Scientists and other staff of the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) here have expressed their anguish over the proposal to de-link it from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and merge it with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). They say the DFRL is an exclusive food research laboratory that caters to the special requirements of the armed forces.
The proposal is said to have been mooted in a report submitted by P. Rama Rao, former Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology. The department had called for restructuring the DRDO and focussing on critical technology areas of weaponry.
Some scientists point out that the merger proposal came up when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister, but it was rejected by top defence officials. They argue that that a focussed, straight-forward, clear-cut mandate in defence food research is essential to meet the varied requirements of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, whose personnel work in different operational conditions.
The DFRL supplies ready-to-eat ration to soldiers deployed in the heights of Siachen, as also in the deserts of Rajasthan. The food supplied during the Chinese aggression and the subsequent wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 and the Kargil conflict underline the importance of special rations for the defence personnel. Hence a separate food laboratory for the defence sector is absolutely essential, the scientists say.
The DFRL could not be compared with any other CSIR laboratory, as some of the protocols and technologies developed by it were of special importance for the defence forces. It could compared only to NASA's Space Food Systems Laboratory, which develops and produces food for astronauts, the scientists say.
“Ration from the DFRL helped soldiers reach the remotest places along the border areas and helped them to be fighting-fit despite the increased energy requirements, which were met through the specially processed energy bars and ready-to-eat food with high nutritional value,” the scientists say.
It is not surprising that the DFRL alone could cater to the special nutritional requirements of the members of the Antarctica expedition, they point out.
The DFRL is now focussing on the nuclear, biological and chemical scenario in view of the changing security environment in the country. The scientists are working on new technologies, which can protect food against any contamination in such an eventuality. “Since the Army moves on its stomach, it is imperative that its nutritional requirements are met instantly; the food must be energy-rich and light-weight, as the soldiers have to carry adequate ammunition,” say the scientists.
The DFRL is using bio-technology tools to develop technologies to shield the soldiers from any act of bio-terrorism like contamination of food and water and ensure that the food supplied to them is safe and immune to contamination. “The transformation of defence scientists into civil scientists will dilute enormously their expertise…,” they say.