Relaxes quarantine norms to allow presence of two fungal pathogens

Harish Damodaran

Change made


The amendment

permitted wheat imports undertaken till December 31 to contain the two pathogens within the limits set in the STC tenders

New Delhi, Sept. 10

New facts are emerging on the Centre's decision to ease quarantine norms to facilitate large-scale wheat imports.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), it is learnt, had expressly opposed the move to allow the presence of two fungal pathogens, ergot (

Claviceps purpurea

) and dwarf bunt (

Tilletia contraversa

), in the imported wheat consignments.

But these views were disregarded and the Government went ahead with the relaxation in quarantine norms.

Schedule VI of the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order 2003 requires wheat grains imported for consumption or processing from any country to be free from ergot and dwarf bunt.

Accordingly, the State Trading Corporation of India's (STC) first wheat import tender floated on February 20 had specified that the consignments be `completely free' from these two pathogens.

But the subsequent tenders allowed presence of ergoty and dwarf bunted grains up to 0.01 per cent and 0.005 per cent by weight respectively.

This was legalised through a time-bound amendment to the conditions of the 2003 Order pertaining to wheat imports.

The amendment, issued by the Plant Protection Division in the Agriculture Ministry on July 3, permitted wheat imports undertaken till December 31 to contain the two pathogens within the limits set in the STC tenders.

According to highly placed official sources, the decision to ease the quarantine norms was preceded by a series of communications between the Joint Secretary (Plant Protection), Mr Ashish Bahuguna, and the ICAR's Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) at Karnal.

"The DWR's views were repeatedly sought on whether, and to what extent, relaxations in the ergot/dwarf bunt-free conditions could be made. Each time, the DWR's reply was in the negative," the sources told

Business Line

.

The DWR scientists' position was that neither ergot nor dwarf bunt were present in wheat grown in the country.

Although some ergot infestation has been reported in rye, this crop is cultivated on a very limited scale, mainly for medicinal purposes.

In any case, the ergot strain in rye was different from that occurring in wheat. Dwarf bunt, on the other hand, is not found in any of the plants.

"A case was made for allowing dwarf bunt on the grounds that it basically affected the winter wheat in the cool, hilly environments of Europe and not the spring wheat grown here mostly in the plains. But the DWR scientists rejected this, noting that wheat was also cultivated in the low hills of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. The fungus can always spread through wild grasses that are potential hosts for dwarf bunt," the sources added.

Eventually though, the ICAR's objections - pointing to the threat posed by alien fungi on the domestic wheat breeding programme - were overruled.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 11, 2006)
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