Former Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has expressed concern over the large number of vacancies in top leadership positions at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the 100-plus institutes under the country’s premier farm research organisation having an annual budget of nearly Rs 8,000 crore.
Currently, out of ICAR’s 103 research institutes, “nearly 63 are without a regular director for the last 2-4 years,” the Nationalist Congress Party chief has written in a recent letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These include the over 100-year old Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at New Delhi, “famously known as Pusa Institute” and a “pioneer in making this country self-sufficient in food”. Unfortunately, “there is no regular director appointed in this institute for the last 4 years,” Pawar, who was agriculture minister during the previous Congress-led UPA regime during 2004-14, has said.
A similar situation exists in another “premier” institution, the National Dairy Research Institution at Karnal, Haryana. Even at the ICAR headquarters, the posts of full-time deputy director-generals in charge of the crop science, animal science and agricultural engineering divisions “have been vacant for the last 3 years”. Besides, there are some 350 research manager positions, of which “55 per cent…are vacant”.
According to Pawar, all this has been happening because of the “dismantling” of the “very organisation which recruits scientists and science managers”. The Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board (ASRB) is itself without a full-time chairman now. Moreover, “the ASRB rules have been tweaked to allow a senior IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer to be also considered for post of chairman”. This is the first time in 45 years of ASRB’s existence that “the top job has been opened for bureaucrats in spite of serious resentment from the scientific community, students and elite retired scientists of the country,” he has alleged.
Pawar has questioned the tweaking of the ASRB rules, when the ICAR’s own governing board had “rejected this kind of reform in the name of reorganisation”. Besides, putting the recruitment body under the agriculture ministry gives a “wrong signal that it would be easy for politicians to handle a career bureaucrat than a scientist-bureaucrat”, he has said. The process of selecting scientists should be “purely on merit” and the ASRB must be made an “independent body” like the UPSC, he has added.
While welcoming the government’s move to sanction new IARIs in Assam and Jharkhand, Pawar has, however, urged that “let us not neglect the established ones”. Institutions such as Pusa Institute are “like Cambridge and Oxford for us”, the letter, requesting the Prime Minister’s “personal attention to the current apathy towards agricultural research in the country”, has added.