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Transfer of officer probing bio-piracy case raises eyebrows

Subhash Chandra N S, Bangalore, Nov 20, 2012, DHNS:

The State government has kicked up a row by transferring the deputy conservator of forests (DCF) probing the controversy of bio-piracy, involving Mahyco and University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad.

Another officer has refused to be a complainant, thus violating the Biodiversity norms. Y Chakrapani, a second complainant and the investigating officer, has been transferred to Raichur as DCF (territorial) on November 5.

The transfer comes just a month after the High Court opined that protests should be staged in front of the US Consulate against bio-piracy.

High Court Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen, on October 16, during the hearing of a petition by Environment Support Group (ESG) seeking action against bio-piracy, had said, “Dharnas must be organised against the United States of America for its continued intransigence in complying with global biodiversity norms. This might perhaps be the best solution to the problems of global biodiversity conservation.”

Sources in the Karnataka Biodiversity Board (KBB) blamed Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Avani Kumar Varma and the government for the mess.

The sources said that the investigation had been hit badly as Chakrapani was well versed with the subject. There was severe pressure from the chief minister’s office to relieve him from the post, they said.

K S Sugura, member secretary to KBB, had written to the Forest department and the government, saying Chakrapani could not be relieved, as it amounted to violation of Section 56 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. But, the letter failed to make any impact, an official said.

The official said that according to Section 56 of the Act, any person who contravenes any direction or order made by the Central government, the State government, the National or the State Biodiversity Board shall be punished with a fine upto Rs one lakh.

In case of a second offence, the fine may extend upto Rs two lakh and the same may be extended by Rs two lakh everyday, if the default continues.

Meanwhile, Halagatti, DCF Dharwad, who was supposed to be an investigating officer along with Chakrapani, is now refusing to be the second complainant. As per the norms, both the officers are supposed to be co-complainants, along with the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA).

When contacted, PCCF Varma refuted the allegations, saying that the transfer was done by the government and not the Forest department. He said the department would extend full co-operation to the probe.

Background

In August 2012, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, released its report on ‘Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects’.

A section of the report dealt with the allegations that in promoting Bt Brinjal, Monsanto, Mahyco and a host of public universities in Karnataka and elsewhere had committed serious acts of bio-piracy by accessing 16 local varieties of brinjal endemic to India in blatant and criminal violation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

ESG had first raised this issue in the Bangalore public consultations on Bt Brinjal in February 2010.

Based on these consultations, then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh issued a moratorium on the environmental and commercial release of GMO, but failed to take note of the bio-piracy allegation.

ESG then filed a formal complaint before the statutory authorities.


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