Scientists against research proposal on indigenous cows

Print edition : March 13, 2020

Indian cows tagged with identification numbers by the Department of Animal Husbandry in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: THE HINDU

Over 300 scientists have issued an appeal seeking the withdrawal of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) recent call for research proposals on indigenous cows and their products under an inter-ministerial research programme called SUTRA-PIC (Scientific Utilisation through Research Augmentation-Prime Products from Indigenous Cows). The appeal has been marked to K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government, and Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, apart from fellow scientists.

The call invited proposals from “scientists/academicians from research institutions, academics, grassroots organisations and so on” to carry out R&D work and technology development in five thematic areas: (1) uniqueness of indigenous cows; (2) prime products from indigenous cows for medicine and health; (3) prime products from indigenous cows for agricultural applications; (4) prime products from indigenous cows for food and nutrition; and (5) prime products from indigenous cows-based utility products.

The appeal is based on serious objections raised by the scientific community on each of the themes. On Theme 1, it says that the claim of “unique and special qualities” of Indian cows (even the breed is not identified) leaves open wide scope to subsume under it various real and imaginary qualities for investigation that would result in a waste of public money even as most of the scientific institutions in the country face a funding crunch. It has pointed out that several important research projects were getting derailed owing to lack of adequate funds, and several young researchers under the various fellowship schemes are not getting their fellowship dues on time. “In such a dismal funding situation, DST actively canvassing for proposals under such [a] dubious scheme is even more infuriating.” The present “call for proposals” (CFP), says the appeal, “is drafted unscientifically from start to finish. The document is full of statements prefaced by ‘it is believed’. Science cannot presume the validity of beliefs, however commonly held. Validity has to be put to test, which is absent in the CFP. Scientific research on cow products cannot presume the efficacies presumed in the CFP. To begin a project with such presumptions is prima facie unscientific.”

“The present proposal,” adds the appeal, “is a biased attempt to push [the] narrative of ‘special status of Indian cows’” by funding research that feeds into conformational bias of the proponents of this scheme.