Plant peril

the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (cag) has flayed the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (nbpgr) for failing to evaluate almost 95 per cent of foreign plant germplasm brought into the country for research.

cag has also levelled several other charges against the Delhi-based bureau, including giving quarantine clearance to consignments without import permits, thereby risking the spread of alien pathogens and pests.

Between 1997-98 and 2002-2003, as many as 4.39 lakh exotic germplasm samples were introduced into India, but nbpgr barely evaluated 22,500, says cag in its latest report. The bureau, set up in 1976 under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar), is the sole agency to clear foreign plant germplasm and also the official facility to conserve domestic plant genetic material.

When contacted, nbpgr director B S Dhillon said most samples do not require a detailed assessment as they come from institutes under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (cgiar). "Over 75 per cent samples are from cgiar institutes such as the International Rice Research Institute, where the samples have already been evaluated,' he said. "As and when we require, we can procure the details (of evaluation) from these institutes,' said a nbpgr scientist on condition of anonymity.

Dhillon said complete evaluation of a sample takes about three years during which it is grown in different agro-climatic conditions and its characteristics and disease profile mapped. To speed up the process, nbpgr began a Rs 4.81 crore scheme under the 10th five year plan. Under the scheme, initially four major foodgrain crops