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WHAT WE SPEND in ` crore

STILL NOT ENOUGH % of agri GDP spent in 2010 2010-11 7,472
BUDGETS 2009-10



SPENDING ON 2008-09 5,456
(0.34 in 2000)
(0.40 in 2000)
(1.81 in 2000)
2007-08 4,472
2006-07 3,982
ON Expenditure on research
NNUA L SPENDINGWAS and development


26 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013

ICAR’S OUTLAY ON R&D in ` crore
2013-14 3,415
10,79,365 2012-13 3,220
9,43,204 2011-12 2,850 Source: Indian Council
2010-11 2,522 of Agricultural
8,36,518 Research (ICAR)
Source 2009-10 1,760
Lok Sabha reply on
7,22,984 18.12.2012

Agriculture GDP

Agricultural science has ossified in India.
Despite a vast network of public research
institutions and agriculture universities
across the country, nothing of significance
has emerged from this system to galvanise
farming in recent decades, barring perhaps
new strains of basmati rice. Weak basic
research, excessive centralisation and
control of the national research system by
the Indian Council of Agricultural Research
are the root cause for this state of affairs but
underpinning it all are harmful government
policies rooted in ensuring food security.
Caught in these bureaucratic rigidities are
the science and scientists. Lax standards,
poor monitoring and unpunished scientific
fraud have destroyed ambitious research
projects and shaken the morale of the
public research system, find
Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood

October 16-31, 2013 • Down To Earth 27

1960 Utta
r Pradesh
ral Univers
PERIAL 1936 ARI renamed Imperial Pantnaga ity,
FROM IMINGS TO Agricultural Research Institute (1911) Later rena

med GB P
Agricultu an
Moves to Delhi following earthquake. ral Univers t
AN UNC Becomes Indian Agricultural Research first of 56
SAUs to c
ity, it is
FUTURE Institute (IARI) in 1948 ome up

1904 Agricultural 1929 Imperial Council of 1958 IARI is made a 1966 ICAR reorganised
Research Institute (ARI) Agricultural Research deemed university Huge jump in funding;
Seedling of agriculture Set up as a result of report Becomes leading focus on food security
science planted at Pusa, of Royal Commission on institute for research
Bihar. With grant of Agriculture. Becomes
£30,000 from American Indian Council of
philanthropist Henry Agricultural Research post
Phipps Independence

ubbanna Ayyappan has recently returned from a education and managing research and its application in agri-
trip to one of the farthest outposts of his vast culture, agro-forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries and allied
empire. He flew to Guwahati, from there drove to sciences, the council has an exhaustive and curious collection
Tezpur and then to Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh, of institutes and project directorates dedicated to the study of
where the National Research Centre on Yak is such things as foot-and-mouth disease and weed science.
located. The last lap was a tortuous climb to Nyuk- In addition to 95 research institutes, ICAR funds and over-
madung at an altitude of 2,750 metres where the Dirang cen- sees some 56 state agricultural universities (SAUs), apart from
tre has its yak farm. Ayyappan, director general of the Indian four deemed universities and one Central Agricultural Univ-
Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), confesses he was “a ersity for the north-eastern region. Together these constitute
little out of breath” during the last stretch of the journey. the national agriculture research system or NARS. It is a huge
The Dirang centre is engaged in making sure the yak num- enterprise involving some 24,000 scientists, of whom close to
bers do not decline and it is illustrative of ICAR’s mandate. 4,800 are with ICAR institutes and directorates; the rest are with
Practically every farm animal, from the mithun, the unique the universities. It is a research establishment that dwarfs the
bovine species of the Northeast, to the pig has been accorded number of laboratories its counterpart in industrial research,
its own research centre or a project directorate, like every crop the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, boasts.
from litchi to sorghum. It all adds up to 98 institutes of one What has all this contributed to India’s agriculture? The
kind or the other, institutes that have been set up or were sub- typical response of the ICAR top brass is to reel off a long list of
sumed by ICAR after it was given control over all successes that focuses on the improved crop varieties that have
research institutes under the Ministry of led to greater food security in the country, the jump in pro-
Agriculture in 1966. As a result, ICAR boasts duction of vegetables, eggs and milk. Rice and wheat, pre-
one of the largest national agricultural sys- dictably, are the starred items in this report card, with the Pusa
tems in the world, if not the largest. As Basmati varieties topping the list. Critics tend to dismiss this as
the apex organisation for coordinating “repetitive and ritualistic applied research” but the ICAR chief


