Monsanto let off the hook on Bt Brinjal Monsanto let off the hook on Bt Brinjal


Despite violating the Biodiversity Act, American seed major escapes legal action, reports Imran Khan

Farmers protest against Monsanto in Bengaluru
Bad genes Farmers protest against Monsanto in Bengaluru

AFTER GUNNING for American seed major Monsanto and its Indian subsidiary Mahyco for violating the Biological Diversity Act in the Bt Brinjal case, the Karnataka State Bio-diversity Board has decided not to prosecute the violators.

The decision was taken on 20 January while reviewing the complaint of Bengaluru based Environment Support Group (ESG) against Monsanto, Mahyco and the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, accusing them of violating norms by illegally accessing six varieties of brinjal endemic to India and genetically modifying it, resulting in Bt Brinjal.

In a letter dated 15 February 2010 addressed to the KSBB and the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), ESG had alleged that Monsanto, Mahyco and UAS used six local varieties of brinjal for developing Bt Brinjal without the approval of the board or the local biodiversity committees as required by law.

ESG said that the development of Bt Brinjal was undertaken on the basis of an MOU signed between Mahyco along with Sathguru (a front company of USAID and Cornell University) and UAS based on their deal of 2 April 2005. A similar deal was signed with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, and Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Lucknow.

The KSBB wrote a letter to the NBA on 10 March 2010 seeking its legal opinion. On 11 August 2011, the NBA acknowledged that the complaint merits a legal case.

On 28 September, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan said in the Lok Sabha: “The NBA has recommended legal action against the alleged violators for accessing and using local brinjal varieties without prior approval of the competent authority.”

However, in a U-turn, the KSBB resolved: “It is for the NBA to take necessary action against the institutions/companies regarding alleged violations of provisions under the Biodiversity Act.”

The resolution made Leo Saldanha of ESG furious. “There is little doubt that this controversial resolution was passed to unhook Monsanto and its collaborators from biopiracy charges,” says Saldanha. “It is tenable to draw such a conclusion as the current action agitates against the consistent position held by the KSBB that our complaint has merit and action must be initiated.”

In a U-turn, the KSBB resolved that it is for the NBA to take action against Monsanto

Saldanha claims that former state environment minister and KSBB chairman Krishna Palemar had earlier demonstrated his intent to prosecute the violators. However, in the 20 January meeting of the KSBB, he became party to passing a resolution that amounts to abdicating his responsibility. Interestingly, Palemar was one of the three ministers caught in the infamous porngate scandal.

But KSBB officials had a different story to tell. “We lack the staff and technical expertise to pursue the case,” says KSBB Member Secretary KS Sugara. “The Act is new and our officers are not well versed with it. We don’t have the powers to prosecute anybody, it can be done only through the wildlife wing.”

Meanwhile, Additional Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee was more forthcoming in his support for Monsanto. “It has not violated any laws and there is no need to seek permission from the board, since it’s an issue concerning the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. It’s just a hue and cry raised by NGOs. While they are eager to point out genetic modification in food crops, they don’t utter a word when it comes to drugs that have GM molecules,” he says

NBA Chairman Balakrishna Pisupati refused to comment on this issue. So was the case with Monsanto. A letter addressed to Mahyco Chief Technological Officer Usha Barwale Zehr seeking her company’s comment went unanswered.

“This is an astonishing act of abandoning the KSBB’s obligatory functions of taking appropriate legal action against Monsanto and Mahyco and their collaborators for committing criminal acts of biopiracy,” says Saldanha.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with

Should we encourage biopirates to expand their business in India?

