By Tripta Ahuja:
The National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) were established in 1998 under the NIPER Act. The vision then, was that they would support the pharmaceutical industry, which has been on the edge of radical transformation in the last few years. As a result, these institutes were accorded the prestigious distinction of being of national importance. One would assume then that by virtue of including the word ‘importance’ in their accorded distinction, these institutes would be national priority and that every effort would be made to ensure their development and growth.
Unfortunately, their fate today has been conveniently ignored amidst the slew of educational institute announcements that are made every year. In 2007, six NIPERS were sanctioned at Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Hijapur, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Raebareli. A review of their progress in the last eight years, shows the rather step motherly treatment that has been meted out to these institutions. Out of the six sanctioned NIPERs in 2007, construction of only one NIPER located at Guwahati has commenced since. In the case of NIPER Raebareli, Hijapur, and Kolkata, land has not even been allotted. Eight years since the official announcements, their files keep moving back and forth between State Government and Central Government, with the result that each of these institutes is yet to see it’s own building.
Over 90 percent of the teaching staff in the newer NIPERs is on contractual basis. In NIPER Guwahati, there are two Assistant Professors and 13 contractual faculty members. In NIPER Hijapur, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Raebareli, there is no permanent faculty. On the other hand, one of the older NIPERs, NIPER Mohali, has more than half the teaching posts vacant. Out of 18 posts sanctioned for the post of Associate Professor at NIPER Mohali, nine are vacant. At the Assistant Professor level, 23 out of 29 posts are vacant.
This might well be the tip of the iceberg. The topmost administrative position, that of Director, is vacant in four NIPERs. Appointment of Directors has not been made to NIPER Mohali, Hijapur and Kolkata. Even eight years since their inception NIPER Hijapur, Hyderabad and Kolkata, are being administrated by the Directors of their mentor institutes. As per the NIPER Act 1998, the Director is a key authority in NIPER institutes and is responsible for proper administration and academic performance of the NIPERs. Yet the absence of the Directors and heedlessness of these institutes seems to bother few in the Government.
Apart from the bureaucratic roadblocks that have impeded the progress of NIPERs, there seems to be a lot more issues before them. In June this year, a senior scientist and whistleblower from NIPER Mohali alleged that the institute had been sharing technology and research with the pharmaceutical industry for peanuts. The former scientist alleged that the institute had a secretive bidding process for patents, lacked transparency and had overlooked national interest in its dealings with the pharmaceutical industry. We wanted to act as our Pharma Watch Dogs would and should, where are they by the way?
There seem to be a host of issues with NIPERs but that is not the greatest disappointment. The greatest disappointment is the apathy of the Government and its lackadaisical response to the issue. The budgetary allocation presents the crux of the issue, one of lip service importance and negligence. From 2012 to 2014, the Government made high budgetary allocations to the institutes and in some cases even increased allocations. Yet the revised allocations have seen consistent cuts. While the budgetary allocations for 2012, 2013 and 2014 were Rs. 121 crore, Rs. 112 crore and Rs. 124 crore, the revised allocations in these years was only Rs. 80 crore, Rs. 65 crore and Rs. 56 crore respectively. In this years budget speech too, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed three new NIPERs in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, but new budgetary provisions have been made for them.
The critical condition of these institutes has been clearly expressed by the Standing Committee on Chemicals and Fertilizers in its report on the ‘Functioning of NIPERs’. One can only hope that the report will rattle some in the Government.