Storm in science body saddens top scientists

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Bengaluru, April 28 (IANS) The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), headquartered in Kolkata, has dragged itself into a fresh controversy that may further ruin the image of this 103-year-old organization, say top scientists upset about the new development.

In the latest move, unprecedented in its long history, ISCA has expelled its own past president from the primary membership of the Association and ordered that his name be “not printed in any ISCA publication”.

The extraordinary action against Sarjerao Nimse, a renowned mathematician and vice chancellor of the University of Lucknow – who was president of ISCA during 2014-15 – has prompted strong condemnation by top scientists including C.N.R. Rao, a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

“I do not know the details but ISCA cannot do this to its past president,” Rao, who himself was a former president of the science body and science adviser to the prime minister, told IANS on the telephone.

Other past ISCA presidents – Shri Krishna Joshi, who once headed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and U.R.Rao, who headed the Department of Space – are equally upset. “This action will be a bad precedent for ISCA,” said the space scientist in an email.

“ISCA has now an advanced stage of cancer and I am not sure if it can be resurrected,” Joshi told IANS in an email. “This cancer is growing rapidly and I feel helpless. Since it acts in such a disgusting manner (like removing its past president from its primary membership), I keep as far off from the Science Congress as possible.”

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Nimse, whose term ended in March 2015, received the expulsion order this February during the reign of his successor Ashok Saxena, former dean at Kanpur’s C.S.J.M. University.

“I am pained that some people succeeded in punishing me despite my best efforts in serving ISCA as its president,” Nimse said in a telephone interview. “It is not only an insult against me but for Indian science as well,” he said hinting that he might go to court if ISCA failed to revoke its “illegal, immoral, undemocratic and most deplorable” decision.

Stalwarts like C.V.Raman, S.N. Bose and Mehnad Saha had presided over ISCA in the past. Successive prime ministers have been inaugurating its annual affairs — the Science Congress — that bring together hundreds of scientists from India and abroad. Nimse presided over the Science Congress held in Mumbai in January 2015.

Funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), ISCA was created in 1914 “to advance and promote the cause of science in India.” Instead, of late, it has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Only two years ago, ISCA courted controversy over alleged irregularities in electing members to its two decision-making bodies — the Executive Committee and the Executive Council.

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“Now, the expulsion of its past president has dealt a further blow to ISCA’s already sagging image,” said Satyesh Pakrashi who presided over ISCA in 1995. “The grossly motivated and unjustified action is deplorable in any professional society in a democratic country and calls for immediate revocation,” Pakrashi told IANS in an email.

Nimse’s expulsion was recommended by an “enquiry committee” that found him “guilty” of disregarding the rules of ISCA, ignoring the decisions of the Executive Committee, and “abusing” Ashok Saxena, who was to succeed him as the president for the year 2015-16.

Nimse has refuted all the charges, saying the enquiry was motivated by persons who were offended by the bold decisions he took as president to shore up ISCA’s image.

“I initiated steps to root out corrupt practices, dirty politics, and rampant irregularities in the organization and make the election process transparent to ensure that only persons with some standing are in control of ISCA,” he said.

Things were made really difficult for him, Nimse said, after he objected to the election of new members for ISCA’s Executive Council and Executive committee for the year 2015-16 (on the ground it was manipulated), and rejected the names suggested by the Executive Council for ISCA’s annual awards (on grounds there were other candidates more deserving).

As a result, no awards could be given during the Science Congress in Mumbai in January 2015 — one of the reasons given by ISCA’s Executive Committee for initiating the inquiry against Nimse.

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According to Nimse, his ISCA membership was terminated by the Executive Committee “using the brute force of numerical majority of its members” opposed to his reforms.

Umesh Lavaniya, an emeritus scientist at Lucknow University and ISCA’s former sectional president, agreed. “ISCA’s managers have now grown arrogant and they think that they are untouchable,” he said in an email.

Neither ISCAs Executive Secretary Amity De, nor its current president Narayana Rao — a professor at SRM university in Tamil Nadu — replied to a request for comments on Nimse’s expulsion.

The DST secretary, Ashutosh Sharma, also remained silent. But Praveer Asthana, the DST representative at ISCA, has gone on record with his warning that “taking such an action against a past president may set up a bad precedent for the Association.”

It is not known if the issue will figure at the ISCA Council meeting scheduled for May 14 in Kolkata.

“Although, under the rules, an ex-president is a permanent member of the Council, I have not been invited,” Nimse said. He has however requested current president Narayana Rao that his removal from membership be kept in abeyance until the whole issue is probed afresh.

(K.S. Jayaraman is a senior journalist who focuses on the scientific world. He can be contacted at [email protected])



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