Political changes mar biotechnology park progress in state
Thursday, October 11, 2001 08:00 IST
The political imbroglio in the state seems to be putting the ambitious Biotechnology Park progress in Tamil Nadu on the backseat. Though the state was the first among the Indian states to come out with an exclusive biotechnology bill and also constituting a Biotechnology Board, there has been no progress as far as the establishment of an exclusive Biotechnology Park, which was proposed in Chennai by two successive governments.
The delay in establishing the proposed Biotechnology Park, which was supposedly aimed at helping the pharmaceutical industry given the fact that biotechnology was the latest buzzword, is being watched with bated breath by the pharmaceutical industry. The success of the state in fostering the growth of the information technology industry, besides the success in setting up an exclusive information technology park, the Tidel Park, prompted the then government headed by Dr. M. Karunanidhi to mull the establishment of an exclusive Biotechnology Park that sought to leverage on the opportunities thrown open by the said buzzword besides catapulting the state into the forefront as far as harnessing biotechnology is concerned.
The government then decided to constitute a high level committee to draft the Biotechnology Bill that would lay the yardstick for the progress of harnessing biotechnology in a big way. The committee was headed by eminent agricultural scientist, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, chairperson of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The committee had also mooted the concept of having a Biotechnology Board that would help channelise financial and human resources to tap the booming business potential in biotechnology
However, the Biotechnology Bill was drafted and passed making the state the first in the south to do so. The passing of the Bill was seen as the government''s positive attitude to help the industry, specially the pharmaceutical industry. Further, as per the recommendation of the Biotechnology Board, the government gave clearance for setting up a Biotechnology Park in Chennai. In fact, this was the first Biotechnology Park proposal mooted in the country.
Following this, the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) was made the nodal agency to finalise the details of establishing the Biotechnology Park in Chennai, almost adjacent to the information technology park, Tidel Park. TIDCO was the nodal agency for setting up the Tidel Park Though, the then Tamil Nadu government, under the chief ministership ofDr. Karunanidhi, earmarked a financial budget of Rs.64 lakh as part of its commitment to the setting up of the exclusive park. TIDCO, in the meanwhile, had been talking to financial institutions to extend financial assistance for the park, as it had done in the case of Tidel Park. It was reported that the financial institutions buoyed by the success of the Tidel Park, were keen to extend financial assistance to the project too.
While the total outlay was being worked out, TIDCO was also negotiating with the various EPC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction) companies, the change in the government put the whole show on hold. With whatever aims the powers that had, the entire project was put on hold alleging financial irregularities. TIDCO was directed to put on hold the initial details and plans, and was asked to wait for further orders. Though the Biotechnology Bill and the Biotechnology Board is intact, the progress of setting up the Biotechnology Park hung in fire.
However, when the new government took charge under the reign of Jayalalitha, it also embarked on a new initiative to promote the Park. While assuring that the proposed Biotechnology Park would be established, the government stated that it was reworking on the entire schedule. There was no word from it in this regard for a long time now. A sudden workout by the government ensured that its financial participation was just restricted to Rs 20 crore while TIDCO went all out to rope in financial participation from various financial institutions. The attempt of the government to restrict its financial participation in the project was viewed by government officials as an effort to arrest the dismal financial strength of the government. But, another school of thought argues that it is an effort to derail the initiatives of the previous government.
All this notwithstanding, TIDCO managed to ink a technical service agreement with Cornell University, USA, for the Biotechnology Park in Chennai. Christened TICEL (Tidco Centre for Life Sciences), the park proposes to attract fresh investment of Rs.1000 crores from 50 new companies to be set up in the park and fuel bio-entrepreneurship in the state. TICEL is modelled on the TIDEL Park, the information technology park set up by TIDCO. This has come as a solace to biotechnology companies, which are waiting in queue to speed up their respective progress leveraging on biotechnology.
As per the MoU, valid for five years renewable for another five years, Cornell University will help from the concept stage to the commissioning stage of the park. This was disclosed by Madhavan Nambiar, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), TIDCO. The state-of-the-art park will provide complete technical and other allied services under one umbrella including technology transfer, mentoring, networking, contract and collaborative research work, product validation, documentation, commercialisation, training and a separate intellectual property rights (IPR) cell which will support in the areas of patents, licencing, royalty sharing, copyrights to name a few.
The feasibility report, has already been completed with the help of Cornell University. The total cost is pegged at Rs 62.5 crore. TIDCO will be investing Rs.9 crore as equity, the Tamil Nadu government would be bringing in Rs.20 crore. The remaining Rs. 33 crore would be raised from various banks and financial institutions. It is stated that State Bank of India, Industrial Development Finance Corporation and Exim Bank have also shown interest in picking up equity stake. The financial closure of the park is expected to be over in November this year, and the park would be made ready for occupation by December 2002.
But the question being asked as of now is when and from where the state government would bring in the said Rs.20 crore. This in the wake of thefact that a new interim government is in place in the state being headed by a new Chief Minister. The state government has given TIDCO no word on when it would bring in its stake. This stand is being viewed with suspicion.The state government has made no efforts in putting to rest speculation that the state government would back out at the last moment leaving TIDCO to arrange for replacement on its own.
TICEL would be set up in a five-acre expanse consisting of two majorfacilities - a bio-resource centre of 18,000 sq ft; and customised laboratories of 1.2 lakh sq ft. It will explore the Indian genetic pool and exploit the germplasm base available and leverage on the existing pool of Indian biotechnology scientists and low cost software skills. It is stated by Nambiar that the park''s incubating centre usage would be charged at Rs.18,000 per hour as against 40 times more available in a similar park in the US.
The state government is still to acquire the said land. Again on this aspect it has not mentioned when it would do so. While TIDCO and Cornell University are hopeful that the Park would be commissioned by December 2002, the delay on part of the government to acquire the land could jeopardize the progress. Further delay could put the project in a situation where the financial closure, supposedly to be over by November this year, would be achieved while the commencement of construction would get delayed due to the delay in acquiring the land.
Cornell University, in the meanwhile has maintained that in addition to the commissioning of the Park will also be setting up a special projects cell at its premises in the USA to provide for advanced training under the directorship of Dr.K.V. Raman, apart from offering access to its electronic library. It will also facilitate relationships between the tenants of similar parks abroad and in the Chennai park besides exchange of faculty for conducting specific and advanced training programmes.
Tamil Nadu is the only state with which Cornell University has a collaboration in this area. The university has made it clear that only after the implementation of the Chennai park would they take similar parks in other states. The initiative will put Chennai on the global network of Cornell which has technical collaboration in 36 countries. But what is being watched is, while Cornell is hopeful it would put Chennai on its global network, whether TIDCO could get the necessary state government support to give some credence to the MOU it has signed with the University. And there lies the future of the Biotechnology Park.