Demolishing democratic institutions to promote biotechnology

Jacob Puliyel

Demolishing democratic institutions to promote biotechnology

In our previous comment we had noted that the authors had found that democratic institutions retard introduction of vaccines. We had also written about how data from a local multi-center study was obtained through the ‘Right to Information Act’ (RTI) in India. This data showed the problem of Hib was much lower than what was being projected, to justify introduction of the vaccine in the national programme of immunization. This ‘RTI data’ was used for a ‘public interest litigation’ against introduction of Hib. The argument was that invasive Hib disease was rare in India and so the vaccine costs could not be justified considering the benefits from alternate use of those resources. We stated in our comment that it was hoped that vaccine manufacturers would not take the cue from the article by Shearer and colleagues, and attack democratic institutions as a means of promoting their vaccines.

Such a comment seemed excessively alarmist and paranoid. However it seems the fear is not completely unfounded. Already a draft bill to form a new biotechnology regulatory authority (BRAI), that they say stifles opposition to genetically modified (GM) products, is planned to be introduced in the Parliament in India. It contains a clause to the effect that people who criticize a GM product ‘without sufficient scientific proof’ could face penalties including a fine and jail. Another clause causing concern, article 27, suggests that the BRAI could override India's Right to Information Act, which mandates citizens' right to obtain information from the government. Readers are referred to a recent issue of SciDev Net for details (1).

Thomas Jefferson has said “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Dare I say, even paranoid vigilance!

Jacob Puliyel MD MRCP M Phil
Head of Pediatrics
St Stephens Hospital

1) Padma T. V. Furore over silencing clause in Indian biotech bill accessed 7/4/10