The Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur, has been taking up R&D assignments for the benefit of troops.

Northeast India is an interesting land-locked region, sharing sensitive and often porous frontiers with China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar and close to Nepal. Hence, the region is of strategic importance from a Defence perspective.

Land connectivity is inadequate, with substandard roads and a poor railway network. A narrow corridor between Nepal and Bangladesh connects it to other parts of India.

Some elements try to create violence and insurgency in the region. But Nature has been generous to it. Resources such as petroleum crude, natural gas, coal, limestone, timber, bamboo and china clay are available. There is a large potential for hydroelectric power generation.

Healthy relations have to be kept with southeast Asian countries, perhaps through trade. China has been showing interest in matters pertaining to this region. All these make the Northeast unique among the various parts of the country. Maintenance of peace and integrity of the country is a matter of prime concern. The armed forces have a significant role to play in it. Efforts have to be made for keeping the efficiency of the forces at its peak in this special region.

Appropriate technologies have to be developed for the optimum utilisation of natural resources in the north-eastern region and for the health and hygiene of its people. There is an institution that focusses on this area of studies: the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), Tezpur, Assam. Website: http://drdo.gov.in/drdo/labs/ DRL/English/index.jsp? pg=homebody.jsp.

This institution started as a field laboratory in 1962 in the aftermath of the 1962 war. The objective was to provide storage and outdoor trials for the products developed under the hot and humid climate of North-eastern India. Later on, the lab took up R&D assignments for the benefit of troops deployed in this strategic region. In 1980, it assumed its present status as a full-fledged R&D centre, as the DRL.

Right from its inception, the laboratory meets the needs of the troops working under severe climate in difficult and inaccessible areas. There is commendable commitment from the researchers who often make field visits to learn the problems of the troops directly. Suitable remedial measures are designed for early solution of the problems. Basic hygiene may be difficult in these hostile areas for want of adequate quantities of potable water. There may be bacterial or viral infection and water-borne diseases. Findings from the research of other centres or universities will be borrowed and applied wherever necessary.

The spin-off from the R&D efforts in DRL is usually extended for civilian purposes, benefiting the socio-economic development of the local people.

Areas of work

The DRL looks at the basics that may seem to be elementary, not deserving serious attention, since they are routinely taken care of by society. However, that presumption may be far from the truth. The laboratory has developed competence in basic areas such as water quality management. Pollution of water may lead to a variety of diseases. Methods for quality improvement of water have been developed. Studies are being done for better methods for such improvement. Another area of focus is that of eco-friendly technologies for the control of vector-borne diseases.

As mentioned earlier, the Northeast abounds in natural resources. Steps have to be evolved for their optimum utilisation. We have to make use of the rich biodiversity of the region. Its judicious applications for the following are also being studied:

Treatment of human diseases.

Mass propagation of rare medicinal plants, using techniques such as tissue culture.

Vermi-composting, organic farming and mushroom production.

Energy security.

Ecological environment in cantonments.

Though these are the areas of work in general, there are thrusts on certain activities. Measures for the control of weeds and pests are of significance. So also, research and studies in entomology are being made for the control of insects. How biodiversity of the Northeast can be used for handling vector-borne diseases and other ailments is yet another area of thrust. Efforts are focussed on water quality testing and surveillance, regulation of iron content of water and production of bio-diesel from micro-algae.

The research activities in the DRL have contributed substantial spin-offs to the civil sector. For example, studies on controlling mosquitoes and vector- and arthropod-borne diseases have been a blessing for the people. Steps for combating malaria by the Defence organisation have been welcomed by the people. Another initiative is the training given to civil populace, especially the unemployed youth, on mushroom production and vermi-composting technology.

Research scholars working in this laboratory have opportunities for making studies with social commitment. Further, there are occasions to interact with leading research organisations such as the National Institute of Malaria Research, Delhi, the Indian Research Institute for Integrated Medicine, Kolkata, the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, and various university centres.