The row over Bt Brinjal, a genetically modified version of the plant, provoked the government into imposing a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of the plant in India. The debate has revolved around issues of economic efficacy, human health, consumer choice and farmers’ rights. Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, made public his views on the subject, a gist of which is given below:
In order to understand the process followed by GEAC before giving the green signal to Bt Brinjal, we have made a timeline in which the plant was approved and the bodies involved in the process.
|2000-2005||Scientific tests carried out by Mahyco on Bt Brinjal|
|2006||Mahyco submits bio-safety data to GEAC (regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests). Seeks permission for large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court stops ongoing field trials of GM crops due to a PIL filed by civil society representatives.|
|2007||The expert committee 1 set up by GEAC, submits its report. Recommends seven more studies on bio-safety be repeated for reconfirmation of data generated during confined multi-location trials but approves large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court lifts ban on GM crop field trials subject to conditions such as isolation distance etc.|
|As per GEAC direction, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR) takes up the responsibility of large scale trails of Mahyco's Bt Brinjal trials at 10 research institutions across the country in 2007 and 11 in 2008.|
|2009||Jan: IIVR submits the results of the large scale trails. Due to concerns raised by several stakeholders, GEAC constitutes another expert committee to look into adequacy of biosafety data generated as well as the concerns raised by all stakeholders.|
|Oct 8: Expert-committee 2 submits its report. States benefits of Bt Brinjal far outweigh the perceived and projected risks.|
|Oct 14: GEAC approves the environmental release of Bt Brinjal containing the event EE1 (with one dissent note from P.M. Bhargava).|
|Oct 15: Jairam Ramesh announces a nationwide consultation in January and February of 2010 pending a final decision on this issue.|
|2010||Jan 13 to Feb 6: Public meetings were organized on the Bt Brinjal issue. The summary of the consultations is available on the Ministry’s website.|
|Many states announce ban on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.|
|Feb 9: Jairam Ramesh decides to halt the commercialization of Bt Brinjal.|
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.