According to Dr Ashwani Mahajan, national convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, those who oppose GM crops field trials are not opposing science. In an interview with Yojna Gusai and Mukesh Ranjan, Dr Mahajan not only accuses the Modi government of succumbing to pressure from MNCs, but also blames it for playing politics on economic issues.
Despite Swadeshi Jagaran Manch being an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, there appears a surprise element in your objection to a Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision to go for field trials of GM crops. What’s your take on it?
We don’t have a political view; our activities are based on national interest. What is being done is the area of our interest. Therefore, if the BJP or any other party does something which is in national interest, we will support it wholeheartedly. But since the present government decided to go ahead with the field trials of genetically modified crops without taking into consideration the opinion of the scientific community and also the long-term interest of our farmers, we raised our concerns and registered our protest over it.
What are your main objections to field trials of GM crops?
In our meeting with environment minister Prakash Javadekar, we informed him about our concerns. We told him that the issue is still pending in the Supreme Court, which had appointed a technical expert committee (TEC). All five members of this TEC are scientists, who said that there is no regulatory mechanism in place to monitor such an exercise. Secondly, at present, there is no seed certification system for GM seeds. Also, we have informed the government that the US may have allowed GM crops, but consumers in that country are not in its favour. Then, there is a case where European countries have vehemently said “no” to GM crops. Therefore, we argued that there is no need to push this in a hurry.
Do you think that this hurry is because of pressure from MNCs?
Perhaps yes. But we have impressed upon the government that whenever there is a dispute in Parliament, the matter is sent to a parliamentary standing committee. Similarly, more threadbare discussion is required before launching field trials. Thus, the previous government did not allow this to happen. We even reminded the Central government of the BJP poll manifesto, which categorically said that GM seeds will not be allowed.
However, the environment minister has said that the development of science cannot be stopped. What do you have to say about this?
We are also not against science. We are saying that GM field trials should not be allowed unless scientific evaluation of these seeds on human and soil health are undertaken. We need to build the case accordingly. Regulatory mechanism is not in place — this is the worry of all scientists. We are not living in an age of Galileo. As Galileo was opposed, we are not opposing science. MNCs are in favour of GM seeds, but there is no scientific study conducted by the Government of India about the impact of field trials. It is the duty of the state to protect the interest of the present and future generations. If you want to conduct field trials, you can do it later after fulfilling your duty.
How do you see the role of MNCs in pushing for field trials?
The so-called science, which is being promoted by big businesses is becoming a superstition; one should not follow it blindly. They say that the US has adopted GMO foods, but they are telling half-truth as consumers are not ready for GM food. People all around the world are unhappy. The logic propagated by the MNCs is misplaced. For example, they say that Bt cotton is a success, but there has been no scientific study done to find out whether GM seeds actually increase production.
How do you see the government’s eagerness to allow foreign direct investment in different key sectors of the Indian economy?
I will again say that we are not against FDI in any sector. But before that, the government should bring out a white paper on this so that we can see how it has benefited our economy so far. I have no doubt in my mind that the previous UPA regime mismanaged the whole economy. And then, in his last Budget speech, the then finance minister said FDI is our compulsion. But I don’t agree with this because we believe that FDI is not the solution to our economic woes.
But given the high import liability of the government, it warrants a need for FDI otherwise current account deficit (CAD) goes for a toss.
Instead of FDI, growth should be our economic mantra. For this, demand is there in our country; our people are hardworking and intelligent. Thus we have all the ingredients for growth. We just need to channelise them. We should emphasise on some kind of self-reliant growth path so that import dependence reduces substantially. If the foreign money had the power to solve our problems, countries like the US and European nations would not have faced any crisis.
But don’t you think that the BJP government is following the same economic path as the UPA, particularly in the case of hiking the FDI limit in the insurance sector?
Yes. What they are doing is just politics and what we are asking is to take steps for nation-building. When the FDI proposal had come for the first time during the National Democratic Alliance rule in 2002, we had opposed it and thus there was a parliamentary resolution that the figure will not go beyond 26. Since then, our stand has not changed. It was only because of our pressure that the exact quantum of FDI was incorporated as part of the legislation and therefore, no government can tamper with it without the approval of Parliament. We are totally against any move to allow brown field investment by foreign players. Such investments only help a select few to become richer. For any FDI proposal, technology transfer should be made mandatory.
There is a debate going on in the country on whether the Comptroller and Auditor-General should audit projects under the public-private partnership (PPP) model. What do you think?
For me, PPP is a failed model as cost of projects escalates manifold. And despite the fact that public wealth is involved, no one is held responsible. It was first adopted in road projects and then it was expanded to airports and now the government has decided to introduce it in the Railways. In case of core infrastructure involving natural resources, the government should evolve a better mechanism to do economic activities. In this case also, we demand a white paper as the country has the right to know whether it has been beneficial or not.