India's largest research conglomerate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is 75.
It is one of the founding pillars of modern India and remains a great experiment in using science and technology for national development as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru.
However, over the decades, the institution has gathered moss - as is natural - and needs to be reinvented to be in tune with the needs of the 21st century India.
Dozens of research laboratories working under the council across the country not only need a fresh dose of investment but also a new direction so as to do meaningful research in collaboration with universities and industry.
Laboratories and scientists working there need functional autonomy and a guarantee of academic freedom. The council is a national asset that should not be allowed to wither away.
In fact, the platinum jubilee provides an opportunity to launch a comprehensive review of the CSIR's functioning, similar to the exercise that was taken up by the Abid Hussain Committee 30 years ago.
The birth of CSIR on September 26, 1942, was preceded by the Board of Industrial and Scientific Research (BSIR) and the Board of Scientific Advice. Such efforts in scientific and industrial research were rooted in the strategy of applying science for the war effort of the British.
In post-war period, the British were interested in organising science in India, Australia and Canada in order to reclaim the empire's role in scientific research. Nobel laureate Archibald Hill was deputed to India for this mission.
|PM Narendra Modi at the 7th anniversary of Council of Science and Industrial Research. (Photo credit: PTI)|
Leading Indian scientists, including Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, actively participated in this project. While Bhatnagar was director of the Chemical Laboratories of the University of Punjab in Lahore, he was picked up by Ramaswamy Mudaliar - a member of the executive council - to be advisor for scientific and industrial research in Delhi. Eventually Bhatnagar was chosen to lead the CSIR.
While in the Lahore lab, Bhatnagar worked closely with industry. He executed major projects for industries run by Sir Ganga Ram and Rangoon-based petroleum company, Attock Oils.
For a university lab to do all this was a remarkable feat. When he shifted to CSIR, Bhatnagar tried to bring the same spirit of research industry-university linkage to the council. One of the first labs of CSIR, National Chemical Laboratories at Pune, was seeded with grants made by the Tata Trusts.
Industry was fully represented on the governing bodies of the CSIR and its laboratories. Founders of CSIR, Mudaliar and Ardeshir Dalal (another member of the executive council), were keen to ensure its autonomy.
That's why they chose the structure of an autonomous society rather then it being a government department. Post-Independence, the council grew rapidly due to what was dubbed "Nehru-Bhatnagar Effect".
Recalling the formative years of the CSIR is necessary because the core values with which it was founded - meaningful research in league with industry and academia, functional autonomy and full political backing - remain relevant even today.
Let's not erode these values by treating the council on par with any other government ministry or by interfering in its functioning.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)