Ancient knowledge hub faces grim future

Natural remedies: Herbs, seen here at an ayurveda expo in New Delhi, are documented by the CSIR database.

Natural remedies: Herbs, seen here at an ayurveda expo in New Delhi, are documented by the CSIR database.  

No committed funds for CSIR library on Ayurveda, yoga and Unani beyond March

The Traditional Knowledge Database Library (TKDL), a marquee organisation of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research that has fought biopiracyfor decades, will cease  to exist in its current form. It has no committed funds beyond March, most its workforce has been fired and these staffers are litigating against CSIR.

It will no longer be an organisation that once pro-actively scouted for intellectual property infringements by Indian and foreign companies on traditional knowledge in areas.

TKDL is an online repository of about 300,000 formulations from Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani systems. Over two decades, the body translated, scanned and digitised texts from their Sanskrit, Arabic and Urdu originals.

This was then made searchable, allowing patent offices in India, Europe, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Japan to check if patent applicants of herbal concoctions, creams and drugs were basing their claims on available traditional knowledge. A match usually forms a strong case for a patent claim to be rejected.

Even before TKDL opened, India overturned patents in the U.S. and Europe on neem and turmeric products. Between 2009 and 2015, 219 patents were denied to Indian and foreign companies based on TKDL's challenges, including Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Avesthagen, the government’s Central Council For Research in Unani Medicine, and Yale University in the U.S.

Yet, the organisation was seen in pharmaceutical circles as a “patent blocker,” a person familiar with TKDL activities until 2012 said. “Over the years, it made it hard for companies, many Indian, to develop formulations and naturally there was displeasure and even lobbying against it,” the source said.

Challenges end

Since 2016 there have been no patent challenges by TKDL. The 100-odd employees-on project contracts-including Ayurveda experts, intellectual-property analysts and IT staff are down to about 50. Even they are likely to be terminated by March 31 and have launched a dispute with CSIR in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). The dispute began in late 2015 but CSIR told CAT that funds for CSIR-TKDL were sanctioned between April 2012 and March 31, 2017.

There would be no “budgetary provisions for salary of staff beyond this date,” documents viewed by The Hindu show. Staffers, requesting anonymity, said salaries were not raised for five years and they were told projects would end in March. This in spite of only 60% of the digitisation of traditional texts being complete and a project to integrate 1500 yoga asanas (with video) only 25% done.

Girish Sahni, Director-General, CSIR denied reports that TKDL was dying. It would be “fully supported in an expanded, advanced way.”

While he termed the matter of the employees sub judice, TKDL, he said, would align with India’s National Intellectual Property Rights Policy cleared by the Centre last May. This would allow public research institutions and private players to use TKDL for research and development purposes.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:25:41 AM |

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