New Delhi, May 27: Sections of India’s scientific community are upset at what they allege is the victimisation of a whistleblower scientist at a premier academic institution who claims he has been punished for exposing administrative improprieties and financial irregularities.
The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Niper) near Chandigarh dismissed Nilanjan Roy, associate professor of biotechnology, in April this year, claiming he had tried to embezzle funds, refused to correct students’ papers and stopped taking an assigned class.
Roy claims the institute has concocted false allegations against him after he raised concerns about what he says were questionable appointments, irregularities in the purchase of diesel and spare parts of scientific equipment, and diversion of funds to unauthorised activities or projects.
A part of the diverted funds appear to have been spent on an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Roy and two other scientists at Niper have said. Niper director K.K. Bhutani has denied all these allegations.
The controversy has angered sections of scientists who recall that an inquiry panel had indicted Niper’s administration three years ago for punishing another whistleblower scientist, Animesh Roy, who had exposed scientific misconduct by the head of his department.
Animesh Roy has since been reinstated by the institute as directed by the inquiry panel.
In a letter of appeal sent to the chairman of Niper’s board of governors (BoG), Nilanjan Roy has claimed he had exposed instances of “financial irregularities and abuse and misuse of authority by the present officiating director, K.K. Bhutani.”
“The very person against whom I complained set up an inquiry against me on concocted charges and then dismissed me from service, while my appeal against the inquiry report is pending before you as the chairman of the BoG,” Nilanjan Roy wrote to Vishwa Mohan Katoch.
Katoch, who is also the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, declined to discuss the details of the case.
However, he told The Telegraph: “I will approach this with the utmost neutrality and speed.”
Bhutani says Nilanjan Roy “cooked up” false charges against Niper’s administration.
“Instead of defending the charges he has been accused of, he is making counter-charges,” he said.
Bhutani said Nilanjan Roy’s dismissal followed an inquiry conducted by an independent scientist invited from the headquarters of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi.
“He has received an absolutely fair and independent inquiry,” Bhutani told this newspaper.
Senior scientists say they are unhappy with Katoch’s inaction.
“This is a fit case of whistle-blowing,” said Kasturi Lal Chopra, a former director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and president of the Society for Scientific Values, a body tracking misconduct in science.
“Katoch is silent — his predecessors (as chairperson of Niper’s BoG) were unhappy with the management of Niper and got out of the mess,” Chopra said.
“After a lot of effort, Animesh was finally taken back. I hope Nilanjan does not face the same problem.”
Niper cut Nilanjan Roy’s salary by 50 per cent during the inquiry last year and stopped paying him last month after the dismissal order, a move Bhutani has defended as something he had to do “under government rules”.
Scientists have been circulating emails to generate support for Nilanjan Roy.
“It’s very important to protect such people, else they will just be quashed like bugs,” said Nandula Raghuram, associate professor of biotechnology at the Indraprastha University in New Delhi and a former secretary of the Society for Scientific Values.
Nilanjan Roy has support from within Niper too. Another faculty member, Parikshit Bansal, has also complained to Katoch that Niper’s administration had “misappropriated funds”, diverting money earmarked for an intellectual property rights project to pay for software unapproved under the project.
Bhutani told this newspaper the information provided by Bansal was “absolutely baseless and misleading”.
He said Bansal had complained to higher authorities, including the Central Vigilance Commission, and that Niper had “answered all these questions satisfactorily”.
Bansal had written to Katoch last July that given the technical nature of the projects, it would be difficult to “make out how the money has been misappropriated” unless the project’s scientific investigators were called in to clarify during audits or inquiry.
Nilanjan Roy, Bansal and a third Niper scientist, Neeraj Kumar, met Katoch early this month, urging him to reverse the dismissal order against Roy and set up an inquiry panel to look into the issues they had raised.
A BoG meeting is scheduled for tomorrow but Nilanjan Roy and Bansal say they do not know whether these issues would come up for discussion.
“Documents don’t lie — we have documentary evidence to support all that we are claiming,” Bansal said.
In October 2011, Nilanjan Roy had begun posting a blog titled “A biped against corruption” and uploading documents that, Bansal said, help establish the claims about irregularities.
Bhutani said Nilanjan Roy, Bansal and Kumar were the “only three” people causing trouble in Niper.