New Delhi: A parliamentary committee has come down heavily on the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for what it said was a huge, persistent and recurring mismatch between projected demands for funds and actual allocation for schemes and projects in the five years to 2017-18.
The panel said the shortfall of funds has been massive by any standard and is certain to have an adverse bearing on the implementation of intramural (research done by Indian government scientists) and extramural (research done by government/non-government scientists as well as those involving other countries) research projects under the department of health research (DHR).
ICMR, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world. It is funded by the government of India through the DHR, ministry of health and family welfare.
The total Twelfth Plan outlay (2012-13 to 2016-17) earmarked Rs10,029 crore for DHR including ICMR for various research activities, while only Rs3,575.17 crore was allocated at the budget estimate stage, which was further cut to Rs3,266.50 crore in the revised estimates (32% of approved outlay). The actual expenditure was only Rs3,180.99 crore up to February 2017.
“There is a huge mismatch to the tune of Rs6,762.50 crore between the 12th Plan outlay and the revised estimate allocation made for the department. Though it is always possible to generate more value for the funds allocated, it would be unrealistic to expect to achieve key goals of Health Research or to make spectacular break-through in the newly emerging frontier areas of health research with only 32% of the approved outlays," the panel said.
The committee observed that against the projected outlay Rs145 crore for 2017-18 for the scheme of “establishment of network of laboratories for managing epidemics and natural calamities", an allocation of Rs59 crore has been made in 2017-18.
“India continues to have epidemics due to various infectious pathogens and it is imperative to promptly respond to localized outbreaks before they pose bigger health challenges. It is in this context that building a network of well-equipped viral diagnostic laboratories is necessary. The scheme should not be allowed to be plagued with under funding and the Department should seek more funds, if needed, at revised estimate (RE) stage," said the panel.
Similarly, for the development of infrastructure for setting up multidisciplinary research units (MRUs) in government medical colleges, against the projected demand of Rs178 crore, the scheme got only Rs36 crore for 2017-18.
“This clearly shows that the fund allocation for MRUs is rather low. Given the growing burden of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) that often require life-long management, this scheme is of immense importance," the panel said.
The committee also noted that out of the 15 model rural health research units (MRHRUs) planned to be established during the 12th plan period, only eight MRHRUs have been established which have initiated research activities and the remaining have either been approved or are in the pipeline.
“Evidently, the DHR has lagged behind in achieving the targets set for the 12th Five Year Plan. To ascertain the exact reasons responsible for non-achievement of the targets and take corrective measures accordingly so that the intended outcomes are achieved in future and there are no time and cost overruns due to slippages in implementation of this project," the panel said.
Currently, health research in the country is primarily carried out by 31 Institutes of ICMR which was established in 1911 and is one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world. Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, Secretary, DHR said, “ICMR has got additional funds of Rs200 crore. We have also got a raise for the next year for various research activities. We are doing our level best for research outcomes for the country."