The commercialization of Monsanto's genetically engineered Bt Cotton in India is a done deal. Despite a controversy-ridden evaluation process, the transgenic plant has been approved with no data made public about its performance and potential side effects. Critics of the Indian Government's handling of the Bt Cotton evaluations say that the Government has condoned serious irregularities and safety violations by Monsanto-Mahyco. They complain that the process lacks transparency and public debate; and that the Government has neither the political will nor the technical and infrastructural ability to monitor or regulate this controversial technology.
March 10, 1995: Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India permits import of 100 gm of transgenic Cocker-312 variety of cottonseed cultivated in the United States by Mahyco. This variety contained the Cry 1 Ac gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
April 1998: Monsanto-Mahyco tie up. Monsanto given permission for small trials of Bt cotton 100 g per trial by Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
November 28, 1998: Thousands of farmers occupied and burned down Bt cotton trial fields in Karnataka as part of Operation Cremation Monsanto.
January 6, 1999: Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology goes to the Supreme Court challenging the "illegality" of the field trials authorized by the DBT.
July 2000: Mahyco allowed to conduct large-scale field trials including seed production at 40 sites in six states. The permission was granted based on the "totally confidential" data from the small trials that allowed regulators to infer that Bt Cotton was "safe."
The DBT sets up Committee to "independently" monitor evaluate large scale field trials.
January 5, 2001: A 10-member delegation comprising U.S. judges and scientists meet Supreme Court Chief Justice A.S. Anand to educate him -- and other members of the judiciary -- on biotechnology.
June 18, 2001: An open dialogue held between Monsanto and Greenpeace to discuss Bt cotton with scientists, Ministry of Environment representatives and farmers. No data on field trials was presented, though farmers vociferously demanded Bt cotton be commercialized. Technical questions and concerns raised by Greenpeace remain unanswered.
June 19, 2001: Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) extends field trials of Bt Cotton by another year. Mahyco conducts large-scale trials on 100 hectares in seven states.
October 2001: Mahyco discovers commercial Bt cotton farming over several thousand hectares in Gujarat. Source of the cotton is traced back to Navbharat Seeds Pvt Ltd.
October 2001: GEAC orders Bt cotton fields to be burnt in Gujarat. No action taken after farmers' protest order.
November 20, 2001: Gene Campaign files a case in the Delhi High Court charging the Government with negligence in allowing large-scale field trials to be conducted without appropriate monitoring, regulation and safety precautions.
January 23, 2002: Dr Manju Sharma, secretary of DBT, declares that the latest round of Bt cotton trials were satisfactory and that it is up to the GEAC and the Ministry of Environment to decide on a date of commercial release.
February 20, 2002: The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) submits a positive report to the Ministry of Environment on the field trials of Bt cotton. It is now expected that the Genetic Engineering and Approval Committee (GEAC) of the environment ministry will approve commerical use of Bt cotton within a month.