04 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments

CSIR: headless and adrift


CSIR: headless and adrift There can be no better example of how bureaucratic apathy and governmental neglect can run down one of the best organizations in the country than the sad tale of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Once ranked among the foremost scientific research institutes in Asia, with such redoubtable names as Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Atma Ram and Husain Zaheer and physicist M.G.K. Menon heading it, the CSIR has been without a chief for the past six months, after the controversial ouster of the previous head, Dr Mashelkar. The fact that the Prime Minister himself is the president of the CSIR society and that the savvy Kapil Sibal is the minister for science and technology has not helped matters. Politico-bureaucratic interference in appointments and administration has made the top job too “hot” for any scientist to handle. Consequently, the organisation of 18,000 scientists and 37 state-of-the-art laboratories has been pretty much left to fend for itself. Sibal has made some efforts to galvanise the organization and give it direction, but without success. Initially, M.K. Bhan, who is secretary, department of biotechnology, was given “additional” charge of CSIR, but the babu passed the mantle to his colleague Thirumalachari Ramasamy in the science and technology department after just eight weeks. The government then appointed the director of CSIR’s Central Food Technological Research Institute as the new DG, but withdrew the appointment a week later without assigning any reasons. Insiders hint at political intrigue. Observers note that a part of the problem lies in Sibal’s own views on who should head the organization, given the circumstances that prompted Mashelkar’s departure. Of course, the problems that afflict CSIR go beyond the need to find an appropriate someone to head it. Besides the musical chairs being played amongst the contenders for the top slot, there are long-standing issues that need addressing. An obvious one is the loss of talented scientists and researchers to greener pastures. With better opportunities in the private sector within India and abroad, more and more young scientists and researchers are moving away from pure sciences to the more lucrative applied sciences. This has dealt a body blow to indigenous scientific research, a condition that shall continue only at the nation’s peril. And it is not just about the post of Director General; fifteen laboratories of the council are without a director. Those in the know suggest that Sibal is perhaps eyeing a greater prize than the one he has on his hands, from Manmohan’s kitty in the impending Cabinet reshuffle, expected to take place following the presidential election in July. Be that as it may, for the sake of the nation’s scientific community, one hopes that Sibal (or whoever replaces him) and his babus cut through the red tape which is slowly strangling what used to be an illustrious centre of scientific research.

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