The government's improper policies have foiled attempts to develop the biotechnology industry in the country
the disparity between the degree of investment in biotechnology research and the results was the focus of experts at a three-day exhibition and conference organised by the ministries of science & technology and agriculture, un -Asia Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology with other collaborating agencies in New Delhi recently.
"From 1956 till 1998 the government has spend about Rs 950 crore on biotechnology research and the returns after transferring the technology to the industry has been a meagre Rs 1.5 crore," said P K Ghosh, advisor, department of biotechnology. "After a research period spanning more than three decades we have been able to transfer only 24 technologies to the industry and most of them have been failures," he further added.
Improper policies have foiled initial attempts to develop the biotech industry in the country.H C Bhandari, a scientist and an entrepreneur, indicated that government policies need to keep pace with time.
Though biotechnology is a highly-rated and an economically-beneficial scientific discipline, private investments have not flowed into this sector in India. According to Ghosh even today more than 85 per cent of the funds flowing into research and development originates from the government.
Professor of molecular biology at the Delhi University, Akhilesh Tyagi, also says that there is no programme for genome sequencing in the country as yet though efforts are being pooled to sequence a small fraction of the eleventh chromosome of rice. The rice genome sequencing project is being carried out by more than eight countries. But funds are restricted and there is little hope that India will be capable of making the investment required.
Transgenics and genetically modified organisms ( gmo s) are the topic of debate the world over and the conference was no exception. Despite hopes that gmo s have huge economic potential, doubts have been expressed about the risks involved in the introduction of such species into the environment. "Rules are being formulated to ensure that the introduced genes do not escape into the environment," indicated Ghosh.
Protection of local genetic resources assumes utmost importance in such a scenario, Ghosh added. Intellectual Property Rights (ipr), patent laws and bioprospecting form the key issues and have to be modified immediately to survive the patent war. The Plant Variety Protection Bill presently being tabled in the Parliament should hold answers to problems that India has faced as yet with the patent regime. The experts felt that there is an urgent need to protect local genetic resources and document the information available, along with the methods and processes used by the farmers in order to cope with the pressures of patenting.
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