The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Drained fraternity on brainstorming spree

Bangalore, Jan. 6: The curtains will come down on the 90th edition of the Indian Science Congress here tomorrow but the debate on “internal brain drain”, initiated by the Prime Minister, promises to continue among the country’s scientific community long after.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had talked about brain drain at the inaugural session on Saturday.

One of the dominant features of the informal interaction among delegates and participants, on the meet’s sidelines, was the brain drain. Some of the official plenary sessions, too, debated the issue.

The message of all the debates was that the Centre and the country’s scientific and teaching communities must do much more than “sloganeering” to retain fertile scientific brains in the country.

Much of the informal debates among delegates centred around two references made by the Prime Minister. The first was on the need “to ensure that our scientific institutions do not become afflicted by the culture of our government agencies” and the second was Vajpayee’s promise to evolve “pragmatic and flexible schemes” to enable expatriates to “come and work in our science and technology institutions”.

“It is necessary to talk about de-bureaucratising the scientific establishment and formulating schemes to bring back our scientific talent. But these alone would be insufficient to stop the brain drain,” said Dipankar Bhattacharjee, associate professor in astrophysics at Raman Research Institute, Bangalore.

“The real problem,” he said, “is that India offers limited opportunities to brains that want to take on scientific challenges. In the West, the opportunities are more.”

Bhattacharjee emphasised that science thrives in the West because it has strong industry support in funding and infrastructure. “We don’t have that scenario despite trying all these years. Barring IT, no area has received support from industry.”

Vasudevan Namboothiri, another scientist from Bangalore, agreed with Bhattacharjee. He emphasised that the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) — whose contribution to the country is indisputable — developed its infrastructure from internal resources, without industry support. “Unless you can fundamentally change this situation,” Namboothiri said, “you will continue to see the best brains flying out to where they can fulfil challenges.”

Environment scientist Manohar M. Moghe believed that along with improving infrastructure and facilities for scientific research, an attempt should be made to glean scientific knowledge available in our ancient texts.

Moghe, also one of the founders of Marathi Vigyan Parishad, a popular science movement in Maharashtra, said: “Such an approach is bound to inculcate some pride in our country. This could be a motivating factor in stopping the brain drain. But our government appears not to have thought about it.”

Some graduate girls — possibly the youngest participants at the congress — from Mount Carmel College in Bangalore said the curriculum and the academic fraternity in universities do not help inspire a spirit of scientific research among students.

The students are studying subjects such as computers, mathematics and electronics.

“We came for this conference even though we were told that classes would go on in college, primarily because we are interested in scientific research,” said Mrinalini Vyas.

The girls wondered whether completing their academic courses would give them the opportunity to do scientific research. Vyas, who wants to study disaster management, said she searched in vain for an Indian college that offered the subject. “What alternative do students have in such a situation'” she asked.

The concerns many such participants expressed did get reflected, though in milder language, at the official plenary sessions on the conference’s penultimate day.

The university meet this morning provoked views such as those of Venkitasubramanian, a member of the Planning Commission. He urged the Centre to imbibe the shifts in standards which have occurred in the world.

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