Need To Learn Lesson From IGKV-Syngenta Deal

Updated: Dec 23 2002, 05:30am hrs
The proposed collaboration of the multinational Syngentas subsidiary Syngenta India with the Raipur-based Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) for developing new rice hybrids from the collected local germplasms held in the Universitys gene bank was the centre of controversy since last month. The controversy got finally defused when on December 10, Syngenta India president (seeds division) Pawan Malik finally told the media that his company was no longer interested in the proposed collaboration project.

Ten days later, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director-general Dr Panjab Singh said, No such MoUs was actually signed between IGKV and Syngenta India and there was no question of the company pulling out of the collaboration. He also said, Even if the IGKV intends to have any colloboration with Syngenta India, it cannot hand over the collected germplasm. The ownership of the collect germplam rests with the National Biodiversity Board and the state biodiversity board.

What is clear from the news appearing in the language media from November 9 is that a 15-point MoU was drafted which was then curtailed to a 12-point MoU, but was not signed by the either parties. There are reports that the local press in Raipur insisted IGKV vice chancellor Dr VK Patil, on many occassions, to divulge the details of the MoU which he did not oblige.

Dr Patil may be right in the sense that a MoU cannot be made public before it is signed by the concerned parties. But Dr Patil should have taken care to address the concern raised by NGOs and civil rights activities over the possible handing over of 19,095 strains of local rice cultivars painstakingly collected by legendary agro scientist, late Dr RH Richharia and his team. This is definitely an issue of public concern as genetic resources held in gene banks are public property, rather the property of the local community.

Dr Patil way of handling the situation created several doubts in the media which still remains uncleared about what actually transpired between the two parties. However, Mr Pawan Malik was more frank in his statement that his company and the University were looking at a collaborative project to develop new rice hybrids that would meet specfic needs of farmers in that part of the country. He also pointed out that rice is one of the crops covered under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which aims to facilitate access to genetic resources and benefit sharing.

Incidently, this incident happened at a time when Parliament was gearing up to pass the Biodiversity Bill which is intended to protect bioresources and stipulate benefit-sharing and India is still negotiating with the European Union to gain access to UPOV without withdrawing the rights given to farmers to save seeds for the next season in the Plant Variety Protection & Farmers Rights Act. The ITPGRA is also likely to come into force soon.

Now, it is necessary to discuss what lessons should be learnt from this mysterious factured deal between IGKV and Syngenta India. ICAR DG Dr Panjab Singh is curt in saying, We should do adequate homework before entering into such a deal and see that our interests are not sacrificed. The UK-based Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) food security policy advisor Patrick Mulvany, writing in AgBioIndia bulletin, said, We must all remain on-guard - the ITPGRFA is threatened! He also said that ITPGRFA to which India is a signatory, still has ambiguities in its agreed text and these can only be resolved once the governing body is formed after it comes into force.

Mr Mulvany said that these ambiguities relates to whether or not IPRs can be taken on the genetic resources in the multi-lateral system (MLS) ie those 35 genera of food crops, including rice, wheat, maize, potato and 29 forages covered by the MLS in its Annex 1.

He said that the UK governments Commission on IPRs took advantage of the ambiguity in words in the form received from MLS in the Article 12.3(d) of the treaty and said that patents can be allowed on modifications to the materials received from MLS. This ambiquity created needs to be removed he said.

Dr Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign has criticised the Biodiversity Bill recently passed by Parliament for the lack of clarity on IPRs.

Thus, it is clear that we need to learn lessons from the mysterious fractured deal between IGKV and Syngenta India and strengthen our laws to protect our valuable bioresources from any possible biopiracy.