The Indian tricolour may have lost its indigenous connection with the ‘desi’ cotton variety, with the use of Bt cotton — a proprietary technology of an American seed company.

Jayadhar, a popular variety of cotton grown in Karnataka that was also earlier used in making flags, has been replaced by Bt cotton.

Now, flag-making units at Bengeri in Hubli city and Garaga in Dharwad district, which meet the nationwide demand for the tricolour, have been using wholly or partly the khadi derived from Bt cotton.

“Quality of cotton is determined by length, strength and appearance, and Bt cotton provides all these qualities. The national flag needs to be stronger. We mainly process Bt cotton and buy other varieties if they are available,” an official at the Central Sliver Plant in Chitradurga said.

The staple in indigenous varieties is shorter than Bt cotton, the official explained on the choice of cotton.

The plant, a unit of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, supplies about 1,000 kg cleaned (after a process called roving to remove dust particles and short fibres) cotton to Garaga Kshetriya Seva Sangh in Dharwad that till 2008 was the sole flag-making unit in the country. The cotton is then hand spun to yarn using a charaka and woven into khadi in handloom. However, sangha secretary Suresh V. Davande said that he was not aware of the Bt cotton being supplied.

At the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha at Bengeri where flag making started in 2008, the tricolour is manufactured using khadi made out of a combination of Jayadhar and Bt cotton. “To make the flag stronger, we mix Bt cotton with Jayadhar in a ratio of 25:75,” sangha secretary H.N. Antin said. Machinery is not used in the entire flag-making process, he added.

While the sangha at Garaga manufactures about 20,000 flags annually, about 10,000 flags are made annually at Bengeri. The size of the flags — all coming with BIS marking — range from one-and-a-half inch x one inch to 14 ft x 21 ft and the cost ranges from Rs. 115 to Rs. 16,945. The two-and-half ft x three ft flag is most popular in the country.

According to Mr. Davande, every thing that goes into the making of the flag have to meet BIS standards.

“It is unfortunate that the cotton developed by an American company is being used to make the Indian flag” — a symbol of pride for the countrymen — when there are many indigenous cotton varieties that were earlier used for flag making,” said Krishnaprasad of Sahaja Samruddha, which is trying to revive local cotton varieties.

“Before the advent of Bt cotton, only Indian varieties of cotton were being used. Why is it that indigenous varieties are not used now,” he asked.

GM Free India activists have urged the Prime Minister to hoist the flag made from organic cotton this Independence Day.

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