SCI-TECH & AGRI

Crucified in the 'kangaroo court'

THIS REJOINDER attempts to address some of the key issues raised in two articles in The Hindu (Purkayastha, 12 December and Balasubramanian, 19 December) concerning the Preliminary Inspection of the National Institute of Immunology by CPCSEA nominees on the 28 September. Transparency is a crucial issue; others are the credibility of nominees, shifting the CPCSEA to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and CPCSEA's `style of functioning'

Accusations that the CPCSEA is not transparent are not tenable: 33 reports on animal houses are available on its website (www.cpcsea.com).

Why was the report not handed over to the Delhi Science Forum? The DSF, an NGO, was unable to establish its locus-standi to affirm, deny, condemn or dismiss on behalf of the NII the propositions made by CPCSEA. Secondly, when Kiran Singh's Inspection Team (constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests), was refused entry into the NII on the 29 October, one of the reasons forwarded was that the case was sub judice since the NII had filed a petition for the writs of mandamus and stay. Given this interpretation, legal opinion was necessary.

D. Balasubramanian contends that "NII says that they (the registers) are open for any qualified person to see them" and he has had "the chance to pore through (the registers)". Purkayastha, too, demonstrates familiarity with the records. But it is a documented fact that Dr. Kiran Singh's team was not allowed access to records beyond the last two years. Clearly, only sympathetic NGOs and friends of the scientific establishment are privy to these records!

If Purkayastha and Balasubramanian are serious about transparency, let them publicly call for a tabling of all data pertaining to nonhuman primates in the NII since the date of its inception as well as the details of human clinical trials of the non functional multi-crore anti fertility vaccine produced by the NII.

The second issue of `crosses' is a predictable strategy devised to both discredit nominees and deny the shameful prevalence of TB in the NII Primate House.

Purkayastha's statement that nominees `are all activists of People for Animals' is false as is Balasubramanian's contention that an FIR has been filed against me. No member of the Preliminary Inspection team is, or ever has been, a member of People For Animals. `Front' organisations are reprehensible: but will Purkayastha admit the role of the DSF and his own position in the Communist Party India (Marxist) networking?

According to official figures given to Dr. Kiran Singh's team (on 23 November), monkey deaths due to TB were 14 per cent from 1999-2000, 8 per cent in 2001 and 3.2 per cent in 2001-02.

The figures for the TB deaths in preceding years was carefully kept out of the `terms of reference'. Quibbling about crosses cannot disguise the fact that monkeys were `found dead' in their cages months or even days after these crosses / pluses were marked against them.

Unlike Purkayastha, Balasubramanian agrees that a non-tuberculosis free Primate Facility is unacceptable, why then the concerted attempts to defend the defaulters?

Lastly, the reason why the CPCSEA should not be shifted to the DST is because the fox cannot guard the henhouse.

The Department of Biotechnology, DST and other funding agencies for animal research sanction grants worth crores from public money but do not bother to see whether institutes have proper infrastructure and a veterinary doctor. In the Jawaharlal Nehru University a non-veterinary is appointed as a `veterinary officer' and the Maulana Azad Medical College has no veterinary doctor for over nine years.

Having shown scant concern for the welfare of the animals they call experimental tools, and disregard for the quality of data that emanates from `research' on these animals, can the DST be allowed to act as a judge in its own cause?

Finally, about the `style of functioning': the national Committee of the CPCSEA met four times between 1964 and 1996, a span of thirty two years and the science establishment had no complaints. When Mrs. Maneka Gandhi became Chairperson in 1996, the fifth meeting of the CPCSEA was held and this was followed by about a dozen meetings over the next three years. On the 4 November 1997, the CPCSEA took the decision to form Ethics Committees in institutes and guidelines were defined for the inspection of laboratories, proper standards of experimentation and the implementation of Good Laboratory Practices.

This is inconvenient to vested interests that have set about seriously to mould public opinion against the CPCSE in the newspapers. The next logical step is for the science establishment to appropriate the agenda of the CPCSEA and reconstitute it with compliant members and nominees. Is this transparency? But the laws are here to stay; the groundswell of public opinion will cost the credibility of those campaigning to bring them to nought.

Sonya Ghosh