In a scathing press release, published about a month ago, the Environmental Support Group (ESG), a Bangalore based NGO, has slammed the decision of the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board to not prosecute Monsanto’s Indian subsidiary, Mahyco for alleged bio-piracy of a certain variety of brinjal which was used to create the genetically modified and hugely controversial Bt-Brinjal. Image from here.
ESG had alleged, last year, that Mahyco and its collaborators had accessed the genetic material without the requisite permissions under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. After a vociferous public campaign against Mahyco and its collaborators, the Karnataka State Bio-Diversity Board (KSBD) had investigated the matter and reported the matter to the National Biological Authority (NBA) for further action. The NBA had subsequently decided to initiate prosecution against Mahyco and the others. All these documents are available on the ESG’s website over here and we too have blogged about it over here on the basis of the documents released by ESG.
The latest development, which has been the target of ESG’s rage, is a decision by the KSBD, that the NBA was the only authority with the power to launch a prosecution in the present case. The minutes of this decision can be accessed over here. The KSBD has thus washed its hands off the matter.
In its scathing press release ESG has termed the KSBD’s decision as ‘shocking’, ‘controversial’, ‘illegal’, and an ‘absolute abandonment of the obligatory functions to prosecute violators of the Biodiversity Act’. The press release further alleges that “There is little doubt that this controversial resolution was passed to unhook Monsanto and its collaborators from bio-piracy charges”. ESG’s press release appears to have had the necessary effect on the media who have covered the story extensively. DNA, Hindu and Tehelka have all carried stories on ESG’s allegations.
I’m honestly surprised at the sheer rhetoric of ESG’s allegations for two reasons.
The first reason: It is not even clear whether Mahyco and its collaborators can be prosecuted for bio-piracy. As discussed in my previous post over here, this entire collaborative project initiated by Mahyco has taken place with the blessings of the Central Government under the ‘Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture’ (KIA). It would be extremely difficult to prove that Mahyco has indulged in bio-piracy when the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India has itself assented to the project. Launching a criminal prosecution is serious business and these allegations have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The second reason: The target of ESG’s present attack is the following decision taken by the KSBD:
“The subject was deliberated and it was clarified that the subject comes under the purview of the National Biodiversity Authority. Therefore, it was resolved that it is for the National Biodiversity Authority to take necessary action at their end against institutions/companies regarding alleged violations of provisions under Biodiversity Act 2002.” Legally speaking there does not seem to be anything wrong with the above decision of the KSBD. As per S. 61 of the Act, a Court can take cognizance of offences under the Biodiversity Act only with the permission of the Central Government or any authority or officer authorized in this behalf by the Central Government. Clearly the KSBD is a state body and it is only the NBA which can approach the Central Government for the appropriate permissions to prosecute the alleged pirates. Further, if it is ESG’s case that Mahyco should be penalized for violating Sections 3, 4 or 6 of the Act then even in that case it is only the NBA which can launch prosecutions and not the KSBD. The most damning evidence however are the minutes of a NBA meeting where it was decided that the NBA would proceed with the prosecution against Mahyco. In pertinent part, the NBA had stated "it was decided that the NBA may proceed legally against M/s. Mahyco/ M/s Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion."
The KSBD is hardly at fault over here and I’m not sure why it is being targeted in such an unfair manner.