Palpu Pushpangadan, a 2010 Padma Shree awardee, is the current Director-General of Amity Institute for Herbal and Biotech Products Development (AIHBPD). He has earlier worked as a director at Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow and Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology. He has received many accolades for his work tribals and his ‘Benefit Sharing Model’.
In this brief interview, he talks about his educational journey, research aspects in Botany, his Benefit Sharing Model and many more.
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Please tell us about your family background and your educational journey till class 12th.
I come from a middle class family in village Prakulam in Quilon District of Kerala. I was born as the eighth child to my parents. I had four brothers and three sisters, they all were well educated. I am the last of the eight children. All my brothers and sisters have passed away and I am the only one left, a 73 years old man.
I was admitted in a local school up to 5th standard and later went to a Cristian Missiories School up to 12th standard. I was a very studious student up to 12th.
What motivated you to pursue a career in Botany? From where did you complete your graduation, M. Phil and Ph.D.?
It was an incident of rare thing that I became in botanist in my carrier. I did BSc (1965) from Kerala University studied in a college in Quilon. For MSc (1968) M.Phil (1972) and Ph.D (1975) I did from Aligarh Muslim University.
It is often seen that Botany and the related sub-fields do not get enough grants from the government to pursue quality research. How well-founded is this allegation?
Well I don’t think that this is a valid allegation. Getting grands depends upon the type of project you are working on. It is often see that in Botany and related sub field, if you put up a good proposal you will get financial assistance from different Central Government research departments.
You have specialized in Biodiversity, Biotechnology, Cytogenetics, and Plant Breeding and Bio-processing. What is the scope for students who want to do research in these fields?
All the specialization in Botany specially Biodiversity, Biotechnology, Cytogenetics, plant breeding and bio-processing have evolved later in time- these are relatively new and if a student wants to go for research then there is a lot of scope.
Please tell us a little about Your Model of ‘benefit sharing’. When and how did you come up with this idea?
The model of Benefit Sharing accidently came to me when I was a Chief coordinator of the All India Co-ordinated Research Project on ethnobiology (AICRP- Govt. of India) During the course of this investigation my research team in Western Ghats came across with a tribal namely Kani. While going with the Kani young men (who became the guides for us) we stumbled upon the lesser known/ hither unknown use of a wild plant called Arogyapacha which means giver of good health. The plant Arogyapacha was identified as Tricopus cylanicus verity travencuricus. The fruits of this plant is eaten by kani tribals as a health promoting agent as it does not cause fatigue. On verification we found that use of this plant is hither to unknown and therefore we thought of finding a patent on this plant. On enquiry we found that the tribals could not be added in the list of authors. But I thought I will rectify this by giving the benefit from patent of this plant to tribals by giving a share about 50% of the benefit in cash. Accordingly, I drafted a letter to the Government saying that if the filed patent become feasible then the tribals have to be financially protected. At this stage I met Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta of SRISTI (from IIM Ahmadabad- 1993) who told me how to share the benefit to tribals by forming a society of tribals and then give the benefit to them. The tribals are totally ignorant people and with the help of some well wishers we formed a society of the tribals and they given the 50% (Rs. 7.5 lakhs) of the benefit got from transferring this knowledge to a company. This is how the benefit sharing model was evolved.
You have been a director at Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) in Kerala, National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram. How was your experience working there? Any memorable incident that you want to share.
I became the Director of these Institutes out of my work in Biodiversity, Biotechnology, Cytogenetics and plant breeding and the tribals especially the benefit sharing model developed by me. It was a memorable experience in all these laboratories. Right now I am working as the Director General at Amity Institute for Herbal and Biotech Products Development (AIHBPD).It has been both a challenge as well as a good learning experience for me.
What would be your parting message to students who want to pursue a career in Botany?
The students I give them a massage that you should work hard to pursue a career in Botany.