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Padma wears science petals

- Awards echo Manmohan commitment to field

New Delhi, Jan. 25: Four in ten among the Padma awards announced tonight are for achievements in science, engineering and medicine, an unprecedented proportion that many believe reflects the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to these fields.

The list of the Manmohan Singh government’s last set of Padma awards has 51 awardees from science and engineering or medicine among a total of 127. The number of awardees from these fields has generally tended to increase since UPA II assumed charge in 2009. (See chart)

This expanding footprint of science in the Padma list, some scientists say, reflects both the growing government recognition of these fields and Singh’s keen support for science, technology and education, evident through multiple initiatives over the past decade.

“I think this should be seen as recognition not for individuals by themselves but for science in general,” said Thirumalachari Ramasami, India’s science and technology secretary, who has himself been picked for the Padma Bhushan.

Two of the 127 awardees will receive the highest award — the Padma Vibhushan — while 24 will be honoured with the Padma Bhushan. The remaining 101 will receive the Padma Shri. The awardees include 27 women.

Actor Kamal Haasan will receive the Padma Bhushan while actress Vidya Balan will get a Padma Shri. Former badminton champion Pullela Gopichand and tennis star Leander Paes will be conferred with the Padma Bhushan while cricketers Anjum Chopra and Yuvraj Singh and squash player Dipika Pallikal will receive the Padma Shri.

Since UPA I came to power in 2004, the government’s annual investments in science and technology have grown by 10 to 15 per cent each year. In the past decade, about 60 new science institutes have been created, including the five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research in Bhopal, Calcutta, Mohali, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram.

“This is another signal that science matters to India,” said Raghunath Mashelkar, a chemical engineer and former director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who will be one of the two Padma Vibhushan recipients this year. The other is yoga expert B.K.S. Iyengar.

Among the Padma awardees are 28 doctors who have been selected for their contributions in a range of fields from cardiology and cancer to surgery and dental science.

“Health has gained prominence; there’s this huge middle class and a growing demand for healthcare,” said Subrat Kumar Acharya, professor of gastro-enterology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and a specialist in liver diseases.

Some of the awardees from science and medicine made their contributions to their fields years, even decades, ago.

“While recognising the work of an older generation, these awards may also encourage youngsters (by showing) that India has faith in science,” Ramasami said.

Mashelkar had between 1995 and 2006 helped transform the culture at the CSIR, a network of 40 laboratories, putting the focus on doing industry-relevant research, staking claims on innovation and patents, and working on joint projects with private enterprise.

Among the Padma Bhushan awardees are P. Balaram, director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation; and V.P. Sharma, former director of India’s Malaria Research Institute.

Hindi poet Ashok Chakradhar and former Delhi University vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh were also announced as Padma Shri awardees.


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