The organisation funding the development of genetically modified (GM) mustard crop is considering pulling out of the project, potentially putting a question mark over the fate of the transgenic crop awaiting government nod for commercial production in India.
HT has reviewed a letter from the National Dairy Development Board’s (NDDB) chairman T Nanda Kumar to Deepak Pental, the director of Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University, expressing the board’s intent to withdraw from the project.
Pental is the chief developer of GM mustard in India, which could become the only transgenic food crop to be commercially produced in the country if the government approves. India currently allows only BT cotton, which was approved in 2002.
More than 50% funding for the DU’s project of development of hybrid mustard crops had come from NDDB.
In his letter, Kumar said though NDDB was satisfied with the results of the project, it would not be able to fund it further as the board was investing substantially in its own initiatives.
NDDB spokesperson Tripti Parule said, “We are re-looking at the project. We would take a final call by the end of the financial year.”
An application for clearance for commercial harvest of the crop is pending with the ministry of environment and forest.
In 2010, the UPA government had put a moratorium on commercial harvest of Bt Brinjal while in 2002, the then NDA government had rejected a proposal for commercial cropping of transgenic mustard plant.
DMH-11 has been developed after 19 years of research by Pental and his colleagues.
According to Pental, about Rs 90 crore has been spent on the project which also includes development of some non-transgenic hybrid mustard crops and setting up of a research facility. Of this, about Rs 50 crore came from NDDB while the rest came from the department of biotechnology and smaller grants.
“We require about Rs 30 crore more for the next five years to further improve (disease resistance, yield etc) DMH-11. As of today, we have been able to reap about 40-50% benefits of our research. Next five years are crucial to reap up to 75% of benefits,” said Pental.
Pental added that he would explore all possible grants if NDDB pulled out. “It will be unfortunate if Indian farmers are denied the benefits of this technology,” he said.
In the letter, the NDDB recommended that the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) should support the further research on the project. According to Pental, however, ICAR is insisting that NDDB should continue funding the project.
Development of GM crop is a sensitive issue in the country with farmers’ groups including Sangh Parivar affiliates opposing the government proposed plans to allow commercial production of GM mustard, citing concerns over bio-safety and livelihood of peasants.