Tuesday, August 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Depressed scientists of CSIR labs

THIS has reference to the “Story of missed targets: truth about science in India” (The Tribune, June 6). The author has called a spade a spade about the worsening environment in our government-funded R&D laboratories and institutes.

Even the efforts of a visionary and dynamic leader like Dr Mashelkar, despite his honest and total commitment to transform the CSIR into a “CSIR Inc”, have been brought to naught by the unbridled autonomy provided to the directors of these laboratories. Despite the claims of decentralisation of power down the ladder by the directors as per CSIR policies, it is a fact that the identity and empowerment provided to all other scientists remain only on paper. The crisis of the loss of identity of scientists has further worsened after Dr Abid Hussain pointed out in his excellent report. The depressing situation in the CSIR laboratories.

No doubt, in such a situation the autocratic heads of the laboratories try to build up a team of sycophants to support their hegemony. An independent enquiry in all the merit-based promotions in the CSIR set-up will reveal that a majority of these are bagged by scientists because of their personal loyalty to the directors, supporting and providing false progress reports to the CSIR without actually producing the claimed results. Such a situation can obviously never provide the desired results.


Science managers may justify merit-based promotions by arguing that these are based on the peer review and the assessment by the learned and experienced members of the committee of experts constituted by the Research Council. Off the record, however, every scientist, technician and even member of the Research Council will admit that the system is manipulative. Not even a leaf can stir without the wishes of the director within the lab. The committees are there only as a support system for the director to pass the buck and bemoan his helplessness to those who are professionally competent scientists but fall a victim to the favouritism displayed by him in giving promotions to some of the less deserving if they are in his good books because of personal reasons.

Even non-monetary incentives like foreign fellowships, official and residential telephones and memberships of important committees are given to such scientists as endear themselves to the director through personal service rather than professional excellence. Such an organisational culture turns even committed scientists into a frustrated lot. One cannot expect better results than that projected by the author under the circumstances.

To end the despotic governance in the name of autonomy in the CSIR laboratories, it may be worthwhile to adopt a system of rotational directorship involving all senior scientists like that prevalent in the universities. The top 10 senior scientists representing different disciplines may constitute a board of directors for the laboratory concerned. All powers as well as accountability for the performance of the laboratory should rest in the board of directors.

Non-monetary incentives may be linked to positions rather than the so-called functional requirements of the post. This will eradicate arbitrariness, which promotes favouritism in the laboratory. The system of IAS time pay scales and the privileges that go with it may be made applicable to the scientists to free them from the irrational one-man rule and to provide a frank and free environment for the pursuit of science. Only the honest hard work in science can ensure India’s sustainable growth.


Measures to reduce birth rate

One of the most serious problems that faces India today is that of overpopulation. Our population today is about 1 billion and second only to that of China. The contrast with China is misleading since China has about 2 per cent of the world population and about 7 per cent of the land area. In contrast, India has to feed about 16 per cent of the world population but has only about 2.4 per cent of the total land area.

Still more alarming and disconcerting is the fact that our population is growing at the rate of 16 million per annum. Our rising population graph is attributed to (1) tropical climate, (2) early marriages, (3) the decline in the death rate, (4) old customs, (5) illiteracy.

India is situated in the tropical belt. Hot climate leads to early puberty and maturity, which give rise to an increase in population. Lack of education is another cause for the increase in population. When population rises, the government cannot provide for all basic necessities like food, clothing, healthcare and shelter.

The birth rate can be controlled by adopting these measures: (1) increasing the marriage age to 25-30 years, (2) awareness generation on family planning methods.

Kerala, with a higher literacy rate, has a population growth rate lower than the national average. The link between literacy, development and population is irrefutable.

Let us not knowingly head towards a Malthusian catastrophe. The crisis is real and time is fast running out. It is upon sons and daughters of mother India to cure our ailing mother of her myriad maladies before it is too late. It is time to think of a time-bound plan to control the birth rate to consolidate our gain of 53 years.


Air crash and after

The Indian Airlines acquisition committee has been working overtime to get tender invitations ready following the crash of a 20-year-old Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 which killed 56 people in Patna recently.

Since then the pressure has increased on the government to quicken its acquisition programme, and on Monday Opposition politicians called for the entire Alliance Air fleet of Boeings to be grounded.

Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav has since activated Indian Airlines’ fleet acquisition plan, which had been in limbo for more than a year.

The plan was delayed due to the general election last year and twice by the shifting of the airline’s Managing Director.

The fleet acquisition will be funded by bank loans and financial assistance of Rs 3.25 billion from the government.


Spare a thought for soldiers

The editorial “Kargil one year later” (July 27) rightly says that ours is a nation of ungrateful people. Most of us outwardly show serious concern about the nation’s safety, give suggestions on various matters, write letters to the editor and what not? But what we lack is courage, determination, zeal and the morale of a soldier.

The soldier is one man who braves chilling winds, heavy rainfall, landslides and, of course, the gunshots of the enemy when he is guarding the borders of the nation, while many of us are enjoying the luxuries of life in our houses.

When a soldier lays down his life for his motherland, no other mother weeps, no other brother loses his brother, no other father loses his son. Many of us do not know who Capt Vikram Batra was, but we can in a second tell on which channel “Kaun Banega Crorepati” is telecast.

Things turn worse when state and central governments turn a blind eye to the sacrifices of jawans. They make tall but false promises and bloated commitments. Ministers rush to the houses of martyrs to express their “grief” and to offer “condolences”, never to be seen again. Parents of martyrs run from pillar to post to get what is due to them. Truly, the “vows made in storm are forgotten in calm”.

Perhaps, the need of the hour is to review the whole situation, learn from past mistakes, give a genuine thought to the welfare of the families of the martyrs, provide them more benefits than that claimed to be given at present.

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,

Drawing no dividend from time’s tomorrows.


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