New Delhi: With US-based seed giant Monsanto facing regulatory heat in India over monopoly concerns, the government has expedited work to bring out a local genetically-modified version of cotton seeds by next year.
"The Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) has been doing research in GM cotton for quite some time now. In a recent meeting, the issue was discussed and CICR has been asked to expedite research work and come out with GM cotton as soon as by next year," Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak told PTI.
The direction to CICR has come at a time when pests like the pink bollworm have developed resistance to Monsanto's second generation Bt cotton variety, Bollgard II, in some parts of India and caused crop damage.
Also, Monsato's Bt cotton is the only GM crop allowed for commercial cultivation in the country. A substantial level of the country's cotton contains Monsanto's hybrid technology, which has been sub-licensed to 49 Indian seed companies.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is investigating whether an Indian arm of the US-based technology major resorted to anti-competitive practices in the GM cotton seed market.
The probe follows two separate complaints filed against Monsanto's Indian arm - Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Limited (MMBL) - one by three domestic seed companies and another by the BJP Kisan Morcha which was forwarded by the Agriculture Ministry to fair trade regulator CCI.
Another official in the Agriculture Ministry said that the institute (CICR) has been asked to develop a non-hybrid Bt cotton variety as they are also a solution for the growing pink ballworm menace.
CICR could have come out with GM cotton many years back had the biotechnology regulator, GEAC, not prevented it from going ahead with research in the absence of clarity on patent rights on Monsanto's Bt cotton technology, sources said.
But last year, the NDA government clarified that Monsanto has patent rights on second generation Bollgard II technology and not on the earlier version Bollgard I.
After the government's clarification, sources said many seed companies have approached CICR while others are doing research on their own to bring their non-hybrid Bt cotton seeds in the market in the next few years.
Meanwhile, the government has decided to promote cultivation of indigenous cotton varieties this year.
In 2015-16 crop year (July-June), there was a significant damage to cotton crop because of whitefly and pink bollworm pest attack in states like Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.