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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 37 New Delhi August 31, 2019

Prof Ashok Parthasarathi Is No More

Saturday 31 August 2019

Renowned scientist and former S&T Advisor to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Prof Ashok Parthasarathi, 79, passed away at his residence in New Delhi on August 12, 2019 after a brief illness. He leaves behind his wife, Vibha, and sons, Vibodh and Unmesh. Mrs Parthasarathi is a reputed educationist and was the Principal of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, New Delhi. Vibodh works in the field of Media Policy and Unmesh, based in Singapore, works in the sphere of Media Business Strategy.

Prof Ashok Parthasarathi was a physicist and electronics engineer by original training and a social scientist and science policy analyst by subsequent training. Having done research in Radio Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in the UK with the Nobel Laureate, Martin Ryle, he taught physics at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. He was then a Carnegie Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA where he researched on science and technology policy. Joining the Department of Atomic Energy in 1967 as Special Assistant to the then Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Dr Vikram Sarabhai, he also set up the Programme Analysis Unit; he worked as a senior staff member in the secretariat of the Electronics Committee of the Government of India chaired by Dr Sarabhai.

In mid-1970, he joined the Secretariat of Prime Minister late Mrs Indira Gandhi as a Special Assistant for Science and Technology. For the next five years he dealt with a wide range of science and technology policy planning and management matters. These included the setting up of the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Electronics and the Department of Space, the preparation of the nation’s first comprehensive S&T plan under the auspices of the National Committee on Science and Technology and several projects in the areas of atomic energy, space, electronics and defence. He was the only person to have held such a position till date.

In February, 1975, he became Secretary, Electronics Commission and Joint Secretary, Department of Electronics. He then held the positions of Additional Secretary, Department of Electronics, Additional Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Secretary, Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, Secretary, Department of Small Scale Industries and Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries. He was also a Member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet.

After retiring from the Government of India in the year 2000, he was invited by the Jawaharlal Nehru University to be a Professor at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy. Over the next five years, he built up the Centre as a leading institution in Science Policy Studies not only in India but in South and South-East Asia.

From as far back as 1970 Professor Parthasarathi had been active in the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs launched by Bertrand Russel and Albert Einstein. He was a Member of the Pugwash Council and smaller Executive Committee for several years, the first Indian scientist to be on the latter body. The Pugwash Movement was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

Professor Parthasarathi was well known inter-nationally having participated in intergovernmental meetings as a Government of India delegate and had been consultant to leading United Nations Agencies such as the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the UN Conferences on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Professor Parthasarathi was elected the first Indian member of the International Board of Governors of the South Centre headquartered in Geneva. The Centre was founded and chaired by the founder President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, to advance the interests of the developing countries through both more coherent negotiations with the industrialised countries and fostering greater “South-South cooperation”.

Over 2002-03, he was a member of the Task Force set up by the Government of India, under the Chairmanship of the then Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission K.C. Pant, to draw up a plan for making India “A Knowledge Super Power”.

Professor Parthasarathi was a member of many prestigious international professional bodies such as the Third World Academy of Sciences, Trieste, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, New Delhi, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, New York and the New York Academy Sciences.

Professor Parthasarathi published over 100 papers and articles, prepared several reports for United Nations agencies on various aspects of Science and Technology policy, planning and management and edited two books: Pugwash on Self-Reliance and Scientific Cooperation for Development: Search for New Directions.

From the PMO, he worked with S.A.S. Nag Chaudhuri and M.G.K. Menon on policy-making related to the missile programme spear theaded by DRDL and later RCI (Research Centre Imarat) and the Advanced Systems Laboratory all in Hyderabad.

On the Electronic Warfare front he was closely associated with V. Narayana Rao the first Director of DLRL (during whose directorship the early indigenous Ajanta and Ellora EQ systems were designed by the lab and produced by BEL). He then supported Air Commodore Krishnamurthy, one of the key Directors of ADE, and later Dr K.G. Narayana, under whose leadership the Airborne Systems Integration Organisation (ASIO) was set up as a separate, but distinct Avionics and EW design, development and custom production organisation under ADE. It was ASIO that later became DARE of which K. Ramalingam was the first Director.

In the area of Defence Radars, he was not only involved with the static and transportable High Power Radars of the ADGES Plan but also the design and development by LRDE of the Low Level Indira Radars also made by BEL. Subsequently, when he was Additionall Secretary in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), he sucessfully promoted the design and development and large volume manufacture of the Microwave Ferrite Phase shifters by the PSU of the DSIR, Central Electronics Ltd. (CEL) for supply to BEL to assemble them into the Antenna of the Rajendra Phased Array Radar to go with the Akash air defensive missile now in full operational induction by BDL.

In 2007 he published a unique book on his years as S&T Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi entitled ”Technology at the Core: S&T with Indira Gandhi”. The book was released by the then President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and has sold around 1700 copies to date both at home and abroad.

In the last years of his life he wrote a series of articles in The Asian Age and Mainstream that are of inestimable value in the field of foreign policy. 

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