How many people had even heard of Dadaji Khobragade, till he passed away recently?
Not many, I am sure. Belonging to an agricultural family, and being a journalist even I had not heard his name, till his sickness, his family’s lack of funds for his treatment and his (untimely) death made headlines for a few days.
How many consume, or at least have heard of HMT rice?
Almost everyone, I am sure. It is THE most popular brand of rice in Vidarbha, and Central India, and people swear by it. Many prefer to use it even for ‘special’ rice preparations like Biryani!
On the other hand, it is a popular rice to grow among paddy farmers of Central India. It is largely pest resistant and considered a low input – high yield variety.
So the person who really developed this variety should have earned millions in Royalty, right?
No. He died in abject poverty and penury.
That is right, Dadaji Khobragade was the Dalit, poor farmer who came up with not just HMT, but ten other varieties of rice, experimenting in his small one and half acre farm in village Nanded of Chandrapur District.
The story of HMT rice and Khobragade goes thus:
(from IIPTA web site)
Dadaji Khobragade, who is a well known person in farmer’s fraternity due to HMT seeds and also his publicity of being considered one of the ‘Seven most powerful rural entrepreneurs’ is in news again. This time he is in news because one of the modifications of his famous HMT seeds has been registered under Protection of Plant Variety and Farmer’s Rights Act (PPV&FR Act). HMT seeds got its name from the famous HMT watches. These are said to yield much higher than other varieties and according to Khobragade it tastes better too.
· Dadaji Khobragade noticed few unusual looking rice seed in his paddy field, which he collected and replanted season after season till he developed HMT seeds (most popular rice variety).
When HMT became sought after in early 1990s, Dr. Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapith University borrowed 5kgs of HMT seeds from Khobragade to conduct experiments.
· After 4 years University released a new variety of ‘pure’ and improved form of HMT which came to be known as PKV HMT.
·According to news article in Down to Earth, VC of the University stated that the original seed may have come from Khobragade, but now it is entirely the University’s intellectual property (IP).
·In February, 2009 University filed application for PKV HMT to be registered.
·The Certificate of Registration (CoR) number 106 of 2012 for Rice Variety PKV HMT was granted to it and was published in Plant Variety Journal’s October, 2012 edition.
Some stats which were missing in the journal:
·Under paragraph (8) of the CoR where the applicant has to disclose the “Name and address of contributor, nature and amount of the contribution or the community knowledge used in the development of the plant variety,” the University has stated “N/A.” This is surprising given the news reports and the information on the National Innovation Foundation’s website which clearly identify Khobragade as being the developer of the HMT variety and PKV HMT as being an improved version of HMT.
·The University also does not consider its PKV HMT variety as being a variety “essentially derived” from HMT and provides “N/A” as the response to the question under paragraph (7) of the CoR, which seeks “In case of ‘essentially derived variety’, the details of the ‘initial variety’ from which the ‘essentially derived variety’ is claimed to have been derived.”
Thus a state funded Agricultural university, instead of lauding and appreciating the research work done by a ‘mere farmer’ working alone – something that the highly paid PKV scientists should have been doing – chose to hijack his work and the rice developed by him!
All Khobragade got from the government was a Krushi Bhushan Puraskar accompanied by a ‘Gold medal’ which also turned out to be made of Copper, a fact he discovered, when he tried to sell it as he needed cash! (After this controversy erupted they quickly replaced it with a genuine gold medal.)
When news that Dadaji Khobragade had suffered from a paralytic stroke and was brought to Nagpur, but the family could not afford the medical expenses came to the fore, state government offered a mere Rs. 2 lakhs ‘aid’ instead of underwriting his entire medical treatment – the least they could have done for a deserving, award winning farmer!
For lack of resources, his family had to finally take him to the Search Hospital in Gadchiroli, run by the idealistic Bang couple, who run an active hospice for the district’s poor tribal population, where he breathed his last.
But not appreciating Innovators, specially in the agri field, is not new to India. Consider the case of C.T. Patel:
Chandrakant T Patel was a young lecturer/ Scientist of Surat University who was the first agricultural scientist in the world to successfully develop Hybrid Cotton. All experiments to ‘cross’ and match two different varieties of cotton plants for more pest resistance and higher yield had failed the world over. It was considered impossible to do, till this scientist, working on the project for almost 20 years managed to do it and prove that it was agriculturally doable – not just in small lab sized trial plots, but actual farms, and commercially viable too.
When the news of this reached owners of Textile mills they rushed to find out more about this ‘hybrid cotton’ and this is how the world came to know about it.
(The undersigned was the first journalist to whom Dr. C.T. Patel spoke about the whole experience in 1975 – 76, so I can state the details.)
And how was Chandrakant Patel rewarded for this work?
He received a ‘Show cause notice and suspension order’ from his superior at the University! (He was accused of insubordination and ‘wasting’ his Department’s money’ for personal trials.)
It was only later when a hue and cry was raised about it, that the Sardar Patel University in Vallabh Vidyanagar bestowed a honorary D.Sc. degree on him in 1978.,
That is all this world famous scientist got though, till his end in 1990, he lived an ordinary middle class life living in a small house in Surat with his extended family.
But Dadaji Khobragade’s work is even more exemplary. Patel at least had the resources of the University at his disposal, plus he was getting paid a regular salary by the Surat University?
What kept Khobragade going? He was a small farmer with a small farm, a minuscule 1.5 acres. He was not even formally educated in agriculture! Yet passion and curiosity kept him experimenting and innovating. Till he reached his goal.
If we cannot appreciate and reward even such a farmer, imagine the plight of the rest?