How the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill will affect your dinner?

A graduate from Calcutta University who is scheduled to start her L.L.M (International Law) in Queen Mary University in London in 2014-2015 Session

There is an old saying that goes like this –  “you are what you eat”. Today we definitely do not want to be what we eat, as “healthy” and “wholesome” are two adjectives that are slowly moving away from the word “food”. Many people believe that this new “organic revolution” worldwide is a fad, but the truth is, the food that is being produced is fast becoming more and more “in-organic”. It is not just pesticides and insecticides that are harming our health, there seems to be another new villain in the block, called GMO’s or genetically modified organisms.

A few years ago, if you might remember, there was a nation-wide protest for banning the introduction of “Bt[1] brinjal.”  Luckily for us the Bt brinjal is yet to see the light of the day; but what was all the fuss about? Monsanto-the American pioneer in genetically modified crops and Mahyco – India’s prime seed company, collaborated to create a genetically modified strain of brinjal. This brinjal promised to increase yields, but the flip side was its alleged effects on animal and human health not to forget environmental hazards. In the past a similar Bt strain of cotton had done more harm than good, with farmers committing suicides and the extinction of indigenous varieties of cotton[2]. (You can follow this link for further reading).

What is this BRAI Bill all about? And how does it affect us, is what I intend to bring to light through this article.

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill was passed in 2013.The object of this Bill being “to promote safe use of biotechnology”, and it was proposed by the, then Ministry of Science and Technology. The Bill was drafted in furtherance of India’s obligation to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 2000[3], to ensure safe and responsible use of biotechnology. A few key features of this Bill are explained below which may make you ponder whether if at all India needs this Bill.

The object of the Bill is to “promote safe use of biotechnology”, but if we look closer it seems as if the Bill is an open door for corporations that produce genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). It empowers a panel of about five scientists to work on the inspection and clearance of these technologies patented by these corporations. In short, these five scientists have the responsibility to decide what the whole of India should be eating.

The Bill also curbs the role of the individual state governments to merely advisory, in the form of the State Advisory Biotechnology Regulatory Committee, setup under Clause (35) of the Bill. The states do not even possess the authority of rejecting the introduction of GMO crops in their territory. It takes away the authority of the states to make choices about what crops should be grown. This seems to be against the powers granted to the states by the Indian Constitution[4]. The objection to Bt brinjal by states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and West Bengal, is a proof that not all state governments are happy with the introduction of these modified crops.

The provisions that the Bill has for liabilities and penalties seems insufficient. As per the Bill, imprisonment of up to three months and a fine of up to rupees five lakhs is the penalty for providing false information, conducting unapproved field trials and obstructing an officer of the BRAI. One of the problems that arise with respect to the liabilities is that there is no express provision dealing with liabilities in case of any negative impact of these modified organisms. There should be provisions for absolute liability or no fault liability to ensure that the interests of the people are not at stake. Instead, this Bill leaves the subject of liability on the courts to see on a case by case basis. India despite being a signatory of the Nagoya Protocol,[5] which states that the countries should have a mechanism of dealing with liabilities either by the civil law of the land or a specific law dealing with biotechnology, has failed to make such provisions in the Bill.

As for dispute redressal the BRAI proposes to setup an independent Appellate Tribunal hence taking away the authority from the civil courts. Section 56 states “the Appellate Tribunal shall have the jurisdiction over all civil cases where a substantial question relating to modern biotechnology is involved”. A specific Tribunal just to deal with these provisions seems like an unwanted waste of time and money, and it looks like an attempt to corner poor farmers who would not stand a chance in front of the multinationals and biotechnology goliaths.[6] Would this mean that the BRAI is trying its best to protect and uphold the interests of these corporations over the health of Indian citizens?

This article might seem like a critique of this Bill. To be fair I would like to say that yes, the Bill is an attempt to solve the problem of growling bellies of the teaming millions and to make food security a reality. Yes! The production of food may increase and bring about a huge boost to the economy, and the introduction of foreign biotechnological giants may be a blessing in disguise. But the cons out-weigh the pros. When countries are waking up to the disaster called “GMO” crops India must be cautious enough to look at its long-term effects on the present and future populations. One can only hope that the price we pay for cheaper food does not cost us dearly in the future.