26.80 26.52
2000-01 3,166
2007-08 3,136

2009-10 3,709
*This is a total and does not indicate the H-index list of most cited
research papers
Source: Compiled from reports of ICAR Institutes
28 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013

1973 Agricultural Scientists 1998 National Agriculture 2011 AgrInnovate India

Recruitment Board Separate Technology Programme Set up with Rs 100 crore, the company
Agriculture Research Service World Bank injects funds to commercialises ICAR technologies by
(ARS) for farm scientists galvanise research protecting intellectual property rights

2005 National 2013 CRPs, ARYA, Farmer First

1974 ICAR becomes 1974 Krishi Vigyan Agricultural Innovation ICAR’s new programmes: CRPs aim to
government Kendra (KVK),
Project network research all over the
department Puducherry
Second World Bank fund country; ARYA is to retain rural
Consolidation of Network of
to modernise Indian youth in farming; Farmer First aims
scientific and extension services
agriculture to enrich farmer-scientist interface
bureaucratic now totals 634

insists the increase in food production

from 50 million tonnes in 1950 to the cur-
rent 259 million tonnes has to be seen as
the “most beneficial contribution of R&D
not just in the form of improved food
security but in total factor productivity”.
The fact of the matter is that ICAR has IF ICAR WAS NOT WE GIVE CHARGE TO A
no choice in this matter. “Cereals are a PRO-SCIENCE, SCIENTIST BUT DO NOT
high-volume, low-value commodity. We PRO-SKILL, 32 GIVE HIM POWERS. AS A
have been mandated with researching SCIENTISTS RESULT IN INDIA YOU
these and we are doing it. They are the FROM ABROAD WASTE ENERGY ON PRO-
basics for food security in the country,” WOULDN’T HAVE TOCOLS AND PERMISSIONS
explains Ayyappan. In sum, development JOINED ICAR AND NOT ON RESEARCH
of crop varieties (open pollinated seed
S Ayyappan S K Datta
that can be reused) is left to the public
DG, ICAR Deputy DG, crop sciences, ICAR
research system, while private companies
focus on hybrids (see charts on p31),
which is where the money is to be made
since hybrids have to be bought afresh for each sowing. in January 2010, leaving him to look for ways to salvage the
Ayyappan is from the Agriculture Research Service, a spe- reputation and credibility of the system that had taken a knock
cial cadre of scientists created in 1973, and has been with ICAR globally. The first of these unsavoury events involved the pres-
for close to 35 years. This true blue product of NARS has made tigious National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology,
history of sorts by becoming the first non-crop scientist—he is along with a leading academic institution, the University of
a fisheries expert—to head this sprawling network. That is Agricultural Sciences-Dharwad, and top-ranking scientists of
something he takes pride in, but his tenure has come at a time ICAR (see ‘Untangling India’s Bt cotton fraud’, February 1-15,
when agricultural science in the country is battling serious 2012; ‘Cleaning the cotton stain’, February 16-29, 2012; ‘ICAR’s
problems of relevance and integrity. shoddy science’, January 1-15, 2013, Down To Earth)
The director general is the first to admit that the current That episode involving research of over 10 years to create a
challenges to Indian farming are tremendous, almost unprece- public sector Bt or genetically modified (GM) cotton was sup-
dented. Soil degradation and fatigue have been plateauing posed to herald India’s entry into the hi-tech league. But soon
yields in major crops since the 1990s, and looming over all this after its commercial release in 2009 there was gloom in the sci-
are the hazards of climate change, to which Indian farming is entific establishment. India’s “completely indigenous Bt vari-
particularly susceptible. “The weakness of the system is that it ety”, the Bikaneri Narma (BN Bt), failed and was withdrawn
is not prepared for the coming challenges and needs time to after one season. In fact, it turned out no gene, as claimed, had
build its responses,” he admits candidly. “There will always be been developed by the public research project, launched under
some unexpected disaster from biotic and abiotic stresses.” the World Bank-funded National Agricultural Technology
Worse, for Ayyappan, have been the unethical practices of Project (NATP) that pumped $200 million into NARS along with
some leading scientists. A series of research scandals that had a grant of $50 million from the Indian government. India’s
been gestating for long blew up in his face just as he took office foray into GM crop research appears to have gone nowhere.

