Press Release of Coalition for a GM-Free India
Huge Assembly of Citizens Demand that GMOs and Monsanto Quit India, and
BRAI Bill be Withdrawn:
PM Manmohan Singh gifted with a “non-Monsanto” Indian flag
New Delhi, August 8, 2013: Thousands of citizens from 20 states of India came together at Jantar Mantar today for a day-long sit-in and marched towards the Parliament to demand that GMOs and Monsanto should Quit India and also demand in unequivocal terms that the government withdraw the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2013. An Indian flag made out of organic fabric, which does not have Monsanto’s cotton seed used in its production was the centre of focus of this event; this flag was gifted by the congregation to the Prime Minister of India, urging him to unfurl this non-Monsanto, non-Bt cotton flag this year on August 15th.
The participant groups proudly waved the non-BT cotton Indian flags and Pankaj Bhushan, Co-Convenor of Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “It is a shame that cotton and khadi, the symbols of our fight for independence, are today controlled by an American MNC due to our indifference and inaction. 93% of Indian cotton seed has the proprietary technology of Monsanto. On this Independence Day we will hoist non-Bt organic cotton national flags in all the 20 states from where people have joined this dharna; this is a symbolic beginning to regaining our seed sovereignty. We also request the Prime Minister to hoist this flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort this year.”
Addressing the gathering which also included farmers from all across the country, Saroj Mohanty of Paschim Odisha Krushak Samanvay Samiti said “On the eve of the 71st anniversary of the Quit India Day, we have come together from all over the country as GM technology and companies like Monsanto are threatening our seed sovereignty and livelihoods. He further opined that “Back then, it was the East India Company and now we have “Eat India Companies”! We demand that these companies quit India and strongly urge the Government of India to withdraw the BRAI Bill which has been brought in to facilitate the entry of GM crops, and stop the promotion of flawed and dangerous technologies like GMOs”.
The protest at Parliament Street comes at a time when the Union government has introduced the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2013 in Parliament in the last (budget) session. This Bill has been facing strong opposition inside and outside the parliament as it would facilitate the fast track entry of GMOs into our agriculture and environment. The Bill proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which is designed to lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product. Besides this, it takes away the decision-making power of state governments on open field trials in their respective states. The Bill has also faced flak from Right To Information (RTI) groups as it proposes to override the RTI Act. The Bill is now under review of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forest.
Pointing to the increasing evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops, Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) said “The latest among the growing scientific reports which have detailed the problems with environmental release of GMOs is the final report of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of Supreme Court (in the PIL on GMOs). The TEC has clearly stated that open air field trials of GM crops have to be stopped and effort to introduce Bt in food crops is not advisable. In addition the TEC has also said that herbicide tolerant (HT) GM crops, many of which are in the regulatory pipeline, are not suitable for India. Last year the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture emphasised that protection of biosafety is of paramount importance. PSC had asked for the creation of a comprehensive biosafety protection authority instead of the current BRAI. Why is the government ignoring these highly credible reports and promoting GMOs and pushing the flawed BRAI Bill?”
Rajesh Krishnan, Co-Convenor of the Coalition said, “At this critical juncture in Indian agriculture, clearing the BRAI Bill to ensure speedy clearance for GMOs would be detrimental to the interests of our citizens. Indian cotton farmers have already experienced the devastating consequences of the takeover of their seeds and fields by Monsanto through its proprietary Bt cotton. We can’t surrender our food and farming to the onslaught of GMOs and multinational seed companies like Monsanto. Seed is a matter of sovereignty and this is our struggle to ensure that others don’t take control over our seed and food”.
Making a strong case for Multinational Seed corporations to quit India Sridhar Radhakrishnan of Thanal said, “Monsanto has voluntarily withdrawn its transgenic product applications in Europe recently, citing public rejection there; we are here to show Monsanto and such corporations that Indian citizens too do not want or need their products. It is time they withdrew from here”.
The gathering urged farmers in the country to follow the path of agro-ecological farming with due recognition for women farmers and in consonance with nature.
