SCO Daily: Genetically Modified Mustard at the Supreme Court

A long drawn PIL has prevented Centre from permitting Genetically Modified mustard to be cultivated commercially since 2004.


Today,  Justices Dinesh Maheswhari and Sudhanshu Dhulia dealt with a petition that may seem odd to you, but has a long history of litigation at the Supreme Court. The subject of this petition? Mustard. 

Activist Aruna Rodrigues, has challenged the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ recent decision to grant approval for commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) Mustard.  Her application is specifically against the decisions of MOEF and Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)   granting approval for commercial cultivation of GM Mustard and to allow environmental release of Genetically Modified Mustard/ HT Mustard /DMH 11 in five states.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have been a hotly contested issue in the Supreme Court since 2004. An NGO called Gene Campaign filed the first PIL challenging GMO, followed by petitions by Rodrigues and others who approached the court in 2005. The PILs asked the court to direct the government to be transparent with the results of field trials conducted on GM crops.  The PIL also asked the GEAC to come up with a rigorous biosafety protocol before granting clearance to GMOs. 

What potential dangers do GMOs pose?  Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Ms. Rodrigues referred to a SC expert Committee’s findings to explain this to the Court on November 3rd. He argued that the committee called the Herbicide Tolerant (HT) GM crops unsuitable for India. Herbicides are chemicals used to destroy weeds. 

Mr. Bhushan informed the court that according to the committee,  the herbicide sprayed on HT crops can cause cancer and had recommended the use of alternatives. Mr. Bhushan also cited the committee’s recommendation for a total ban on all HT crops as a precautionary measure. 

He told the bench that the Centre had in 2016 and 2017 assured the court that no decision had been taken to release GM Mustard in the environment and if any such decisions were taken, it will seek the court’s approval.  A Bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sudandhu Dhulia, had asked the centre to reply to the application by November 10th and asked the centre not introduce GM mustard crops until further hearings.

On November 10th, Attorney General of India R. Venkatramani asked the court to adjourn the case to 17th November as the Centre’s reply had not yet reached the file of the Bench . AG informed the court that assurance given on the last hearing that the centre will not take any precipitative action to introduce GM mustard will continue. 

The Court has directed that the matter be listed on November 17th, it will decide on whether GM mustard can be introduced.

Meanwhile, In the Chief Justice’s court, Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain mentioned the Gyanvapi petition for urgent listing. He stated that the court’s order protecting the object in the mosque, found during the court appointed survey and claimed to be a ‘Shivling’ is expiring on November 11th. CJI Chandrachud agreed to constitute a Bench and list the case for hearing at 3 PM on November 11th, 2022.