Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur: The DRDO’s most unusual lab - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 27 April 2009

Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur: The DRDO’s most unusual lab

(Concluding part of a two-part article on the DRDO in the northeast)

by Ajai Shukla
Dateline: Tezpur, Assam

During the Second World War, Field Marshall William Slim, the commander of the 14th Army in Burma discovered that the anopheles mosquito was causing more casualties to his men than the Japanese. Ruthlessly practical, he decreed that catching malaria was a disciplinary offence, punishable by imprisonment in a military prison. Today’s Indian Army, still serving in the mosquito-ridden jungles of the northeast, continues Slim’s dictat: sleeves must be rolled down after sunset; mosquito nets are compulsory at night.

Now, however, the jawans have a formidable ally: the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL) Tezpur. While other Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratories focus on weapons and sensors, DRL tackles problems that concern every citizen of the northeast: malaria; the pestilent dim-dam fly; water-purification in remote areas; and power generation from bio-resources.

Such projects are far removed from the glamorous end of defence R&D. But Business Standard learned during a visit to DRL Tezpur that, measured in terms of intellectual property, this is the DRDO’s most successful laboratory. Four months ago DRL’s Molecular Biology Facility became the first Indian institution to file, with the World Gene Bank, the detailed structure of the gene that provides mosquitoes with resistance to insecticides. This gene sequence is now available internationally for research against the mosquito.

And in just the last two years, DRL has filed for eight Indian patents and an international patent for an herbal anti-malarial.

DRL’s success rests on a simple method: tapping into local tribal knowledge of herbs and plants that repel mosquitoes, leeches and other pests and provide relief from their attacks. DRL scientists in Tezpur then use modern laboratory techniques to identify the active ingredient in these local herbs. These ingredients are then packaged into convenient dispensers for soldiers as well as civilians.

DRL’s Director, Dr RB Srivastava, shows us a sheaf of letters from private companies requesting Transfer of Technology (ToT) for his products. During May 09, DRL will hand over technology for the commercial production of five anti-mosquito products, including an herbal anti-malarial that replaces Good Knight; and a bio-larvicide that feeds on mosquito larvae.

DRDO keeps the ToT fee nominal, to encourage as much manufacture as possible. Malaria, points out the DRL Director, can only be tackled at a broad societal level. Only half in jest he says, “Mosquitoes have developed the technology for flying across cantonment walls. We can’t confine ourselves to the military in dealing with issues like malaria.”

But why, I ask, is a defence laboratory researching malaria, an area better left to hospitals, academic research institutions and the Ministry of Health? Dr Srivastava explains that DRL scientists collaborate with the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR) for technical training and analytical assistance. But there is a marked reluctance within central institutions for working and researching in the difficult border areas of the northeast.

The northeastern state governments turn to DRL as frequently as the military does. DRL is Arunachal Pradesh’s referral institute for water quality studies After DRL’s malarial applications won first prize in a Tripura government science exhibition, shutting out competitors like the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Tripura government has turned to DRL for an anti-malaria programme.

DRL’s bold charter criss-crosses the dividing line between civil and military. A great success is its one-week mushroom farming training programme, run for batches of 25-30 local youths. DRL estimates that each graduate who opens a mushroom farming unit employs about 30 locals, bringing them into the national mainstream and narrowing the extremists’ recruitment base.


  1. without any limelight until now, DRDO's effort from northeast are spectacullar. It would be nice if you can post some pics please.

  2. sir any news on arjun tank or armoured vehicle future development.

  3. a real eye-opener, and no mistake. great work, ajay.

  4. Ajai, could you do similar pieces on DRDOs clusters at Hyderabad and Bangalore?

    They do some yeoman work as well.

  5. ajai, pics please..

    but ya DRL is cool.. they are the ones behind the Indian Instant Foods (ready to eat) in the box... (eg. MTR, Priya, Haldiraam etc).

    not sure about the rest but i know MTR attributes the tech to DRL in its packaging.


