October 21, 2010 is supposed to be a landmark date for the once famous food research institute in Mysore under the CSIR, set up 60 years ago because of the farsighted vision of Pandit Nehru, independent India's first Prime Minister to make the food processing industry self-reliant as far as possible without depending too much on imports. The present head of the institution, (glorified wrongly as the first Kannadiga Director by a National News Paper), is bringing the central S & T Minister to "inaugurate" the Diamond Jubilee "Celebrations", under the benign presence of the so called "Father" of Green Revolution. Unfortunately a look back at the developmental achievements of this organization during the last two decades can only create despair and anguish amongst honest citizens of the country for wasting enormous opportunities for pitchforking itself as a world class food research set up that could have been a beacon of hope to not only millions of Indians but also to whole of the world.
If the PR materials provided to the media are carefully gleaned, it may be difficult for any one with an acquaintance with the past work of this institute to see any thing new in what is being propagated as present achievements. The much touted Amul baby food developed and productionized in 1960's under the inspiring leadership of late Dr V Subramanian and Dr H A B Parpia, the pitamahas of food technology in the country, is being projected as major achievement, clearly showing that the cup board of high quality industrial innovations is totally empty. It is sad that the origin of not even one new successful product in the market to day can be traced to this institution. Present management proclaims from the house top that it had helped victims of Tsunami and Gujarat earth quake by supplying "foods" ignoring the fact that it is the food industry which should have done this job using the technology from the institute. How far the claim can be substantiated and how far it was relevant and effective, only a critical appraisal can bring out.
Another area of tall claim is about the training programs being organized, obviously for the benefit of the food industry in the country. Again it is conveniently forgotten that these programs were established way back when the institute was under the able stewardship of Dr HAB Parpia and Dr BL Amla who must be saluted for their vision and far-sight. Of course the only area where it has emerged as a major center is for "producing" Ph.D scholars in areas of least relevance to food science or technology or to the industry. The claim that it has 400 "food scientists" on its role is at best a joke because there are hardly a couple of dozen qualified food technologists, all others being auxiliary personnel mostly in fringe areas. It is understandable that teaching is a part of the functions of a scientist in any national laboratory but the same cannot be the major activity because there are dozens of universities in India providing training facilities in food science, technology, engineering, nutrition etc. Producing 15-20 food tech graduates in an year which is less than 10% of the graduates emerging each year in the country cannot be a justification for the working of a national laboratory.
In stead of expanding its domain of influence by injecting more young scientists and diversifying into uncharted areas of research, the drift and uncertainties of the present management, allowed shrinking of the personnel pool and the current strength is not considered to be of "critical mass" to achieve any thing substantial. Regional Research Centers built up painstakingly during 1960s have been systematically dismantled or made dysfunctional cutting off vital links with the people out side Mysore and it has become a Mysore-centric organization making itself irrelevant to the country as a whole. No wonder GOI decided to write off the organization and establish the National Institute of Food Technology, Entrepreneurship and Management in Haryana besides upgrading other existing institutions through large infusion of public funds to serve Indian food industry. Absence of the minister in MFPI of GOI at the Diamond Jubilee function will only confirm this surmise.
There appears to be an impression that activities like bringing out glossy reports, building arches, gardens, ornamental gates, painting the building every year at enormous cost, holding press conferences, cultivating selected journalists, treating VIPs with royal aplomb, filing useless and unwanted patents, delivering special lectures and key not addresses in public functions, touting academic publications etc justify the existence of a public funded research organization. Ignoring the need of the users mainly micro enterprises, SMEs and the main stream industry consistently during the last 15 years, as vouchsafed by the industry, cannot be condoned easily and probably on this occasion of the Diamond Jubilee, GOI must take to task such redundant organizations for wasting public money. May be an in-depth assessment of this organization vis-à-vis its technical achievements and usefulness to Indian food industry during the last 15 years by a competent committee constituted with a set of unbiased experts can only bring out the real picture regarding the impact of this institute after guzzling public funds to the tune of approximately Rs 300 crore during the last 15 years. Till such time for the hapless citizens of this country the Diamond Jubilee milestone cannot be an occasion for jubilation but despair and frustration!