Demise of a conscientious minister
On May 17, Union Minister for Environment, Anil Dave was hearing petitions from groups opposed to the commercial use of genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds. Dave had assured the delegation that their grievances would be addressed in the right spirit. Before that, on May 11, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee which evaluates genetically modified crops had cleared the use of GM mustard on a commercial scale. In the early hours of May 18, the quiet and unobtrusive Anil Dave passed away after battling lung cancer. It is a telling account of his hard work that up to the last hour, Dave worked for the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that Dave was with him until very late on May 17, discussing key issues relating to the Environment Ministry. Obviously the issue of GM mustard must have figured in the discussion as it would mean either a rollback on the earlier decision or adamantly pushing through the decision taken on May 11. Anil Dave is a long time RRS worker who mobilized door to door election campaign in Madhya Pradesh. It is learnt that Dave was battling lung cancer. It is indeed rare to find a Minister who literally worked until his last breath. It’s a model that the Ministers in the NDA Government led by the prime Minister have followed.
It remains to be seen whether the new Environment Minister will give in to the clamour of the anti-GM mustard groups. Those who are protesting have genuine concern. GM crops make farmers dependent on seeds sold by multinational companies. Besides GM crops are prone to being attacked by pests and non-resilient to the vagaries of climate. Indigenous seeds are known to be much more resilient to pests and adapt better to varying temperatures which accompany climate change. While India struggles to meet the food security needs of its burgeoning population by going for high yielding variety of crops including GM crops it is also important for its scientific community to sit back and review the bigger problems that would arise from promoting GM crops.