A Global View of Open Access (6) : A perspective from India

I am very pleased to introduce the sixth and last article in this series of snapshots of the progress towards open access around the globe. Muthu Madhan, manager of Library and Information Services at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Patancheru, Hyderabad (www.icrisat.org) has kindly updated his 2011 status report on: “Open Access to Scholarly Literature in India — A Status Report” (http://cis-india.org/openness/publications/open-access-scholarly-literature.pdf ).  In this blog entry he reports on the recent developments on OA in India as well as summarizes its origins.

Open Access discussions began surprisingly early in India, dating back to a talk given by Stevan Harnad in September 2000. The first institutional repository was set up next year at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Unfortunately, although the report details many expressions of support for open access, there have been very few institutional or funder mandates that have been implemented to encourage the deposit of the full text of research articles. ICRISAT is one of the few institutions that has set up a repository and introduced a mandate.

The situation seems a missed opportunity for Indian researchers but open access in India is complicated by the emergence of 100s of new ‘predatory journals’ claiming to offer open access for a fee. There is clearly much work to be done to realize true open access in India and it is to be hoped that OA initiatives such as that championed by the Global Research can help make a real difference:


Tony Hey

May 2014

Open Access in India Today

Open Access (OA) discussions in India in the true sense began at a conference organized by M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) to pay tribute to Eugene Garfield on his 75th birthday in September 2000. In the conference, Prof. Stevan Harnad spoke about his influential idea ‘the scholarly skywriting’ and introduced EPrints– the first OAI-PMH based institutional repository software – to the participants.  Next year, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore set up India’s first Eprints based interoperable institutional repository.  More than 13 years, since the landmark conference happened, is good enough for a meaningful retrospective.

Support to OA from Science Academies

Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc founded in 1934), the earliest science academy of modern India, has extended full support to OA.  First, the academy has made all the journals it publishes OA.   Incidentally, even before the Budapest meeting that came up with the OA declaration, the Academy made two of its journals – Pramana- the journal of physics and Current Science freely available to all users through the journals’ websites.  The Academy does not charge authors any article processing fee. More than that, IASc has made an effort to make OA all the papers (about 100,000) published by the more than 1,500 fellows that the Academy has elected so far.  In its endeavor, the Academy has created a repository platform for the fellows to self-archive their publications. The repository at present holds more than 90,000 bibliographic records, with roughly 20,700 full-texts, of the papers published by both living and deceased fellows. IASc is the first and probably the only academy in the world to have taken such an initiative.  If the attempt succeeds, it will probably make sure that the cream of Indian science (reported in journals) freely available for all to use. Obviously, in the given situation where authors have very minimal self-archiving rights, it is not easy for the academy to achieve 100% open access to the research papers of the fellows.

Indian National Science Academy (INSA founded in1935) also extended its support to OA by signing the Berlin declaration < http://openaccess.mpg.de/319790/Signatories >.  Following that, INSA made four of its journals OA.  INSA too does not charge any fee to authors to get the papers published in those journals.

OA policy developments in public laboratories and funding agencies

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a network of 37 laboratories with 6,000 researchers, is considered to be the largest applied research organization in India.  According to an assessment by EvidenceThomson Reuters, CSIR laboratories have produced 10 per cent of India’s overall research output during 2001-2010. CSIR has made some efforts to provide OA to publications that come out from the laboratories. During the time of OA week in 2008, 17 journals published by National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) – a CSIR institute devoted to dissemination and documentation of science and technology information – were made OA. NISCAIR also does not charge any fee from authors. The CSIR has endorsed an unenforced green OA mandate.  As per the mandate, each CSIR laboratory must set up an interoperable OA repository and populate it with publications produced from the laboratory.   CSIR’s Unit for Research and Development of Information Products (URDIP) has created a platform called CSIR Central  to help the laboratories in creating, customizing, hosting and maintaining institutional repositories. One of the objectives of CSIR Central is to provide single point access to all the research output produced from the CSIR laboratories. As of now, 27 laboratories have set up institutional repositories. However, only a few laboratories have shown commitment in populating the repositories.  Of the 37 laboratories of CSIR, only the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, has implemented an effective institutional mandate since 2010.  NIO’s repository  is one of the well- populated and well-maintained repositories in India. CSIR has to take persuasive steps to implement the OA mandate in the laboratories that would certainly complement its frugal innovation projects like the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD).

With a view to strengthening research base in biomedical sciences, in 2008, Wellcome Trust, UK, and Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India, formed an alliance and introduced a three-tier fellowship program.  The £80 million pound research fellowship program (called India Alliance) is funded equally by both the agencies. The program has mandated OA to papers resulting from research supported in whole are in part by the fellowshipThe fellows can claim article processing charges (APC) for publishing their papers in open access journals.  This is the only program where an Indian funding agency explicitly permits APCs for scientists.  Ironically, DBT has not enforced the same mandate to the other fellowships that it funds.  Further, DBT has not done anything concrete with regard to OA to research papers produced from DBT funded institutions. Currently, with a new secretary at the helm, there is some talk about formulating an OA policy.

