Nagpur, June 9: Maharashtra’s BJP-led government has put on hold confined field trials for genetically modified (GM) crops “until all doubts are cleared”, following “objections from reputed members of society” including RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

No time bar has been specified for the restrictions, which come days before the onset of the monsoon and the start of the sowing season.

The state agriculture department wrote to private and public sector companies on May 21, asking them not to go ahead with confined trials – conducted in a regulated manner on small patches, usually within agricultural varsities – unlike regular tests on larger farms. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis apparently took the decision.

“The state government has received objections from various institutions and reputed members of the society against the clearance to confined field trials of transgenic (GM) crops,” the order, signed by agriculture department principal secretary Sudhir Kumar Goyal, states.

The state has asked an “ad-hoc” expert committee, formed by the previous Congress-NCP government and headed by nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar, to review the “objections” and submit a report.

Maharashtra first gave no-objection certificates (NOCs) for such trials to around 28 companies in December 2013. But since they had no clearance from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) – the Centre’s biotech regulatory authority – the tests could not be started.

After the change of guard with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre last May and the Fadnavis-led regime in the state last October, the firms reapplied for the NOCs.

The state cleared trials in January this year by several companies, including agro-biotech giants such as Monsanto and Bayer, for varieties of GM cotton, maize, chickpea (gram) and rice. This prompted anti-GM activists, including the RSS-tied Manch, to demand a rollback on the ground that the decision would hurt farmers.

Since the last kharif season had already ended by the time the approvals came, most of the firms could not undertake the trials, barring a few on some rice varieties that were done last winter at Pune’s Rahuri Agriculture University. No details or the results of the trials are available.

Around 20 of India’s 29 states remain opposed to GM trials. The remaining – including Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka – have permitted confined trials on some crops on varsity campuses.

The BJP-ruled states, including Gujarat, had earlier collectively decided not to give NOCs for such trials during the UPA-II’s tenure even as the then Manmohan Singh cabinet was vertically split on the issue.

Now, the hurriedly granted NOCs and an equally abrupt halt to the trials by the Fadnavis government betray its inability to take an independent stand on the contentious issue. The Kakodkar panel has no statutory backing.