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Regret after science congress grouses

Calcutta, Jan. 7: Several scientists have complained to the Union science and technology secretary about the selection of speakers and alleged police excesses at certain venues of the Indian Science Congress in Calcutta.

At a meeting of the general body of the science congress, some of the delegates wanted to know the process of selection of speakers and complained about police misbehaviour at the entrance to an Usha Uthup concert held as part of the five-day event that concluded today.

Union science and technology secretary T. Ramasami apologised for possible lapses on the part of the local organisers but took the blame on his shoulders in an apparent bid to save host Calcutta University the blushes.

At the technology campus of Calcutta University, Ramasami said he was sorry if the delegates had been inconvenienced in any way. He also said he was in Calcutta for the past 10 days to oversee the preparations.

The official added that he and local organisers had tried to do their best, but said sections of delegates might have faced some “discomfort” for which he said he would take “full responsibility”.

A section of scientists had staged a sit-in demonstration at the Techno India campus on Saturday over the shoddy accommodation and food arrangements made for them.

Hundreds of scientists were accommodated in classrooms. In at least three classrooms-turned-dormitories, 18 to 26 delegates were asked to sleep on rows of mattresses in a space of only 30 feet by 30 feet.

Although vehicles were provided for trips to various venues and back, there was no one to guide the scientists during the lunch hour when meals were served in parks 1-2km away from the venues.

Students today protested before the valedictory session for not being given participation certificates.

Ramasami said the police appeared to have been called to regulate an unexpectedly large crowd at the Usha Uthup event. “Imagine what would happen if the capacity of the venue was , and times people turned up,” he said.

According to Ramasami, one reason for the chaos at the venues was that nearly 7,000 delegates registered on the last two days of the conference as spot-registrants. This led to huge logistics challenges, which have prompted a rethink on the spot-registration policy. Altogether, organisers said, some 15,000 people attended the congress.

Overall, the officials said, the science content of the conference was good.