Weak on content

Structural deficiencies punctuate report on streamlining ICAR

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: EMKAY)the Hemendra Kumar committee was set up in August 2002 by Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh to restore the Indian Council of Agricultural Research's (icar) lost "sense of purpose". Unfortunately, the recent report submitted by the six-member panel appears to be anything but a roadmap for course correction. The document on restructuring icar has come in for severe criticism for the "bloomers" it contains and cosmetic changes it has recommended. The panel comprised of three bureaucrats, two technocrat and a management expert.

The steps suggested by the committee include the creation of five new regional offices necessitating the transfer of several technocrats at various levels, limiting the number of deputy directors general (ddgs) in the headquarters to four and induction of more administrative officers into the institution.

A noted agricultural scientist sounds a sceptical note: "I do not understand the purpose of constituting such a committee. If the idea is to rejuvenate the Indian agricultural research system, its recommendations lack any such direction. If it is to cut the flab in the system, it will end up achieving just the opposite." The panel calls for a merger of the finance and administration cadres in the icar . It also wants the non-scientific staff to be considered for foreign assignments with international organisations to make them "feel a part of it".

The report recommends that subject matter divisions such as crop science, animal science, agricultural extension, agricultural engineering, fisheries, "natural research (sic) management", horticulture and education should be revamped. In fact, it suggests that the number of categories should be brought down to four -- plant sciences, life sciences, human resources, and strategy and planning. The document states: "At least five ddg s could be transferred to five geographical regions, making them in charge of research activities in the respective areas. A battery of assistant directors general and support staff too could be moved to these locations."

Scientists, however, challenge the very idea of restricting subject matter divisions to broad segments like plant sciences and life sciences. "When everyone else is moving towards inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary subjects, we are going backwards," says Upendra Kumar Trivedi, a former department of science and technology official. The very categorisation has astounded experts, in that it conveys the impression that plants are non-living organisms.

icar , which employs 30,000 scientists, is the second largest national agricultural organisation in the world after China. "But this huge scientific agency -- with 90-odd big and small national research institutions -- has done nothing worthwhile in the last two decades," observes Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert and activist. According to Yashpal Abrol, a former Indian Agricultural Research Institute (iari) scientist, icar is hamstrung by its "typical government department" mindset.

Sharma is pessimistic about icar' s future, which once contributed immensely to improving foodgrain production in the country: "Who wants icar now? It lags behind even farmers by at least 20 years, what to talk of the private agriculture-based industry."

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