Biotechnology is a cross cutting issue that affects food production, farming, health, environment and information technology sectors. It is to be expected then that formulation of any law governing this high risk technology would be deeply democratic and transparent exercise. Particularly because the Constitution of India guarantees that States and Local Governments are principal levels for engaging with debates and decisions when it matters to peoples access to food, health, a clean environment and livelihoods in general. The role of the Centre is supportive, at best. International law also strongly supports this process of bottom up decision making involving the people meaningfully.
The Indian Government, however, seems to now believe that biotechnology as a sector must be under the “control” of the Union Government. Accordingly, it has proposed the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011, to establish a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) and Biotechnology Regulatory Appellate Authority (BRAT) and a host of other regulatory and appeal agencies. There has been no discussion whatsoever during the formulation of this Bill with Local and State Governments, and it would not be wrong to say that the process by which this legislative proposal has been formulated is absolutely opaque.
The Bill is now set for debate and discussion in the winter session of the Parliament. It is to be seen if this would be possible as the House has been rocked by protests from Opposition and allies of the ruling UPA coalition against the Union Government's decision to allow FDI in single brand retail, amongst other issues. The opportunity now exists to subject BRAI Bill, 2011 to a thorough review at all levels.
To assist in this process, Environment Support Group, a not for profit public interest, research, training, campaign, and advocacy initiative respnding to various environmental and social justice concerns, has prepared a critique of the Bill entitled: “Creating an Undemocratic and Unaccountable Biotechnology Regulator: A critique of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2011, with particular emphasis on environmental laws”. The same is attached.
We do hope that our contribution helps in deeply democratising the debate and discussion on this legislative proposal, especially considering the massive impact it has on food security, health, environment and governance, and the livelihoods of millions.