Science and Democracy
In an interview to the journal Science, the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh, chose to focus on two hazardous technologies – genetically engineered seeds and crops in agriculture and nuclear power – as vital to the progress of science in India, and the “salvation for finding new development pathways for developing our economy”.
He also identified NGO’s as blocking this “development”, and involved the foreign hand.
The Prime Minister’s interview saddened me. It saddened me because the Prime Minister seems out of touch with science, as well as the people of India whose will he is supposed to represent in a democracy. To label the democratic voices of the citizens of India as “foreign” and as “unthinking” is an insult to democracy, to the people of India, and to the part of the scientific community which is dedicated to science in the public interest and to understanding the safety aspects of hazardous technologies like nuclear and genetic engineering. The Prime Minister’s statement is also a trivialization of the regulatory framework for biosafety and nuclear safety.
It is because these technologies have safety implications in the context of the environment and public health, we have national and international laws on Biosafety in the context of GMO’s, and nuclear safety in the context of nuclear power. The Prime Minister should be legally bound by these frameworks. The debate on safety is vital to our science, our democracy and our ecological security, food security and health security.
The Prime Minister is misleading the nation by making it appear that the only voices raising caution in the context of these hazardous technologies are “foreign funded NGO’s”. The most significant voice on Biosafety is Dr. Pushpa Bhargava who is the father of molecular biology in India and is the Supreme Court Appointee on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee which is the Statutory Body which regulates GMO’s for Biosafety under the 1989 rules of the Environment Protection Act. Dr. Bhargava was also on the National Knowledge Commission.
The most important voice for nuclear safety is Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, the former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman.
The Prime Minister should be listening to these eminent experts for the development of a responsible and democratic science, not creating a bogey of the “foreign hand” and starting a witch hunt of public interest groups and social movements who are the very life blood of a democracy.
This attack on movements engaged in issues related to safety of genetic engineering and nuclear power needs to be viewed in the larger context of the mega bucks foreign corporations are looking at by pushing GMOs and nuclear power plants in India. The Prime Minister has succumbed to these pressures, and sacrificed India’s food sovereignty and energy sovereignty. He signed the US-India Nuclear Agreenment, and the deal got the approval of Parliament only through the “cash-for-votes” scandal. The Prime Minister also signed the US – India Agriculture Agreement, which seeks to put India’s food and agriculture systems in the hands of global corporate giants like Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart.
The push for FDI in retail was stopped by Parliament. The recent election results show that the people have also rejected the UPA policies focusing on the interests of global corporations while trampling on the livelihoods and democratic rights of the people of India.
We have already seen the high costs of the destruction of our Seed Sovereignty in cotton after the entry of Monsanto. 95% of our cotton seed is now owned and collected by Monsanto through licensing agreements with 60 Indian seed companies. Seed costs jumped 8000%, pesticide use increased, crop failure increased, farmers debt increased, and with debt, the epidemic of farmer’s suicides emerged.
The Prime Minister talks of a “double whammy” of disease – but he describes it as an “opportunity”. He fails to address the “double whammy” in the food and agriculture crisis, 250,000 farmers’ suicides, and half of India’s children suffering from severe malnutrition. GMos are not a solution to this double whammy. They are aggravating and deepening the crisis of debt linked to capital intensive non-sustainable agriculture based on seed monopoly, which destroys food systems that produce healthy and nutritious food. The solution to farmers’ suicides and children’s malnutrition is the science of agro ecology and the development of ecologically intensive, low cost production which increases the production of food and nutrition as we have shown in the Navdanya report “Health Per Acre”.
Navdanya’s report “The GMO Emperor has No Clothes” provides empirical evidence on the performance of GMOs in farmers’ fields, not in Monsanto sponsored propoganda. GMOs have failed to increase “yields”, reduce the use of pesticides, or reduce the prevalence of pests and weeds. They have, in fact, increased chemical use, and led to the emergence of super pests and super weeds.
To impose a failed technology with extremely high social and ecological costs undemocratically on India in the name of “science” is anti science and anti democracy. It is anti-science because real science is based on the new disciplines of agro-ecology and epi-genetics, not the obsolete idea of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. The latest science in energy is renewable energy, not nuclear.
Yet the Prime Minister under the influence of global corporations, will stop at nothing to destroy the nation’s seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, and health and nutrition security. The attack on NGOs should be seen along with the attack on India’s Biosafety regulatory framework. There is an attempt to dismantle the Biosafety rules under the Environment protection attack and replace them with the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) which would rob the states of the powers they have under the Constitution and in the current Biosafety laws. After all, 13 states stopped the Bt Brinjal. To blame the moratorium on Bt Brinjal on the foreign hand is to turn a blind eye to the role of the states under federal structure of our constitution.
The proposed BRAI will also rob citizens of their right to justice and biosafety by blocking them from approaching civil courts. The corporations will be deregulated, citizens will be policed.
The Prime Minister’s attack on movements in his interview in Science is part of this larger attack on democracy and people’s rights in order to undemocratically promote the role of global corporations in the vital sectors of food and energy.
The debate on Genetic Engineering and Nuclear Power is a test case of the intense conflict between corporate rule and democracy, between corporate science pushing hazards, and public science calling for safety. It is a contest between science and democracy on one side, and propaganda and dictatorship on the other.