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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 36, New Delhi, August 22, 2020

Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute is under a ruinous state | Nityananda Ghosh

Friday 21 August 2020

by Nityananda Ghosh

A precarious situation prevails at the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute (CGCRI) [located in Kolkatta] amidst Covid-19 pandemic. Like many other Central research institutions, CGCRI too has already lost its past glory, primarily due to the saffron show. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) calls the shots and at the helm is one Dr K. Muralidharan, whose main qualifications are not scientific and academic achievements but his adherence to saffron ideology.

Ever since Dr. Muralidharan took over the directorship in 2015 scientists, technicians, and the office staff have been facing obstacles in their place of work for his whimsical attitude and decisions. For the last few years, the working conditions within the Institute have deteriorated conspicuously. Senior scientists, technicians, and the staff feel that pitfalls are already manifest owing to lack of vision, firm leadership, and lack of coordination. Their allegation goes on mentioning mediocrity, corruption, subjugation, and parochialism to be the order of the day. If a mediocre yet loyal person submits himself/herself unconditionally, unabashedly to the authority, he/she will be protected by any means even at the expense of the interests of all others. The person will earn the tag ‘favourite scientist’. In such a situation, nepotism thrives at the cost of honest and truly professional research initiatives. The reputed senior scientists, having a number of research publications in top-tier international journals, have been cornered and not allowed to work freely under such sick atmosphere.

Interacting with many employees of the Institute discreetly, this correspondent could come to know that i) ‘sponsored projects’ earned by so-called ‘disfavoured’ scientists of CGCRI have been either closed down or transferred to other ‘favoured’ scientists without the consent of the principal investigator or the sponsoring authority; ii) ‘favourite’ scientists have been made coordinators of a major programme from a period when they were not in the picture, i.e., even before their names were put in the programme. This has been done by violating all sorts of norms including even the directives of the sponsoring agency; iii) ‘disfavoured’ scientists, on the other hand, were charged for not taking prior permission from the authority for submitting research papers to the journals for their publications even though there does not appear to exist any such rule in this respect either in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) or in CGCRI; iv) ‘disfavoured’ scientists have been transferred, ostensibly for public interest, to other centres of the Institute where he/she does not have any scope of exercising his/her proven expertise. Transfers thus amount to punishment for the scientist(s) because of his/her reluctance to toe the line of the head of the department/division and director. Toeing line implies putting the name of the head of the division or corresponding author in all the research publications although the head has nothing to contribute, i.e., he/she does not take any initiative himself/herself in this regard and has no contribution whatsoever. Secondly, the head will have to be included as a co-guide for all the students pursuing their PhD programme under the supervision of the scientist working in the division of the concerned head. Thirdly, the head will have to be included as co-principal investigator for all the research projects being run by the scientist working in that department. If anybody disagrees to the above, he/she should prepare for punitive measures including transfer order. In fine, the saffron shadow is deeply disappointing.

Another example of wrongdoing by the present dispensation is transferring project fund from CGCRI to another CSIR Institute for supporting the activities of a ‘favoured’ scientist who has earlier worked at CGCRI without taking permission from the sponsoring agency. So, the authority has divided the entire scientist pool of this Institute overtly along ‘favoured’ and ‘disfavoured’ line. This is extremely irregular and hence frustrating.

The sufferers told this correspondent that numerous incidents have taken place during the last four years which could be cited with documentary evidence to prove that the present dispensation is hell-bent to stop all sorts of academic including research activities of the ‘disfavoured’ scientists. In this vicious cycle, a handful of so-called senior and definitely ‘favoured’ scientists are having field days in serving their parochial interests at the expense of the interests of the Institute in entirety. While these things became the order of the day under the present regime, actual research work, obviously, has hit the rock bottom. The authority, so far, has not convened any open forum meeting to discuss what the scientists and technicians or other staff members are doing and why, how, and what their future plans are. This anti-culture is unprecedented.

