1.Should we grow GM crops? (The Hindu)
2.Making of a monumental crisis (The Hindu)
1.Should we grow GM crops? (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of GM crops and their reliability of agriculture. (GS paper III)
- The Industry, government, and many academic scientists tout the benefits of genetically modified (GM) foods for agriculture, ecosystems, and human health and well-being, including feeding a world population bursting at the seams. With equal passion, consumer groups, environmental activists, religious organizations, and some scientists warn of unforeseen health, environmental, and socioeconomic consequences.
- A midst acrimonious debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food crops, India’s top biotechnology regulator has recently declared a transgenic mustard plant “safe for consumption.” Moving the plant into farmers’ fields is now a political decision in the hands of India’s environment minister, who may wait until the Supreme Court of India resolves several long-pending related cases.
- According to the leftist view, India has borrowed a ‘fig leaf’ from U.S. regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), i.e. in the non-regulation of these novel laboratory organisms. The U.S. invented GMOs and commercialised them despite serious safety concerns expressed by government scientists.
- GMOs carry risks of ‘unintended’ effects and toxicity, which confront us with a double problem, scientists don’t know what to look for, and health impacts become apparent only in the long term, such as cancer.
- World Health Organization has recently categorise glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” , glyphosate was considered as the safest herbicide, will be included in a list of chemicals labelled as “cancer-causing”.
- Bayer’s glufosinate, the herbicide linked with Indian HT mustard, is an acknowledged neurotoxin banned in the EU. The Supreme Court-appointed technical expert committee recommended a ban on any HT crop in India for this among several other reasons.
- The myths that have sustained the propaganda of a safe and highly productive GM crop technology for two decades that it “will feed the world” are fast dissolving. The current stable of GMOs comprises just two products, Bt (e.g. Bt cotton) and HT crops (HT mustard), and they account for nearly 99% of GMOs planted worldwide. Both, on empirical evidence including India’s Bt cotton are proven unsustainable technologies.
- Globally and in India, the conflict of interest is pernicious, our regulatory institutions and ministries are funders, promoters, developers and regulators, a fine blend of multitasking. We have moved from dismal regulation in Bt cotton in 2002 to outright delinquency evident in the current ‘plot’ to commercialise HT mustard. The regulation is subterranean, unconstitutional and also in contempt of Supreme Court orders pertaining to Bt Brinjal/mustard.
- We must learn from the lessons of the history of hazardous technologies, DDT, asbestos, etc. But GMOs, critically, stand apart from these. GMOs are self-replicating organisms and genetic contamination of the environment, of non-GM crops and wild species through gene flow is certain, it cannot be contained, reversed, remedied or quantified.
- According to the rightist view, GM crops offer a promising solution to meet the world’s food security needs in the foreseeable future. GM crops have benefited India and the world tremendously. Food security has improved around the globe over the past five years, but hunger and food insecurity persist.
- On its part, India continues to battle huge challenges with regard to its agriculture output. Biotechnology, around the world, has helped farmers grow 311.8 million tonnes more food in the last 15 years.
- They believe GM crops offer one of the promising solutions to meet the world’s food security needs in the foreseeable future. Much of the debate around agro-technology has centred on agro-biotechnology, of which GM crops is a part.
- Biotechnology is a technology well proven within India, as evidenced in the spectacular success of Bt cotton; two billion hectares of biotech crops have been planted in 28 countries since 1996. Adoption of Bt cotton ensured that India transitioned into a cotton-exporting country from being a net importer, switching to high-yield oilseeds engineered specially for India’s semi-arid zones can help India reduce its dependence on imports.
- India’s total edible oil consumption is around 21 MT per year whereas the domestic production is hardly 6-6.5 MT. At $10 billion annually, edible oil is India’s third-biggest import item after crude oil and gold, mustard is among the three largest oilseed crops of India soybean and groundnut being other two but the yields have remained stagnant for many years.
- Biotechnology reduces the farmer’s dependency on pesticides and saves lacs of kilos of pesticides in India each year. Studies have shown that the growth rate for biotech crops is at least three times as fast and five times as large in developing countries as in industrialised ones.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have repeatedly confirmed the safety of biotech crops and concluded that foods derived from biotechnology are as safe and nutritious as those derived from conventional and organic methods.
- A major challenge today is to develop low-input, high-output agriculture. This cannot be achieved without technology. The two important ways of protecting crops involve dispensing agrochemicals, or breeding species for resistance. The latter is environmentally more benign as it reduces the use of agrochemicals and the preferred source is tapping the germplasm within the crop species.
- The technique of genetic engineering, in common lexicon called GM technology, allows the introduction of a resistance-conferring gene from any biological source. Bt cotton is a very fine example of using a resistance-conferring gene from a bacterial species to tackle bollworms, a common cotton pest.
- The alternative to Bt would be pesticides and further, these have to be new molecules, as those in use before the introduction of Bt cotton are no longer effective. However, we must understand that no resistance lasts forever.
