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Herbal conservation runs into rough weather in Uttarakhand

Deep Joshi

GOPESHWAR (CHAMOLI), June 23: The neglect of the Gopeshwar-based Herbal Research and Development Institute (HRDI) is ample proof of the State Government’s callousness towards conservation of precious medicinal plants found in Uttarakhand.

The HRDI had been set up in 1992 to check the illegal trade in herbs by scientifically encouraging their cultivation in central Himalayas. The institute was supposed to have a staff strength of 448, including 65 scientists, and branches in all the nine districts of Uttarakhand.

The fund-starved institute, however, is finding it difficult to employ even a full-fledged botanist. It is run from a borrowed building of three sparsely furnished rooms, and its staff strength is a total of two — one peon and one scientist — both temporary.

A 1995 order by the then secretary, Hill Development Department, Vijendra Pal, to regularise the services of the scientist is still to be implemented. Pal had been impressed by the excellent research work of Dr Vijay Prasad Bhatt, who has been working since 1994 on a salary of Rs 4,000 per month.

Set up with much fanfare, but dogged by bureaucratic interference and shortage of funds almost ever since, the HRDI project has had problems since its inception.

According to sources, the first HRDI director, Dr N C Shah, ran the institute from a hired room in a local guest house “virtually without funds, staff and scientists”. Finally, when the going got too tough for him, Shah resigned in a huff.

The person chosen as his successor, Dr S S Mishra, was already holding the post of director, Medicinal Plants Cooperative Department. The MPCD was located in Ranikhet, hundreds of miles away.

As a result, for the two years that Mishra held the fort, the institute was virtually headless, spawning irregularities. A few months ago, when Professor A N Purohit — director of the Srinagar (Garhwal)-based High Altitude Plant Physiology Research Centre — took over additional charge of the HRDI, he found that the institute stenographer as well as its peon had been working in Lucknow and drawing their salaries from the institute.

Moreover, when Purohit dug deeper, he discovered that the HRDI actually “owed” the steno a travel allowance of Rs 42,000.

The director issued orders against the two employees warning them that if they did not join their duties at the HRDI their salaries would not be paid.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.