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ASRB Chaired by the IAS?

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The agricultural science fraternity, including students, faculty, and scientists, observed a “Black Day” on 20 December 2018 against the decision of the central government to make Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers eligible for the position of chairperson of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board (ASRB). The ASRB plays a key role in the recruitment of scientists across the 102 Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions spread throughout India. It is the sole authority for recruiting and promoting all the scientists in ICAR system, which is comprised by about 5,000 scientists and about 150 research management positions.

The ICAR scientists are known for their scientific temper and contributions to the scientific progress of the country in terms of the number of technologies developed, and the number of crop varieties developed and diffused to the remotest parts of the country. They are indirectly involved in the strengthening of 60 state agricultural universities promoted by state governments, by conducting basic research like the development of the genetic base, maintaining biodiversity, maintaining state-of-the-art biotechnological labs, etc. The research outputs of this basic research were, in turn, used by the state agricultural universities for developing location-specific technologies and crop varieties suited to local conditions.

Over the years, the contributions of ICAR scientists have been commendable. Under the scientific leadership of the scientists of ICAR, India moved away from the hand-to-mouth situation that prevailed in the 1960s, when the Government of India imported low-priced foodgrains from the United States under the PL-480 scheme to feed the Indian population starved for food. Under the leadership of the ICAR, the government pushed agricultural research to make India self-sufficient in food ever since the 1960s. Agricultural production and productivity, especially those of rice and wheat, increased significantly within a short period. Subsequently, by 1972, India stopped importing PL-480 after it had a bumper rabi crop in the spring of 1972. After seeing through its first success in the early 1970s, with rice and wheat, the ICAR
expanded its research to include other crops and livestock. A range of technologies and varieties were developed for different agricultural commodities and also for livestock and fisheries. Most of these advances were widely adopted by the farmers, and this resulted in increased production. For example, foodgrain production jumped by four times, from 74 million tonnes in 1969 to 284 million tonnes in 2017. Similarly, egg production increased from 5.3 billion eggs to 88.2 billion eggs, an increase by 17 times, during the same period. India moved from being a major importer of foodgrains in the 1960s to being a major exporter, and is now a leading exporter globally of rice, sugar, oil cake, spices, meat, and fish.

The Indian agricultural research system under the leadership of the ICAR has been successful in the development of technologies and their diffusion in every sphere of the agricultural and allied sectors. Now, we have a problem of plenty in most of the commodities, as indicated by the recent agitations of the farmers who cultivate chillies, tomatoes, pulses, and onions, where they were mainly complaining about the lower prices. This is a failure of the agricultural price policy. However, no system is 100% perfect. The ICAR needs to strengthen its administrative capabilities, simplify administration procedures, and reduce delay in decision-making, giving more autonomy to the scientists as well as the directors of the 102 research institutions under the ICAR. This will enable these institutions to run more efficiently and adapt to the changing demands. There is also need for a flexible operational environment for scientific collaboration among scientists within India and abroad. The smallest of issues can get caught in administrative and bureaucratic tangles at the ICAR. This becomes quite time-consuming and hinders innovative thinking. It is time to be more autonomous, and, at the same, scientists need to be accountable for their output by applying stringent output indicators, rather than insisting on procedural formalities.

The solution lies in identifying and nurturing those among the 5,000 scientists who have a broader understanding about agriculture for leading each of the 102 ICAR institutions. Attracting talent from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) or other sister scientific organisations in India and abroad also needs to be a top priority, so that new practices, methods and ideas can be brought by them into the ICAR system for its betterment with additional scientific temper, instead of appointing IAS officers in key positions. Making the ICAR system more open and loosening bureaucratic procedures are the solutions that can make the ICAR system more responsive to the current changing needs, rather than further bureaucratising the system by appointing an IAS officer as the
chairperson of the ASRB.

Until now, recruitments to the ASRB saw little political influence in the appointment of scientists; most of the appointments are done in a very transparent manner. The ASRB is a great destination for those students at the entry level, that is, the senior research fellow/scientist level, as the recruitment process is known for its transparency and is conducted without any bias.

The crème de la crème of the post-graduates in agricultural sciences would opt to join the ICAR system as scientists. In the last several decades, this trend has been continuing. Nurturing, training, and building scientific temper among these new recruits is a gigantic task, which can only be achieved by a system where scientists get full recognition and are free from the tangles of bureaucracy. Scientific institutions having some of the best brains of India need to be nurtured so that they may flourish with innovative ideas and free thoughts.

A Amarender Reddy

Hyderabad

Updated On : 29th Dec, 2018

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