Friday, March 23, 2007

Gajendragadkar Report on ICAR, 1972: Chapter 2



We (the committee) would like to begin by recalling the statement on scientific policy of the Government announced in Parliament by Jawaharlal Nehru 15 years ago:

"Science has developed at an ever-increasing pace since the beginning of the century, so that the gap between the advanced and backward countries has widened more and more. It is only by adopting the most vigorous measures and by putting forward our utmost effort into the development of science that we can bridge the gap. It is inherent obligation of a great country like India, with its traditions of scholarship and original thinking and its great cultural heritage, to participate fully in the march of science which is probably mankind's greatest enterprise today."

And the statement continues:

"The Government of India have accordingly decided that the aims of their scientific policy will be:

(i) to foster, promote, and sustain, by all appropriate means, the cultivation of science, and scientific research in all its aspects—pure, applied, and educational;

(ii) to ensure an adequate supply, within the country of research scientists of the highest quality, and to recognise their work as an important component of the strength of the nation;

(iii) to encourage, and initiate, with all possible speed, programmes for the training of scientific and technical personnel, on a scale adequate to fulfil the country's needs in science and education, agriculture and industry, and defence;

(iv) to ensure that the creative talent of men and women is dissemination of knowledge, and for the discovery of new knowledge, in an atmosphere of academic freedom;

(v) to encourage individual initiative for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, and for the discovery of new knowledge, in an atmosphere of academic freedom;

(vi) and, in general, to secure for the people of the country all the benefits that can accrue from the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge.

The Government of India have decided to pursue and accomplish these aims by offering good conditions of service to scientists and according them an honoured position, by associating scientists with the formulation of policies, and by taking such other measures, as may be deemed necessary from time to time."

This is an inspiring statement, as relevant today as when it was enunciated. It emphasises the far-reaching value of scientific research for national development, the import­ance of a proper atmosphere conducive to research and application of research results and the need to ensure "good conditions of service to scientists". We have generally kept in mind the policy underlying the statement in formulating our proposals and recommendations.

Note : That the avowed love of science expressed clearly by Jawaharlal Nehru and continued to be lip-serviced by subsequent Prime Ministers never found fruition in our country, much less at IARI may be evident from the statements quoted below:

"There is a class of people who, perhaps instead of doing anything for science, are only telling others what to do. There­fore, the real scientist, the working scientist, finds himself in an extremely difficult position or in a neglected position. The class of people telling others what to do has become so important and some of them are so near the decision-making level, that it creates a situation-wherein the real scientist finds it difficult to function in the way he wants to. As a result some of the senior-most professors, directors and others feel a sense of humiliation and it is this which to a great extent is responsible for the frustration." (Dr. Atma Ram in Whither Indian Science, 1973)

"And recently, in July 1971, an attempt was made by some IARI scientists to question the truthfulness of certain image-building claims—a basic right of all scientists. But this hardly raised a ripple as it was quickly mowed down by the unabashed use of power and the carrot.

"The incident is worth a recall. The IARI Branch of the Association of Scientific Workers of India brought out a bulletin called Young Scientist in July 1971. (The issue was dated June 1971 and was the first and the last.) In an open challenge "Agricultural Research: Claims versus Realities"—the following points were made: (i) Scientific claims should be discussed in scientific journals and forums, and not over publicity media; (ii) Some of the claims of success made by the IARI were tenuous. For example, it was claimed, Opaque II, a new maize discovery, had a high protein content. The article said Opaque II was not an IARI discovery, nor was its protein content beyond doubt-(iii) Many of the new rice strains released in the country were not the best of the available lot, but had been released to humour the "prestige" of certain people at the top, e.g. the Shar-bati variety; (iv) IARI scientists claimed to have 'discovered' Sharbati Sonora, a mutant wheat variety, whose protein and lysine contents were said to be many times that of the normal variety. But the report of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico (CIM-MTT News, July-Aug. 1969) ques­tioned the validity of this claim.

"The article was unsigned. Soon the IARI clamped down on the Association with full administrative pressure. Official memos were addressed to each member of the journal's edi­torial board in the form of a printed declaration to be filled in by him stating whether he was/was not responsible for the authorship of the said article. Most backed out and the protest as well as Toung Scientist floundered." (Dr. Bhattacharya, K. R.: Science Today, July 1972).

On finding that "the general nature of the complaints made by Dr. Shah is justified," as also the fact that "too much power has been centered in the hands of Director-General," the I.C.A.R. Enquiry Committee recommended that the I.C.A.R. be made less autonomous (and more answerable). The Government predictably responded—by endowing the I.C.A.R. with more powers and autonomy. (See The Times of India, 2nd Nov., 1973).

