10 committees and 30 years on, nobody knows
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar) is the world's largest agricultural research system, but the government does not know what to do with it. In the last 30 years, 10 committees (including sub-committees, working groups and task forces) have meandered through its faults, proferring correctives. The most recent one has raised a storm in the agricultural research fraternity. Headed by R A Mashelkar, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (csir), the committee has submitted a report on re-structuring icar. The report has found icar a poor organisation in terms of research, publication excellence and fellows in the Indian National Science Academy. Based on the science citation index (paper presentation), icar scientists have presented 327 papers in 2004, with impact factor per paper at 1.071 -- a poor show compared to csir, which has presented 2668 papers with impact factor per paper at 1.899. Even institutions like the iits and department of atomic energy are ahead, with 1,829 and 687 papers in 2004. This has been a continuous trend since 1995, informs the committee.
Equally interesting is how the process of 'recommending' changes to 'restructure' icar has taken on a bureaucratic life of its own. Each committee makes suggestions; the next one junks it, replacing them with its own suggestions. The 1972 Gajendra Gadkar committee found there wasn't enough linkage between icar and m o a, and asked for dare to be established. Then came the 1988 G V K Rao; it found the link not complete enough and so suggested the functions of all icar institutions be controlled by a set of deputy director generals with the help of assistant director generals. The present Mashelkar committee has found this system unnecessary; it suggests removal of all such positions and instead suggests a direct link between the director general and the directors of the respective institutions.
Complaints about icar an its functioning are legion. In 2002, a working group on agricultural research and education for the tenth five-year plan was set up. Chaired by S K Sinha, former director, Indian Agriculture Reasearch Institute, New Delhi, this 'working group' found state agricultural universities good for nothing, and suggested an alternative based on the us department of agriculture (usda) system, where there is no agriculture university but only usda centres at usual universities, thereby cutting costs to a great extent. But this is shortsighted thinking; it amounts to dismantling a research infrastructure, opening the doors for industry to come in.
Most of the recommendations of various committees, except those of the Gajendra Gadkar committee and G V K Rao committee, have not been implemented; they were found lopsided. The Mashelkar committee, too, seems to be out of favour. Union minister for agriculture Sharad Pawar has started scouting for a new committee comprising of members from inside icar and agricultural faculty to come up with answers to: what's really wrong with icar. Now, is this a trick question?
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