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.
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.