Of the 18 autonomous science and technology institutions funded by Department of Science and Technology (DST), India, Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore < http://dspace.rri.res.in/  >  and Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) < http://prints.iiap.res.in/ >, Bangalore,  were early adopters of green OA, and they are maintaining  well-populated  institutional repositories.  The RRI’s OA repository holds the complete works of the Noble laureate Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman.  The Indian Association of Cultivation of Science, modern India’s oldest research institute founded in 1876 has just set up a repository.  The National Centre for Catalysis Research, Chennai, established with assistance from DST, maintains a repository which is populated with the center’s research output and with the publications of the members of the Catalysis Society of India.  In 2012, the Government of India has brought out National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) for non-classified data under the provision of Right to Information (RTI) act of 2005.  DST, the nodal department for implementing the policy, clearly states that “Ministries/Departments of Government of India while releasing funds to State Governments and other Institutions including Central/State Universities put down a condition, the data generated using such funds would come under the purview of this Policy”. Following the policy, implementation guidelines (V 2.1) for NDSAP has been prepared by Department of Electronics and Information Technology in April 2013.   Open data that has taken precedence in government policy initiatives may give impetus to a nation-wide policy for open access to scientific information produced from public funds.

Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – the apex body for the management of agricultural research and education – has made some headway in making agricultural research output produced from India open to all.  ICAR has created a platform to host Indian agricultural research journals.  The platform hosts 20 journals published by ICAR and societies dealing with agricultural sciences.  Of the 99 ICAR institutions funded and governed by ICAR,   only three research laboratories have set up institutional repositories.  Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Cochin, an ICAR laboratory, has a well-populated institutional repository, which other ICAR institutions can adopt as a model. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a Hyderabad based CGIAR institution, has set up an OA repository with a mandate.   ICRISAT conducted several sensitizing workshops on OA in agriculture, for researchers and librarians of Indian agricultural research institutions, universities and societies.  In 2013, ICAR adopted a system-wide green OA policy.  However, its implementation is poor as there is no penalty for non-implementation. About 70 per cent of the agricultural research produced in India is reported in journals published from India.  Most of the Indian agricultural journals lack international visibility and that is one reason for lack of global impact of Indian agricultural research.  ICAR must expedite the process of implementing the OA policy it has adopted and make sure Indian research visible and accessible to the world.

Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), for all its units and institutions, has set up a repository, but, there is no policy in place to motivate researchers to deposit their papers in the repository.     The Indian Journal of Medical Research published by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is open access, but most laboratories under ICMR and all institutions under the Indian Council of Social Science Research remain unaffected by the OA advocacy.

The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) , the high-level advisory body constituted with the mandate to guide policy and direct reforms to the Prime Minister of India, has encouraged OA to scientific and scholarly information produced in India.   Mr Sam Pitroda – the Chairman of Knowledge Commission – in his recommendations to Prime Minister of India sent on 2nd November 2007 states that , “all research articles published by Indian authors receiving substantial government or public funding must be made available under Open Access and should be archived in the standard OA format at least on his/her website”.  It is more than six years now, there is hardly any action on implementing NKC’s recommendations till date.

Open Access in academic sector

For many years, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has been encouraging initiatives that aim to bring educational resources free to all.  One such initiative funded by MHRD is the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) whose mission is to enhance the quality of engineering education in the country.  NPTEL provides E-learning through curriculum based online web and video open educational resources (OERs) in engineering, science and humanities streams. These courses are mostly offered by the faculty of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Gawhati and Roorkee) and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, all of them are highly respected.  NPTEL has developed 700 video courses and these can be accessed through NPTEL website, YouTube, and two television channels, viz, Ekalavya and Gyan Darshan. They are also made available as DVDs and hard disks.

University Grants Commission (UGC), a statutory body (under MHRD) responsible for maintenance of standards in universities, mandated OA to electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) submitted to all research universities.  Following the mandate, Information Library Network (INFLIBNET) of UGC has set up a repository platform called Shodhganga for research students and universities to deposit their ETDs to comply with the mandate. More than 15,000 theses/dissertations from 166 universities (as of early May, 2014) have been made OA through this platform.  A few universities are maintaining their own repository for electronic theses and dissertations.

