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Scientist's dismissal sparks row

K. S. Jayaraman

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.74 Published online 15 May 2012

The dismissal of a scientist on grounds of "financial embezzlement, forgery and academic misconduct" has sparked a controversy at the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) in Mohali near Chandigarh with the scientist denying all these charges.

Nilanjan Roy, the scientist at the heart of the controversy.

Nilanjan Roy an associate professor at NIPER was served a dismissal notice on April 20, 2012 and was ordered to vacate his official residence within a month. He says he has been punished for whistle blowing on the corruption and financial irregularities at the institute.

However, the officiating director of NIPER Kamlesh Kumar Bhutani told Nature India that Roy has been dismissed "because of proven charges of financial embezzlement, forgery and gross academic misconduct" and that he was given "fair and full opportunity to defend himself."

Roy says these are concocted charges and too trivial to deserve dismissal.

Roy's dismissal comes close on the heels of another such move by NIPER in 2009 when the institute had dismissed Animesh Roy for blowing the whistle on scientific misconduct. He was subsequently reinstated after an inquiry committee found that the allegations made by him were true.

In the latest case, Nilanjan Roy who has post-doctoral research experience from The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio, was engaged in teaching and research in bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics. During his ten years at NIPER, he established a drug target identification research group and was the coordinator of New-Indigo, an International consortium of scientists from India, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Roy says he used the Right to Information Act to access official documents, exposing several instances of misappropriations in the institute. Neeraj Kumar, a faculty member at the institute, admits that "Nilanjan is victimized by the administration as he exposed the corruption in NIPER."

An independent agency, New-Delhi based Society for Scientific Values (SSV), that checks science misconduct, is taking Roy's side. "Nilanjan's case is the most recent case of a whistle blower on financial fraud and mismanagement in NIPER," SSV president Kasturi Chopra told Nature India adding that "the management at NIPER dismisses scientists without a formal inquiry."

Roy has appealed against his dismissal to Vishwa Mohan Katoch, Chairman of NIPER's Board of Governors, seeking an impartial enquiry. In his appeal, Roy said he was being "humiliated, demoralised and frustrated".

But Bhutani categorically denies any wrong doing. "Roy has been indulging in false and malicious propaganda and trying to proclaim himself as whistle-blower to gain sympathy," Bhutani said adding that NIPER's accounts are inspected by government auditors and tabled in the Parliament. Ever since he was charge-sheeted he has been "cooking up stories in the media and internet not only trying to vitiate the academic environment but also to subvert the image of the institute", Bhutani says.

Scientists familiar with Roy's work have urged Katoch, also the chief of the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR), to get the case investigated impartially and thoroughly by an independent committee.

"Pending such an investigation, Roy should be kept in his post," says Rahul Siddharthan, a physics professor at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai.