They might be one of the top environment scientists of the country but even by the virtue of being associated with the government they enjoyed no privileges extended to the most basic grades of government service.
Having served the environmental science with almost everything they have got, scientists such as GK Prasad, JDS Negi and VK Jain discovered that the government is not obliged to pay for their medical expenses.
Prasad had to pay Rs 4 lakh for a bypass surgery, Negi had to spend about Rs 30 lakh for kidney treatment of his wife and Jain exhausted all his life savings for health-related problems of his wife.
They are just a few of many environment scientists across India who had become victims of the environment ministry's apathy. Had the ministry implemented a Cabinet decision of 1990 converting the Indian Council of Forest Research and Education (IFCRE), where they worked, into an autonomous organisation, their medical expenses would have been reimbursed like other government employees.
The council was born in 1986 as a result of Central government's decision to set up a parent body for forestry research having six institutes under its ambit, including Forest Research Institute set up by the British in 1906.
To make it truly a forest research body, the IFCRE had scientists from top bodies such as Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Wildlife Institute of India and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), as its members.
Four years later, the Cabinet decided to grant IFCRE an autonomous status similar to that extended to the CSIR and ICAR, thereby ensuring that all employees are treated at par with other employees of the Central government's scientific bodies. Two decades later, the council is an autonomous authority but only on paper but not in reality.
Instead of enforcing Central government pension rules, the council put in place its own service rules which meant that the employees were not eligible for regular pension and medical benefits post-retirement.
"Written promises were given that all benefits applicable to Central government employees will be provided to us before we opted for IFCRE rules," said a representation by the scientists working in six institutes under the council to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan.
What could be seen as another blow to scientists in the forest sector the environment ministry has now proposed another Cabinet note reiterating the points of 1990. But scientists said it was not required.
But, with the new Cabinet note the environment ministry is trying to carve out a separate department — forestry and research.
Earlier attempt of the foresters in the ministry to get a separate department for forestry and wildlife was shot down by the Prime Minister’s Office. The decision was seen as a cadre rivalry between IAS and IFS official as latter would have got a permanent secretary level post in government of India.