DINESH C SHARMA
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is normally used in a lighter vein to refer to politicians who shoot from their mouth. But for a veterinary scientist-turned-whistle-blower, FMD is not a matter of joke.
He is being harassed for blowing the whistle on a massive scam relating to supply of substandard FMD vaccines throughout the country by unscrupulous manufactures. Not just this, he has been slapped with a Rs 102 crore defamation suit by one of them – Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL).
What is worse is both the vaccine manufacturer as well as the whistle-blower work under the same government entity - Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying. IIL is an establishment of the National Dairy Development Board and the whistle-blower worked in the National Institute of Animal Health, Baghpat, where he found the FMD vaccines to be of sub-standard quality.
The defamation suit, therefore, clearly shows that the government department of dairying is punishing the whistle-blower using IIL, instead of protecting him.
This is not the first time that whistleblower scientist, BR Singh, is being targeted. Every time he smelt a rat in farm research stations where he worked and tried to bring it to the notice of the parent department in the ministry of agriculture, he was punished.
In the span of past ten years, he has been shunted to research centres literally all over the country – Hisar, Bikaner, Port Blair, Jharnapani (Nagaland), Baghpat and Izatnagar. It is rare for a scientist to be shunted from one lab to another like this.
The FMD case is serious as it involves health of millions of cattle, who are vaccinated at government cost, and vaccine failures have led to disease outbreaks in the past two years killing thousands of cattle.
The test reports, which are in public domain, show that the samples tested in September-October 2014 had failed quality criteria on several counts. Despite this another government lab in Bangalore, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, gave a go ahead to defaulting companies.
FMD is not the only case where a whistle-blower has been punished. Large scale corruption in National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Mohali, was exposed by a whistle-blower scientist in 2008, but the parent government body – Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) turned a blind eye, and got the scientist terminated from the institute. Now the very same charges have been mentioned in an FIR filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In another case, scientist who exposed filing of fake patent applications and missing samples of genetically modified (GM) crops in the Indian Agriculture Research Institute was punished, while those facing the charges have been promoted to higher posts.
This is a widespread malaise in Indian research institutions which is rarely talked about. We need to evolve a system where people can file complaints and they are investigated without any harm being done to complainants.
Such a system needs to be independent otherwise parent ministries tend to bury them, as evident in the case of FMD vaccines and NIPER.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)