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  • kewal sethi

what ails science in india

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

cnn rao blames establishment for plight of research in india. is he right?

c n n rao, the scientist, was given the bharat ratna. in his acceptance speech, he lambasted the government saying all the leaders were fools (later he clarified that their ideas were fools, not they themselves). his grievance is that indian government is not giving enough money for research compared to china and some other countries (we are 66th in the matter of innovations)

this set me thinking and i have come to the conclusion that if we are straggler in research, it is not because of the government but because of the scientists. like the proverbial crab packing anecdote (save money by not providing for the top cover because in any case crabs will pull each other down to not let anyone escape), the researcher is not allowed to work. no senior will like to give credit for original work to his junior. that is the reason why the indian scientist flourish abroad but are frustrated when they venture to come back to india and work here.

let me cite a case to illustrate the point. a scientist (let us call him mr. A) was working with a canadian university and apparently doing well. he could persuade the university to let him continue the research in india. the relevant equipment (worth about 40 million rupees) would be given to him to continue his research. he returned to india and got a job with indian institute of science (of which c n n rao is an ex director and still occupies a bungalow in the campus) in 2011. the canadian university agreed to let the equipment come to india (there was only one other instance where the university allowed the equipment to be taken out of canada – to china). he informed the iisc about it but the institute was reluctant. their excuse was that so much will have to be spent on bringing equipment to india. the institute could not afford it. the canadian university agreed to bear the cost of transport (a real first).

meanwhile the institute purchased a similar equipment for rs 30 million in july 2012 even though a free gift was within the knowledge of the authorities. it lay exposed to weather, unopened in its cartons

on their annual day, they invited the press representatives to visit the institute. they probably expected a lot of kudos from them. unfortunately for mr. A, a correspondent chanced to come across the equipment lying in the open. he enquired into it and published a report on this. (times of india dated march 6, 2012).

the institute promptly blamed mr. A for leaking out this news. lo and behold, his services were terminated in april 2012. his competence is not in doubt. in canada he set up ( with 1.2 million dollar grant from NSF) thermal ionic mass spectrometer (TIMS) in canada, a facility recognised by NASA for analysing moon samples. it was an original research work. recently he got a paper published in an international journal and was invited to an international conference in taiwan to speak on the subject as recently as november 2013).

this is how we treat our scientists and then we try to blame someone else for our incompetence. no, mr. rao, money is not the problem. the problem lies with the scientists themselves, their petty mindedness, their jeolousy not to mention their readiness to go in for purchases. would mr. c n n rao (as advisor to prime minister) enquire into the entire episode and do justice.

post script - the scientist concerned - mr srinivasan - later emigrated to canada where the university welcomed him back.


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