October 16-31, 2013 • Down To Earth 29


The tragedy is that the research bungling, to put a kinder

inference on this discreditable episode, was investigated only
after unseemly details about the cotton project were made
public by some rival scientists who had filed right to informa-
tion (RTI) petitions on the project and leaked the details to the
media. That no action has been taken more than one-and-a-
half years after the fraud came to light has resulted in a deep
sense of betrayal and a deepening sense of cynicism among
young scientists (see ‘Lies, exposes and cover-ups’, p36).
But the scandals are just part of the problem. Many see
NARS as a sclerotic organisation incapable of undertaking the
research challenges before the country. A reason for this can
be found in the way ICAR functions. The director general func-
tions concurrently as secretary to the Department of Agricul-
ture Research and Education of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The post was created in 1974, ostensibly to smooth the inter-
face of the autonomous ICAR with the policy-makers in Delhi’s
Krishi Bhavan, ministry headquarters. But this has created an
anomalous situation for ICAR, which although set up as a reg-
istered society functions as an adjunct of the government.
Lack of original thinking and encouragement for out-of-
the-box ideas for problem solving is an underlying cause of
the rot in agri-science. “Almost all institutions build their
research programmes on previous routine projects based on
inputs from scientists and there are hardly any attempts to
push towards pathbreaking science,” points out the director
of a national crop research centre. He believes lack of “think-
dures, complete absence of accountability, stifling centralisa-
tank” to prioritise “immediate national challenges” and envis-
tion, lack of a performance-based incentive system and moni-
age “long-term research investment” at the national level is a
toring and evaluation processes, are some examples.”
major reason agri-science is going nowhere. Currently, priori-
This is why scientist G V Ramanjaneyulu, who worked
with ICAR from 1996 to 2003, quit the organisation to do
tisation is carried out at the institutional level within the allo-
something more meaningful. Ramanjaneyulu was working
cated budget, which has become a self-defeating exercise.
with the Directorate of Oilseeds in Hyderabad at a time of
Another is the “wasting of scientific talent by scattering many
increasing reports of suicides by farmers. He says that’s when
young talented scientists across less important institutes
which cannot harness their potential.” he took the decision to leave a well paying job where no ques-
The problems that beset NARS were summed up best bytions were asked about non-performance. “I didn’t find much
Dayanatha Jha, a scholar who wrote on the problems of R&D
scope to work as the system was caught up in a technology-
in agricultural research more than a decade ago. “Any scientist
driven framework. There was also lot of inbreeding depres-
in ICAR will endorse that bureaucracy and associated evils are
sion within the system as it was closed to learning anything
the root cause of inefficiency. Obstructive rules and proce-
from what was happening on the ground.”
Ramanjaneyulu took the plunge and set
up the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in
Hyderabad which works with farmers.
Interestingly, the issue of farmers’ suicides,
which has now crossed a mind-numbing figure
of 285,000, has never figured in any discussion
in ICAR nor in any of the SAUs. Nor have they
researched the agro-ecological approaches tried
by farmers who are tired of the unsustainable
nature of the heavily input-driven model of
OUR RESEARCH RESEARCH CAN BE farming promoted by NARS, laments the scien-
SHOULD BE FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE. tist. The fact is that none of these models, even
DEVELOPMENT, AND EVERYBODY NEEDS TO the non-pesticide management method that has
spread across Andhra Pradesh, has been studied
NOT FOR MERE UNDERSTAND THIS. IT IS in detail by ICAR, although its own assessment
RESEARCH. NOT NECESSARY THAT reports show that such models bring in ecologi-
OUR AIM SHOULD 1+1=2, IT CAN BE 11 cal and economic benefit to farmers. “Now sev-
R4D AND NOT R&D OR 0 eral of us working in and outside NARS are form-
R B Singh H S Gupta ing a professional society to publish a peer
President, NAAS Director, IARI reviewed journal on agro-ecology,” he says.

