Three weeks after the Bharatiya Janata Party overruled field trials for 15 genetically modified crops, a group of members of Parliament from Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are heading to the US on a week-long study tour sponsored by global seed giant, Monsanto.
The group departs on Saturday.
The MPs will first attend a 'Farm Progress Show' in Iowa, then visit the Monsanto headquarters in St Louis, Missouri.
The trip will cost an estimated $6,000 (Rs 363,540) per head for travel, food and accommodation, according to a Monsanto spokesperson, who confirmed the company would bear these costs.
"In line with industry practice, we have extended invitations to farmers, industry experts, media and members of Parliament across the political spectrum to visit the show and experience for themselves the advances in agriculture all over the world," said the spokesperson.
"Parliamentarians with interest in agriculture and seeking to advance their knowledge of agricultural technology, across party lines, responded to the invitation."
On July 29, Environment & Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar overruled the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee and put a halt to the field trials of 15 GM crops, including of brinjal and rice, after protests from pro-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) bodies, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
But, the Monsanto spokesperson said, the trip bore no relation to the ruling party's decision to put GM crop trials on hold.
The 'Farm Progress Show' is a three-day event that has been held in Iowa since 1953 and attracts thousands of farmers and delegates every year.
"The visit is from August 24 to 30. Monsanto has arranged this visit. We will visit their plant to see the latest technology related to the agriculture sector," Prataprao Ganapatrao Jadhav, the Shiv Sena MP from Buldhana, Maharashtra, said in an interview.
His party colleague in the Lok Sabha, Krupal Balaji Tumane, MP from Ramtek in Maharashtra, confirmed he was part of the group. "Apart from Iowa, we are also scheduled to visit Washington," he said.
Tumane and Jadhav said others in the group included two MPs from Andhra Pradesh, one each from Gujarat and Rajasthan and four each from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Others in the group, such as BJP MP from Siwan Om Prakash Yadav and the party's Bulandshahr MP, Bhola Singh, were unavailable for comment.
However, BJP MP from Aligarh, Satish Gautam, claimed he had opted out of the visit. Gautam said party president Amit Shah asked all party MPs in Uttar Pradesh to prepare for the by-elections to a dozen Assembly seats in the state.
"There will be a by-election to the Noida Assembly seat and I have decided to devote my time to election work," he said. The by-elections are unlikely before mid-October.
Monsanto declined to reveal the size of the delegation but said invites had been sent to "18 to 20 people". MPs were invited on the basis of their interest in the use of technology in agriculture.
When contacted, a senior agriculture ministry official said the ministry was not aware of the MPs' visit to the US.
"If it is a private visit organised by a company for individual MPs, they are not required to keep us in the loop. Such visits need the agriculture ministry's approval only in cases where the government is involved," the official explained.
Earlier this month, junior agriculture minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan said in reply to a Parliament question in the Lok Sabha that the government policy was to allow GM crops after full scientific evaluation of their bio-safety and impact on the environment and on consumers.
This is also BJP's stated position, as stated in its election manifesto.
HIT & TRIAL
- 2010 Feb: Then environment minister Jairam Ramesh puts commercial release of Monsanto Bt Brinjal on hold; field test for other varieties and crops continue
- 2012 May: Supreme Court sets up expert panel to review the issue
- Aug: Parliament's standing committee on agriculture demands moratorium on field trials of all GM food crops and a complete policy overhaul
- Oct: SC's expert panel suggests a moratorium on GM trials; Centre opposes this, puts its nominee on panel
- 2013 Mar-Jun: Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee recommends trials for some GM food crops but the then minister Jayanthi Natarajan puts the plan on hold
- Jul: SC panel's majority report advises moratorium; govt nominee bats for trials
- Aug: Natarajan writes to PMO opposing trials of GM food crops; the then PM and agriculture minister bat for GM
- 2014 Feb: As environment minister, M Veerappa Moily renews lapsed clearances for food crop varieties
- Jul 17: Under Prakash Javadekar GEAC recommends GM trials for 13 food crop varieties
- Jul 29: Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and other RSS affiliates object; Javadekar puts final decision on hold
- Aug 23: MPs from various parties, including BJP and the Shiv Sena, leave for the US on a Monsanto-funded study tour
Image: This file photograph shows students from the department of environment studies pose with their painted faces during a protest against 'bacillus thuringniensis' Bt brinjal in Chandigarh. Photograph: Ajay Verma/Reuters