Special Correspondent

The aim is to minimise the impact of disasters such as bird flu

National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority sought to help allay public fears

They favour consortium on scientific management of climate change

CHENNAI: Indian Science Congress, one of the country’s most influential scientific bodies, has presented a set of recommendations to the Prime Minister including the setting up of a national agri-biosecurity system to minimise the impact of disasters such as the recent bird flu in West Bengal, and provision of Rs.100 crore in the upcoming budget for technological development.

R. Ramamurthi, general president, Indian Science Congress Association, announced the recommendations on Tuesday. “At the recent science congress [held in Visakhapatnam in January], the Prime Minister raised several concerns, so we thought the scientific community should respond,” he said.

Among Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s concerns were increasing food production, water conservation, energy generation and building technologies.

Agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said the Congress had stressed the need for a national agri-biosecurity system. “The avian flu problem in West Bengal has shown the importance of early warnings,” he said. “For instance, with regard to locust invasions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has great systems of surveillance so we do not face the problem anymore.” There was, currently, a lack of manpower to monitor invasive alien species as well as inadequate quarantine facilities and human resources to minimise the impact of disasters, said Ajay Parida, Programme Director, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

The Congress had also called for the setting up of a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) as part of the Centre’s Department of Biotechnology to help allay public fears on the use of biotechnology in agriculture, Dr. Swaminathan said. A bill to this effect will be introduced in the next session of Parliament.

Among the other recommendations was the setting up of a national consortium on the scientific management of climate change that will involve every government department in devising a national strategy to tackle the problem.

The Congress had also sought to involve the industrial sector in its efforts. “We will develop more Public-Private Partnerships to work on rural empowerment,” Dr. Swaminathan said. “We also need to develop land-use policies so that fertile lands will not be touched in setting up Special Economic Zones.”

Several companies like Reliance and Larsen and Toubro participated in the initial discussions, he said.

Dr. Swaminathan said the Congress had asked for “ad-hoc provision” of Rs.100 crore for these programmes to be allocated in the accounts of the Department of Science and Technology in the upcoming budget. He did not confirm whether the recommendation had been accepted.