- For the neo-Left ideologues, GM is an easy target to remain relevant. Then we have nativists, who believe everything that is good happened a few thousand years back. Before 1900 agriculture was mostly organic. But the world population then was around 1.6 billion; today it is around 7.5 billion. It is not possible to feed people with pre-1900 agriculture.
- A major challenge today is to develop low-input, high-output agriculture. This cannot be achieved without technology.
- The government must take decisions on GM technologies on the basis of scientific evidence. Once some successful interventions are in the field, the post-truth world that GM-bashers have created will disappear in no time.
- In the last financial year, around ₹68,000 crore worth of edible oils were imported by the country. Hybrids yield higher than pure-line varieties and will help the country in reducing its edible oil deficit.
Question– GM crops do pose a threat biodiversity but it can also be an answer to food security. Discuss.
2.Making of a monumental crisis (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on proposed amendment to grant of any permission for new construction within the prohibited area of a centrally protected monument/ site. (GS paper III)
- The government had recently approved amendments to a law that will allow construction of public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports within 100 metres of protected monuments. Upto now the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 prohibits any construction around 100 metres of a historical building or place accorded protection under the law.
- The restriction has stalled over the years projects such as flyovers, underpasses, subways, metro stations and bus terminals to be constructed on land within the “prohibited area” and engineers had to redesign their projects to go around a monument’s restricted periphery. However the amendment would be detrimental to the years old monuments.
- The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1958 (as amended in the year 2010) prohibits grant of any permission for new construction within the prohibited area of a centrally protected monument/ site.
- Security net areas are a designated prohibited area at least a 100-m radius to protect the monuments, where no new construction is allowed. It is similar to the zoning around tiger reserves where the core area is set apart for the animals to live in, and where human disturbance is not permitted. Monuments, needs to be remembered, are endangered structures and vulnerable to human interference.
- However according to the government prohibition of new construction within prohibited area is adversely impacting various public works and developmental projects of the Central Government. The amendment will pave way for certain constructions limited strictly to public works and projects essential to public within the prohibited area and benefit the public at large.
- The country’s watchdog for heritage monuments the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has cautioned that the government must ensure adequate safeguards before allowing constructions. “A heritage impact assessment study must be conducted before allowing a project near a protected monument. The study must ensure no harm will come to the monument”.
- The proposed amendment aims to allow the Central government to construct within that area all kinds of structures. Incidentally, the Cabinet note shows that the Ministry of Culture, instead of protecting monuments, is now acting a clearing house for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Background of security net
- The idea of security net ought to be created around heritage buildings, can be traced to Jawaharlal Nehru. As Prime Minister, he complained to the Union Minister of Education in 1955 that India’s old and historical places were getting spoilt by new buildings being put up around them.
- In order to prevent intrusions, Nehru suggested that the government “lay down that within a certain area no building should be put up without permission”. An example of his proactive approach in creating such protective barriers is the enclosure encircling the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana in Nizamuddin. This idea eventually found its way into the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules of 1959 which unambiguously, for the first time, noted a prohibited and a regulated zone around protected sites and monuments.
- Because of these rules, the High Court of Delhi in 2009 struck down all permissions that had been illegally granted by the ASI through an Expert Advisory Committee.
- As a consequence of this judgment, in 2010, the Government of India set up a committee which recommended a new bill to Parliament. It is now known as the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act; the legislation brought the prohibited and regulated zones around monuments within the ambit of the Act itself. As a consequence of this statute, the National Monuments Authority was set up.
Problems in maintaining monuments
- The track record of the government in maintaining our nationally protected monuments, to put it most charitably, is an indifferent one. There are encroachments by government agencies and individuals.
- According the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) 2013 report, of the 1,655 monuments whose records were scrutinized and which were physically inspected, 546 of them were encroached. This may well be because of a lack of basic manpower in the form of monument attendants.
- In 2010, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stated on record that its staff strength did not permit the deployment of even a single person on a regular full-time basis at more than 2,500 of its monuments. This meant that more than two-thirds of India’s monuments that the Central government is supposed to protect were poorly guarded.
- At the same time, the CAG pointed to connivance by ASI officials as well. As the files of the ASI reveal, there are also numerous instances where politicians have proactively protected those who have illegally occupied the prohibited zone around monuments.
- There are legal provisions for the protection for our heritage; to prevent the encroachment of the prohibited zone around monuments has come from courts of law.
- The proposed amendment will make our monuments more vulnerable, some years ago, the areas where our ministers live (Lutyens Bungalow Zone in New Delhi) where overhead metro lines have not been permitted because, quite rightly, they would have permanently marred the aesthetics of the area. Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent to ensure that there are no ugly railway corridors across that area.
- India’s monuments form an irreplaceable archive of our civilisational heritage. Our pride in our heritage has always been surplus while caring for that heritage suffers a huge deficit. Surely, India’s archaeological heritage, as diverse and priceless as our natural heritage, seventy years after Independence, deserves better than what has fallen to its lot.
- The Ministry of Culture needs to be reminded that it is the nodal agency for protecting our monuments, not endangering them.
Question– Nation is recognised by the level of preservation that is granted to its heritage monuments. What is India’s status on this front?