Probe blames three scientists for US gene shock in Desi Bt cotton
After the story had been first reported by The Indian Express in December, the government appointed the panel led by JNU vice chancellor S K Sopory and including Punjab Agriculture University VC B S Dhillon, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology deputy director R V Sonti, ICAR secretary Rajiv Meharshi and its additional director general N Gopalakrishnan.
The panel's report says the three scientists erred not only by not performing their roles as scientists but also on administrative counts.
"There were indications, prior to commercial release, that BNBt was contaminated with the Monsanto gene (MON531). If corrective measures had been taken at that time by those involved in development and commercialisation of BNBt, the situation that has now arisen could have been avoided," the panel observes.
"Commercial seed production procedure was not followed even though there is a well-established procedure in this regard. For example, had the breeders/seed production scientists been more careful in monitoring, the segregation/admixture for morphological traits like petal and pollen colour could have been easily identified and red flags raised."
It says Kumar should have been more active in engaging himself with the activities at UAS. "He should have been careful at the time of project-writing and not allotted molecular biology work to Kategari. He should also have ensured the development of event specific markers for BNBt."
About Khadi, it says he had maintained he had no prior idea of the Monsanto gene's presence but a letter he wrote this year to the ICAR director general indicates the contrary. "(In) May 2008, Dr K R Kranthi, HOD, plant protection, CICR, informed me regarding the Mon-531 contamination/presence in the seeds tested," Khadi wrote. The panel says, "This indicates that Khadi was aware of the problem, at least in May 2008. Crucially, this was before actual commercialisation of BNBt."
About Kategari, it notes that while he claimed he didn't have the expertise to distinguish between Monsanto and Desi events, the project proposal mentions him as the person responsible for molecular analysis of transgenics.
The panel notes: "In all likelihood, the contamination... occurred at UAS. This appears to have occurred not only before Katageri left for USA in October 2005, but even before Khadi moved to CICR in May 2005 as the seeds that Khadi took with him were already contaminated with Monsanto gene."
And while observing that it is difficult to say whether the "contamination" was accidental or deliberate, the panel says, "assuming only accidental contamination cannot account for what has happened."