Of­fi­cials un­der con­flict-of-in­ter­est lens THE GM CROPS AND THE REG­U­LA­TOR

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Soub­hik Mi­tra soub­hik.mi­tra@hin­dus­tan­times.com Zia Haq zia.haq@hin­dus­tan­times.com

The avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tor has asked low-cost car­rier IndiGo to in­ves­ti­gate four pi­lots who posed for a pho­to­graph with a whisky bot­tle in an air­craft, cit­ing safety con­cerns. It is not known if the pi­lots, who were not in uni­form, were drunk when the pic­ture was taken but the direc­torate gen­eral of civil avi­a­tion (DGCA) on Tues­day asked Indigo for an ex­pla­na­tion.

Air safety rules pro­hibit pi­lots from drink­ing on duty. Al­co­hol tests are car­ried out be­fore and after flights to check for vi­o­la­tions. Pi­lots stand to lose their li­cences for re­peat of­fences.

The air­line said it had car­ried out an in­ter­nal probe when it got to know of the in­ci­dent and found no vi­o­la­tions. “As per the in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion — these pi­lots were on leave and it was in the off-duty hours when this pic­ture was clicked by them as reg­u­lar trav­ellers on an in­ter­na­tional flight,” an IndiGo spokesper­son said. The liquor bot­tle was sealed.

The spokesper­son said they in­formed the reg­u­la­tor when they got to know about the pic­ture, which was taken in Oc­to­ber 2013 and shared on Face­book in Jan­uary. An anony­mous com­plainant sent the pic­ture to the DGCA on Tues­day. “Drink­ing is per­mit­ted for pas­sen­gers on in­ter­na­tional flights but pas­sen­gers can­not drink from their own bot­tles. We have asked the air­line to probe the mat­ter and sub­mit a re­port,” a DGCA of­fi­cial said.

A spokesper­son said the pi­lots were in the clear as the reg­u­la­tor per­mits pho­tog­ra­phy in­side the air­craft. “The said pi­lots were not in uni­form and it was an in­ter­na­tional flight where the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol is not pro­hib­ited,” the spokesper­son said.

Sev­eral of­fi­cials who sit on In­dia’s biotech reg­u­la­tor, which is pre­par­ing to take a de­ci­sion on ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied mus­tard, are also as­so­ci­ated with global or­gan­i­sa­tions that lobby for GM crops, HT has learnt.

Such an ar­range­ment rep­re­sents po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est, ac­cord­ing to crit­ics, who ar­gue that there must be an arm’s length dis­tance.

On Wed­nes­day, the Ge­netic En­gi­neer­ing Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee (GEAC), the reg­u­la­tor em­pow­ered to clear trans­genic crops for com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion, re­leased an as­sess­ment re­port of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) mus­tard on its web­site for pub­lic com­ments.

Sci­en­tists who serve as reg­u­la­tors are mostly GM crop de­vel­op­ers them­selves, another area of con­flict­ing roles.

The co-de­vel­oper of GM mus­tard, Ak­shay Prad­han, is also a reg­u­la­tor. Prad­han told HT he vol­un­tar­ily sat out of all meet­ings con­cern­ing GM mus­tard. “So there is no ques­tion of con­flict of the in­ter­est,” he said.

A GM crop is one in which a gene has been al­tered for new traits, such as pest re­sis­tance or nu­tri­tional value. GM mus­tard, a pub­lic-sec­tor de­vel­oped va­ri­ety, is the sec­ond trans­genic food to come up for reg­u­la­tory ap­proval after BT brin­jal, which was in­def­i­nitely suspended by the pre­vi­ous UPA govern­ment de­spite be­ing cleared by the GEAC.

Reg­u­la­tors linked to in­dus­try­backed non-prof­its or who have been pri­vately funded GM de­vel­op­ers said they were open about their af­fil­i­a­tions. They de­nied any eth­i­cal prob­lem be­cause they acted in ac­cor­dance with the reg­u­la­tor’s rules. Crit­ics how­ever say this is a se­ri­ous case of a com­pro­mised reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

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