30 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013

Share of
No. of seed private sector
varieties in hybrid
Private Public
sector market
25 88.5%
Cotton 28 78.6%
Maize 19 54.8%
Paddy 13 86.3%
Pearl millet 13 80.3%
Sorghum 2 33.3%
Pigeon pea 16 75.0%

Private sector accounts for 80 per cent

turnover in seed
Almost a third of these companies have a
global technology/financial partner
Private seed companies are spending
10-12 per cent of their turnover on R&D
R&D budget of medium-sized companies is
growing at 20 per cent annually. It has 100 per
cent of the vegetable seed market for chilli,
tomato, watermelon, gourds, brinjal and okra
Source: R S Paroda and National Seed Association of India (NSAI)

Is there growing disillusionment with agricultural sci-


ence promoted by NARS? Rajeswari Raina, economist and LONG GRAINS OF SUCCESS
principal scientist with the National Institute of Science,
Technology and Development Studies (Nistads), thinks so.
Raina, who has closely tracked agricultural science in India 3, INDIA
and written extensively on it, says, “The agri-research system IN 2012-1 D BASMATI
refuses to respond to the fact that the contribution of agri- EXPORTE TH
culture to the national GDP has been declining steadily. It is RICE WOR3 CRORE
15.8 per cent and is expected to slide to 8.5 per cent by 2015.” `19,390.5
There are emerging tensions between the research system WHEAT VARIETIES
and government. The Eleventh Five Year Plan had sought a Year Variety Productivity
(surprising) change in the direction and research content of (tonne/hectare)

NARS to make a dent in poverty, hunger, malnutrition and 1966 S 227 3.4
the environment: “Thus far, research has tended to focus 1975 WL 711 4.7
mostly on increasing the yield potential by more intensive 1985 HD 2329 4.7
use of water and biochemical inputs. Far too little attention 1995 PBW 343 4.9
has been given to the long-term environmental impact or on 2011 DPW 621-50 5.2
Basmati rice export in ` crore

methods and practices for the efficient use of these inputs for
sustainable agriculture. These features are widely known but
efforts to correct them have not been adequate; at any rate INDIA’S W
they have not made much of a difference.” IS 2.9 TON HEAT PRODUCTIV
This, says an old-time scientist, is “a complete turn- CHINA’S IS NES/HECTARE AN ITY
around by the state”, which had itself encouraged such
4.8 D

research and promoted policies that have focused almost

entirely on increasing cereal production (rice and wheat, in

particular) and provided subsidies that have degraded the


environment to an alarming degree.

1990-91 276

And the twelfth plan approach paper is even more critical.

It says: “Public sector technology generation often fails to take

into account farmers’ needs, perceptions and location specific

conditions for each crop, leading to significant gaps between
the varieties released by public sector institutions and the
Source: ICAR and FAO