Having thus described generally what we regard should be the essentia] features of the atmosphere on the campus of the Institute and the Centre where agricultural education is imparted and agricultural research is condu­cted, let us briefly indicate the reality of the situation which has come to our notice as a result of our inspection on the spot and as a result of our inquiry in which both oral and written evidence has been produced before us. Our visjts to the campus of the IARI and some of the Centres have created an impression in our mind that everything is not well on the campus of the IARI and the Centres which we visited. At the IARI, some of us met cross-sections of scientists, junior, midsenior and senior, and we found to our regret that, in the mind of most of them, there was a sense of disappointment, dissatisfaction, frustration and even fear. Some of them in fact told us that they would prefer to avoid sending answers to the Questionnaire supplied to them, because they were afraid that, if the answers which they gave came to the knowl­edge of the higher authorities, they might be victimised. As we have mentioned earlier, it was a result of the impres­sion thus formed by us that we moved the Food & Agri­culture Minister to issue a circular giving an assurance to all the scientists that they were free to express their views in their answers to the Questionnaire.

It is not unlikely that the disappointment, frustration, anger and fear, which we noticed on our visits to the campus of the IARI, may not all be justified in every case. IARI has expanded very fast during the last five years and, with the fast expansion, opportunities of improvement of the scientists' prospects have naturally increased. It is plain that, when opportunities for improvement increase with unexpected rapidity as a result of the large number of opportunities, the number of persons who are chosen at every interview. would always be small, and the number of disappointed persons would be large. The fact that anger and frustration were expressed by many persons to whom we talked might be the result of such disappoint­ment, has to be borne in mind in assessing the true position in regard to the administration of the IARI. But the general impression which we formed was that lack of satisfaction was expressed even by persons who had been selected for better posts and who had no ostensible cause to be dissatisfied with the method of recruitment or promotion which at present prevails in the Institutes subordinate to the IGAR.

Another feature about the administration of these Institutes which has come to our notice, both as a result of the oral and documentary evidence, is that the admini­stration has created an unduly large and in our opinion unnecessary hierarchy of officers and this hierarchy has naturally introduced an atmosphere which is not condu­cive to a sense of fraternity amongst the scientists who work on the campus. There is a head of a section or a division; then you have the Director of the Institute; and, at the Central Office, you have several Assistant Directors-General, then there are Deputy Directors-General, and at the apex of the organisation stands the Director-General. As a result of the constitution of the ICAR as a Society, it appears that under the relevant provisions of the Societies Act or by delegation from the President, too much power has been centered in the hands of Director-General and that, academically, is not desirable or sound.

It has been a general complaint before us that, whereas research is carried on by research assistants and the junior scientists when the stage of publishing the results of such research is reached, it has been almost a recognised convention that the name of the head of the division has to be shown along with the actual researcher as being responsible for the result. Some young scientists bitterly complained that their research papers were not published, because they did not want the names of the head to be associated with the publication. We are free to confess that we have not attempted to verify every one of these complaints; that would have involved a much more comprehensive inquiry and, even then, it might have been difficult to find the truth. But one senior scien­tist (Witness No. 32) told us that any one who compares the number of publications to the credit of a scientist before he is appointed the head, with the number of publications to his credit after he becomes the head, it would clearly appear that the complaint made by junior scientists cannot be dismissed as without any substance.

IARI has grown to such an extent that the Director may find it physically impossible to supervise the operations carried on in different divisions and to see that nothing happens in the working on the campus which gives a just cause for dissatisfaction to the younger scientists. The exi­stence of a permanent hierarchical structure, in our opinion is one of the major causes for the unfortunate atmosphere which pervades the campus of the IARI, and other Insti­tutes. That is why we propose to recommend that all posi­tions of power, for which there is scramble amongst scien­tists because they enjoy administrative prestige, should be made tenure posts. Fortunately, on this issue, as we will later point out, there has been a fair amount of agreement amongst the scientists who appeared before us.

We wish, however, to make it clear that, in making this proposal, we are not casting any aspersions on any individual in the ICAR administration; but all the same we cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that the present position in the ICAR is unsatisfactory and calls for a radical remedy.

NOTE : Remedy, radical or not-so-radical, is yet to be found and administered, by the Government, to sick science. "The suicide note had indicated the apathy in IARI's administration; in effect, it spelt the virus that infects the whole of Indian science today. Diagnosis will be a hard task, cure may be harder still." (Bhattachrya, loc-cit.). The subsequent measures by the Govern­ment, vis-a-vis the Committee's report and the IARI, make it amply clear that the Government has chosen to pamper the virus rather than mitigate or cure the viral infection.

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