The development of Bt Brinjal was a case of biopiracy, according to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). According to sources, the NBA has finally concluded its year-long investigation and recommended action against the U.S. agribusiness giant, Monsanto, and its Indian collaborators, who developed and promoted the controversial, genetically modified vegetable.
A decision to “take the case to its logical conclusion” was taken in an NBA meeting on June 20, according to official sources, who say, this means Monsanto and co could face criminal proceedings. When the NBA met on Tuesday, it discussed the “comprehensive evidence” and “supporting proof” gathered against Bt Brinjal’s promoters, say sources. “The NBA is now continuously moving forward in that direction,” said a senior official who refused to speculate on how long the process will take.
The charge against the Bt Brinjal’s developers — which include Monsanto’s Indian partner Mahyco, as well as Indian universities and research organisations — is they allegedly accessed nine Indian varieties of brinjal to develop their genetically modified vegetable without prior permission from the NBA or the relevant State and local boards.
This is a violation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, according to the Environmental Support Group (ESG) which lodged the formal complaint with the Karnataka Biodiversity Board on February 15, 2010, soon after the government put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal on health and safety grounds.
ESG points out that by using the local brinjal varieties without permission, Monsanto and co compromised “India’s sovereign control over its biological resources” and also “denied economic and social benefits to local communities under the Access and Benefit Sharing Regime.” It adds biopiracy is a cognisable, non-bailable crime with severe financial penalties as well.
Monsanto has denied violating biodiversity protection laws, while the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwar, claims that the law does not apply to them as they are a publically funded company. The NBA has been responsible for the investigation since June 2010.
Meanwhile, Monsanto applied to the NBA on June 27 to access two varieties of Indian onions for potential hybridisation. While the NBA originally forwarded the application to relevant authorities, it is not clear if that process will be affected by the biopiracy case now reaching a conclusion.