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Glare on brinjal genetic study

New Delhi, March 1: The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) will probe an allegation that research on genetically modified brinjal initiated five years ago in India had violated a law that sought to protect the country’s genetic resources, NBA sources said.

A non-government group in Bangalore has alleged that Indian crop scientists may have violated the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, through research involving local brinjal varieties and foreign technology without appropriate permission from the NBA.

Scientists at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad (Karnataka), had signed an agreement with Indian seeds company Mahyco in April 2005 to incorporate a gene that confers insect resistance into six local varieties of brinjal — Malpur local, Manjari gota, Kudachi local, Udupi local, 112 GO and Pabkavi local — widely cultivated by farmers in Karnataka.

The agreement involved UAS, Mahyco and a representative of a consortium of public and private sector institutions led by Cornell University. The genetic manipulation of the local varieties itself involved foreign-sourced technology.

The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) Trust has claimed that the UAS scientists should have taken permission from the NBA because the research involved foreign technology and foreign partners.

“The local varieties were accessed without any clearance from national, state or local biodiversity authorities,” ESG Trust co-ordinators Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao have said in a note sent to biodiversity regulators.

They have asked for a comprehensive inquiry to fix responsibility. “We’ve just received the complaint three days ago — the matter will be examined. The concerns of both sides will be heard,” a senior NBA source told The Telegraph.

But UAS research staff have denied any wrongdoing.

“The agreement we signed involved an Indian company (Mahyco). We did not transfer any genetic material to partners — the agreement involved crossing their product with these local varieties,” a senior UAS project scientist said. “It was a royalty-free licence — the goal was public good through the promotion of biotechnology,” the scientist said.

A former member of the NBA said the agreement never came to the NBA’s notice during his tenure from 2004 to 2006. “The NBA did not have its full set of rules in 2005,” said Palpu Pushpangadan, a plant scientist and former member of the NBA.

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