An appeal for your URGENT support
Should we encourage biopirates to expand their business in India?
06 August 2011
Dear Friends,
As you are aware, the environmental release of the first ever Genetically Modified Food (Bt Brinjal – eggplant) in India, promoted by M/s Mahyco (an Indian subsidiary of US TNC Monsanto), was stayed by a February 2011 decision by then Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who ordered a moratorium on the product’s environmental and commercial release. This decision was the outcome of public opinion gathered in a series of nation-wide public consultations that he held and based also on a variety of scientific evidence and legal analysis. Fundamentally, Mr. Ramesh held that per the Precautionary Principle not enough was known of the environmental, public health, economic and social consequences of GMO foods. Therefore it was prudent to postpone the decision until there was absolute certainty that GMOs subserved the common good.
Moratorium decision on Bt Brinjal sidestepped biopiracy issue:
In addition to concerns over the public health and environmental implications of GMOs, Environment Support Group raised a serious concern that in promoting Bt Brinjal, Mahyco/Monsanto, along with it collaborators (University of Agricultural Sciences -Dharwad, Sathguru Consultants, Cornell University and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University; collaborators under the ABSP-II project funded by USAID) had fundamentally flouted laws protecting biodiversity in India. The specific charge made was that these agencies had accessed at least 9 local varieties of brinjal in developing the Bt Brinjal product and all this was done without any prior permission from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Board, Local Biodiversity Management Committees, as required per the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992 and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Therefore, the action of bringing the Bt Brinjal product to a final decision of commercial release constituted an act of biopiracy: a very serious crime that is cognisable, non-bailable and additionally involves large fines. It was also submitted to the Minister that such actions seriously compromised and denied economic and social benefits to local communities under the Access and Benefit Sharing Regime.
Mr. Ramesh chose to sidestep this critical issue while ordergin moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal.
ESG complaint against biopiracy:
Environment Support Group, however, pursued the case, and filed a complaint before the statutory Karnataka Biodiversity Board on 15 February 2011 (copy attached). The Board took cognisance of this complaint, proceeded to investigate it thoroughly, issued notices on all agencies involved in promoting Bt Brinjal and also held hearings. In their defence, Bt Brinjal promoters Mahyco/Monsanto have absolutely denied violation of biodiversity protection laws while others, such as University of Agricultural Sciences – Dharwar have claimed that these laws do not at all apply to them. Based on this evidence, the Board has repeatedly requested the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to take appropriate action in accordance with law. NBA, however, has dithered on taking a decision on this critical complaint – for over a year now.
Monsanto now wants India’s onions:
Perhaps encouraged by weak regulation by NBA, Monsanto Holdings has now applied for accessing a variety of onions grown in India for potential hybridisation, commodification and commercial release. A copy of the application made by Monsanto is enclosed. As we understand, NBA has forwarded Monsanto’s application to relevant State regulatory authorities and applicable Biodiversity Management Committees (at Panchayat/Nagarpalika levels) with the demand that the application be cleared no later than 27 August 2011.
It is a matter of very serious worry that NBA which has failed to demonstrate urgency in dealing with complaint of biopiracy against Mahyco/Monsanto, has wasted no time at all in processing Monsanto’s application to access onions.
It is imperative for NBA to enforce India’s biodiversity protection laws and also act in conformance with the Public Trust Doctrine, Precautionary Principle, Principle of Intergenerational Equity and the Polluter Pays Principle and other applicable laws. We fear that such lax behaviour on the part of a key regulatory agency encourages businesses to continue their business-as-usual approach, untrammelled by any fear of punitive action for violating India’s biodiversity protection laws and for compromising India’s sovereign control over its biological resources.
Demand decisions in NBA meeting on 9th August 2011:
With this in view, we wish to demand that NBA in its meeting scheduled on 9th August 2011 must take a categorical decision on the charge of biopiracy against those promoting Bt Brinjal product based on comprehensive investigation and reporting by the Karnataka Biodiversity BoardPending adjudication of this matter, no fresh application for accessing India’s biological resources must be entertained from any agency being investigated for biopiracy. Such a norm is critical to safeguard ongoing investigations and protecting biological wealth of India, and is an approach that is in consonance with various Supreme Court decisions, most recently evidenced by banning mining by all in light of widespread illegal mining in Bellary.
If you wish to support this demand, kindly sign on the petition (enclosed) by providing your name, full address, and organisational affiliation (if any), no later than 11 pm on 8th August 2011. Kindly leave the subject as is to help us to process your endorsement.
To further assist you in endorsing this petition we have also made it accessible online at:
We seek this support from you so that India’s biological resources are protected and conserved to ensure ecological, food, economic and social security of present and future generations.
Thank you for your cooperation and support.
Yours sincerely,
Leo F. Saldanha
Bhargavi S. Rao

Environment Support Group

[Environment, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives]
1572, 36th Cross,
Banashankari II Stage,
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559-61
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Petition to National Biodiversity Authority:
Shri M.F.Farooqui, IAS.,
National Biodiversity Authority,
(Full Addl. Charge)
Additional Secretary,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Government of India,
5th Floor, TICEL Bio Park,
Taramani, Chennai – 600 113
Tel: 91-044-2254 1805
Fax: 91-044-2254 1073
8th August 2011
Dear Shri. Farooqui,
As you are aware, Environment Support Group has filed a complaint against M/s Mahyco/Monsanto and their collaborators in promoting Bt Brinjal in violation of India’s Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992. This complaint has been pending adjudication by the National Biodiversity Authority for over a year now, notwithstanding comprehensive investigations that have been undertaken by Karnataka State Biodiversity Board.
The Authority which has not found the necessary time and resource to adjudicate the matter with due dispatch, has now proceeded to process an application from Monsanto Holdings to access onions in India for hybridisation and possible commercial release. Such double standards is not an healthy indicator that the Authority is independently and rigorously implementing Biological Diversity Act in order to protect our biological resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
When the Authority meets on 9th August 2011, it is imperative that it takes a decision on the pending complaint of biopiracy against M/s Mahyco/Monsanto and its collaborators. Such action is imperative on the part of the regulatory Authority and will build public confidence that it is not dithering in taking a correct decision due to extraneous pressures.
We also demand that pending adjudication of this matter, no application must be processed for accessing biological resources of India from any of the agencies being investigated on grounds of biopiracy. Such a policy is consistent with best practices employed by the Government of India and also with various Supreme Court decisions – most recently in banning mining by all as a measure of taking action against widespread illegal mining in Bellary district of Karnataka.
We hope that the Authority will take appropriate decisions with due dispatch to safeguard India’s biodiversity and the wider public interest.