Even as objections were raised by senior officials, a sister Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institute has tweaked a low-cost digital soil-testing technology developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Indian Express report said. Nagarjuna Agro Chemicals Private Limited (NACPL), the company which is based in Hyderabad, has sold more than 5,000 kits and refills worth Rs 83 crore through NAFED, without any tender since December 2016.
The records that have been accessed by the paper, show that in 2009, the IARI introduced “Digital Soil Test Fertiliser Recommendation (STFR)” technology, through which a farmer can test seven soil parameters using an electronic device and obtain specific fertiliser recommendations. The technology has raised the possibilities of taking soil-testing facilities limited to a handful of institutional laboratories to the grassroots, the paper said.
In 2011, the IARI filed a patent application for STFR . It also started issuing licences for its commercialisation in 2012. In July 2014, NACPL was among firms that got a licence from IARI to commercialise this technology. The same year in August, it entered into an agreement with another ICAR lab, Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Soil Science (IISS) , to improve this STFR technology.
In February 19, 2015, the day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Soil Health Card scheme, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh unveiled Mridaparikshak/mini lab developed by IISS in collaboration with NACPL. Even after protest by IARI, “a case of copying of Pusa STFR patented technology with a few more elements and parameters added” — the company secured exclusive rights for commercialising the “proprietary item”.
The IISS launched Mridaparikshak/mini lab formally, which could test 10 soil parameters, on April 7, 2015. IARI joint director (Research) K V Prabhu, on same day wrote a letter to the ICAR Director General, claiming that NACPL violated intellectual property rights by “unauthorised modification and disclosure” of technology to IISS.
Prabhu in his letter stated that an action could have been taken by the IARI had had a sister ICAR institute (IISS) not been involved. “An urgent action is solicited before the same situation extends to independent private-public collaboration based on ICAR technology,” he wrote.