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