“As long as I remain an invitee to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), I can assure you that Bt brinjal will not get approval for commercial cultivation,” Dr Pushpa Bhargava, founder director of the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) assured a packed house at Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal. He was speaking at the Madhya Pradesh launch of Mahesh Bhatt’s documentary film “Poison on the platter.” (Mar 2, 2009).
While Pushpa Bhargava explained the inherent dangers in the transgenic brinjal (Bt brinjal) that is being pushed through and the failure of the regulatory system to ensure biosafety, film maker Mahesh Bhatt said that the film has succeeded in igniting a ‘fire’ in the hearts of the people. This ‘fire’, he said has now spread to Madhya Pradesh. “Nothing can stop it, not even the deafening silence in the media, which is deliberately trying to play it down.”
Madhya Pradesh media however did not disappoint him. The cameras kept on clicking, and questions from the reporters seemed never ending. The coverage next day was also astounding.
“There is a similarity here that I see with the Bhopal Gas tragedy. A young journalist, Mahesh Pandey, had warned about the impending disaster in his article in Jansatta, the Hindi newspaper. If only the government and the powers that be had listened to him, the disaster could have been averted. And then it happened. Bhopal can never erase that disaster, that human tragedy from its memory. I see a similar disaster awaiting with our food now, this time with genetic modifications,” warned the director of the film, Ajay Kanchan.
The film did its magic. The audience was visibly moved. People responded with anger, and volunteered to take this message forward. The young college students, and they had come in large numbers, promised to take the message of the film in the colleges/universities. “We feel like launching a movement to save our food,” a young college student got up and said. “Allow me to make copies this film, and you will see what the youth can do,” he added.
Mahesh Bhatt later said that it was heartening to see people’s response building up. He could feel the pulsating pulse, and as he said nothing can stop this ‘fire’ from spreading now. Talking to him later, I told him that I have tremendous faith in peoples’ power. History tells us that whenever people have understood the essence of any cause, they have pursued it vigorously and eventually made the governments to behave. I have seen that happening time and again, and I am sure people of this country have the power to force the government to stop flirting with biotech companies.
“We have launched a campaign to declare Madhya Pradesh GM Free,” Nilesh Desai, from Sampark in Jhabua, told the gathering. He said in the days to come 10,000 petitions will be signed by the people and faxed to the Prime Minister as well as the Chief Minister. Soon after the launch ceremony was over, a delegation had walked to the Chief Minister’s residence and presented the first set of petitions to his office. A coordination committee of NGOs, civil society groups and farmer organisations has been formed to plan and execute this initiative.
There was a time when people wouldn’t understand why we were trying to stop them for cultivating Bt cotton, Nilesh Desai said. But now, more and more farmers and even seed suppliers are coming out in support. This has given them more encouragement, and I am sure people will soon realize that the technology being pushed and promoted in agriculture does not benefit the farmers, the soil, the environment. Such technologies only benefit the agricultural scientists and the agribusiness companies, and therefore the nexus is quite apparent.
Traveling through the country, I am becoming increasingly convinced that agricultural scientists need to be held accountable. The main reason behind the collapse of the Green Revolution that is evident from the spate of farmer suicides and the desire of farmers to quit agriculture is because of the faulty technologies that are being relentlessly pushed in the name of increasing productivity. These technologies actually help only the companies, and the scientists are aware of it. Unless they are held accountable for any negative consequences of what they promote, agriculture may never be resurrected in a true and meaningful manner.
Isn’t it a sad reflection on the way we promote governance, good governance. The 9/11 attacks on the twin World Trade Towers resulted in the death of about 3,000 and the world went topsy turvy. In India, over 200,000 farmers have taken the fatal route in the past 15 years to escape growing indebtedness arising from the failure of technologies, and yet no scientist or policy maker or agriculture minister has ever been held responsible.
When a bridge in the heart of a city collapses, we take the engineer to task. When a doctor’s negligence causes the death of a patient, we hold him responsible. But how come we let agricultural scientists get away for their role in farmers suicide? How come we don’t even see a link between technology and farmers death? It is primarily for this reason, in our inability to point a finger at them, that they are more than keen to promote unhealthy and risky technologies like GM crops. The reason is simple. They have nothing to lose. They will never be held responsible for the destruction it might eventually result in. They will happily retire, like the real beneficiary of such useless technologies.
We as a nation will continue to pay the true price.