A dozen bright scientists have left the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune – one of India's best scientific institutions – in the last four years raising critical questions on the ways research establishments are being handled by the NDA government.
Ten of the 12 scientists picked up new jobs in IISc, Aligarh Muslim University, IITs and IISERs. One senior person joined Reliance whereas a second veteran left the country to join a varsity in the UK, sources told DH.
The exodus began after February 2016 when Ashwini Kumar Nangia, a professor of chemistry at the University of Hyderabad, became the director of NCL – a top CSIR laboratory - overtaking in house talents like V V Ranade and Ashish Kishore Lele. Both were winners of the coveted S S Bhatnagar award while Lele also won the Infosys prize in 2012.
Within months Ranade joined Queen's University, Belfast whereas Lele found a place with the Reliance, India's biggest business house having a deep connection to the chemical industry.
Five researchers joined the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research – Neelanjana Sengupta (IISER, Kolkata), Nitin Patil (IISER, Bhopal), Rahul Banerjee (IISER, Kolkata), E Balaraman (IISER, Tirupati) and Sayam Sengupta (IISER, Kolkata).
Others who left the prestigious laboratory are Rajnish Kumar (IIT, Madras), Absar Ahmed (Aligarh Muslim University), A T Biju (IISc, Bengaluru), Debashree Ghosh (Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Kolkata) and K Guruswamy (IIT, Bombay).
Most of the scientists DH spoke to wasn't willing to be quoted and questions sent to Nangia elicited no response. However, Shekhar Mande, CSIR director-general admitted high attrition (from NCL) was concerning, even though the reasons could be varied.
“Its a complex issue why people have left NCL. The generic reasons for scientists to move from institute to institute can be - family reasons, closer to home, better-perceived opportunities, specific teaching or research interests and better climatic conditions. The same is true for scientists at NCL,” Mande observed.
NCL sources, however, pointed out that the real reasons for scientists to leave ranged from poor institutional management to the NCL top brass's inability to handle the political pressure of quickly delivering commercial products and technology.
From the beginning, the Narendra Modi government asked CSIR laboratories to earn revenues from their technologies, rather than relying heavily on government funding.
“There was continuous pressure coming from the top to focus less on fundamental research and more on applications. In the CSIR system, there is always an intricate balance between science and technology but at the NCL the pressure was directly being passed on to the junior scientists. My work on fundamental science was not appreciated by the institute,” said one of the scientists who left NCL.
“Problems of NCL got worse due to slow process of promotions. I on a given position and left the institute after 6.5 years from the same position! No one wants to get stuck in their life. I moved because I saw a better future for my personal and professional growth,” said another scientist who quit.