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Herbarium’s poor show in 37 years

Contribution to research on plant resources not very satisfactory

The Bangladesh National Herbarium in Mirpur

Bangladesh National Herbarium (BNH) has turned into a wasteful and unproductive organisation due to its poor contributions to plant research.

Established 37 years ago in the city's Mirpur area, the BNH is supposed to do research on the country's plant resources and work for their conservation.

But the institution is plagued with administrative mismanagement and irregularities that are hampering the research and scientific studies there, sources said.

Many scientists have left the herbarium due to its distancing from research work, said Prof Mahfuzur Rahman, chairman of Botany Department at Jahangirnagar University.

“BNH has derailed from its goal of making contributions to the nation through research and studies,” said Rahman, who had been a scientific officer at BNH until 1991.

“It could have been one of the excellent research organisations had it lived up to its actual goals,” Prof Rahman said adding that the British Department For International Development spent a lot of money to set it up.

The objective of the BNH is to carry out plant taxonomy through identification of the country's traditional plants and trees through field-level botanical survey.

Collection of plant specimens and information on their usage, qualities and characteristics is another fundamental job apart from conservation of plants and preparation of statistics.

But the scientific officers, who are the core manpower of BNH, remain ignored while non-researchers dominate the institution, the sources alleged.

All three laboratories --Anatomy and Cytology lab, Tissue Culture lab and Bio-Chemical lab -- have been under lock and key since 1999 when they were set up.

A considerable amount of money is spent on “unproductive field trips,” sources alleged.

The research allocation for BNH is on average Tk 2.5 lakh a year and the money is spent in the name of procuring research materials.

Scientists are the users of the chemicals, lab equipment and other items, but they are not even aware of what items are procured.

Waliur Rahman, senior scientific officer (SSO) of the BNH, said the tender committee members could say how much research materials have been procured. “I even do not know the exact quantity of the materials procured,” he said.

As per approved bills, two rims of crap paper, 2,000 pieces of duplex paper (big mounting sheets), 125 specimen jars, 400 kilograms of naphthalene and 10 hand lenses, among other items, were purchased in this June.

Similarly, 10 rims of crap paper, 1,200 pieces of mounting sheets, 250 specimen jars and 100 litres of rectified spirit, among other items, were purchased in 2005.

It has been roughly estimated that at least 15,000 big duplex sheets have been purchased during the last 11 years (from 1998 to 2008). Interestingly, total consumption of big mounting sheets during the period is at best 590, according to records.

Maximum approximate consumption of crap paper during 12 years from 1997 to 2008 is one rim while total procurement is around 20 rims during the period, sources said.

There are around 400 jars in use at the herbarium museum. As many as 125 jars have been purchased in 2007-08 fiscal year alone to replace “broken jars.”

But sources said the jars with carpological collections are kept safely in a museum, where they are not supposed to be damaged or broken so easily.

The total number of jars procured during 12 years is estimated at nearly 2,800 pieces.

Asked, Dr Mahbuba Khanom, the director in-charge of BNH, said, “We procure research materials as per need and demand of the field attendants and technicians.”

Fakrul Islam, assistant director (admin), who is on the tender committee, said, “In fact, we procure research materials on the basis of previous year's quantity. We also procure materials on demand from the herbarium technicians.”

BNH has produced 57 booklets titled 'Flora of Bangladesh' in 37 years containing just one or two plant taxonomy in a year. Publication of this booklet is even irregular.

BNH brought out a volume of the booklet in 1995 after a break of three years. It could not bring out the booklet during 1997-2001. Similarly, it published a single volume in 2003 and then two volumes in 2007 after a 4-year break.

Asiatic Society of Bangladesh on the other hand under a 5-year project is set to bring out a complete encyclopaedia of entire flora and fauna of Bangladesh by next June. The society is accomplishing the task with hired scientists.

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