Root rot

In India's agricultural research

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

agricultural research in India could soon run aground. Says Mangala Rai, director general, Indian Council Of Agricultural Research (icar), "Due to restriction on creating new posts and filling vacancies, there is an acute shortage of manpower in the national agricultural research system (nars)." Concurs a January 2005 report of a high-level task group -- headed by M S Swaminathan -- on revamping and refocusing nars , and submitted to the planning commission: it points to a serious crisis, with nearly 1,000 scientific and technical posts abolished in recent years.

"The drastic slow-down in the entry of younger brains calls for serious concern," says C D Mayee, chairperson, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board (asrb). "The present dearth dates back to 2000-01 when icar 's Department of Personnel & Training recommended an immediate freeze on the recruitment of per central government guidelines," informs a senior icar official. According to figures Rai provided, India only has 119 agricultural scientists per million of population, as against usa's 4,103, Japan's 4960 or China's 459. Expenditure per scientist here is us$17,500; usa spends us$213,000 while Japan doles out us $203,000. These are symptoms, Rai concludes, of serious neglect in creating an agricultural intelligentsia. Another impact of the freeze is the increasing average age of agricultural scientists. A study undertaken by D Jha of icar on agricultural-scientific manpower in India reveals the average age of icar scientists is 45 years, and 43 per cent are older. This could squeeze creativity as well as hamper innovations.

India is gearing up to double its foodgrain and horticulture production; a dearth of scientific humanpower could jeopardise the mission. Says Rai, "Corresponding to the increase in the number of icar institutes from 23 in 1973-74 to 96 at present, there has been a decrease of scientific forces, which could make our global competitiveness and upstream research vulnerable." To prevent this, Mayee suggests annual fixed direct recruitment, on the lines of the Indian administrative service. The Swaminathan committee report suggests restoring asrb to the rank of upsc. A special northeast cadre should be created with an initial strength of 300 to fill the exceptional vacuum in that region.

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