October 16-31, 2013 • Down To Earth 31


number of varieties actually used by

the farmers. Private sector research and
the seed industry often focus on those
crops and varieties which have ade-
quate scale (massive markets) and
scope (repeated sales). As a result,
some crops/crop groups get little AGRICULTURE SCIENCE IS THERE WAS A LOT
research attention. This phenomenon MARKED BY REPETITIVE OF INBREEDING
is most visible in predominantly rain- AND RITUALISTIC RESEARCH DEPRESSION WITHIN
fed crops like pulses and some oilseeds, NOT RELEVANT TO THE THE SYSTEM AS IT
which are in crying need for a techno- ACUTE AGRARIAN WAS CLOSED TO
logical breakthrough.” The irony, PROBLEMS IN INDIA. LEARNING ANYTHING
though, is that the Centre is again per- THERE IS NO SCIENCE, JUST FROM WHAT WAS
petuating the mistakes of the Green A BLIND ADAPTATION OF HAPPENING ON THE
Revolution by transplanting the same WESTERN TECHNOLOGY GROUND
policies in the eastern region. Rajeswari Raina G V Ramanjaneyulu
Increasing imports of cooking oils
Principal scientist, Nistads Scientist, formerly with ICAR
and pulses reflect a certain failure ev-
en in the traditional lines of research
followed by NARS. H S Gupta, director of IARI, explains, “The for the current year, there is huge disappointment with the
Green Revolution focused on cereals and since there was funds allocated by the government for the twelfth plan.
already a way forward in wheat and rice with dwarfing gene we “Everybody knows that our budget is very small,” says
progressed very fast. Pulses did not enjoy that kind of research Swapan Kumar Datta, deputy director general, crop sciences,
intensity and were also relegated to marginal lands.” ICAR. “In the Twelfth Five Year Plan we demanded ` 50,000
How NARS will meet the coming challenges is a tough ques- crore but got only `25,000 crore. That is `25,000 for five years
tion. Years of repetitive research and a fossilised syllabus in for close to 100 institutions and 56 agri-universities!” Datta,
SAUs have cramped the system’s ability to be nimble. One crip- unlike Ayyappan, is a lateral recruit. He joined ICAR in 2009
pling deficiency is shortage of scientists and a marked lack of after working for 20 years in institutes in Europe, and he
specialisation in critical disciplines such as genomics. The chafes at the bureaucratic controls.
sanctioned strength for scientists is 6,470; as of last year 4,745 Shortage of funds is a gnawing issue for the plant biotech-
posts had been filled. According to ICAR sources, at any given nologist. “If I have to develop a big platform on genomics I
time 30 per cent of the posts remain vacant. would need `10,000 crore. That is big money. I need to devel-
op that platform today but the money is not available.”
PAUCITY OF FUNDS The head of crop sciences division is a powerful satrap
But above all is the question of funds. While ICAR’s R&D bud- with 12 national institutes, nine project directorates, three
get has increased from `1,760 crore in 2009-10 to `3,415 crore bureaus and two national research centres under his control.
In addition, 27 all-India coordinated research projects and
IARI, the premier agriculture research institute in Delhi India-wide network projects are under his supervision, and in
ICAR he is viewed as the man to watch. But as yet he has done
little to shake up the system, although he is known to have said
openly that “science can’t be done the way we are working”.
How this small pie is shared among the many research
institutes is also a sore point. The Dirang centre, for one, gets
`6 crore per year for the current plan period, not different
from what research centres on major crops receive. Likewise,
there is little to show that funding is based on the importance
of a crop to the farming community. Take what cotton
research received in the past 12 years. The plan fund—the allo-
cation for research (contingencies, works, renovation, equip-
ment)—was about `25 crore. External funding from the
department of biotechnology, the World Bank’s NATP and its
newer avatar National Agriculture Innovation Project (NAIP),
added another `6-7 crore. This has given rise to resentment
among scientists who question the rationale for allocations.
Criteria such as economic importance of the crop, employ-
ment potential and emerging challenges should determine
budget allocation. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
India’s GM cotton revolution has bypassed the public sec-
tor, while private companies are raking in huge profits as cot-
ton farmers take almost entirely to the GM hybrids developed

32 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013




M S Swaminathan, popularly known as the father of India’s Green Revolution, has been associated with
national agricultural research system (NARS) since 1947 when he was a student at the Indian
Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). After getting PhD from Cambridge University, he joined IARI, of
which he became director, and then director general of ICAR. A believer in the need to articulate clear,
goal-oriented research, Swaminathan tells Latha Jishnu what has changed since his time. Excerpts

Can you tell us how research priorities ter equipped. A sense of complacency has
have changed? set in; there is no longer the pressure to
Research is always dynamic and, there- do something urgently to improve the
fore, priorities will change over time. In wellbeing of farm families.
the 1950s and ’60s, our major goal was
improving crop productivity. Currently, Has the quality of scientific manpower
the emphasis should be on improving changed significantly since your time?
the income of farmers as well as the The quality of scientific manpower varies
environmental sustainability of agro- widely from institution to institution. Most
nomic technologies. I see two changes: of the agricultural universities have
in the linkage between science and become highly inbred. Appointments to
public policy, which was very close, and senior positions are also made on the basis
in the strong relation between the scientist and farmers, of political influence. There is more emphasis on bricks
where the former would go to the farmer’s field and than brains. Achievements are measured by the number of
demonstrate the technology. buildings built and money spent and not by the improve-
ment in the wellbeing of farm and fisher families.
How did this linkage become weaker?
One reason is that scientists don’t express their views. There is a general perception that ICAR’s role and
Today the GM debate is going on and you hardly find sci- research has declined. Do you agree?
entists from ICAR, the top most institute, talking about GM ICAR has not declined in terms of money but there is a
science. They should express their views. In 2004, I suggest- need to strengthen national research system and not
ed an All India Coordinated Research Project on biosafe- hand over our responsibility to international institutions.
ty. Today there are over 1,000 (GM cotton) hybrids and There must be well-defined milestones. When I was in
farmers are confused. ICAR should have forced all compa- IARI we had small groups and we had a very clear idea
nies to test under bio-safety precautions. about what has to be done. There were clear goals, five-
year plans and we got results.
Is it because scientists are scared?
Yes, it is about being a government servant. In our time The Chinese appear to have done much better than us.
our strength was communication with the media. When The Chinese have done a much better job because they
the whole world was saying ‘these guys are going to fail are able to generate team-based and focused work. They
in Green Revolution’, Indian media was saying the oppo- also have a strong bond between scientists and farmers.
site because I got them to the field. In a small way such bonds were developed during the
Cultural Revolution, but have now become organic and
How the research environment changed? ingrained in the system. This is why China could spread
Scientists today are better paid and laboratories are bet- technologies like hybrid rice very fast.

