Karnataka

Bt cotton: a setback for Karnataka?

Researcher who led project on public sector Bt cotton seed has been transferred. File Photo

Researcher who led project on public sector Bt cotton seed has been transferred. File Photo  

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Researcher who led project on public sector Bt cotton seed has been transferred

In what could delay efforts to develop the State’s first public sector Bt cotton seed at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, a researcher was transferred out of the project, which is at an advanced field testing stage, in July this year.

Nearly 10 years on the job

Plant breeder Manjula S. Maralappanavar, who led the research for nearly a decade, was transferred after the university’s Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSC) approved conduct of field trials. The IBSC nod is mandatory to apply to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the country’s apex body that permits field trials of genetically modified crops.

She was transferred to an unrelated research programme on safflower. The university even turned down her request to continue research on Bt cotton for at least two days in a week. Following this, she approached the Karnataka State Women’s Commission and finally, last week, the university allowed her to work on Bt cotton for one day in a week.

In her complaint to the commission, a copy of which is with The Hindu, she cited “administrative hurdles” in her work.

‘Still face obstacles’

Dr. Manjula told The Hindu: “I continue to face obstacles. While permission has been given to carry out research work, I have been assigned to a different laboratory and not the one that I had established. Protocol standardisation is difficult in the new lab and I cannot do much work.”

Following her transfer, the university asked her to hand over details of her research to another scientist, H.M. Vamadevaiah. She refused to comply and the university even suspended her salary for four months.

Investigated

Incidentally, Dr. Vamadevaiah, along with the university’s current Director of Research B.M. Khadi, were investigated by an Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) committee for contamination of BNBT by MON531, the gene developed by seed company Monsanto.

Dr. Manjula has also named Dr. Khadi in her complaint to the women’s commission for allegedly causing obstacles in her work. “Transgenic research is a continuous process and work should be taken up on other pests as well. The university wants me to simply hand over years of hard work,” she claimed.

Allegations denied

Vice-Chancellor of the university D.P. Biradar, however, denied that Dr. Manjula was harassed in any way and defended her transfer. “The post in safflower [research] had remained vacant for five years and it could have gone to other States. While safflower is a rabi crop, cotton is a kharif crop and her research will not be affected,” he said.

On the change in the laboratory, he said the biotechnology lab assigned to Dr. Manjula was well-equipped and research work could be undertaken there.

“Commercialisation of public sector Bt cotton will be in the interests of the country which is now dependent on Bt cotton sold by the private sector”

Senior scientist, Central Institute for Cotton Research

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 3:03:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/bt-cotton-a-setback-for-karnataka/article6578711.ece

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