The Politics of Science and Democracy in India

Source: Al Jazeera

Proposed legislation will rob citizens of their right to justice and biosafety and deregulate dangerous industries.

New Delhi, India – In an interview with the journal Science, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh chose to focus on two hazardous technologies – genetically engineered seeds and crops, 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 NGOs as blocking this “development”, and said “foreign hands” were at work.

The prime minister’s interview saddened me. It saddened me because the prime minister seems out of touch with science, as well as with 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 the understanding of safety aspects of hazardous technologies such as nuclear and genetic engineering. The prime minister’s statement was also a trivialisation of the regulatory framework for nuclear safety and biosafety.

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 GMOs 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.

Misleading the country

The prime minister is misleading the nation by making it appear that the only voices advocating caution in these hazardous technologies are “foreign-funded NGOs”. 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 which regulates GMOs 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 with regard to the development of a responsible and democratic science, not creating a bogey of the “foreign hand” and starting a witch hunt among public interest groups and social movements, which are the very life blood of a democracy.

This attack on movements engaged in issues related to the safety of genetic engineering and nuclear power needs to be viewed in the larger context of the megabucks foreign corporations stand to gain by pushing GMOs and nuclear power plants in India. The prime minister has succumbed to these pressures and sacrificed both India’s food and energy sovereignty.

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