by private Indian companies and multi- turnover of `4,000 crore, our research ensure integration of activities and sub-
nationals. US technology provider Mo- has faltered and fallen by the wayside.” systems. “Accountability is the need of
nsanto has harvested a reported `2,000 If agriculture fails nothing will suc- the time. There was seriousness of pur-
crore in royalty rates from these firms. ceed, warns the National Academy of pose in our time. Scientific temper was
“Cotton,” says an agriculture min- Agricultural Sciences’ (NAAS’) president high in those early days when we were
istry official, “is a good example of what R B Singh who has been campaigning for taking the best of science to agriculture.”
is happening in agriculture science. an overhaul of the research system. ICAR, In short, the siege mentality has
Pitted against companies with a he says, needs to be transformed to to end.

October 16-31, 2013 • Down To Earth 33


n the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) a lot deputy director general (crop sciences) of ICAR. Ananda

I of research is just hearsay. Some of it is imaginary. In some

cases very little evidence remains of “significant break-
throughs” that scientists claim to have made. Sometimes
Kumar complained that Bansal’s failure to hand over the pro-
ject files and provide genes, clones, sequences, etc had caused
problems while reporting to promoters of the three externally
scientists leave the organisations, do not hand over the funded projects: the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of
material and no questions are ever asked. At other times, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the World Bank’s
research centres manage to lose the research material. It is all National Agriculture Innovation Project and the Network
very lax and conveniently so. Project on Transgenic Crops.
Some years ago, S K Raina made waves when he was Bansal’s portfolio of research breakthroughs is impressive.
professor at the National Research Centre on Plant Biotech- Listed by him are transgenic tomato developed with improved
nology (NRCPB). This premier research facility of the Indian tolerance to drought and cold stress; transgenic mustard;
Agricultural Research Institute at the Pusa complex in Delhi transgenic wheat; transgenic tomato with delayed fruit
became the first in the country “to develop an efficient genetic ripening; transgenic mustard with Zat12 and Dhsp genes and
transformation system for elite Indica rice cultivars”. His group transgenic tomato with improved texture. However, there is
was also the first to conduct contained field trials of transgenic no sign of these in the research pipeline and Bansal has not
Bt Rice in 1999, according to his profile on the Indian National responded to Down To Earth (DTE) queries on the current sta-
Science Academy website. In 2004, Raina sought voluntary tus of the projects.
retirement from NRCPB to join a private seed company, Nath There are also the contretemps over the scientist’s applica-
Group at Aurangabad, that offers Bt cotton technology. tion for a patent for his breakthrough on plastid transforma-
tion in brinjal. In December 2012, ICAR began a formal investi-
gation of charges that Bansal had made false claim about a
patent application for the transgenic brinjal having been filed

in 2007. Based on this and two other patent claims, Bansal was
awarded ICAR’s top prize, the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for
2007-2008. However, investigations showed that although two
patent applications had, indeed, been filed, no application

EXPOSÉS relating to the transgenic brinjal patent had been

made till July 16, 2009, when he was given the
award. ICAR director general S Ayyappan told

DTE inquiries are still under way.
Ironically, Ananda Kumar’s involvement in
the GM cotton fraud was investigated by a com-
mittee but no action has been taken on its report.
“We are still waiting for responses from the parties,”
BETWEEN SCIENTISTS LEAD TO says Ayyappan. All of this has left a trail of unanswered
TIT-FOR-TAT EXPOSÉS OF questions—and deepening cynicism among younger scien-
RESEARCH FRAUDS tists about the lack of accountability in the system.
ICAR systems, unlike those in CSIR (Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research) and DBT, leave a lot to be desired. For one,

