Obviously the imputation is that the existing institute under CSIR at Mysore set up in 1950 with similar objectives was not serving the purpose. If this logic is extended to other areas, many ministries will be setting up more research institutes on subjects on which they have the administrative control under this pretext. It is tragic that the country's scarce resources are being frittered away on such politically motivated projects. How can such an action on the part of a responsible government be justified? If there are genuine concerns about the functioning of existing institutions of international repute, the proper way is to look into the problems and address them boldly to improve their functioning. India is not a rich country that can afford to build public institutions of doubtful impact with large investments, capital as well as recurring, committing the future generations to carry the burden.
It all started with a news report during late 2005 that Union Government was setting up a food technology research center some where in the north and in early 2006 very innocuous feelers were sent from the MFPI inviting comments and suggestions on a flimsy scheme with very bare bone details. In spite of the short time window offered for submitting suggestions, meaningful comments were made by the 50 year old AFST(I), the largest body of food scientists and technologists in Asia and other concerned food professionals and a fully transparent open discussion was sought with MFPI. Needless to say there were no takers for any suggestions as a political decision was already taken at the highest level and the prime movers of this ridiculous proposition did not want their apple cart to be upset by silly food technologists!
Union Finance Minister perfunctorily announced government's decision with necessary budgetary provision for the project in an innocuous corner of his 2006-07 budget document. Then we heard 100 acres land was offered by Haryana for this world shaking project. No one is sure as to the architect of this crazy project and it is not known whether the exalted office of Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister was even consulted. In October 2007 the foundation stone was laid for the infrastructure for NIFTEM in Kundli in Haryana, signifying the start of the project. Most surprising element of this project is the collaboration offered by Cornel University and University of California(Davies) and support extended by a little known private organization, Cornell-Sathguru Foundation based in Hyderabad as if India needed foreign expertise in carrying out research on Indian foods and train technologists for Indian industry from a foreign country!
The objectives of NIFTEM are claimed to be to produce world class business leaders, as if we are lacking such specimens in our own country and develop globally competitive technology as if India has a great agenda in exporting technologies for food processing on a global scale! In this entire exercise in self deception, government conveniently forgot that the country was a global leader in training of food technologists since 1964, first under an FAO financed program and strengthening that capability with UNU and Roller Flour Millers Federation support in 1984. Thousands of technologists trained by the Mysore Center serve in more the 30 countries in senior positioins. The proposed NIFTEM is supposed to be offering courses in Food Technology, Business Administration, Food Technogy Management at Bachelor's, Master's amd Doctorate levels for about 430 students annually with a staff compliment of 240.
It is beyond comprehension, from where these experts are going to come and how relevant their teachings will be in the Indian context. CFTRI under CSIR is able to train only about 40-50 persons in an year with all the concentrated expertise and high quality infrastructure built over 5 decades of pioneering efforts. What is not clear is where these NIFTEM graduates, when and if they come out, will go for placements as Indian food industry is not in a position to absorb them. Are they for exports to Europe and USA? Are we investing on a 'brain drain' project like IITs and IIMs?
As for technology development credentials of NIFTEM, MFPI is day dreaming that this organization will churn out world class technologies after it opens its door in 2009. It is ironical that there is no clear perception in the country regarding the meaning of 'world class technology', mouthed so frequently by the sponsors of this 'pie in the sky' project. The present system of project identification in most of the R & D agencies, where so called peers review new projects, formulated by the scientists with very little feed back from the user industries, is sham of an exercise and that is why the out put and reach of these institutions never flow to or benefit the targeted users.
NIFTEM will also depend on the same so called 'pundits' to sit on judgement regarding the relevance of projects identified by the scientists under same system that has failed the country in the past and obviously the results can not be different too. No thought has been given to existing institutions in the country like CFTRI, DFRL etc as to whether they will be wound up or allowed to wither away with progressive attrition and economic choking. It is worth recalling that during late Rajiv Gandhi era, an active proposal was on the table to bring CFTRI under the MFPI with guaranteed autonomy under the Society's Act but frequent churning of Secretaries in MFPI did not help in pushing that idea beyond suggestion stage.
No doubt the NIFTEM 'circus' will go on in spite of all reservations raised by many knowledgeable people because it is a political project of the politicians, for politicians and by politicians, of course articulated by the unobtrusive bureaucratic system in the country. But guess who is the 'joker' in the circus ring. Some of the self proclaimed food technology 'pundits' always willing to play second fiddle at Delhi or the vast body of genuinely concerned food professionals who made feeble attempts to make themselves heard on the subject but ignored totally? Delhi thinks both fit the bill. Long live food technology in the country!