Monday, December 04, 2006

In a while...

I breathe in air infused with aspirations and perplexing ignominy that seldom sustains the rhythm of life. Life in itself, a state of mind is devoid of any true indication of its existence. Life becomes the absence of death, nothing more. Asserting its compound, degenerate and lucid forms it bemoans for a reason to be, a purpose to fulfill.

In search of self, it is said, time is elementary. I am not in search of time as a quantity but its worth as an experience, as a truly lived entity. It governs our lives, but yet it is oblivious. We struggle to find it yet it is always right there. Waiting to be sought for, intermingling with our illusion of its scarcity.

I am on a sabbatical albeit a brief one, indefinite in time but only a moment in its conclusion.

Some of my work that you may want to read:

  • Reality check

  • Importance of being miserable

  • Indian History X

  • Euphemistic Euthanasia

  • Breaking the block

  • Bio mutiny

  • Conversations: After the blast

  • Clinically cynical

  • Times they are a changing

  • Bio mutiny
  • Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Quest for answers - Part III. End game.

    Change is the only constant, they say. How much ever I may want to believe in this universal law, the bureaucratic administration ensures that it deviates from the norm and keeps me guessing. So, it seems, they would want to go out of their way to establish their independence outside of the natural course.

    The reply to the RTI filed on 14 November is now considered complete, well at least the process is. Last night I received the final piece of official documentation, which should have sufficed my nagging thirst for information.

    Even though I was forewarned of the impending disappointment, the new found optimist in me hoped for the better. I was wrong, and how!

    The general character of reply is evasive, as you can see below. What is shocking is the assumption that by categorically refusing to answer it would not amount to a follow up. Here, there is not even an attempt to provide explanation why the question cannot be answered. As though, a return visit to clarify the mysterious cryptic message is a given.

    The circulars enclosed with the letter do not provide with much information, only that which is already known.

    As a citizen, am I supposed to understand the departmental problems and bureaucratic hurdles that do not allow the PIO to do his job? Am I expected to empathize with the registrar, shackled by the system and bogged by the enormity of his task of seeking information from the big bad policy makers? Or should I, as any normal or delusional person, depending on your perspective would, expect a response close to reality?

    The most common reaction to this would be the quintessential ‘I told you so’. Yes, you were right, I knew that already and still I went ahead with it. I want to know what next?

    Is there a point in pursuing this cause? The people to whom this should matter seem the least interested in knowing what governs their collective academic destiny.


    For the complete application and previous progress see :

  • RTI Application

  • Previous answers

  • Dated 28th November 2006.

    This has reference to your application for seeking information under the RTI, 2005, dated 14 Nov 2006.

    1) A circular no. UG/380, dated 25th September 2006, is enclosed herewith for your perusal. (Regarding eligibility to admissions, aptly answered)

    2) A circular no. PG/1/2170A, dated June 2005, is enclosed herewith for reference. Regarding plan to increase the number of seats in the MSc biotech course PIO is unable to answer.

    3) Permission for starting any new course is given by Higher and Technical Education Department, Government of Maharashtra. (Not enough information, the general passing the buck observed)

    4) The list of colleges which offers MSc Biotech course at present is attached herewith. (Answered)

    5) To 9) PIO is unable to give information in the matter. ( No further explanation provided as to why this cannot be answered)

    Mumbai University Msc degree course in Biotech, Vidyanagri Campus, Kalina

    List of colleges affiliated to Mumbai University

    1) Birla College, Kalyan

    2) G.N. Khalsa College, Kings Circle.

    3) C.K.Thakur College, New Panvel

    4) Vaze College, Mulund (East)

    5) Institute of sciences, Fort, Churchgate

    6) Jhunjhunwala college, Ghatkopar

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Quest for answers - RTI update

    Quest for answers - Part II
    RTI update.

    Surprise! Surprise! …

    After a long day of agitating at Azad Maidaan (See paradox paradigm ), I came home tired and demoralized. The protest rally was not as successful in terms of evoking an administrative reaction, as I would have liked it to be. But then again, in a democracy the important point is to ensure your views are heard.

    At about 10.20 pm, yes at night, on 16 November, 2006, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door, and then I was stunned and at a loss for words. I actually did not utter a word, only nodded my head to confirm the name and address. A man from Mumbai University was hand delivering a reply (marked urgent!) from the registrar regarding my RTI application. It was just two days ago that I filed my RTI application. Could this be a prank by my cynical friends to drive home the generally perceived futility of trying to get answers from the bureaucracy?

    What if this was true…...................................and it was!

    I managed to knock myself out of the momentary stupor and sign on the receipt. In my exhausted (and exasperated) state, I forgot to ask the gentleman his name.

    There it was, nestled in my disbelieving fingers, glowing in its formal brown aura. It was heavy, at least my application was not rejected out right, I guessed. I opened the package and a letter fell out.

