Brushing aside an embarrassing scandal in government-funded Bt cotton research as a one-off case, the agriculture ministry has said it would continue to aggressively push public research in genetic engineering.
In the pipeline is the hunt for a next-generation “super Bt cotton”, a project worth Rs 8,200 crore.
Two Bt cotton variants claimed by government scientists as “indigenous technology” were found to be based on US biotech giant Monsanto's Bt cotton gene, putting the credibility of the government-funded farm science under a cloud.
In a meeting chaired by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar recently, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has given the go-ahead for a multi-pronged project to develop a Bt cotton variety that will offer protection from multiple pests and diseases.
The project aims to create genes that would offer protection from jassids — a leaf hopping pest — and also give viral immunity to the cotton plant.
Part of the funds will also be used to create farm tools, such as cotton-picking machines.
“You could call this a super Bt cotton. There is a big market for Bt cotton and there is no reason why the government should not promote research. The recent scandal is a one-off case,” Swapan Kumar Dutta, ICAR deputy director general of crops told HT.
Dutta said the farm ministry, as a matter of policy, firmly believes in continuing research in genetic engineering. “The recent scandal is of no concern because the two varieties were withdrawn long back because of poor performance...,” he said.
Dutta said disciplinary action on the errant scientists had been left to the universities.
Bikaneri and NHH 44 were the only genetically modified varieties of Bt cotton developed through government-funded research to provide cheaper alternatives to farmers, while numerous other privately developed varieties crowd India’s royalty-driven Rs 2,000-crore cotton seed market.