A new law being proposed in India could land citizens in jail for criticizing genetically-modified (GM) products. The law, proposed by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology, would imprison any Indian citizen who questions the safety of any GM food or medicine for a minimum period of six months.
The clause stipulates that punishment will be handed down to “whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products specified.” However critics are concerned that many of the technologies mentioned in the Bill are still being researched and have not been proven safe for humans. Furthermore, the clause provides no explanation or definition for terms such as “evidence”, “scientific record” and “misleading”.
The Bill has come under attack by several civil society activists. “This is a gag order, absolutely draconian and violative of the Indian constitution which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Under the proposed law, journalists writing critical articles would also be in violation and would come under punishment.
The proposal comes at a time when heated debate has consumed country over the proposed introduction of India’s first GM food, Bt brinjal (eggplant). Two weeks ago environment minister Jairam Ramesh agreed to put its introduction on hold, saying that the scientific community was not in agreement on the brinjal’s safety, public opinion was against its cultivation, and further tests were required on the new variety.
“If this law was in force today, environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who has questioned the safety of GM crops, would have been behind bars because he would have violated it,” said Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “It is a dirty attempt to turn science into a ghetto, where all of us will be subjected to unhealthy GM products pushed down our throats by a willing government.”
Source: India Today