Allegations were made that Research Scholars’ Day which used to be traditionally conducted for giving all the students a chance to showcase their research in front of an in-house audience as well as external eminent scientists – is discontinued. New research scholars are not being permitted to join the group of ‘disfavoured’ scientists in spite of fulfilling all the requisites and collaborative proposals of so-called ‘disfavoured’ scientists with other reputed Institutes are disallowed. Actual academic activities are being pushed to take a back seat.

Another interesting issue comes to the surface while discussing the things with the staff that the money received from strategic sectors – projected as a major success during this regime – has not been utilized. The products/technologies, which were supposed to be developed, did not come up at all in the last five years and, as a result, in some cases, money has been returned. No serious attempt has been made to address why the progress in these areas is unsatisfactory. No open forum discussion has ever been convened to let everybody know what is happening and why the project has failed and what action is being formulated to address the failure. Instead, attempts have been made to hush up the incident as many of the ‘favoured’ scientists are involved in these high-value programmes. There is also an allegation that attempts are being made to propagate false success stories.

Scientists’ recruitment process lacks transparency, allege aggrived staff members. The advertisement and selection criteria published in the Institute website shows that everything has been designed to recruit only a handful of chosen candidates loyal to the ‘favoured’ senior scientists of the Institute. The ill design was made in such a way that many highly qualified candidates could be excluded from shortlists. Bizarre points such as ‘experience in Indian context’ or ‘PhD in Mathematics for a post whose job description does not justify its requirements’ and offering exemptions from research publications in cases of scientists having experience in research Institutes (and thus bringing them at par with those having experience in the industry), consideration of only those research papers where the candidate is either the first or corresponding author could be easily noticed which leaves no doubt in the mind of the observers that the ‘overall’ selection process has been distorted unscrupulously for vested interests. Scruple or even a rule (promulgated by recruitment and assessment board, CSIR) has been thrown out of the window to suit the purpose of the senior ‘favoured’ scientists who assume the role of ‘law makers’ for all practical purposes in this Institute. The scientists alleged that those who are being recruited through such distorted, unethical, and immoral selection process will never be able to assert to chart out a new road map for the true success of this Institute.

It is to be noted that CGCRI was established under the auspices of CSIR – independent India’s first set of National laboratories initiated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Other laboratories which were set-up around the same time were National Physical Laboratory (NPL), New Delhi, National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, and Central Fuel Research Institute (CFRI), Dhanbad. The CGCRI at Jadavpur, Kolkata was supposed to offer research and development back-up to the glass and ceramic industries of India. A decade since 1950 went reasonably well. Work on optical glasses drew attention even in the international arena. But those days are gone and ceramics and glass activities worldwide kept on emerging with seemingly groundbreaking developments. So it is difficult for CGCRI to cope with them in the world market. Stalwarts like Dr. Prosenjit Saha (son of legendary astrophysicist Prof. Meghnad Saha), Dr. Rustom Roy (world renowned scientist in ceramics who later joined Pennsylvania State University, USA) worked at CGCRI at a time when CGCRI was glittering and under their stewardship, new programmes were launched. In contrast, Rs. 20 crores were sanctioned recently by ISRO for a project on optical glass but progress achieved is abysmally low, a proof of inefficiency of the director, as alleged by the staffs. Eleven crores were earlier sanctioned by DRDO to make Radar domes or Radomes to be used onto the missiles. But, the work has been closed down for unknown reasons. It is not known even by the staffs whether progress envisaged in the beginning has actually been made. False information about success abounds in all these cases but the reality is quite different. Apart from issuing transfer orders for scientists/staff or closure order for sponsored projects for punishing ‘disfavoured’ scientists/staff at the behest of ‘favoured’ senior scientists, Director, for all truly academic activities, was found to be conspicuous by absence. He, for nearly one year, went missing with no official information about the reason and then reappeared one fine morning. He has been residing in the guest house of the Institute since he took charge as a director.

Such appalling condition of CGCRI must change or, like many other Institutions with glorious past and lots of possibilities, this Institute too will pass into oblivion.

Author:

Nityananda Ghosh is a retired lecturer in Botany, Bankim Sardar College under the University of Calcutta. email: ngkolkata47[at]gmail.com

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