The assembly also demanded that the government stop promoting GMOs and invest urgently in sustainable agricultural solutions to ensure food and livelihood security. “Public sector agricultural R&D system should be made both responsive to the real needs of small farmers and responsible to the people”.
They urged the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, reviewing the BRAI Bill to recommend to the government that it withdraw the Bill.
They also demanded that all the political parties should pay heed to the democratic voices that are opposing GMOs in our food and farming and declare their commitment to ecological farming, and take a firm stand against GMOs in our food, farming and environment. “It is time that all political parties told the nation whether they stand on the side of sustainable agricultural development based on farmer-controlled, safe, affordable, agro-ecological approaches, or not”.
The gathering saw senior leaders from various political parties including Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Janata Dal (United), Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Telugu Desam Party, DMK etc address the gathering and pledge support on this people’s struggle to keep their food and farming free from GM crops, and multinational seed corporations and promised to oppose the BRAI Bill in the Parliament (1).
Farmer leaders from various states and other social movements like the Right to food campaign, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, National Federation of Indian Women, Greenpeace India etc also addressed the gathering.
The colourful and vibrant events of the day while showcasing the diversity of the country also highlighted this common struggle for food, farming and freedom.The farmers from Gujarat performed a rousing play, while students of Delhi, through street theatre and voluntary work for the event showed that the youth of India reject transgenics; youth from Kerala sang songs about ecological farming for sustainability of farming and food security. Many groups like Desi seed savers’ groups of Karnataka, Beej Bachao Andolan and Vrihi displayed the rich wealth of seed diversity in India, showcasing the splendour of natural wealth that would die or be contaminated if gates are opened for GMOs.
Notes to the Editor
1. Attached are the quotes from senior political leaders who addressed the gathering.
For more information contact:
POLITICAL PARTY PEOPLE WHO LENT SUPPORT TO THE CAUSE, AND WHO SAID WHAT:
A delegation met with Ms Sushma Swaraj, Opposition Leader in Lok Sabha and presented her with a non-Monsanto Indian flag . She assured the delegation that she expressed her solidarity with the cause. She also said that she supports the cause of ecological farming.
2 BJP MPs also joined the dharna on Parliament Street. This includes the Party General Secretary, Mr Dharmendar Pradhan (who is a RS member and also a part of Agriculture Standing Committee) and senior leader Dr Murali Manohar Joshi.
5 DMK MPs, including Mr TKS Ilangovan, Mr Selvaganapathi, KP Ramalingam, AKS Vijayan and A Thangavelu expressed their demand that the BRAI Bill be withdrawn and a Biosafety Protection Bill be tabled. MDMK’s Ganesha Murthi said that his party supports all such causes that are in the interest of farmers.
From CPI (M), Mr Basudeb Acharia explained how the Standing Committee on Agriculture had studied the issue of GM crops and BRAI Bill in depth and found it so flawed that it recommended that BRAI Bill never be tabled in the Parliament. Mr M B Rajesh, LS member of the same party said that their party extends full support to the main demand of this one-day protest.
From CPI, Mr Raja challenged the Congress party to ask Monsanto to Quit India, if they respect Gandhi at all.
Three MPs from JD (U) expressed their opposition to GMOs and BRAI Bill. This included Mr Shivanand Tiwari, Mr Kaushalendra Kumar and Mr Anil Sahni. Ms Putul Kumari, an independent MP from Bihar exhorted women farmers to take charge of seed once again, in Indian agriculture.
From Congress Party also, two parliamentarians joined the assembly and appreciated the fact that citizens are concerned about seed and food sovereignty issues. This included Mr Hussain Dalwayi and Mr Bhakta Charan Das.
BJD’s Mr Rabi Narayan Mohapatra who could not make it to the event extended his support through a letter of solidarity.
All major farmer unions were part of the protest – this includes Congress Kisan Cell, BJP Kisan Morcha, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh. All India Agragamee Kisan Sabha, Kisan Seva Samithi of Rajasthan, Kerala Jaiva Krushak Samithi, Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Federation, Organic Farming Association of India etc.
All political party representatives were presented with a non-Monsanto (seed that is not from Monsanto) Indian national flag, which is also organic.