Thursday, Nov 27, 2003
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Speaking to reporters here today, the Chairman of the Foundation, M.S. Swaminathan, said the new variety had been found to be highly effective in preliminary studies at the greenhouse level. It was now ready for field trial. The Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation under the Department of Biotechnology recently gave its approval for a limited field trial and it would begin soon. The new rice variety had been created by incorporating genes isolated from some plant species obtained from a mangrove in Tamil Nadu into an existing rice strain.
The Foundation was also working on creating saline tolerant varieties of pulses and mustard. Some progress had been made on these crops, but unlike in the case of rice, tests with regards to these crops were still at the greenhouse level, he said.
The Foundation had launched a programme to develop crops tolerant to saline conditions so that India would be ready with alternatives when the predictions of climate change experts came true. This was essential particularly since India had a long coast and much of agricultural activity took place in the coastal areas.
"If all goes well, the new rice variety should be ready for commercialisation in five to six years.''
`Regulatory mechanism needed'
Dr. Swaminathan said there was also a need for a review of the regulatory mechanism for genetic engineering to make it more effective. In particular, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee at the Centre needed to be headed by a professional, who had a sufficiently long tenure.
"As individuals, the Additional Secretary level officers, who now head the panel, may be good and also be efficient and knowledgeable. But genetic engineering is a high complex scientific issue, which is constantly evolving. The officers could not be expected to do justice, more so as they are liable to be transferred frequently. In the past two to three years itself, the head of the committee has been changed four times.''
`Generate more jobs'
Speaking at a national workshop organised by Delhi-based NGO, Gene Campaign, Dr. Swaminathan emphasised the need for diversification of the agricultural sector and generation of more job opportunities in the form of small scale agro-industries and other agri business so that incidents such as the recent clashes in Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra were effectively contained.
He said the clashes were only the tip of the iceberg and an extreme manifestation of the unemployment problem in the country. It was only the beginning and "inter-State job wars'' could continue unless steps were taken to address the employment issue squarely.
"There may be a feel-good factor in the industry. But there is a feel-bad factor in the rural areas. We need a strategy for growth that also provides jobs. Job-less growth cannot be sustainable.''
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