It’s a great loss for the country that Veteran molecular biologist and a vehement critic of genetically modified crops, Pushpa Mittra Bhargava passed away on Tuesday. He was 89. Bhargava had ceased to be an active researcher for over 20 years, he remained engaged with issues in science and policy. A strident critic of multinational seed companies, Bhargava was opposed to the introduction of genetically modified crops from cotton to brinjal and, most recently, transgenic mustard in India. His argument was that these crops posed health hazards and required decades more of tests before possible clearance. He has also opposed the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, calling it "unconstitutional, unethical, unscientific, self-contradictory, and not people-oriented.
He brought modern cell and molecular biology to India. He headed the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, India when the government first set it up. Prior to the CCMB there was no lab for research on cell, DNA and molecular biology. Public understanding of science, interaction with government and policy makers was his forte. He was a great talent scout. Bhargava was chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2013. The Bill was the culmination of a 15-year struggle as he mobilised and marshalled support by meeting legislators and policy makers.
Bhargava was also vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission. In his role as a founder director of CCMB, he also invigorated the art scene in Hyderabad by inviting artistes from across the country and creating a residency programme. Scientists and officials of CCMB expressed their grief at the demise of Mr. Bhargava. “He remained deeply engaged in social issues, particularly those relating to the impact of science on society in India and the world. His extraordinary energy and commitment will continue to always inspire us in our future endeavours. He will be greatly missed,” said the staff.