    It was a reply to my first question... see my draft RTI application

    Q...To which Post Graduate (PG) courses offered by the Mumbai University and its affiliated colleges in Mumbai can a Biotechnology graduate (BSc) apply? Please provide a detailed list of these courses and the colleges which offer them.


    Course list available Room 18, Ground floor, University Building, Publication Section, Fort Campus, and onwards list enclosed for your information.

    Wherever mentioned “any faculty” in the course, a student is eligible for the course.

    Further I am to inform you that point 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 will be get information in the PG section.

    Signed – Registrar

    I know it sounds like I got the old ‘not my department’ from the wily registrar. The enclosure is a “detailed list” (as I had worded in my letter) of various courses – certificate and add-on courses that I never knew existed.

    I wonder if the fact that he asked me to go and see the list put up in the University when I had clearly made a demand of a detailed list, could be challenged as avoiding his duty.

    Also, I have been warned that they overload applicants with excess information (in this case I clearly dug my grave with the word “detailed”) to discourage them from filing RTI petitions.

    I will follow this up with the relevant authorities this week as I check up on the status of the remaining 9 questions.

    The quest continues….


    Some of the certificate courses enlisted in the reply are as follows. This list is indicative and not exhaustive. FOR COMPLETE DETAILS E-MAIL ME.

    r. No.





    Forensic Biochemistry

    Regular student along with his/ her BSc or MSc course.

    T.Y.BSc onwards

    12 weeks


    Drug Discovery and development

    -- same --

    F.Y.BSc onwards

    12 weeks


    Industrial Biochem


    12 weeks


    Diploma/ Advanced diploma in Vocational Biotechnology

    Simultaneously with BSc

    3 years


    PGD in environmental laws and practice

    Graduate: BSc

    1 year


    PGD in human rights and laws

    Graduate : BSc



    PGD in Intellectual property rights (patenting)


    1 year


    Certificate course in Horticulture

    HSC passed

    3 years


    Food and Nutrition


    3 years


    MSc course in Herbal Science

    Biological sciences 50% + and entrance test

    2 year full time


    Research methodology

    Simultaneously with BSc or MSc

    F.Y.BSc onwards

    12 weeks

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Quest for answers - The Beginning

    I filed my RTI draft yesterday, 14 November 2006, aptly on children’s day as the questions in the draft (can be read in the previous post) if answered with complete honesty might just help those who seek a career in this field via academics.

    It was relatively simple. I prepared the draft and after a day long hunt for a court fee stamp which incidentally can be bought with minimum hassle (at Simla stationary, opposite Mumbai University road, towards Regal) I was ready to undertake the quest for answers.

    Here it gets tricky. One must know before hand where the draft is to be filed, with which PIO. Mumbai University has 20 registrars for various departments which act as PIOs.

    To make things simpler, file your RTI application at the INWARD SECTION at the Mumbai University campus, Fort, Churchgate. It is the duty of the relevant department to answer questions pertaining to their section and forward the RTI to the other departments. It does help of your queries are all directed to a single department for a single matter, say finances, the probability of getting a answer increase drastically this way. But it is seldom the case.

    Most people perceive filing an RTI as some sort of a battle with the lethargic and highly secretive system where answers are seldom provided. This application too may be dispensed by the relevant authority citing technicalities, like information is not yet documented or available, it is not of the relevant department, etc.

    Despite this, the truly unfortunate part is that this act is seen as something alien, most are still not comfortable with the idea of filing an RTI. The perennial ‘what’s the point’ syndrome stifles any inclination towards seeking relevant answers to equally relevant questions.

    I am of the opinion that this act of questioning authority to derive vital information from them which might affect the course of one’s career or life itself must be an inherent act. It must emanate from our basic thoughts and the urge to go beyond what is generically said, not only in Biotech but in all spheres of life. This might sound idealistic and it is to a large extent. But it is a start.

    The primary point here is that asking questions and persisting till they are satisfactorily answered is a requisite. If not then it must be, at the least, a significant and viable alternative to internalizing generic information. The option is always there.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Right to know

    After three years of biotech education there are rudimentary questions which I deserve an answer to. Right to Information Act, 2005, empowers us to seek relevant answers from the institution which is ironically widely perceived as a alien entity with respect to our immediate reality.

    The following is a draft application that I will file under the act an try to get a few basic administration related answers. Although these questions may seem narrow as compared to the wider debate, it is a start.

    The PIO is expected to provide a substantial answer to these questions within 30 calender days. I will keep updating this space in my quest to extract cognizable information from the annals of bureaucracy.



    The Public Information Officer November , 2006

    Vice Chancellor’s office

    Mumbai University,

    Mumbai, Maharashtra.

