Indian experts are still calling for a national agency to tackle plagiarism, one year on from a major case of scientific fraud

Killugudi Jayaraman/Bangalore, India 

It is just over a year since Pattium Chiranjeevi, from Sri Venkateswara University (SVU) in Tirupati, was accused of one of the biggest cases of scientific fraud in chemistry. But despite its high profile, a cross section of scientists interviewed by Chemistry World are unhappy with how the case was handled, and the Indian government is yet to finalise plans for a national agency to tackle the problem of plagiarism. 

Despite an internal enquiry concluding that Chiranjeevi plagiarised or falsified results in more than 70 articles published in national and international journals, his punishment has been considered mild. 

Nandula Raghuram, secretary for the Society of Scientific Values in New Delhi, says that SVU at least did not condone the crime. ’We receive many complaints of plagiarism by scientists whose institutions do not acknowledge the fraud,’ he says. 

Faculty members at SVU doubt the case will be reopened, largely because there is no pressure from the government University Grants Commission to do so. This body is responsible for ranking universities, and when it visited the university in February 2009 the controversy was barely noted and re-accreditation with ’A-grade’ rating was recommended. 

Plagiarism is on the rise in many scientific fields and the internet has made such misconduct easier, says Narasimhaiengar Mukunda, editor of publications at the Indian Academy of Sciences. 

’During the past two to three years, I must have detected more than 80 cases of plagiarism in articles submitted for publication in Current Science [an Academy journal],’ the late Krishnarao Raghavendra Rao, formerly the journal’s associate editor, told Chemistry World last year. 

As a result of this case and others, the Academy’s anti-plagiarism policy now requires corresponding authors to sign a document confirming that new results claimed in their papers ’express the author’s own findings’. Every Academy journal also carries a warning that if plagiarism is discovered after publication, it will be noted in both online and print versions of the journal and the offending authors’ institutions and funding agencies will be informed. 

Sundarababu Bhaskaran, from the Indian Institute of Technology, said that plagiarism will continue to haunt editors unless a national body is set up to deal with the problem. 

Goverdhan Mehta, member of the Prime Minister’s science advisory council, agrees that a body similar to the Office of Research Integrity in the US is needed. ’This issue has been discussed by members of the science advisory council and we have entrusted the responsibility of setting up a watchdog agency to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and it should be created soon.’ 

’The agency will be called the Office of professional ethics and will be run by distinguished Indians, not just scientists,’ DST secretary Thirumalachari Ramasamy told Chemistry World.