Top farm institute headless, country’s best ‘not suitable’

IARI’s last director H S Gupta retired on August 7 last year, after being on extension following the completion of his five-year term on March 31.

Written by Harish Damodaran | Bhubaneswar | Published:March 19, 2015 3:37 am
ASRB had advertised for the director’s position on June 14. But the interviews happened only on February 11 — after being scheduled and cancelled thrice. ASRB had advertised for the director’s position on June 14. But the interviews happened only on February 11 — after being scheduled and cancelled thrice.

For more than seven months, the country’s premier farm research institute has not had a full-time director, with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) claiming that none of the interviewed candidates were “suitable for the post in question”.

This, despite three of those interviewed for the Indian Agricultural Research Institute’s (IARI) top position — K V Prabhu, Nagendra Kumar Singh and K C Bansal — being the recipients of the ICAR’s most prestigious Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for outstanding research in agricultural sciences.

Prabhu, joint director of research at IARI, had also led the team that bred HD-2967, a wheat variety grown in a record-breaking eight million hectares this year. Besides, he is the chief breeder of the recently released high-yielding wheat HD-3086, for which IARI has signed up with 114 private companies to multiply and produce seeds to be planted in the coming 2015-16 rabi season.

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Singh is well-known for having been the lead scientist from India in international consortium projects for sequencing rice and tomato genomes. His work on sequencing “chromosome 11” in the former and “chromosome 5” in the latter was even published in the acclaimed scientific journal, Nature. Singh, currently national professor at the ICAR’s National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB), has also been the main person behind sequencing of the pigeon-pea genome — the first such effort in any legume crop.

Bansal heads the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the world’s third largest gene bank with nearly 400,000 germplasm accessions of over 3,000 crops. In 2013, his institute entered the Limca Book of Records for undertaking the largest ever characterisation and evaluation of wheat germplasm, covering almost 22,000 varieties, the previous year.

“How can scientists of such eminence not be found suitable to head an institution responsible for India’s Green Revolution? Also, assuming that the post is re-advertised, are they eligible to apply again after being declared unsuitable?” an IARI scientist who did not wish to be identified said.

Besides the three, the former NRCPB director P Ananda Kumar, vice-chancellor of the Rajendra Central Agricultural University (Bihar) R K Mittal, ICAR assistant director-general M B Chetti, and former Jobner Agriculture University (Rajasthan) vice-chancellor N S Rathore were also interviewed.

“We conducted the interview on February 11. None of the candidates were found suitable for the post in question. The decision was taken totally on merit,” said S K Gupta, the counsel for ICAR.

Gurbachan Singh, chairman of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board (ASRB), which is responsible for selection of positions at ICAR institutes, said that the interview panel comprised nine “very high-quality people” and it was a “unanimous consensus decision”.

The panel included, apart from the ASRB chairman and two members, the ICAR director-general S Ayyappan, former deputy DGs J S Samra and P L Gautam, former DG of Indian Council of Medical Research V M Katoch, and DG of India Meteorological Department L S Rathore.

Asked if the ASRB would re-advertise the post, Singh told The Indian Express, “We will do so as soon the requisition comes from the ICAR.”

IARI’s last director H S Gupta retired on August 7 last year, after being on extension following the completion of his five-year term on March 31. The ASRB had advertised for the director’s position on June 14. But the interviews happened only on February 11 — after being scheduled and cancelled thrice.

Last week, speaking to The Indian Express, the eminent agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan had expressed concern over the delay in appointment of a full-time director. “IARI is too precious and important an institution. It requires dynamic leadership and I hope they choose the right person to fill up the post soon,” he had said.

