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Rao's jab wakes state to shell out a few pennies for science

The Bharat Ratna-winning scientist CNR Rao may refute that he ever called politicos “idiots” for not investing enough in science, but the “idiots” seem to have gotten the hint, though not much of one. A day after the remark, the Democratic Front government hurriedly forked out an annual grant of Rs 4.73 crore to the state’s Rajiv Gandhi Science and Technology Mission (RGSTM) for the current fiscal. But compared to the state’s Rs 49,000-crore annual development plan for 2013-14, the sum is small change.


After winning the Bharat Ratna, CNR Rao had railed against the political class for the abysmally small budget allocations made for science and technology

“We are not spending even 1 per cent (of the total Union budget) on science and we get 20-30 per cent of the annual demands,” Rao had said. The scientist, who was announced Bharat Ratna along with cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar on November 16, came down heavily on politicians the next day for not providing enough funding to the science sector. But after the issue blew up in the media, he clarfied that he hadn’t called anybody names, but only meant that the neglect of science was “idiotic” and that he wouldn’t even use the word again.

In Maharashtra, the RGSTM, set up in April 2005 by the Congress-led state government and headed by renowned nuclear scientist Dr Anil Kakodkar, continues to receive a step-motherly treatment. According to sources in the government, a proposal for allocating the mission Rs 20 crore was made before this fiscal’s annual budget was announced. But a government order issued recently on November 19 allowed a grant of Rs 4.73 crore. Even this paltry sum comes seven months after the financial year began.

Ever since its inception, the mission has had a handful of people engaged with it in a meaningful way. As of today, not more than three people are on its rolls, said sources. Dr Arun Sapre, member secretary, RGSTM, admitted to the dearth of scientists. “We are expecting service rules to be approved by the state government to start the recruitment process,” he said.

The state has not even thought of providing a new office to the mission’s chairperson, Dr Kakodkar, after the chamber allotted to him was gutted in a fire last year. Kakodkar, whenever he finds time to attend to his responsibility at the mission, visits a temporary office space on the premises of the Institute of Science located near the National Gallery of Modern Arts in Colaba, sources said.

Lagging behind
The RGSTM, which is in its ninth year, is yet to achieve its objectives of setting up science experiment centres, a gene bank, a database of medicinal and aromatic plants, publication of popular science books in Marathi, a biomedical engineering centre and so on. In the last nine years, the mission could only find the resources and time to complete the work of a science centre at Solapur, which is the home district of Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. Incidentally, it was Shinde who, as chief minister in 2004-05, had conceived of the RGSTM. 

Steady comedown
Dr Sapre claimed that from the proposed Rs 20 crore, the mission’s budget was first slashed to Rs 11.8 crore, and further to Rs 9.46 crore. He said the amount of Rs 4.73 crore sanctioned by the government order was 50 per cent of the originally apportioned sum. Whether the state would cough up the remainder remains a matter of uncertainty, sources said.

Rs 20 cr
Amount originally proposed for RGSTM before the annual budget was released  

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