other backward classes urged the National Commission for Backward Classes to take steps to implement reservation for OBCs in admission in all-India pool seats in the national Law Universities. GM food is not on their agenda.

As the proposed all-India general strike scheduled to be held on February 23& 24, now stands cancelled, possibly in view of assembly elections in some states and surge in Corona what they can talk with some confidence is how to solve the tricky business of electoral seat adjustments. The CPM in Bengal seems to have heaved an audible sigh of relief as they will now be able to fully concentrate on municipal elections. How budget will cripple the poor man’s economy beyond repair is not their prime concern. As for the Congress, the main opposition party in parliament, the less said the better. They are now busy to make noises about “Pegasus”. It’s all fire sans smoke!

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Vol 54, No. 34, Feb 20 - 26, 2022