the Union government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) recently permitted the cultivation of six genetically modified (gm) cotton varieties in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. These are mrc -6301 and mrc -6304 of the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (mahyco), rch -134 and rch -138 of Coimbatore-based Rasi Seeds Private Limited and Ankur-651 and Ankur-2534 of Nagpur-based Ankur Seeds Limited. But the geac deferred till April 13, 2005 the decision to renew the licenses of mahyco's mech-162, mech-184 and mech-12 varieties of gm cotton. The six varieties that have been approved comprise a gene of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to provide in-built resistance to the American bollworm.
Commercial cultivation of bt cotton in India started with mahyco's mech-162, mech -184 and mech-12 varieties getting a green signal on March 26, 2002. rch-2 of Rasi seeds was approved on April 1, 2004. All four varieties were approved for cultivation in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
The delay in renewing the license of the three mahyco varieties has triggered a debate. "We have deferred the decision because reports submitted by applicants are still under review;" says S R Roa, officer on special duty, Department of Science and Technology. But experts believe there are other reasons too. "Recently, the M S Swaminathan Panel on Applications of Biotechnology suggested setting up of an autonomous agricultural biotechnology regulatory authority. If this materialises, the powers of geac may reduce considerably. By playing safe right now, geac is trying to impress," says Rajeshwari S Raina, a scientist with the National Institute of Science, Technology & Development Studies, New Delhi. Questions are also being raised about the viability of the bt technology. Raina suggests undertaking detailed, region-specific studies to settle the issues. Viewed in this light, the geac deferring its decision appears a step in the right direction. But it is also being pointed out that mahyco is confident of getting the geac approval. " mahyco has already started going for advance bookings," points out Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of Secunderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
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