PUBLISHED: 21:58 GMT, 25 November 2012 | UPDATED: 23:28 GMT, 25 November 2012
Unmindful of criticism, the government is moving ahead with a controversial proposal to open the doors of the country’s most valuable biological resource – plant gene bank – to private companies for commercial exploitation.
The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has quietly moved a proposal to make available genetic material of various agriculture crops to seed companies.
The proposal has been moved swiftly by the National Advisory Board for Management of Genetic Resources and has already been discussed with representatives of seed industry.
The gene bank, housed in the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi, houses lakhs of seeds of 3,000 crops in underground vaults.
Only farm research institutes and agriculture universities can access this bank for research purposes.
A sub-committee of the board in its meeting held on October 22 approved that the germplasm be made available to private seed companies except those with foreign equity.
When contacted Dr Swapan K. Datta, deputy director general of ICAR, said “the interpretation that gene bank is being opened up to private sector is wrong”.
He said NBPGR was open to ‘everyone’ for research collaboration under rules and regulations of the government including the National Biodiversity Act. NBPGR director Dr K.C. Bansal did not respond to Mail Today queries.
Raju Kapoor, executive director of industry body National Seed Association of India, confirmed the move which he said was pending for a long time.
“We are sitting on a huge pile of gold buried under the earth. Why not use it for developing new and better products”, he said referring to the genetic resources.
Dr Suman Sahai, convener of civil society group, Gene Campaign, and a member of the sub-committee, said the proposal was rushed through in the last meeting when she was not present.
“It will have disastrous effects because NBPGR is only a bank where people keep their seeds in trust. It is our natural heritage, how can it be passed on seed companies for profit?” she questioned.
Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group, who is fighting a case of biopiracy against seed firm Mahyco, said: “the proposal amounts to legalising biopiracy”. Scientists, he said, “are acting as traders of our natural resources”