Farmers from 20 states to present national flag made from non-Bt organic cotton to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Independence Day
Farmers from twenty states gathered near Janta Mantar to protest against Monsanto, GMOs and biotechnology regulatory bill (Photos: Soumik Mukherjee)
This protest at Jantar Mantar today was unique. It had India’s national flags which were made after carefully selecting organic cotton balls from farms of Gujarat. The flags were of significance as 93 per cent of cotton grown in country is genetically modified Bt cotton and most of organic cotton is contaminated.
For protesters this Indian flag is of importance as it does not have Monsanto’s cotton seed and a special flag has been made to be gifted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to unfurl on August 15.
The gift is from farmers of 20 states who gathered in New Delhi today for a day-long sit-in dharna to demand ridding the country of genetically modified organisms and withdrawal of lopsided provisions in Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2013, which allows easy access to GM crops in India.
The protesters presented flags to various members of Parliament who came to address the protest—BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, Congress’s Bhakta Charan Das, Hussain Dalwai, CPI’s Basudeb Acharia and various other regional parties like DMK (Tamil Nadu), BJD (Odisha) and Telegu Desam Party.
‘Eat India companies threaten India’
Pankaj Bhushan, co-convenor of Coalition for a GM-Free India, said, “It is a shame that cotton and khadi, the symbols of our fight for Independence, are today controlled by an American MNC because of our indifference and inaction. Ninety-three per cent of Indian cotton seed has the proprietary technology of Monsanto. On this Independence Day we will hoist non-Bt organic cotton national flags in all the 20 states from where people have joined this dharna; this is a symbolic beginning to regaining our seed sovereignty. We also request the Prime Minister to hoist this flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort this year.”
Saroj Mohanty of Paschim Odisha Krushak Samanvay Samiti said, “On the eve of the 71st anniversary of the Quit India Movement, we have come together from all over the country as GM technology and companies like Monsanto are threatening our seed sovereignty and livelihoods. “Back then, it was the East India Company and now we have ‘Eat India Companies’! We demand that these companies quit India and strongly urge the Government of India to withdraw the BRAI Bill which has been brought in to facilitate the entry of GM crops, and stop the promotion of flawed and dangerous technologies like GMOs,” Mohanty said.
BRAI Bill draws ire
The protest at Parliament Street comes at a time when the Union government has introduced the BRAI Bill, 2013, in Parliament in the last (Budget) session. This Bill has been facing strong opposition inside and outside Parliament as it would facilitate the fast track entry of GMOs into the country, affecting agriculture and environment. The Bill proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which is designed to lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product.
Besides this, it takes away the decision-making power of state governments on open field trials in their respective states. The Bill has also faced flak from Right To Information (RTI) activist groups as it proposes to override the RTI Act. The Bill is now under review of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests.
Various farm activists like Kavitha Kurungati from Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Rajesh Krishnan co-convenor of GM-free India and Sridhar Radhakrishan from Thanal urged farmers to follow agro-ecological farming which is in harmony with nature.
Sustainable agriculture solutions
The assembly demanded government to stop promoting GMOs and invest urgently in sustainable agricultural solutions to ensure food and livelihood security. “Public sector agricultural R&D system should be made both responsive to the real needs of small farmers and responsible to the people”.
They urged the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, reviewing the BRAI Bill, to recommend to the government that it withdraw the Bill.
They also demanded that all the political parties should pay heed to the democratic voices that are opposing GMOs in our food and farming and declare their commitment to ecological farming, and take a firm stand against GMOs in our food, farming and environment. It is time that all political parties told the nation whether they stand on the side of sustainable agricultural development based on farmer-controlled, safe, affordable, agro-ecological approaches, or not, they said.
Farmer leaders from various states and other social movements like the Right to food campaign, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, National Federation of Indian Women and Greenpeace India also addressed the gathering.