Delegates to the Indian Science Congress share mattresses laid on the floor of a classroom at a Salt Lake engineering institute
Scientists herded into a classroom with a common bath, academic sessions organised across venues with no transport and lunch at a park identified by a tank number that would sound Greek to visitors.
Many of those who came for the centenary edition of the Indian Science Congress left Calcutta with memories they would not cherish. And for the city that played host, their experience is a chastening reminder that it remains ill-equipped to host an event of this stature.
Manoj Chouksey, a final-year MSc forensic sciences student from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, and his classmate Tilak Chandrakar were among a group of about 20 budding scientists from Sagar for whom this was their first science congress.
While most of them seemed satisfied with the event, they left on Tuesday with a feeling that the choice of city was wrong. “The 100th annual meeting should have been the best ever. But our seniors who have attended previous editions have told us this was among the worst in recent years in terms of arrangements for delegates,” Chouksey said.
Hundreds of delegates to the congress had to make do with classrooms of a private engineering college in Salt Lake’s Sector V as lodging for the duration of the event.
“We were 30 in a room or even more, and there were six to seven such rooms on a floor and three floors were taken,” said Avdhesh Kumar, a PhD scholar from Uttar Pradesh. “They had laid out thin mattresses on the floor with an even thinner blanket. On each floor there were three or four bathrooms for use. These were actually ladies’ toilets that had been converted into bathrooms.”
The classrooms had 18 to 26 mattresses on the floor, though some like young scientist Chandrakar didn’t mind that as much as he did being asked to use a ladies’ toilet as a bathroom. “Worse, they had a single bathroom for nearly 60 people!” he said.
Many had to make their own arrangements despite having registered for the event in advance.
“I didn’t get accommodation, I had to arrange it myself,” said Kashinath Deodhar of the Defence Research and Development Organisation. “The basic problem was utter lack of communication. No one knew anything about registration, accommodation, travel. There were buses parked but there was no announcement and even if we managed to board one, the buses wouldn’t move because they had not received orders.”
The students from Sagar sensed trouble the day they arrived at Howrah station. There was a co-ordination counter at the station but no buses, as promised. “We waited nearly three hours at the station before a bus arrived,” Chouksey recalled.
Raj Kishore Shukla, a retired chemistry professor from Uttar Pradesh and a life member of the Indian Science Congress Association, said his and the other delegates’ impression about the congress would have been different had they received proper accommodation — ideally two to four persons in a room — and efficient transport such as buses to ferry them to the venues in time for the scientific sessions.
“I would never have come had I known what I would have to endure,” declared Shukla, who shared a room with 21 people.
“The venues were widely scattered, and many of us had to make our own arrangements to reach them,” another delegate said.
At a meeting of the general body of the science congress ahead of the valedictory session on Monday, 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.
Union science and technology secretary T. Ramasami apologised for lapses by the local organisers and took some of the blame in an apparent bid to save host Calcutta University the blushes.
Some blamed the lack of infrastructure in the city for all the trouble the delegates had to endure. “This city doesn’t have anything like the Hyderabad International Convention Centre,” said an organiser. “That’s why we had to use a portion of the Salt Lake stadium for the inauguration. The Hyderabad centre has a plenary hall that can accommodate 5,000 delegates.”
Arrangements for free lunch had been made for the delegates but the venue was IB Park near Tank No. 14, which few outstation participants could locate. “The first day we were given packed breakfast that was so bad, we could not eat,” complained delegate Avdesh.
This was the second congress that Avdesh had attended, his first being at SRM University, Chennai. “That event was far far better. The congress was held on one campus and everything was really far better organised.”
Despite the allegations, the packed sessions were an indication that all was not bad, said a local organiser. “Most scientists went happy with the rich academic content of this congress,” he added.