Sopory panel blames Dharwad, Delhi scientists

There is no official word on the status of a probe ordered about a year ago into the revelation that desi Bt cotton developed by Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) actually had a Monsanto-patented gene, but sources said the three-member inquiry committee had blamed researchers at University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, and New Delhi-based National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB).

The report of the panel headed by Sudhir Sopory, plant biologist and vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is lying with Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

The panel was constituted in January after The Indian Express reported the matter on December 30 and was set a deadline of April 18 to file a report.

Three mails sent by The Indian Express to Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) director General S Ayyappan seeking to know status of the probe elicited no response.

The Monsanto gene fact came to light after two Dharwad scientists filed an RTI query in December last year.

The so-called desi BN Bt variety was developed by CICR with UAS, Dharwad. Then UAS principal scientist I S Kategari had claimed to have introduced Bt gene in an indigenous variety called Bikaneri Narma in 2005.

The variety was released in 2009 for use by farmers. Last year, however, CICR parent body ICAR decided to stop production of the seed after the alleged foul play became public.

Incidentally, the seeds were released despite then CICR scientist Keshav Kranthi repeatedly pointing out the variety had Monsanto gene.

Kranthi became CICR director in May 2009 after then director B M Khadi resigned on May 24, 2008, to head UAS.

Khadi's resignation came three days after the issue was hotly debated at an ICAR meeting chaired by then deputy director-general P L Gautam, who had given a go-ahead for seed production saying P Ananda Kumar, who was heading the project, had given ample molecular evidence about the Bt being indigenous.

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