Election of top post of national science body challenged

Bengaluru, May 3 (IANS) It’s not just the assembly elections that are making news from West Bengal. Of late, the Kolkata-based Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), funded by the union government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), is also generating news that is making scientists sad.

Last week, the ISCA made headlines after Sarjerao Nimse, its former president, threatened to drag it to court for expelling him from its primary membership. The expulsion – unprecedented in ISCA’s 103-year history – evoked strong criticism from top scientists.

Now, Umesh Lavania, a CSIR emeritus scientist at the University of Lucknow, has accused ISCA of manipulating the president’s election for 2017-18 and has demanded a re-poll.

The election in question was held in December 2015. The results were announced in January 2016 naming Achyuta Samanta, founder of the privately-owned Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) in Bhubaneswar, as the ISCA president-elect for 2017-18.

Lavania, who was the other candidate for the post, has urged current ISCA president Narayana Rao to set aside the results and hold elections afresh. He has also appealed to DST secretary Ashutosh Sharma to intervene and take necessary action.

“I am willing to furnish all documentary evidence in support of my contention that this election was manipulated by vested interests occupying important offices in the ISCA administration,” he said in his letter to the DST secretary and copied to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a separate letter to Modi last week, Lavania said that “total lack of transparency in elections and non-observance of minimum ethical practices by the national science body is a serious matter that requires intervention by top authorities to save it from further deterioration”.

Giving details, Lavania pointed out that the voting for president was by postal ballot and the ballot papers were photocopies that were neither numbered nor serialized.

“Counting of ballots was done closed door by two members of the Executive Committee — who themselves were voters — without allowing me or my representative to be present despite repeated requests,” Lavania said. “This is in utter violation of democratic and ethical practices.”

Lavania complained that while ISCA did not even inform him of the date and place of counting, its Bhubaneswar chapter held a seminar at KIIT while the voting process was still on.

“This is in total violation of standard code of conduct because Samanta, as the founder of the KIIT and a contester for the president’s post, hosted this seminar extending hospitality to the Council members who were, in fact, the voters,” he said.

While admitting that the work by Samanta as a social entrepreneur towards the cause of education of the under-privileged was commendable, Lavania said there is no information about his contribution to science itself, a pre-requisite to head India’s oldest science body like ISCA.

“I do not know if he has a formal PhD degree, or has published any scientific paper,” Lavania said, adding that he is awaiting response from tehe ISCA to his RTI application demanding answers for these.

Efforts by IANS to obtain this information and get his comments for the alleged manipulation of his election failed since Samanta did not respond to repeated emails and telephone calls.

“In the absence of justified answer to the questions raised, the election to the office of the General President of ISCA for the year 2017-18 may be set aside and the election be held afresh,” Lavania said in his letters.

With issues such as the disputed election of the new president and the controversial sacking of its past president in the backdrop, the upcoming meeting of the ISCA Executive Council in Kolkata on May 14 is expected to be stormy.

K.S. Jayaraman can be contacted at killugudi@gmail.com)

–IANS

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