The beginning of the end of ‘asli’ Indian science?

Are the wheels of socialism coming apart, slowly but surely, from the smoothly rolling gravy train that was our scientific, technological, military, and defence research and development setup?

Once the apogee of individual accomplishment—job security, assured residential quarters, subsidised community facilities like schools and canteen stores, jobs for children on “compassionate grounds” in case of death, etc—are market forces beginning to chip away at the crown jewels of modern India?

# In the last 36 months alone, 392 scientists have left the Indian Space Research Organisation. As against the 354 freshers recruited by last year, 187 trained ones left ISRO. In the previous two years, the number of those leaving the organisation was 105 and 100.

# Over the past five years, 1,000 scientists have left the Defence Research & Development Organisation. In the five years preceding 2002, the number of those leaving DRDO was less than half that figure: 400.

# The Indian military is said to be short of 35,000 personnel, including over 14,000 officers. In the three years upto April 2007, a total of 277 pilots sought premature retirement from the Indian Air Force (IAF), many of them flying away to careers in the burgeoning airline industry.

# Hordes of scientists have been leaving the laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), including the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), in Mysore, and straw polls suggest few children of serving scientists want to follow in their parents’ wake.

The hand-to-mouth funding, the low motivation to perform, the slow career progression, a risk-averse safety-first work environment, and the mind numbing bureaucracy in the government outfits are obviously key reasons why the trickle has become an exodus.

But the key reason for the “Brain Drain Within Bharat” is big bucks.

“The stupendous growth of the IT and communications sector, and the higher remunerative packages offered by the privte sector are the main reasons for scientists/engineers to leave ISRO,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Everyone is dangling the quit threat if salaries are not hiked substantially.

The Department of Space (DoS) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have both petitioned the sixth pay commission for higher pay and incentives like performance-based increments and special allowance as one of the measures to stem the attrition.

Sure, it’s not an Indian problem alone. But will the government ever be able to “offer the best in the industry”?

Given the advanced facilities, the global reward and recognition, the greenbacks, and the greater transparency that private labs like, say, General Electric’s Jack F Welch Technology Center in Bangalore offer, will the “State” ever be able to woo the best talent for its antiquated facilities?

Will good talent in a market economy ever be able to put country before self, when the Joneses and Janardhans are making a lot more for a lot less, buying houses, swanky cars, sending their children to fancy schools, and going on expensive holidays abroad?

Or, are our State-funded institutes, organisations, and laboratories destined—doomed—to become rotting repositories of cheap, mediocre talent who couldn’t find a place elsewhere—and who are forever surfing the world wide web looking for openings in places they couldn’t get into but always fantasise?

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In picture, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) researchers Sanjukta Roy and Saptarishi Chaudhuri with C.S. Unnikrishnan, who have produced the fifth state of matter for the first time in India.

Read the full story by G.S. Mudur: Bose-Einstein feat in India

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Also read: The lure of the almighty engineering dollar

The great Indian brain exodus