    I… Full name of the applicant: HEMANT MORAJKAR

    II… Address: C-5/7, Jeevan Veer Coop. Soc., LIC colony, Borivli (west), Mumbai – 400103.

    III… Particulars of the information required:

    Subject matter of information: Mumbai University Biotechnology course details required.

    Period of which the information relates to: Information available up to date.

    Description of information required:

    1... To which Post Graduate (PG) courses offered by the Mumbai University and its affiliated colleges in Mumbai can a Biotechnology graduate (BSc) apply? Please provide a detailed list of these courses and the colleges which offer them.

    2… The ratio of number of seats in MSc Biotech course to the number of Under-graduate students who passes out is grossly skewed (140/1000). Is there a plan to increase the number of seats in the MSc Biotech course?

    3… Why is the permission for MSc courses at

    § SIES college of Arts, Science and Commerce in Sion and Nerul

    § Patkar College in Goregaon

    § RKT College in Kalyan

    § Pendharkar College in Dombivli

    as reported in Indian Express , Mumbai Newsline on 22/09/2006, being upheld?

    4… Provide a revised list of colleges, including newer colleges, which offer/will offer MSc Biotech course relevant to the academic year 2007-2008.

    5… Biotechnology is currently an unaided course at the Under-graduate level making it costly. Do you intend to bring it under the aided purview to make it more accessible to students?

    6… Are there any government recognised diploma courses related to Biotechnology that a BSc graduate student can avail of?

    7… Biotechnology is a ‘technical’ industry oriented course, but is found lacking in terms academic progression (after 12th Biology) and has none or little connection with industry requirements. Is there a plan to revise the curriculum to facilitate the same? If yes, then what are the changes being initiated?

    8… There is little difference in the BSc Life Sciences and Biotechnology courses that are being offered by the University in terms of inherent lab requirements and subsequent opportunities in academia or industry. Then why is the Biotechnology course so costly?

    9… Is there a plan to upgrade the Biotechnology, Life Sciences, Bio-physics laboratories at the Mumbai University, Kalina campus?

    IV... I state that the information sought does not fall within the restrictions contained in section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and to the best of my knowledge it pertains to your office. If for any reason, it pertains to any other department, the Right to Information Act places an obligation on you to forward the same or part of the application to the appropriate department and intimate me within 5 days of such transfer.

    V... Under the RTI, information shall be provided in the way it is sought. Hence, it is requested that the information be provided in question and answer format in the above manner.

    VI… To eliminate ambiguity or misinterpretation, please provide the required information in English.

    VII... The requisite fees for this information will be paid, if in accordance with rules.

    Hemant Morajkar


    Place : Mumbai

    Date: 13 November 2006.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Indian Bt regulatory process : Explained

    India currently has a three-tier regulatory system for GM crops:

    a) each research organisation must have an Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSA), which assesses research proposals;

    b) a national Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) assesses field trials for environmental safety and allergic responses;

    c) the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) — part of the environment ministry — carries out environmental impact assessment, and approves multi-location field trials and commercial cultivation.

    Apart from this system, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) , under the Ministry of Science and Technology, India plays a vital role in regulating Bt trials as it has laid specific guidelines in doing so.

    Recently, DBT has sought constitution of an independent Biotechnology Authority on the lines of the Election commission of India, which would primarily deal with issues concerning the industry.

    Problems with the current set-up:

    1) A major issue with the current scenario is a clash of interests between stakeholders and regulators. A scientist from the agricultural research system that applies for clearance of a particular seed is part of the GEAC, whose chairman is not a scientist and changes frequently.

    2) Also it takes an inordinately long time to get a clearance for commencing field trials. Although this may be perceived as a cautious policy to ensure an informed and educated decision, usually the delay is due to administrative apathy or a conflict between concerned departments.

    3) The Indian Bt policy is tilted in favour of the industry and is exclusive in terms of a dialogue with the society at large. The fact that we have not undertaken field trials of GM crops on a large scale is mainly due to a negative perception of the technology. A deterrent which needs to be factored in the policy to assuage relevant vote banks. But, this is about to change by a mass media offensive in favour of the technology.

    4) India is lagging by almost a decade with respect to US and China, even though it has equivalent resources and a substantial domestic market. A liberal policy may help in reducing the time induced deficit, but the implication of such a decision would have a 'ripple effect' on almost all sectors of trade, FMCG, domestic markets, processed foods, agriculture, fisheries, etc.

    5) A clear demarcation of responsibilities and duties within the structure is necessary to ensure proper regulation.

    Relevant to this point, as quoted in the Indian Express:

    A task force headed by M. S. Swaminathan, said that India’s approval system was “lengthy and cumbersome” . It recommends creating an autonomous Agricultural Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to consider the approval of GM crops in the country. Under this body, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), not the GEAC, should be authorised to conduct and assess large-scale field trials and approve commercial release of GM crops. He also suggested that the three tiers remain but their responsibilities change.