[1] bacillus thuringiensis,




[5] Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, United Nations, adopted October 15, 2010, India is a signatory to the Protocol; it is yet to come into force


Land Bill Decoded

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 24, 2015.  The Bill amends the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act).[1] The 2015 Bill aims to alter the LARR Act, 2013 as it was criticised for strangling economic growth by making it difficult for the industries to acquire agricultural land.[2]

This Bill introduced some changes in the old Act but was passed by the Lok Sabha with some changes. The first major change that was introduced was regarding the consent required. The LARR Act, 2013 stated that consent of 80% of land owners was required for private projects, consent of 70% of land owners is required for public-private partnerships and no consent is required for government projects. The 2015 Bill exempted 5 types of projects from seeking consent and they are:

  • Defence
  • Rural infrastructure
  • Affordable housing
  • Industrial corridors
  • Infrastructure and social infrastructure including Public Private Partnership where the government owns the land.

The Lok Sabha passed this consent provision by excluding social infrastructure from the exempted category of projects. It also defined industrial corridors as those set up by the government/government undertakings, up to 1 km on the either side of the road/railway corridor.[3]

The second important point was the Social Impact Assessment (SIA). The LARR Act 2013 provides that SIA is mandatory for all projects except in cases of urgency or in cases of irrigation where an environment impact assessment is required. The Bill states that the government can exempt all those five categories mentioned in the consent clause from this provision as well by issuing a notification in the Official Gazette. Lok Sabha passed this provision with an addition that the government before issuing a notification should ensure that the land being acquired is being kept within the land required.[4]

The third important aspect is regarding the Irrigated multi cropped land. The LARR Act 2013 provided that the irrigated multi cropped land cannot be acquired without the limit specified by the government. The Bill allows the government to exempt projects falling under the five categories mentioned in the consent clause from this provision as well by issuing a notification to that effect. The Bill was passed by making the same addition as made in the SIA provision.[5]

The fourth important provision is regarding the compensation and rehabilitation & resettlement provisions of 13 other laws which govern land acquisition. The LARR Act 2013 excluded 13 other Acts from its ambit and also required that the compensation and rehabilitation & resettlement provisions given under these 13 Acts be brought in consonance with the LARR Act. The Bill does not bring about any changes with regard to this provision.

The fifth important aspect is regarding the retrospective application of the Act. The LARR Act 2013 provided that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 would continue to apply in those cases where an award has been passed under the 1894 Act. However, if the award was made five years or more before the enactment of the 2013 Act, and the possession of land has not been taken or compensation had not been paid, the 2013 Act would apply. The Bill states that in calculating this time period, the following will not be included: (i) any period during which the process of acquisition was held up due to an order of a court; (ii) a period specified by a Tribunal for taking possession; and (iii) any period where possession was taken but the compensation was lying deposited in a court/designated account. This provision was passed unchanged.[6]

The sixth change was regarding the definition of ‘private company’ which was altered to private entity in the 2015 Bill. The LARR Act was applicable for the acquisition of land for private companies. The Bill changed this to acquisition for private entities. A private entity is defined as an entity other than a government entity, and could include a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non-profit organisation, or another entity under any other law. This provision was also passed unchanged.[7]

The last change is regarding the provision of Offences by the government. The LARR Act 2013 had provided that if an offence was committed by a government department then the head of that department would be deemed guilty unless he can show that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence. The Bill deleted this provision and was passed as it is by the Lok Sabha.[8]

With these changes the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha but the government was forced to refer this controversial land acquisition Bill to the Parliamentary Committee because of the opposition from other political parties. The government is open to all kind of suggestions and is sticking to its stand that it is a pro-farmer Bill.[9]

Ii is in fact a blessing in disguise that the land acquisition Bill is progressing slowly, since passing the Bill in haste harmful. There is no denying the fact that having a difficult procedure to acquire land makes it difficult for the industries to grow but the farmer’s interest is also to be kept in mind in a country like ours where the major population of the country is in the rural belt and is dependent on agriculture, animal husbandry and the like. The government should ensure that a balance is maintained between the interests of the industries and farmers. That is to say if the country hopes to become industrially sound and is aiming at the expansion of the industrial sector then land should be given to the industries but the farmers should also be adequately compensated for giving away their lands and not be left empty handed. One can hope that the government delivers what it promises, while the country awaits the Ache Din…!!

[1] The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015, available at (last visited on 25 May 2015)

[2] Land Bill reintroduced in Lok Sabha, opposition walks out, Live Mint May 11, 2015, available at (last visited on 27 May 2015)

[3] LARR (Amendment) Bill, 2015 as passed by Lok Sabha, available at (last visited on 25 May 2015)

[4] Supra note 3

[5] Supra note 3

[6] Bill Summary – The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015, available at (last visited on 25 May 2015)

[7] Supra note 6

[8] Supra note 3

[9] Land bill referred to joint panel, Live Mint May 13, 2015, available at (last visited on 27 May 2015)


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