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  1. B
    babloo pandit
    Mar 19, 2015 at 9:40 pm
    it is not IARI but ICAR which needs a better leadership, under current leadership, there have been so many cases of NFS being declared, People with not the best research credentials have become directors and joint directors one example is that of K C Bansal, there are so many articles about him where it is alleged that he had misrepresented facts to get Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award (india today article), this guy was made a director and custodian of india gene banks, The common feeling among scientists is that it is only proximity to DG and other high ranking officials which can get you a posting in ICAR. Merit is not considered at all, people who live in hope that merit should and would be rewarded are actually living in fools paradise. with the current dispensation at the top meritorious people should not even apply. ICAR could not even find any Indian who has contributed enough to society to confer an honorary doctoral degree from IARI they had to import people from FAO to give that honor to. It again shows level of sycofancy as it is well known that top officials in ICAR often look for post retirement jobs in intermational Agencies, pleasing top bosses in FAO is not a bad way to pave a path towards that goal
    Reply
    1. G
      Gautam Bhattacharya
      Mar 19, 2015 at 11:10 am
      How does being a plant breeder translate into for the head of IARI? Swaminathan himself contributed to the destruction of Indian plant science academic cadres, along with David N. Sen and a w clique of his buddies. Few have wreaked such immeasurable harm as Swaminathan. I am happy to have a public debate with about about his ignorance, wickedness and absolute absence of qualifications to speak to any issue regarding the needs of India's food security and her research problems. We are completely depauperate in the MINIMUM academic skills required for a country faced with as severe an agricultural crisis as we do. I do not if Shri Modi and his Cabinet understand in depth how critical it is and how the Defence sector and the buildup in the Northern areas are liable to pull down the entire economy with their secondary and tertiary logistics ociated with supplies. These are issues that the IARI Director must understand in depth, with a penetrating insight into the role of thermodynamics in our food production systems, cropping systems, cropping policies, distortions in our agricultural systems, a keen understanding of the meaning of EFFICIENCY and Efficiencies, what "system" and "the environment" means in thermodynamic terms. Our country is breaking down with respect to input costs, embedded costs of fuel/energy etc. and misplaced ideas of what are appropriate crops for appropriate environments. We cannot have technicians who fail to distinguish "productivity" from " yield" hold sway at IARI and at ICAR, just as we cannot have Ignorant, clownish, hooligan Federal Agricultural Ministers who are more concerned about Cricket and Goondaism than Agriculture. For a 10th rate goonda raj, that is appropriate, but no if we have to compete against the neighbors we have. Shri Modi seems very, VERY blind to reality; he waves a magic wand, and all problems are solved. I predict he will become a total failure because he cannot focus on one thing and get it done and agriculture escapes his vision. I would like him to succeed very much but he is blind to reality that is the core of our motherland. Like Vajpayee, he too will fail on this one crucial point and fail in spite of all his earlier promise. He must teach himslef to understand what the issues surronidng agriculture are. The answers will not come from his Indian chamchas and they WILL come from those who will not kowtow to him an who are his equal and better in intellect, pride, dignity and insights AND DEVOTION TO MOTHERLAND. Unless he can digest this, he will FAIL. Namaskar.
      Reply
    2. D
      Devakumar Jain
      Mar 19, 2015 at 6:32 pm
      Now that IARI getting cloned and spreading its wings to am and Jharkhand, it is high time, it is declared as an insution of national importance by an Act of Parliament. This is an unfinished agenda left high and dry by Dr MS Swaminathan since 1973.
      Reply
      1. J
        Jitendra
        Mar 19, 2015 at 8:51 am
        Well done Mr. Chairman.
        Reply
      2. M
        Mohan
        Mar 19, 2015 at 9:34 am
        Being the best brain in agricultural research doesn't mean he is the best to head an insution of this type where administrative capabilities may hold the sway. We have this bad habit of killing the best researchers by appointing them to these so called "top" posts. We should ensure that scientists are recognised and rewarded suitably by giving them more opportunity in their chosen field of research.
        Reply
        1. T
          T
          Mar 20, 2015 at 7:26 am
          The history of IARI's travails goes even further back. It may be recalled that IARI was directly under the government till 1966 when the ICAR, which was not (and is NOT) a government dept or a statutory body was allowed to take over all several Insutions under the Agriculture Ministry. The then Minister of Agriculture, Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, promkised in the Parliament that the employees under these insutions will retain their status as government servants. However this was an empty promise, and the employees lost their government status and the attendant rights and legal protection, and became employees of a private society with their service conditions becoming a "Master and Servant" relationship, with no recourse to redress of grievances through legal remedies like Writs in higher courts. The situation was less arduous only in 1983 when the Supreme Court, delivering a judgment in a group of Writ and Special Leave Peions, declared ICAR to be a "State", amenable to the Writ jurisdiction. The year 1973 mentioned by Dr Devakumar Jain has probably relevance also to the recommendations of the ICAR Inquiry Committee (Gajendragadkar Committee) that ICAR be made into a government department. The government's response to this recommendation was to create a Department of Agricultural Research & Education (DARE), and putting the DG ICAR as its Secretary. This was a clever move, because ICAR continued (and continues) to be a Society and is NOT the same as DARE. The scientists do not have the status of government officials, and have no rights or privileges of either government employees or university employees. IOW, their status is inferior even to those in State Agricultural Universities (SAU). Even the SAUs (and IARI and other Universities under ICAR) are being controlled by ICAR, and NOT BY UGC as required by the law of the land.
          Reply
          1. T
            T
            Mar 19, 2015 at 5:57 pm
            I have seen IARI's working from inside and outside as a scientist. The Director's job is 95 percent administrative. Research and guidance of research is a minuscule part of the job. The IARI administration has always been extremely weak, and has been of very little help to scientists. It is actually the working (middle rank) scientists who do almost all the administrative work needed for conduct of science, such as procurement/ purchase of materials, clearance of imported items through Customs, arranging for electric connections and water, and even typing of letters. and When a Director fails in administration, (s)he takes the excuse that (s)he is a scientist, and the administrative staff did not give him proper advice; and (s)he also fails in science, and defends himself or herself saying (s)he was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of administrative work, and had no time for doing science.. I sincerely suggest that an able administrator, e.g., an experienced IAS or IA&AS officer should be appointed as Director of IARI, and similarly other insutes under ICAR and DG ICAR -- who is also full-fledged Secretary to Govt of India, Department of Agricultural Research & Education.
            Reply
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