News Excerpt
The West Bengal government’s rice research centre developed a new commercialized variety of rice called Muktoshri that can be grown in arsenic prone areas due to its resistant to arsenic.

•    West Bengal is among the States with the highest concentration of arsenic in groundwater.
•    Arsenic contamination has been envisaged as a problem of global concern in many countries like Taiwan, China, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, USA but the severity of this contamination in India and Bangladesh is unprecedented.
•    Arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element found in rocks, soils and the water in contact with them. Arsenic has been recognized as a toxic element and is considered a human health hazard.
•    Long-term exposure to arsenic, mainly through drinking water and food, can lead to poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.

Features of New Rice variety
    The new rice variety, Muktoshri (IET 21845), was developed jointly by the Rice Research Station at Chinsurah coming under West Bengal’s Agriculture Department and the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, over several years. A gazette notification for the commercial use of Muktoshri was made by West Bengal last year.
    This variety uptakes very less amount of arsenic from soil and water in comparison to other varieties of rice. During field trial it was successful even in dry spells.

Arsenic Contamination in India
    The occurrence of Arsenic in ground water was first reported in West Bengal. The most affected areas are on the eastern side of Bhagirathi River. The occurrence of Arsenic in ground water is mainly in the aquifers up to 100 m depth. The deeper aquifers are free from Arsenic contamination.
    Apart from West Bengal, Arsenic contamination in groundwater has been found in the states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
    The occurrence of Arsenic in the states of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh is in alluvial formations but in the state of Chhattisgarh, it is in the volcanic rocks exclusively confined to N-S trending Dongargarh- Kotri ancient rift zone.

Effect of Arsenic on human health
o    Long-term intake of arsenic contaminated water leads to arsenic poisoning or arsenicosis, with cancer of skin, bladder, kidney or lung or diseases of skin (colour changes, and hard patches on palms and soles), or blood vessels of legs and feet.
o    Absorption of arsenic through the skin is minimal and thus hand-washing, bathing, laundry, etc. with water containing arsenic do not pose human health risks.

Alternative measures
    Uses of surface water sources
    Exploring and harnessing alternate arsenic free aquifers
    Removal of arsenic from groundwater using arsenic treatment plants/filters
    Adopting rainwater harvesting/ watershed management practices.

Development of Flood and Drought Resistant Crops seed in India
The National Agricultural Research System (NARS) comprising Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and State Agricultural Universities has developed flood/drought tolerant crop varieties for different regions of the country. Several breed has been developed.
1.    Deep water/submergence/ water logging tolerance- Rice, Maize, sugarcane and Jute
2.    Drought tolerance-Rice, Wheat, Maize, Sorghum, Pearl Millet, Barley, Chickpea Groundnut, Soybean, Sugarcane, Cotton, Jute.
•    Bt. cotton is the only GM crop approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in 2002 for commercial cultivation in the country.
•    Most of the countries are signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety which has well defined mechanism of regulation of Genetically Modified (GM) crops including bio-safety evaluation and environmental release. Further, acceptance of GM crops has increased at global level and area under GM crops increased from 1.7 Million hectare in 1996 to 191.7 Million hectares in 2018.