    The major change that they recommend is to limit GEAC’s role to environmental clearance. The ICAR, rather than the GEAC, would decide whether GM crops could be planted for commercial purposes.

    The Monitoring cum Evaluation Committee should report to the GEAC on biosafety and environmental issues while post-release monitoring should be responsibility of Union Agriculture ministry and not the ICAR.

    It favours strengthening of the existing Seeds Act, 1966 and Environmental Protection Act 1986 to deal with illegal proliferation of GM seeds. It proposes single-window information on all aspects of bioethics and biosafety.

    See full article:

  • LINK

  • 6) I do not favour the institutionalised structure proposed here. A decentralisation of power is necessary. Through local committees, the citizens themselves, via consensus, must have the right to decide whether a GM crop should or should not enter their market. If a community decides, as a whole, that they do not wish to have GM foods in their locality, then the government or the industry must adhere to the decision.

    7) All GM food must be labeled to provide a choice to the citizen. A monitoring committee can be constituted to ensure its implementation and which would penalize industry offenders, by revoking their license to market their product. A monetary compensation here would undermine the necessity of choice.

    8) Similarly, the right of conducting field trials on a farm must lie with the farmer and not with a overriding authority. And proper precautions must be taken to ensure containment of the products of these trials to avoid mixing of the crop with the organic varietals.

    9) A lack of tranperancy in the trials leads to a general mistrust making it difficult to accept the results of trials. For example, the Bt cotton field trial results were never made public — despite protests. After pressure from civil society, Bt brinjal results have been put on the website this year.

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    From the news Archives: October

    GM rice test field torched in Karnal
    Indian Express, 30 October 2006.

    In a serious setback for field tests of genetically modified (GM) rice, activists of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) have torched the sole field in Haryana where tests for the modified rice variety were being carried out.

    Some 400 BKU activists torched the crop, saying it would contaminate soil and affect the existing variety of rice. After the incident, BKU threatened to burn all such fields in the country where trials are underway.

    Read full article:
  • GM rice field torched

  • *****
    Move to constitute an independent Biotech Authority.
    Times of India, 28 Oct 2006.

    In a move to bolster bio-technology research, growth and investment in India, the Department of Bio-technology (DBT) has sought constitution of an independent bio-technology (BT) regulatory authority.

    The seminal focus of the authority would be to monitor and regulate all science-based processes. "The authority could look at the whole range of bio-tech products, medicines and their quality, environmental safety, health, genetic engineering, field trials of new products, the DNA question and the like. Underlying the monitoring is quality of the bio-tech process. Stringent standards will have to be followed."

    DBT would like the proposed authority to function on the lines of the Election Commission — independent and armed with tangible powers to guide the bio-tech sector in accordance with the needs of the country.

    Read full article:
  • See link

  • *****
    Bird flu season back but govt sleeps
    Times of India, 18 October, 2006.

    With October, the bird flu season is back once again and India stands hopelessly unprepared for another outbreak. Five Bio Safety Level (BSL) III labs to test animal samples for H5N1 virus were announced.
    Not one has come up till now. The High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal, which tested thousands of suspected samples for the virus early this year, continues to be the only hope.

    According to international norms, once a country declares an H5N1 outbreak, it has to send the virus samples to another country for validation. Sources said officials from Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta, have repeatedly asked India to send the samples to Australia. But HSADL has refused to share the virus.

    Scientists say though government's attention towards bird flu has dipped, the virus remains just as dangerous and just as able to cause a worldwide outbreak like the one seen since 1918, when 50 million people died.

    Read the full article:
  • Bird flu

  • *****

    IIT-Delhi develops new drug designing software
    Times of India, October 2006

    The Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi has developed a wide array of software tools for drug designing and developing individualised medicine.
    The ChemGenome software can distinguish genes from non-genes in 331 bacterial genomes and 20 eukaryotic genomes with almost 90 per cent accuracy.
    The protein structure prediction software can successfully bracket native-like structures in the lowest energy structures for 50 small alpha helical and mixed globular proteins, Jayaram said.

    Read full article:
  • Drug Design

  • *****
    New policy may make medicines cheaper
    Indian Express, 3 October 2006.

    A new pharma policy that will substantially bring down several generic drugs’ prices is likely to be soon in place. A 14-member committee set up by Chemicals and Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan will submit a report in this regard to the Union Cabinet at the end of this month.

    Paswan said the prices of several hundred brands of generic-generic and branded generic drugs, including Omeprazole and Ciprofloxacin, are set to crash by up to 92 per cent with the pharma industry agreeing to a government proposal on capping trade margins. It has been agreed that the retail margins for these drugs would be kept at 35 per cent while the wholesale margins would be 15 per cent, he said. “This will be effective from October 2.”

    Read the full article:
  • Cheaper medicines

  • *****