If you ask NRCPB

about what happened to
the Bt rice they have no answer.
Other curious instances of scien-
tific breakthroughs also involve the
NRCPB , which appears to be an
extremely lax organisation. In
October 2011 when principal scien-
tist K C Bansal left the centre to
become director of India’s gene bank, he
appears to have forgotten to hand over
the research materials he had been
working on: seed of GM mustard,
slow ripening tomato and chloro-
plast transformed mustard.
The then project director of
NRCPB P Ananda Kumar wrote
several letters to Bansal about the
missing material and finally to
his boss Swapan Kumar Datta, AJIT BAJAJ / CSE

36 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013


its research institutes do not maintain the laboratory file. The lab file is yet to be made mandatory and the old ways
Instead, it swears by the Research Project File (RPF). The differ- of keeping an RPF continue in ICAR. Says one cynical young sci-
ence between the two is this: while the RPF is a dossier on a pro- entist who has worked as an assistant on a transgenic project:
ject, it does not have the detailed day-to-day notings of what “I have found senior scientist manipulating inconvenient data
transpires in the laboratory or field as the lab file does. “We were on field trials. If you keep a lab file which has to be signed
shocked to learn about this omission in 2009,” says Rajeswari every day this kind of manipulation is not possible.” However,
Raina, principal scientist with the National Institute of Science, increasingly, scientists who wish to be published in reputed
Technology and Development Studies. She was part of the team journals abroad find that such detailed data records have to be
put together by the Knowledge Commission of India to suggest provided before research papers are accepted.
measures to tackle the crisis in agriculture research. Plagiarism is the other hallmark of Indian science.
In a letter sent to the prime minister and the agriculture Sometimes entire papers have been reproduced, at other
minister, commission chairperson Sam Pitroda had made a times, the crucial parts. These instances, exposed usually by
pointed reference to the lab file while listing steps to improve fellow scientists, are dealt with in ad-hoc fashion. Then there
the organisation of agricultural research. “The Research are retractions. A recent change in a vector map was made
Project File (RPF) system in ICAR institutes has fossilised and almost 12 years after the paper was published and could undo
does not assist the conduct or management of relevant the original thesis.
research. The lab/project file must be made mandatory in SAUs Cases of malfeasance are increasingly coming to light
(state agriculture universities) and ICAR institutes and com- thanks to rivalries and jealousies within the scientific commu-
puterised on a priority basis, preferably by 2009-2010. This nity. Claims which reek of dishonesty or outright fraud are
will enable the creation of a research database within the being verified through a spate of right to information (RTI)
organisation and at the national level,” he had said. Based on applications. As one scientist confided to DTE: “The system
this lab/project file system, there should be an annual scientif- prefers to turn a blind eye to such instances for several reasons.
ic audit of each programme/project. For one, it is embarrassing to have a senior colleague exposed
and for another, the processes are so slow and convoluted that
the top brass appears to think that it is pointless. But RTIs allow
you to get information and force these cases into the open.”
One suggestion for weeding out bogus claims on research
comes from a project director who has had a long experi-
ence of handling young teams. Since awards, incentives
and career promotions are given to scientists based
on applications, he suggests a change of approach.
“It is ambitious scientists who apply for these
awards and manage to get them. The genuine
ones are rarely recognised. To overcome this, the
top management of different divisions should
identify outstanding scientists for awards or addi-
tional increments and promotions without them
having to ask.” Assessment could be based on
impact of the outstanding research publications,
varieties released, production strategies, patents
granted, technologies commercialised and novel
methods. “This can set up a system that moti-
vates excellence,” the project director says.


Others, however, are sceptical whether it
would work given the cushy terms of the
Agriculture Research Service (ARS) which put
these scientists on a higher footing. Modelled on
the University Grants Commission scales, agri-
culture scientists get time-bound promotions irre-
spective of vacancies or performance and retire only
at 62. All other scientists are on a government scale and
as a result, there’s a scramble by those working in laborato-
ries of the science and technology department to get into ARS.
Says the director of a research institute: “It is a secure job
with great pay. In nine years ARS recruits become senior
scientists and in 15 years principal scientists. After this, there is
nothing to stop them from just sitting pretty. Increments will
continue regularly.”

