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CCFI plea to HRD ministry on scientific misconduct by JNU research scholars
Friday, 28 August, 2015, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI), the major industry body for crop protection industry in India, has submitted a petition to Union ministry of human resources development seeking stern action against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) detailing the unchecked scientific misconduct among research scholars.

According to a press release issued by CCFI, the petition names the research scholars of JNU and exposes their egregious errors of commission, omission and misrepresentation in their study titled “Health risk assessment of organochlorine pesticide exposure through dietary intake of vegetables grown in the periurban sites of Delhi, India” published in a foreign journal. The ‘fraudulent’ study was conducted using scholarship from the University Grants Commission (UGC). In other words, taxpayers’ money was spent on generating this fraudulent study that tarnished the image of India’s vegetable production in a journal published abroad. India is the second-largest producer of vegetables in the world.

In the study, the JNU researchers claim to have found residues of 20 different banned pesticides in each and every of the 52 vegetable samples collected in and around Delhi/NCR. The unmistakable message conveyed to global community by this fraudulent study is that banned pesticides are still available in India, the Indian farmers are routinely using them, there is lax regulatory control in India over such wrong doings and, finally, eating Indian vegetables is a health hazard.

For over seven months, CCFI has been sending several communications to Dr S K Sopory, the JNU VC, seeking basic information such as chromatograms, limit of detection, limit of quantification, calibration details and relevant raw data pertaining to the published study. The VC and his research team remain tightlipped. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has also sent two communications, but failed to fetch any raw data from JNU.

CCFI has reasons to believe that the acts of omission, commission and misrepresentation in the published study were deliberate and with the knowledge and connivance of many within JNU. Public trust in the integrity and ethical behaviour of scholars in educational institutes such as JNU is essential if the public funded research and other scholarly activities are to achieve their intended purpose in society. Scientists should be scrupulous and the data that they produce should be verifiable to be real and correct. Intellectual honesty and integrity are indispensable part of any scientific work.

According to Rajju Shroff, chairman, CCFI, “JNU’s failure to be transparent with certain basic data proves there are fundamental flaws in the published study. It is the duty of the JNU authorities to ensure that any research study published bearing the title of the university should be such that it carries defensible data and results. The raw data of the public funded research study should be accessible and verifiable. USA has since 1999 established The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to investigate and punish laboratory frauds committed by scientists. USA defines laboratory fraud as the deliberate falsification of analytical and quality assurance results. We will be asking establishment of one such autonomous body in India.”

Shroff added that he would soon be writing to the prime minister in this connection.
Meanwhile, in its letter to the President of India and HRD ministry, CCFI has requested investigations into the entire episode. The association sought stern action against university researchers, if found guilty of research misconduct.

The published study was conducted at JNU by Prof. P S Khillare and research student Sapna Chourasiya assisted by Dr Darpa Saurav Jyothi. The erroneous study was published by an international scientific journal ‘Environmental Science and Pollution Research.’ The journal is also unable to give raw data about the published study to CCFI.

Speaking on the matter, S Ganesan, public & policy advisor, CCFI, said, “It is a matter of grave concern that public funded institutions such as JNU should be aiding, generating and publishing fraudulent studies without any due diligent reviews. The JNU does not have any policy guidelines and mechanisms to detect, investigate and prevent research misconduct and to ensure responsible conduct of research. Consequently there is institutionalised research misconduct at the JNU. What we have found and exposed is probably the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A thorough and professional investigation is needed to cleanse the JNU.”

CCFI has also drawn attention to a news item alleging fabricated Ph.D. thesis were sold in petty shops close to JNU. Clearly, the rot appears deep. UGC allotted Rs 276 crore to JNU in the financial year 2014-15. The money is tax payers’ money. The UGC should crack the whip to stem the rot in JNU. Researchers who committed laboratory misconduct should be sacked and Ph.D awarded should be withdrawn, according to CCFI.
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