In India, as of February 2014, there are altogether 659 universities that include 312 state universities, 173 private universities, 129 deemed to be universities and 45 central universities. Of these, the repository maintained by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, with more than 37,000 records, stands out among the repositories in academic institutions. Though IISc was the first in India to set up an interoperable institutional repository (2001), universities and other higher educational institutions in India have not emulated IISc in providing OA to institutional research output.   National Institute of Technology, Rourkela (NITR), the first institution in India to have approved an OA mandate, maintains two repositories, one for research papers and the other for ETDs.   University of Mysore – a state university – maintains a well-populated OA repository.  The directory of open access repositories has listed number of repositories from India, but most of them are not populated on a regular basis.   Academic institutions in India, have not realized the potential loss of delaying OA to the research that they produce. Nor has MHRD that governs the higher education system in India recognized the importance of OA.

At the level of schools, with support from MHRD, the National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT) launched on 13 August 2013 the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) portal ‒ a free online repository of NCERT courseware. Students and self learners can freely access the courseware, including some finely scripted and directed audio and video programs and appealing interactive content, which would aid their learning. Some of the videos are distance learning programs created by the NCERT and previously aired on Doordarshan. < http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/widening-access-educational-resources.html >

Prof. B Viswanathan of Indian Institute of Madras has made available a 25-part presentation on a hot research topic, viz. converting carbon dioxide, a key global warmer, into useful chemicals and fuels, originally delivered over three months on the Google Hangout platform for invited researchers from about 20 countries through YouTube. Such knowledge sharing on a yet to be solved research questions is rare.

Open Access Journals

Directory of Open Access Journals has listed 588 journals published from India.  Of the 588 journals, 263 journals published by 149 publishers do not charge authors/readers any fee.  Just three Indian publishers, viz. Medknow (75 journals), NISCAIR (17 journals) and IASc (11 journals) publish 103 OA journals.

There are 325 journals, published by 226 publishers, which levy article processing charges (APC) from authors. Jeffrey Beall classifies most of them as counterfeit journals published by predatory publishers. He says, “Perhaps nowhere are these abuses more acute than in India, where new predatory publishers or journals emerge each week. They are appearing because of the market need — hundreds of thousands of scientists in India and its neighboring countries need to get published to earn tenure and promotion”.  < http://www.nature.com/news/predatory-publishers-are-corrupting-open-access-1.11385 > Please see also                                                      < http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/106/09/1173.pdf   >. As if to prove his point, more than 130 such journals have sprouted in India during 2012-2013. It is really disheartening to note that Indian scientific community could not arrest the growth of these fake journals and just remains helpless spectators.  India, unfortunately, is also home to predatory conferences as well.

OA advocacy in India

OA advocacy in India can be characterized as mostly a one-man effort by Prof. Subbiah Arunachalam, a distinguished fellow at Center for Internet and Society (CIS), Bangalore. His advocacy was largely responsible for OA developments at IASc, INSA, CSIR and ICAR. He organized many workshops and conferences (on OA-related topics) and mobilized funds to bring overseas experts (such as Alan Gilchrist, Stevan Harnad, Barbara Kirsop, Leslie Chan, Leslie Carr, Alma Swan, John Willinsky, and Abel Packer) and Indian experts and participants. He brought in eminent institutions such as IASc, IISc and CSIR to cosponsor these events. He organized in 2010 an appeal to the CGIAR management with 14 eminent international leaders of the OA movement as cosignatories for making all CGIAR research open access, and now in 2014 CGIAR has an OA policy. Documentation Training and Research Centre (DRTC), Bangalore and the National Centre for Science Information (NCSI), Bangalore, (which unfortunately was closed down in 2012) have conducted many workshops on OA repository software for librarians India. Individuals like Prof. A R D Prasad of DRTC, a popular information science teacher and a member of the international advisory board of DSpace Federation, has promoted DSpace in a big way in India. Apart from OA, Prof. Prasad is a champion of openness in general. Dr Francis Jayakanth of IISc has helped many institutions to set up their own repositories. Dr Jayakanth has also taught a large number of students OA software and introduced the PKP Open Journals System (OJS) for a few OA journal publishers.

Forming an OA interest group with champions at institutions is of urgent necessity to strengthen OA advocacy in India.  The group should find ways to bring the scientific community that has shown little interest so far on board to discuss OA.

Prof Padmanaban Balaram, the Director of Indian Institute of Science and a strong supporter of green OA, opposes government/funding agencies enforce a mandate on scientists.  He feels OA should be a community movement and repositories should attract scientific community by its features <http://cis-india.org/openness/professor-balaram-talks-open-access>. Is 100% OA to Indian research output achievable without mandates at institutional and funders level? Prof. Balaram’s view must be debated by India’s scientists and academic and research librarians.

Over 13 years after a few Indian researchers started talking about electronic publishing and open access to science and scholarship, India still has to go a long way before OA is accepted by a majority of scientists and funders.  Continued procrastination will considerably harm the country’s scientific enterprise and delay its goal of moving to a knowledge economy.

Muthu Madhan                                                                                                                             

13 May 2014

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