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DBT salutes its former secretaries: teachers who steered the department

Dr. S Ramachandran (1986-1992)F_S_4
Dr. S Ramachandran, a scientist of repute and a visionary leader was responsible for the setting up of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

As the first secretary of the Department of Biotechnology Dr. Ramachandran was responsible for creating a vibrant research ecosystem across the country focusing on all the important components of Human resource and Infrastructure and Research capacities, which he did effectively. India was one of the first countries to boast of a separate Department of Biotechnology, in the Government.

Born on September 9th, 1934, Dr. S. Ramachandran received his Bachelor of Science from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in 1955 and then his Master of Science from Banaras Hindu University in 1957. Under a merit fellowship, Dr. S. Ramachandran went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Illinois in 1960, specializing in biochemistry. In 1961, Dr. S. Ramachandran joined the Hindustan Antibiotics Limited, Poona as a CSIR scientist and rose up to become its head of research in 1972. In 1977 he was appointed Chief Executive of Bengal Immunity Company Limited, Government of India, an organization he successfully turned around.

He was appointed Member Secretary of the National Biotechnology Board in New Delhi in 1982. It did not take him long to highlight the importance of a separate department and in 1986 he became the first Secretary to the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. During his nearly 7-year tenure as Secretary, he initiated several successful mission programmes in the areas of immunization, tissue culture, aqua culture, academic and industrial training and information technology.

In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contributions to Indian science. The scientific community will remember him fondly for his contributions to the advancement of biosciences. The entire DBT family gratefully acknowledges his enormous contribution in laying the foundation of this Department.

The Department announces the institution of a named annual lecture in his honour. The Dr. S. Ramachandran Lecture will be delivered each year by an eminent person, from India or abroad.

Dr. C.R. Bhatia (1993-1995)F_S_3
The baton of the Department was passed on to Dr. Chittaranjan Bhatia in 1993, the then Director of Bhaba Atomic Research Centre. As Secretary, Department of Biotechnology Government of India Dr. Bhatia was instrumental in strengthening the Research Programmes on Biotechnology by developing infrastructure within the country. DBT continued its rapid growth as an organization under his tutelage. He instituted several systems and initiated major initiatives like launching the National Certification System for Tissue Culture raised plants.

Dr Bhatia completed his PhD under the supervision of Dr MS Swaminathan at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. In 1966 he joined the Biology Division of the BARC in 1966 where he explored the induced and natural genetic variation in crop plants for morphological, biochemical, disease resistance and productivity traits. His group developed 15 new cultivars of pulses and oilseeds that were approved and released for cultivation at the National and State level including black gram, mungbean, pigeonpea and groundnut.

He became a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1984, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, New Delhi in 1992, the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad in 1991, the Maharashtra Academy of Science in 1983 and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) in 1992. In 1993, Dr Bhatia received the RN Tandon Memorial Award. In 1995, he was conferred SK Mitra Memorial Award of INSA and the Om Prakash Bhasin Award.

After retirement, Dr. Bhatia worked as consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization-International Atomic Energy Agency (FAO-IAEA), in Ghana, Vienna and South Africa. Dr Bhatia also served the WinRock International in a World Bank supported project with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council to draw a program for Agricultural Biotechnology.

Dr Manju Sharma (1995-2004)F_S_2
In 1995, DBT’s stewardship was passed on to Dr Manju Sharma, an eminent biologist, recognized for her contributions to promotion of science and technology, in particular the emerging field of biotechnology. During her tenure till 2004, Dr. Sharma initiated and promoted many successful programmes but she is specially known for establishing a number of new institutions covering diverse fields of Biotechnology.

Her contributions have been instrumental in shaping biotechnology research and application and orienting it to contribute significantly to India’s growth and development. After superannuating in February, 2004, she has been advising many research institutions and is also the Principal Adviser on Biotechnology to the State Governments of Gujarat, and Uttarakhand. She is known for her Dr. pivotal role in taking up the cause of women in science and application of science and technology for the benefit of women, disadvantaged people and rural areas. She has held various positions in the Government of India.

Born in February, 1940 trained as a Plant Scientist; she received a first class M.Sc. from Lucknow University in 1961 and was awarded the Birbal Sahni Memorial Gold Medal. Her well-known research on the sclereids in organs other than leaves, like stem and floral parts, brought out, for the first time, the taxonomic and phylogenetic significance of sclereids. Her Post-doctoral research at Purdue University, USA, on latex bearing plants led to the understanding that etheral can stimulate the yield of latex and rubber by 100%; this found direct commercial application in rubber plantations in Malaysia. Her extensive studies at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun in a large number of woody species established a co-relation between silica content and the hardness of wood, a character used as an indicator of quality of wood.

She is a Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences; National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and National Academy of Sciences, India of which she was also the President. She was the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association in 1998; President of the Association of Microbiologists of India (1999) and President of Vigyan Parishad, Prayag. She is the recipient of large number of awards and honours; to name a few: the VASVIK Award (1994); the Norman E. Borlaug Award (1995); G.M. Modi Science Award 2002; K.N. Bahl Memorial Gold Medal 1997; the FIE’s National Award 1998; Shri Om Prakash Bhasin Award; the JEPPIAAR Educational Trust’s National Science and Technology Award for Excellence in 1998; Ashutosh Mukherjee Medal, B.P. Pal Medal, Special Distinction Medal, Science Congress; DELHI RATAN 2003; Jawaharlal Nehru National Award 2000, by M.P. Govt.; Vigyan Gaurav from Govt. of Uttar Pradesh; Ojaswani Shirsh Alankaran 2002, M.P.; and life time achievement award from BIOSPECTRUM, 2004.

In recognition of her exemplary efforts she was awarded the Padma Bhushan, which is the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 2007.

Dr M K Bhan (2005-2012)F_S_1
Dr M K Bhan, a pediatric surgeon and researcher took over the reins of the department in 2004. It was during his tenure that DBT ventured into translational research and initiated partnerships with industry through BIPP, SIBRI and BIRAC

During his 8-year stint he piloted the formation of India’s national biotech policy, revamped the regulatory systems to approve biotech products and initiated several path-breaking steps to promote the growth of biotechnology industry and also launched new biotech translational research centres across the country. Dr Bhan received the Padma Bhushan award in 2013 for his contributions to Indian science.

MK Bhan obtained his MBBS in 1969 from the Armed Forces Medical College, Poona University, and MD in 1974 from the Delhi University, India. His areas of specialization are pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric infectious diseases and nutrition. He held the positions of registrar at the Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, India, from 1974 to 1976; senior consultant at the Institute of Child Health, Kabul, Afganistan from 1976 to 1978; lecturer at the Post-graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India from 1978 to 1979; assistant professor from 1979 to 1981; and associate professor from 1981 to 1987. He has been the brain behind India’s Rotavirus vaccine, the cheapest so far in the world which has not only created a new paradigm on health and international interaction, but also put India on the path of novel vaccine development.