Indian science body accused of irregularities

Indian science body accused of irregularities

The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), a professional body of scientists under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and headquartered in Kolkata, is in the spotlight -- for the wrong reasons.

Ever since it was founded in 1914, ISCA has had distinguished scientists as its successive presidents. They include J.C. Bose, Nobel laureate C.V. Raman, M.N. Saha, Birbal Sahni and S.S. Bhatnagar. As a testimony to its exalted status, successive prime ministers have been inaugurating ISCA's annual affairs - the Science Congress - that bring together hundreds of scientists from India and abroad.

But, according to some top scientists, this image of ISCA as a reputable body has eroded. They say the ISCA has virtually been taken over by "a select group" and elections to its decision-making bodies -- the Executive Committee and the Executive Council -- were "manipulated".

Should this continue, scientists of standing will boycott ISCA, they warn.

"ISCA has been captured by a group of master manipulators who are bent on retaining their control at any cost," Krishna Joshi, a former president who once headed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told IANS. "I have stopped participating in its activities."

Madhavan Nair, a former secretary in the space department who was the ISCA president in 2010-11, is equally unhappy. "I have not attended ISCA meetings for the last few years due to the politics there."

Asis Datta, a renowned plant biologist and another past ISCA president IANS spoke to, says he was disturbed by the large number of complaints in recent years about the functioning of ISCA.

Renowned chemist and Bharat Ratna C.N.R. Rao, who was science adviser to the previous government and a former president of ISCA, is most upset.

"I stopped attending ISCA meetings after hearing that top ISCA posts are grabbed by manipulating the elections," Rao told IANS.

"If that is true, it is very unfortunate and very sad. Serious scientists do not attend the science congresses any more."

Rao said a complete change in the system of elections and a different method for nominations were urgently needed.

ISCA's problem is said to stem from the fact that one need not be a practising scientist to be its member. Membership is open to any graduate with "an interest in science" by paying a membership fee of Rs.200.

This rule is exploited to get into ISCA's decision-making bodies and also for the posts of general president and general secretaries, it is alleged.

For instance, a college teacher or principal can get elected by collecting "en masse" the votes of all post-graduate students, says Umesh Lavania, who was once president of the Plant Sciences section of ISCA.

In his complaint to then prime minister Manmohan Singh -- who was ISCA president in 2012-13 -- Lavania said elections to all important offices of ISCA "are manipulated by eliminating the meritorious and potential winners at the nomination stage itself before going for vote by the full Executive Council".

Citing ISCA's 2012 elections, he said all three nominees with excellent credentials for the post of general secretary were eliminated in favour of a building engineer serving in the Kolkata Corporation.

"If this arbitrary and manipulated electioneering is not checked forthwith, the stature of ISCA would be reduced to nothing and it would become captive to a select mediocrity," Lavania said.

Ashok Kumar Saxena, a retired principal of DAV College in Kanpur and president-elect for 2015-16, did not reply to a IANS request for comments on the controversy over elections. But current ISCA president Sarjerao Nimse said he plans to hold a meeting soon to discus the election issues and take some bold steps to clean the system.

"Corrections are overdue and have to be done," Nimse told IANS. "Elections must be transparent and only persons with some standing in science should control ISCA. There can be no compromise."

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