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Arsenic-free rice plan

Calcutta, Dec. 30: A rice research institute under the state agriculture department in Hooghly’s Chinsurah has developed a variety of arsenic-free seeds that it claims are the first in the country.

The grain from the seeds, scientists of Rice Research Station claimed, will not contain arsenic even if produced in areas with high levels of arsenic in ground water or soil.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is expected to name the new rice variety in March or April, after which it will be released for commercial use.

The initiative, taken with financial support from Lucknow-based National Botanical Research Institute, is significant as large portions of Bengal’s rice producing districts like Nadia, the two Parganas and Burdwan have areas where ground water is contaminated with arsenic.

“It’s a major step towards ensuring food safety in the country. Once the rice variety is named and formally launched by the Bengal government, we would like to test its efficacy in various other agro-climatic zones like in Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar” said C.S. Nautiyal, the director of National Botanical Research Institute.

Senior scientists in the Bengal agriculture department said that it had been found that rice production goes down in areas with high levels of arsenic.

“If the CN 1794-2 variety, which was launched today, ensures a better production in arsenic-contaminated areas, it will be of great help to the state. We are trying hard to increase our rice production and meet the rising consumption demand,” an official said.

Scientists said the new variety was a cross between Basmati and a high-yielding local grain.

Senior officials of the agriculture department said that as the new variety would have some qualities of Basmati rice, which is susceptible to adverse weather conditions, it could be popular among farmers in Bengal.

P. Majumder, who advises the chief minister on agriculture, said the new variety could be exported in the future.