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The safety imperative

Prashant Reddy Thikkavarapu

Nuclear, biotech and pharma regulatory bills are pending in Parliament.

One would expect a country that has witnessed an industrial disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy to be especially sensitive to the issue of regulating dangerous industries and untested technologies. Unfortunately, India remains a country where the financial markets and telecom markets are better regulated than the nuclear, biotech or pharmaceutical industries.

The government virtually acknowledged the abysmal condition of its safety regulators when it was forced to introduce the following legislations in Parliament: the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority of India (NRSA) Bill, 2011, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2013 and the Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2013 (D&C bill), which will create the Central Drug Authority (CDA). Each bill is long overdue and has been a reaction rather than proactive action.

Let’s start with India’s current nuclear regulator. The Meckoni Committee Report had recommended a statutory regulator for the nuclear industry way back in 1981. The recommendation was studiously ignored by the country’s nuclear establishment. To the international community, it claimed that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which was set up through an executive order, met the standards of independence required by the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS). The AERB was anything but independent as it was answerable to the authorities responsible for the promotion of nuclear energy — which constitutes a conflict of interest. It took the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011 for the prime minister to crack the whip and force the introduction of an NRSA Bill, 2011.

The BRAI bill was forced by the widespread protests against the field trials of genetically modified food. It took the department of biotechnology (DBT) five years to introduce the bill in Parliament, having drafted the first version of the bill in 2008. Even in its final form, there are objections on the grounds that it gives the DBT too much influence over the regulator.

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