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Rain puja that was passed off as weather test

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  • Published 22.07.12
People visit the Taj Mahal on a cloudy Saturday. (PTI)

New Delhi, July 21: Scientists have decried the Karnataka government’s decision to spend public funds for rain-invoking prayers that comes 24 years after the Union science and technology department had supported a similar effort in Mathura during a hot and dry summer.

The Karnataka government, responding to the state’s worst drought in 42 years with rains in its southern interior 50 per cent below normal, has pledged Rs 5,000 to each of 37,000 temples across the state to support prayers for rains between July 27 and August 2.

“This has absolutely no basis in science,” said Ajay Sood, president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, and professor of physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. “Such decisions are usually driven by faith, but an elected government has taken this decision.”

Another senior scientist said the decision merely highlights the unfinished task of promoting scientific thinking across the public arena. “Science can never support something like this but then we live in a land of contradictions,” said Krishan Lal, a senior physicist at the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi, and president of the Indian National Science Academy.

“Somehow, such things continue to catch the public’s imagination,” Lal said.

In the summer of 1988, the Union department of science and technology (DST) had supported a yagna for rain conducted during a weekend by an 86-year-old priest at a temple in Mathura.

The priest, Har Prasad Sharma, poured herbs and ghee into a giant fire, chanting hymns from the Vedas while scientists from the India Meteorological Department stood on a terrace trying to determine whether the soots from the flames would in any way change the ambient atmosphere.

Senior DST officials had at that time declined to share details of the proposal for the yagna that it had agreed to support and observe but explained that such an experiment could be “viewed” as an attempt to seed clouds through the particles from the fire rising into the air.

Sections of the scientific community had criticised the DST decision.

The IMD team in Mathura did not record any fire-related changes in the atmosphere, and the DST quietly pulled out support, never discussing the episode in public.

The president of the Indian Rationalist Association today condemned the Karnataka government’s pledge to support prayers for rain, which could cost Rs 18 crore of public funds.

“The government should not even spend Rs 18 on something like this,” said Sanal Edamaruku, the association’s president. “This is abuse of public funds. Under the constitution, all citizens need to promote scientific temper.”

Rain kills nine

Nine persons, including two women and three children, were killed in rain-induced accidents in Hyderabad this morning.

All the deaths occurred because of wall collapse. The Andhra Pradesh capital received over 15cm of rainfall in four hours, which threw normal life out of gear as all low-lying areas got water-logged, disrupting traffic.