India comes to aid of cash-strapped research centre

India has rescued an international research centre on life sciences after Italy refused to pay for the Delhi-based institute because of a fund crunch.

International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) will receive enhanced funding from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) after the NDA government agreed to bail out the institute that researches on malaria, tuberculosis and dengue. There are two more ICGEB centres in Trieste (Italy) and Cape Town (South Africa).

ICGEB began as a UN Industrial Development Organisation project in 1987 and became a full-fledged UN research centre in Delhi in 1994 with the objective of translating western biotechnology research into products for the developing world. As many as 61 countries are members of the autonomous inter-governmental organisation.

In June 2012, the Italian government, which provides two-third funding to the Indian component, decided to quit the Delhi centre triggering a financial crisis for the institute. Knowing the value of the institute, the Centre approached the DBT seeking a bail-out package.

“The government has agreed to expand the funding for ICGEB, which will continue as an international body,” ICGEB director S K Sopory told Deccan Herald. The first hint at a government aid came in the budget. “Global partnership will be developed under India’s leadership to transform the Delhi component of the ICGEB into a world leader in life sciences and biotechnology,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his Budget speech last month.

Asked how much would be India’s contribution, DBT secretary K Vijayraghavan said the department would provide whatever the institute needed. “The DBT will also continue to invest in building and infrastructure,” he said. Sources said the annual contribution could vary between Rs 25-30 crore.

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