  7. Wow. This is a great news.

  8. Sorry folks, no pictures from DRL. aybe next time...

  9. Ajai, What are you doing now? Helping DRDO search "Sanjeevani booti" in the Himalayas?

  10. Dr. Albright’s perditions of Pakistani production capabilities he made in 1998 and 2000 Pakistan have some where 100 to 180 which includes 20 to 30 plutonium warheads. Once K-3 is completed Pakistan will have capability to produce a total of 15 to 24 warheads each year

    Currently with Kahuta &Kushab-1 (2 to 3 warheads @ 70MWT )and Kuhsab-2 (if reactor is only taken at 100MWT it can produce 4 to 6 warheads and 8 to 12 warheads if it is 150 to 200MWT like one in Karachi(second options looks more likely due to size and Pakistani experience with that reactor) )they have capability to produce 11 to 18 nuclear warheads each year.

    Pakistan Expanding Plutonium Separation Facility Near Rawalpindi
    Pakistan Expanding Dera Ghazi Khan Nuclear Site

    As per media reports, PAEC is continuing expansion of the nuclear program, including the completion of two additional plutonium production reactors at Khushab and the Chashma reprocessing facility. Another large Nuclear Fuel Complex is being set up at Faisalabad and a uranium enrichment plant is being set up at Chak Jhumra which will have a capacity of 150,000 SWU whereas Kahuta is believed to be only 15000 SWU.

    By David Albright and Paul Brannan
    May 19, 2009

    In July 1984 the New York Times reported that US intelligence had learned that the previous year that China had supplied Pakistan with the design of an actual tested nuclear device - the design of China's fourth nuclear weapon
    tested in 1966 with a yield of 25 kt. This is said to be a low weight (200 kg class) solid-core bomb design. Reports have also surfaced that China also provided sufficient HEU to construct one
    or two weapons in 1983. In 1998 A. Q. Khan stated that Pakistan had acquired the capability to explode a nuclear device at the end of 1984.

    Thomas Reed, a former US Air Force secretary has claimed in his book- The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation that during Benazir Bhutto's tenure China helped Pakistan in testing its first nuclear armament.

    It is difficult to claim that what is actual size and destructive capability given Pakistani claims of boosted weapons test in 1998 which are consistent with their previous import of technology of tritium purification facility.But one thing is sure that they have enough material available to make minimum of 100+ and maximum of 180+ nuclear weapons with yields varying from 20 to 300+ KT By 1987, the PAEC was able to acquire from West Germany parts for a tritium purification facility. Later, Pakistan attempted to procure from Germany 30 tons of aluminum tubing, used to "clad lithium for irradiation in a reactor. German firm NTG that helped PAEC developed tritium purification and recovery processes. Tritium is used to boost fission warheads and develop Hydrogen bombs.

    CIA Director Leon Panetta has said the United States does not know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons but is confident the country has secured them.

    “We don’t have, frankly, the intelligence to know where they all are located,” Panetta said, adding the US was confident the Pakistani government had a “pretty secure approach to try to protect these weapons.”

  11. Why are u so lazy updating ur blog??And most of the news that u bring are .. i dare say not upto the mark.The last time u updated ur blog was on 28th april.So if u spend a month getting this type of's not worth the effort.

  12. last anon@ a little grace never hurt anybody. Ajai is doing you and US a favour by sharing info, you are not doing him a favour by coming here.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. ita jst a few days since i new abt it in asom,a grt news and m so happy dat drdo is taking such a bold step towards northeast apart from its military activities,thnks,nd hope it would be more succesful in future
    thnk u

  15. ita jst a few days since i new abt it in asom,a grt news and m so happy dat drdo is taking such a bold step towards northeast apart from its military activities,thnks,nd hope it would be more succesful in future
    thnk u

  16. Kudos to DRDO lab at tezpur. This is a good bench mark for other DRDO's too. We should do this for the non performing drdo branches. Mass produce Arjun tanks and send the drdo scientists to North East jungles and make them shoot down the mosquitoes. At lease they can do this useful case to protect our citizens, If not from Pakis or Chinkis but atleast from malaria mosquitoes.


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