Dept of biotech can be kept out of regulator: govt

New Delhi: In a bid to break the logjam, the government has offered to keep the Department of Biotechnology out of the governing board of the proposed biotech regulator.

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill had been listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha twice and deferred following objections from members who argue that promoter of biotechnology cannot be its regulator.

"The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has no interest in BRAI. You can even remove DBT from the governing board of the authority," DBT Secretary M K Bhan said when asked about conflict of interest issue raised by MPs.

He said the Cabinet Secretariat or Agriculture Ministry could be made the nodal agency for the BRAI.
"We have no problems as long as the principle of autonomy is maintained," he said. Bhan said if Parliament desires, the suitable changes could be made to the Bill.

The BRAI is proposed to be an independent entity to regulate research, transport, import, manufacture and use of organisms and products of modern biotechnology.

The Bill seeks to set up a 17-member Inter-Ministerial Governing Board with Secretary of Department of Science and Technology as its chairman for effective discharge of functions and performance of BRAI.

DST secretary was chosen to head the BRAI governing board as he has no conflict of interest, but this arrangement could be changed depending on the wish of the Parliament, Bhan said.

Members from the CPI-M, RJD, BJP and even some from ruling Congress had opposed the BRAI Bill at the introduction stage itself.

Aruna Roy, member of the National Advisory Council has written to Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi asking her to stop the introduction of the BRAI Bill in Parliament.

Seeking to clear air on certain provisions, Bhan said the role of the regulator would be limited to making scientific risk assessment of a biotech product and any decision on its commercialisation would remain with the states.

"The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) will not grant approvals for commercialisation of a biotech product and only make the scientific risk assessment and certify efficacy of a product," he said.

Underlining the need for BRAI, Bhan said that the biotech sector in the country was witnessing rapid growth and was projected to be a USD 20 billion industry by 2020.

He stressed on the importance of having a biotech regulator and pointed out that biotechnology will have an impact on human life in every way ranging from vaccines, stem cell therapy to artificial organs.

Green activists have been opposing BRAI on various grounds, contending that it wrests control from state governments over clearances to genetically modified crops.