The prime minister's scientific advisory council had advocated introduction of GM crops in India, but under strict regulatory mechanism

Even as the Supreme Court is set to hear the petition to ban testing of genetically modified (GM) crops on October 29, the apex body that is supposed to regulate GM crops in the country, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has been in limbo since April when it last met. The GEAC was last reconstituted in June 2009 for three years. Since its tenure ended in June, the committee has neither been reconstituted nor its tenure extended. According to senior scientists, this has severely harmed the progress made in field testing and research of new crop varieties.

Says farmers suicides is a continuos problem

Despite recurring droughts and floods in various parts of the country, because of changing climatic patterns, Indian agriculture is gradually developing a semblance of resistance to changing weather patterns. India’s total annual foodgrain production has seldom dropped below 200 million tonnes since 2005-06, despite suffering drought or floods in some parts of the country, including the worst drought in more than 30 years in 2009.

With the monsoon continuing to elude many parts of India, the central government has asked the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to implement contingency plans in the wake of low rainfall, and is monitoring the situation in Rajasthan and the Saurashtra region in Gujarat.

As of today, the southwest monsoon has been 20-30 per cent below normal. In Karnataka, it has been 40-50 per cent less. In its weekly update, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the rains would improve from the middle of next week in the western, northern and central parts but go down in eastern India.

If rains don’t hit the northwestern and central parts of India soon, the water table in these regions may fall below last year’s levels, a preliminary assessment has revealed.

Last year, the ground water levels in northwestern states during the pre-monsoon period (April-June) was estimated at 10-20 metres below ground level, said a senior Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) official. And, the near absence of rains in these regions since October could result in a further decline in these levels, the official added.

The government has started work on the rules and bylaws of the proposed Food Security Act, even as the Bill is being debated by a standing committee of Parliament.

The food ministry has appointed Hyderabad-based Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) as consultant for the finer points. ASCI will work with ministry officials and analyse the delivery mechanism of the department of food and public distribution, including Food Corporation of India and state governments.

Centre to set targets and give funds operational plan to come from states

The Planning Commission will give a big thrust on health through a much wider programme than the existing National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), in the 12th five-year Plan that begins from today. It would be a pan-India programme, meant to incentivise states to increase their annual spending on health.

The path drawn up by the government’s first-ever official agriculture survey in suggesting more private investment in farming is likely to find resonance in this year’s Budget.

Officials said apart from infrastructure and skill development, agriculture could be the next big focus area. In 2009-10, private sector investment in agriculture stood at Rs 1.09 lakh crore, constituting 82 per cent of the total investment in the farm sector.

Bt cotton has doubled the seed industry and boosted the fortunes of seed firms. But yields still need to improve

In the last 10 years, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton and its impact on farmers has perhaps been the most talked about topic in Indian agriculture since the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s. Not only has farmers’ income from growing Bt cotton risen by almost 67 per cent in the last one decade—the crop was first introduced in 2002—but Bt has made India a front-ranking,

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has proposed a Rs 150-200 crore nationwide project to develop genetically modified (Bt) cotton, with genes to provide multiple protection against virus, fungi, etc, beside being reusable.

This has gone to the ministry of agriculture for clearance. The idea is to involve a pan-India network of major agricultural institutes and universities like the Ludhiana-based Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana;

The government’s plan of ushering in a green revolution in eastern states doesn’t seem to have taken off in the country’s biggest paddy (de-husked) rice producing state of West Bengal.