October 16-31, 2013 • Down To Earth 37


Whimsical moves
OF the many odd decisions taken by ICAR chiefs that al repository. NBAIM’s mandate is to act as “the nodal
reveal the unscientific tendencies of its bosses one relates institute at national level for acquisition and manage-
to the National Bureau of Agriculturally Important ment of indigenous and exotic microbial genetic
Microorganisms (NBAIM). It is a story that senior scientists resources for food and agriculture, and to carry out relat-
recount with sardonic humour. ed research and human resource development, for sus-
NBAIM was set up in 2001 at an estimated cost of `5.33 tainable growth of agriculture”.
crore by the Department of Agricultural Research and The location would not have mattered too much but
Education (DARE) under the Ministry of Agriculture in the for one crucial factor. There is no power in this particular
Ninth Five Year Plan. The basic goal of the bureau is to backwoods of Uttar Pradesh. The bureau requires high
promote and coordinate systematic research on microor- quality power to maintain its culture collection: at minus
ganisms that would improve agricultur- 80 degrees centigrade for long-term
al productivity. preservation, and at 4 degrees C for
It started functioning on the old short-term storage. So NBAIM runs on
premises of the National Bureau of huge generators to conserve its rare
Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in the collection and its power bill is whop-
Pusa complex, Delhi, and was all set to ping. Scientists here say that the use of
expand its infrastructure when the generators would in all probability be
then director general of ICAR decided ruining much of the equipment at the
to shift it to a location that its staff had repository which preserves and con-
a tough time locating on the map: Mau serves the microbial diversity of the
Nath Bhanjan in Uttar Pradesh. It country. The collection has a wide
appears that the then DG was from diversity of fungi, including more than
those parts. Accordingly, in 2004, 700 species belonging to 250 genera
NBAIM was relocated in a building apart from bacterial collection of more
vacated by the National Institute of Sugarcane and Sugar than 100 species belonging to 35 genera.
Technology (NISST) at Kushmaur village, which is 12 km The irony is that given the operational constraints,
from the town and devoid of public transport. The only NBAIM may be forced to return to Delhi. In September
way to reach NBAIM is through hired taxis. Mau Nath last year, a regional meeting of ICAR held in Patna decid-
Bhanjan itself is about 120 km from Varanasi. ed to send a duplicate set of the microbial cultures to be
In this remote fastness two dozen scientists and tech- maintained at NBPGR so that collection remained safe.
nical staff have put together a microbial collection that Right now there is a vigilance inquiry over corruption
the Biodiversity Authority of India recognises as a nation- charges at the bureau.

Many scientists complain that corruption is rampant in capability. “This flexibility could make you corrupt. Why
the system and that many heads of laboratories are facing vig- should we encourage this?” Datta asks.
ilance investigations. But this is a problem that cuts both ways. But there are other kinds of corruption, the most common
Sometimes, scientists are penalised on seemingly flimsy stems from tendering for equipment. This stems from the way
grounds, such as travelling abroad without the necessary funds are released in ICAR. Says a scientist who has observed
permissions. the system for a couple of decades: “The bulk of funds are
Datta of ICAR has another take on this. He says, “Our trust spent in February-March, the fag end of the financial year, so
system is weak.” There is too much paper work and too many open tenders are called for urgently and a purchase committee
bureaucratic processes, says the scientist who worked is set up. Three quotations are sought not necessarily from dif-
abroad for 20 years. “In Switzerland, I would just email my ferent suppliers; it could be from just one.”
boss and get his go-ahead to go on a trip. That allows you to According to him it is a lovely racket since most of it is on
spend all your time on research and work. Here scientists technical material and there is no one to question it. On the
spend so much time getting clearances and orders from differ- other hand, scientists complain that the system is fixed and
ent ministries.” one is forced to accept the lowest quotation no matter how
He rues the absence of a robust system that allows scien- inferior the quality of equipment and how seriously it could
tists to work according to strict principles and regulations. In impair research. “We worry all the time about vigilance
Switzerland, for example, everybody retires at 60 and nobody inquiries, RTI queries and departmental probes,” says Datta.
gets extension. But in India, even in their 70s scientists hold on Little wonder that so little science gets done in the
to office irrespective of their physical fitness, competence and system. ■

38 Down To Earth • October 16-31, 2013