In a rare move, the government has barred the Karnataka-based Manipal University from receiving foreign funds(HT Photo)
In a rare move, the government has barred the Karnataka-based Manipal University from receiving foreign funds(HT Photo)

MHA cancels Manipal varsity FCRA licence over ‘unauthorised research’

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) suspended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act -2010 (FCRA) account of the university for carrying out the “unauthorized” research at the Manipal Institute of Virology, the official said.
By Sudhi Ranjan Sen | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2020 06:57 AM IST

In a rare move, the government has barred the Karnataka-based Manipal University from receiving foreign funds after it allegedly carried out research on the Nipah virus, a a biological warfare grade pathogen, according to a senior government official who didn’t want to be named. The institution confirmed the move, but denied the allegation.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) suspended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act -2010 (FCRA) account of the university for carrying out the “unauthorized” research at the Manipal Institute of Virology, the official said.

“The account of Manipal University was suspended in January 2020 and the university informed,” the official added.

Manipal Institute of Virology carried out the tests on the Nipah virus, of which there was an outbreak in Kerala in 2018 and 2019. Hindustan Times reported first on February 7 that the government had asked Manipal University and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – a federal agency of the United States which reports to the Department of Health – to stop the research immediately.

An official communication reviewed by Hindustan Times, titled “Unapproved, US-funded Indian Laboratory stored samples of Nipah Virus – a bioterrorism agent,” noted; “the Ministry has taken a serious view of the entire matter.” Manipal University was asked to stop the research and hand over samples to the Pune-based National Institute of Virology.

The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act -2010 – an internal security legislation - regulates and monitors the use of foreign contributions, donations and even hospitality (air travel, hotel accommodation and so on) extended to Indian organizations and individuals.

Foreign donations and contributions to non-governmental organizations and charitable trusts whose activities were considered to be questionable have been routinely blocked in the past. But foreign aid and grants to established universities and educational institutions have rarely been blocked.

The Union home ministry, which administers the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act -2010, did not respond to queries. Manipal University admitted that the MHA had suspended the FCRA account of the university for its research on Nipah virus.

In a detailed response to queries from Hindustan Times, Manipal University said it had written to the MHA objecting to the block on the institution receiving foreign funds.

“The University has not used any foreign contribution for Nipah testing. In addition, the University has filed reports on the use of foreign funding every 15 days. All account details have been provided,” Dr G Arun Kumar, the director of the Manipal University of Virology, said.

“Manipal Centre Virus Research (now Manipal Institute of Virology) was established in 2010 as the first operational ICMR Grade1 Virus Research Diagnostic Laboratory. The recent action of the government is actually nullifying the facility and national capacity particularly at a time when the country needs it the most,” Kumar said.

“Nipah Virus investigation done in Kerala was funded exclusively by the Indian Council for Medical Research. MIV carried out only molecular diagnostics (PCR assay) in inactivated samples for diagnosing Nipah and samples were transferred to National Institute of Virology, Pune for virus,” he said.

“We did not perform virus isolation. We have taken due diligence in bio-safety and bio-security of the Nipah samples handling at MIV and followed WHO {World Helath Organisation} EBOLA molecular diagnostic guidelines in letter and spirit. All Nipah diagnostic was done with real-time information to ICMR and National Centre for Disease Control of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with daily email reports. We categorically deny all allegations.” Kumar said., “The research at MIV was not connected to any vaccine development and no intellectual property right was generated or transferred.”

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