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BW Businessworld

'If Government Has Guts, Then Approve GM Seeds'

We should learn from China, if any company invests in China for genetic research they ask them do it with Chinese partnership, says Deepak Pental, the scientist who spearheaded genetic engineering research for seeds and plants in India.

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In the recent past, genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds have been an issue of discussion among farmers’ unions, environment experts, government and scientists. Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University is the scientist who spearheaded genetic engineering research for seeds and plants in India. 

In a conversation with BW Businessworld, he has expressed his views on various issues ranging from genetically modified seeds to farmer issues. Edited excerpts:

What are your views on genetically modified seeds in India?

I don’t know how to react, ball is in the court of government. It is all up to environment ministry to approve it or reject it. All I expect is a decisive response to our research efforts.

How long it took to develop the GM mustard?

It came after 20 years of effort. These years saw more than 40 research publications, and genetic engineering appraisal committee of government disbanding the research. Now, there is opposition against the GM mustard, our efforts are hung. I would rather say, “If government has guts, then approve it”. It is a pity that we spend billions of rupees to import edible oil, this is a direct loss to our farmers.

Why have you been so critical about it; it takes time for communities to come to a consensus?

Indian Council for Agricultural Research had spent around Rs 300 crore to establish one institute to do similar research in Ranchi, then there is a huge amount of Rs 350 crore spent on the construction of National Bio-technology Institute in Chandigarh. I am unhappy, because if every research has to have the same fate, why government waste money on its progress and future possibilities.

What about other nations?

We should learn from China, if any company invests in China for genetic research they ask them do it with Chinese partnership, they have recently bought Syngenta in a multi-billion dollar deal, now they have all the molecules owned by Syngenta. Suggest me a single company of India who could have done the same for agriculture. We still blame Monsanto for BT cotton issue, but this is how a company do its business, they are also responsible for shareholders.

What is your opinion about the recommendations of Swaminathan commission?

The best part of that report was the critical assessment of farmers’ profit, which was to be one and half times of his investment as recommended in report. I personally think, Swaminathan commission report lacks the part of technology transfer to farmers. Technology transfer and improvement can do changes, the same way it has done to information technology.

What should government do for farmers’?

Government should allow retails to reach farmers. We normally witness similar agricultural produce on a specific zone, if retails get involved they will pick it from farmers, giving them relief from a mountain task of bearing transportation expenses. I do not want to comment on the functioning of Food Corporation of India. Government can’t do everything on its own.

Your views on farmer suicides?

I have been involved with academics for a long time, there is no shortage of psychology experts in universities. Government must fund universities for field research, if experts visit farmers, they will counsel them and I find it more helpful. As far as loan repayments are concerned, every banker will follow poor farmers as they are easy to catch. None catches the big fish.